Born FEBRUARY 4, 1906
Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood taking up your cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 10:38). In his book The Cost of Discipleship, he stated, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” The Lutheran pastor and author understood and lived that surrendered life. He died at age 39 for living it in Nazi Germany.
REFUSING TO SERVE TWO MASTERS
When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he began taking charge of all institutions, including the church. He believed pastors, like the rest of Germany, wanted strong leadership that would restore their country’s fortunes. Hitler expected pastors to rally as his political allies. He didn’t expect a back-lash.
The problem: Hitler wanted his ideas, not God’s, to guide the church. Some Lutheran pastors who were true to church doctrine formed The Confessing Church, pledging reliance on historic confessions of faith. The dissenting pastors, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, drew up their statement of purpose —The Barman Declaration— in May of 1934.
THE TWO GREATEST COMMANDMENTS
Hitler grew increasingly venomous toward Germany’s Jewish population. He ordered their businesses boycotted, made it illegal for Jews to hold public office and cancelled their citizenship. In 1938, he bore his fangs by unleashing his fury on numerous businesses and synagogues. That destructive night gained the name “Crystal Night” because of all the broken glass littering the streets. Hitler’s next step— deporting Jews to concentration camps.
The Confessing Church continued loving God and their fellow humans of all races. They found ways to oppose Hitler’s tyranny. Bonhoeffer taught religious classes not approved by the government to young, German pastors. He often quoted Proverbs 31:8— “who will speak up for those who are voiceless?” Hitler became wise to their resistance.
DRINKING FROM JESUS’ CUP
The Nazi regime declared Dietrich an “enemy of the state.” In 1940, Hitler censored him from speaking in public while demanding that he report to the Gestapo on a regular basis. By 1941, Dietrich had written three books that were published since Hitler’s rise to power. That year, he was ordered to stop publishing “subversive” writings.
Dietrich had joined the resistance arm of Germany’s military intelligence. They’d hatched a plot against Hitler. Assuming the conspirators removed Hitler from power, Dietrich was to learn what terms of surrender the Allies would expect from Germany.
In April 1943, the Gestapo came for Dietrich. They charged him with, among other activities, helping Jews escape Germany. He had. They sent him to a military prison in Berlin. The following year, he was indicted in a plot to wipe out Hitler. In early 1945, they moved him to Buchenwald. In April, Dietrich and others were transported to an extermination camp in Flossenburg, Germany.
His final act of taking up his cross to follow Jesus came the morning of April 9, 1945. That morning, Dietrich said one final prayer, ascended the steps to the gallows and was hanged for his resistance against Hitler’s madness.
LET ME KNOW: How has Dietrich’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Galli, Mark. 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. Nashville, TN: B & H Group, 2000.
- “Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” Christian History. Vol. 10. No. 4, 1991.
- Colson, Charles. “Roots of War (Part II)”. Chapter 11 in Kingdom’s in Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Books, 1989.
Learn more about Dietrich Bonhoeffer from these resources, among others————-
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Memories and Perspectives. Directed by Gregory Cummins. Vision Video. 2006. DVD.
- Bonhoeffer, Agent of Grace. Directed by Eric Till. Vision Video. 2000. DVD.
- Hanged on a Twisted Cross. Directed by T. N. Mohan. Vision Video. 1996. DVD.
Books about Dietrich-
- Metaxes, Eric. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2011.
- I Want to Live These Days with You: A Year of Daily Devotions. Westminster: John Knox Press, 2007.
Books by Dietrich include-
- The Cost of Discipleship
- Letter and Papers from Prison
- Plus, various anthologies of his writings.