The word martyr [μάρτυς] means to ‘bear witness’, this is derived from the word marturion [μαρτύριον] which is understood to mean evidence testimony; witness; to be testified.
The word martyr is also connected to martyromai [μαρτύρομαι] I am urging; I am bearing witness; I am declaring; I am insisting (Goodrick & Kohlenberger, NIVAC 2009).
This afternoon I found myself reaching the middle of Metaxas’ retelling. Up to this point Metaxas has been unpacking the situation, circumstances, experiences and key historical figures who knew Bonhoeffer, were his colleagues, enemies, family and friends – of whom one was Karl Barth and the other Martin Niemöller, although not as passionate as Bonhoeffer, both are Anti-Nazi theologians in their own right.
I use the words ‘are Anti-Nazi theologians’ because Nazi theory still exists, and as such the significance of Bonhoeffer, Barth and Niemöller’s resistance MUST not be overlooked. I am in agreement with Gene Veith who states that
…’fascism is a worldview….the defeat of Hitler and the Axis powers in World War II meant the military defeat of fascism, but an ideology cannot be defeated by military power alone. Ideas linger…despite the military victory over fascism, it will long continue to live’ (Veith, 1993)
Although we share different contexts with the German Church struggle; the Kirchenkampf, there are parallels that connect with the struggle of the ecumenical church in the 21st Century. Although, I acknowledge that these parallels are only just becoming evident.
It is not difficult to see that similarities exist. For example: such similarities only exist as subtleties, the pretenders are in large part invisible to the majority, but are working hard at ‘gradually liquidating the [True] Church through intimidation’ (Bethge cited by Metaxas, 2010:294, italics mine).
Part of the Christian and his or her response to this new struggle may perhaps require applying Bonhoeffer’s admonishment to ‘not defend God’s word, but testify to it…’ (Metaxas citing Bonhoeffer, 2010:261). There is a chilling passage in the Bonhoeffer text that may be indicative of such an act:
…‘Although I am working with all my might for the church opposition, it is perfectly clear to me that this opposition is only a very temporary transition to an opposition of a very different kind, and that very few of those engaged in this preliminary skirmish will be part of the next struggle. And I believe that the whole of Christendom should pray with us that it will be a ‘resistance unto death’, and that the people will be found to suffer it’… (Metaxas citing Bonhoeffer 2010:195-196)…
It is worth noting that even Marxist Leon Trotsky had an opinion about the Church struggle in Germany. Whilst in exile he wrote that:
…’It is only necessary to find real and effective methods to intervene in the struggle, to stir up the religious-democratic opposition, to broaden it and to assist the young Catholics, especially the workers, in their struggle (and not, of course, the Nazi police, which wants to “destroy” these religious organizations). Thus, in Russia we always defended the struggle of the Armenian church for its autonomy…’ 19th August 1935
My homework for now is to try to define this new Church struggle.
Right from the start a few questions arise, for example:
- How does struggle connect with ‘bearing witness’?
- Is ‘bearing witness’ found in the act of struggle as opposed to full subjugation to the powers with which the Church struggles against?
- Who or what are those powers?
It is clear from Paul’s words to the Christian in Ephesians 1:3-23 that God wants to govern His people:
Clark Pinnock delineates four key aspects to the nature of God’s empowerment and grace
First: God can only have our love if we decide to give it. God made us to love Him, and the key issue is what we decide to do with that freedom.
Second: God does not overpower.
Third: Grace works mightily but does not override.
Fourth: God is a loving parent, not a tyrant.
Fifth: One can be saved by grace, but grace saves no one who does not respond’
(‘Flame of love: A theology of the Holy Spirit’, 1996:157)
Pinnock rightly states that:
‘God does not control what happens. Rather, He is open to receiving input from His creatures…salvation then, is more than relief at not being condemned; it sweeps us up into the love of God for participation in the divine nature’ (Pinnock, 156).
This does not to suggest a watering down of God’s sovereignty, on the contrary, in God allowing contribution from us, he is exercising the great might of His rule; His sovereignty.
Human pride must have no place here. This is because pride limits genuine participation. It rejects wisdom, understanding, love and gratitude. It sets humanity in the place of God by ignorantly declaring allegiance to the Nietzschean worldview which unilaterally acts and in a fit of impatience, irrationally proclaims that ‘God is dead’. Today this is slowly being exemplified by the arrogance which attaches itself to the ‘truth is relative myth’ – evident in the act of dismissing the science behind Christian theology by wrongly assigning; and therefore interchanging such inquiry with the pejorative tag ”Christian ideology” – and the addiction to the ‘giddy euphoria associated with the breaking of taboos’ (Gene Veith ‘Modern Fascism’) that such a myth fuels.
Based on my observations of history, I suggest that ironically, progressive theory limits progress. Eventually revealing its true nature only when it appears too late to act against its enslavement of humanity.
Again in Ephesians 1:3-23 Paul tells the Christian that God desires his people:
to be holy and blameless
to act in wisdom and insight
to be thankful
and to rely on the Holy Spirit; to believe & trust.
Socially, politically and historically pride has never been a friend of freedom.
It would not be a stretch to stand here in agreement with St. Francis of Assisi and view ‘pride as the enemy of grace’ (St. Francis of Assisi Little Flowers, paraphrased); theologically this would suggest that pride as an enemy of grace is also and can only exist as and enemy of freedom. Human pride is not easily designated to being simply an antithesis to grace – a balance to it. This is because pride can be nothing other than an aberration of freedom, the grotesque distortion of free will that has been granted to us by the Free God, who runs after us in Christ alone, humiliated – humbled – desperate for us regain our true freedom. This is the outreaching of God which prideful humanity rejects and in doing so rejects authentic freedom. God desires to pull us back from our self-destructive pride towards a humility which is only truly grounded in a grateful response to Him, the ‘ultimate reality’ (Cone 1975:137).
It hasn’t taken me too long to figure out that the book I hold in my hands is holy, in the sense that the account before me is much more than just words on a page. They reflect the breath, existence, politics, faith, blood, decisions and thoughts of a very real Christian martyr.
Currently my thoughts lean towards the idea that there are never ”two sides to a story”, rather there is only one story with different perspectives. How Christians tell that story, live out that struggle or ‘bear witness’ in testifying to that story may require more than we in the West, at least currently, do not seem willing to accept. If this should eventuate in the way it did for Bonhoeffer then:
‘May the lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering’ (Moravian prayer)
Soli Deo Gloria
Cone, J. 1975 God of the oppressed Orbis Books Maryknoll, NY
Crossway Publishers, ESV: English standard version
Goodrick,W.E & Kohlenberger.J.R 1999 NIVAC:The Strongest NIV exhaustive concordance Zondervan USA
Jobe, K. ‘Revelation Song’ available @ iTunes & Amazon
Metaxas, E. 2010 Bonheoffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet and Spy Thomas Nelson Publishers
Pinnock, C.H 1996 Flame of Love: A theology of the Holy Spirit Intervarsity Press Downers Grove IL.
The Church struggle under fascism, 1935 Leon Trotsky
St. Francis of Assisi in Ugolino, Brother circa 1300’s The Little flowers of St. Francis of Assisi CCEL.org
Veith, G.E.1993 Modern Fascism (Kindle Locations 179-181). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
Copyright. Rod Lampard. 2013.