By Joel Hess –
Bonhoeffer has always fascinated Lutherans. And why not? He is our favorite modern day martyr! Although he wasn’t killed because he was a Christian. He was killed because he was a traitor. His true martyrdom was at the hands of the German church who turned the other way and let his hang man triumph.
As I have been enjoying Eric Metaxas’ biography on this popular figure, I’ve been especially intrigued by the journey the German state church travelled to finally aligning itself with Hitler. Often times we hear the argument that German Lutherans were simply quiet because they practiced too extremely the doctrine of two kingdoms and Paul’s advice in Romans 13 to obey the Fuhrer. However the German church was not simply neutral. It was compliant. Before Jews were being put on trains, they were being removed from the church!
How could that possibly have happened? Was it due to right-wing family-value preachers? Was it the result of fundamentalists running amuck among the clergy? I would bet that a survey of publicly educated Americans, let alone most NPR listeners, would answer, “Of course!” (By the way, I listen to NPR every morning so…. crunchy con.)
Not at all. The intellectual groundwork was laid down in the 19th century when the leadership of the church fell for the higher critical fad that separated the words of scripture from their meaning, material from the spiritual, God from manuscript. By Bonhoeffer’s day, the Bible had become just another ancient document best left to the experts to decode. These experts taught that the Bible was written by men and therefore contains men’s mistakes. Therefore anything that the reader didn’t like, he could simply blow it off as a peculiarity of the writer, or the culture of the times, or sexism, or whatever. For those who were digging the power politics of Nazism, the goofy Old Testament and the silly stuff about sin, weakness, etc. could all be blamed on those rat-like creatures, the Jews. Ah yes, the Jews ruined God’s Word.
If you believe that it is possible to have an external authority such as God, yet not trust any document of said God, then you will inevitably create your own God, let alone your own definitions of justice, salvation, grace, right and wrong. Eventually it will come down to politics and power, might makes right. It always does. Whoever is in the majority will create the religion of their choice.
No, one cannot promise that if the majority of the Church had not been brainwashed by the progressive/liberal theological point of view we would not have had to storm Normandy. But it would have been a LOT harder for the common church going German to raise his hand and shout, “Hail victory.” Yes, I promise that. The liberal German state church and its SS – academia – are just as guilty of the bloodshed of WWII as Himmler.
In America, Bonhoeffer discovered a people who actually believed in what Scripture said, let alone Jesus, Grace, and Hope. He witnessed a high regard for the authority of Scripture, and not by the lily white eastern elitists of Union Theological Seminary, but in the churches of what perhaps was then America’s persecuted minority – African Americans.
Sadly today, more of the American church sounds far more similar to the German state church that helped Hitler rise to power. This same progressive/liberal church also enjoys being friends with government, advising foreign policies, supporting little concentration camps of non-humans officially declared by the state, redefining religious terms such as marriage, and turning the other way when a krystallnacht comes to the baker who won’t write something on a cake that goes against his conscience, let alone his high view of Holy Scripture.
As Robert Zimmerman, the Jewish poet laureate of the 60’s sang, “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”