The orthodox Christian theology of Hadley Robinson

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The State vs. the Church

by Hadley Robinson

“Bonhoeffer, however, understood the proper roles of the church and the state.” – Sarah Hey

He did – sort of.  If Mr. Bonhoeffer had considered Romans 13, Daniel 4:32ff, Titus 3:1,2, among others, perhaps he likely would not have been part of the plot to assassinate Mr. Hitler – for which he was subsequently executed.  It was a tragedy as well as understandable.  Scripture, especially Romans 13, teaches that there is no civil leader that has not been appointed by God – some for good and some for evil.  Could Mr. Hitler have been God’s man for that time?  What are the consequences for second-guessing the Creator's appointments of civil leaders who are little more than the heads of criminal gangs?  How evil does a leader have to be before citizens should band together in an attempt to take him out?  It is an in-house debate and godly men, including Mr. Bonhoeffer, have come to different conclusions.

This is not to deny or belittle Mr. Bonhoeffer's contributions and defense of the Church during those difficult years.  His character was exemplary as a Christian man.  His devotion to the Christian faith rarely matched in modern times.

But his criminal conspiracy against the chief magistrate of the time – and the celebration of his attempt by much of the evangelical church – provides just more fodder for the heathen and the Spiritual Powers to accuse Christians of having more than a passing interest in the kingdoms of this world.  It also demonstrates that many in the Church embrace to one degree or another the tenants of humanism – a non-Christian worldview.

Thanks to Mr. Bonhoeffer and many others, we are often viewed by the heathen as busybodies, meddlers, seditionists, traitors, and conspirators against the State.  As a consequence, governments are suspicious of Christians and they are often carefully watched, such as in China.  Should Christians encourage such opinions?  We are not to please outsiders generally but we are required to do our best not to have the Name of Christ slandered because of our actions (1Pet. 2:12; 4:15).

To suggest that God is the sole authority who appoints heads of state is unwelcome among humanists and Deists within the visible church.  Locke’s dismissal of Romans 13 on the grounds that a bad magistrate (in our opinion) is no magistrate at all (and we are free to do to him anything we like) is a Protestant tradition of the Mark 7:9 variety.  Rebellion against the magistrate no matter how bad or disliked is prohibited by teaching in the New Testament.  Such monsters as Hazael (2Ki. 8) and Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 21) were God’s men for a task – bloody and horrible.  Those who opposed them opposed God.

Why, then, consider Mr. Bonhoeffer as an example for Christians per our relations with the state?  Better would be another German pastor of that time, Paul Schneider.  Then there is Franz Kaufmann.  They were Christian heroes who resisted participating in armed revolution or sedition yet made it absolutely clear that the Third Reich was of the Devil.

A good question would be, “What would pastor Schneider do?”  He did what Jesus, Paul, Shadrach, Stephen, Zechariah, Joseph of Egypt, and countless others did – faithfully testify to the Gospel of Christ by word and deed.  They were men with godly backbone.  None of them took up arms or conspired against God’s anointed whether good, mediocre, or bad.  Whatever happened to Isaiah 54:16?

See, it is I who created the blacksmith
who fans the coals into flame
and forges a weapon fit for its work.
And it is I who have created the destroyer to work havoc.

Many aspects of Marcionism are firmly entrenched in the American Evangelical church – but no one seems to care.

Suffice it to say, would I resist the urge to eliminate some criminal posing as a leader of a country?  Christians have been deeply divided since the beginning of the Church over this issue.  As with Mr. Bonhoeffer, if we take up the sword, we face the prospect of dying by it.

Would God consider something as this a noble deed?  Or, would we be an assassin?   It is far better to error on the side of caution and consider the great men of the Bible as our examples.  King Saul was a criminal in the end and the godly David did not raise up his hand against him.  This is something to consider.  King Saul received justice but maybe not as soon as either he or David would have like.