Monday, September 21, 2015
Bonhoeffer's Legacy for Today
There isn’t a week that goes by when I don’t think about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Since I heard his story, and especially since I read his work The Cost of Discipleship, I have not been able to stop thinking about the man. Much of this comes from parallels that I can see between the American church of our era and the German church of the National Socialist era, and I desire for men like Bonhoeffer to rise up and confront the temptation that the church faces today. I daresay I harbor a desire to be like Bonhoeffer myself.
The parallels I see between the German church of then and the American church of now lie specifically within the homosexual movement and what Bonhoeffer called the “Jewish question.” But there is an inverse: the German church was being asked to exclude Jewish saints, and the American church is being asked to include practicing homosexuals. And this is what makes the issue so tempting: if it were a compromise of exclusion, we as an enlightened culture that prides itself on eradicating racism and hatred of all kinds, would not find it as tempting to give in. It is fairly easy as a church to say no to exclusion. But to say no to inclusion? That’s a different matter.
Bonhoeffer stated, in response to the German church’s proposal of creating separate churches where converted Jews could worship, that a church which excluded Jewish brothers and sisters would cease to be a church. He went further and said that any church which did not stand with the Jewish people, converted or not, was in danger of apostasy. Many churches fell away, accepting the Nazi rule and capitulating to state pressure.
We see the same happening today, with a growing movement in the American church of embracing same-sex marriage. Beginning with mainline denominations and now even moving through evangelical churches and conservative denominations, there is a wave of pastors and church leaders who are caving to social pressures and affirming homosexual relationships. And there are many American Christians would find it less damning to do so than for a church to say it didn’t accept non-whites into its membership. Both, of course, are enough to make a church cease to be a church.
My point is, the time is soon going to be upon us where the American church will find itself in a similar situation to the German church. The state will soon no longer allow freedom to disagree with the rule of law. Churches who refuse to affirm or perform same-sex marriages will first lose tax-exempt status, then soon be forced to close doors. The American church will be forced underground. We need to understand exactly how crucial it is to continue to hold the line, because it’s soon going to cost us quite a bit to do so.
Let me be clear: I am not totally comfortable with this issue being “the one.” It would be far easier for me if it was an issue like Bonhoeffer was faced with. I’d be much more comfortable standing against racism in the church than standing against same-sex marriage. “LOVE WINS” as a battle-cry is a hard one to oppose. It makes me feel mean, small-minded, hateful, to say I so strongly and vehemently oppose same-sex marriage, on the same lines as saying I support killing puppies. But here I stand; I can do no other. I believe God, and I believe that His Word is true, and is the only source we have for knowing and relating to Him, and I just can’t see any way around what He says about homosexuality. And as such, for the church to deny a truth, even one so seemingly inconsequential as this, is to erode the whole of Scripture. To quote Buffy Summers, “It’s like the little boy with his finger in the duck.” We allow the crack to grow, and the whole of it will crumble. We deny a part, then we can no longer accept the Bible as the Word of God.
I have nothing but compassion for those who suffer from same-sex attraction (and I choose those words intentionally, because it is an affliction, as surely as an eating disorder or compulsive lying). I believe it to be something out of the control of many who are afflicted by it, due to what I don’t know. And on the one hand, I can’t imagine what it must be like to have desires that God has given me no recourse to fulfill, especially in a culture which elevates sexual gratification to a human right. I understand, and fully affirm, how difficult a position it is. And I can only say that I am glad it isn’t me, because I don’t know what I would do.
But I know what must be done. I am fully convinced of what must be done. The truth must be proclaimed, and Jesus Christ preached, and the only freedom for all people must be held firmly in view. There is only one way to be free from sin, and that’s through the blood of the Savior. The law of God shows us our sin, the blood of the Son of God covers it, and the Spirit of God leads us in freedom out of it.
We must hold this in view. It is not merely the redefinition of marriage that’s at stake; it’s the gospel.