The Self-Neutralized Church and the Rise of Adolf Hitler

What will happen if secularists get their way in our society? A very small minority of homosexual advocates have designs on every facet of society and they have the courts and the media at their beck and call. They’re not after tolerance; they’re after control. No area of life is off limits.

When Martin Niemoeller used his pulpit to expose Adolf Hitler’s radical politics, “He knew every word spoken was reported by Nazi spies and secret agents.” Leo Stein describes in his book I Was in Hell with Niemoeller how the Gestapo gathered evidence against Niemoeller:

Now, the charge against Niemoeller was based entirely on his sermons, which the Gestapo agents had taken down stenographically. But in none of his sermons did Pastor Niemoeller exhort his congregation to overthrow the Nazi regime. He merely raised his voice against some of the Nazi policies, particularly the policy directed against the Church. He had even refrained from criticizing the Nazi government itself or any of its personnel. Under the former government his sermons would have been construed only as an exercise of the right of free speech. Now, however, written laws, no matter how explicitly they were worded, were subjected to the interpretation of the judges.

In a June 27, 1937 sermon, Niemoeller told those in attendance that they had a sacred duty to speak out on the evils of the Nazi regime no matter what the consequences: “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.” A few days later, he was arrested. His crime? “Abuse of the pulpit.”

The “Special Courts” set up by the Nazis made claims against pastors who spoke out against Hitler’s policies. Niemoeller was not the only one singled out by the Gestapo. “Some 807 other pastors and leading laymen of the ‘Confessional Church’ were arrested in 1937, and hundreds more in the next couple of years.” A group of Confessional Churches in Germany, founded by Pastor Niemoeller and other Protestant ministers, drew up a proclamation to confront the political changes taking place in Germany that threatened the people “with a deadly danger. The danger lies in a new religion,” the proclamation declared. “The church has by order of its Master to see to it that in our people Christ is given the honor that is proper to the Judge of the world. . . . The First Commandment says ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ The new religion is a rejection of the First Commandment.” Five hundred pastors who read the proclamation from their pulpits were arrested.

Then there is Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and founding member of the Confessing Church. “Bonhoeffer became known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship. He strongly opposed Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was also involved in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and executed by hanging on April 1945 while imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp, just 23 days before the German surrender.”

In reality, it was Luther’s two-kingdom theology that contributed to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. This is an important point: “the reorganized Protestant churches and the newly established Nazi-submissive German Evangelical Church acquiesced to Nazification of the churches, being influenced by nationalism and their traditional obedience to state authority.” If Christians had been involved in government decades before, Germany would never have had an Adolf Hitler. In 19th-century Germany, a distinction was made between the realm of public policy managed by the State and the domain of private morality under the province of the gospel. Religion was the sphere of the inner personal life, while things public came under the jurisdiction of the “worldly powers.”

Redemption was fully the province of the church while the civil sphere was solely the province of the State.

“Religion was a private matter that concerned itself with the personal and moral development of the individual. The external order — nature, scientific knowledge, statecraft — operated on the basis of its own internal logic and discernable laws.”

Christians were told that the church’s sole concern was the spiritual life of the believer. “The Erlangen church historian Hermann Jorda declared in 1917 that the state, the natural order of God, followed its own autonomous laws while the kingdom of God was concerned with the soul and operated separately on the basis of the morality of the gospel.”

This view is very much like what Christians are being taught today. It has neutralized Christians in the name of the Bible. How many times have Christians heard, there’s a separation between church and state, Jesus didn’t get mixed up in politics, our citizenship is in heaven, do not judge, you can’t impose your morality on other people, God’s kingdom is not of this world, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, etc.

Here’s a sample of some German theological thinking that shaped the mindset of the nation and paved the way for a dictator like Hitler to gain power:

  • Christian Ernst Luthard wrote in 1867: “The Gospel has absolutely nothing to do with outward existence but only with eternal life, not with external orders and institutions which could come in conflict with the secular orders but only with the heart and its relationship with God. . . . It is not the vocation of Jesus Christ or of the Gospel to change the orders of secular life and establish them anew. . . . Christianity wants to change man’s heart, not his external situation.”
  • Rudolf Sohm (1841–1917), speaking to a convention on the main Christian social action group, the Inner Mission, asserted: “The Gospel frees us from this world, frees us from all questions of this world, frees us inwardly, also from the questions of public life, also from the social question. Christianity has no answer to these questions.” The issues of public life, he wrote, “should remain untouched by the proclamation of the Gospel, completely untouched.”
  • Wilhelm Hermann declared in the 1913 edition of his book on ethics that the state was a product of nature and that it could not be love but only self‑assertion, coercion, and law. . . . Once the Christian understood the moral significance of the state, then “he will consider obedience to the government to be the highest vocation within the state. For the authority of the state on the whole, resting as it does upon authority of the government, is more important than the elimination of any shortcomings which it might have.”
  • Robert Benne makes the following good points on the effects of this type of thinking: “There are two serious theological problems here. For one, the affirmation of the Sovereign God as Creator, Sustainer, and Judge of all is forgotten. The God whose will is revealed in the commandments and in his involvement in history is somehow expunged from the political world. Along with this denial of God’s involvement in history is the elevation of the gospel to such a height that it has no relevance to ordinary life. The gospel addresses only the inner man about eternal life, not the whole man who is embedded in God’s history.”

Compare these statements to the words of the great 19th-century Presbyterian theologian A.A. Hodge. Hodge made the case that “the kingdom of God on earth is not confined to the mere ecclesiastical sphere, but aims at absolute universality, and extends its supreme reign over every department of human life.” The implications of such a methodology are obvious: “It follows that it is the duty of every loyal subject to endeavour to bring all human society, social and political, as well as ecclesiastical, into obedience to its law of righteousness.” In addition, Hodge had no problem teaching that there are political implications to the preaching and application of the gospel. Consider the following:

“It is our duty, as far as lies in our power, immediately to organize human society and all its institutions and organs upon a distinctively Christian basis. Indifference or impartiality here between the law of the kingdom and the law of the world, or of its prince, the devil, is utter treason to the King of Righteousness. The Bible, the great statute‑book of the kingdom, explicitly lays down principles which, when candidly applied, will regulate the action of every human being in all relations. There can be no compromise. The King said, with regard to all descriptions of moral agents in all spheres of activity, “He that is not with me is against me.” If the national life in general is organized upon non‑Christian principles, the churches which are embraced within the universal assimilating power of that nation will not long be able to preserve their integrity.”

Hodge calls the Bible the “great statute‑book of the kingdom.” In effect, he believed the Bible should be used as a textbook on social theory. If the German pastors had followed Hodge, there never would have been a Hitler.

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