Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born into a family where faith was not much of a concern or topic of conversation, but as a 14 year old, Dietrich Bonhoeffer announced that he was going to be a pastor and theologian. His family was stunned and his older brother tried to persuade him that he was making a huge mistake. His brother said that the church was powerless, irrelevant, and unworthy of Dietrich’s commitment. Dietrich responded to his brother, “If the church is really what you say it is then I shall have to reform it.”
The day came when the young man began his university studies in theology at Tuebingen, and then he went on to complete his studies at Berlin. His doctoral dissertation exposed his brilliance and he was becoming better known beyond the borders of Germany for his theological papers.
In 1930 Bonhoeffer went to the United States as a guest lecturer of one of its best-known seminaries. He was dismayed at the casual, lax attitudes with which American students approached theology. Unable to remain silent any longer, he informed the pastors-to-be, “At this liberal seminary the students sneer at the fundamentalists in America, when all the while the fundamentalists know far more of the truth and grace, mercy and judgment of God.”
Dietrich was a gifted scholar and professor, but deep in his heart – he was a pastor. By 1933 he had left university teaching behind and was a pastor to two German-speaking congregations in London, England. By now the life-and-death struggle for the church in Germany was under way as Hitler welded more and more influence on all aspects of German culture. Bonhoeffer began to struggle with the idea – “Does the Church live by the Gospel alone or can the Church and the State become intermingled so that the Church supports the ideologies of the State?” These were tough questions when you have a leader like Adolf Hitler swaying Church leaders. Bonhoeffer came to the conclusion that the Church must live by the Gospel alone and avoid intermingling with the State or it would be rendered no Church at all.
An older professor of theology who had conformed to Nazi ideology in order to keep his job told Dietrich, “It is a great pity that our best hope in the faculty is being wasted on the church struggle.” As the struggle intensified, it was noticed that Bonhoeffer’s sermons became more confident of God’s victory, and more defiant.
At the same time that Bonhoeffer was becoming more defiant of Hitler’s influence on the Church there was another sermon being preached in the Church of Germany. On January 25, 1934 Adolf Hitler called hundreds of pastors and leaders from the churches in Germany to a personal conference in Berlin. He was concerned about a possible split among the pastors concerning his policy over the German church. He criticized and threatened them, reminding the ministers that the economy in Germany was in great recovery and that he needed their unified support. He told them, “You confine yourself to the church. I will take care of the German people.” Hitler was persuasive, he mesmerized the pastors and the Church became silent during the Nazi holocaust. The pastors aligned themselves with Hitler, they placed the Swastika on their pastoral robes, and in doing so they turned their backs on the cross of Christ.
Martin Niemoller, who along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer founded the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, rose up in opposition to Hitler during the meeting. He said, “We are not concerned with the churches in Germany. Jesus Christ will take care of them Himself. We are concerned with the heart and soul of our nation.” With that courageous statement in the face of a tyrant you would have thought that the pastors would have applauded him. Instead, Niemoller was ushered out of the meeting by several pastors and harshly condemned for causing trouble and ruining the possibility of building a relationship with the powerful leader of Germany. It was the men of God who silenced the very voice of God in Germany.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “When Christ calls a person, He bids him to come and die.” Dietrich would live that statement as his opposition brought more and more attention and persecution from Hitler’s henchmen. Bonhoeffer would not back away from his belief that there could be only one Fuehrer or leader for Christians, and it was not Hitler. Lutheran bishops and pastors remained silent in the hope of preserving institutional unity. In the face of weak leadership Bonhoeffer warned his fellow ministers that they ought not to pursue converting Hitler; what they needed most was to be converted themselves. An Anglican bishop who knew Bonhoeffer well in England later wrote, “He was crystal-clear in his convictions; and young as he was, and humble-minded as he was, he saw the truth and spoke it with complete absence of fear.” Bonhoeffer himself wrote to a friend about this time, “Christ is looking down at us and asking whether there is anyone who still confesses Him.”
The plot thickened and although Bonhoeffer had been a pacifist early in the war, he was now convinced that Hitler would have to be removed. He joined with several high-ranking military officers who were secretly opposed to Hitler and who planned to assassinate him. The plot was discovered in April 1943. Bonhoeffer would spend the rest of his life – the next two years – in prison before he was executed. Bonhoeffer always believed that God’s providence places us where we are and that we are to share the Gospel regardless of our situation. His ministry for two years was to fellow prisoners awaiting execution. One of Bonhoeffer’s fellow prison mates was Captain Payne Best, an Englishman, who survived the prison camp to pay tribute to the prison-camp pastor: “Bonhoeffer was different, just quite calm and normal, seemingly perfectly at his ease…His soul really shone in the dark desperation of our prison. He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom God was real and ever close to him.”
Bonhoeffer was taken out of the prison and taken to Flossenburg, an extermination camp in the Bavarian forest. On April 9, three weeks before American forces liberated Flossenburg, he was executed. Today the tree from which he was hanged bears a plaque with only ten words inscribed on it: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a witness to Jesus Christ among his brethren.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a powerful example of living life “outside.” “When Christ calls a person, He bids him come and die.” Die to the world’s ways of living. Die to the world’s ways of speaking. Die to the world’s ways of thinking. Die to my own passions and pleasures. Die to my own selfish desires. Die, Christ bids us all to come and die so that we might live, fully live in Him and Him alone.
In our Scripture for today we are going to cover a lot of ground, but as I have been studying this section of God’s Word this past week there has been one section that has truly captured my attention, convicted my heart, and demanded the prayerful seeking of God’s searching of my soul.
If you will remember our study last week we talked about “strange teachings” and how those in the first century were being tempted to look beyond the cross, resting in the fact that God has saved them by faith alone. They were abstaining from certain foods, observing the dietary food laws of Leviticus, and other extraneous, irrelevant practices to try and please God. In verse 10, the writer of Hebrews uses that warning to launch us into our new section of study. Let’s read together from Hebrews 13:10-16.
10 We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:10-16 NIV)
Because verse 10 is difficult to understand and there are so many ideas about what it means we could spend our entire time on verse 10 this morning. Instead of going through all of the possible scenarios and thoughts concerning the passage I would like to simply share with you what I believe the writer is saying to us and then you can go back later and study this verse for yourself.
You have to remember that this letter was written to Jews, Hebrews, who had given their life to Christ and those who were curious about Jesus, but finding it hard to break away from the Temple and its teachings and observances. When he says, “We have an altar,” he can’t be referring to the communion table; he has to be talking about the altar in the Temple or the Tabernacle. The altar at which the priests had no right to eat had to do with the observance of the Day of Atonement where the priests were not allowed to eat the sacrifice. John MacArthur’s commentary on Hebrews explains this in a powerful way. MacArthur writes,
I believe the best explanation is to consider that We refers to the writer’s fellow Jews. That is, “We Jews have an altar. The priests serve at this altar in the Tabernacle, or the Temple. Ordinarily they are allowed to eat what remains of the sacrifices. But on the Day of Atonement, they are not allowed to eat the sin offering. The bodies of the animals used for this sacrifice are taken outside the camp and burned.” In this view, an analogy is given for Christians. As the priest of old could not have a part in the sins of the people, so the believer should be outside the camp of the world, no longer a part of its system, standards, and practices. This is what Jesus did, pictured supremely in the crucifixion, which was outside the city gates. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. I do not think the analogy can he pressed any further. It is simply a picture of Christians, following their Lord, separating themselves from the things of sin. As our Lord was crucified outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, so we are to be spiritually outside the walls of sinning people. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews, p. 440-441)
The priests were allowed to eat a portion of the regular offerings brought by the people, but they were not allowed to eat the “sin offering.” The priest could not partake of the “sins” of the people. Just as the priest was not allowed to partake in the sins of the people neither are we to participate in the world’s ways of doing things. This call to separate ourselves from the sins of the world, from the world’s ways of doing things runs throughout God’s Word.
When God called the Hebrews out of Egypt, He instructed them to separate themselves from the surrounding nations with their detestable religious practices and their multitude of gods. The book of Hebrews tells us that Moses, while growing up in the privileged setting of Pharaoh’s palace, refused to align himself with Pharaoh’s ideology. Look at Hebrews 11:24-27.
24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. (Hebrews 11:24-27 NIV)
One of the most vivid examples found in the Old Testament of the results of neglecting God’s command is King Solomon. The Bible tells us that Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived and yet Solomon thought he was smarter than God and went against God’s command. His acts led to God becoming angry with Solomon and the eventual chaos and calamity for Solomon’s kingdom. Turn with me to 1 Kings 11:1-6 and let’s read together.
1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter-Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2 They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. (1 Kings 11:1-6 NIV)
When God named Solomon the successor to King David the Kingdom was united and strong. Solomon was a young man – inexperienced and uncertain about his abilities. God appeared to Solomon and said, “Ask for anything you want and I will give it to you.” Solomon didn’t ask for riches or fame, but for wisdom – and God granted his wish. Years later Solomon forgot about his dependence upon God and began to do things his way. As a result the Kingdom divided under Solomon’s reign.
We can’t do things our way. We can’t do things the world’s way. If we are going to claim the name of Jesus, surrender our lives to Him as Lord and Savior and King, then we must submit to His ways alone. God calls us to separate ourselves from the ways of the world.
In the New Testament this theme of separation is continued. The Apostle John wrote in his first letter that we are not to love the world or anything in the world. Read with me from 1 John 2:15-17.
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NIV)
“If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” That is a bold, no-discussion necessary statement. John isn’t the only one in the New Testament to make statements like this. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and urged them not to unite their hearts with the ways of the world. Read along with me from 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 NIV)
We have to be very careful when we talk about God’s call of separation because it can lead to something that God never intended. The Jews heard God’s call of separation, but they interpreted it as their standing of superiority and they suffered from an elitist attitude. Many Christians today read about God’s call to “come out from among them” and respond by building churches that rival anything the world has to offer. We offer our families “Christian schools.” We offer our singles “Christian clubs.” We offer our kids “Christian sports leagues.” We offer our people “Christian shopping experiences.” We offer the “Christian marketplace” where our people can buy, sell, shop, and enjoy – all in the safe environment of not having to be around “those” pagans. This is the farthest thing from what God intended. John MacArthur writes in his commentary.
Separation from the system does not mean separation from unbelievers in the sense of never having contact with them. If this were so, we could never witness to them or be hospitable to them. Nor does it mean we try to escape the world by becoming monastics. As far as separation is concerned, the world is an attitude, an orientation, not a place. As long as we are in the flesh, we take some of the world with us wherever we go. Paradoxically, a holier-than-thou attitude is the essence of worldliness, because it is centered in pride. It is worldly attitudes and habits from which we are to separate ourselves. And we can participate in many worldly things just as easily with Christians as with non-Christians. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews, pg. 442.)
The call to live “outside” is a call to stand boldly for the cause of Christ in the neighborhood, in the marketplace, in our public schools, and every other arena where people assemble. We are called to share the Gospel wherever the Lord leads us and sometimes this call to stand for the Gospel is most difficult in the Church.
Like the struggles Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced in Germany, the Church often silences the voice of God be trying to fit in to society, by trying to benefit from aligning with society, or trying to make itself palatable to society. One man who refused to sell out to the status quo being offered by the Church was a young man named Martin Luther.
In the wonderful magazine, Christian History, Mark Galli tells of a defining moment in history. Martin Luther had joined the Catholic monastery committed to the cause of Christ. During his years of training and his studies of God’s Word, Martin became disturbed with what he saw were inconsistencies in the teachings of the Church and the teaching of the Bible.
In 1521, Martin Luther was the talk of German cathedrals and taverns, castles and hovels. Posters of Luther (single-sheet woodcuts) sold out as soon as they went on sale, and many were pinned up in public places. Why was Luther the rage? Because the theology professor had enraged the authorities.
Four years earlier, Luther had tried to start an academic debate by publicly posting 95 propositions challenging some of the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. The “95 Theses” sparked not just an argument but a revolution – a reformation.
As he debated authorities in person and in print, two radical ideas crystallized in his mind: people are saved by faith (not by human effort), and Scripture (not the church) is the test of truth. These ideas seemed subversive to authorities of both church and state. So the earthly head of the church, the Pope, kicked Luther out of the church and declared him hell-bound. Then the Holy Roman Emperor ordered the “heretic” to appear before him.
Luther looked forward to the idea of arguing his views and perhaps convincing Emperor Charles V of his views. Luther appeared at Worms, Germany, in April 1521. Charles V sat, raised on a platform. His advisers flanked him, and all around were his Spanish troops decked out in their parade best. The hall was filled with the politically powerful-bishops, princes, and representatives of the great cities. In the midst of this assembly, there was a table. And on the table lay a pile of books.
An official gestured toward the pile. Luther had been called to answer two questions: Had he written these books? Was there a part of them he would now choose to recant?
Luther, a miner’s son who was now merely a teacher in a backwater university town, was stunned that there would be no debate or a judicial hearing. His judges had already made their decision. His voice could barely be heard: “The books are all mine, and I have written more.” To the second question, he said, “This touches God and his Word. This affects the salvation of souls. I beg you, give me time.” Luther was given one day.
The next evening, the room was jammed with dignitaries, and, as torches flickered, the same questions were put to him: “Will you defend these books all together, or do you wish to recant some of what you have said?” Luther had earnestly sought God in the night and he was ready to reply and face whatever consequences the authorities would hurl at him.
Luther spoke up by saying, Some of his books, even his opponents agreed contained edifying teaching. Naturally, he would not retract these. Other writings attacked “the papacy and papist teaching,” yet to retract them would only encourage tyranny, he said. In some writings, he admitted, he had attacked individuals, perhaps too harshly. Still he couldn’t retract these books because these people defended papal tyranny.
The examiner rebuked Luther. Surely a single individual, he argued, could not call into doubt the traditions and teachings of the entire Church. Finally, he asked, “You must give a simple, clear, proper answer to the question: Will you recant or not?” Luther’s reply was short, but it is today etched in history: “Unless I can be instructed with evidence from the Holy Scriptures…I cannot and will not recant.” Knowing he could be arrested or killed for his answer, he concluded, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
It was a defining moment in history, eventually leading to what we know today as Protestant Christianity. Martin Luther is rightly honored as the man who rediscovered the primacy of grace and faith and Holy Scripture. But it took more than faith to make the Reformation. At just the right moment, it needed a dash of courage. (Mark Galli, editor, “Martin Luther’s Defining Moment,” Christian History, October 1997.)