Bonhoeffer on Living With Opposition

The Picture of a Christian Nazi

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in 1930’s Nazi Germany where the status quo became increasingly hostile toward Christ-followers. Then, as now, the church’s attitude of appeasement toward a potentially hostile regime cost its Christian witness and forced Christ-followers into the underground church. What follows is Bonhoeffer’s view of Christian life among enemies, based on his experience doing just that:

The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. There they find their mission, their work.

I want to submit one caveat about the sentence: ” He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God.” While that is true in the sense of presenting them with the gospel of peace, Jesus said something different in Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

Is there a middle ground between Christian passivism and Christian activism? All Christian-isms represent human ideological substitutes for simply following Christ. They are human movements and institutions loosely based on New Testament ideas, and provide a setting for “Adjectival Christians.”

That multi-syllabic term is itself a modification of “Christian,” the Biblical word for Christ-followers. If I’ve lost you, an adjective is a word that modifies a noun. While the word “Christian” is a noun, it defies modification because Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. And yes, there’s a fancy word for that, too: Immutability. Since Christ can’t change, and a follower simply follows, how can you modify the word for Christ-follower?

But I digress. Bonhoeffer saw no choice but to actively oppose Nazism, to the degree of participating in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. That’s about as active as you can get, but he wasn’t a “Christian activist.” Rather, he was a Christ-follower who felt conscience-bound to eradicate an evil leader. On the other hand, a “Christian passivist” avoids confrontation about his faith. As that goes against 1 Peter 3:15, the term “passive Christ-follower” is an oxymoron.

The problem with that conclusion is also the problem with today’s Christendom; most “Christians” passively live as Christians in name only. When real persecution attacks, such nominal Christians’ conformity to the world will exempt them from suffering for Christ. But check out Romans 12:1-2 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Barring a massive, worldwide revival, or Christ’s return, persecution will come, and the church will be tested. Those who stand for Christ will be saved, but those who don’t … well, Jesus said it best in Matthew 10:32-33 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.


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