Bonhoeffer: The Church confesses…


Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor martyr who had been murdered by the Nazis clearly writes in his monumental dissertation, titled Ethics about the collapse of the West. He foresaw the threats and signs of this collapse we are afraid of now. He pointed out the key reason of the coming collapse is the moral decline of the Church in the West. He was convinced that the key to avoid this coming collapse of the West is in the hands of the Church. The Church has to confess her sins before God and publicly declare it before the world. In 1940 Bonhoeffer wrote a confession and encouraged the Church to own it and declare it. It was considered too radical than and since. Regardless how accurate and current it was and is. God’s long-suffering grace is the only reason why the West has not collapsed yet, although it’s signs are imminent. If more and more of us could honestly say and own this confession written 76 years ago to God, there might be a hope for the West.

As we read this confession, remember Bonhoeffer’s warning:

“If anyone stifles or corrupts the Church’s confession of guilt, his guilt towards Christ is beyond hope.”

“The Church confesses that she has not proclaimed often and clearly enough her message of the one God who has revealed Himself for all times in Jesus Christ and who suffers no other gods beside Himself. She confesses her timidity, her evasiveness, her dangerous concessions. She has often been untrue to her office of guardianship and to her office of comfort. And through this she has often denied to the outcast and to the despised the compassion which she owes them. She was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was crying aloud to heaven. She has failed to speak the right word in the right way and at the right time. She has not resisted to the uttermost the apostasy of faith, and she has brought upon herself the guilt of the godlessness of the masses.

The Church confesses that she has taken in vain the name of Jesus Christ, for she has been ashamed of this name before the world and she has not striven forcefully enough against the misuse of this name for an evil purpose. She has stood by while violence and wrong were being committed under cover of this name. And indeed she has left uncontradicted, and has thereby abetted, even open mockery of the most holy name. She knows that God will not leave unpunished one who takes His name in vain as she does.

The Church confesses herself guilty of the loss of the Sabbath day, of the withering away of her public worship, and of the contemptuous neglect of Sunday as a day of rest. She has incurred the guilt of restlessness and disquiet, and also of the exploitation of labour even beyond the working weekday, because her preaching of Jesus Christ has been feeble and her public worship has been lifeless. The Church confesses herself guilty of the collapse of parental authority. She offered no resistance to contempt for age and idolization of youth, for she was afraid of losing youth, and with it the future. As though her future belonged to youth. She has not dared to proclaim the divine authority and dignity of parenthood in the face of the revolution of youth, and in a very earthly way she has tried “to keep up with the young.” She has thus rendered herself guilty of the breaking up of countless families, the betrayal of fathers by their children, the self-deification of youth, and the abandonment of youth to the apostasy from Christ. The Church confesses that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people, oppression, hatred and murder, and that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid. She is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenceless brothers of Jesus Christ.

The Church confesses that she has found no word of advice and assistance in the face of the dissolution of all order in the relation between the sexes. She has found no strong and effective answer to the contempt for chastity and to the proclamation of sexual libertinism. All she has achieved has been an occasional expression of moral indignation. She has thus rendered herself guilty of the loss of the purity and soundness of youth. She has failed to proclaim with sufficient emphasis that our bodies belong to the Body of Christ. The Church confesses that she has witnessed in silence the spoliation and exploitation of the poor and the enrichment and corruption of the strong. The Church confesses herself guilty towards the countless victims of calumny, denunciation and defamation. She has not convicted the slanderer of his wrongdoing, and she has thereby abandoned the slandered to his fate.

The Church confesses that she has desired security, peace and quiet, possessions and honour, to which she had no right, and that in this way she has not bridled the desires of men but has stimulated them still further. The Church confesses herself guilty of breaking all ten commandments, and in this she confesses her defection from Christ. She has not borne witness to the truth of God in such a manner that all pursuit of truth, all science, can perceive that it has its origin in this truth. She has not proclaimed the justice of God in such a manner that all true justice must see in it the origin of its own essential nature. She has not succeeded in making the providence of God a matter of such certain belief that all human economy must regard it as the source from which it receives its task. By her own silence she has rendered herself guilty of the decline in responsible action, in bravery in the defence of a cause, and in willingness to suffer for what is known to be right. She bears the guilt of the defection of the governing authority from Christ.”

Source: D.Bonhoeffer: Ethics, Ch III. Guilt, Justification and Renewal, The Confession of Guilt, Published by Simon and Schuster New York. 1995

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