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I believe that Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Christian Aid are two prime examples of discipleship in this century, Bonhoeffer as an individual and Christian Aid as an organisation.
Bonhoeffer was a German preacher born in 1906 to a medical professor and his wife in Breslau, a small town. From an early age he wanted to serve God, and so he studied theology at university and taught and preached in both Germany and America. He returned to his homeland in 1933 to protest against the newly elected Nazi party, and joined the new Confessing Church, having rejected his previous Protestant church for bowing to Hitler’s demands. He worked in a secret training centre for new pastors, run by the confessing church, for four years, as the Gestapo closed it down in 1937. After that, and with the signs of the oppression soon to be felt by the German people becoming clearer, Bonhoeffer took a more active role in his campaigning against the Nazis, eventually leading him to a cell in a prison and the hangman’s noose in 1945.
One of the main tenants of Christian discipleship is Jesus’ teaching on the mountain: pacifism and love for enemies. Bonhoeffer was an avid believer in these ideals, and wrote his still-relevant book, The Cost of Discipleship, based around those thoughts. He interpreted the maxim of “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also” as a call for pacifism and working out disagreements by reasoning rather than force.
But Bonhoeffer was forced to challenge his own morals when the news of the violent anti-Semitism ignited by Hitler spread and several of his friends joined the German resistance. Most of those opposed to the Nazis saw that the only way to end the suffering caused by Hitler was to kill him. Public meetings were banned, and the press were heavily censored. The huge propaganda departments of the government would not allow any attempt by Bonhoeffer to spread his Christian teaching. So Bonhoeffer felt that he could be quiet, and wait until the war finished, and congratulate those that ended it, or he could play an active role in a plot to kill Hitler.
Firstly he helped smuggle Jews out of Germany, but was caught and forced to give up any legitimate teaching. Forsaking any hope of reaching a peaceful end to the conflict, Bonhoeffer helped the bomb plot to assassinate Hitler. When it failed he was incarcerated, and he contemplated his deviance from Christian law.
Bonhoffer had to make, on his own, one of the main questions that hangs over all belief systems: Whether the moment dictates what a person should do, or if people should always keep constant what they believe in. In his case it was between fighting evil and helping those in need or staying true to his pacifist roots. He chose to take a drastic step against some of Christ’s teachings to implement others, leading to his arrest and execution. This inevitable question still hangs over the church, and a viable answer has yet to be suggested.
Christian Aid is a charity funded by numerous churches in the UK and Ireland. Although it is funded and staffed by Christians, Christian Aid will support any people in need, regardless of religion or race, and does not attempt to convert those it helps to Christianity. Although it combats poverty and need immediately and continually in global trouble areas, it also tries too stop poverty at it’s root, and was a large part of the ‘Jubilee 2000′ campaign to abolish third world debt. Christian aid has interpreted Jesus’ teaching on Discipleship and concentrated on the aid and help parts of his teaching. It would look to examples from his life:
“When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying hands on each one, he healed them” (Luke 4:40)
This sort of passage, frequent in the gospels, shows that Jesus cared greatly for the needy, rejecting the idea that they somehow ‘deserved’ their punishment, and was not afraid to get dirty and ritually ‘unclean’ to help. In the same way, Christian Aid was set up by Christians who do not judge those they help, and will go to any lengths to re-enact Christ’s good work. They also follow the teaching laid down by Jesus in his parables, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan:
“He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own Donkey, brought him to an Inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34)
The idea of this parable, where one man steps in where others fear to tread, inspires Christian Aid a lot, as they are physically helping the needy of the world while other members of society just stand back and watch, sometimes nodding approvingly. They see this following of Jesus as being true to one of Jesus’ main teachings, “Love your neighbour as yourself” And seek to harmonise the lot of people around the world by abolishing suffering through war, poverty and disasters.
As Christian Aids motto goes; “We believe in life before Death”, Christian Aid is rejecting the traditional view of the churches preaching yet not acting, and are playing an active role in the reduction of suffering. They see Jesus’ message not just as an instruction to put up with life until you die, but also as a chance to help the needy, and prove before God their faith as Christians.