The Cost of Discipleship – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

By Chris Ebert


Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Germany in 1906. He and his twin sister, Sabine, were the sixth and seventh of eight children. His father a neurologist, and his mother a teacher. Dietrich graduated summa cum laude and then added two PhD’s (in Theology) by the time he was 24. In 1930, he spent nine months in a teaching fellowship at New York City’s Union Seminary. The lessons & friendships there hugely impacted his life.

Attending & teaching at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Bonhoeffer wrote that the teachings of Pastor Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. transported his Christian faith from the realm of mere “academic ideals” into a “walking reality with Christ!” Returning home to teach in Berlin, Dietrich opposed the Nazi regime from the start.  Two days after Hitler was installed as Chancellor, Dietrich was delivering a radio address attacking the “idolatrous cult” of the Nazi Party when his broadcast was taken off-air in mid-sentence. Bonhoeffer continued to preach that Nazi injustices must not go unquestioned and that the victims of their injustice must not go unaided – regardless of race or religion.

His sermons and underground teachings called for Christians to openly oppose Hitler’s persecution of the Jews making it clear that the attack on God’s people, like the burning of synagogues, was an attack on God Himself.  He begged the church to see that the accepted Nazi-nationalism and the teachings of Christ are diametrically opposed to one another.  In 1939, Dietrich returned to the US, planning to remain for at least two years.  A few weeks later, while in prayer, he felt The Lord asking him to return home to actively engage in the struggle against Hitler’s establishment.  While doing so, he continued to teach and write. His most famous book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” asks again the question found in the epistle of James, “What good is it, if someone claims to have faith, but has no actions to prove it?”  (James 2:14)

In 1943, he was imprisoned. He was executed three weeks before the war’s end, on Hitler’s orders.  From The Great Cloud of witnesses surrounding us, Dietrich Bonhoeffer stands to remind us to measure right and wrong only with the ruler of the Word of God; and then to put Feet on our Faith – Keeping our eyes on Jesus; the Way, the Truth, and The Life!

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