4th February 1904 – 9th April 1945
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die”
– The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German protestant pastor and theologian who during his short life wrote several books and articles on the Christian faith, founded the Confessing Church and actively opposed the Nazi regime, for which he was later executed.
After being born into a large family, Bonhoeffer went to study at post-graduate level in America. Whilst he was there he grew to love African-American Spiritualist culture which influenced him theologically and birthed his concern for the oppressed and marginalised. After returning from America Bonhoeffer began a lecturing career in 1931 and was eventually ordained as a pastor aged 25. He continued in this work until 1934 when he helped set up the Confessing Church in response to the Nazi party’s take over of the German Chruch. Under Nazi control the Church in Germany had demanded that all pastors be of european, not Jewish, decent and had voted to remove the Old Testament from the Canon. The Confessing Church passed a motion that decalred Christ, not Hitler, was the head of the church and so was forced underground where Bonhoeffer took a key role in training new ministers for the church.
Bonhoeffer’s key work is a book titled The Cost of Discipleship in which he criticses a secularised Gospel which minimises the need for repentance in return for forgiveness which he famously called “Cheap Grace”. In response to this Bonhoeffer advocated a more active discipleship which began with confession and repentance and moved towards a more active Christian life.
Under Nazi persecution, Bonhoeffer was forbidden to speak in public or publish any work. To avoid conscription he joined the Germany intelligence agency, through which he learnt about German atrocities committed during the war. This knowledge lead Bonhoeffer to begin working with the Resistance movement. He used his position in the Intelligence agency to travel abroad and begin secret peace talks with Allied nations as well as feeding information back to the Resistance fighters. After a failed assassination attempt on Hitler, Bonhoeffer’s work was uncovered and he was imprisoned along with other resistance members. After learning about their betrayal Hitler ordered that Bonhoeffer and other Intellegence agency workers be executed. Bonhoeffer was taken to the gallows after leading his final sunday service.
Bonhoeffer remains one of the greatest Christian minds of the twentieth century, not only due to his martyrdom but also for the legacy of theological and ethical work he left behind, he was executed by the Nazi regime on this day, 1945.
A Prayer for Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
Lord God of Justice and of Peace, we give you thanks for the work and fearless example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. We thank you for his theological insights and the bravery he displayed through his faith in challanging the great evil of Fascism. We pray that we too have the courage to stand up for what is right and never fall into reliance upon Cheap Grace. In your most Holy Name, Amen.
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