Stand Firm Against The Gathering Darkness
By Erwin Lutzer
“When God calls a man, He bids him come and die,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer during the dark days when the church in Germany was being Nazified. And at the age of thirty-nine, he practiced what he preached; he was hanged on the gallows and died.
…Bonhoeffer was not just an ordinary hero, but an extraordinary one, both in his stature as a Christian leader, and as a Christian intellectual. But thousands of lesser-known people were inspired by his example and became a credit to the Christ they served. Thanks to his courageous witness, hundreds of pastors ended up in concentration camps willing to suffer and die for their faith. If every pastor would have been a Bonhoeffer or a Niemöller, Hitler could not have accomplished his agenda. The pastors and their congregations would have simply said, “No” to the Nazi doctrine of the superiority of the Aryan race and its frightful implications.
Today in America we need an army of ordinary heroes to stand against the gathering darkness in our land. We need people who will stand for truth courageously, consistently, and with humility and grace. We need millions of believers who will represent Christ in the various vocations of America. We need to enlist people who know what they believe, why they believe it, and how to live out their convictions in diverse situations. We need those who are willing to pay the price of discipleship and obedience and to do so with joy.
A tall order, but possible.
Of course I am not saying that we in America are being called upon to suffer in the same way as the Christians in Germany did. Someday that might be our lot, but as of now we are simply confronted with a growing hostility toward the Christian faith both in the popular culture and in our legal system that seems intent on creating laws that limit our freedoms. We need to individually draw a line in the sand, making up our minds that we will not compromise our principles, even at great personal cost.
…I believe that the spiritual climate of America will never be changed unless we have a revival of what we call “the layman.” That is, we need ordinary people living authentically for Christ in their vocations, among their neighbors, and positions of influence. We cannot look to a man or even a movement as much as to the common person who is committed to Christ and living for Him.
Sometimes the Gospel has to be communicated with more than words. Michael Baumgarten, a nineteenth century Lutheran pastor who was excommunicated from his church, wrote, “There are times in which lectures and publications no longer suffice to communicate the necessary truth. At such times the deeds and sufferings of the saints must create a new alphabet in order to reveal again the secret of truth.”
Suffering communicates the Gospel in a new language; it authenticates the syllables that flow so easily from our lips. When the chaff is separated from the wheat, the kernels germinate and grow. It is not how loud we can shout but how well we can suffer that will convince the world of the integrity of our message.
The Call to Suffer
Bonhoeffer said accurately, “Suffering is not an interruption, but our calling.” Paul wrote that we are to share in the sufferings of Christ. This is the pain we endure because of Christ; the choices we make because He is our example. In our suffering we conform to the likeness of Christ. Let me repeat: He calls us to suffer.
As our culture drifts into paganism, we as Christians fear the suffering that might come our way. …Such suffering, indeed, any suffering for Christ in our culture is largely unknown to us. But other countries have not been exempt; in fact, there are more people dying for their faith in the face of hostile cultures and political regimes than at any time in history. Perhaps our time will come.
…We need to remember that we are to respond in unexpected ways to the trials that come our way. Not with pride or judgmentalism; not with harsh words or complaining, but representatives of Christ. To quote Bonhoeffer once more, “Where the world exploits, [the Christian] will dispossess himself, and where the world oppresses, he will stoop down and raise up the oppressed. If the world refuses justice, the Christian will pursue mercy, and if the world takes refuge in lies, he will open his mouth for the dumb, and bear testimony to the truth…for Jew or Greek, bond or free, strong or weak, noble or base.”
The church was birthed in the crucible of suffering and opposition. Paul wrote about his own experience, “To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Cor. 4:11-13). Now, as Americans we can no longer take for granted that we live in a country where we can expect the government and the courts to be favorable to us. But we accept this as our calling; we simply choose to stand for truth with love and grace.
Winning While We Lose
It is not necessary for us to win our battles in order to be faithful to our calling. Many people in past history have not won in this life, but there is no doubt they were winners in the life to come. Just think of the martyrs who knew that losing often is winning. As Jesus put it, “To lose your life is to find it; to find it is to lose it.”
Even if we are faithful we might not “win” in our ideological battle with a hostile culture bent on using the courts to scrub the public square clean of any reference to God. But we are neither discouraged nor daunted, for we know that God rules and in the end He will demonstrate His power and righteousness.
Peter Marshall was right, “It is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed, than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.” Better to fail while serving God than to win while serving oneself. Better to die sharing the Gospel than to live denying the Christ who purchased us. Let us not let compromise eclipse courage. God’s word to us is clear: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain” (Phil. 2:14-16).
Let us pray that God will give us people who shine as lights in a dark world; they are ordinary heroes but they are extraordinary to God! And they make a difference!
Condensed from When A Nation Forgets God by Erwin W. Lutzer. Copyright © 2010, 2016 by Erwin Lutzer. Used by permission of Moody Publishers. www.moodypublishers.com
---Cited in Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer: Exile and Martyr (New York: Seabury, 1975), 155.