Eric Metaxas On The Reasons Behind Bonheoffer's Spiritual Stance Against The Nazis

Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R0211-316 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
When Adolf Hitler came into power in Germany, a German theologian's (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) stance and beliefs put him right in the eye of the storm. Also, his refusal to bend to the machination of the Nazi system, and his encouragement of such mind-set, was a source of irritation to the new government.

Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, documents Bonhoeffer's journey and complicated relationship with the German Church and Nazis, a journey made him turn his back on the majority of his contemporaries who were supporters of Adolf Hitler's way of government. Bonhoeffer's strong convictions also lead him to attempt an assassination on Hitler in 1944, an attempt which led to his own death.

In Bonhoeffer AbridgedEric Metaxas tries to peer through the curtain of history and brings us Bonhoeffer's beliefs on the relationship between the Church and the State, beliefs which led him to take the actions he took.

When the Third Reich rose and Christians were confused about how to relate with the new government, Metaxas writes that:
"Bonhoeffer addressed the issue of the church’s attitude toward the state, first by paraphrasing Romans 13: 'There is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.' In other words, governments are established by God for the preservation of order."
After this declaration, it is said that Bonhoeffer stated three ways in which a Church should act towards the State.
"The first way was for the church to question the state regarding its actions and their legitimacy - to help the state be the state as God has ordained.
"The second way—and here he took a bold leap—was 'to aid the victims of state action.'
"The third way the church can act toward the state, he said, 'is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself.' This, he said, is permitted only when the church sees its very existence threatened by the state, and when the state ceases to be the state as defined by God.”
Bonhoeffer Abridged by Eric MetaxasBonhoeffer’s fight against Nazism seriously starts with the formation of the die Deutsche Christen: the German Christians. This group of pastors ...stood solidly behind Hitler’s rise to power and blithely tossed two millennia of Christian orthodoxy overboard. They wanted a strong, unified Reichskirche and a 'Christianity' that was strong and masculine, and that would stand up to and defeat the godless and forces of Bolshevism...This group wanted a unified German church in accord with Nazi principles.” 

Over the remaining yeas of Adolf Hitler’s reign, Bonhoeffer opposed the government by forming a separate branch away from the German Christians, called the Confessing Church. The Confessing Church refused to bow under the leadership of Adolf Hitler and the doctrine preached by the German Christians. As a result of this and many other things, Bonhoeffer’s license as a university lecturer was revoked by the government.

By 1937, Bonhoeffer was convinced that negotiations between the Confessing Church and the government was not going to work. In one of his writings during that period, he wrote,
“The promise of grace is not to be squandered; it needs to be protected from the godless. There are those who are not worthy of the sanctuary. The proclamation of grace has its limits. Grace may not be proclaimed to anyone who does not recognize or distinguish or desire it.”
Not everyone shares Bonhoeffer’s ideals, especially members of the Confessing Church. Even though they stood against the Third Reich, they dithered on a lot of resolutions and was not totally convinced about Bonhoeffer’s decision to join the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), regardless of his reasons. Those who learnt about the assassination plot mostly shunned and removed themselves away from him. The following years that ensued saw Germany invaded many countries under false pretexts and threw millions of people in concentration camps.

The assassination attempt of 1944 was the last attempt made by Bonhoeffer’s friends. Its failure revealed the identities of the masterminds to the government. The culprits were all rounded up and imprisoned. As Hitler’s war was the rest of the world wounded-up and Germany was pushed back, Bonhoeffer was executed.  Most of the people involved in the assassination plot were also executed as Hitler senses his end and was determined to take as many lives of his enemies as possible.

Personally, I do not think Bonhoeffer contributed much to the assassination plot, he was, however, opposed Nazism and did a lot to move the Church away from the falsehood the government was pushing it towards.
Bonhoeffer was and still is a blessing to the church worldwide and his actions shows how much Christians can do when they shun spiritual passiveness and embrace the concept of believers as the salt and light of the world.

Bonhoeffer Abridged: Eric Metaxas: Books

ISBN: 0718016165
ISBN-13: 9780718016166

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