Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Forgetting Tom Paine: the word, temptation and Bonhoeffer

In this season of flux, and for some despair, I am truly thankful for God’s word. I started to write about Tom Paine’s posting “Biblical Authority,” but it seems so unimportant at the moment. Sure it is easy to refute his thought that the writers of Scripture were inspired, after all most who read Scripture from an orthodox position know that it is the word that is inspired not, as Paine states, the writers. Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke the word of God, or so Peter tells his readers. Or, all Scripture is inspired by God, Paul states. It is God’s word, the living word and although it contains mountains and valleys they all speak God’s truthful word to us. But all the other things have been hashed out so many times-it is enough. Tonight I have been reading Bonhoeffer.

I just received a book I ordered, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theological Education: 1937-1940. It is from a series, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 15. The book, tome really, is filled with letters by Bonhoeffer to his Finkenwalde students after the seminaries were closed by the Gestapo. There are Bible study outlines, sermon notes, and so many letters as well as studies on such words as joy and temptation. And temptation is one of the important subjects in the letters written at the time. As the editor to the English Edition points out, the former students of Finkenwalde and other Confessing seminaries were deeply bothered by temptation.

The seminaries were developed by the Confessing Churches and their Councils of Brethren to help those called to ministry receive a proper education without being infected by the German Christians who at the time had taken over the official seminaries. But even at the beginning there were problems. The seminarians knew that they could not be ordained in the proper way. So they would have to rely on the Council of Brethren to ordain them and the Confessing Churches to use and pay them. And then the German Christians stepped in with the larger temptation. They would ordain them if they would come under the official consistories and take the exams given by the German Christians.

The temptation became greater when the Gestapo closed the Confessing Seminaries. Afterwards to be an unofficial pastor meant great risk. The first letter from Bonhoeffer that one reads to the former students mentions that four of them were in prison. Some of them stood strong. But not all.

In a letter to the “Young Brothers in Pomerania,” Bonhoeffer, writing of the earlier joy and unity of the Confessing Church, writes:
… but what made us joyful and ready to fight and, perhaps even prepared to suffer was one thing, namely, that we knew again that a life with Jesus Christ and his church is worth the whole effort. We believed that in the Confessing Church we not only had found the church of Jesus Christ but through God’s great goodness had actually experienced it. A new life under God’s joy-giving word began for individuals, for pastors and congregations. If only God’s word was among us then we no longer wanted to be afraid and worried about the future. With this word we were willing to pass through struggle, through suffering, through poverty, through sin, and through death to fully reach God’s eternal kingdom. Young people and fathers of large families stood here side by side. What was it at the time that united and fortified us with such gladness? It was the one and ancient realization, given to us once more by God himself, that among us Jesus Christ wishes to build his church, which lives solely from the preaching of the pure, unadulterated gospel and by the grace of the sacraments, and which in its actions is obedient solely to him. Christ wishes to hold fast to such a church; he wants to protect and lead such a church. Only such a church is permitted to be free of all fear. (29-30)
 Christ will hold fast to his people.

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