Thursday, March 16, 2017

Bonhoeffer the prophet?

At our Book Club, my wife has been leading a study on “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a German pastor and theologian.  He was arrested in 1943 for publicly criticising Nazi dictatorship. He was executed during the last days of Hitler.  

He criticised the then German church of making God’s Grace cheap.  Grace is free.  But Grace is also costly.  Grace cost God His Son.  When we are called by Jesus, we are called to give up our lives, just as Jesus died for our sins.  In the Cost of Discipleship he said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Hence Grace is also costly for us.  Yet many in the then Church presented Grace as something people can simply receive without having to make any changes in their lives.  

He criticised Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.  In 1933, the German church decided to remove officials of Jewish descent from their posts.  He once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  

In my mind Bonhoeffer is like the prophets in the Old Testament who spoke against the evil committed by the kings and high priests - the rich and powerful.  The prophets criticised not only idol worship - the spiritual sins, but also the oppression and exploitation of the poor, widows and orphans - the social injustice.  Bonhoeffer, like the prophets, knew that he was taking great risks, even at the cost of his life, in speaking out.  But just like the prophets, he was compelled to stand up for truth and justice.  

Today, many church leaders again preach against taking a stand against social injustice, saying that the church should be concerned about spiritual matters only.  Why, then, does God speak so much against injustice, against the exploitation of the poor, the weak, the widows and the orphans through the prophets and the Bible?

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