We’re examining the CWs’ ‘What We Believe’ page at chookwatch-central, their new, mostly ignored, site.
Immediately after their confused ‘confession’ of the world’s demands, expectations and wants for the Church, the CWs insert a quote from WW2 German Christian minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 1939 book ‘Life Together’, as follows:
‘God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.’
Taken on its own, this paragraph would seem to indicate that all visions and dreams are anathema to God, and the CWs would like us to travel in this direction because they know that many churches and movements have vision statements and mission projects which help direct and inform their local churches.
However, when taken in context with the rest of what Bonhoeffer says, and, more particularly, in line with scripture, it is clear that he specifies what kind of visionary dreaming he is highlighting. The paragraphs before the quoted statement tell us precisely what he is pointing out.
‘Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it.’
A wish dream, in other words, is a dream or vision external to the purposes of God that is introduced from a directive outside of the Christian community, particularly by people new to Christianity with an idea of what Christianity should be, or a strong willed Christian entering a community for the first time with a preconceived set of values for community.
Or there’s another way of looking at it, which all pastors will concur with, and that involves a person or group that comes from another local church, denomination, or movement with its way of working, or theology of mission, and enters a new congregation with that same set of values expecting to introduce and apply them, even though they may be external to that church’s mission statement.
There may be nothing essentially wrong with either set of values, but they fit with that congregation for that time, and the pastor of the church has to run with what he understands God is revealing for the local church he has been given charge, not another man’s vision. He has to be led by the Spirit, not by another man’s demands.
As we have seen in other articles, the CWs are largely guilty of attempting to thrust their theology and missiology on other ministries, and are critical of those that do not comply.
Notice that Bonhoeffer is not opposed to Christian community. He is opposed to ungodly influences from an external community which purports to be Christian.
This is a significant and important difference, and needs to be highlighted. We also need to consider the time in which Bonhoeffer is writing and its relevance to what he is saying.
Remember, Bonhoeffer is in the midst of a great struggle between Nazi extremism which is beginning to politically and spiritually overpower pre-war Germany, and is about to attempt to reconfigure the orthodox Christian Church, which still had its roots in Luther’s Protestant era of restoration.
He is witnessing first hand the visionary dreaming of a Reich-Feurer who had concocted, in the first instance, a pseudo-church to replace Christianity by initially imitating most of its religious symbolism, which was to be further replaced by Hitler’s desire to be worshiped as a god in a neo-pagan society, which, apparently, many Germans of the era, like the ecology worshippers of today, were only too happy to embrace.
Bonhoeffer further qualifies his point in the paragraph directly preceding the CWs’ quote.
‘Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.’
Well, of course, this is true. The human wish dream has nothing whatsoever to do with God’s will for the Church. Notice that Bonhoeffer says this wish dream is ‘injected’ into the Christian community. Again, he is not against Christian community, but against a reformation of that community for community’s sake – in other words, forming community on a human wish dream external from the will and Word of God.
Propaganda and force
Goebel’s propaganda and public relations campaigns alongside the purges of all opposition to Hitler’s political and militant aims reshaped the pre-WW2 German economy and community and fashioned a fascist state the populace ultimately welcomed, to the extent that it became dependent on a totalitarian leadership.
Hitler, like the Marxists of Stalin’s Russia, knew that the main enemies of total dominion were Christianity and Judaism. Stalin ruthlessly purged Christianity and Judaism. Hitler attempted to wipe out Judaism utterly, but determined to manipulate and reform Christianity to his own requirements until such time as he could destroy it once and for all.
The German Reich created a community which was powerfully bewitched into following a party line that even rationalised the most horrendous crimes against humanity. To do this, however, fascism relied upon strict, binding, enforced laws and prohibition alongside massive propaganda campaigns, military parades and public rallies which were all overseen by a very strong and often violent militant police force under charismatic, but tyrannical, leaders.
This is the context for Bonhoeffer’s book. It has nothing to do with local churches and church movements having vision or mission statements which help keep participants on track to achieve specified goals.
‘The Barmen Confession’ is, in effect, a mission statement. It is a vision for the protection of true Christian values that are under threat. It outlines the movement’s criteria for resisting the reich’s attempt at overthrowing true Christianity in Germany. It is a manifesto for withstanding a demonic attack, and a call for a common cause amongst believing brethren in standing against false Christianity.
The CWs have crassly misrepresented both the intentions of Bonhoeffer, and of ‘The Barmen Confession’, to promote their own agenda to discredit Pentecostal ministries, as well as falsely condemning the vision and mission statements of countless contemporary churches and movements, as the CWs attempt to drag sound local churches and movements into their fabricated fascism claims.
Bonhoeffer doesn’t renounce community, but rather pronounces it.
‘Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise.’
Neither does Bonhoeffer discount visions and dreams. He persuades us against wishful dreams that are outside of God’s will and Word, and which are not of His Spirit.
Bonhoeffer would never disagree with God, who has said that believers would have visions and dreams. The Spirit of God prophesied it through Joel, and confirmed it through Peter.
Acts 2:14-18 But standing up with the Eleven, Peter lifted up his voice and spoke out to them, Men, Jews, and all those living in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to my words: For these are not drunk, as you imagine, for it is the third hour of the day. But this is that which has been spoken by the prophet Joel, “And it shall be” in the last days, God says, “I will pour from My Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy;” “and your young men shall see visions,” “and your old men shall dream dreams;” “and also I will pour out My Spirit on My slaves and slave women in those days,” and they shall prophesy.
‘Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’. God is not, then, against visions or dreams. Rather, He grants them because of the outpouring of His Spirit upon all flesh. Dreams and visions are not despised by God. They are prophesied, fulfilled and promoted.
What Bonhoeffer is referring to is visionary dreaming that is not of God, that is purely secular, and is ‘injected’ into the Church from outside sources with potentially damaging aims.
This kind of wish dreaming, he says, is despised by God, but has no effect on the genuine Church, because, Bonhoeffer points out, the false wish dream will be overcome by the truth. It will come to nothing. That is absolutely true, and when viewed in the proper context, as Bonhoeffer clearly intended, relegates the CWs’ attempt at criticism of visions and dreams to a redundant and ineffective vapour – clouds without rain.
A word for the CWs
Finally, for this piece, and, perhaps, ironically in the circumstances, Bonhoeffer gives a word, in the same chapter of his book, which I believe references critics like the CWs.
‘When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him in to this predicament. But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God.’
We have spoken about the CWs’ strategic narrative in other articles. It is uncannily like the wishful dreaming Bonhoeffer rejects. The main difference is that the CWs appear to be seeking the destruction and defaming of ministries through a contrived means – that of claiming fascist influences in their directives as movements, ministries and churches.
This is a serious misrepresentation of Christians who are doing their best to reach as many souls for Christ as they can. Misusing quotes by a great man of God like Bonhoeffer to promote the CWs’ political aims is helping no one, except perhaps the adversary, who sees schism and division as the best ploy in attempting to hold back the plans of God.
God is immoveable
Of course, God’s will is being done in the earth as it is in heaven as we speak, and he is not moved by false critics or rumours, so the enemies of Christ only do harm to themselves, and the adversary is long rendered impotent by the cross of Christ.
God, throughout scripture, has given men visions and dreams as he speaks through His chosen people. The gifts and manifestations of the Spirit remain vital and vibrant in believing churches today. God’s grace is towards us. The Church has been blessed to have Christ as the Head, and to be led by the Spirit of Christ, and, as prophesied, we will continue to receive the outpouring of the Spirit as long as we are in the last days.
Those days began on the Day of Pentecost, and will continue until Christ comes for His Church. Until then, we are encouraged to do all things as unto the Lord, decently and in order, to be of one mind in Christ, and to build one another up in love.
1 Corinthians 14:26 Then what is it, brothers? When you come together, each one of you has a psalm, he has a teaching, he has a language, he has a revelation, he has an interpretation. Let all things be for building up.