Is a False Spirituality Exploiting and Making the Church Irrelevant?
The Deep State is embedded in the bowels of our government where the Constitution has no meaning and the ultimate goal is to run a shadow hidden from public view. Presidents come and go, but the bureaucracy continues as its tentacles squeeze the life out of our nation’s checks and balances. It’s being exposed, but politicians from both parties don’t like it. Like Drracula, they recoil from the exposure.
What’s lacking is a non-political voice to expose the loss of our freedoms. There was a time when the church was one of those voices. The great migration to these shores was the result of Christians who saw it as their duty to expose the deeds of darkness and create a third way to challenge the insurgency of complete power over every area of life. Over time, the church adopted the view that it has little or nothing to do with this world. This is an old pagan heresy going back nearly two millennia.
It didn’t take long for this Manichean heresy to be exploited. Spirituality is thought to be otherworldly as this world is by its nature sinful and outside any ability to be redeemed. Once the church goes in this direction, the end of the church’s influence in the here and now can be exploited. Once this happens, the only thing that can be taught is to escape from the mundane through a form super-spirituality that eschews the created order and/or a “rapture” out of this world.
Instead of following the directive of Abraham Kuyper who said, “there is not one inch of creation of which Christ doesn’t say ‘Mine,'” we often here, “there is not one
inch of creation of which Satan doesn’t say ‘Mine.'” Historically, the church did not divide the world into two opposing realms, consisting of sacred/secular, spiritual/
material. More importantly, the Bible does not divide the world this way. The Bible is concerned about the distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral wherever such distinctions can be made.
“‘I will protect the German people,’ Adolf Hitler shouted. ‘You take care of the church. You pastors should worry about getting people to heaven and leave this world to me.’”1 Adolf Hitler’s angry response was directed at Martin Niemöller, a German submarine commander who served in the First World War and later served as a minister of the gospel. Niemöller had written From U-Boat to Pulpit in 1933, showing that “the fourteen years of the [Weimar] Republic had been ‘years of darkness.’ In a final word inserted at the end of the book he added that Hitler’s triumph at last brought light to Germany.”2
By 1935, “Niemöller had become completely disillusioned”3 with Hitler and his social experiment.
Niemöller became a critic of Hitler and his policies, “protesting against the anti-Christian tendencies of the regime, denouncing the government’s anti-Semitism and demanding an end to the state’s interference in the churches.”4 He published a series of sermons with the title Christus ist mein Führer (Christ is my Leader). Not everyone followed Niemöller’s example. Numerous pastors swore a personal oath of allegiance and obedience to Adolf Hitler: “The Swastika on our breasts, the Cross in our hearts.”5 Many who refused to follow the party line were sent to concentration camps for their defiance. Niemöller was imprisoned as an “enemy of Hitler,” spending seven years in a concentration camp.
Why did so many comply with Hitler’s worldview? Why did so many pastors act, as Hitler described them, like “submissive dogs . . . that sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them”?6 For the most part, the people believed that their heavenly citizenship obligated them to accept the prevailing civil requirements of citizenship, no matter what their demands, and to remain silent no matter what atrocities were being committed.
The belief that one’s citizenship is exclusively heavenly means that there is no relation between the Christian worldview and the world in which we live. The Christian is simply a pilgrim and a stranger on his way to heaven. “In no country except with the exception of Czarist Russia did the clergy become by tradition so completely servile to the political authority of the State.”7 When the social and political world of Russia was crumbling, the clergy remained relatively silent. Some were occupied with more important “spiritual” things. Donald G. Bloesch writes:
It is a sad but irrefutable fact that the Russian Orthodox Church at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution was engaged in a fruitless attempt to preserve its religious treasures (chalices, vestments, paintings, icons, etc.) and was therefore unable to relate meaningfully to the tremendous social upheavals then taking place.8
What is today’s church trying to preserve? Mainly its tax-exempt status and its dues-paying membership because of its debt structure. How many members will a church lose if it takes a strong stand on social issues, especially abortion, homosexuality, and non-government education?
Germany suffered under a similar quietism, and Hitler was ready to take advantage of it. Niemöller, however, reacted strongly against passivity on the part of the clergy or the people: “‘We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silent at man’s behest when God commands us to speak. For it is, and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than man.’”9 A Christian’s heavenly citizenship, Niemöller concluded, must have an impact in the world in which he lives even if the State disagrees.
For Hitler, a comprehensive Christian worldview stood between Nazism and his newly resurrected pagan world order. Under the leadership of Alfred Rosenberg, “the Nazi regime intended eventually to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists.” Martin Bormann, “one of the men closest to Hitler, said publicly in 1941, ‘National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable.’”10 William Shirer would later write: “We know now what Hitler envisioned for the German Christians: the utter suppression of their religion.”11
- Quoted in Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 140. [↩]
- William L. Shirer, The Nightmare Years: 1930-1940 (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1984), 152. For an account of Hitler’s Christian rhetoric and support for the Church and Niemöller’s initial support for him, see Basil Miller, Martin Niemöller: Hero of the Concentration Camp (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1942), 79-81. [↩]
- Shirer, The Nightmare Years, 152. [↩]
- Shirer, The Nightmare Years, 153. [↩]
- Philip Yancey, “A State of Ungrace: In fighting the culture wars, has the church forgotten its central message?,” Christianity Today (February 3, 1997), 36. [↩]
- A quotation of Hitler’s confirmed by Hermann Rauschning, once a confidant of Hitler, in his book The Voice of Destruction, 297-300. Quoted in Shirer, The Nightmare Years, 152. [↩]
- William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 236. [↩]
- Donald G. Bloesch, Crumbling Foundations: Death and Rebirth in the Age of Upheaval (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 30. See John Shelton Curtiss, The Russian Church and the Soviet State (Boston: Little, Brown, 1953), 112B120. “Patriarch Tikhon was quoted as saying that it was the government’s concern, not the church’s, to care for those dying of starvation (120). It is well to bear in mind that many Russian Orthodox priests as well as their parishioners did not follow the Patriarch’s lead and did use church valuables to provide for famine relief. It should also be recognized that Patriarch Tikhon at one point favored donations of nonconsecrated articles to the poor” (Bloesch, Crumbling Foundations, 141B42, note 1). [↩]
- Quoted in Shirer, The Nightmare Years, 154. [↩]
- Shirer, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 240. [↩]
- Shirer, The Nightmare Years, 156. [↩]