A commentary by
By Chuck Baldwin
February 7, 2006
(Used by Chuck Baldwin's permission on CR's Range)
Without a doubt, comparisons to Hitler have been overdone. It seems that when a writer disagrees with the policies of a sitting president, be he Republican or Democrat, there exists a ubiquitous temptation to compare him with the ignoble German leader. Some will no doubt charge this author with having succumbed to this temptation. Perhaps I have.
However, as a student of both the Bible and history, I believe we in America are living in times that are eerily reminiscent of the days leading up to the rise of the Third Reich. If after reviewing this thesis, the reader wants to dismiss its conclusions as insipid and irrelevant, he or she is certainly free to do so.
On the other hand, it would do the reader good to heed the words of George Santayana who said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." If America is truly flirting with any semblance of the fallacious and fallen Reich (which I believe it is), it is incumbent upon each and every true American (especially Christians) to renounce, reject, and repudiate such flirtations as early and as vociferously as possible!
There are many facets and aspects of the Third Reich which could and should be analyzed. For the purpose of this column, however, I want to focus on the attitude and actions of the ministers and churches of Germany at the time of Hitler's rise.
My focus upon the German church is predicated upon the fact that as a Christian pastor (I have been the pastor of an Independent Baptist Church for more than 30 years), it is my studied opinion that any western nation will rise or fall according to the attitudes and actions of its Christian leaders and churches. Scripture says, "Judgment must begin at the house of God." Therefore, while any nation might survive corrupt politicians, greedy merchants, and sinful citizens, it cannot survive cowardly, compromising churches! As the churches go, so goes the country!
In the case of Nazi Germany, it was the German churches first and foremost that failed their country. It was the churches that provided Hitler with moral and spiritual cover. It was the ministers and churches that allowed Hitler to seduce the nation. Some ministers were no doubt deceived themselves. Many others, like Adam, partook of the forbidden fruit with their eyes wide open. Either way, without the help and assistance of Germany's churches, the Nazi Party could never have become such a horrible leviathan. Therefore, let's examine the attitudes and actions of Germany's ministers and churches and compare them to America's ministers and churches today to see if there is any similarity.
As we delve into this material, I want to strongly recommend that the reader purchase and devour a book to which I will repeatedly refer. The book is entitled, "Hitler's Cross." It is written by Erwin Lutzer and published by Moody Press. The book is absolutely phenomenal! If you do not read any other book this year (beside the Bible), read "Hitler's Cross."
Now, let's examine the evidence.
It is a fact that when Adolph Hitler began his ascent to power, many, if not most, of Germany's Christians believed he was an answer to their prayers. Lutzer says many Christians replaced pictures of Christ in their homes with pictures of Hitler. They truly believed Hitler was "God's man" for Germany. They believed that to resist Hitler was to resist God. And why not?
As Lutzer notes, Hitler revived Germany's collapsed economy. He eradicated the shame of Germany's defeat in WWI by reclaiming the Rhineland. He gave generous vacations to the German people. He created numerous trade schools that trained and equipped Germany's workers. Thus, almost overnight, Germany's vast unskilled labor force was replaced with highly skilled workers. In fact, under Hitler, Germany had virtually no unemployment. Furthermore, Hitler brought crime under control. He built freeways and highways that were the envy of Europe. He literally brought the German people out of poverty and despair and made them a great and proud people once again. As a result, the German people, including German Christians, loved him!
Unfortunately, as Hitler was building Germany's economy and strengthening its military, he was also taking away the rights and liberties of the German people. Remember, Germany was a republic before Hitler came along. The principles of individual freedom and constitutional government were at one time precious to Germans. However, most German people were willing to gladly trade their liberty and freedoms for Hitler's promise of security and strength. It was a bad trade then. It is a bad trade now!
Lutzer documents the fact that at the time of Hitler's rise, there were some 14,000 evangelical churches in Germany. To win the support of these churches, Hitler literally wrapped himself and the Nazi Party in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Even today, one can view photos from Nazi parades showing the Cross of Christ highlighted in the heart of the Nazi Swastika.
In short order, Germany's pastors and churches were convinced that the Nazi Party was God's party and Hitler was God's man. By the time Hitler consolidated power and became Germany's Fuhrer, the Nazi Swastika was displayed proudly on the walls and halls of Germany's churches, both Catholic and Protestant.
Germany's pastors often preached sermons supporting Hitler and the Nazi Party. They told their congregants that to support any other party or any other potential leader was to "fight against God." Very soon, congregants who refused to swear loyalty to Hitler were denied last rites and Holy Communion by Catholic priests, while Protestant pastors excommunicated such members. Romans chapter 13 was often quoted from Germany's pulpits as scriptural justification for demanding loyalty to Hitler.
Even the famous Canadian pastor, Oswald J. Smith (Pastor of the People's Church in Toronto), was taken with Hitler. In 1936 Smith wrote, "What, you ask is the real attitude of the German people toward Hitler? There is but one answer. They love him. Yes, from the highest to the lowest, children and parents, old and young alike, they love their new leader. They trust him to a man.
"What about your elections? I asked. 'We don't want another party. We are satisfied with Hitler.' And that feeling exists everywhere. Every true Christian is for Hitler. I know, for it was from the Christians I got most of my information, and right or wrong, they endorse Adolph Hitler." (Source: "Hitler's Cross" by Erwin Lutzer, pp. 109, 110)
One German pastor, Julius Leutherser gushed, "Christ has come to us through Hitler. [T]hrough his honesty, his faith and his idealism, the Redeemer found us." (Source "Hitler's Cross" by Lutzer, p. 101)
Lutzer writes on page 102 of his book, "[I]n Hitler's day being a good Christian involved being a good German nationalist. God and country were practically one and the same."
Germany's Christians forgot that Christ's kingdom "is not of this world." Their desire to restore Germany's greatness and their patriotism somehow dwarfed their commitment to Christ and their fidelity to republican principles. Accordingly, their trust in God was supplanted with trust in Hitler, and their allegiance to principles of freedom was replaced with allegiance to the Nazi Party.
Of course, Hitler knew exactly what he was doing. He knew he needed the support of Germany's churches and pastors and he played the role of Christian leader magnificently. Privately, however, he despised Germany's clergymen. He said, "The parsons will dig their own graves. They will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable jobs and incomes." How right he was!
Out of 14,000 German ministers, all but 800 gave Hitler their unequivocal and unflinching loyalty. Among the 800 was the great Christian patriot Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was later assassinated by Hitler's henchmen. Virtually all of the 800 courageous pastors who refused to support Hitler were sent to concentration camps.
What would have happened had 10,000 ministers in Germany resisted Hitler? What would have happened if 10,000 ministers would have refused to compromise their loyalty to Jesus Christ, their commitment to republican principles, and their devotion to sacred duty? What would have happened if 10,000 Christian ministers had not allowed the National Socialist Party to supplant their loyalty to God's Word?
It seems clear to me that the attitudes and actions of Nazi Germany's ministers and churches are being repeated in the United States today. To a large degree, Evangelicals have wrapped the Cross of Christ in the banner of the Republican Party. They quote Romans chapter 13 to justify their unflinching, yes, even blind support for President Bush. They are willing to surrender their freedoms and liberties so that President Bush might protect them. Pictures of the president almost universally line the halls and walls of our churches, Christian schools, and pastors' offices. They castigate and denigrate in the most caustic terms anyone who dares to challenge or even question President Bush. They are willing to let the president lead them into multiple wars, even wars of aggression, based solely on Bush's word. They refuse to hold the president accountable to the principles of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. It seems to me that President Bush has taken on the aura of an American Fuhrer in the minds of many Evangelicals.
Just how far are Evangelicals willing to allow Bush to go? They already support unbridled spying on American citizens. They have gladly surrendered their Fourth Amendment rights. Would they be willing to support the imprisonment of fellow Christians who don't support Bush if the Department of Homeland Security ordered it? I believe many would. And if so, how is that different from the attitudes of Christians in Nazi Germany?
Again, readers may dismiss my observations as inane if they want to. However, please notice that the focus of this column was not so much on Hitler but on the attitudes and actions of Germany's ministers and churches.
If the reader can honestly and objectively look at the history of Germany's ministers and churches and see no similarity to the attitudes and actions of America's ministers and churches today, so be it. To me, however, the similarities are striking!
© Chuck Baldwin
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