Bonhoeffer

Advice from Bonhoeffer, Bernanos, and Me for Pastors Processing Rejection

14 February 2024

3.1 MINS

Never go out on the devil’s terms, and learn to process rejection.

This is my unsolicited advice for those stepping into ministry this year.

The same applies to anyone facing burnout because of the ministry, and those who think their age puts them beyond being useful to a ministry.

Christians don’t retire; they’re rewired.

Paul describes this as newness of life. (Rom. 6:4)

We’re not to be conformed to the world, he says, but instead, be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Rom. 12:2)

This means we can take no part in the emptying of them – as Eastern mysticism teaches.

We can take no part in catastrophism, escapism, or militantism, whether it be jihad, or ethnocentric social “justice”.

Where the self-hating nihilist appeals to death as a solution, the Christian sees God’s justice, speaks life, and seeks to advance it.

The Lord of Life

Renewal is, according to Romans 6, a constant for those whose flesh has been crucified with Christ.

The authority of Jesus Christ is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient; never changing.

All lordless powers are subservient to His Kingship.

The Abyss, therefore, has no power over the Christian as a lord.

Throwing ourselves into the hopelessness of nothingness is contrary to the resurrected life of Christ living within us.

Proof of the Life of Christ in us is neither morose, nor morbid, for we walk in the light, because in ‘Him there is no darkness at all.’ (1 John 1:5-7)

As Nehemiah said to a mourning and downtrodden rabble returning to rubble and ruin, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Neh. 8)

We don’t go out on the devil’s terms. (James 4:6-7)

‘For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ (Galatians 5)

This liberation from the power of darkness is not a work we do; it’s a work generated within us by the Works – capital W! – Jesus Christ has already done for us.

Galatians 5 speaks about how Christ’s Work is sin-ending, and therefore, life-producing. (John 16:19; 1 John 4; 1 Thess. 4).

Christians are a people of promise, and of promise fulfilled.

We are restored, to restore, and be restored.

This is why the fruits of the Spirit Paul talks about in Galatians are never passive – we are to keep in step with the His Spirit, not the spirit of the age.

They are active, dynamic, enduring, problem-solving, and proactive.

We can cope with rejection, because our hope is a tangible anchor for the soul.

Few ministers, in my mind, exemplify this advice better than Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

My point of contact here is not with his debatable prowess as an academic, his contested conservative political alignment, nor his well-documented anti-national socialist resistance.

It is Georges Bernanos’ 1936 book, Diary of a Country Priest.

Fortitude

Alongside insisting on strict spiritual disciplines for his Finkenwalde theologians, Bonhoeffer set Diary of a Country Priest as a core text.

I can see why.

Post-truth paganism was the new normal in Nazi Germany.

Through Bernanos, Bonhoeffer sowed into their lives a preparedness for Christian ministry under the shadow of totalitarianism.

He knew the illegal Confessing Church seminary would one day be shut down under Himmler’s Aryan paganisation of Germany.

Bernanos captured what life was like for a pastor living with the complacency of Christendom poisoned by apathy, corrupted by the arrogance of power, and betrayed by compromise.

Entering the ministry, the Confessing Church’s new recruits would come face-to-face with a corrupted, paganised church, full of contempt for Christ and Christian vocation.

For Bonhoeffer, Bernanos’ book ‘carried weight.’

The works of Bernanos, he said, ‘reflected the personal contact with the crucified Jesus Christ.’  (Bethge, 2000. Bonhoeffer Revised Ed.)

Finkenwalde’s trainee pastors’ future looked like Bernanos’ brilliant, besieged, mocked, and jaded young priest, who ends up alone, and dying a pauper.

Bonhoeffer was right.

The National Socialists banned Bonhoeffer from preaching in the autumn of 1940. He was hanged two weeks before the war ended, on Hitler’s orders.

For the majority of Bonhoeffers’ Confessing Church students, they became fodder for the Eastern front.

‘A few became officers, some were taken prisoner, and later sent to forced labour camps; others were condemned to death by Soviet court-martial.’

Most, Bethge recounts, ‘were killed in action.’ (ibid, p. 704)

Diary of a Country Priest was Bonhoeffer’s way of helping the young theologians prepare for Christianity without a country, or the institutional church.

With the news in one hand, plus the Bible and Bernanos in the other, Bonhoeffer anticipated Finkenwalde’s future.

This almost prophetic ear-to-the-ground prompted Bonhoeffer to prepare his student pastors for the exact advice I’m offering here:

Never go out on the devil’s terms, and learn to process rejection. (James 4:6-8)

To quote Bernanos, ‘A true priest is never loved; remember that.’

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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6 Comments

  1. Monica Bennett-Ryan 14 February 2024 at 8:44 am - Reply

    Rod. Thank you for your words of encouragement. Courage is what we need now as we step out to speak the truth in the face of Godlessness in the world and in the churches. I don’t believe it’s too late. I don’t believe we need to go any further down this path. I do believe the Gospel has the power to overcome this current darkness and Christ’s blueprint for success, his schematic for taking his Gospel to the world, is his Great Commission.

    • Rod 19 February 2024 at 8:57 am - Reply

      Summed up my point precisely, Monica. It’s the Gospel – Christ through the transformative power of the cross – that overcomes. As Paul writes, ‘we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.’

      Christians don’t live in a perpetual state grievance; victimhood, we may pass by, or walk through that valley (Psalm 23), but we’re empowered by God’s grace to overcome.

  2. Jim Twelves 14 February 2024 at 9:35 am - Reply

    Rod, what would it have been like to be one of Bonhoeffers’ Confessing Church students? That thought consumes me. Then, ‘Never go out on the devil’s terms, and learn to process rejection’. (James 4:6-8). Reflecting on these verses – I think this paraphrase hits the nail on the head. The temptation to compromise our faith on the one hand, and learning to manage being alone on the other. Thank you for this timely piece

    • Rod 19 February 2024 at 9:00 am - Reply

      Thanks, Jim. As a Protestant, I think most of us reformed folks don’t do solitude well. We love, and should be connected to the Christian community, but quiet contemplation tends to give way to the “protestant work ethic.” Bonhoeffer was Lutheran, so there’s a lot more to unpack there by way of his (at times flawed & incomplete theology on religionless Christianity) and his example.

  3. Gail Petherick 14 February 2024 at 12:47 pm - Reply

    Thanks Rod for sharing those inspirational verses, thoughts and Bible verses. Dietrich Bonhoeffer remains one of the bravest of saints and a true hero of the faith. I didn’t know he read ‘the Diary of a country Priest’ as part of his own inspiration as a way to fortify himself in face of rejection. Bonhoeffer truly walked the path of sorrow and suffering leaving behind his fiancé, being tortured and placed in prison for years and then as you shared, finally 2 weeks before the end of the war Hitler had him hanged. Such sorrow only the Saviour knows and many of our Jewish friends are also immersed in b suffering and facing terrible, uncalled for rejection. Thank you for giving us such insights and gems of wisdom that will help fortify our own spirit in the battle for truth.
    Also thanks for sharing this thought and verses from Galations verse: ‘Paul talks about in Galatians are never passive – we are to keep in step with the His Spirit, not the spirit of the age.’

    • Rod 19 February 2024 at 9:05 am - Reply

      One of the best learning curves I’ve had in ministry is valuing the importance of discernment, and the necessity of asking: “Lord, show me what you see in this situation.”

      We’re to keep in step with His Spirit, not the spirit of the age. Sadly, as is documented by the articles on Daily Declaration, many people choose the latter for fear of disapproval, or upsetting the leftist status quo.

      Christian has no place in a culture of “go along to get along.” If the Confessing Church teaches us anything, the cost of doing life together, in freedom, under grace in Christ, is the world’s contempt, disdain, & mockery.

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