What Evangelicals Won’t Tell You About Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Sermon on the Mount

According to Bonhoeffer “Everything changed” when  he discovered the Sermon on the Mount:

I was lacking in humility…terribly ambitious…alone…then something happened…for the first time I discovered the Bible…Then the Bible freed me from that, in particular the Sermon on the Mount. Since then everything has changed. I have felt this plainly, and so have other people around me. –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance pg.95

Bonhoeffer scholar Ferdinand Schlingensiepen says the influence of Jean Lasserre was influential in Bonhoeffer’s transition from theologian to Christian:

Bonhoeffer’s ‘transition from theologian to Christian’ …was induced by Bonhoeffer’s experience in the USA, particularly his conversations with Jean Lasserre (A Christian pacifist who believed Christians should live the Sermon on the Mount today) –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance pg.94

In 1935 Bonhoeffer still believed the Sermon on the Mount was the hope of the church:

The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, follow Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time as come to gather people together and do this” (Bonhoeffer in letter to his brother in 1935) –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance pg.175

How should the Church celebrate Memorial Day? Some thoughts from Bonhoeffer’s 1932 Memorial Day sermon:

The demons rise up. It is a rebellion against Christ. And one great power of this uprising is called war! …

“What does faithfulness of the church-community of Christ mean here other than calling out into this furious raging [of war] again and again – unto exhaustion, unto humiliation, unto martyrdom – the words of Christ that there should be peace, that there should be love, that there should be blessing, and that he is our peace, and that God is a God of peace?

“And the more they rage, the more we should call out. And the more we call out, the more wildly they will rage. For wherever the word of Christ is truly spoken, the world senses that it is either ruinous madness or ruinous truth, which endangers its very life. Where peace is really spoken, war must rage twice as hard, for it senses that it is about to be driven out. Christ intends to be its death.” —The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (editor: Isabel Best) via TGC

What did Bonhoeffer think was necessary to destroy Nazism? Assassination? Living the Sermon on the Mount?

I would only achieve true inner clarity & honesty by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Here alone lies the force that can blow all this hocu pocus [of Nazism] sky high – like fireworks, leaving only a few burnt-out shells behind…  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a letter to his brother Karl) –Ferdinand Schlingensiepen,  Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance

Bonhoeffer has well documented his confidence in living the Sermon on the Mount in “The Cost of Discipleship” (in which Bonhoeffer is more radical about cheap grace & the living the Sermon on the Mount than many Mennonites I have met!) . I have scoured his later “Ethics” to find any trace of a reversing of his earlier strongly held beliefs and I can find none.

The Apostles Favorite Bible Passage & Ascension Day: Why Have Christians Forgotten Both?

The loss of perception that Jesus (really) is Lord & has all power in heaven and earth now and that this conviction was a supreme, animating force for early Christians and should also be for Christians today is no more apparent than in the loss of the supremacy of the Psalm 110 event in the imagination of the Christian church and the corresponding loss of recognition & observance of Ascension Day.

Today the majority of Christians in the USA celebrate July the 4th but, according to my informal survey in Lancaster Pennsylvania, have no clue when or what Ascension Day even is. We call people who don’t have a basic knowledge about the country they are citizens of irresponsible at best and scandalously ignorant at worst. The Ascension of Christ to rule the world is basic knowledge about the Kingdom of God and I’ll let you draw your conclusions about what this says about Christians of our day.

Many American Christians are quite unaware that the writers of the New Testament had a favorite passage and that it is Psalm 110. Depending on how you figure it ties with references to the 10 Commandments & the Shema (Love God with your all), but by most counts, references & allusions to Psalm 110 far surpasses those other passages. And these references to Psalm 110 are not just incidental comments, but points of high theological significance: A riddle by Jesus that permanently silenced the Jewish rulers, the answer to Pilate’s most important question at Jesus’ trial, the Jewish ruler’s reason for Jesus’ death, the clinching point of Peter’s sermon on Pentecost and more. The scandalous thing is that most Christians haven’t heard about Psalm 110 and even if you tell them the passage they have no idea what it contains. Clearly the NT writers and our emphasis has shifted! Not to keep you in suspense, lets look at Psalm 110:

The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool...Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek… –Psalm 110:1,4

The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries. He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

We won’t take time to explain the whole passage here (even though it is well worth the time) but just want to cover some of the most important ideas:

  • Jesus Has All Power in the World Now
  • Jesus is now King of the World
  • Jesus’ Kingship is Characterized by Peace & Justice

Jesus Has All Power

For the first Christians something shocking had happened to the earth: It had received a new King. The world had a new President. This was staggering news that shook the world. It made the stars of world that then was fall from the sky. The importance & power of Roman emperors who were always headline news were suddenly eclipsed by a blinding light from heaven & a new reality: Jesus of Nazareth had become the supreme ruler of the world. Paul in Philippians 2 talked about this earth shattering fact in this way: “God hath highly exalted Jesus and given him a name which is above every name…which the whole world will worship…”

Jesus Has All Power Now

When is Jesus Lord, when is Jesus King, and when is Jesus all powerful? Now. All Power is given Me in heaven and earth. (Mt 28:18)In Paul’s day already Jesus had been given a name that is above every name. (Ph 2) And Psalm 110 notes this would happen while enemies are still being subdued. Contrary to common conceptions it seems Jesus can have all power while allowing enemies, which demonstrates that Jesus’ power is of a similar nature to God’s power & nature who is all powerful but at the same time allows human choosing.

Jesus Now Has All Power on Earth

Many are fine saying “Jesus is Lord”, and that Jesus has all power in heaven, but get a little uneasy to make the claim which Mt 28:18 does, which is to say Jesus has all power on earth. How we account for Jesus having all power on earth while He is still “conquering”? I think the key is how God & Jesus wield “All Power”. Which brings us to the last point…

Jesus Now Has All Power On Earth…And It Looks Like Justice & Peace

Who is this Melchizedek guy which Jesus’ rule would be “ordered after”? He holds the key to what kind of rule the all power Christ has and which will inevitably conquer the world. He is the king of Peace. He is the one whose name means king of Justice. (Melek=king; tsadeq=justice) He is the priest of the “most High God”. He brings “bread & wine” which is incredibly hard not to associate with the broken body & shed blood of Christ. After Abraham’s communion with the king of Justice & Peace he adamantly refuses to benefit from war in any way. Some writers note that after Abraham’s meeting with the king of Justice & Peace he saves those in the city by pleading with God instead of killing the enemy.

Why have Christians lost an awareness that Jesus is Lord? Perhaps because we have lost the emphasis that is now sitting at the right hand of God and that Jesus is now truly Lord of the World? Perhaps because we are not convinced that Jesus has All Power, That Jesus has all power Now, That Jesus has all power now in heaven & In Earth. And that Jesus’ all power, now, in heaven & earth looks like Melek of Tsadeq & Shalom and that this power is conquering the world even as we speak. And as Psalm 110 describes, Christ will not stop until there is total victory. If we are really convinced of this, taking a special day to commemorate & worship this ascended Lord seems a very appropiate (if strange to our culture) thing to do.