My calling is quite clear to me. What God will make of it I do not know…I must follow the path. Perhaps it will not be such a long one. [Phil 1:23] But it is a fine thing to have realized my calling….I believe its nobility will become plain to us only in coming times and events. If only we can hold out. Dietrich Bonhoeffer
This Christmas season was a very painful wake up call. We saw just how secularized our nation has become. Removing “Christ” from Christmas was a deliberate decision made without apology by our largest economic entities. Malls and music stations deliberately excluded “religious” songs from their “holiday” music. At the same time, one professional athlete was publicly ridiculed for his open allegiance to Christ and TV comedy shows reached unrivaled depths of blasphemy in their effort to join in poking fun at this young man’s faith. These are just some examples of a growing hostility that is coming against Christianity in America.
What should be our response? What should we do? I have noticed a lot of cynicism, sarcasm and downright antagonism being expressed by Christians on Facebook. One morning, one crusading lady put 14 [!] different political posts that were taking shot at a particular liberal political view. Obviously, this lady and countless others like her, think they are doing something that will help stop the downward slide. But, will this do it? It may make us feel better, but is any of this going to help us fight the battle that is intensifying around us. I don’t think so.
I think we need to step back and ask the Lord for discernment. By that I mean that we need to see this battle is much more than a cultural or a political fight. We are engaged in a spiritual battle so we need to arm ourselves with spiritual weapons. I fear that much of the activity that is going on is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I am not a prophet nor am I a son of a prophet, but I think I see a dangerous future coming for our nation and we must prepare for it. If we do not, we will be caught off guard and many will be deceived, shaken or lost.
I recently read the biography of a great man of God who lived through the horrors of the Third Reich. Dietrich Bonhoeffer [Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas] was a young scholar, who studied under such famous theologians as Adolph von Harnack, John Baillie and Karl Barth. Although exposed to the most liberal theologies of his day, he rejected them outright. Although a student, he remained a man of the Word and his devotion to Christ dominated his life. In the end, it would cost him his life.
Bonhoeffer was a professor and a pastor in the German Lutheran Church. He lived in troubling times. In the aftermath of their defeat in WW I, both the German psyche and her economy was very anemic. Unlike our efforts to rebuild Japan and Germany after WW II, the allies did their best to punish Germany after the Great War. In the early thirties, the conditions were ripe for a strong leader to arise who would promise a resurrected powerful and proud Germany. Adolf Hitler would be that man.
In the early days, Hitler was seen by most of Germany’s elite as nothing more than an uncouth irritant that would make a lot of noise but would go nowhere. But, they misjudged both the genius of his evil and the desperateness of the people. In time, most of the nation would get caught up in the hope of a new world, the Third Reich, which would bring back prosperity and pride that would last for a thousand years. Hitler’s racism and treachery would only gradually be exposed. It was done in such a way that not only the German people bought into his vision, the German Church did as well. Instead of taking a stand against Hitler and his evil designs, the German church tragically became either a silent partner or a willing follower of Nazism. She was not prepared for the battle and failed miserably in a time of crisis.
What we see here is a church that had lost its soul. Liberalism had robbed the church of her belief in the Word of God and her devotion to Jesus Christ. It is the Bible, unchanging and standing like a rock in the midst of ever changing cultures, that saves and preserves the Church of Jesus Christ. The Nazis were cognizant of the power of the written Word. Tiring of trying to make the Bible fit into their evil designs, they decided to attack it. Eric Metaxas describes their actions in this way:
As they bent themselves into pretzels, some of the German Christians realized it was a losing battle. So, in 1937, a group of them stated that the written word of Scripture was the problem. ‘Whereas the Jews were the first to write out their faith,’ they said, ‘Jesus never did so.’ True ‘German’ Christianity must therefore move beyond written words. ‘a demon always resides in the written word,’ they added.
There were some who would not be bent. Men like Martin Neimoller, Franz Hildebrandt and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, became vocal and persistent enemies of the compromising and unbiblical ways of the German Church. They separated into a movement called the Confessing Church. In one of their earliest documents, the signers committed themselves to four main points: 1] To rededicate themselves to the Scriptures and the historic confessions of the Church; 2] To work to protect the Church’s fidelity to the Scriptures and confessions; 3] to lend financial aid to those being persecuted by the new laws and violence; and 4] to firmly reject the Aryan Paragraph [the classifying of the Jew as a race of inferior status.] It was a bold and dangerous move.
What we need to see here is how easily it is for Christians, who are not grounded in the Word of God, to be caught up in the political and cultural trends of the day. As hard as it is to explain, “good” and “normal” people historically can put up with the most evil of practices because Bonhoeffer discerned the dangers and the destruction long before they would become obvious to all. Christ is not dwelling in hearts by the Word of God. You say, “That could not happen here.” I say, “Why not?”
He took up the fight before it was dangerous to do so because he was grounded in the Word of God. He prepared himself for the coming battle through prayer and meditation. Eventually, he would even be one of the conspirators in the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler.
Regardless of what your view is on this matter, Dietrich saw anything less as a betrayal of his obligation to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. One of his friends expressed it this way: “We now realized that mere confession, no matter how courageous, inescapably meant complicity with the murderers.”
So, back to us, what does this mean to us? We see no Hitler on the horizon. There are no concentration camps being constructed. Christianity, in spite of its lost influence, is still one of the religions tolerated in our land. But, where are we going? In the early 30’s, no one would have predicted where Germany would end up. I am not saying we will end up like Germany. But, I am saying that the trend, the movement, the downgrade is so obvious and accelerating at such a clip, that unless we take deliberate action now, we will be in danger of being intimidated and deluded just like the German Church.
The action I propose, as the only way of preserving not only our faith but the faith of our children and grandchildren, is to hide the Word of God in our hearts. That is what kept Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Everything depends upon our devotion to the Scripture. One of Bonhoeffer’s students described his influence like this:
“He said when you read the Bible, you must think that here and now God is speaking with me….He wasn’t as abstract as the Greek teachers and all the others. Rather, from the very beginning, he taught us that we had to read the Bible as it was directed at us, as the word of God directly to us. Not something generally applicable, but rather with a personal relationship to us. He repeated this to us very early on, that the whole thing comes from that.”
In the following editions, I will use Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his struggle and his commitments, to help us to prepare for the coming darkness that appears to be descending upon our land. Unless God’s sovereignty brings about a revival to our land, the pressures on believers will be so great that even the elect will be deceived, “if that were possible.” [Matt 24:24] The only weapon that will enable us to preserve our faith and persevere in the midst of the coming onslaught of evil will be God’s Word, in our heads in our hearts and in our hands.