“Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and writer, sacrificed his life in protesting the Nazi regime in 1930s Germany. Bonhoeffer and several other pastors founded a church to oppose Nazi influence on Protestant churches. Bonhoeffer also plotted to kill Adolf Hitler, which led to his imprisonment and execution in a German concentration camp.
Bonhoeffer studied theology in America and gained an appreciation for social justice and African American spirituals. Bonhoeffer then returned to Germany and taught systematic theology at the University of Berlin. Bonhoeffer was also very interested in ecumenical affairs, which sought to unify the church body among all denominations. Because of this, Bonhoeffer was appointed to be a European youth secretary of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches.
Bonhoeffer openly and actively protested the Nazi’s rise to power in the early 1930s. The Confessing Church that he helped organize was a movement for German Protestant churches that put Jesus as the center and resisted Nazi influence on the church. Bonhoeffer also petitioned against anti-Jewish sentiments and actively fought for the rights of Christians with Jewish ancestry.
In actively opposing the Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer served as a double agent by joining the German secret service. Though he was sent to collect information on various countries that he visited, Bonhoeffer helped many Jews escape Nazi persecution. He also plotted with a few others to overthrow and execute Hitler. After his resistance efforts were discovered, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for two years and then hanged with six other resisters, just one month before Germany surrendered.
CENTERED ON CHRIST
Bonhoeffer was devoted to Christ and His teachings in the midst of persecution and up until he was executed. He even led secretive seminary trainings when most church leaders were not willing to resist the Nazi regime. While in prison, Bonhoeffer evangelized to other prisoners and guards. Bonhoeffer’s character and faith left a lasting impact on others throughout his life.
While in prison, Bonhoeffer wrote in a letter to a friend, “To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man—not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life."
Bonhoeffer also stated, “Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God's will.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer on a weekend getaway with confirmands of Zion's Church congregation (1932) Image:Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R0211-316 / CC-BY-SA 3.0