by Stan Mitchell
When the steel-studded boots of Hitler’s forces crushed Europe, where was the church?
This is one of Christianity’s saddest hours, for while Jews were being interned by the truckload, and while racial arrogance reached new heights (or is that “depths”?), churches in Germany remained silent. There was an exception to this rule, however, a man who stands out because he stands alone.
When scores of German clergy signed their loyalty over to Adolph Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer refused to do so. He spoke out against Nazi atrocities, and ultimately became one of its victims. Most of his writings were undertaken in prison camps, including his “Letters and Papers from Prison” and “The Cost of Discipleship.”
Bonhoeffer knew what the latter term meant. He was killed in the last, climatic days of the war by his captors, a modern-day martyr.
I wonder how it was that so many churchmen failed to identify the wickedness of their time, and to speak, with God’s authority, against it?
Why was professor Bonhoeffer so utterly alone in his opposition? One would have thought that the errors of the Nazi regime were so plain that they could not be ignored. Perhaps these issues were not as clear as they seem.
Germany was a civilized, “Christian” nation. While our society is a far cry from Nazi Germany, it is still a society that purports to be “Christian.” We cannot afford to accept the dictates of society at face value. We must measure ourselves against a more reliable and timeless standard.
Fear played a role in the complicity of church leaders. Germans in the years 1930-1945 knew only too well the consequences of opposing the little man with the moustache. Bonhoeffer’s courage stood out like a cowboy in New York City.
Churches had lost their Biblical moorings. Churches and seminaries in Germany had been in the vanguard of “liberal theology,” where the historical accuracy of the Bible was questioned.
Professors spoke of the “Jesus myth” and the notion that the miracles of the Bible were merely embellishments on the stories of Biblical heroes. The inspiration of the Bible was denied, and the writing of scripture was considered to be nothing more than a human endeavor.
So when Germany entered her period of crisis, when she needed moral guidance from churches, churches were not there because they had abandoned their moorings. How could they appeal to the authority of scripture, when they had done so much to destroy that authority?
I do not believe we face so horrific a challenge as Hitler’s Nazis today. I do think, however, that Christians need to distinguish between the dictates of society and the teachings of scripture. I can see signs of Christians “caving” to society’s moral demands already. Can’t you? I believe that a “high” view of scripture is essential. And we must have the courage to speak for Christ when it becomes necessary.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV).