Civil Disobedience is not to be confused with mere pacifism. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) was a founding member of the Confessing Lutheran Church in the years leading up to, and during, the First World War. That, itself, was an act of civil disobedience, as the Lutheran Church was a state church sanctioned by the Nazi government, and the Confessing Church opposed the regime’s control and manipulation of the church.
I was first introduced to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. I will not attempt to summarize his message and that book so as not to distract from the beauty and precision of his statements:
“Cheap grace is ‘grace without price; grace without cost!’”
Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, location 337.
“Luther said that grace alone can save; but those words were always spoken in correlation with the obligation of discipleship, of obedience to Jesus.”
Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, location 387.
“Grace was intended to open the way to Christ, but cheap grace only closed it.”
Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, location 400.
[, Cheap grace, is] preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance.”
Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, location 413.
“You can never give personal obedience to abstract ideas.”
Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, location 457.
“Cheap grace has served as an inoculation, or more accurately, a vaccination. We have gotten just enough of Jesus to prevent us from catching the real thing.”
Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, location 429.
“Only he who believes is obedient,… Only he who is obedient believes.”
Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, location 497.
Bonhoeffer wrote in History and God, “there are occasions when, in the course of historical life, the strict observance of the explicit law of a state, a corporation, a family, but also of a scientific discovery, entails a clash with the basic necessities of human life. These circumstances, “create an extraordinary situation, and are in essence borderline cases. They no longer permit human reasoning [ratio] to come up with a variety of exit strategies, but pose the question of the ultima ratio.”
With others, Bonhoeffer considered the evil that Hitler unleashed upon the world and asked the question whether, in the face of so great an evil, it was not sinful, but justifiable, to enter into a conspiracy to kill Hitler. He concluded that to do so would yet be a sin. But, with Luther, he declared, “Sin and sin boldly, but love Christ more boldly still.” He participated in the unsuccessful Abwehr plot to assassinate Hitler. He was arrested, imprisoned, wrote his Letters and Papers From Prison, during which time he expressed his concern, including who Christ is for us to day:
What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. . . . We are moving towards a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious anymore. Even those who honestly describe themselves as ‘religious’ do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different by ‘religious.’
Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
He was executed as the Allies advanced on Berlin.