Getting Kicked Out

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, executed for opposing Hitler.Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birthday is this week. He would have been 108. He split from the German state Lutheran Church during Adolf Hitler’s reign, and formed the Confessing Church, because the State Lutheran Church supported Hitler and refused to object to the things he was doing to dissenters, doing to elected officials from other parties, to other nations, to the mentally handicapped, to people of various sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, to homosexuals, and especially to Jews. Bonhoeffer objected to the way the Nazis set up the State as higher than God. Eventually Bonhoeffer decided it would be best that Hitler be killed, and he joined in a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer was arrested and hung in a concentration camp shortly before Hitler killed himself at the end of the Second World War in 1945.

Bonhoeffer is lauded today for being one of the bravest and most influential theologians of the 20th century. To do what he did he had to leave his denomination and start something new, opposing the Nazi regime. In 1933 (6 years before the beginning of World War II) the Nazis encouraged the German State Lutheran Church to pass resolutions to remove pastors who did not support the State’s goals, especially Aryan philosophy. In 1934 a group of German Protestants upset by Aryan philosophy and German nationalism in the German Lutheran Church, met and started the movement later to become the Confessing Church.

The evangelical church in America is somewhat similar to the Lutheran State Church in Germany in the sense that the evangelical church in America, compared to other religious groups in America, is the most jingoistically patriotic, the most affirming of the United States military, the most likely to have an American flag on the church podium, the last social group to adopt civil rights that the rest of the nation long ago adopted, the most supportive of the conservative side of the Republican Party and the primary support of the Tea Party.

black power

The crowd was stunned and horrified when gold medalist John Carlos and bronze medalist Tommie Smith gave the black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games

Only a few years ago we can point to events in the 1960s in most evangelical churches that showed they did not want integration. Even those who wanted integration, had no idea how condescending they were toward blacks, hispanics and other race groups. Many said they wanted integration, as long as there were no black power salutes, no Afro hair styles, no swaying and clapping in church, etc. In other words, “we will barely tolerate you as long as you completely assimilate, completely leave your culture, family and customs behind, and be as white as possible, and as silent as possible.” (I’m listening to an interview of the first athlete to give the black power salute on the podium at the 1968 Olympic games.)

But what I find important is that Bonhoeffer had to start a new denomination in order to oppose Nazism in the church. This is almost a universal principle. The establishment always veers toward the status quo. As one of my pastors said, “Unless there is constant correction, the church always drifts towards being a country club.” What is sad is that all churches, even the confessing church, rapidly get taken over by traditionalists.

So my opinion is that true prophetic leaders are not in established churches. Established churches will always be incompatible with the radical anarchic philosophies of Jesus Christ. When we look for true followers of Jesus, it is a waste of time to look in a particular denomination or sect that seems to us to be doctrinally purer than the rest. True followers of Jesus almost always conflict with their denomination or sect, whatever group they find themselves in. The true church is not an organized denomination or sect with rites and traditions. The true church is not a congregation. Jesus’ church are people who are willing to go against the flow no matter where they are, wherever and whenever we stand up for justice.


About Mark

I was raised in the conservative non-institutional churches of Christ and attended Florida College in Tampa, Florida. I served as a minister for 8 years in the non-institutional churches of Christ, and 4 years at a mainline church of Christ in Vermont.
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9 Responses to Getting Kicked Out

  1. Gary Cummings says:

    I have had Bonhoeffer as my mentor since I discovered and devoured the Cost of Discipleship in 1968. He made a lot of sense to me, as I had been a Conscientious Objector about two years and I opposed the Vietnam War. I think his book saved my life and sanity. The worst opponents I had toward my pacifism were my then wife (raised in the COC), the local Churches of Christ, and the Bible professors of Abilene Christian College. My dad and I did not agree about the war, but he treated me better than my wife and in-laws and the True Church. To me they were like the Nazi Church of Bonhoeffer’ s day. In an evil day , when the Church is as silent, it ceases to be the church, if it ever was. We had repeat of the Vietnam Era, when W. Bush became the leader of “beast nation “, as is mentioned in Revelation. The real church is you and I, and we must prophesy the radical peace of the Kingdom of God, both to the state and the prostitute church.

  2. Gary Cummings says:

    To be outside of the Confessing Church in Germany meant one was not following Christ . There are exceptions to this for those who resisted the Nazis, one way or another. There were many priests and nuns at Dachau and the extermination camps. God knows His own and the Nazis and the conservatives who promote war and injustice do not belong to Christ.

  3. garycummings says:

    Bonhoeffer was convicted of high treason in 1945. It was not until the 1990’s that the German State of Bavaria issued a pardon for crimes of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyr for Jesus Christ.

    • BH says:

      If I were a descendant of Bonhoeffer and Bavaria approached me to accept it on his behalf I would decline. For one, Bonhoeffer did nothing wrong morally in trying to destroy Hitler and his regime, because holy scripture says in the law we are commanded to take it upon ourselves to save innocent people being led away to be put to death, and 2 by accepting a pardon one unconsciously acknowledges that secular law somehow trumps religious law. He did nothing he should be pardoned for.

  4. Gary Cummings says:

    Jesus was anarchist in favor of the Kingdom of God, which was different from Rome or the Jewish hierarchy. He gave us a Kingdom paradigm to live by, which few people have attempted to follow. Some have-the early Christian movement, the Donatists, Montanists, Waldensians, Anabaptists, early Quakers, Franciscans, and other groups. Some of the great Christian Anarchists have been David Lipscomb of the Disciples of Christ (before he joined with the COC), Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jacques Ellul, Dorothy Day, and the Berrigan brothers and their cohorts.
    I think there is a thread between David Lipscomb, Tolstoy, Bonhoeffer, Ellul and some modern Christian Anarchists. That would be a good PhD dissertation, but it would be better as a lived life: the message, life and ethics of the Kingdom of God,

  5. BH says:

    We can study history and see how Hitler and the Nazis infiltrated the German church and took it over to some extent. How are American churches taken over and made to sway towards some position or positions someone with money or power wants it to lean to?

  6. garycummings says:

    When right wing money from government, industry or individuals controls the church or its institutions, you get a right wing church.

  7. Pingback: Getting Kicked Out | Ex Church of Christ

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