Lessons From the Reich Church (Part 3 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.
4. Being Wrapped Up in National Identity
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. –Colossians 3:2
…But our citizenship is in heaven. –Philippians 3:20
My friends and I readily self-identify as patriotic Americans, but I hope I never see the day when our national identity takes precedence over our Christian identity. As I’ve already said, in 1933, Christianity was wrapped up in being German; it was difficult for people to imagine another way. They were oblivious of the concept of the universal Body of Christ; whenever they were faced with a choice between the ethnically German church and the broader Church, they chose the ethnically German church as though it were a unique, superior body. The Reich church’s declaration that I mentioned last week continued as follows: “Supra-national and international church structure of a Roman Catholic or world-Protestant character is a political degeneration of Christianity.”
Why is this important? Because it’s completely backwards to say that Christian unity is a ‘degeneration’ of any kind, and because it means that the Church should be divided based on ethnicity. And if this is the case, removing Jews and other non-Aryans from the Church was no big deal. It also encouraged the view of the German people as superior to other races, which was a key component of the crooked national psyche which allowed for the horrors that were to come.
The preference of national identity over Christian identity is most evident in the theological concessions that were made to the National Socialists. This was called ‘Positive Christianity,’ because of its focus on the active aspects of Jesus’ life, instead of the passive. The passive included things such as his death on the cross, which seemed weak; the Nazis found his activist preaching and opposition of institutional Judaism to be much more in line with German principles. This focus was achieved by removing the parts of the Bible that were too Jewish, such as the entire Old Testament, and claiming that Jesus himself was an Aryan. Miracles were downplayed to further bring out the idea of Jesus as a political revolutionary instead of a religious messiah. He became a Nordic revolutionary, fighting against the wicked Jews on behalf of his proud Aryan descendants that were to come.
One comforting fact from all of this is the confirmation that orthodox Christianity is altogether incompatible with the Nazi ideology, and all other hyper-nationalistic, racist ideologies; it needed to be maimed and twisted to fit their goals. Hitler once said:
“It’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?”