Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent, a Christmas sermon by Dietrich Bonheoffer and the battle for orthodoxy

Christmas in Nazi Germany, for the Confessing Church members and pastors, must have been a time when Advent took on a deeper sense of reality, not only the birth of Christ but the second coming had significant meaning. The promises, one fulfilled the other coming, were full of hope, the only hope. picture by Stephen Larson

Simple parish political battles, in the midst of the ideological confusion of the era, were overlaid with deep theological rifts. The battle was between members of the Confessing Churches and the German Christians whose members ranged from pagan to moderate. When a church lost a pastor the battle was between church authorities who were often German Christians and church members and other pastors who belonged to the Confessing Church.

Kyle Jantzen in his book Faith and the Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s Germany writes of the Nauen Parish and the need for a pastor there. The new candidate, Gustav Gille, preached a rather political sermon but included “the Trinitarian version of the invocation and the Apostle’s Creed.” Later it was found that he did not accept all of the Apostles Creed and in his past church made use of syncretistic services. It turned out that Gille was a German Christian activist.

There were many protests against him most from those who had some connection to the Confessing Church. Some of the protest consisted of concern that he neglected to preach about Jesus, that he taught that Jesus was only a model teacher rather than the one who saved by his life and death. After four years of battle this particular parish won and they were appointed a pastor who would simply preach that salvation was in Jesus.

The parish conflicts were not consistent across Nazi Germany, but many of the concerns were the same. Many church leaders were aligned with the Nazi political system. Their ideology which above all else defined “racial superiority” in an extremely “narrow sense” was inconsistent with Christian orthodoxy. As Jantzen puts it:

“… Nazi Ideology violated many core Christian doctrines, such as the common sinfulness of all humanity, the universal judgment of God, the salvation of all humanity through the sacrificial death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and the mission of the church to live as a unified body of Christ on earth.”

Looking at the sermons of some Confessing Church members is helpful in understanding that this was a battle between basic Christian doctrine and an imposed ideology which was partly right wing (nationalism) partly liberal and partly pagan. I was thinking as I began this post of Advent and an Advent sermon by Dietrich Bonheoffer given sometime between 1938-1940.
My intention was to copy out some of the sermon. It has four parts; I will copy the first two. It is on the second coming of Jesus and uses the text, Luke 21:25-36.

“Johann Christoph Blumhardt (nineteenth-century Pietist in Wurttemberg) relates how he kept a new carriage in his parish grounds, which would be used for the first time by the Lord Christ when he comes, ‘then I will drive him in it.’ How certain the waiting Blumhardt was about the coming of Christ! How he planned his daily life so that he would be ready for that moment! His mind was fixed upon how he would fare at that moment when he stood before the Lord Jesus. Such certainty is something unknown to us. There is nothing certain, not even our death is certain. Only the second coming of Christ is certain. This faith of Blumhardt is great, but it is too small for the second coming of Christ. For when it happens, the world will not appear as it now appears. The whole creation will be shaken and changed. Sun, moon, and stars will be displaced in their orbits. When God comes to earth, the stars must lose their light before him. The earth itself will be shattered. Creation reaches out towards him. It feels itself dissolving before him. The sea roars and tosses in anguish and joy. And if the universe knows him, how much more will human beings whose Savior and Judge he is. They will in the same manner be aroused when he comes, fearful of the things that are about to happen. Judgment will be over the whole of humankind when he comes to bring the old world to an end.

Only on one place in the earth will it be quite different. There will not be anguish at that place, but joy, not fear, but heads will be held high: that place is the congregation of Christ’s people. They know he comes to redeem them. They are like miners who have been trapped in the depths of the mine, who have suffered, long shut up in the dark, who hear the knocking and the breaking down of walls coming closer. Is it the final caving-in of the mine or the rescuer coming? ‘Lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near.’ For Christians this world is like a fetter, it is too narrow for them. ‘Dearest Lord Jesus, why do you wait so long? Come, Lord! Here on earth, I am so frightened.’ The earth, its suffering and temptation makes us anxious, but Christ makes us glad, he brings redemption.[1]”

Come Lord Jesus.

[1] Edwin Robertson, Editor, Dietrich Bonheoffer’s Christmas Sermons


Dave Moody said...

Awesome! But you really need to post these BEFORE Advent, so us preachers can poach... ;-)


Viola Larson said...

I'll try and remember that next year Dave: )

John said...

So, then, Viola, has your church taken the American flag out of the sanctuary?

I never fought that battle as a Pastor but I often think it shouldn't be there.

I find it interesting that you would find support for your position with those who resisted the authority of the state when it seems to me that most "conservative" Christians in the USA today are among the most nationalistic, even wanting to declare that we are a Christian nation.

Perhaps you are not among that number and if so I would find your appreciation of the Confessing Church more authentic.

It seems to me we need to challenge today's "American Christians." To be more precise, those Americans who believe Jesus Christ is clearly a Republican. Are we on the same wavelength here?

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + + "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." -- Martin Luther King, Jr. (the speech containing this famous quote is found at

Viola Larson said...

It might surprise you to learn that most of the members of the Confessing Church thought of Germany as a Christian nation that had lost its way. Thinking that a nation is Christian is not what makes one a nationalist in the sense that the Nazis thought of themselves.

Many nations during the 19th and early twentieth century thought of themselves as eternal cultures. For the Nazis and others there was the belief that a nation was an eternal culture and people. They thought alike, all spoke the same language and had roots in the same ancient past. And more than that is the thought that our nation and culture is better than all others. Or that our race is superior. That is demonic.

That idea of eternal cultures is why the pagan side of the Nazis became such a menace to the orthodox. The pagan German Christians or faith movement as they were called wanted to incorporate the supposed pagan past both into the church and into the nation. They wanted barbaric rites from the past mingled with Christian worship.

I agree that some in the United States have thought like that. But generally it is the conservative part not the Christian part that gets twisted up in that kind of thinking. But nationalism in Nazi Germany does not equate with your remarks.

The truth is I can’t remember if we have a flag in our church or not, but I don’t care for that except when we have some celebrations and include flags from all countries. That is fun.

C.S. Lewis in his bookThe Four Loves writes about how love of country can turn demonic. It is a long chapter but he understands that the belief that “our Country” and culture, etc. is better than any other country is what turns that love to the demonic. But love of country is not wrong.

But this posting was about faith in Jesus Christ and how it was the Confessing Church, although they often failed, who upheld the traditional doctrines of the church. And it is about what Christ’s return means to those trapped in a darkening world.

Viola Larson
Sacramento Ca

Dave Moody said...

"It seems to me we need to challenge today's "American Christians." To be more precise, those Americans who believe Jesus Christ is clearly a Republican."

or a Democrat.


Viola Larson said...

Amen Dave!

Viola Larson said...

I should write about this sometime, but John you have opened up a whole lot of ideas in my mind. I am thinking of several occultic groups that have existed in the US for awhile. They have links to the New Age movement but have been super patriots and extremely right wing.

One is what is called “The Church Universal and Triumphant” or Summit Light House. Another is the “I Am” group. There are others. Many of them have dwindled down to a few people but once they were huge. While they have beliefs about the great white brotherhood which is supposedly occultic masters who guide humanity and auras and reincarnation etc. they also have questionable beliefs about the United States as having a divine place in the evolution of humanity.

I have been at the I Am campground when my husband was tuning there. They had flags everywhere. Few people know the link between occultic groups and extreme nationalism but there is one that began with theosophy and Madam Blavatsky. Thanks for jarring my memory-I will write about that sometime.

Pastor Bob said...


I thinks it's a matter of who gets the press. The radicals on either side get the press. Most of us are just trying to be Biblical. That means the Kingdom of God comes first before all. That means that America gets measured by what Jesus says about nation, culture and behavior. And whether you agree with them or not conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists have no problem criticizing America.

As for the flag battle I think it is less important than talking from the pulpit about right and wrong in national life and life as a Christian who also happens to be a citizen in America.