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Monday, July 05, 2010

Bonhoeffer on a true leader

The following is an excerpt from twenty-six year old theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer's radio address, delivered on February 1, 1933, two days after Adolph Hitler had been elected Chancellor of Germany:
If he understands his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol--then the image of the Leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only towards those he leads, but also towards himself. The true Leader must always be able to disillusion. It is just this that is his responsibility and his real object. He must lead his following away from the authority of his person to the recognition of the real authority of orders and offices.... He must radically refuse to become the appeal, the idol, i.e. the ultimate authority of those whom he leads.... He serves the order of the state, of the community, and his service can be of incomparable value. But only so long as he keeps strictly in his place.... [H]e has to lead the individual into his own maturity.... Now a feature of man's maturity is responsibility towards other people, towards existing orders. He must let himself be controlled, ordered, restricted.
Of course, Adolph Hitler had no intention of allowing himself to be "controlled, ordered, restricted." Yet in reading this, I am reminded of a current leader, one who had allowed himself to become "the idol," and who seems to have little fascination with leading people away from his authority back to the authority of the Constitution [Bonhoeffer's orders] and the people. Thankfully, I do not fear for one second this current leader will kill millions. But his bald attempts to build a "thousand year reign" of entitlements and debt may end up with the nation impoverished and defeated. Again, from the same address:
Only when a man sees that office is a penultimate authority in the face of an ultimate, indescribable authority, in the face of the authority of God, has the real situation been reached.... And this solitude of man's position before God, this subjection to an ultimate authority, is destroyed when the the authority of the Leader or of the office is seen as ultimate authority.... Alone before God, man becomes what he is, free and committed to responsibility at the same time.
The current leader professes to be a follower of Christ, yet not in an orthodox, Biblical way. It is interesting that, the same day as Bonhoeffer's address, Chancellor Hitler also took to the airwaves, offering this appeal "to the God he did not believe in":
May God Almighty take our work into his grace, give true form to our will, bless our insight, and endow us with the trust of our Volk!
--Wayne S.
(All quotations are from the book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.)

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