Dietrich Bonhoeffer Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born February 4, 1906 in the town of Breslau (German name) located in the south-west portion of Poland. Historically, the town had been rule and inhabited by the governments of Poland, Bohemia, Austria, Prussia, and Germany. After World War II, the city returned as a possession of Poland. In 2006, Breslau recorded a population of six hundred and thirty thousand making it the fourth largest city in Poland. Bonhoeffer was born a twin to his sister Sabine. They were two of total eight children, three brothers including Karl Jr. 1899-1857) who worked as a German chemist before World War II, Walter (1899-1918) killed, as a solider in War I, and Klaus (1901-1945) a lawyer who served as a hospital orderly in World War I. Four sisters Ursula (1902-1983), Sabine (1906-1999) and Christel (1903-1965). Sister Susanne (1900-1991) married the theologian and botanist Walter Dress. Father Karl Sr. was a prominent German psychiatrist. Paula, a stay at home mother, homed schooled her children. It was thought that Dietrich would follow his father’s footsteps and become a psychiatrist.
Instead, he decided on a career of theology and the pastorate. A brilliant student, Bonhoeffer obtains a doctorate of theology at age twenty-one. Because Bonhoeffer was not of age for ordination, which was age 25, around 1927, he traveled to New York City where he attended Union Theological Seminary and developed a relationship with the African-American Abyssinia Baptist Church. These experiences he brought back to Germany helping him to shape his views and understanding of the importance of Christian community.
Originally, a Lutheran, Bonhoeffer was not comfortable with its liberal theology. He felt it devolved of Scriptural structure. In 1933, He began a dialog with the fame theologian Karl Barth who was impressed with his thirst for biblical knowledge. Thought the influence of Barth and others, Bonhoeffer embark on theological view that would challenge the changing altitude in Germany caused by a change of political and social thinking. This new neo-orthodox movement came to be known as the Confessing Church. 933-35, Bonhoeffer lecture, taught, pastor, and promoted this view throughout Germany. He even established a seminary teaching young pastors. There he wrote numerous books about the causes and the needs of Christians living as a community. Though different in aspect then the Confessing Movement founded in several mainline American Protestant denominations, the Confessing Church was a Christian resistance movement against Nazism within the German church. With the rise of Nazism (1933-45) and through the efforts of Adolph Hitler, the German church became contaminated to its philosophy.
During this period, orthodox Christian teaching were replaced by nationalistic ideologies that proclaim Hitler on or at the level of divine. The German church began to agree to the ill treatment of the Jew and played no part in their protection. The Confessing Church work diligently protecting the Jews even providing resources to transport thousands to the United States. By 1937, Bonhoeffer activities anger the Nazi government causing him to close down the seminary, resign from the pastorate, stopping public preaching. These only increase his resolve to speak out against the Nazi government.
In 1939, Bonhoeffer joined a group of “high-ranking military officers” of the German Intelligence Office who planned to overthrow Hitler and his Nazi government. From 1939-43 their efforts unsuccessful, however, Bonhoeffer remain untouchable until 1943 when money used to assist Jews escaping to Switzerland was traced to him. This lead him imprison for eighteen months. The failed July 1944 assassination plot against Hitler produced documents connecting Bonhoeffer and others. He was transferred to a military prison held for another eighteen months.
In February 1945, he was transfer to two concentration camps (Buchenwald and Flossenburg) At the Flossenburg camp. Bonhoeffer was cruelly executed with members of the German Intelligence Office on April 9, 1945 four days after Hitler read the diary of co-conspirator Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin, and a month before Germany officially surrender. Bonhoeffer leaves us a testimony of an individual who refused to reject teachings of Christ because of disapproving governmental adherers.
He recognized the challenges but they did not deter him from proclaiming the truth in the mist of lies. His resolve was so great that he laid his life down. Records of his death reveal a horrible death. … “Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothing, ridiculed by the guards, and led naked into the execution yard. A lack of sufficient gallows to hang the plotters caused Hitler and Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels to use meat hooks from slaughterhouses to slowly hoist the victim by a noose formed of piano wire Asphyxiation is thought to have taken half an hour. ”
Looking back at the Bonhoeffer life and how it emphases the holiness stream and its affects upon my life, I see three facts. First, the Holy Scriptures was Bonhoeffer’s roadmap and guidebook of life. Though I disagree with his views on Secular Theology, I can be confident of his commitment and love to the Scriptures. The Scriptures not only confirmed his place with God through Christ, forming his understanding of Christian community (Psalms 133:1) and the importance of living as a disciple of Christ (Luke 14:26). Secondly, Foster in his book “A Streams of Living Waters’” Bonhoeffer looked at Christ as the center of life.
Bonhoeffer understanding of Christ shaped his actions towards the German church. The church is where biblical truth is proclaimed and God is honor. When the national German church compromised with Nazism, Bonhoeffer looked upon the action as complying with the devil. It is taking the “Campus Crusade for Christ” model of who is sitting (having control) on the throne of ones life asking the question. Who does sit? Though the question directed to the unsaved, the save must also be asked. If Christ does not sit, there is chaos and trouble and of course lack of holiness.
His stance encourages me to appreciate the life that Christ built and to preserve it refusing all compromises. Lastly, Bonhoeffer was bold. One would say his boldness was base on his education, family trait, or situations of the day. However, I believe Bonhoeffer boldness was produce by the power living within him. It is the power of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit energizing and sustaining. His wiliness to commit himself to this power allowed him to withstand oppressions until death. I am not saying his was never afraid or had doubts. Whatever he had was not showed in his actions.
In conclusion, Bonhoeffer is a glowing example of holy dedication. The dedication showed was a serious belief of the working of faith in an individual’s life. As I look back at my own life, I see this important fact missing. I am like the man that asked Christ in Mark 9:24, “I believe, help my unbelief. ” However, I have hope. Bonhoeffer showed me how to enact my belief as chronicled in all four gospels. Deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ. If I save my life, I will lose it. If I loose my life, for Christ sake, I will save it. Amen!