Let’s look first at a church that would make Hitler proud before we look at one that would make him ashamed. The sad reality is that there are already many churches that he would be proud of, the challenge is… are there any he would be ashamed of?
Hitler would be proud of…
On the extreme side, in America the Christian Identity Movement is engaged in the Nazification of small independent Protestant churches. According to a British TV documentary program a few years ago, couples have been sent in to take over small independent churches and as a consequence some small churches that were once faithful to the truths of the Bible now have a bust of Hitler and a Swastika defiling the front of the church. The White Supremacists movement and Ku Klux Klan all appeal to a White Christian Church identity fighting the so-called pernicious Jewish Christ Killers! Hitler and the Nazi’s hijacked the German Protestant Church for its own ends, theology was nazified (see) the Aryans became the chosen people and Hitler was the Messiah. Martin Luther was appealed to for justification of the final solution. (see)
In 1938 The German Pentecostal Church in compliance with the Nuremberg Laws of 1936 revised its constitution on October 13, 1938, only 27 days before Kristallnacht. Article 7 – Attitude of the Church Towards the People (Volk) and the State (Reich): “In the race laws we see a divinely willed and biblically founded endeavor to purify and to keep pure the people (Volk) from mixture with alien races. The leading-out of the Jews from the community of our people, as also from other peoples, is for us a process according to divine providence and divine will.”
Though evangelical churches accepted the Hitler regime as divinely ordained, they are still very reluctant to admit to their culpability. Protestant churches are still in denial of the fact that keeping silent when 6 million Jews were murdered was a sin.
Martin Niemoeller, a Protestant pastor was imprisoned by the Nazis and told by another visiting minister that he’d be released if he agreed to keep silent about certain things and respect the government. The visiting pastor concluded “And so, why are you in jail?” to which Niemoeller responded “Why aren’t you in jail?” (p.693 Foundations of the Christian Faith, J.M Boice)
Article 7 – Attitude of the Church Towards the People (Volk) and the State (Reich)
“With thankfulness to God we confess that we are, according to his providence, members of the German people. The dependence on God and the mind of Jesus Christ enable us to stand with our people (Volk) with body and life, with possessions and blood. The energetic support of all public endeavours of the People’s Welfare system is to us the duty of our Christian conscience.
We honour and accept the nation’s leadership and government. In sincerity we promise all loyalty and every obedience, which we are indebted to render together with all Christians to our earthly authorities according to God’s will and the word and spirit of our Lord, Mark 12:17; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-4; 1 Peter. 2:13-17.
We acknowledge that it is in keeping with the order of the divine Creator when the leadership of the people in wisdom and righteousness issues laws and bylaws, which are appropriate to form a dam against incurable inherited diseases and against the resulting misery, which in the past has been visible in the body of the people (Volk). Wherever our spiritual superintendents and ministers of the Word have to give information and counselling to those affected, they declare themselves wholeheartedly prepared.
In the race laws we see a divinely willed and biblically founded endeavour to purify and to keep pure the people (Volk) from mixture with alien races.
The leading-out of the Jews from the community of our people, as also from other peoples, is for us a process according to divine providence and divine will.”
Night of the Broken Glass (Reichskristallnacht) By Fritz Voll
In 1948 Nazi apologists such as the German Council of the Evangelical Church published a declaration justifying the Shoah [Holocaust]: “The doom of the Jew is silent proof that God will not stand for any nonsense in warning us Christians and admonishing Jews.”
Three respected Protestant German theologians, Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emanuel Hirsch turned their expertise to Aryanising New Testament theology. Althaus a leading Lutheran declared in 1933 that Hitler was a “gift and miracle from God.” Many of the themes and ideas they utilised you can still hear from various pulpits in Britain today and still British Protestantism thinks that it has nothing to repent of and can only complain that ‘the Jews have never had it so good as they have had it in Britain!’
These aforementioned theologians and the Deutsche Christen turned the cross into a Swastika, Hitler into the Messiah and the Aryans into the Chosen people, the Jewishness of Jesus denied, de-Judaised Christianity, suppressed the Old Testament and gave a theological foundation for oppressing the Jews.
Houston Stewart Chamberlain, son of a British admiral became a naturalised German citizen, he was so important that Hitler attended his funeral in 1927. Chamberlain wrote “whoever claimed that Jesus as a Jew was either stupid or telling a lie… Jesus was not a Jew. What was he then? Probably an Aryan!” (p.149 Arnold Frank of Hamburg by Robert Allen)
The majority of French Protestants who themselves had been a persecuted minority stood with the Jewish community against the anti-Semitism of the Vichy government. It was sadly the Calvinist Independent Reformed Evangelical Church in France that was more favourable to the anti-Jewish laws of the Vichy government.
The Confessing Church in Germany which grew out of Martin Niemoeller’s Pastor’s Emergency League stood against Hitler within German Protestantism against the Deutsche Christen.
In 1933 a Nazi ban on Jews in the civil service inspired Nazi churchmen to purge German pulpits of Jewish Christians and those whose parent’s grandparents, great-grandparents were Jewish Christians. So-called Christian ministers betrayed their Jewish brothers in Jesus to the Nazi regime.
Frank Littell wrote in The Crucifixion of the Jews “the sad truth is that Bonhoeffer was much better than his theology.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed in a Nazi concentration camp for his part in a plot to kill Hitler. Many Protestant friends of the Jewish people were equally better than their official church theology! It has been noted that it is not an accident that the Holocaust happened in the heart of Christendom. The Protestants that fully participated in the Nazi nightmare were not disciplined and those who objected to it were not encouraged. If Protestant leaders had all spoken out against the deportations Hitler’s plan would not have run so smoothly, if Luther had not written so violently against the Jewish people Hitler could not have acted so violently against the Jewish people with the passive Protestant world pretending to be uninvolved bystanders. In these circumstances you are part of the problem or part of the solution. The Deutsche Christen Reichsbishof Ludwig Muller said “We German Christians are the first trenchline of National Socialism… To live, fight and die for Adolf Hitler means to say yes to the path of Christ.” The silence of the Protestant church in Germany is only matched by the silence of Protestant denominations in Britain. Hitler died a Catholic and Herman Goering a Lutheran; neither was expelled from their “church”, obviously genocide was not a big enough sin for excommunication!
The Catholic Church bears enormous guilt because of a secret deal of silence made by the Pope and Hitler. German Protestants were confronted with an irresolvable theological problem; their nation was determined to eradicate the Jews and yet the Gospel was to the Jew first. Ironically when Jews became Christians in Germany within a generation their children were lost to the Jewish people anyway, but now even they were being hunted! The importance of the Messianic Jewish Movement to the wider Christian world is that it affirms the Jewish identity of Jews who believe in Yeshua rather than allow or insist that Messianic Jews assimilate and disappear into the dominant Gentile identity and culture of the wider Church.
The Nazis hated Jewish Christians (or as many would have called themselves today, Messianic Jews), as I read Arnold Frank of Hamburg by Robert Allen I read of the measures taken against Messianic Jews and Jewish Missions. A new Reich Church was formally recognised in July 1933 Allen wrote “the Protestants were being made aware that he who sups with the devil needs a long spoon.” At that time Dr Reinhardt Krause Berlin leader of the new Reich Church proposed the abandonment of the Old Testament as a Jewish book with “its tales of cattle merchants and pimps”. All pastors had to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler and all churches institute the Aryan paragraph and exclude Messianic Jews, this was too much for the timid Protestants and Krause was suspended, Hitler however finally got his way. Niemoeller sent a letter to Hitler protesting the anti-Christian tendencies of the regime, denounced anti-Semitism and called for the end of government meddling in the church. The Nazis replied by arresting hundreds of pastors of the Confessing Church, one who signed the letter, Dr Weissler was murdered in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and the funds of the Confessing Church was confiscated, Niemoeller was arrest 27th June. 807 more Confessing pastors and leading laymen were arrested in 1937 and hundreds more in the following years. The Aryan paragraph forced Jewish Christians out of the church “no Jews or Jewish descent within two generations or married to a person of Jewish descent” could retain official posts in the Reich. Arnold Frank’s Jerusalem Church in Hamburg was destroyed by the Nazis in 1942, his magazine Zions Freund was closed by the Nazis in 1936 with the last issue published that December. Messianic Jews and Missions to the Jews were seen as part of the Jewish threat to Aryan society and they were under Gestapo observation. Jewish Christians were being expelled from denominations and this led to the demand for a Hebrew Christian denomination to be set up for such people but never came to fruition.
Frank, originally from an Orthodox Jewish background, was arrested by the Gestapo but released with British intervention and he fled to Britain. Many tens of thousands of Jewish Christians also perished in the Holocaust, when I made a mournful visit to Auschwitz many years ago there was a memorial to such victims with a Star of David with a cross inside it. The archive material of various Christian missionary societies active in pre-WWII Europe show very large number of Jewish disciples of Jesus, some commentators have even put the number as high as 225,000, most perished in the Holocaust.
It is painfully ironic that a nation with part of its population worshipping a Jewish woman and the other part a Jewish man should so venomously hate their family!
Our challenge now is to see if there exists a church that has expunged the theological motifs, attitudes and ideas that the Nazi church were so easily able to harness and turn the antipathy towards Jews and the latent dismissive anti-Semitism of many churches into the political and racial anti-Semitism that allowed baptised Christians to be guards in Nazi death camps. The rampant Protestant Liberalism that dominated German church thinking left it with no authoritative historical Bible with the Jewish nation as God’s elected center and hence it was defenceless against the hypnotic nationalism of the Nazis.
A church Hitler would be ashamed of…
Such a church and such individuals within it would:
• Affirm God’s ongoing plan and purpose with the Jewish people.
• Would celebrate Jewish identity as part of God’s creation.
• Would reject all expressions of racial superiority in the name of theology.
• Would affirm that Jesus was a Jew. He was born a Jew, lived a Jew, died a Jew, rose from the dead a Jew and will return to rule the world as a Jew.
• Rejoice that the New Testament is a Jewish book.
• Remember that the disciples were Jews, Paul was a Jew, and all the first followers of Jesus were Jews and make sure its children’s material portrayed them as Jews rather than good Aryans.
• Teach that the Jews are not the Christ-killers, but that the Father sent the Son and the Son freely gave himself as a sacrifice for sin.
• Affirms that the Holocaust was not God’s judgement on the Jews, rather it was an anti-God act of pure evil.
• Would pray for the spiritual wellbeing of the Jewish people.
• Would affirm and support the right of the Jewish people to live in peace and self determination in the State of Israel.
• Affirm the Zionist dream for an independent Jewish state in their historical and Biblical homeland and reject as evil and iniquitous the inversion of Nazi symbols and language to describe the Israeli-Arab conflict.
• Preach from the Old as well as the New Testament without hijacking Israel’s history for a cheap application for today’s Gentile Christian.
• Affirm that the New Testament is not the cause of anti-Semitism, it is its only real cure.
“What the Church has made of the New Testament in its relationships with the Jews has, it seems to us, poisoned the very wells of God which were meant for the refreshment of His people. In this sense it is the Church, it is the Christians who have made it almost impossible for the Jews to see Jesus, hidden from them as he is by the cruel mask of Christian anti-Semitism.” (Torrance & Lamont, Anti-Semitism and Christian Responsibility, The Handsel Press, 1986)
The Holocaust and the Christian World, editors Rittner, Smith and Steinfeldt, 2000, Beth Shalom Holocaust Memorial Centre.
Theologians Under Hitler, Robert P. Ericksen, Yale University Press, 1985.
Arnold Frank of Hamburg, Robert Allen, James Clarke & Co Ltd London.
Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology, Charlotte Klein, SPCK, London, 1978.
Anti-Semitism and Christian Responsibility, Torrance & Lamont, The Handsel Press, Edinbugh, 1986.
Betrayal, German Churches and the Holocaust, Robert Ericksen & Susannah Heschel, Fortress Press Minneapolis, 1999.