There's something deep within us that gravitates towards idolizing people, towards hero worship. This is true inside the church, as well as outside the church.
I'm halfway through a superb biography of Bonhoeffer. The following sentence in my reading today jumped out in light of Whitney’s death: "He never wanted his classes or the seminary to become a cult of personality, centered on him" (p 265).
The country was drunk on nationalism and the messianic persona of the new Fuhrer, a word which literally means 'Leader.' Bonhoeffer saw the ease with which fuhrer worship outside the church so quickly seeped into the church. The 'German Christians,' as the state church was known, embraced many of the values of the Nazis--largely out of nationalistic fervor and loyalty to Hitler. Bonhoeffer recognized this damnable human inclination and sought to guard against it in the breakaway church movement which became known as the 'Confessing Church.' The last thing that would be tolerated in this new collection of protesting pastors was the unhealthy elevation of any individual, especially him.
Like Paul, he recognized the fleshly tendencies that can be so divisive in the church:
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’: another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)
Bonhoeffer knew that each one of us must guard our hearts in what we both give and receive since, in the words of John the Baptist, there is only one who deserves adulation. He is the Leader par excellence. The Christ. The One and Only, our Savior.
And so, with John, we affirm this essential truth:
“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).