During the month of April Germany commemorated the death of one of its martyr-heroes. On April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was murdered by Nazi orders while the American army of liberation was moving swiftly toward the concentration camp where he was imprisoned.
This brilliant theologian, dying at the early age of 39, has left his stamp on our times.
His influence throughout much of Europe has been tremendous, and today even America is beginning to listen attentively to his voice. His life and labors were an unyielding protest against the secularization of the church. It was his conviction that outside of the church there was a profounder religious concern for fellow-man than within its hallowed walls. Too many professing Christians, he insisted. lived the lie in their daily conduct. Thus he raised the question whether there was perhaps a Christianity without religion and religious forms. This question drove him to look for a re-interpretation of the gospel that would compel men to be what they professed to be.
Especially since the publication of Bishop Robinson’s Honest to God, which acknowledged dependence on the thought of Bonhoeffer, many have wondered. what the German theologian actually championed, as true Christianity. His work has been left to this generation only in the form of incidental writings and fragments. Yet much of it breathes a spirit of unusual piety. It seems undeniable that he would not have too much appreciation for the attempts of the bishop of Woolwich. And in view of the worldly spirit that so much saturates the churches in the United States and Canada, Bonhoeffer deserves more of a hearing than he has at times received. He knew something of the secret of walking with the Lord, a secret without which the church cannot live.
WHY INTELLECTUALS ARE LEAVING ROME…
At the forty-ninth “National Newman Convention,” held a few months ago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. startling statements were made by Michael Novak, a lecturer at Harvard University.
The speaker contended that the Roman Catholic Church in the United. States is losing an alarming percentage of its most promising members, chiefly among the young intellectuals. In itself this was nothing new. Other leaders in the church had called attention to the same phenomenon earlier, although not quite in the same manner and with the same force. What was new was Novak’s analysis of the reasons for the exodus. He laid the blame at the door of both the intellectuals and the ecclesiastical leaders.
Novak. defended the position that this exodus is occasioned by three factors that must be seriously faced. First of all, he discovered among the youth a failure to acquaint themselves adequately with the faith of the church before it would be too late for them. Many simply accepted for a time what they had been taught without realizing what it was all about. Secondly, he noted. that those who claimed personal allegiance to the teachings of the church did not understand them. At best they could only recite the words of the catechism, thus becoming easy targets for the proponents of other and contrary views. Thirdly, he opined that the church insisted so much ou its authority that little if any room was left for personal initiative. Young intellectuals, faced with the need of making moral choices, felt hemmed in by the feeling that no choice by a mature conscience was left them by the church.
Similar situations have been developing in some Protestant churches. Also here many make profession without realizing what they are professing. In the lives of not a few the truths of Christianity seem largely unreal and impersonal. Before another season of catechetical work resumes, we might well ask ourselves whether we are ready to understand sympathetically the life-situation in which our young people find themselves and to face with them those questions that so often trouble their minds and hearts.
WOMEN IN ECCLESIASTICAL OFFICE…
Soon the synod of the Reformed (Gereformeerde) churches in the Netherlands will meet. One matter to be discussed and possibly decided is that of opening ecclesiastical offices (minister, elder and deacon) to women. Not long ago an illuminating report on this subject was forwarded to the churches for their consideration.
Centraal Weekblad offered some comments on the report. Its article began with the assertions,
“It appears that within not too long a time women ministers women elders and women deacons will assume a place within the Reformed churches…One of the most significant conclusions reached by the committee is that no well-grounded reason can be adduced ‘why woman with the gifts bestowed on her should not be able to cooperate in the official ministry as it is corporately called to give leadership in the congregation.’”
At first blush Reformed readers throughout the world may be inclined to cite this as additional evidence that these churches are drifting fro m their moorings. Careful reading of and reflection upon said report, however, cautions us against such a facile conclusion. Here there is an honest, although not exhaustive, attempt to come to grips with the Biblical revelation. Mention is made of several New Testament texts that have special relevance for this subject. Although the committee insists that Scripture clearly teaches the equal dignity of man and woman in Christ Jesus and thus within the church, it argues with equal emphasis that this does not mean identity of nature or endowment or calling. Repeatedly attention is directed to what the Bible says about woman as a “complement to” and “help meet” for man. In so far as the report argues for the opening of these offices to women, it urges that the unique position of woman by God’s arrangement may never he obliterated. No longer may the church ignore that especially today women are responsibly assuming and carrying out much work that parallels that of the office-hearers. Such tasks as assisting the needy, visiting the sick and aged, caring for children, calling on the wayward, and even teaching the Word of God are performed by women.
It really should Dot surprise us that at long last this subject is being presented for discussion and decision to the synod of a confessional Reformed church. Rather should it surprise us that this has not been done before. The Convent of Wesel as early as 1568 judged that “women of proven faith and honorable conduct and advanced years could rightly be accepted into this office (of deacon) according to the example of the Apostles” (ch. V, 10). To be sure, the synod of Middleburg (1581) advised against the introduction of deaconesses but only on practical grounds. Since then tradition has played a strong role in molding the opinions of most Reformed believers.
A truly Reformed church, however, will not decide this issue on the basis of tradition. Rather it will strive to listen carefully to the Word of the living God.
Perhaps we have listened so long to I Corinthians 14:34, “Let women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak, but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law…for it is a shame for women to speak in the church,” that we have forgotten that Paul has many other things to say about women and their place in the church. One of our problems with regarding women as eligible for ecclesiastical office seems to spring from a misconception. We have at times laid such stress on its authority, that we failed to see it as a “ministry” or service by which Christ as Lord of his church provides that so “all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16). There is more to this matter than meets the eye. At the very least, reverent listening to all that Scripture has to say about women in the church is required by those who would be faithful to God’s will.
–PETER Y. DE JONG