Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism. He was involved in plots planned by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was arrested in March 1943, imprisoned and eventually hanged, just before the end of the Second World War in Europe.
I have lately been enjoying Bonhoeffer’s classic work The Cost of Discipleship, written at the height of his conflict with Nazi ideology and with the compromising German church. His lonely and courageous stance against the official state church under Adolph Hitler is inspiring and thought-provoking to any Christian.
Following Christ, learning from Christ, loving Christ are costly pursuits.
Bonhoeffer reminded his fellow German Christians — and we through them — that “cheap grace” (that grace that we bestow on ourselves) is the enemy of the church, while “costly grace” (which calls sinners to follow in the footsteps of our crucified Savior) is the heart of the gospel. Following Christ, learning from Christ, loving Christ are costly pursuits. And being a Christian will mean standing visibly and alone, at times.
In an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, Bonhoeffer writes, regarding disciples of Jesus:
They have already been made into light by the call, in discipleship. Again, not “you have the light,” but “you are it!” The light is not something given to you as for example your preaching, but you yourselves are it … Because you are the light, you can stay hidden no longer, even if you wanted to. Light shines and the city on the hill cannot be hidden. It simply cannot. It is visible far into the countryside, no matter whether it is a strong city, a guarded fortress, or a crumbling ruin.
Bonhoeffer goes on to warn that, when the church compromises with the world (even if it is in the name of “humility”), “the identifying mark of the community ceases to be an extraordinary visibility.”
What an awesome reminder this is to us, as Christians in the luxurious culture of the West. Whether Christians compromise because of persecution, in a totalitarian society, or because of peer pressure, in an affluent and democratic society, the result is the same. We become what we were never meant to be. Invisible to the world.