Dietrich Bonhoeffer, American Christianity 1939

Been reading a few quotes from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer this evening after coming upon a post at Here I Blog: Thinking about American Christianity

You may find them of interest..

God has granted American Christianity no Reformation. He has given it strong revivalist preachers, churchmen and theologians, but no Reformation of the church of Jesus Christ by the Word of God. Anything of the churches of the Reformation which has come to America either stands in conscious seclusion and detachments from the general life of the church or has fallen victim to Protestantism without Reformation…American theology and the American church as a whole have never been able to understand the meaning of ‘criticism’ by the Word of God and all that signifies. Right to the last they do not understand that God’s ‘criticism’ touches even religion, the Christianity of the churches and the sanctification of Christians, and that God has founded his church beyond religion and beyond ethics..

Without God, all seeing and perceiving of things and laws become abstraction..For what meaning would the goodness of human beings and the world have without God? Since God, however, as ultimate reality is no other than the self-announcing, self-witnessing, self-revealing God in Jesus Christ, the question of good can only find its answer in Christ. . . . The source of a Christian ethic is not the reality of one’s own self, not the reality of the world, nor is it the reality of norms and values. It is the reality of God that is revealed in Jesus Christ.

The American separation of church and state does not rest on the doctrine of the two offices or the two realms, which will remain ordained by God until the end of the world, each with its own duty fundamentally different from the other. The dignity of the state, which is developed in Reformation doctrine more strongly than anywhere else, grows weaker in American thought. The interplay of state and church becomes a relationship of subordination in which the state is merely the executive of the church. The state is essentially technical organisation and administrative apparatus. But the dignity of the divine office appears to be lost…

The Churches of the Reformation begin from the unity of the church of Christ. There can be only one church on earth. And this church alone is the true church. Division of the church means apostasy from the church, treachery to the true Church of Christ. The division of the church which took place at the Reformation can only be understood as a struggle for the real unity of the church. . .

Christ did not, like an ethicist, love a theory about the good; he loved real people. Christ was not interested, like a philosopher, in what is “generally valid,” but in that which serves real concrete human beings. Christ was not concerned about whether “the maxim of an action” could become “a principle of moral law,” but whether my action now helps my neighbor to be a human being before God…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) was a German Lutheran theologian and pastor. Bonhoeffer was arrested, imprisoned and ultimately hanged just before the end of the Second World War in Europe.

Protestantism without the Reformation; Report on the American Church, 1939


To Be or Not To Be, by Michael Horton


14 comments on “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, American Christianity 1939

  1. reading this one thing came to mind; Rev 13:11 And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.
    And after reading about Todd and seeing for myself what is being preached across America, and how most church’s has made a pact with the government, it’s not hard to see it….that it’s America. And they think they are blessed. They’ve not even come close to what is Spiritual.
    But so it is that our kingdom is not of this world, those who are the called the chossen of God, who have put their trust in Christ Jesus.

  2. Amazing how some of the departed saints saw so clearly what was happening and what was coming. And here we are now where the “church” can be anything we want it to be and ordination is easier to come by than a driver’s license. There is no longer a need for guidance from the Word of God or the historic church. Now we have … Emma … and all of her coworkers to reveal “truth” to us directly without all the hassle. The Emma’s of our day will just figure out before hand the specific “truth” that best fits us and we will all be happy forever after. At least thats what Emma and her friends would like us to believe. Dietrich Bonhoeffer indeed saw what was coming and saw it very clearly. But not only have we no reformation, we have no instruction from the historic pre Roman Catholic apostolic church which, in fact, still survives today. And the result is a church in crisis. There are still a limited number of faithful congregations spread over many denominations, but they are being torn at the fringes by all the craziness going on around them.

    • There are still a limited number of faithful congregations spread over many denominations, but they are being torn at the fringes by all the craziness going on around them.

      Amen George.

      Its not just the large or mega churches either–but small local congregations.

      I’ve mentioned it before, but the small Church 2 of my children attend along with their families has been going through a crises for over a year now. A few of the members have attempted to take the church into the Hebrew Roots movement.

      Its caused a lot of confusion and problems.

  3. quote;we have no instruction from the historic pre Roman Catholic apostolic church which, in fact, still survives today….

    Yes we have their words of what God has given us, the bible which in it he revels Him self and his will for us. But what has happened is that so many Church’s today here and in days gone bye is that they pick and chose what they want to hear tickling the ear’s and teach something that is no more the doctrine of the Apostles that it is no longer the Word of God but their own interpretation. And now we have what is another doctrine. One that gives praise to man and what they have done. Not one that give glory to God for bringing them to repentance and showing them the only way is the work of Christ through his mighty hand, and that he alone is worthy for praise.

    Its not about psychology, its not about our way and what we have done.

    “Practical thinking in Judging Controversial Doctrines, Practices, or Passages, Whatever command, practice, or issue found in the Bible must be consistent with the purpose of God.It is impossible for any true Christian endeavor developed in the Bible to not be in perfect alignment with God’s personal glorification, God’s plan to establish His Son & kingdom, God’s revealed will, and God’s righteous character. Therefore any interpretation of a command, practice, or issue that does not align perfectly with these cannot be correctly interpreted. In simple language – God has no command,practice, or issue that is focused on man, promotes man, supports man’s selfishness, or does not otherwise make sense because it is outside the revealed will of God’s personal glorification and plan”.

    • Jonathan, We have far more than the Bible. We have the writings of the early church fathers from the very time of the original apostolic church.

      We have, for example, the writings of Clement, an early bishop of Rome, dated around 57AD. Here are the writings of a man schooled at the feet of the apostles. Why do we pretend such writings don’t exist? Why do we pretend that for over a thousand years there was no legitimate Christian church on the face of the earth? Here is a brief excerpt from the writings of Clement of Rome:

      “Moreover, ye were all distinguished by humility, and were in no respect puffed up with pride, but yielded obedience rather than extorted it, and were more willing to give than to receive. Content with the provision which God had made for you, and carefully attending to His words, ye were inwardly filled with His doctrine, and His sufferings were before your eyes. Thus a profound and abundant peace was given to you all, and ye had an insatiable desire for doing good, while a full outpouring of the Holy Spirit was upon you all. Full of holy designs, ye did, with true earnestness of mind and a godly confidence, stretch forth your hands to God Almighty, beseeching Him to be merciful unto you, if ye had been guilty of any involuntary transgression. Day and night ye were anxious for the whole brotherhood, that the number of God’s elect might be saved with mercy and a good conscience. Ye were sincere and uncorrupted, and forgetful of injuries between one another. Every kind of faction and schism was abominable in your sight. Ye mourned over the transgressions of your neighbours: their deficiencies you deemed your own. Ye never grudged any act of kindness, being “ready to every good work.” Adorned by a thoroughly virtuous and religious life, ye did all things in the fear of God. The commandments and ordinances of the Lord were written upon
      the tablets of your hearts.”

      We have the anonymous letter of “Mathetes” from AD130. Excerpt:

      “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.”

      In addition, we have copious writings from Polycarp, Ignatius, Barnabus & Papius, all of whom likely had first hand interaction with the apostles. Then we have the writings of people like Justin Martyr and Irenæus from the early second century. Then the Shepherd of Hermas, Tatian, Theophilos, Athenagoras and Clement of Alexandria, all of whom left writings from before 200AD. Instead of reading these authoritative texts, people tend to get their doctrinal guidance from modern day theologians as if they understand the scriptures better than those trained by the apostles themselves. And the above is just a sampling of authentic early Christian teaching available to us today.

  4. Strange, I was just reading this mans bio yesterday and now you brought up his life and committment to Christ. My only problem though is that he was part of a group who tried to assasinate Hitler and, (not wanting to debate the issue) but, I don’t think at least in some respects this was what a christian needs to be apart of. I think that is what got him executed if I’m not mistaken. But he had a good sense of idea on the church then and where it was going.

    • My only problem though is that he was part of a group who tried to assassinate Hitler and, (not wanting to debate the issue) but, I don’t think at least in some respects this was what a christian needs to be apart of…

      CL you’re right on both counts; he was and i agree, its not anything Christians should be involved in.

      But he had a good sense of idea on the church then and where it was going.

      amen, he did…

  5. go to sermons and listen to “the manifold wisdom of God” for a different look at whats going on in America and the world.

  6. “Amazing how some of the departed saints saw so clearly what was happening and what was coming. And here we are now where the “church” can be anything we want it to be and ordination is easier to come by than a driver’s license. ”

    George, what you said is worth quoting!

    It is a treasure to read the writings and learn from those who have gone before, as their insights are hard-won.

    What is most important now more than ever is for those of us who have an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church is to obey. We must find out what God is saying and do it. Sounds academic, but in the whirlwind that is blowing all around us, we are witnessing the most massive tempest storm on every level of society, and the Church is going to be the only thing left standing.

    I believe that what is happening in our churches, both big and small, is actually God’s doing, ultimately. Judgment begins in the house of God, and He is cleaning house. Tumult in the city; tumult in the Church. We should expect no more delays, because God is on the move. He will have His way, whatever it takes, and when He acts, no man can reverse it.

    Men like Spurgeon, Tozer , A.W. Pink and the like all saw this day coming, and they preached as though it were happening then. And in a sense, it was, if only in seed form. But now we have the whole garden gone to pot.

    But God…will have His way.

    For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.
    2 Chronicles 16:9


  7. What great comments! Thanks brothers and sisters. Yes, let us learn from the apostolic writings of Scripture AND the first generation Church before it was Constantinized (thereby the wordly church has been ever since corrupted.) Also, the magisterial reformers were not the only reformers to reject the Constantinized apostate church, but also the Radical Reformers, whose writings are also ignored by today’s saints, but should not be.

    Thanks for the quotes, George. I will have to dig up more of their writings and read them myself.

  8. Yes George those are great letters handed down from the saint that were in the world at that time, and they showed the Spirit and the works of His glory working in them. We should always be thankful for them and take heed knowing that the same work that He was working in them is the same that he is doing with his true saints of today.
    But the word it tells us of this, that the good works they did would be no more than good works with out Jesus Christ ;(Joh 17:8) for the words which thou gavest me I have given unto them; and they received them, and knew of a truth that I came forth from thee, and they believed that thou didst send me.
    And from those words, Peter tells us that the proof of his coming was in the words of the prophets, because they spoke of him.

    (2Pe 3:2) that ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandments of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles:

    Its more than my puny mind can handle. But I know this we are in a special time, and being taught as they were by His holy Spirit and the word that was given us we know it wont be long before he returns for Peter also goes on to tells us;2Pe 3:3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts,
    2Pe 3:4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
    2Pe 3:5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:

    And in that it gives me comfort knowing that not only did their good works show the grace of His working that was in them but also by what is going on in the world today that the times are getting shorter and that he is even at the door. So what should we be busy doing and what should our hearts be on? All the bad things going on around us as if something strange is happening? thanks be to God that he tells us of the times: Isa 42:9 Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.
    Isa 46:9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
    Isa 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

    As for the apostate church it was going on even before the Lord came and has always been here. In Acts 8 Luke tells us of it and its beginings then with Simon Act 8:9 But there was a certain man, called Simon, which befoetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:
    Google this; Simon Peter versus Simon the Sorcerer by Dr. E.L. Martinr

    I just love to ramble on about His word and the greatness that is His.

  9. that is Dr. E. L. Martin, I don’t know how the r got on the end of his name;)

  10. Thanks Jonathan for those good words and the insights they contain. – George

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