The Christian Response When Authorities Go Against the Authority of Scripture
The authority of scripture has been a long debated subject. Even more so, the proper response to the authority of scripture when a government goes against the authority of scripture has been long debated as well. It is necessary to give ultimate authority to scripture, but it is also necessary to follow the authority of the government as long as it is in agreement with scripture. One of the examples for this argument that is commonly used in the evangelical community today, is the life of Deitrich Bonhoeffer in Germany leading up to WWII.
In the article Scripture and Myth In Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Richard Weikart says that Bonhoeffer cited philosophers more often than scripture to support his points. He also said that the books by Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, say that scripture is everything and philosophers are rarely if ever mentioned. The two works use scripture as a standard and also as authority (Weiker, 1993). In prison, Bonhoeffer began to question the interpretation of scripture. He had a liberal theological education from his professors where he went to university. Many of the theological professors at the time talked about the authority of scripture and the educators saw the miracles of scripture as myth and they were not taken seriously due to the technological advancements of the early 20th century. They were only admired because of their influence at the time when the Bible was written. So, the question then becomes, why did Bonhoeffer believe it more important to follow the authority of scripture rather than following the authority of the Nazi’s? Especially when Bonheoffer said In Cost of Discipleship, “The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a stand-still because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match. Of course this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete. Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed no further evil, and is left barren.” (Bonhoeffer, 1959). So, was Bonhoeffer not following his own advice of being a pacifist by being involved in the plot that was trying to murder Adolf Hitler? It is a question that we as Christians have to answer in a world surrounded by so much evil. What is the proper response?
The Nazi’s leading up to WWII were using scripture to justify their actions of euthanasia, genocide, and murder of the Jews, elderly, and mentally handicapped citizens of Germany. The general interpretation of scripture was that God wanted the German race to be the strongest race of people on Earth. In order for them to do this they needed to kill off the weak people in their society. We see this today in Islam, where the infidel, anyone who does not follow Islamic law and acknowledge Allah as the one true God, is to be executed for not belonging to the Islamic faith. How do we show the love of God to an individual or a group of people who has the goal of annihilating any person who does not subscribe to their belief? As much as I would like to say that violence is the answer I am not so sure. I understand that it could be a balance of non-violence and violence. For example, if an individual is using violence to destroy a large amount of people in a terrorist attack it is necessary to take out the life of that individual because they themselves are trying to desecrate one of the greatest gifts from God which is life itself. This would be an example of using evil means to stop evil. What would happen if the government of a country began to kill off a portion of the population because they were not deemed worthy enough to live within the country? As Christians should we passively stay in the background and not have a voice that prevents the government from doing such a thing?
It is very important to understand the intent of what the rulers of the government are trying to do. For example, if the rulers are trying to eradicate Christianity from the nation, Christians should not stand by and watch it happen. How would it help the world if the Christians decided to let themselves be killed at every opportunity when an evil person tried to kill them? It would not help them and more importantly it would not help the kingdom of God. I think this is the very issue that Deitrich Bonhoeffer was faced with. He decided to stand with the authority of scripture and try to eradicate evil before it became even more evil. That is why he helped a group of people plan assassination attempts against Hitler. He was not as involved as some people believe. He did help to plan and correspond with other people, which is why he was eventually executed for his involvement in the conspiracy.
The Christian response when the authority in our government goes against the authority of scripture is to follow scripture. The secular government can be influenced by sin in the culture, and authority of scripture cannot because it does not change. The problem with sin is that it can become so close to the truth that it makes it seem like it is truth but in reality it is not at all. For example, the idea that Jews were less superior than the German race was great at face value because it meant that the German race would stay pure. So, there was this idea pervading through the hearts and minds of the German people that they were doing something good for themselves and for the world. However, scripture infers that life is sacred and it says that we were created in the image of God. This means that each person has the right to live. To summarize, scripture has been given to us as a guidebook for life. It is able to help us understand the world and give us a Biblical worldview. It is necessary to follow the authority of scripture even when the authority of a government says not to do so or even goes against scripture itself. The proper response is to follow scripture to the best of our ability and trust in God that He will help us no matter what we are up against.
- Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Rev. [i.e. 2d] & Unabridged ed. New York: Macmillan, 1959. Print.
-Missouri Tenth. Web. 14 Jan. 2015. <http://missouritenth.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/bonhoeffer.pdf>.
- "Who Owns Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Liberals or Evangelicals?" The Righteous Investor. 31 Jan. 2011. Web. 14 Jan. 2015. <http://righteousinvestor.com/2011/01/31/who-owns-dietrich-bonhoeffer-liberals-or-evangelicals/>.
-Weiker, Richard. University of Iowa, 1 Jan. 1993. Web. 14 Jan. 2015. <http://archive.csustan.edu/history/Faculty/Weikart/Scripture-and-Myth-in-Dietrich-Bonhoeffer.pdf>.