Lessons From the Reich Church (Part 2 of 6)
The 1930s and 40s in Germany are remembered as a particularly dark time for humanity, as millions of lives- Jews, the mentally retarded, and other so-called undesirables- were lost to the twisted ethos of National Socialism. One aspect that is difficult to understand today is the way that many common citizens, including the German Evangelical Church, were complicit in the Nazis’ rise- from pledging allegiance to Hitler to adopting the Aryan Paragraph and the Nuremberg Laws. We are posting a series of articles considering five mistakes made by the German Christians in the years leading up to World War II.
5. Pedestalizing Fallen Humans
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. –Acts 17:11
Luther was the father of German Christianity, so his words and writings carried extra weight- including his anti-Semitic ravings at the end of his life. In his earlier writings, Luther called for Christians to behave better towards Jews, saying that they would never want to become Christians considering the cruelty with which they have been treated. He didn’t see a problem with someone being both Jewish and a Christian. But as he aged and his health failed, he lashed out at people around him, including Catholics and Protestants, but attacked the Jews with special vigor. One result of this was a declaration published by the Reich church which stated that National Socialism was a continuation of the work of Martin Luther, and that the “Christian faith is the unbridgeable religious opposite to Judaism.”
But the point isn’t so much that he didn’t really mean what he said, or that he was taken out of context; it’s that one man’s opinion was elevated above the Scriptures. If the German Church was in the habit of testing everything by the Word of God, Luther’s anti-Semitism would not have had an adverse effect.
Hitler himself was another man who was adored, worshipped even, by millions of Germans- especially as his early victories over Poland and France seemed like redemption or salvation from Germany’s past embarrassments and defeats. After the annexation of Austria in 1938, Bishop Sasse, leader of the Thuringian Evangelical Church, had all his pastors take an oath of loyalty to Hitler- several months before any such thing was required for civilians. Earlier in his career, Hitler was applauded for his policies. American evangelical leader Frank Buchman once said, “I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of Communism.”
The mistake made with Luther was assuming that such a man of God could not say anything un-Biblical; the mistake made with Hitler was valuing the temporal issues of nationality and politics above eternal things.