Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran clergyman, was outspoken in his belief in Christ and how if we truly believe we must stand up for Him no matter what the consequences. A brilliant scholar and student, he received his Doctor of Theology degree at the age of twenty-one and became known as an outspoken critic of Nazism and its war on the Jewish people and the world. While a large percentage of German theologians bought on to the concept of Deutsche Christen, or the German Church which supported the Nazi Party, not Bohhoeffer and a number of other Christian ministers. When the Church created an Aryan paragraph in its doctrine (preventing non-Aryans from becoming Christian ministers or religious teachers), Bonhoeffer spoke loudly against it, saying that it surrendered Christian precepts to political ideology. As the Church split into two opposing camps over this issue, the Deutsche Christen group and Bonhoeffer's Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer fought the resulting moral paralysis and the Nazi intimidation of the more traditional Confessors by writing "The Church and the Jewish Question" in 1933. It argued that Christians had to fight the political ideology and immoral action in three ways: questioning publicly the state's social injustice primarily directed against Jews, helping victims of this injustice, and even sometimes standing in harm's way themselves in support of their beliefs.
This man of action also traveled to many countries, speaking out on the outrage in Germany, and he then served for a time as a minister in London. Later, he visited America to actively curry support for the movement to spread the word of the German tyranny against her own people. This brought him much support in the international Church community but also drew rebukes from his homeland. He knew that if he went back to Germany he would be in danger.
When he found that war was inevitable in 1939, he knew he had to return. He opined that he couldn't very well work to restore the Church to its proper role after the war if he didn't face the same challenges and fears as his people back home.
His return and his outrage at what he found ultimately led him to appear to be caving to the tenets of Nazism. While making the Nazis think that he was doing what they wanted, serving as a spokesman for his native land to garner world support he was, in fact, doing just the opposite. He used his position in the Abwehr, or High Military Intelligence, to get the word out to the world of what was actually taking place. This was done secretly while carrying out his supposed visits about the world. Eventually he was found out when his name surfaced in the case of his brother-in-law, who was actively supporting an effort to assassinate Hitler, an operation that Bonhoeffer also supported under the cover of secrecy. The result was his arrest and the eventual charge of high crimes and treason, punishable by death.
He was eventually sent to Flossenberg concentration camp where he was executed by hanging on April 9, 1945, just twenty-three days before the Nazis surrendered. Up until the day of his death he prayed with other prisoners and told them of the salvation they would receive if they believed in Jesus Christ. Later, after the war, a former guard at the camp testified that he had never seen a man so calm in death. He was required to completely disrobe before climbing to the gallows, and said a solemn prayer and showed no outward signs of fear at the time of death. He truly knew that Jesus was with him.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer did much in his life and is remembered as one of the leading theologians of his time. His works and teachings are used around the world as examples of some of Christianity's best works of realism. They show a man who spent his life toiling with the question of exactly what a Christian is to do in times of turmoil and strife. His life was an ongoing study of how Christian thought changes and solidifies when truly awakened by the presence of horrific action and unthinkable evil. Ultimately, his fears and concerns were resolved and he never gave up on Christ. At the time of his death he was only 39 years old.
One of Bonhoefer's most popular works, "Cost of Discipleship", remains very popular today as an outstanding source for devotions. The following quote therefrom gives a quick synopsis of what he thought Christianity should be all about:
"Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. ...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate."
The situation faced by Dietrich Bonhoeffer has, I think, some eery similarities to today. The strong stand he took against evil and tyranny are a good example of what is expected of us Christians. We must stand firm, be brave and never forsake our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Remember, Christian soldiers, He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.