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April 9 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 5:38-42

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

More thoughts for meditation about Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his twin sister were born in a Prussian city (now in Poland) in 1906.   His family moved to Berlin a few years later. Bonhoeffer earned a doctorate in theology at the age of 21 from perhaps the most prestigious university in the world at the time – the University of Berlin.   He began to pastor but continued to pursue academic work which took him to Spain and then to Harlem. Dissatisfied with the lack of rigor at Union Seminary, where he was teaching and doing post graduate work, he became a disciple and Sunday school teacher at Abyssinian Baptist Church, where his love for spirituals developed along with his deep desire for the Church to change the world.

Two years after his return to Germany, the Nazi Party rose to power. Bonhoeffer was overtly critical of the regime and a resister from the beginning.  While Hitler and the Nazis infiltrated and found a stronghold in the German Church, Bonhoeffer was building something new in Germany through the Confessing Church.  After only a few months under Nazi control, Bonhoeffer moved to London to work on international ecumenical work, highly frustrated with the state of the German church.

Two years later, rather than going to study non-violent civil disobedience under Ghandi he returned to Germany, responding to the repeated pleas and demands of Swiss theologians and Karl Barth.  The Confessing Church was under fire by the Nazis.  Barth was sent back to Switzerland. Bonhoeffer soon lost his credentials to teach because he was a “pacifist and enemy of the state.”   He began underground seminaries and further resisted.

Bonhoeffer became more involved in direct resistance and was arrested in 1943.  He was part of a group that was responsible both for attempts at liberating Jews and attempting to assassinate Hitler. His pacifism has been widely written about, especially in light of this glaring contradiction.

Dietrich was executed on this day in 1945, two weeks before US soldiers liberated his prison camp.  He is largely considered a martyr for the faith, for peace, and as a Nazi resister.  Among two of his most influential works are Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship – this quote is from the latter:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Want to watch a small documentary about his life? Here is a [link]

Bonhoeffer speaks out against Hitler [link]

Suggestions for action

Bonhoeffer applied himself to unmasking the lies of his culture and the ideologies that took God’s place. It was not easy, since the church was generally in line with them. In spite of state threat and lack of support from the church, he took risks to teach the truth, even moving back to Germany when he would have been safer elsewhere.

That kind of courage is demonstrated in the Bible repeatedly by people whose loves are trained on God. What threat do you feel from those you know and from the great “other” of the powers that be when it comes to expressing your faith in word and deed? Pray for courage. Pray that we are a confessing church in a culture of lies.

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