We must shake off our fear of this world- the cause of Christ is at stake, and are we to be found sleeping? …Christ is looking at us and asking whether there is anyone left who confesses faith in him. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. [Eph 6:10-13]
Wherever a people have turned to faith in Christ, wherever his words provide the principles that give direction to the culture, the Bible is honored. The Scriptures stand as a Rock of Gibraltar, establishing truth in black and white that will not be blown away by fads or popular opinion. If an enemy desires to destroy the influence of Christianity, he must silent or stifle the influence of the Bible.
That was the situation that Hitler and his Nazis faced when they tried to establish their Third Reich on a platform based upon a hatred of the Jews. The Bible just would not allow it. It was written down in black and white. The Jews, like all people, were created in the image of God and deserved to be treated with respect as any other human being. Beyond that, the Jews were God’s chosen people. So, if the Nazis were to win the support of the German Church, they would have to do some pretty clever manipulation and twisting of the Bible’s contents.
It was not just the support of the Jews that made the Nazis hate Christianity. They hated its “weakness” and its cross. One writer wrote concerning the cross, that it came from the “theology of the Rabbi Paul with it scapegoats and inferiority complex.”Such ideas were unworthy of the Aryan race and its destiny of world domination. Hitler bemoaned that fact when he wrote, “It has been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why couldn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mahammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?”
Many of the leaders of the church became sympathetic with Hitler’s ambitions. They tried their best to work out some sort of compromise that would allow the church to maintain her traditional ties to the Bible and also become a part of the National Socialist movement. Eventually, they stopped turning themselves into pretzels and realized their efforts were doomed to fail. To accomplish their goals they had to attack the Word and neutralize the truth that blocked their nationalistic desires.
In 1937, they determined that the “written word of Scripture was the problem.” They pointed out Jesus never wrote a book. Therefore, they decided that true Germans must move beyond mere written words. They concluded, “A demon always resides in the written word.” Once that principle was decided upon the door was wide open for all kinds of “needed” innovations.
In time it was also decided that sin and grace were a Jewish insertion into the New Testament and too negative a concept to fit the German mind. One writer explained,
A people, who, like our own, has a war behind them that they did not want, that they lost, and for which they were declared guilty, cannot bear it, when their sinfulness is constantly pointed out to them in an exaggerated way…Our people has suffered so much under the lie of war guilt that is the task and duty of the church and theology to use Christianity to give courage to our people, and not to pull them down into political humiliation.
For Bonhoeffer, this was a crucial battle. It was not just an internal struggle over minor issues of doctrine. The very existence of Christianity in Europe was at stake. Although he was well aware of Paul’s admonition to submit to the powers that govern, his devotion to scriptures pressed upon him an even greater weight: speaking out for those who have no voice. The life of Christ as presented in the Bible was a life lived for others. The Church could not remain quiet or inactive in the face of such evil and inhumanity toward victims of hate. He wrote, “It is high time we broke with our theologically based restraint towards the state’s actions- which after all, is only fear. “Speak out for those who cannot speak.” Who in the church today realizes that this is the very least that the Bible requires of us?”
I do not believe it is a stretch to see very real parallels between what happened in Bonhoeffer’s day and what is happening in ours. The details may be different but the dangers and consequences are not. We are seeing a wave of evil sweeping across our nation. Bible knowledge and Christian traditions are barely visible above this mighty surge of paganism. No Christian or Church leader who has maintained devotion to the Bible can ignore this massive tsunami that has inundated every institution that has given support to our society in the past. The question is, “How will we respond to this threat?”
The first thing we must do is recognize the danger. This is not something that will blow over or pass through. We are in a battle and it is a fight for our faith and joy in Jesus. This is not a just political struggle nor is it a cultural phenomenon. Behind these monumental shifts lie “authorities,” “rulers,” “powers in this dark world” and “spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms.” [Ephesians 6: 10-19] For Bonhoeffer, the question was, “Christianity or Germanism?” and he added, “The sooner the conflict is revealed in the clear light of day the better.” For us the question is, “Faith or paganism?” It is just that clear, and the sooner we realize it the better we will be prepared for battle ahead.
Therefore, the second thing we must do is get ready for battle. Paul said it like this: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the enemy’s schemes.” There is no way we are going to stand against this flood in our own strength and power. The enemy is just too strong and too clever for us. So, we had better get the armor on and get our hearts ready for war.
Third, we must put off fear and put on confidence. Peter put it like this: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” [1 Peter 3:14] But, what should we put in fear’s place? Peter tells us: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” [1 Peter 3:15] Remind yourself that it is the Lord Jesus that you serve. He called you and set you apart as his voice in a dark and evil world. He still rules. It is for him that you speak and suffer if needs be. Bonhoeffer exhorts us, “We must shake off our fear of this world- the cause of Christ is at stake, and are we to be found sleeping? …Christ is looking at us and asking whether there is anyone left who confesses faith in him.”
Fourth, it is crucial that we must take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. By that I mean we must get into it. We must devote to it, devour it and declare it. It must grip our minds and guard our hearts and guide our hands. It doesn’t have to be defended. Like a lion, it only needs to be let loose. Again, Bonhoeffer’s counsel is right on. He writes, “Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic…Do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it…Trust the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of capacity!”
Finally, we must not be intimidated by the accusation that we are too radical and out of step or intolerant. Our enemies, those who hate the word, and even our friends, those who claim to love the word, but don’t like our radical faith, will take offense at us. They will accuse us of being too harsh or unrealistic or unkind. But, we must remind ourselves that we are shaped and held by the words of Christ in Scripture. In the end our sentiments should be with Bonhoeffer when he writes, “Perhaps I seem to you rather fanatical and mad about a number of things. I myself am sometimes afraid of that. But I know that the day I became more reasonable, to be honest, I should have to chuck my entire theology.”
God, give us more radicals like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Lord, make me a radical like Bonhoeffer, for your glory and my eternal joy!