Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born into a German, aristocratic family in the year 1906. His twin, Sabine and he were the 6th and 7th children born to their parents, who stopped at eight. Doing the math, you can see that he was coming into his prime when another German was trying to conquer the world.
Germany’s society was in a horrendous upheaval during this era, dealing with the after effects of sanctions placed on them following World War 1. Adolph Hitler came on to the scene at the perfect time with the perfect message. And most of Germany went along. Hitler message was one of entitlement. They were the master race and it was time to take what was theirs.
“The time is fulfilled for the German people of Hitler. It is because of Hitler that Christ, God the helper and redeemer, has become effective among us. … Hitler is the way of the Spirit and the will of God for the German people to enter the Church of Christ.” So spoke German pastor Hermann Gruner. This view was shared by many Germans, paving the way for the meteoric rise of the Austrian.
In another time, we might have never heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A humble pastor who loved his Lord, and wanted to serve the German people. Unfortunately, he wasn’t, and he would become a martyr, living a life that is stilled talked about today. There were not many pastors killed in the Nazi concentration camps, but Bonhoeffer was one of them.
He made his stand in the year of 1933. He and others, theologian Karl Barth, and pastor Martin Niemoller, took a stand against Hitler’s anti-semetic rhetoric. The founded the Confessing Church, which announced publicly in its Barmen Declaration its allegiance first to Jesus Christ: “We repudiate the false teaching that the church can and must recognize yet other happenings and powers, personalities and truths as divine revelation alongside this one Word of God. … ”
Bonhoeffer went on to write the Christian classic, The Cost of Discipleship, a call to more faithful and radical obedience to Christ and a severe rebuke of comfortable Christianity: “Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Bonhoeffer then signed up with the German secret service, pretending to collect information about the cities he would travel to as a pastor, instead, helping as many Jews escape Germany as possible. He then traveled to America as a guest lecturer. If he wanted, Bonhoeffer could have stayed in the U.S., escaping the horrors of his homeland. Instead, feeling a call to serve his people, he went back.
On an April afternoon in 1943, two men arrived in a black Mercedes, put Bonhoeffer in the car, and drove him to Tegel prison. He had been discovered. Eventually, he was transferred from Tegel to Buchenwald and then to the extermination camp at Flossenbürg. On April 9, 1945, one month before Germany surrendered, he was hanged with six other resisters.
His writings in prison were later published, aptly named Letters and Papers from Prison. He was a true giant amongst a sea of mental midgets. His legacy is stilled talked about and given the awe it’s due.