September/October Newsletter

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September/October 2017 Newsletter

 

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Synopsis of the Greek Scriptures

As a cohesive whole, the Greek Scriptures present the mission and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

**Another assignment from school. The goal of this paper was to present a synopsis of my view of what the Greek Scriptures present to readers, written as a simple synopsis of facts and themes, but not including any interpretation of what ‘it means.’**

As a cohesive whole, the Greek Scriptures present the mission and message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Through various means and with the presentation of facts, the writers’ combined efforts tell the story of a god-man, Jesus Christ, and his followers during the first century. Jesus’ revolutionary identity and work culminated in his death, bodily resurrection, and ascension into heaven, and served to transform individuals and communities. The person and work of Christ were continued through the message and mission concerning him as it was carried out by his followers. Looking forward, the writers of the Greek Scriptures tell how Jesus’ message and mission will continue to work through history and will culminate and climax as Christ returns to the earth bringing judgment upon evil and eternal blessedness for those who have believed in him.

The Person and Work of Christ

The Greek Scriptures begin with four accounts of the life of Christ known as the Gospels.  In the Gospels, Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven are recounted by eyewitnesses.  The four accounts, written by four authors, were most likely composed at different times and for different reasons over the course of the first century. Though each contains a unique focus and style, the Gospels all contain two major themes: the person of Jesus Christ and the work of Jesus Christ.

The identity of Jesus, a Jewish man born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, is of utmost importance in each Gospel account. Great care is given in the description of Jesus’ birth, which was a virgin birth surrounded by miraculous activity. We receive little information from the writers concerning the childhood of Jesus, and beginning with an event in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve, the writers present Jesus’ identity mostly through Jesus’ own words.  As a boy in the temple, Jesus (in essence) remarked, “I am in my Father’s house.” Jesus’ relation to his heavenly father, Yahweh, is the relationship he spoke of most often.  The writers record many other of Jesus’ self-descriptions, the substance of which is summarized by saying that Jesus claimed to be Yahweh, the God of the Hebrew Scripture.  Jesus’ claims of divinity are a hallmark of each Gospel account as each writer presents specific stories and teachings of Jesus to help the reader come to an understanding of his divine identity. Thus, the primary way the writers seek to give evidence of Jesus’ identity is through displaying his works.

The Gospel writers fill the bulk of their texts with the works of Jesus, which contain two major expressions: his actions and his teachings.  For the span of Jesus’ public ministry, he moved throughout Galilee and Judea, including Jerusalem, teaching and doing acts of compassion. The writers show that Jesus, the god-man, was on a heavenly mission from his father, who is Yahweh. This relationship is often highlighted when Jesus withdrew to pray and commune with his Father in private. From his communal relationship with Yahweh, Jesus showed ultimate care for and knowledge of all people through various acts that included teaching, performing miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, etc. The work of Jesus, though received by many, was hated by the religious elite of Judaism. Jesus, however, is not presented as seeking to break ties with Judaism, but as working to reveal the true message and redemptive mission of Yahweh as seen in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus claimed to be the ultimate expression of Yahweh’s love and desire to redeem humanity from sin and death. His claims of intimate knowledge of Yahweh as his father, and further, his claims to be Yahweh drove a wedge between Jesus and the religious elite.  The writers use Jesus’ own words to show how if a person cannot recognize Yahweh through Jesus, then that person is unable to recognize Yahweh at all.  Tensions culminated as Jesus was put on public trail, tortured, and put to death through crucifixion. After three days in a tomb, Jesus vindicated his message and mission by raising from the dead as he foretold. Jesus then appeared and taught many after his resurrection. This post-resurrection teaching was finalized in a commissioning of his followers to go to all the world and continue his work by multiplying disciples who are instructed in everything that Jesus taught and baptizing them into Jesus name. Jesus also explained how he was going away to his father, but was going to send the Holy Spirit as a helper to all who have come to believe in his life, death, and resurrection as the only path of redemption from sin and death given by Yahweh.  Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus ascended to the Father.

The Gospel: Message and Mission

After the ascension of Jesus, the Greek Scriptures provide a synopsis detailing how the original community of believers matured, grew, and handled Jesus’ commission to continue his work and proclaim his message of redemption. On the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ death, the community of believers in Jerusalem was gathered together in prayer and the Holy Spirit filled, or began to personally dwell in, each individual believer. To this community, the Holy Spirit’s activity on Pentecost was the sign from heaven to begin to continue in the work and message of Jesus, which became known as ‘the gospel.’ The gospel contained two primary expressions: the message and the mission.

The message of the gospel began to be proclaimed initially through a man named Peter on Pentecost day. That specific day Jews from abroad, who had gathered for the Jewish holiday, heard the message of Jesus’ person and work, each in their own language, and at least three thousand believed and were baptized. The message of the gospel was proclaimed in Jerusalem by this new believing community and many were continually receiving the gospel message and were baptized.  The miraculous signs which Jesus had performed during his ministry accompanied the message of this new community. These signs often brought negative and aggressive attention upon the community from the Jewish religious elite. Even when interrogated and threatened by the Jewish authorities, the leaders of the believing community, called apostles, followed Jesus’ example by insisting that Jesus’ person and work were in accordance with and the fulfillment of the redemptive promises given by Yahweh through the Hebrew Scriptures. Aggression towards the believing community increased, and a young zealous Pharisee, Saul, began a violent campaign against the followers of Jesus.  Saul’s aggression and bloodlust forced many to flee Jerusalem. In this diaspora of believers, the mission of the gospel grew as Jesus had instructed when individuals like Philip proclaimed the gospel message beyond Jerusalem. When Philip brought the message of the gospel to the Samaritans many believed and were baptized, thus the believing community grew to include those who were not ethnically pure Jews. The success of the gospel message in Judea and Samaria drew the attention of the persecutor Saul.  While on his way to come against the followers of Jesus in Damascus, Saul was confronted by Jesus in an experience that left him temporarily blind. Saul was subsequently converted to faith in Jesus and was baptized. After his conversion, Saul became known as Paul and immediately began to proclaim the gospel message and work for the gospel mission.  The community of believers spread and multiplied throughout the Jewish communities of Judea, Samaria, and still north into Syria.

As the believers in Jesus increased, a significant event occurred between the apostle Peter and a believing family of Gentiles in Caesarea.  Peter was shown in a unique spiritual encounter how the Gentiles were to be welcomed into the faith without adherence to Jewish tradition and custom.  The first gentiles to be formally welcomed into the believing community were the family of the roman centurion, Cornelius, who were ministered to by Peter, received the Holy Spirit, and were baptized. In time, Paul became a key individual who brought the gospel to gentile communities in the Syrian region around the city of Antioch. As the gentile population in the believing communities increased, despite Peter’s experience and Paul’s ministry, a dispute arose as to whether Gentiles ought to adhere to the Law of Moses. The conflict eventually merited a council of elders in Jerusalem. The elders determined that Gentiles were to be welcomed into the faith without any restrictions or requirements of Jewish Law, except that they should abstain from sexual immorality, food that was strangled or sacrificed to idols, and from consuming blood. Those apart of the faith now included Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile.  The gospel message then became more solidified in its universal presentation and the gospel mission continued in its expansion.

Paul began traveling and gaining converts farther north from the region of Syria. Paul and his fellow workers spent much time in the cities of Galatia and, in time, a large community developed further east in Ephesus. From Ephesus, Paul continued to journey towards Greece, developing communities of believers along the way. At many places, these workers of the gospel encountered staunch opposition from many different parties. The workers of the gospel often found themselves in prison, yet even there the gospel message was presented and prevailed. Paul eventually made it to Athens, where he preached to the Greek philosophers and thinkers about the ‘unknown God’ and the resurrection of the dead. Outside of Athens, a large community of believers was established in Corinth. Paul, the apostles, and the fellow gospel workers continued in strengthening and ministering throughout all the regions of Judea, Syria, Galatia, Asia (modern day western Turkey), Macedonia and Greece. Paul, upon a return trip to Jerusalem, was imprisoned because of the gospel and put to trial where he appealed his case to Caesar as a Roman citizen. After several defenses before roman rulers and a tumultuous journey, Paul finally arrived in Rome where he stayed as a prisoner in an apartment. While awaiting trial in Rome, Paul spoke to both Jew and Gentile about the gospel message and strengthened the believing community in Rome.

The Body of Christ

Beyond the chronological narrative, a major theme of the Greek Scriptures, seen through the letters written by apostles, is how the communities of believers were established, cared for, and governed. These communities, both in local and universal relation, are described by the apostle Paul as the Body of Christ. In this imagery, the universal body of faith is governed by Christ who is the head.  Each member of this body has a specific purpose to fulfill in order for the universal body to function properly. Within local congregations, the same principles are active. The apostolic leaders gave oversight and guidance to the communities abroad and these communities in turn established within themselves elders and other leaders who would serve, guide, and protect their people. Further, amongst these communities, each individual is given purpose and assignment in the local Body of Christ. The result of this distribution of purpose and responsibility were communities of individuals who were personally and corporately living out the gospel mission and proclaiming the gospel message. The letters of the Greek Scripture display how the apostolic leaders held intimate knowledge of the activities, personalities, and current struggles of specific communities. The letters are intensely personal, as Jesus’ leadership was with his disciples during his ministry. The well-being and spiritual health of individuals also play a major role in the content of these letters. Above all, however, the apostles keep with the model set by Jesus in prioritizing an intimate relationship with Yahweh through prayer and devotion to Scripture as the foundation for a fruitful life in the Body of Christ. Therefore, prayers or comments on prayer mark the beginning and end of most of the apostolic letters.

The apprenticeship model set by Jesus in his public ministry is also replicated in the believing communities. This personal apprenticeship approach is most keenly seen in the life of Paul as expressed through the account of his life and observed in the content of his letters.  He has many younger men, whom he has taken in to train and teach, that he gives specific and careful attention to. The personal letters of Paul to his apprentices Timothy and Titus display the intimate and familial traits that marked the universal community at that time.  The apostles were deeply invested in establishing and empowering leaders in each local community. This intimate apprenticeship model, founded in prayer, is the valued form of leadership and discipleship throughout the Greek Scriptures.

Resurrection and Judgement

Though the chronology of the Greek Scriptures ends in the first century, most of its writers speak of a time when history will culminate and climax with Christ’s return to the earth, an event marked by two major themes: resurrection and judgment. The gospel message contains a linear nature with an ultimate destination and end.  The focal point of this specific time in the future is the bodily return of Christ and the bodily resurrection of all the faithful believers throughout history.  This return and resurrection are promises spoken of often and are often used to give encouragement to persecuted believers by many of the writers of the Greek Scriptures.

The promises of return and resurrection are often coupled with a message about Christ’s final judgment upon individuals and nations. This judgment is presented in both positive and negative terms.  For those of the faith, the final evaluation will bring rewards and crowns as gifts signifying Christ’s pleasure in them, though some will only narrowly escape the ‘flames.’ For those in opposition to Christ, the final evaluation will bring about a reckoning of sin and injustice, expressed through Christ’s wrath. Christ’s judgment is presented as hope for those in the faith and as a warning for those not yet of the faith. This end-time period is described in apocalyptic imagery by the apostle John in his work which details a visionary experience given to him by Christ. In this time of return, resurrection, and final judgment, Christ is presented as a victorious king who cares deeply about justice and the well-being of his people. The Greek Scriptures end with a glorious description of a time when Christ will permanently eliminate evil and death and dwell with his Father and all believing people in an eternal city on the earth forever.

Christians and the Holocaust

During the Second World War six million Jews were murdered, an event now simply named ‘the Holocaust.’ The German sociocultural system of the early twentieth century, which drove this murderous antisemitic agenda, was overwhelmingly made of up Christians, so what part did Christians play in the outworking of these events?

~I’ve been working on finishing my undergrad lately and had the opportunity to write a research paper on any subject for an English class.  The blessing of being in a self-paced class is that I was actually able to take several months (assuredly more time than I needed to) and do some real research into a topic that has always fascinated me, Christians during the Holocaust of the Second World War.  Knowing that Germany was so overwhelmingly Christian and in many ways the hub of Christian education and theology in the 19th and early 20th century, I’ve always been curious to see what happened within the culture, specifically within the church, to allow for such horrors to occur.  I read the volumes included in the works cited, but also a few other texts that I wasn’t able to get into because of the word limit on my paper.  I had so much more to say than what’s included here, but this essay briefly covers the important points.  What’s missing is a section on the response of the Christian in the 21st century….perhaps for another time.~

 

Christians and the Holocaust

“I remember being undone because…the first poster-exhibit that I saw when I walked in the door [of Yam Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Israel] was a statement about how the Holocaust was perpetrated by Christians because of Christian Scripture and the teachings of Church Fathers” (Thomas 00:01:30-00:01:50). During the Second World War six million Jews were murdered, an event now simply named ‘the Holocaust.’ The German sociocultural system of the early twentieth century, which drove this murderous antisemitic agenda, was overwhelmingly made of up Christians, so what part did Christians play in the outworking of these events? (Goldhagen 107) Through antisemitic teachings, an antisemitic worldview, and by active and passive participation many Christians were complicit in the horrors of the Holocaust; however, in word and deed, a remnant of Christians stood in strong opposition to antisemitism and the Nazi eliminationist agenda. Thus, the role Christians played was complex and diverse.

As with any historic event, the tragedies surrounding the Holocaust did not happen without many cultural and societal narratives in place in advance. The culture and worldview of Christians, which made up the religious majority of Europe in the decades leading up to the Second World War, show how fertile the ground was for eliminationist antisemitism to grow. As Goldhagen strongly says, “European antisemitism is a corollary of Christianity” (49). In many cases, the unfortunate persecution of Jews by Christians is present well before the Nazi’s came to power. A resident from Jedwebane, Poland explained how, “Easter, when priests evoked in their sermons an image of Jews as God-killers, was a perennial occasion for antisemitic violence” (qtd. in Gross 38). Violent antisemitic outbursts from Christians was not a novelty, but something the Jewish communities of Europe dealt with for centuries (Gross 39-40). In Germany, various social actions, such as academic segregation, sent a very divisive and threatening message from corporate Christian organizations to ethnic Jews (Johnson and Rueben 43). Goldhagen states how in German politics, “Declaring the Jews to be one’s enemy…was so effective for winning adherents, that it became a standard part of the political and social repertoire” (73). In the early 1930s popular theologians casually discussed antisemitic eliminationist principles publicly as a solution to Germany’s ills (Goldhagen 126). Amongst the popular Christian worldview, especially in Germany, the Jews were simply a problem to dealt with.

How did Christians come to adopt such a view of the Jewish people? Slowly, beginning with the Church Fathers, the legacy of hatred towards Jews developed and became a foundational axiom of Christian tradition. Though the majority of the original community of believers were Jewish, as the church became majority gentile during the first century, doctrine developed which placed increasing shame and blame upon the Jews for killing Jesus and ultimately rejecting God. Goldhagen explains, “So ran the logic of Church Fathers and of Christian antisemitism as it gradually developed by the thirteenth century to the point where the Jew became synonymous with the Devil” (52-53). Rabbi Joshua Trachtenberg states that the tradition the middle ages left to modernity was “a hatred [of Jews] so vast and abysmal, so intense, that it leaves one grasping for comprehension” (qtd. in Goldhagen 65). Leading up to the Second World War, Dr. Michael Brown sums up, “There is absolutely no question, if not for the legacy of anti-judaism and antisemitism in church history…the Holocaust would not have been able to occur” (Thomas, 43:55-44:11).

In Germany, the antisemitic tradition of the Christian church naturally became part of the culture and the violent division between Jew and German was solidified by the presence of staunch German nationalism. This nationalism was intimately fused with Christianity. “The very notion of being ‘German’ included in it a Christian element” (Goldhagen, 65). For Germans, nationalism was invigorated in the tumultuous years (1918-1939) that separated the two world wars. The War Guilt Clause of the Treaty of Versailles (which ended World War One), in essence, gave Germany massive amounts of debt which resulted in severe inflation and unemployment.  The economy was decimated. The political system was also in complete disarray. One German Christian and Hitler Youth reflected saying, “Those were insane times, four or five governments per year. It was madness…I’m convinced that well-behaved citizens put a cross [next to the National Socialists in the Reichstag election] and said, “Thank God order will finally prevail” (qtd. in Johnson and Rueben 253). The German populace, which was over 80 percent Chrisitan, was desperate in their desire to restore the fortunes of Germany.

In 1933 the public desire for strong leadership came to fruition and the Nazi’s were officially given control of Germany. The country rejoiced in the social change as the National Socialists restored 7 million jobs, which was to many a miracle (Johnson and Rueben 253).  One citizen recounted, “Then Adolf Hitler came to power…For most that was indeed better” (qtd. in Johnson and Rueben 156). As the Nazi’s success gained momentum, they began to build upon the Christian antisemitic worldview in order to propagate their eliminationist plans. Those in political opposition to Hitler were antisemites themselves, therefore Hitler’s violence against the Jews was met with relatively no resistance. Goldhagen remarks, “What were ordinary Germans to think? They had been weaned and fed on an existing antisemitic culture…now overlaid with a set of new charges—that the Jews…were the source of the dislocation of the changing economy and society…churches, still a formidable source of authority and guidance, reinforced the animus against the Jews” (60). Christian leaders, who were mostly proud ethnic Germans, promoted and galvanized antisemitic thought. Priests and clergy, who remained friendly towards their Jewish congregants, were abused by other congregants over their “kindness, for carrying out his religious duties [towards the Jewish converts]” (Goldhagen 104). These events served as a crucible where German nationalism and antisemitism melded into a potent poison that spread to all parts of German culture. To embrace a Jew was to embrace the destruction of Germany. As Germany sought to regain prosperity and rebuild society, the Jews became, as it were, the scape goat.

Although the majority of Christian leadership in Germany continued with the antisemitic narrative, there were some who recognized the gross error and bravely sought to bring change before the war began. Though there is little evidence to suggest that many Christian churches stood against the eliminationist antisemitism of the Nazi’s, there are small examples of opposition in schools, individuals, and offshoot churches. For example, one German citizen recounted how a Jewish boy at his monastery school with was sent away to Belgium, by the school before the war, so that he might survive (Johnson and Rueben 164). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famed German pastor and Nazi resistor, was outspoken concerning the decline in the churches of Germany, “The Church’s path is darker than it has ever been” (Sifton and Stern 33). Bonhoeffer, and many others saw the church centralization (formation of the German Evangelical Church in 1933) and support of the Nazi’s as a grave threat to Christians. Opposition pastors banded together and formed the Confessing Church in 1933. The Confessing Church stood against the state’s interaction in religious affairs, and, though many of its founders were themselves antisemites, eventually came to oppose the antisemitic and eliminationist principles of the Nazi’s. Before the war, through various means, they exhorted protestants to refrain from actions against Jews (Goldhagen 104).

Outside of Germany, opposition from churches and Christian organizations concerning eliminationist principles and antisemitism was present. In a letter from an America leader in The Universal Christian Council for Life and Work, there is clear opposition from American churches, “colleagues of mine were assured this summer in Berlin by official representatives of the churches that the (German) policy could be described as one of “humane extermination”…Frankly speaking, the Christians of America cannot conceive of any extermination of human beings as “humane.” They find it even more difficult to understand how churchmen in any land at any time can deliberately lend their influence to the carrying out of such a policy” (qtd. in Goldhagen 126-127). European opposition was not as forceful, especially in Eastern European countries, but resembled the opposition found in Germany. Courageous Christian individuals were the main voices against eliminationist antisemitism in Europe before the war began.

In 1939 Hitler invaded Poland and the Second World War began. As the Nazi’s began to carry out their eliminationist agenda against the Jews, many Christians were active participants. As Goldhagen strongly states, “The German churches cooperated wholeheartedly in this obviously eliminationist and often lethal measure” (111). In Poland, perhaps the most pervasive occurrences of active participation were found. Many Polish communities, which were majority Catholic, welcomed the Germans and their practices because of their historic fear of the Russians (Gross 55). In the town of Jedwabne, a resident remarked concerning the actions of the church, “Propaganda started coming out from the upper echelons of Polish society…stating that it was time to settle scores with those who had crucified Jesus Christ..and are a source of all evil in the world—the Jews…The seed of hatred fell on well-nourished soil, which had been prepared for many years by the clergy. [They] took it as a holy challenge that history had put upon it—to get rid of the Jews” (Gross 65). In 1941 the Catholic townspeople of Jedwabne, with no German command or aid, burnt all of the Jews of the town alive. Though this was “but an episode in the murderous war that Hitler waged against all Jews,” Gross comments, “As to the Germans’ direct participation in the mass murder of Jews in Jedwabne on July 10, 1941, however, one must admit that it was limited…to their taking pictures” (78). These types of actions by Christians could be found throughout the rural and urban communities of Poland.

In German society, more widespread than active participation was the passiveness and silence of Christians concerning the murder of the Jews.  As the war progressed, the people of Germany became gripped with fear and did nothing to oppose the horrible actions taking place against their Jewish countrymen. In a devastating quote from Joseph Goebbels’, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, personal diary he sincerely remarked that, “had the German people and the Christian leadership opposed the elimination and extermination of the Jews, then they could have stopped the regime” (qtd. in Goldhagen 448). A German Jew recounted, “They did nothing to stop it.  Guilt by omission is as bad as guilt by commission” (Johnson and Rueben 40). Even amongst the Confessing Church leadership, pastors became silent from the fear of being thrown in jail or sent to a concentration camp. Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked in a letter to his family, “Are [Christians] still of any use?” (Sifton and Stern 100) In their analysis of first person interviews, Johnson and Rueband state, “Even if some Germans continued to remain friendly toward Jews, and even if some Germans offered them aid assistance, and even if Germans were mixed in their support for National Socialism, nearly all Germans went along—many actively, most at least passively—with the antisemitic polices and measures and offered no meaningful protest against them. As Ian Kershaw once explained, “The road to Aushwitz was built by hate, but paved with indifference”” (284).

As the Jews of Europe began to disappear, many courageous individuals stood against, even under threat of death, the widespread trend of supporting or remaining silent towards the Nazi genocidal plan. One unique expression of opposition was found amongst a few Christians who were in positions of governmental influence in Germany. One Christian man, Hans Dohnanyi, who was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, choose to stay in his governmental position as a lawyer in order to aid in resistance against the regime.  Dohnanyi connected with a General, Hans Oster, who was a leading figure in various conspiracies, and together they worked against the Nazis and gave aid to many Jews through disseminating information. Eventually, the pulled Dietrich Bonhoeffer into a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler.  Bonhoeffer, who had become frustrated by the disengagement of many of his fellow Confessing Church comrades, chose to take part in the conspiracy (Sifton and Stern 73). Sifton and Stern recount a conversation between Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer concerning these acts, “One evening Hans asked Dietrich what he thought of Jesus’ saying that “all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Would that apply to the murders of Hitler? Dietrich said yes, they were subject to that judgment. There was a need for people who would submit to it, fully accepting their own responsibility for their actions” (73). Dohnanyi labeled these actions as, “the path a decent person inevitably takes” (Sifton and Stern 102). Though controversial, for those involved, conspiracy against Hitler was the only reasonable course of action for a Christian in such a position. Bonhoeffer, Dohnanyi, Oster, and many others, were captured and executed for this outworking of their faith.

Actions against the state were courageous and unique, yet the most prevalent form of Christian opposition was found in the voice and actions of individuals. Many in Poland pleaded with their local priests, who were the main source of societal influence, to work on behalf of the Jews.  Such pleas were met with hostility and rarely lead to any change of action (Gross 62-63). The general lack of response from church leaders led many to take actions into their own hands.  In her autobiography, The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom recounts one Christian family’s actions to aid Jewish people in Holland.  In their home, the ten Boom’s created rooms in which they could hide Jews from being captured.  Corrie’s father, Casper, remarked concerning giving shelter to the Jews, “In this household…God’s people are always welcome” (ten Boom 77). The ten Boom’s, and several in their Dutch community, took desperate measures to aid the Jews in their care by stealing food ration cards and creating counterfeit identity cards (ten Boom 78).  Eventually, the ten Booms were caught and several family members died in concentration and work camps along with the Jews they sought to rescue.  Compared with the actions from the majority of Christians, these accounts of opposition are few and far between.  Goldhagen comments, “Expressions of principled dissent from either one [antisemitism or the eliminationist enterprise] were but isolated, unusual examples—the voices of lonely criers in a desolate night” (124).

In all, the story of the Christians before and during the horrific events of the Holocaust of the Second World War is tragic and complex. Many were perpetrators, many were silent, and a few were courageous opposers.  As modern-day Christians seek to understand the Holocaust and the actions of Christians during that time, the most pressing question is not, “What did the Christians do?” but, “How then should Christians respond today?” In 1946, while reflecting upon the Holocaust, the famous German Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemöller, said, “Christianity in Germany bears a greater responsibility before God than the National Socialists, the SS, and the Gestapo. We ought to have recognized the Lord Jesus in the brother who suffered and was persecuted despite him being a communist or a Jew…Are we not Christians much more to blame, am I not much more guilty, than many who bathed their hands in blood” (qtd. in Goldhagen 113). The modern response is two-fold: Individuals who stood for truth should be honored while repentance is offered on behalf of a generation who went astray.

 

[Works Cited

Goldhagen, Daniel. Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1996.

Gross, Jan. Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. Princeton University Press, 2001.

Johnson, Eric and Karl-Heinz Reuband. What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany. Basic Books, 2005.

Sifton, Elisabeth and Fritz Stern. No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans Dohnanyi, Resistors Against Hitler in Church and State. The New York Review of Books, 2013.

ten Boom, Corrie, et al. The Hiding Place. Chosen Books, 1971.

Thomas, Dalton, dir. Covenant and Controversy, Part One: The Great Rage. Frontier Alliance International, 2015. Film.]

It’s God’s Job, Not Yours

We forget that God is the one who moves the human heart into truth, not the strength of man.

Another 300 word post from school…this time the topic is ‘Spiritual Awakening.’  Here’s what came out.

As a person who has worked in Christian ministry since my youth, I’ve found this concept of ‘spiritual awakening’ to be one that is easily forgotten.  There is a pressure that a minister can feel to be the initiator of the awakening within the people being ministered to.  Whether it is through preaching or one-on-one discipleship there is often a felt weight to convey truth in such a way where the hearer must respond.  We forget that God is the one who moves the human heart into truth, not the strength of man.

When we try to be initiators of awakening within others we are actually trying to do God’s work and therefore we are trying to be God.  Clearly we are insufficient to do any such thing.  This comes from a misunderstanding of how God has chosen to work through his people.  God first calls the minister to do the work, then God gives the minister the wisdom to do said work.  Then as the minister is doing the work, God uses it to effect others by moving within the hearts of individuals.  The theme in this process is that God’s responsibility is to initiate at every stage and the responsibility of the minister is simply to do what God tells them to do.  How important that we understand our role!  God doesn’t call us to do things we cannot do, he calls us to be faithful in what he has asked us to do.

When the minister realizes and accepts their proper role in the process of the spiritual awakening in others, the minister finds freedom.  The minister will now be able prioritize prayer as well, for only God can change the hearts of the people we care so deeply for.  The burden of doing more than we are able is lifted and we are able to become willing and joyful partners with Christ in doing his work.

Thoughts on Holiness

Holiness is not behavior, it is transformation. 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us about this point. We are “being transformed into [the image of God] from one degree of glory to another.” Holiness is the process by which we are transformed into the image of God.

Another 300 word submission.  This time the topic was a response to “The Concept of Holiness.”  This feels extremely condensed—especially the last paragraph…oh well!  Here’s what came out:

Holiness often is defined as a person’s commitment to set of moral values.  Though those values may be religious is nature the emphasis is on the values themselves, a person who doesn’t lie, cheat, steal, etc.  When a person is successful at habitually practicing these moral values they are deemed to have holiness.  While the aim of this approach is not necessarily bad, it is far from complete and may run the risk of missing the point altogether.

Holiness is not behavior, it is transformation.  2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us about this point.  We are “being transformed into [the image of God] from one degree of glory to another.”  Holiness is the process by which we are transformed into the image of God.  This is a profoundly spiritual process where our interior man is actually changed into God’s likeness.  This change is not possible through man’s strength or through natural wisdom, but is the very work of God that no man may boast.

So, where does our behavior then fit?  If holiness is the transformation of self, then changed behavior becomes the result of that process rather than the goal of it.  In fact it may be said that our changed behavior is the evidence of this transformation, the fruit we bear from our connection with the life giving vine (John 15).  Are we then passive receptors of this transformation?  Surely not!  We take part in this process by partnering with it.  We know the goal of the Spirit is to fashion us into the image of Christ, therefore we learn about who Christ is and do what he does.  We read the truths of Scripture and allow them to penetrate our minds.  Knowing truth, we can then agree with and recognize the Spirit’s work within us.  We also guard ourselves from trying to make the fruit grow on our vine in our own strength.  How could we?  We are to focus upon our connection to the vine, Christ in us, our only way to authentic holiness (Colossians 1:27).

Take It Seriously: Your Concept of God

Granted the concept of God extends beyond the rational, but as it is developed rationally and spiritually we must adhere ourselves to the processes (rational and spiritual). In fact, our adherence must be absolute.

This is another forum post from a class I’m taking…it was 300 words on ‘The Concept of God’.  This is what came out.

I have always thought it interesting how different believers respond to their concept of God when going through a trying situation or life circumstance.  One person may experience some trying times financially or an important relationship is in tension and suddenly that person is questioning whether or not God is real, everything crumbles.  Yet, another person may loose a child or suffer a great tragedy and though they may not understand ‘why’ their belief in God remains firm or actually strengthens. 

The differing situations show how important it is to have a correct understanding and approach to the concept of God.  We cannot simply imagine in our mind what we think God is like and settle on that as truth.  This God is not God at all and when it is tested it will surely disintegrate.  Further, it seems to be the case that if a person only hears about god, say at church, yet never invests themselves in establishing their own personal convictions about who God is it will all come apart when tested. 

I suppose this is true with any concept or logic that one might adhere themselves to.  If the idea is rational, then there is most likely a rational process one must take to have that truth become meaningful and robust.  Granted the concept of God extends beyond the rational, but as it is developed rationally and spiritually we must adhere ourselves to the processes (rational and spiritual).  In fact, our adherence must be absolute.

This process requires at least four components to be successful (surely there are many more).  First the believer must hear the gospel, the presentation of the foundational and essential logic of the Christian faith, and believe in it with both mind and heart.  The believer must then immerse himself in the study of the Bible, to know who God is and what He does.  This study, and subsequent mission, must be done within the context of the community of saints which will help guide the believer in their pursuit of truth.  Finally, the individual must allow time for listening to God speak through the bible in prayer, allowing God to transform our hearts.  When we lax in any of these areas, both rational and spiritual, our conceptualization of God may be either flawed or ineffectual.