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An urgent call for the confessing church

Amid rising racism and hate mongering in a turbulent world, the Church needs to rise up and confess Christ. We have an inspiring example in The Confessing Church in Nazi-era Germany. By Seun Kolade


Bonhoeffer's example

In the early morning of April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, renowned German pastor and theologian, was executed by the Nazi regime, just two weeks before the camp he was being held in was liberated by American soldiers.

Bonhoeffer was the head of the movement known as The Confessing Church, set up in opposition to Nazi propaganda, especially in response to Hitler’s effort to unify all protestant churches behind Nazi ideology. In support of this elaborate propaganda by the Nazis, one German pastor, Hermann Gruner, declared: "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."[1]
Bonhoeffer had several opportunities to flee Nazi Germany. His American friends tried to persuade him to leave Germany for America, but he would not budge. He felt called by God to remain in Germany and lead The Confessing Church in its stand against Nazi ideology. He thought and taught that the allegiance of the church of Christ should be first and foremost to Christ, not to the reigning government or fancy ideology of the day, and not to any political leader, however powerful or charismatic.

Bonhoeffer’s stand was inconvenient, and would cost him his life, but his example continues to inspire generations of Christians today.

A danger within the global crisis

In the past few years, we have seen a rise in political and economic upheavals all over the world. We have seen a rise in trans-border wars in different continents of the world, and the emergence of a new form of international terrorism, exemplified by the so-called ISIS, which has taken the campaign of terror to new depths of brutality and barbarity. To make matters worse, the economic arena has, in the past 10 years, being filled with lots of uncertainties and instabilities. Many countries are still struggling with the impacts of global financial crises, and instability of crude oil prices. In Western Europe, many working people have been left behind by the train of globalisation. They are left without jobs, with hopes dashed, sometimes without homes, while the rich continue to grow richer and richer. As a result of dashed hopes and an uncertain future, disillusioned people are now actively campaigning for a reshuffle of the current economic order. The current situation mirrors the state of the world leading to the second world war: economic recession in the 30s, political unrest in many countries of the world. Joblessness and uncertainties for many families.

So let’s get this right. People have legitimate concerns about their livelihoods, about the future of their children, about the pace of change in their nations and neighbourhoods. It is important to affirm the rights of people to air their grievances and seek reform and change in a system that is working for only a few.

However, it is also important to recognise that a time like this is often used by self-serving demagogues and fascists to steal the hearts of people and take power, under the pretence that they will bring the change people are yearning for. It is right to have grievances and to seek change, but it is even more important to get the response right, and seek for the right change. The Church of Christ in the UK and elsewhere in the world must exercise discernment. We must exercise diligence to separate the wheat from the chaff.

In the light of the current challenges arising from the global crisis, nowhere is this call for discernment more important than the subject of nationalism and rising homophobia and antipathy towards strangers and foreigners.


'Confess Christ, over and above petty nationalism'

The Scriptures recognise nationalities. We are told, for example that God “has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings” (Acts 17:26).

Yet even in this scripture what we see is the affirmation of the essential oneness of humanity, even within the canvas of national diversity and cultural differences. In short, humanity trumps nationality. The things that bind us together are more important, and should inspire our devotion and passion, rather than the things that break us apart.
The purveyors of racism and ultra-nationalism are wont to seek refuge under the Church. Nay, they are desperate to seize the language of faith to spread their poisonous propaganda. William Wells Brown (1814-1864), who was held as a slave in the American South in the early 19th century, remarked thus in his autobiography: “Slaveholders hide themselves behind the church. A more praying, preaching, psalm-singing people cannot be found than the slaveholders at the south. The religion of the south is referred to every day, to prove that slaveholders are good, pious men” [2].

This is where and why the contemporary church must rise up and confess Christ, over and above petty nationalism and hatemongering. The God revealed in the Bible is not a patron of fascism. He is the God of Love who admonishes us to love the stranger, protect the weak, and plead the cause of the vulnerable among us.

He is the Lord who has called us to “let justice flow like a river, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:16).

Seun Kolade is a member of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Wolverhampton. He was formerly in the leadership of Ilford High Road Baptist Church in London. He is the author of the booklet Let Justice Flow, a lecturer in Development and Urbanisation at the London South Bank University, and a Researcher in Entrepreneurship at the University of Wolverhampton.

Picture: Laura Glover | freeimages.com

[1] For more about the story of Bonhoeffer and the involvement of the established church in Nazi propaganda, visit: http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/martyrs/dietrich-bonhoeffer.html

[2] You can read more about the Narratives of Williams Wells Brown at http://spartacus-educational.com/USASreligion.htm



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