Summary: Christ calls us to come outside of the norm of everyday life and take our stand with Him...alone.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born into a family where faith was not much of a concern or topic of conversation, but as a 14 year old, Dietrich Bonhoeffer announced that he was going to be a pastor and theologian. His family was stunned and his older brother tried to persuade him that he was making a huge mistake. His brother said that the church was powerless, irrelevant, and unworthy of Dietrich’s commitment. Dietrich responded to his brother, "If the church is really what you say it is then I shall have to reform it."
The day came when the young man began his university studies in theology at Tuebingen, and then he went on to complete his studies at Berlin. His doctoral dissertation exposed his brilliance and he was becoming better known beyond the borders of Germany for his theological papers.
In 1930 Bonhoeffer went to the United States as a guest lecturer of one of its best-known seminaries. He was dismayed at the casual, lax attitudes with which American students approached theology. Unable to remain silent any longer, he informed the pastors-to-be, "At this liberal seminary the students sneer at the fundamentalists in America, when all the while the fundamentalists know far more of the truth and grace, mercy and judgment of God."
Dietrich was a gifted scholar and professor, but deep in his heart – he was a pastor. By 1933 he had left university teaching behind and was a pastor to two German-speaking congregations in London, England. By now the life-and-death struggle for the church in Germany was under way as Hitler welded more and more influence on all aspects of German culture. Bonhoeffer began to struggle with the idea – “Does the Church live by the Gospel alone or can the Church and the State become intermingled so that the Church supports the ideologies of the State?” These were tough questions when you have a leader like Adolf Hitler swaying Church leaders. Bonhoeffer came to the conclusion that the Church must live by the Gospel alone and avoid intermingling with the State or it would be rendered no Church at all.
An older professor of theology who had conformed to Nazi ideology in order to keep his job told Dietrich, "It is a great pity that our best hope in the faculty is being wasted on the church struggle." As the struggle intensified, it was noticed that Bonhoeffer’s sermons became more confident of God’s victory, and more defiant.
At the same time that Bonhoeffer was becoming more defiant of Hitler’s influence on the Church there was another sermon being preached in the Church of Germany. On January 25, 1934 Adolf Hitler called hundreds of pastors and leaders from the churches in Germany to a personal conference in Berlin. He was concerned about a possible split among the pastors concerning his policy over the German church. He criticized and threatened them, reminding the ministers that the economy in Germany was in great recovery and that he needed their unified support. He told them, "You confine yourself to the church. I will take care of the German people." Hitler was persuasive, he mesmerized the pastors and the Church became silent during the Nazi holocaust. The pastors aligned themselves with Hitler, they placed the Swastika on their pastoral robes, and in doing so they turned their backs on the cross of Christ.
Martin Niemoller, who along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer founded the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, rose up in opposition to Hitler during the meeting. He said, "We are not concerned with the churches in Germany. Jesus Christ will take care of them Himself. We are concerned with the heart and soul of our nation." With that courageous statement in the face of a tyrant you would have thought that the pastors would have applauded him. Instead, Niemoller was ushered out of the meeting by several pastors and harshly condemned for causing trouble and ruining the possibility of building a relationship with the powerful leader of Germany. It was the men of God who silenced the very voice of God in Germany.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “When Christ calls a person, He bids him to come and die.” Dietrich would live that statement as his opposition brought more and more attention and persecution from Hitler’s henchmen. Bonhoeffer would not back away from his belief that there could be only one Fuehrer or leader for Christians, and it was not Hitler. Lutheran bishops and pastors remained silent in the hope of preserving institutional unity. In the face of weak leadership Bonhoeffer warned his fellow ministers that they ought not to pursue converting Hitler; what they needed most was to be converted themselves. An Anglican bishop who knew Bonhoeffer well in England later wrote, "He was crystal-clear in his convictions; and young as he was, and humble-minded as he was, he saw the truth and spoke it with complete absence of fear." Bonhoeffer himself wrote to a friend about this time, "Christ is looking down at us and asking whether there is anyone who still confesses Him."