Facing Tomorrow Like Yesterday - Part II
Adolf Hitler himself said it all: “I want to raise a generation of young people devoid of conscience - imperious, relentless, and cruel.”
WHERE WAS THE CHURCH in all of this? History recorded the pictures of Protestant pastors and Catholic priests giving the Nazi salute. Swastika banners adorned the churches — swastika banners with the cross of Jesus Christ in the center. The overwhelming temptation of bowing to temporal gods enticed the church to combine Christ with other religions, Christ and the political agenda, and Christ and worldly pursuits. Was the German era only a foretaste of the greater deception to come? Germany hid the cross of Christ within the swastika. The Christian cross demanded the blood of Christ; the swastika demanded the blood of Jews. The modern cross is a redefined container of mixed philosophies. It is filled with psychology, New Age mysticism, social service, and political correctness. In 1938, the head of the Gestapo could say in his annual report, “The situation in the churches is characterized by weariness with struggle, by uncertainty of purpose, and by a lack of courage.” Hitler was able to marginalize the church. Hitler’s success can be viewed in a three-step process: deceive the church; divide the church; dismember the church.
Hitler commended Martin Luther as a great reformer who was worthy of admiration, but his admiration was not based on the message Luther proclaimed. Hitler’s emphasis was on Luther’s courage to withstand the church of his day and Luther’s hatred toward the Jews. A clear distinction can be made between Hitler and Luther. Luther’s animosity was religious, not racial. Luther expected the “Christ killers” to accept Jesus Christ once they heard the Gospel. To Luther, it was about purity of doctrine and not purity of blood. Hitler’s deception began with persuading Germany that the Jews were their problem. Hitler’s second order was to persuade the church to believe Paul’s writings were false and charged the Apostle Paul with changing and, thereby, falsifying the Gospel. In 1933, Dr. Reinhold Krause, a dignitary of the German Christians, gave a blasphemous speech to 20,000 people. He pled for a second German Reformation. He declared that if the church was to find a home in Germany, the first step was:
“The liberation from all that is un-German in liturgy and confession, liberation from the Old Testament with its Jewish recompense of ethic, from all these stories about cattle-dealers and pimps … Our provincial church will also have to see to it that all obviously distorted and superstitious reports should be expunged from the New Testament, and that the whole scapegoat and inferiority theology of the Rabbi Paul should be renounced in principle, for it has perpetuated a falsification of the Gospel.”
The deception and the dividing began to take hold. Next came the dismembering. On Jan. 4, 1934, Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller issued a decree to restore order in the evangelical church. Ministers were now forbidden to include any matters of controversy in their sermons. This became known as the “Muzzling Order.” Unity was greatly proclaimed for the church to embrace Nazism. At this time, the church was divided into two groups, each claiming to be heirs of the Reformation. In one arena were those committed to Hitler and his swastika, and in the second were those devoted to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say at one synod,“If the truth is to be found in unity,” he affirmed that “unity can only be achieved through truth.”
What became of the German pastors who did not become Nazified? More importantly, what was the response of the people to the arrests and imprisonments of pastors who would refuse to accept Nazification of their churches? It was, in a word, apathetic. Doctrinal purity and preaching were no longer the accepted standards for the Gospel. These were replaced by service and loyalty under a new cross, the swastika. Pastors were torn between God and Hitler, and many tried to serve both. They preached to congregations with the backdrop of swastikas hanging in their churches. Through crafty manipulation, they took the virtues of the church and turned them to their own use. By appealing to patriotism and pragmatic necessity, they rallied many to their banner.
Bonhoeffer would later write: “If evil appears in the form of light, benefit, loyalty and renewal, if it conforms with historical necessity and social justice, then this, if it is understood straightforwardly, is a clear proof of its abysmal wickedness.”
Those in Germany who chose the swastika participated in the fate of its leader. Hitler would finally not accept any other god than himself. The people found out too late that deception, division, and dismemberment destroyed the Christian church and their country. What about the church today? What about America today? The German people were told it was not about them when it was all about them. They were pumped up with a call to unity and a thriving need for purpose. The propaganda machine of Nazism feverishly worked toward saying what was needed to persuade the people to embrace the new direction of the church. The success of Hitler and his financial policies gave pragmatic justification that his methods, although opposed to the Gospel, would become the new gospel as he redefined Christianity by his success of melding Christianity and politics together. He successfully divided the church and sought to capitalize on the lethargy and fear of pastors who were too weary to oppose his power.
“Take heed that no man deceive you,” Jesus warned. Hitler would say in his book Mein Kampf, “It is unbelievable, to what extent one must betray a people in order to rule it.” The Nazi era demonstrated that anyone can be swept along on a tide of collective emotion. The Germans were able to project their failings and strength onto an individual who assumed the role of father of a nation. By this, Hitler was able to exploit the German people and then seduce them into believing that a sacrificial offering of the Jews would be their scapegoat to exorcise a collective anxiety. His success manifested quickly because his people were willing to give their lives for his lies. The egotistical demands of this despot would have his troops swear an oath to him:
“I swear to thee Adolph Hitler … loyalty and bravery. I swear to thee and the superiors thou shalt appoint obedience unto death. So help me God.”
I’ll close this article by leaving you with Hitler’s comments extracted from Voice of Destruction:
“My enemies have turned up their noses at me. They have asked, full of envy: ‘Why is this man so successful with the masses? Was this just a lucky fluke, was it due to the uncritical minds of the masses?’ No, it was thanks to us, to our assiduity, and to the technique we perfected … I have been reproached for making the masses fanatic and ecstatic … I can lead the masses only if I tear them out of their apathy. Only the fanatic mass can be swayed. A mass that is apathetic and dull is the greatest threat to unity.”