[In writing this, I do not promote any specific actions, except prayer. God is your source, Jesus is your advocate, and the Scriptures are your guide.]
Two generations ago, Adolf Hitler rose to power in Europe because he blamed all the right people.
That may be a simplistic observation of a complicated time in world history, but that is my reaction to reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (“Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” — Thomas Nelson, 2010).
What frightens me is that lately I hear reverberations of the same hatred, reflections of the same kind of finger-pointing coming from leaders and political candidates in the U.S.
I approached this biography with a question in mind: What did the Christians in Germany do as this upheaval was taking place? Was the Church powerless?
What surprised me most was the author’s description of how the Nazi movement redefined Christianity into something more to its liking.
Hitler said Christianity preached “meekness and flabbiness,” but Nazi ideology promoted “ruthlessness and strength.” Mercy was a sign of weakness.
Hitler labeled himself a Catholic, but he was an admirer of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, “Society has never regarded virtue as anything else than as a means to strength, power and order.”
So Nazi leaders encouraged a “German Christian” movement, which adopted Aryan racial principles, working toward the paganism of tribal Germanic gods and Nazi extremes.
They blamed Jews, Poles, Communists, Gypsies — anyone not of pure Aryan descent — for the plight of Germany in the wake of the first World War.
In the German Christian church, Jesus was redefined as Aryan, not Jew. And the idea of Him being sacrificed for our sins — certainly too Jewish a concept.
Alfred Rosenburg planned a National Reich Church, which would halt publishing and disseminating the Bible in German and declare Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” as the greatest of all documents. It would remove the Christian cross from churches and chapels and replace it with “the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.”
Hitler himself would become the Messiah, leading Europe and the world into a new era of power and peace. He outlawed all dissent, arresting pastors who spoke boldly. Eventually, all pastors were required to swear allegiance to Hitler. Those who didn’t faced execution.
As the teachings of Jesus were twisted into pure evil, the German people were torn between love of God and love of country.
But the teachings of Jesus are just what we need to return to now, as many of us are caught in that same dilemma. Our Master and our Bible say “Love.” Our leaders say “Hate.”
They play on our emotions and even our national pride to draw us away from what Christ taught. We hear strident voices urging us to blame Arabs, blame Mexicans, blame homosexuals, blame activist judges, blame the 1 Percent, blame Democrats, blame Republicans, blame lobbyists, blame liberals, blame fundamentalists, blame gun nuts, blame welfare moms …
It’s no wonder our “one nation under God” is foundering, being torn in so many directions. God is nowhere in those blames.
Is it too far a stretch to see an “American Christian Church” being formed around such voices?
Amid all this frustration, where is the Church?
Does it respond to the culture, or does it affect the culture? Does it withdraw safely behind the security of its walls, or does it find a way to reach out?
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a devout man of learning and prayer, wondered if the Church would even survive the Nazis. But through his writings, he offers us some answers.
He observed in his native Germany “the confusion that inevitably arises when the Christian faith becomes too closely related to a cultural or national identity.” In his journeys to America, he observed in liberal churches that tolerance often trumps truth. “Liberty is the only unifying factor,” he said.
Instead, he insisted, “Community is created through encounter,” people searching the Scriptures in humility and devotion to Jesus, discovering together what it means to follow Him.
Denominational labels are unimportant, he said. “The important thing is God’s word. … One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared to really inquire of it.”
Taking direct action, Bonhoeffer helped organize the Confessing Church, which would assert traditional Christian teachings. It stood against the heresies of the Reich church and against the inhumanity of the Nazi regime.
Allegiance to anyone but Christ, he said, even to one’s own nation or political leaders, is heresy.
The Church has an obligation to victims of the “ordering of society,” he said, even if they are not of the Christian community. Also, the Church should take action against the state to stop it from perpetrating evil.
To that end, Bonhoeffer became part of a conspiracy to return Germany to something he could be proud of again, to overthrow the Nazis, even to assassinate Hitler himself.
Bonhoeffer knew he was risking his own life by carrying his faith to such extremes. The Nazis were not about to tolerate direct resistance.
This man of God must have gone through intense inner turmoil to arrive at such conclusions, to justify such actions. One statement stood out to me:
He likened Hitler to a drunken driver mowing down pedestrians. It is the responsibility of everyone to prevent the driver from killing more people.
He wrote: Commitment to God “depends on a God Who demands responsible action in a bold venture of faith and Who promised forgiveness and consolation to the man who becomes a sinner in that venture.”
Bonhoeffer was more zealous to please God than to avoid sin.
Can you put your name at the beginning of that statement?
[to be continued]