Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. It's tough running a race when your coach is loyal to your competitors. For Christians, that's what happened in Nazi Germany. The church fell in line fast when Hitler rose to power.
The lessons we can learn from this sad capitulation are the focus of today's Running to Win broadcast. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, from many indications, I would think the churches of today have even less backbone than the German church had in the 1940s.
Well, Dave, that's a very intriguing thought. The churches in the 1940s in Nazi Germany, here's what happens. When people are hungry, they're willing to sacrifice truth.
They are willing to give up their Christian faith. Many people succumb to the pressures, the hunger, the starvation that was taking place, and they traded in their freedoms for Hitler, who promised them security. You know, all of these lessons are so important for us today. And for a gift of any amount, you can receive a book I've written entitled Hitler's Cross, how the cross of Christ was used to promote the Nazi agenda. I believe very deeply that this story has to be told in a way that people can read it readily, that they can share the lessons, and that we can see in ourselves and ask ourselves whether or not we have the courage to stand against the culture.
But now let us listen as we continue this series of messages. With a forest of swastika flags around the altar in Magdeburg, Germany, in the cathedral, the dean of the cathedral declared in 1933, whoever reviles this symbol of ours is reviling our Germany. The swastika flags around the altar radiate hope, hope that the day is about to dawn. Another German pastor said, in the pitch black night of church history, Hitler became, as it were, the wonderful transparency for our times, the window of our age through which light fell on the history of Christianity. Through him, we were able to see the savior in the history of the Germans.
Christ came to us through Adolf Hitler. And I need to tell you that I wrestled with the question as to whether or not I should preach this series of messages. And I'm sure that when you looked at the bulletin, you wrestled with it too. It's been interesting to hear the comments. Some people said that they looked at it and wondered what in the world I was up to and why it would be, they thought, that I would leave preaching the word to preach history.
Well, let me tell you finally why I decided to preach this series of messages and how it came about. This past summer, I had the privilege of being in Berlin. Forgive me, but I love these German cities like Berlin and Munich because of their history. And when I was there, I was in a museum dedicated to the resistance of those who opposed Hitler. As I looked at the walls, I noticed pictures of Catholic and Protestant ministers not only giving the Nazi salute, but I also saw swastikas adorning the altars and banners in churches. And right in the middle of every one of those swastikas was the cross of Jesus Christ. And so it was that within Hitler's broken cross, there was the cross of our crucified Redeemer.
And as I stood there looking at those pictures, I began to ask myself the question, how could this happen? How could it happen that a church could so buy into a culture and a political philosophy that it would no longer be able to critique that philosophy, but would simply become a part of Hitler's political agenda? And I said to myself, there are lessons here that should be taken as a warning to the Christian church.
Always we try to look at these events through the lens of scripture and even the lens of prophecy. And today's message is on how Hitler captured the church and what we can learn from that process. How would I describe the Christian church in Germany when Hitler rose to power?
Three vivid descriptions come immediately to mind. The first is the church was very nationalistic, very nationalistic. Now it's not possible for me to give you a history of Germany, though in a couple of weeks when Roy Schwartz and I are together, I'm going to give you a 10-minute lecture on the first Reich and the second Reich, because most people don't know why Hitler's Germany was the third Reich. Well, during those periods of time, the church was tied into politics in a very, very direct way. In fact, during the great Prussian kings and Prussia became a part of Germany, the Prussian king was basically the head of the church. I'd been to the Kaiser Wilhelm Church in Berlin, the memorial church, and as you look at the various paintings and the frescoes that are there, you'll notice that there is the Kaiser known as Caesar. That's the German word for Caesar. There's Kaiser Wilhelm, but there is Christ, too, and it looks like you're not sure exactly to whom you should be loyal.
Should I be loyal to Caesar or should I be loyal to Christ? And the answer of Germany is to be loyal to Caesar is to be loyal to Christ. Germany was so nationalistic that during the First World War when troops would die on the battlefield, it was generally believed that they died as martyrs for Jesus Christ. The church was wholly absorbed with the culture of Germany, and there were lectures and books written on how to synthesize, that is to say, how to bring together German culture and Christianity and make them one, to have a special Christianity just for Germany and for its Hitler.
Would I say also that the churches by and large were also opposed to the Jews? Not only that, but you find that the churches were opposed to democracy. Germany began to flirt with democracy for the first time in 1918 after World War I. The Weimar Republic began, and I'm told by someone that both Catholics and Protestants were strongly opposed to democracy, believing that only a monarchy could be strong. It's like one woman who lived through that period told me, she said, Hitler was able to do what no democracy could do. Democracy is so slow. You've got this committee and that committee and the Weimar Republic was split with all these different political factions.
What we needed was a strong leader to lead us out of the abyss. In fact, a Catholic told me that some priests would not hear the confessions of people unless they were opposed to democracy and in favor of restoration of the German monarchy. Now I might say that the Catholic Church ultimately did better than the Protestants in resisting Hitler because they were more unified than the fragmented Protestants. But the churches were thoroughly politicized. A second thing about the church was that by and large they were liberal in theology. This is heartbreaking, but you know that in American universities and seminaries all the liberal theories that undercut the integrity of scripture, almost all of them were hatched in Germany.
It was the Germans who did it. Feuerbach in the middle of the 19th century wrote a book on the essence of Christianity in which he basically said that Christianity is really not the deity of Christ, but Christ came to earth to show that all of us are really divine and all statements in the Bible that refer to God should actually be referred to man. Nietzsche, who died in the year 1900, proclaimed the death of God. He said, regarding God, we have killed him. But then he also asked the question, who will wipe the blood from our hands? And Nietzsche predicted actually that in the 20th century there would be a bloodbath as the world had never seen.
He didn't live to see it, but my, how right he was. He taught the Superman and Hitler was so impressed with Nietzsche's books that he actually gave them out to Mussolini and others personally because of all those teachings. Here you have now a Christianity proclaimed largely, there are exceptions, of course, but largely from the pulpits of Germany that did not have a Christ qualified to save anybody from their sins. I need to underline that because I want you to know that when the church loses the simplicity of the gospel, when the church no longer invites sinners to trust Christ as the only savior, the church has not only failed in its mission, but no longer really has a biblical right to exist. So the kind of Christianity had now become a political kind of Christianity. Christ was no longer exalted as king, as Lord and savior, and I would say that it was in the universities and the seminaries in Germany where ministers were being trained that the seeds of the ovens of Auschwitz were being planted. Thirdly, you have a kind of Christianity that had greatly separated its religious side from involvement.
Now this gets a little tricky, so I'm going to give you an example. The people said as long as we sing our hymns and even if we have our Bible studies, let's not get involved in the political process even if things are happening that we are against. That is not our responsibility. We are supposed to obey the state, and Germans were taught that and the ministers pounded it into their heads from Romans 13, we are supposed to obey the state whether we agree with the state or not, and no matter what the state does. There's a story that comes to me about a church that had a railroad track right by it, and on the railroad track there were cars of people, victims, being taken to one of the concentration camps.
And as the church would rumble through the town, they could hear the screams of the victims in these boxcars, and all that the church did in response was sing its hymns more loudly so that the screams of the people would be drowned out. Now that's the kind of context in which the church found itself when Hitler came to power. I want you to take your Bibles and turn to the third chapter of the book of Daniel. Daniel chapter three, to use this simply as an example of what three people did when they were confronted with a situation in which church and state, religion and state we should say, had become one, and they were given the option of whether they would bow down and worship their civil religion or whether they would not. The story is, of course, about the three Hebrew children.
I'm going to pick it up in chapter three, verse 13. Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego do not bow down before this image. And so someone tells the king about it, and this is what he says in verse 13. Then Nebuchadnezzar, in a rage and anger, gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, and these men were brought before the king. And he responded and said to them, is it true, Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?
Now if you are ready at the moment, you hear the sound of the horn, the flute, the lyre, the trigon, the psaltery, and the bagpipe, and all kinds of music to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you will not worship that image, you will be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire. And what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands? Shadrach, Meshech, and Abednego answered and said to the king, oh, Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this. By the way, I just love their response.
They're saying, hey, you know, we wouldn't even have to dialogue about this. If it be so, our god whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire. And he will deliver us out of your hand, oh king. But even if he does not, let it be known to you, oh king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. If god delivers us, fine.
If he doesn't, fine too. We will not bow. For the most part, the German church bowed before the image. A little bit of history as to how it happened. First of all, Hitler began with lies. He loved lies. In fact, he said that the bigger the lie, the better. In fact, he said it does not matter how big a lie is as long as it is often repeated, people will eventually believe it. So he loved big lies. He stood up in the Reichstag after he was elected and said, I want to work with the churches.
In fact, Christianity is essential to safeguard the soul of the German people. And he desired a peaceful accord and even sent overtures of peace to the Vatican that he might be able to embrace the Catholic faith as well. He said that the churches can have freedom, quote, as long as they do not do anything subversive.
Oh, the wealth of meaning in that statement, as long as they do not do anything subversive. He lied about his intentions. He lied about the Jews. He knew the myths that were rampant in Germany, and he used them. The myth was that it was because of the Jews that Germany had lost the war.
Everybody knew that that was a myth, but it was widely believed, and Hitler capitalized on it. He would lie about his enemies. His men would make up charges against them so that they could be hauled into court.
Pastors were accused of sexual impropriety. They were accused of treason, of theft, of misconduct, of all kinds of deeds, just so that they could be brought into court and then severely punished. Hitler loved to find a pretext for his actions. The Reichstag fire in 1933 is generally believed, in fact almost certainly believed, to have been the work of his own men taking a man and at gunpoint forcing him to begin that fire. Because it was after that Hitler killed a thousand of his enemies and told the people in Germany, I had to do this to save Germany, took full responsibility, and said this needed to be done because the times were dreadful and they needed a strong solution. Kristallnacht began as a result of a Jew killing a German. It was a wonderful pretext for all that devastation and destruction throughout Europe that many of you know so much about.
So what he did is he used all kinds of manipulation and lies to make sure that he could get what he wanted, and the lies became headlines in the press. By the way, he also gave people an alternative to church. You did not have to go to church to have your baby christened.
The SS troops would do it for you. The fathers would bring their children on a shield, and that shield represented Germany. It represented the Third Reich and the child was in effect given to the state and then its name was put in the register.
You could be married without going to the church. That also could be done by officials, and Mother Earth and Father Sky were often called upon to witness the great event of marriage. The children were not allowed to sing Christmas carols in school, and the prayer in schools was of course forbidden, and Christmas turned into a pagan festival. So you have several years of this mythology, several years of lies and manipulation, and it softened the people up and got them used to a bigger idea, and that was now the laws that would come along. First come the lies so that people might be able to understand a certain way to look at the world, and then you have laws that are built upon those lies.
And the legal profession in Germany was rewritten overnight. Instead of believing that there were laws that were rooted in God and in the word of God, or at least in natural law, Hitler did what every dictator, most dictators have done, and that is he began to turn toward arbitrary law. And the people of Germany said the law and the will of der Führer, that is to say our leader, is one and the same. He becomes the law.
I'm reminded of Louis XIV who said, I am the state. First of all you have the Nurnberg laws that excluded Jews from citizenship, so they no longer were citizens. Then 13 other decrees that soon made it impossible for them to live, they could not buy or sell, they could not be involved in any kind of work, and of course eventually they were led to the concentration camps. You have laws that came in for the pastors, and this is next week's message when I talk about how the church was specifically crushed, that pastors were supposed to not only sign loyalty to Hitler, and most of them did, that they would be loyal to Hitler, but the Aryan clause which said that no one of Jewish blood could serve in a pastorate in Germany. There were laws against treason, and treason meant being critical of the Reich. And then of course there were laws for schools. Every school teacher had to sign a personal oath of loyalty to Hitler, and Hitler said to the people of his day, you, your child, he said to the parents, belongs to us.
What are you? You will pass away, but your descendants will be here. And he said, they will be a part of our new community, and we, he said, will be the ones to train your youth. Why do I mention this business of laws? Because as you look at America today you can see that that's exactly where the battle is taking place, is it not? And when Hitler's henchmen were tried at Nurnberg, what they said was, we did not break any laws. You see, the reason they said that they should not be tried as criminals is because, to quote the words of Eichmann, I obeyed the laws of my country and my flag. The laws were rewritten so that Jews would be non-persons, therefore they never killed any human beings, they only killed animals.
Now here's the point. We think of our nation, we think of the Supreme Court, we think of the 1973 decision regarding Roe versus Wade, arbitrarily made, literally made up out of nothing. And I know that the excuse was privacy, but actually when you stop to think of it, everybody, I think, acknowledges that this is not in the Constitution, but we live in an era where laws can be rewritten. And when some pro-lifers called abortionists murderers, those abortionists wanted to accuse them of slander because they said, how can you call us a murderer when we are breaking no laws? You know, this is Pastor Lutzer, and of course I want to clarify I made a reference to Eichmann. He actually was not tried in Nuremberg, but what he said is, as I quoted him, that he had broken no laws because what he did was consistent with the laws of Germany. You know, I've written a book entitled Hitler's Cross, how the cross of Christ was used to promote the Nazi agenda. I talk about the nationalism in the church and its submission to Hitler's agenda. I talk about how pretexts were used to take away the freedoms of the German people in exchange for security.
All of these are lessons we have to learn today. For a gift of any amount, this book can be yours. Here's what you can do. Go to rtwoffer.com. That's rtwoffer.com, or you can pick up the phone and call us at 1-888-218-9337.
That's 1-888-218-9337. It's time now for another chance for you to ask Pastor Lutzer a question about the Bible or the Christian life. Loyalty to a nation's flag, what is a Christian's obligation? A man named Lance wrote to us with this story, I went to church on Sunday, the day before Memorial Day, and we were asked to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance to the US flag. After that, we were asked to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Christian flag. I was wondering about your thoughts on saying the Pledge of Allegiance to the US flag in general and also saying it in a sanctuary in a church. Lance, I commend you for your question.
It's good. I'm going to give you the answer that I'm comfortable with, and I hope that our audience is able to listen in and also to respond to what I have to say. First of all, I don't think that there's any necessary conflict between our loyalty to the flag and our loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ. You remember Jesus said, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's. So we need to understand that we have two commitments.
However, I would also like to caution us. It's possible to become so nationalistic. This is exactly what happened in Germany under Hitler when the people were so nationalistic, they believed that whatever was good for Germany was good for Christianity and vice versa. And as a result of that, their nationalism took precedence over their commitment to the cross of Jesus Christ. That is a terrible danger. So I think in answer to your question, it's fine if we understand the two spheres and making sure that we are not guilty of excessive patriotism, but that whenever there is a conflict between Caesar and Christ, we always defer to Christ, and we never give to Caesar that which belongs to Jesus.
You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635, North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois, 60614. As the tanks rolled, nation after nation succumbed to German military might during World War II. In the Fatherland, there was little resistance, even from the believing church. They quickly caved in to the Nazis, substituting a swastika for the cross of Christ. Next time, why we must never forget that it could happen again. For Pastor Erwin Lutzer, this is Dave McAllister. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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