From Phraseology to Reality

Dietrich Bonhoeffer got it! When will the American Church?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christian leader and minister known for his resistance to Adolph Hitler’s control over the German Evangelical Church during WWII, experienced a revolution in his thought when at 24, while studying at Union Theological Seminary, he attended with black fellow student Frank Fisher a black Baptist church in Harlem.  There he embraced Gospel music – “spirituals” and heard Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. preach about social justice.  Bonhoeffer observed that in that church one could truly hear and speak about sin and the grace and love of God.  Seeing from a different perspective, his faith moved from phraseology to reality.

It would bring many ministers of Jesus Christ a similar revolution to duplicate Bonhoeffer’s experience.  Think what such a revolution in ministry would mean to the Church!  But Bonhoeffer may have enjoyed an advantage over many American ministers: he was not indoctrinated in an erroneous history about America, particularly about the role, or lack thereof, of those of African descent, and especially about their God-created humanity.  Would he even have visited a black church if he had such prejudices?

In the previous Blog, I wrote about 2020 being a Nathan moment for American Christians, a moment in which repentance is the only reasonable reaction.  On the authority of the Word of God through Jesus Christ, I can say that sin is forgiven!  Jews in Jerusalem were so convicted of crucifying God’s Messiah that they were cut to the heart and, in desperation asked, what shall we do (Acts 2:37)?  The answer to them was the same as it is to those who ask that question today: repent and turn to Jesus Christ.

Turning to Jesus involved a complete turnabout even in those who at that time were practicing their faith the best they knew how.  Just as Bonhoeffer realized that his faith was more than spoken words – it had to be lived, so today Christians who have been a part of a system in which words such as “liberty and justice for all” have really not been applied must rethink and reapply.

Being a Christian involves being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).  The new content of such a mind is the truth.  The American church needs to be reeducated with the truth.  Bad history must be corrected!  Everywhere starting with American seminaries, including schools, and in Christian education programs true history must be reclaimed.  Pulpits must declare the truth even when some will reject it!  If it is important to change wrong doctrines – and it is – and correct errant theology – and it is – then also it is essential to correct the misapplication of the teachings of the Bible.  “Love your neighbor” and “doing unto others” applies to all.  Being one in Christ is for all Christians.

To have correct doctrine and theology but practice them only as phraseology completely misses everything Jesus Christ showed and taught.  Striving for the reality of Christianity must be the thrust of the today’s movement in the American church.  May the Spirit of God stir us to revolution.