“When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” The first Bonhoeffer quote in the book (from The Cost of Discipleship) is probably the foremost in the minds of any who have read about the man at all. The raw truth that cuts us when we read it, “come and die.” Should he have written nothing else we would have good picture of his character and faith from reading this one line.
Many times, as DeVine points out in the biographical first section of the book, Bonhoeffer had opportunities to wash his hands of the whole problem of the Nazi’s and Germany for that matter. Instead of abandoning the sheep to the wolves, though, he came back to face them time and again as the good shepherd does for his sheep. As the Great Shepherd did for His people. I like to think that most of us would do the same thing in Bonhoeffer’s position. Christians I mean. I don’t suppose that we really know how we would react to staring up at the gallows as we climbed the stairs but we ought to be prepared for it all the same.
Bonhoeffer was ready for his martyrdom. Is that a groundless thing to say? How do I know his heart? I don’t, I just read and see this element and that piece of his character displayed by those who have written about him. “praying fervently to his God” as the camp doctor recalls. [p.37] As you read though you see that it wasn’t just in that moment before death that we see him in prayer, begging as it were for another moment or two of this life. All along the way he faced challenges and difficulties in his ministry and his life–He was preparing and being prepared. All along the way he stood the test through prayer and the Word of God.
And that was the thing that consumed him. A reverence for the Word and a personal relationship with Christ:
“…Bonhoeffer’s “discovery of the Bible” also resulted in a renewed quest to hear the message of Scripture anew, unfettered by past understandings of its message however long-standing and “established” they might be. While Bonhoeffer’s appreciation for the history of interpretation and the warranted wisdom of Protestant confessionalism informs his own grappling with the biblical text, he came to chafe at dogmatic adherence to the received interpretations. In this Bonhoeffer reclaims the Protestant birthright of an unfettered Word, insisting on and celebrating the continued privilege and responsibility of each generation of believers to interpret the Bible for itself, in its own time, and to test all things by Scripture, including the received tradition.”
–Bonhoeffer Speaks Today (p.45), Mark DeVine
His was a life consumed by the word of God. He had a fresh reverence for God’s Word that many of us never understand. His passion was the Word and it showed in every aspect of his life—and death. Poured out, like Paul and many before him, like a drink offering before the Lord.
I guess the thing that strikes me the most is how much the average church member in these secure times isn’t like that. When faced with an opposition on the same order of magnitude as the Nazi’s in Germany, what will the church in America do? Will she equivocate? Will she cave to save her “place” in the nation? I fear that we–speaking to Southern Baptists–are much too fond of fine clothes and the best seats. We are all too happy to claim a President who has an affair in the oval office. We are quite content with running people through the Baptistry and out the back door of the church for the sake of the numbers and then saying “Maybe they weren’t really saved.” I am afraid that doesn’t cut it.
When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die. How many in your church are ready to answer that call? It’s a question that should haunt us. I look around at the folks that are about my age and wonder if they are ready to take up the burdens of the generation before us. Are we ready for this death? I don’t think so.
God help us.