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On a crisp April morning, twenty-seven-year-old Dietrich Bonhoeffer sat pensively in his bedroom at his parents’ home in Berlin. His mind was in turmoil as he gazed down from the second-story window at the bustling city below. He felt certain that a devastating darkness was rapidly sweeping over his beloved nation, but few of his fellow Germans could see the evil for what it really was.
Since the day that Adolf Hitler had ascended to power just a few months earlier, Hitler had positioned himself as a loving, protective “father” over the country of Germany. Using stealth and propaganda, he had convinced the Germans that they were in danger of being destroyed by outside people groups—especially Jewish people. With alarming speed, Hitler had captured the loyalty of the people, and most were eagerly complying with his vendetta against the Jews—refusing to allow Jewish children in schools, boycotting Jewish stores and business, and publicly burning books authored by anyone of Jewish decent.
Now Hitler was attempting to take control over the Christian churches as well. He required pastors to take a vow of loyalty to himself and the Third Reich. And he insisted that Christian churches refuse to allow anyone of Jewish descent into their worship services, even if they were Jews who had converted to Christianity.
As a Christian pastor, Dietrich was horrified by these developments. Yet most other German pastors did not seem to share his concern. Though they didn’t necessarily agree with all points of Hitler’s agenda, most felt that he was a friend to the German church, and they didn’t see the harm in joining with Hitler’s vision to build Germany stronger. Besides, even if they wanted to stand against Hitler’s “reorganization” of the church, how could they ever sway the tide of the powerful Nazi regime? The collective response among most Protestant pastors was not to interfere with Hitler’s agenda, and to cooperate with the Nazis as they sought to reshape the direction of German Christianity.
Dietrich felt a burning in his soul as he pondered the current state of affairs among his fellow Christian believers. He knew that God was asking him to challenge his fellow Christians to stand against the Nazis and to openly resist their control of the church and their persecution of the Jews.
It wasn’t long before Dietrich had the opportunity to show everyone where he stood. He walked into an assembly of some of the most prominent pastors in Germany, where he had been invited to give an address, and pulled an essay from his jacket pocket entitled, “The Church and the Jewish Question.” As he presented compelling biblical evidence proving that Christians have a responsibility to speak out when the government tries to do things that are against the clear teachings of Christ, Dietrich sensed an uncomfortable silence in the room. Undaunted, Dietrich went on to challenge the pastors that they were called to help anyone who had been victims of a corrupt government—even if he or she was not part of the Christian community.
Dietrich spoke with passion and clarity, but many of the pastors stood and walked out of the room in protest and disgust. They were not appreciative of Dietrich’s exhortations. It was far easier for them to remain comfortably “on the fence” than to take a strong stand against what was happening in their country.
As the Nazis continued to take a stronger position of control over Germany, it became more and more rare to find Christians who were willing to speak or act against what was happening. A year after Dietrich gave his address to the pastors, he and a small minority of Christians formed “The Confessing Church”—believers who vowed to forsake passivity and take a strong stand against Hitler’s agenda, even if it meant persecution or death. Out of the 18,000 pastors in Germany, only 3,000 took a bold stand against Hitler. Another 3,000 stood in support of Hitler, while 12,000 remained passive or neutral.
But Dietrich and his fellow “confessors” refused to take the easy way out.
In the years that followed, Dietrich had many opportunities to choose comfort over conviction, including an invitation to stay in America as a seminary teacher during the war rather than face the difficulties of persecution in his own country. But he felt God wanted him in Germany. “I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany,” he wrote to a friend. “I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”
It was a bold step of obedience that would end up costing Dietrich his life. While the rest of Germany chose to bury their heads in the sand and protect their own interests, Dietrich chose to stand for truth, no matter the cost. As a result, he was marched to the gallows at the age of thirty-nine where he died a martyr’s death.
His final, triumphant words were, “This is the end. For me, the beginning.”
A few months ago, I sat in a hair salon and watched a fifteen-year-old lesbian get her long locks chopped off in exchange for a butch, masculine look. Her mother, her partner, and several others sat by smiling and voicing their approval. “It’s just great that she’s free to be who she really is,” they were saying. Through the comments that followed from the girl and her mother, it was clear that she planned to completely switch genders.
Everyone in the room—whether they agreed with what was happening or not—knew exactly how they were supposed to act as they watched the scene unfold. Supportive. Enthusiastic. Accepting.
My heart was in turmoil as I watched the scene unfold. At the age of fifteen, this young woman was making a devastating decision that would impact the entire course of her life. But none of the people surrounding her even considered expressing discomfort or dismay over what was happening. Even if they disagreed with it, they knew better than to let it show. Comments such as “Good for you!” and “Be true to yourself!” were the “right” things to say to this young woman. Expressing concern over her decision would be tantamount to committing social suicide, and could possibly even lead to legal repercussions.
Even the girl’s own mother was muzzled. Though she outwardly tried to appear excited and supportive, I could see a flicker of doubt in her eyes. She seemed to be wondering whether she was making the right decision in standing by her daughter’s choice. But she also seemed aware that if she wanted to be viewed as a “good mom,” she needed to keep her mouth shut and express only favor as her daughter declared to the world that she was born the “wrong” gender.
Our culture has changed dramatically in the past few decades. Sin no longer happens secretly in the dark and distasteful corners of our society. Now, sin is audaciously celebrated, proudly paraded, and aggressively legalized. Anyone who dares to express concern over this new cultural “freedom” is labeled a turn-coat and traitor. These days, Christianity is only acceptable if it is the passive, neutral kind. Strong, bold, uncompromising “Dietrich Bonhoeffer” Christianity is rapidly being branded as “a crime against humanity” in this country. The pressure to “just keep your mouth shut and allow sin to reign” is growing by the day.
Sadly, this intense social and political pressure to remain silent against the sin, lies, and deception of our day is present in every corner of our world—even our churches.
A few years ago Eric and I attended a huge banquet hosted by one of the leading Christian publishers in America. Nearly every popular Christian author and many Christian leaders were present—some of the top influencers over the modern church today.
There were three guest speakers at the event. Each was a well-known Christian writer who was in favor of redefining Christianity. Through their books and messages, they argued that the Bible should be reinterpreted to comply with our changing culture, and that Christians should be more accepting of all lifestyles, beliefs, and religions. They declared that any Christian who dared to call homosexuality “sin” was not truly representing the heart of God. They stated that people can find God in many different ways and through many different paths, and that Christians needed to recognize the validity of other religions.
It reminded me of Hitler’s plan to “reorganize” the Christian church in Germany. Like the Nazis, these clever and persuasive deceivers were calling Christians to take a vow of loyalty to political correctness and disregard their loyalty to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
When the speeches were finished, all eight hundred Christians in the room (except for Eric and me) rose to give the men a standing ovation. Looking around the room I knew that not every believer present agreed with what was being spoken and the lies these men stood for. But they were being swept along by the powerful current of social approval, and they felt helpless to stand against it. Like the German Christians, it was easier just to remain passive and neutral; to choose comfort and security over conviction and truth.
There is perhaps no better illustration for the current state of affairs in this culture than Hans Christian Anderson’s classic children’s tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. As the story goes, a vain emperor is deceived by two scheming weavers who are hired to make him beautiful new clothes. The weavers convince him that they are weaving with “magic cloth” and only those who are intelligent can see it. If anyone is dull, stupid, or idiotic, the magic cloth will be invisible to him. The emperor sees nothing when he looks at their looms. But he is too embarrassed to admit it. He calls his noblemen to look at the cloth. Each one declares that it is the most magnificent material they have ever laid eyes upon. The noblemen are not about be branded as dull, stupid, and idiotic, so they pretend to see the invisible fabric and to ooh and ahh over its splendor.
All of this deception and social pressure eventually leads to a huge parade, in which the emperor marches down the town square to show off his amazing new attire. In reality, he is marching through the town in nothing but his underwear. But who is about to speak out and tell him so? If anyone admits they do not see his new clothes, he or she will immediately be mocked for being dull, stupid, and idiotic.
Eventually, it is a little child—oblivious to social pressure and unconcerned about what others think—who finally speaks out against the lunacy unfolding before her eyes. “Mommy!” she yells out incredulously, tugging on her mother’s sleeve, “The emperor is naked!”
Many of us are like those silent citizens in that emperor’s kingdom. We see the terrible deception of our age and the throngs of people going along with the sham—yet we keep our mouths shut as the emperor marches naked through the town. We are afraid of being branded as dull, stupid, and idiotic. To say what no one else is willing to say—“Mommy! The emperor is naked!”—is socially unacceptable. To speak those words may be a death sentence for our comforts and reputation.
Are we willing to speak them anyway?
Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3, NIV). It is only when we are willing to become like that little child—oblivious to what others think, naive to social pressure and political correctness, unconcerned with being labeled as an idiot—that we can truly embrace the Kingdom of God, with all its foolishness and political incorrectness.
Standing for truth comes at a high price. It shouldn’t be romanticized. Though men and women who stand boldly for their faith sometimes go down in history as heroes, their moment-by-moment circumstances are usually anything but glamorous. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer chose to stand against Hitler’s persecution of Jews and control over the German church, he had to forsake popularity. He had to surrender the respect and admiration of his friends and fellow pastors. He had to be willing to declare, “The emperor is naked!” even as many of his peers walked away in disgust. He had to choose the applause of heaven over the applause of this world. He even had to be willing to let go of his very life.
The times in which we live are not too far removed from the times in which Dietrich Bonhoeffer—and countless Christian martyrs through the centuries—lived. Amid the comforts, pleasures, entertainment, and seeming ease of our Western world, an insipid evil has stealthily taken control. It has lulled and bullied Christians into silence, and created an “open-minded” society that accepts anything and everything except accountability to God. If you want to be loved and applauded, there are a few rules you must obey:
Never speak out against homosexuality—just approve and applaud it. Become an “affirming” church instead of a judgmental one!
Never say anything about abortion—just mind your own business and let women make their own choice.
Never act like Jesus is the only way to Salvation—people can find God through other religions like Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism.
Don’t act like those Bible-thumping Christians who have an opinion about everything! Keep your mouth shut and don’t take a bold stand on any point of Scripture.
It is time to make a choice whether to join the “German Church” or the “Confessing Church.” The German Church was the vast majority of Christians who chose to remain passively neutral towards Hitler’s agenda. The Confessing Church was a small minority of believers who refused to choose comfort over conviction. They stood boldly against the evil that was sweeping their nation, and many paid with their lives.
So far in this country, standing boldly for truth is not leading to extreme persecution or martyrdom…yet. But the decision must be made in our hearts long before it comes to that. If we are not willing to make smaller sacrifices in the here and now—like being willing to be socially rejected in order to fight for truth—then how will we be ready to give up our very lives for Christ if and when real persecution comes?
When Esther came before the king with her audacious request, the decision to give up her very life for her people had already been made: “I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (Es. 4:16, NIV).
We must have this same attitude, just as the saints in the book of Revelation who “did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (12:11, NIV).
Ask God for the grace to join the ranks of the “Confessing Church,” even when other Christians choose the easier path. Though you may feel small, weak, insignificant, and fearful, His grace can shape you into a strong, courageous, world-changer…one step of obedience at a time.
If you feel Him stirring your heart toward taking a bolder stand for truth, here are some practical ways to begin.
Have you ever heard of the burglary technique in which a robber gives a guard dog a piece of juicy steak as a distraction? The dog becomes so preoccupied with enjoying the meat that he fails to notice that there is an intruder in the house. Instead of barking and protecting, he is busily scarfing up his food—thinking only of his own enjoyment and satisfaction while his territory is pillaged by an invader.
What a perfect picture of American Christianity! We are often so distracted and enamored by the pleasures of this world that we don’t notice the evil that is taking control of our nation. We spend our time and energy on social media, Hollywood entertainment, television, and personal pursuits, and have very little left over to engage in the life-and-death battles of our day. One of the enemy’s sneakiest tactics is to distract us with pop-culture “noise” and temporal pleasures, blinding us to the reality of what is taking place all around us.
In Luke 21:34 Jesus warns against becoming preoccupied with the cares and pleasures of this life: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.” And in another passage Jesus warns against becoming preoccupied with worldly cares as people were in the days of Noah: “They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all” (Lk. 17:27).
Are we like the people of Noah’s time, preoccupied with our own entertainment and pleasure while the souls around us are eternally destroyed by evil and sin? Let us wake up from our selfish stupor and remember that we are in a battle between light and darkness. Let us put down our devices and pick up the sword of the Spirit.
Amy Carmichael gives us a soul-stirring challenge with these words: “Comrades in this solemn fight, let us settle it as something that cannot be shaken: we are here to live holy, loving, lowly lives. We cannot do this unless we walk very, very close to our Lord Jesus. Anything that would hinder us from the closest walk possible, till we see Him face-to-face, is not for us."
I encourage you to prayerfully consider in what areas you might be distracted by the pleasures and cares of this world, and ask God for the grace to make changes to your daily life and focus if needed. This is certainly not to say that fun activities should be banished from our lives. But building our lives around entertainment and pleasure is not what we are here on earth for. As Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 2:4: “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs” (NIV). May we not forget that we are soldiers in the army of God. May we not become like the German Christians who slept in ignorance as millions of Jews were slaughtered in their own backyard and a madman took control of their churches.
We must engage in this battle, by the grace of God and for His glory.
It is easy to wonder how we can possibly make a significant difference in a culture so given to darkness and sin. When we see the dangerous direction our society is headed, it can be almost paralyzing. Even if we want to take a stand for truth—exactly how are we supposed to do it? I love what Catherine Booth says about passionately reaching out to the souls that God has placed in our lives right now, and the amazing difference we can make in doing so:
“There is one soul that you have more influence with than any other person on earth—some soul—or souls. Are you doing all you can for their salvation? Your relatives, friends, acquaintances are to be rescued…from the depths of sin, degradation, and woe…Let them see the tears in your eyes; or if you cannot weep, let them hear the tears in your voice, and let them realize that you feel their danger, and are in distress for them. God will give His Holy Spirit, and they will be saved.”
It is heartbreaking to think how often we allow social pressure to keep us silent while our friends, co-workers, and family members are ensnared by bondage and sin, deceived by the lies of this age, and choose loyalty to the culture instead of loyalty to Jesus Christ. Ask God for the courage to speak boldly into the lives of those He has given you influence over. Ask Him to give you His heart for their lostness. When they sense your genuine love, care, concern, and passion for their soul, they cannot help but pay attention to your words. Set the stage with fervent prayer, and ask God to show you when, how, and what to speak. Then simply yield yourself to Him as a willing vessel, and trust His Spirit to do a powerful work in their lives. It may not happen overnight. But diligent prayer, combined with speaking and living the truth in front of them can and will make an eternal difference in their lives.
We often believe that the issues of our day are primarily political—the result of bad government or incorrect legislation. While politics and laws are certainly important and worth fighting for, what this country really needs is true revival.
In his many books and radio addresses about historic revival, Leonard Ravenhill described what happens to a town, community, or nation when true revival comes. The taverns, the brothels, and the gambling centers close for lack of business. Crime drops so dramatically that law enforcement officials have time to spare. Notorious people enslaved to sin become new creations in Christ. They forsake their addictions, fornication, homosexuality, abortion, and abuse, not merely because someone tells them those things are wrong, but because they have a personal, life-changing encounter with the Spirit of God and they pass from death to life.
All the lobbying and legislation in the world cannot replace the power of God’s Spirit to transform a soul, a community, and a nation. But revival will only come to this country when we as Christians begin to live our Christianity like we really mean it. So, just as Catherine Booth urges, we must aggressively pursue the souls around us and let God work through our life, words, example, and testimony to win them for Christ.
In my husband Eric’s message “The Gospel Challenge" he presented an amazing scenario:
If 200 of us covenanted together to seriously alter the course of history and reestablish the ancient strength of the Almighty in this dying world, and we were all willing to each individually seek the unction to prayerfully and actively seek one soul a month over these next seven years—and we were to disciple these new believers in the unction of the Spirit-empowered life to go and do the same—what might the Church of Jesus Christ look like at the close of these next seven years?
Year One—2,400 new believers
Year Two—28,800 new believers
Year Three—345,600 new believers
Year Four—4,147,200 new believers
Year Five—49,766,400 new believers (entire country of Canada is only 36 million)
Year Six—597,196,800 new believers (U.S. 319 million + Canada 36 million + Mexico 122 million + Central America 42 million + Caribbean 39 million)
Year Seven—7.16 billion new believers (the population of the world is 7.13 billion)
It is shocking to realize that a group of only 200 believers could have that kind of impact for the Kingdom of God simply by becoming serious about winning souls for Christ. Instead of cowering in a corner to protect ourselves from the rapidly increasing darkness of our age, God calls us to go and shine His light to this lost and dying world.
So what are we waiting for?
Every morning, take the time to ask the question—what soul has He called me to reach today? If every true Christian in this country began seriously asking that question each day, just imagine how dramatically and quickly change would come.
When Dietrich Bonhoeffer read his essay before those skeptical pastors in the living room of his friend's home, he never could have known that his stand for truth that day would be of historical significance. You may not feel that your small steps of obedience and little acts of courage can ever penetrate through the veil of darkness that surrounds our nation, but never underestimate what God can do through one yielded vessel. Very likely, it will not be huge dramatic declarations that will make the most lasting impact upon this perverse generation—but the many courageous steps of everyday obedience by those who are part of today’s “Confessing Church.”
Do you remember the words that God spoke to Paul when he found himself completely surrounded by evil, darkness, and danger? “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent, for I am with you” (Acts 18:9-10). The same God who commissioned Paul to stand and speak boldly in those harrowing circumstances is urging us to do the same in these dangerous times. Even more exciting: the God who was with Paul back then is the very same God who is with us today.
Next time you need the strength to stand boldly for truth, just remember this amazing promise: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
It is time to go forward boldly into the battle like Esther, upheld by the mighty hand of our Defender and Deliverer. When we embrace the supernatural courage that He offers, we can become a world-changing tool in His hands—for such a time as this.
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