Pastor Played Many Roles in Hitler's Germany
Have you ever read a book that made such an impact you could not get it out of your mind?
For our small devoted reading group, that was our reaction to “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson).
I was familiar with the young German theologian’s writings, especially “The Cost of Discipleship,” published in 1948, and “Life Together,” published in 1954, which we used in small groups in former parishes.
One can never forget his definition of a Christian, which appears on page 8 of “Life Together:” “When Christ calls a man (person) he bids him come and die.”
Many books have been written about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and there is a memorable motion picture depicting his life. This most recent biography provides an insightful, inspiring yet tragic account of an amazing Christian whose courage in resisting Nazism in general and Hitler in particular, even if it meant his own death, was grounded in God’s will.
Bonhoeffer was one of the principal leaders in forming the “Confessing Church,” providing a strategic alternative to those who wanted a unified Reich church, a “Christianity” that was strong and masculine. They boldly called themselves the “Deutsche Christen” (German Christians), to Hitler’s delight. In the Reich churches the Bible was replaced by “Mein Kampf,” with a sword beside it. Crosses were removed to make way for swastikas on church steeples. Jews were exterminated, and the reading of the Old Testament was “verboten” (forbidden). There were times when Bonhoeffer wondered whether the Christian church would survive the enforced idolatry of the German Reich.
It is a gripping story, which we turned into a drama at our final session. One of our members proposed that Dietrich Bonhoeffer be brought to trial for crimes against the state. Bonhoeffer was supportive of the dangerous plot to assassinate Hitler, and there was a “summary court martial,” which declared him guilty on the night before his death by hanging.
One of our members was the judge, complete with robe and gavel; one the defending attorney and another the prosecuting attorney. The youngest of our group played Bonhoeffer, and the final member represented several key witnesses who had been close friends, one of whom accompanied him to Flossenburg. There Dietrich was executed on April 9, 1945, just a few days before Allied soldiers arrived to liberate the small number of surviving prisoners.
How to live a truly Christian life in a secular world where evil often seems to have the upper hand? I recommend that you read this Bonhoeffer book by Metaxas, preferably in a study group setting, and discover how very relevant its message is for the living of these days.
Dr. William E. Smith is a Pinehurst resident.
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