Saturday, February 19, 2011

Voting, Bonhoeffer and the confession of the church

In 1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was involved in church elections. The German Christians would win that election by 70 percent over the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer, as Edwin Robertson,1 points out would preach his last sermon in Berlin. He used Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ found in Matthew 16:13-18.

He started his sermon with the statement, “If it were left to us we would rather avoid the decisions which are forced upon us this day; if it were left to us, we would rather not be caught up in this struggle in the Church, which tears it apart; if it were left to us we would rather not insist on the rightness of our cause.”

Bonhoeffer goes on to say that it is God whose plans have forced the conflict on the Confessing Church.

And then he continues, “We must be content, wherever we are, to face the accusation of being self-righteous, of acting and speaking as though we were proud and superior to others. Nothing is made easy for us. We are confronted with a decision and we are divided.”

Through the body of his sermon Bonhoeffer speaks of the church and where it is. He refers to it as the eternal church. He states:

Amidst the creaking and straining of the very foundations of its structure, amidst the cracks and destruction we hear everywhere the promise of an everlasting church; a church against which the powers of hell shall not prevail. A church which Christ has built upon a rock, and which he continues to build throughout all time.”
Bonhoeffer asks where one finds this eternal Church. He sees it away from the crowds where Peter makes his confession. He looks at the weaknesses of Peter and other disciples, and yet since it is Christ’s church finds it to be the church of revelation rather than human opinions or ideas. The important thing is the foundation, Christ the Lord.

He advises the troubled Christians listening to his sermon that day:

We shall confess—he shall build. We shall preach—he shall build. We shall pray to him—he shall build. We do not know his plan. We do not see whether he builds or tears down. It may be that the times, which by human standards are times of collapse, are for him the times of great building. It may be that the times, which by human standards are times of great success, are for him times to tear down. It is a great comfort that Christ gives to his church: confess, preach and bear witness to me. I alone will build as it pleases me. Don’t give me orders. Do your job—then you have done enough. You are all right. Don’t seek out reasons or opinions. Don’t keep judging. Don’t keep checking again and again to see if you are secure. Church, remain a church! You have only one Lord—Christ alone. By his grace alone you live. Christ builds.

And the power of hell shall not overcome you. Death is the legacy of all who live. Here it finds its end. On the hard foundations of the valley of death, the church is built, the church which confesses Christ as its life. It has eternal life precisely where death grasps at it. And it grasps at it because it has eternal life. The confessing church is
the everlasting church, because Christ protects it. Its eternal nature is not visible in this world. The waves go high over it and sometimes it appears to sink and be lost. But the victory lies with the church, because Christ the Lord is with it and he has conquered death. ‘Do not ask if the victory is yours, but believe in the victory and it is already yours.’

His exhortation for the church is:
Whether the numbers are great or small, whether the members are lowly or high, whether they are weak or strong, if they confess Christ, the victory is theirs through all eternity: ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom’ (Luke 12:32) ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20), The city of God remaineth!
For this our day also. The City of God remaineth!

1. All quotes of Bonhoeffer taken from, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons, Editor and Translator Edwin Robertson

17 comments:

Doug Hagler said...

As always, this is very much how those who disagree with you feel.

Part of why threats of schism and of extreme conservatives leaving the PCUSA don't have the intended effect.

But, anyway, amen - and for different reasons. As always.

Viola Larson said...

Doug I don't think that anyone on the orthodox side has accused the other side of being self-righteous or proud.

Debbie said...

Yes. “We must be content, wherever we are, to face the accusation of being self-righteous, of acting and speaking as though we were proud and superior to others." Wow! Just what we're facing today! Reading these words of Bonhoeffer's brought tears to my eyes. Also: “If it were left to us we would rather avoid the decisions which are forced upon us this day; if it were left to us, we would rather not be caught up in this struggle in the Church, which tears it apart; if it were left to us we would rather not insist on the rightness of our cause.”

Thanks for posting this, Viola. I would not have chosen this fight, but, as Gandalf said, that is not for us to decide. All we have left is decide what we shall do with the times that are given us. And the decision is to let Christ build! God's plans have forced the conflict, as Bonhoeffer says; we must decide and follow him, despite the accusations leveled against us.

Jodie said...

Viola,

It really is Orwellian how you hold up Bonhoeffer's heroic stand against Nazism as somehow metaphorical of your stand against the inclusion of homosexuals in the Church.

And you bristle at being called self-righteous or proud? I mean, really???

Every time you make the comparison, it diminishes the evil of Nazism, and it diminishes the valor of Bonhoeffer and all those who, for their stand, went to the gallows with him.

And in doing so it diminishes you and your argument as well.

Do you really not get that?

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Viola Larson said...

Debbie, I was amazed at how much Bonhoeffer's thoughts fitted our situation. I once noted in another book in an essay by Franklin H. Littell, not even an evangelical, that he stated that the members of the Confessing Church were constantly being "charged with fundamentalism, for asserting doctrines not negotiable."

And it is fun to see Bonhoeffer and Gandalf with their arms around each other: ) J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in his essay on fairy stories that Christ had redeemed both men and elves. So a wizard too!

Viola Larson said...

Jodie,
Only this once on this posting, and only because you are by your words giving an example of how the orthodox get treated for submitting to Jesus Christ.

And this is Bonhoeffer as he confesses for the church in his book Ethics:

"She [the church]has found no strong and effective answer to the comtempt for chastity and to the proclamation of sexual libertinism. All she has achieved has been an occasional expression of moral indignation. She has rendered herself guilty of the loss of the purity and soundness of youth. She has failed to proclaim with sufficient emphasis that our bodies belong to the body of Christ."

Dave Moody said...

Vi-
Thanks for pushing brother Bonhoeffer to the forefront of the witness that is called for these days.

blessings on you and yours,
dm

Viola Larson said...

And yours too Dave. Some good reading for our time, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.

Anonymous said...

Hello Viola,

I am not one to rail against post modern methods, but aren't you taking Bonhoeffer a tinsy winsy little out of context?

In the last reference to Ethics, Bonhoeffer is talking about lack of chastity and sexual libertinism, neither of which depend on a person's sexual orientation. There had been a sexual revolution of sorts in the 20s, and the German Nazis were famous for their orgies, most of which were quite heterosexual. Specially since they tended to be homophobic in the extreme, consistent with their overt bigotry.

The movement to allow the inclusion of homosexuals in the Church does not promote libertinism or lack of chastity! Quite to the contrary. The movement towards gay marriage is all about chastity and fidelity in loving monogamous relationships. And ordination of homosexuals is basically just bringing out into the light what has been true for centuries. There have always been gay clergy.


Steve Blair
San Diego, Ca

Greg Scandlen said...

The comments here are offensive -- dismissive and belittling. Obviously the proponents of gay ordination believe they have won the argument and have no need of further persuasion.

That may be true in their communities, but for the rest of us, the fellow at my Presbytery meeting summed it up well -- "Does the Presbyterian church no longer consider homosexuality a sin?"

I would love to have that question answered. And as part of that answer I would be interested in knowing when and under what authority that happened.

Viola Larson said...

Steve,
On the More Light web site in their Christmas letter is this:

"The imposition of celibacy upon unmarried heterosexuals or LGBT persons along with the failure of our church to recognize same-sex marriage in the Church or within society has caused great harm to our Church. to its witness within the Christian communion and in the world." The More Light members are not pushing for chastity.

I do believe that is an encouragement of fornication. And whether you want to accept it or not same gender sex is sexual libertinism. But my posting wasn’t just about homosexuality it is about the Church and Christ’s care for the Church.

You are right there was a sexual revolution in the twenties in Germany. And Bonhoeffer with most of the confessing church were concerned about it. And some of the Nazi’s were a part of the decadence. It was a mixed bag. One of the early Nazi leaders who was ruthless was gay.

Eric Metaxas in his new biography of Bonhoeffer writes about this. He writes:

“ It must be said that the Nazi leaders, including Hitler, had no moral difficulties with homosexuality. Many of the early figures in the Nazi movement were homosexuals, Ernst Röhm and his strutting cronies chief among them. But in the Third Reich an accusation of homosexuality was without peer in smearing someone’s reputation. So with breathtaking cynicism that was their trademark, Hitler and the Nazis employed this tactic innumerable times against their political enemies, and the concentration camps were full of sad cases whose real reasons for being there need never be disclosed, as long as they bore the stigma of a pink triangle.”

Ernst Röhm was killed by fellow Nazis in the Night of the Long Knifes. The beginning of harshness against the gay community happened for two reasons. Hitler set himself up to appear as a savior to Germany against decadence; it was one of his many masks. Fornication was encouraged so that there would be more Aryan children born. For the same reason gay sex was seen as anti-German.

George L. Mosse a scholar of Fascism and Nazi Germany in his book The Fascist Revolution: Toward a general theory of fascism, has a whole section on the issue of homosexual collaboration by French homosexuals with the Nazis, and why that would do so. And he also writes:

“The open homosexuality of Ernst Rohm, the powerful chief of the SA—the storm troopers—and other Nazi leaders indicates the ambivalent attitude toward bourgeois respectability on the part of the members of the early National Socialist movement. This is also true of Hitler, who defended Röhm against attacks by pointing out that the latter’s private life was his own affair as long as he used some discretion. The 1934 murder of Röhm and other leaders of the SA who were known homosexuals had, in turn, little to do with their sexual inclinations. The SA was now threatening Hitler’s power and destroying his relationships with the regular army. Be that as it may the opportunity was seized to undermine the role of the party and of the regime as the defender of respectability. Show trials were held in which Catholic priests were accused of homosexuality, and the family was given a central role to play in National Socialist propaganda.”

Long answer I knew but it is a complicated history.

That homosexuals were horribly treated and murdered is true and one of the great sins of Nazism, there is no question about that. But a complete history helps to better understand that time and our times.

Viola Larson said...

That should have been underline not undermine in the last quote.

tera said...

Viola,

I am to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God. This means to me that I will refrain from passing judgments or thinking that I have all the right answers.

It also means to me that others who call themselves Christians are to do the same. Unfortunately, not everyone who calls themselves a Christian is one, but only God knows the truth as we humans are limited in our ability to see the whole story of someone's life and what they do on a daily basis and who there really are in their heart and soul.

And words are easily misunderstood. So, it's wise for all of us to trust that all is as it should be. And to go on about our business loving others and sharing the hope and peace of God with them in tangible ways that nourish and heal them. We are nourished and healed at the same time, which is just how God meant it to be.

However, if we fear change. If we start to fight to keep tradition. If we put our focus on what type of behavior is right in God's eyes rather than what type of heart is right, we no longer are living by the commandments or example Jesus set forth.

God can handle anything. We are wise to remember that. I try to daily. He doesn't need my help. But it is my pleasure to serve.

Tera Billes
Sacramento, CA

Dave Moody said...

Tara,
Whereas I appreciate the irenic tone you seek to set, I don't think even you, believe or think, what you just wrote.

"And words are easily misunderstood. So, it's wise for all of us to trust that all is as it should be..."

and then

"However, if we fear change. If we start to fight to keep tradition. If we put our focus on what type of behavior is right in God's eyes rather than what type of heart is right, we no longer are living by the commandments or example Jesus set forth."

If this truly represents your view, where would you place Abolitionists or Suffragists? All is as it should be?

And then, you seem to switch and talk about those who would lift a biblical perspective that belief and behavior are linked, and right behavior flows from right belief as somehow being judgmental and contrary to what our Lord himself demands from his followers- obedience to his commands.

Walking humbly with God is about submitting your thoughts to His Word, your will to His instructions-- and posturing oneself in a way that honestly and truly represents our Lord.

I hope this is clarifying, I wish you grace & peace,
dm

tera said...

DM,

I am never offended when people share their thoughts of mind with me. I hope the same from them in return.

I see why you would make the points you do based on what you thought I
meant with what I wrote in my response, but I didn't mean it as you interpreted it.

OK - so, to your first point: All is how it is supposed to be because of the free will that God gave us - that means that even if what we do messes things up, that's life how God created it to be as he knew that we would choose to eat from the apple all along. Does that mean I think we should ignore suffering and not work toward making this life more just and without needless suffering and pain? Not at all. That's why I followed my comment up by saying we need to go about the business of loving others and sharing the hope and peace of God in tangible ways.

To your second point: I don't agree with you completely that the bible says that right behavior flows from right belief. I agree but it needs to be clarified more. Right behavior flows from right understanding that flows from watching people model right behavior and the result of which is people become believers that this behavior is healthy and right because it brings joy and peace and other fruits of the spirit into their lives and others.

In addition, Paul admitted that he did what he didn't want to do, and we are to have mercy on those who do the same but desire not to do them and are aware of their imperfections and continually striving to live an obedient life of loving God, self and others in a way that shows the fruits of the spirit and shines the light of Jesus. If God has mercy on his children, then who are we to be merciless, judgmental and withhold our blessings?

To your third point: "Walking humbly with God is about submitting your thoughts to His Word, your will to His instructions-- and posturing oneself in a way that honestly and truly represents our Lord." I completely agree with this statement. I only want to add that it is often times not clear as to how to submit our thoughts and will to Him, but I do agree that we should desire that in our heart and aim to follow Jesus' example of how to best do that.

Tera Billes
Sacramento, CA

tera said...

I also would like to add a clarification about what we are speaking of in terms of homosexuality within the church. The issue here is treating it in the same way we would treat heterosexuality. Since there are many people who now realize based on evidences that are powerful and convincing to many that sexual orientation is not something people choose.

So, the question is, how come we aren't discussing all the evil things that heterosexuals have done throughout history and within the Hitler regime, as of course, there were more heterosexuals in charge, including Hitler himself.

In addition, I take offense to the assumption that Christian Homosexuals believe that it is OK to fornicate outside of a committed relationship. I am not gay, but I know many Christian gays and non-Christians gays do not agree with casual sexual relationships. Yes, some do. And so do some heterosexuals. And it's also common knowledge that many Christian heterosexuals are living together or are out having casual sex on a regular basis and basically disobeying what they know to be right.

Would this make them unfit to be a pastor - of course, if they said that they didn't think it was wrong and preached that it was in good form to do so. Would that make them unfit to attend church as a member? Absolutely not. Every person in the church is a sinner and we cannot know what they are doing in their spare time. And if they told us they were gambling and that they wouldn't quit or drinking and they wouldn't quit, would we banish them? I would hope not.

Also, when it comes to gay marriage - churches have been marrying gays in secret for centuries. Also, there are Christian gays who have lived together and said they were sisters or brothers or cousins or said they were friends, and this also for centuries. Living together is the same as marriage in God's eyes. Basically, lying with someone was the equivalent of marriage in biblical times. Also to do a divorce, all the men had to do was say they were divorced. Doesn't sound right to me, but people did it and God didn't banish them for it. He allowed it because he knew that some people could not change - it was in their nature. Just as sexuality is in our nature. Once we are of a certain orientation no matter whether we are born that way or due to some experience we've had, we often can no longer change certain tendencies in our nature.

My dog has an affinity for cat poop and though it disgusts me that she likes it, no matter what I tell her or try to train her not to, she will never be able to resist it. To my dog, eating cat poop is not disgusting. She likes it. But to me who was not created to eat it, I despise it.

I'm not trying to compare homosexuals to dogs, because I could very well be talking about a heterosexual who is tempted by pornography or overeating, lying, cheating, gambling, drinking or any type of over or under indulgence.

What I'm trying to show is that there are things we simply do not understand about how the brain works together with our sexuality and how we are driven to act in certain ways that are to a certain extent not in our control.

Of course, the argument to this is that we cannot simply do things we know are wrong and claim that we had no self control (that's the argument that the devil made me do it). But, we must draw a line somewhere as to what acts are without a doubt prohibited and which ones have gray areas that we need to allow each individual to correctly choose for themselves which is the best route for them to walk and sexual orientation is one of those, in my view.

The acts that are not prohibited are also from my view the ones in the Ten Commandments. Acts that are universally seen as adverse to those whom we love and with whom we share common bonds and often unspoken agreements to do no harm as well.

Tera Billes
Sacramento, CA

tera said...

In my last paragraph, there is a typo. It should read: "The acts that are prohibited are also from my view the ones in the Ten Commandments. Acts that are universally seen as adverse to those whom we love and with whom we share common bonds and often unspoken agreements to do no harm as well."

Tera Billes
Sacramento, CA