The last post on freedom focussed on the thinking of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, best known for his role in the formation of the ‘Confessing Church’ in Germany during the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer would give his life for the gospel like so many before him, and as I read some contemporary academic analyses of aspects of his theological thought, I do sometimes wonder if those who are blithely arguing away have taken the time to think about the fact that less than a century ago this man actually gave his life for what he believed – in so-called ‘civilised’ Western society – as a Christian?!
Those of us who have taken religious freedom for granted may well have some work to do on our knees before God.
This post was (is) inspired by one text in Luke 14 that surfaced in another morning devotional. However, although I opened a Bible to the last section of Luke 14, my eyes fell on the beginning of the chapter – and then on Luke 13 – at which point I realised I was being led. So I began to read from the beginning of Luke 13.
Dear reader, if you are any sort of genuine Christian who has been reading the Bible over a prolonged period of time, then you will be acquainted with the phenomenon where despite having read a passage of Scripture over and over several times, you STILL find new things in it that at times make you feel as if you never read the thing before in your life!! That was what happened this morning.
And the mad thing: it is happening again even as I type this post. I have just had to go before God before coming back to this, because I had been about to begin the main thrust of this post from Luke 13:2 – but as it is, I JUST connected to what is really going on in verse 1.
Let’s read it in two versions, starting with the KJV:
1There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
OK, let’s now try that in The Message (TM):
“About that time some people came up and told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar. ”
If you missed the actual import of what was said in the KJV, you could not have done so in the TM. The TM is not always clearer – I can point to other places where the KJV is in fact clearer than the TM. But on this occasion the TM really helps us. It seems as if although in strict historical terms Luke is the only writer who recorded this particular massacre, the famous Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (Josephus for short) refers to a number of other similar massacres perpetrated by Pilate and various others. The point: this kind of thing was not unknown.
So, these people have gone to offer sacrifices to God in the customary manner of a time when there had not yet been an ultimate sacrifice that would render the blood of bulls and goats unnecessary and irrelevant – and in the very act of worshipping God, they had been struck down by Pilate’s death squad. There is a real link between this situation and what happened in Nazi Germany where Christians who refused to get in line with what the state wanted were literally persecuted to the point of death. Would you believe, the Roman Catholics signed a treaty with the Third Reich in 1933 – the very year Hitler came to power. Three years later the Protestants followed. And those who opposed the new state religion were imprisoned.
The thing is – despite the fact that these agreements had been formally signed, there were still a great many Christians – and (more to the point) Christian clergy (both Protestant and Roman Catholic) who refused to acknowledge the ‘Fuhrer’ as he wanted. If you are not familiar with the story of Daniel 3, please go look it up asap!
Yes, it is true that the Jews were the greatest group of people to suffer loss under Hitler. But how many of you know that 2.600 Roman Catholic priests from 24 countries were killed under the Third Reich? As of yet I personally have no properly verified statistic for the number of Protestant clergy who also gave their lives, but as we have noted already, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of those. Famous Protestant survivors who went on to make a theological difference to post-WWII Germany (and beyond) were Martin Niemoller and Jurgen Moltmann. How dare any of us Westerners take the ability we have to publicly call ourselves ‘Christian’ for granted? It was here in the West that this happened!
Knowing the people that He was addressing, here is how Jesus responds to the shocking news of (another) Pilate-sanctioned massacre:
“Do you think those murdered Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die. And those eighteen in Jerusalem the other day, the ones crushed and killed when the Tower of Siloam collapsed and fell on them, do you think they were worse citizens than all other Jerusalemites? Not at all. Unless you turn to God, you, too, will die.”
This message is every bit as pertinent now as it was then, given that so many Christians today are so obsessed by the blessing of God that they fail to even consider the fact that they are called to take up a cross – their own – and follow the Master. Worse yet, when the inexplicable happens to believers, many of us are quick to hold a theological inquest using the hermeneutical principles handed down from Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite – no prizes for guessing who these Bible scholars are!
OK, for those who may have missed that, those guys are Job’s friends, who assumed that Job had to have sinned because of what had happened to him. It is one of the rare occasions in Scripture where God Himself speaks to say “you are wrong, and you need prayer, or else I will not forgive you.” Don’t miss the point – your theology MATTERS!
To think that it is enough to just agree to a set of doctrines and propositions is more erroneous than you may think. Remember, Jesus did not say that ‘a sincere heart’ will set you free – no, instead He said that the truth would set a person free.
That’s basically our conclusion, but there is a bit of work needed to bring this together with rock-solid coherence. Well, that’s what we are trying to do here at the theomusicology blog. Having just compared five different translations, we will once again pick the TM for our next passage:
“25-27One day when large groups of people were walking along with him, Jesus turned and told them, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple.”
There are three clear principles that emerge from the passage from verses 25-35:
- Discipleship involves bearing a cross – one’s own, not another’s (vs 26-27)
- The actual COST of discipleship should be carefully counted (vs 28-32)
- All personal ambitions and worldly possessions must be laid on the altar of sacrifice (v 33)
From verses 34-35 we could conclude – given the passage as a whole – that spirit of sacrifice needs to be maintained permanently – if salt stops being salty, how will it (how can it) regain its saltiness?!
OK, so after this mini-Bible-study, what does this have to do with freedom?
Let’s go back to a verse that was alluded to earlier – from John 8:
31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
The written word is crystal clear. The Incarnate Word has spoken.