I wish I could say this happens infrequently in my house, but I can't, and if I did, I would be lying. Nevertheless, I will confess the imperfection of my household. On occasion, when I send one child to deliver a message to a sibling, they feel that the authority of the message deputizes them and gives them latitude to be enforcers of the message. I did not give the messenger such authority, but they assumed the mantle of my authority. This often leads to escalating wills and rising noise levels and even pushing, shoving and hitting. Yet, I only wanted a message delivered, with the hope that obedience would follow. I consider it my job to determine what the level of consequence will be if my message is disregarded. The self-deputized might only take it upon himself to give me a report on the disobedience. They never deem it important to tell me when someone does obey me.
As I've been reading Bonhoeffer's Discipleship, I can see why many consider him a pacifist. He writes like a pacifist in this book, though he didn't live like one. He partook in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Certainly, he did many things right, and I appreciate Chuck Colson's commendation of those things in response to Metaxas's biography this week. However, I disagree strongly with Metaxas who, in a recent interview, thought Bonhoeffer was justified in conspiring to kill Hitler. Would the church be viewed differently if it had conspired to kill Nero? Did God want Daniel to assassinate Nebuchadnezzar? Both political leaders killed God's people with abandon. But God's people have historically let God deal with political leaders based on Paul's teaching in Romans 13 and Jesus' interaction with Rome, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's." Mark 12:17, as well as his submission to the injustice of Rome in permitting his execution, "like a sheep to the slaughter," Isaiah 53:7. In his book Discipleship, Bonhoeffer argues that turning the other cheek will exhaust the evil. Yet he wouldn't with Hitler. I think I understand how he could deny the words he read in the Bible with the decisions he made from the argument in Discipleship. He consistently leaves an escape hatch in every command, that if God wills otherwise, then no matter what, he must do what God wills him.
I think he is wrong in this argument, at least in it's unrefined state. I don't think God will contradict himself. I don't think God would tell us to submit to authorities, whom Paul tells us God appointed. Since I believe God is consistent, I can never join league or sympathize with any assassination attempts. This is not only for the sake of the victim, someone made in God's image, but for the sake of my Christian family around the world. If we are known as those likely to assassinate leaders we feel threatened by, then what would restrain those leaders from persecuting all of us, including those of us in already difficult countries, such as North Korea, India and Pakistan?
Likewise, how can theology like Bonhoeffer's be restrained? There are believers in my end of the spectrum who have viewed every president since Ronald Reagan as the antichrist who will lead the world against Christ's kingdom. In the Metaxas endorsed theology of Bonhoeffer, how can a believer who is convinced Obama is evil be dissuaded from conspiring to assassinate?
We have been given a message from heaven. We are ambassadors of Christ. But we are not deputized to take any violent action against those who do not heed the warnings we share. We have good news to bring. Death can be conquered. Sin can be forgiven. Peace has been made with God. We have the voiceless to speak for. We have the orphans to care for. We need to proclaim the gospel. We need to point to Jesus and his letter to the world, his word, the Bible. But we must leave judgment to God. Several assassination attempts against Hitler failed. Stalin answered to no one. Neither did Mao. But they all answered to God, as has Reagan, as will Obama, as will I, as we all will.
Bonhoeffer's execution was just. Hitler was evil, he was depraved, he was wrong, but plotting his murder was also wrong. Pre-meditated murder is always wrong. Bonhoeffer was a messenger who turned to violence and suffered the consequences. Just like my children, just as any child of God will. We take his name in vain when we behave as deputized messengers. We are mail carriers, not enforcers. God will accomplish what he wants without our muscle.