CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Assault on Marriage, Craven Christians, and Lessons from Bonhoeffer

Oct 15, 2017

The current debate over homosexual marriage in Australia has sadly divided many churches, and even denominations. Households have been divided, and friendships have been lost. It is such a polarising issue that many Christians refuse to even speak out about it for fear of upsetting people or alienating friends.

There are some issues where Christians can agree to disagree on. There are some issues which they can remain silent on. There are some issues where they need not jeopardise relationships and friendships. But homosexual marriage is simply not one of them.

This issue is so vitally important that refusing to speak out is a sign of denying the gospel – yes it is that serious. It IS a gospel issue. I penned a piece recently seeking to make this case: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/09/03/marriage-gospel-issue/

As is so often the case, we have lessons that can be learned from history on such matters. There have been other times when the church was brought into massive conflict with the policies of the day, if not with the government of the day. It seems a parallel sort of situation can be found in the Protestant church in Germany in the 1930s.

Let me offer a very brief background to this. In 1932 and 1933 when the Germans voted for the Nazis, many Protestants were included in those votes. Almost immediately an attempt was made by the government to unify all Protestants in a single pro-Nazi church.

A limited number of influential Protestants, such as Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller were part of a movement to resist this Nazi program. They became known as the Confessing Church. In May of 1934 they met in Barmen and drafted a statement on this.

Called the Barmen Declaration, it argued that the true German Church was not an “organ of the State” and that this sort of State control over the Church was untenable, and something no true Christian could assent to. Sadly however, most Christians saw no real problem with Nazi ideology, and the bulk of them came to be known simply as “German Christians”.

They happily embraced the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, and thus were happy to even jettison the Old Testament, which was seen as being far too Jewish. Radical nationalism replaced single-hearted commitment to God, and a devotion to the cause of Hitler replaced their devotion to the cause of Christ.

Needless to say, those who aligned themselves with the Confessing Church and the Barmen Declaration were quickly and decisively targeted by the Nazi Regime and opposed by the “German Christians”. Such open rebellion could not be tolerated by the Nazis, and such schismatic tendencies could not be tolerated by the mainstream church.

Bonhoeffer and the others realised that these mainstream Christians were not on their side – they were not on the side of Christ. As Eric Metaxas puts it in his biography of Bonhoeffer:

“As would happen so often in the future, he was deeply disappointed in the inability of his fellow Christians to take a definite stand. They always erred on the side of conceding too much, of trying too hard to ingratiate themselves with their opponents.”

Some of his own colleagues thought he might have been too hard-core and too uncompromising. Some suggested he join the German Christians and try to reach them from within. He said that he could not, and offered these words: “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction.”

He said they must have the heart and soul of a Jeremiah, and stand against this great tide of evil. He spent a brief time in London, and then came back to oversee a new underground seminary for the confessing church in Finkenwalde. But things got worse with the German authorities cracking down even more.

Says Metaxas,

In 1937, the Nazis abandoned all pretense of being even-handed and came down hard on the Confessing Church. That year more than eight hundred Confessing Church pastors and lay leaders were imprisoned or arrested. Their leader, the outspoken Martin Niemoller of Dahlem, was among them. On June 27, he preached what would be his last sermon for many years. Crowds had overflowed his church week after week. That final Sunday, Niemoller was no less outspoken than he had always been. From the pulpit he declared “We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities, than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silent at man’s behest when God commands us to speak. For it is; and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than man.” That Thursday he was arrested.
Even when being brutal, the Nazis were canny and careful. They were exceedingly sensitive to public opinion, and their approach to the Confessing Church was mostly one of ever-increasing and ever-tightening regulations. Their methods were “not so much aimed at banning the Confessing Church directly” Bethge said, “but gradually liquidating it through intimidation and the suppression of individual activities.”
They forbade the reading of intercessory prayer lists from the pulpit and revoked passports….

Much more can be said here but most of you know how things transpired. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned for a year and a half and then executed in April of 1945. Sadly there were too few Christians willing to speak out and take a stand. As Bonhoeffer’s companion Niemoller famously said:

In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

So what does all this have to do with the marriage debate? I think many should be able to see various similarities. The churches today are as divided as they were back then. Only a handful of churches, Christians, and Christian leaders are speaking up strongly and decisively for God’s institutions of marriage and family. Most are not, and even worse, many have sided with the homosexual militants.

We know from overseas experience that when homosexual marriage is legalised, the real crackdown begins – both from the state and from those on the other side. Things are already bad here for believers who stand firm on marriage – some have lost their jobs, some have been intimidated and bullied, meetings have been forced to shut down, and acts of violence are on the increase.

As I write this piece a Victorian church has just been attacked by those from the ‘Yes’ camp, with these phrases graffitied in large letters on the church building: “Crucify ‘no’ voters” and “Vote Yes”. Things will get much worse if and when marriage gets radically redefined.

So Christians need to decide now where they stand. Just whose side are they on? Will they stand strong on the Word of God and defend marriage, especially for the sake of our children, or will they capitulate and go along with the crowds?

I am NOT saying we are living in times identical to that of Nazi Germany, but we do see the clear polarisation of Christians on this controversial issue. We do indeed see many Christians refusing to speak up or worse yet siding with the homosexual activists.

It is time for all true believers to declare if they are with Christ or against him. Just as things like the Barmen Declaration made quite visible the division between the true church and the false church in 1930s’ Germany, this marriage debate is likewise resulting in a very tangible separation of the sheep from the goats.

So if you find yourself losing some friends and seeing old allegiances placed on shaky ground, that may not be a bad thing. That certainly happened in Germany in Bonhoeffer’s day, and it has always happened when supreme loyalty to Christ must take precedence over friendships and at times even family loyalties.

It really is that serious.

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11 Responses to The Assault on Marriage, Craven Christians, and Lessons from Bonhoeffer

  • Nazi Germany? No I agree we’re not there yet, but the (very) last days of the Weimar Republic seems a reasonable analogy.

    Yes supreme loyalty to Christ must take precedence over everything else, but it’s easy to say that in the privacy of your home, or to argue that via a computer. The real test is when challenged about your relationship to Jesus how do you respond? Are you a Stephen who stands firm even at the cost of your life, or a Peter who denies knowing the man – until the cock crows, or are you a Judas who betrays Him?

    I direct this at myself as much as others. I know I’m weak – I have no desire to endure what those in the NT endured, and yet what choices will I make if\when push comes to shove? Can we know beforehand how we will respond in extreme circumstances? I don’t think we can, but I could be mistaken.

  • Once again, another article clearly enunciating the issues facing society today as well as shining a light on short fallings of the church. I recall in scripture where at judgment time the Lord will righteously judge the complacent church more severely because the role and profound responsibility it beholds to preach the truth, the truth that leads eternal life. It seems throughout history there is a monitory who stand fast against the oppressive regimes whether that be Nazis, Pharisees or militant activist groups, just goes to show the clever working of the enemy. I don’t wish to be a complacent simpleton Christian that can be fooled easily, I wish to study and find thyself approved unto God (2 Tim 2:15).
    Bill, I have added Dietrich Bonhoeffer to my list of recommended readings, however, without a never ending list that may end up being unlikely to achieve in my life time, would you be able to recommend a top 10 (or 20) must read? Keeping in mind the Bible is the first source of course 
    Thank you and God bless.

  • “…their approach to the Confessing Church was mostly one of ever-increasing and ever-tightening regulations.”

    We have already lost part of our property rights, some rights to free speech, some parental rights, some children’s rights, some rights to work and do business and some freedom of religion rights. Yes, currently, to a limited extent and often more so overseas than Australia, but we should not be losing rights at all. These rights were hard fought for and hugely difficult to attain with people’s blood the price.

    It’s what known as the thin end of the wedge or a foot in the door. The fact is that once you allow rights to be taken away and laws to be based on fundamental untruths such as the idea that homosexual relationships are equal to biologically functional ones, then this, of course, it is a slippery slope. Truth and justice are absolutely and integrally connected, so once you allow laws to be based on people’s imaginary world instead of actual, functional reality, then that concept is wide open to just about any sort of abuse, especially when you belong to a political party that believes that these imaginary rights are to be enforced by hearings held behind closed doors. Only in a society that believes in the paramount importance of truth and where justice can be seen to be done will people be free.

    People have been distracted from seeing the truth of the fundamental importance of biology and human instinct by false claims of equality and what is little more than a threat to hold one’s breath until they turn blue if they don’t get their way. Giving in to extortion of any sort, including emotional blackmail, will never turn out well. It never has in the past and it will not on this occasion. Because there are fundamental problems with homosexuality, because it attempts to get around human nature, there will always be someone else to blame for the inevitable problems and bad feelings. This is exactly the same effect as how things came about under the Nazis. Remember the Nazis were National Socialists. They may have been right wing but they also believed in the socialist idea of taking people’s rights and property for their own purposes. We have this exact same untruthful, unjust mentality today based on bad feelings and not fact.

  • Bill, Christians are being polarised because they have been deceived by the ‘yes camp’ to believe that the question is “should the law be changed to allow same sex people to marry?” and will not encompass equality.
    Most Christians believe that it would be unchristian to deny all persons to be treated equally and thus are polarised because to them, the question remains for same sex marriage and not equality.
    Most Christians should be made aware that the issue is far from denial of equality to same sex getting married as ‘equality’ is a greater open door than just same sex – it includes everything and everyone. For example, bisexuals, under equality, may marry one of each sex and intersex may marry an animal or any living thing and then there is the queer who can marry anything and in any number – for example – a beehive or a beach – car etc.
    Most Christians should be aware that present laws regarding bigamy prohibit equality and so too incest laws and thus all such laws would inevitably be repealed as equality makes no room for any law, thing, act or action but stands alone in its quest to treat everyone equal.
    Under equality, any dissent would be seen as an infringement of human rights and laws would spring up everywhere to crush such dissent. Most Christians should be made aware that Christianity and any teachings of the Bible, Qur’an, Torah or any holy book would be made illegal as such books clearly speak out against the act of bestiality, homosexuality, adultery and so on and the word of God would be seen as hate speech and thus prohibited from being quoted in any way.
    Whether the yes or no vote get up will only be the beginning for the polarisation and the only saving grace as I see it is to tell Christians, and all people of God that marriage between a man and a woman for the sake of the children should not be misconceived and to deny marriage to those who would abuse it is not an act of negativity but that of being positive for the life, well being and advancement for our way of life – a way of life that has been proved good throughout the millennia.

    John Abbott

  • Again, Bill, this is so well written. I have reached most if not all my audience – at least the audience of whom I am aware. The response has been mixed, but I hold hope that Australia will defeat this movement, and that it will be duly recorded and respected. (I think we both have to keep breathing here.) I will hope that, what little I seem to be able to contribute will reach some hearts.

    Thanks for your continued effort. It encourages those who are standing with you, and hopefully will continue to reach those who don’t know which way to turn.

  • A great article Bill. Yes, the time has come to declare as lovingly as we can, that we are on the Lord’s side and will not compromise any of the essential teaching of Scripture. You and your family are in my prayers especially at this time. You must be speaking God’s truth to be getting so many horrible, personal attacks. Stand firm brother! May we all receive all the strength that God supplies both now and in the challenging days ahead.

  • In a world where we are beset on one side by open terrorism from Islamists (which is minimised, or excused, or explained away as being our fault) and open calls from many far and wide for the jailing or even assassination of people who stand against the politically correct popularism, I would say that it may be seen to be a parallel to the last days of the Weimar Republic but it is a more aggressive world that we live in. We have very vocal and active segments within our society looking to extinguish any committed Christian faith in our society. Once they have gained the legal ground I wonder just how much gradualism there will be – persecution may come in more of a flood. That will finally wake the Western believers and bring the Western remnant back to God.

  • Dear Bill,
    Andrew Mason’s (10.28pm) last two sentences have raised again that issue again for me. I don’t know exactly what my response will be either, but I know how I can respond. I say that with hope, because Jesus intentionally addresses that very issue for us in Matthew 10:17 onwards, E.g “But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak (and that will be a testimony or “the good confession”); For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.”
    Remember that in every situation, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” Phil 2:13. We need to look forward to God working in us, rather than being overcome by fear and uncertainty .
    From these verses and others, I know that I/we have something to look forward to in time of extremity. While contextually Matt 10:17 ff is directed to the twelve disciples, these words are for every disciple in every age.
    It is one thing to be strengthened in the time of battle, but it is another to be psychologically and spiritually prepared well beforehand, which is why Jesus said, “Behold I have told you before…” Matt. 24:25. We need to dwell on what is to come with hope, because of what God wants to do in and through us then.
    Rightly or wrongly, I believe that victory in extremis is built on not only the hope of Gods promised enabling, but on victories obtained now when the trial and cost is not so great. To conquer then, whatever the cost, we need to conquer now in the “small” things.
    I am encouraged by the examples of Jesus, “who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate” (2 tim 6:11-13), of the Apostles who prayed for boldness and got it (Acts 4: 29-31), of Stephen, a “mere” waiter on tables, who proclaimed Christ in battleship salvo style and died still lifting up the name and character of Christ, of Nicodemus and his journey from darkness and cowardice to love for Christ and the courage to publicly acknowledge that allegiance.
    In this age, the Western peoples are conditioned to fear offending anyone as if it is a crime, and so remain silent, and no examples of how fight or to fight effectively are held before us as desirable ideals. Society and governments seem driven by emotion, who will collapse in the face of disciplined and determined minority groups with loud voices. We even need the Word of God to teach us how to fight for that which is needful and necessary for our survival.
    So to all others and myself, I say, don’t lose heart or tremble before the “what if”, the Spirit of God has promised to meet us then as He does now.

  • The vexing questions for me are always ‘With whom can I identify on this? Who are the leaders (other than Bill and Fred) to whom I can align? What “confessing” group can I be numbered with? Apart from just agreeing and an occasional letter to MPs, what is my way forward? Another talk fest?’
    Friedrich Hegel: “The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” How can we prove him wrong in Australia? We know it’s risky to meddle with God’s precepts but seem intent to do so. The consequences could be dire.
    Should we have a para-church membership which confesses God’s instructions? Most pastors hate para-churches for good reasons- they frequently become divisive. There are exceptions; Maximised Manhood (E Cole) is one.
    It’s so sad that few leaders speak out on this.

  • Bill I always find your articles very compelling. I sit at my computer and write this today knowing that I will be one who will perhaps spend time ime jail one day because I refuse to bow the knee at these false truths. I’ve already had strong conversations with the some members of the LGBTIQ communities and have stood my ground. In 2010 I had my employment terminated but it was called a company restructure because I dared stand up for traditional marriage when Kevin Rudd was debating this legislation last time. I was working in a faith based christian organisation that today it’s fruit is sadly dead on the vine. Inside I’m livid. Angry and prepared to defend the sanctity of marriage and protection of children till the end. I’ve never been in trouble with the law in the past 52 years but when faced with what might be legislated soon, I will not bow down and I will suffer the consequences. I am reminded that I would not be alive today if God had not rescued me a sinner, I’m prepared to stand up for truth in the midst of tyranny.

  • Gay marriage is a secular issue in that you must not only convince the church but the entire population. And it is a political issue. It’s true it is a moral issue, but in terms of who will win the referendum it is in that sense purely political. So you must fight with smart political strategy if you want to win. Those people who need to be won over in the church are probably just as open to smart secular arguments as anybody else, so there is nothing wrong with using such arguments in conjunction with religious and moral arguments.

    Gay marriage is unnecessary in Australia because same-sex partnerships give gays practically the same status. Gay marriage is unnecessary in Australia because changing marriage law in this way means you must treat 2 men exactly as if they were man and wife, even though 2 men are not the same thing as man and wife and everybody except the most brainwashed SJW can admit this observable fact. So in that sense gay marriage is an illogical addition to the law which could logically be used as a legal precedent for redefining gender as well as marriage in the next step in the culture war, which most people probably admit is never over for the SJW’s. The SJW’s are becoming more dogmatic than the Christians, and this is their achilles heel with the irreligious libertarian crowd which exists both inside and outside the church unfortunately. This is where you can win people over.

    If you use these arguments you will be more convincing that you feel sympathy for gay people and are not setting out to insult them but only to make a reasoned argument. If you stick with a purely moral and religious argument over secular reasoning you will lose. It’s a secular referendum and there is nothing wrong with a Christian playing smart to win in a referendum which will affect you all in terms of the law. Good luck from America. Learn from our mistakes if you want to win. And I think you can win on this issue if you play your cards right.

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