And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. – Titus 2:7 (NLT)
How often do you think of a Hindu as good example of “good works” for a Christian to follow?
Would you really feel comfortable recommending an existentialist’s political views and ideology as a ‘pattern of good works’ that Christians could imitate?
Henry David Thoreau had such an influence. His words of social change and individual ideological protest had an influence that span across decades and then centuries. Walden and its escape from societal norms of the 19th century was combined with Civil Disobedience and its core message of anti-war protest and nonviolent, pacifist yet disruptive social action.
Gandhi bought into it over a hundred years later. He used its powerful message to turn the British Empire upside down as he held hunger strikes and nonviolent protests to free India from the imperialistic reign and rule of the British.
MLK read Thoreau as part of his study of the social gospel. His own words in Why We Can’t Wait exploded with the very essence of Thoreau’s fit with taxing Americans for the war with Mexico that no one really wanted except Texans and the federal government.
Thoreau’s influence went beyond these two and continues. Yet, as Christians, we act as if a many of the faithful men and women of the Bible’s early church period and history’s Roman Empire were not persecuted for their faith.
Yet, Thoreau is a not a sole voice speaking up against social ills and unchecked injustice and tyranny. The Bible speaks of speaking up and taking a stand against such earthly rulers and social chaos.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
– Ephesians 4:1 (ESV)
Was Bonhoeffer influenced by Thoreau’s words of wisdom or the red letters of the New Testament as spoken by Jesus? Did not the Apostles stand up before the Sanhedrin in the Book of Acts, vowing to follow God rather than to listen to man? Was Paul not a persecutor of the people of the Way, later known as the church, as a Pharisee only to later be punished by the Roman government in spite of being a Roman citizen himself?