When Germany formed its military power, the Reich, they also created the Abwehr Military Intelligence, a concession to the Allies for solely “defensive” purposes. When Adolph Hitler came to power, the agency was headed by Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. Witness to massacres and crimes of war, Canaris soon began a clandestine movement to undermine Hitler. He appointed enemies of the regime to act as agents and expose the atrocities of the Third Reich. One of these agents was the Protestant priest, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
A theologian and pastor, Bonhoeffer delivered essays questioning the treatment of the Jews by the Nazi regime until 1936, when he was forbidden to lecture at Berlin University. In 1941, he was forbidden to print or publish. In 1944, at age 37, he, along with Admiral Canaris and other agents, was arrested and imprisoned at Flossenbürg concentration camp, then executed for treason. Two weeks later the camp was liberated by American troops.
The camp doctor who witnessed the executions wrote that he saw Bonhoeffer kneel and pray before being led to the gallows. He recalled, “I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. In the almost 50 years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
That picture would have been priceless: strokes of poise and grace brushed across a human model. Peace that defies depiction. Faith with a face. Art in its purest form.
Francis Schaeffer was the first student to graduate and to be ordained in the Bible Presbyterian Church. He pastored in Pennsylvania and Missouri before joining the Reformed Presbyterian Church, a forerunner of the Presbyterian Church in America. In 1981, the prolific and influential author published A Christian Manifesto, which some have declared greatly influenced their theological arguments. In it, Schaeffer attacks the influences of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, arguing that the United States began as a nation rooted in biblical principles. As a consequence of secular humanism, he writes, “These two religions, Christianity and humanism, stand over against each other. The church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture.” His subsequent book, How Should We Then Live?, became the basis of a tour, study and film series which was enthusiastically received in the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom.
Some say that the ideology presented by Schaeffer allowed for Christians to use civil disobedience to restore biblical morality. While many prominent figures credit Schaeffer with helping formulate their life mission, his argument was, for most evangelicals, a passionate rallying cry.
On the way home following Jesus’ crucifixion, Cleopas and a companion are joined by Jesus, whom they do not recognize. Cleopas admits that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, was the one who they had hoped would redeem Israel. When they arrive home, they invite Jesus to stay and, when H e gives thanks and breaks bread, they instantly recognize Him. Just as instantly, He disappears. They recall, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” Their spirits were quickened and their hearts burned as the Christ walked and talked with them.
John Wesley wrote of his own Emmaus experience: “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
Wesley did not face gallows or probe secular humanism. He did not see the resurrected Christ break bread. But his heart had been strangely warmed by his quiet encounter with the Christ. The spirit had fanned his flame of faith into a bonfire of salvation and, for all time, Wesley’s soul knew the peace of reconciliation and his heart knew the burning.