What Happens When the Church Is Married to Nationalism? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 we saw the plans that the National Socialists had for the German Lutheran Church during the 1930’s and 1940’s.  In parts 2 and 3 we will review how the church reacted to the attempted Nazification of their doctrines and beliefs.  Again, we draw heavily from Eric Metaxas’s excellent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Metaxas begins:

The most serious Christians in Germany recognized the incompatibility of Christianity and Nazi philosophy. Karl Barth said Christianity was separated “as by an abyss from the inherent godlessness of National Socialism.” But someplace in the deep and wide abyss betwixt these two existed a strange group who did not think there was an abyss, and who wished to create a seamless connection between National Socialism and Christianity. They saw no theological problem with this project, and during much of the 1930s, they constituted a powerful force in Germany. 

This group called themselves the Deutsche Christens, “German Christians.”  But were they Christian in any meaningful sense of that word?  History answers with a thunderous “no.”  The German Christians were far more interested in molding their beliefs to fit German nationalism than upholding the historic teachings of the Christian church.

Metaxas chronicles the bizarre direction the German Christians headed:

In her book, Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich, Doris Bergen wrote that “the ‘German Christians’ preached Christianity as the polar opposite of Judaism, Jesus as the arch anti-semite, and the cross as the symbol of war against Jews.” Fusing the German Volk (people) with the German Kirche (church) meant stretching and twisting the definitions of both. Step one was to define Germanness as inherently in opposition to Jewishness. To make Christianity one with Germanness meant purging it of everything Jewish. It was an absurd project.

Just how absurd was this project?  Here was their attitude toward the Old Testament:

For starters, they decided the Old Testament must go. It was obviously too Jewish. At one German Christians’ gathering in Bavaria, the speaker ridiculed the Old Testament as a saga of racial defilement. His remark that “Moses in his old age had married a Negro woman” drew boisterous laughter and enthusiastic applause. As late as 1939, they founded “the Institute for Research into and Elimination of Jewish Influence in German Church Life.”

Like the famous Jefferson Bible that omitted anything not to Jefferson’s liking, this institute took a cut-and-paste attitude toward the Bible, excising anything that seemed Jewish or un-German. One of the leaders, Georg Schneider, called the whole Old Testament “a cunning Jewish conspiracy.” He went on: “Into the oven, with the part of the Bible that glorifies the Jews, so eternal flames will consume that which threatens our people.”

How did they handle the New Testament?  Metaxas explains:

As for the New Testament, the German Christians quoted scriptures out of context and twisted the meaning to suit their anti-Semitic agenda. They used John 8:44 to great effect . . . . Of course Jesus and all of his disciples were Jewish, and the Jews whom Jesus addresses here are religious leaders. It was only with them that he took such a harsh tone.

The passage in which Jesus throws the money changers out of the temple was also popular with the German Christians. But to hone its barbed point, the phrase “den of thieves” was replaced with the German Kaufhaus (department store), most of which were then owned by Jews. The German Christians always painted Jesus as a non-Jew and often as a cruel anti-Semite. As Hitler had called him “our greatest Aryan hero,” this was not much of a leap. Before the German Christians were through with him, the Nazarene rabbi would be a goose-stepping, strudel-loving son of the Reich.

 The insanity does not stop here.  In part 3 of the series, we will hear more about the “German Christian” project.

  • Andrew Ryan

    Another good blog. Again, the parallels to modern America are striking.

    “Before the German Christians were through with him, the Nazarene rabbi would be a goose-stepping, strudel-loving son of the Reich.”

    Just like the US right turning the Prince of Peace into a gun-toting, libertarian gay-basher.

  • Merv Waage

    Bill: I like your article. Every once in a while I run into a person who derides christianity because, after all, Germany (under Hilter) was a christian nation. It is sad that some do not take the time to fully inform themselves in order to discovery that their thinking is incorrect. (And may well prevent them from coming to Christ.) Merv Waage

  • Pingback: What Happens When the Church Is Married to Nationalism? Part 3 | Tough Questions Answered()

  • Note, that church and state have been working hand in hand since the times of Constantine–to increase their power, wealth, and influence –not to “save” the people. They have caused wars, seized properties, and murdered the innocents–in the name of power and control–killing millions in the process.

    The anti-Semitism and atrocities committed by Hitler’s Nazi’s was influenced heavily by the works of Martin Luther,(the father of the Protestant reformation) including his “On the Jews and Their Lies” in which Luther called for all Jewish rights, including rights to their own religious writings be eliminated; their properties razed; their monies confiscated; and to use Jews as forced agricultural labour. Because of this view of the Jews that was held by many Germans–especially those Germans who were familiar with Luther’s writings–the Jews were easily scapegoated. The Jews were also blamed for the death of Jesus, so it was easy to incite hatred against them and to implicate them for the economic hardships the Germans faced after WWI–which happened not because the Jews were the money changers–but because of the economic sanctions placed on Germany after the Treaty of Versailles, where they were made to pay restitution for starting WWI. Therefore, the reasons for the atrocities committed in Germany in WWII against the Jews were very, very heavily influenced by Christianity. On an even deeper level, it makes one wonder how Christians can trust their own bible (half of which consists of the Jewish Tanakh) when as Luther claimed, the Jews are “untrustworthy”– this is a non-sequitur of epic proportions. The so-called “true Christians” in America that vehemently shout out “Catholics are not Christians”–are Protestants of the likes of Luther.

    Without the influence of Christianity, Hitler may not have been able to pull off his scheme. The influence of Christianity can also be seen in the revolutions of of Stalin and Mao, and perhaps if it were not for the Imperialist/Christian influences, their “revolutions” may not have happened at all. For more on this, I too recently wrote a post on this subject.

  • Your argument contains a major non sequitur. You have equated one of Martin Luther’s late anti-Jewish writings with Christianity. There are a couple problems with this equation. First, Martin Luther wrote positive words about the Jews earlier in his life which completely contradict his later writings, which were written during his years of declining physical and mental health, a time when he was angry at everybody (he also wrote nasty things about Muslims, Catholics, and even other Protestants). So, which Luther is the real Luther? The Jew lover or the Jew hater?

    Second, and most importantly, Christianity has never been based on the writings of Martin Luther. Christianity is based primarily on the words of the Bible, and the Bible does not say anything like what Martin Luther said about Jews in the last years of his life.

    So, your equating Christianity with the words of a declining Luther does not compute. You may say that Luther’s words contributed to the Nazi cause, and you would be correct. You may not say that biblical Christianity was a major contributor to the Nazi cause. The very existence of the Confessing Church movement in Germany during the years of the Third Reich utterly belie that assertion.

  • Actually Bill, I CAN say that Biblical Christianity was a major contributor to the Nazi cause. In simple terms, the writings of the Bible depict the Jews as turning their backs on Jesus–which the Nazi’s used to their advantage. It is because of the writings in the Bible that the Nazi’s were able to scapegoat the Jews. Furthermore, when a group of people do not submit to the Abrahamic god, the bible supports the genocide of such groups of people.

    After all, Luther started the reformation. If the reformation is the basis of Protestantism, then a major part of the Protestant interpretation of the bible is due to Luther’s interpretation of the Bible. Luther DID start the reformation. Therefore, a major part of the Protestant interpretation of the bible is due to Luther’s interpretation of the Bible.

    From “The Jews and Their Lies” Part II:

    “Now just behold these miserable, blind, and senseless people. In the first place (as I said previously in regard to physical birth), if I were to concede that circumcision is sufficient to make them a people of God, or to sanctify and set them apart before God from all other nations, then the conclusion would have to be this: Whoever was circumcised could not be evil nor could he be damned. Nor would God permit this to happen, if he regarded circumcision as imbued with such holiness and power. Just as we Christians say: Whoever has faith cannot be evil and cannot be damned so long as faith endures. For God regards faith as so precious, valuable, and powerful that it will surely sanctify and prevent him who has faith and retains his faith from being lost or becoming evil. But I shall let this go for now.
    In the second place, we note here again how the Jews provoke God’s anger more and more with such prayer. For there they stand and defame God with a blasphemous, shameful, and impudent lie. They are so blind and stupid that they see neither the words found in Genesis 17 nor the whole of Scripture, which mightily and explicitly condemns this lie. For in Genesis 17:12 Moses states that Abraham was ordered to circumcise not only his son Isaac who at the time was not yet born but an the males born in his house, whether sons or servants, including the slaves. All of these were circumcised on one day together with Abraham; Ishmael too, who at the time was thirteen years of age, as the text informs us. Thus the convent or decree of circumcision encompasses the entire seed of all the descendants of Abraham, particularly Ishmael, who was the first seed of Abraham to be circumcised. Accordingly Ishmael is not only the equal of his brother Isaac, but he might even if this were to be esteemed before God be entitled to boast of his circumcision more than Isaac, since he was circumcised one year sooner. In view of this, the Ishmaelites might well enjoy a higher repute than the Israelites, for their forefather Ishmael was circumcised before Isaac, the progenitor of the Israelites, was born. ”

    The first part of Luther’s writing says the Jews are “miserable, blind, and senseless people”–so blind and senseless they did not even recognize Jesus as their own messiah. But yet, Christians say that the Jews are the people who understand God and gets the “God thing” right–see how absurd that is. The Jews are so wise on these issues, you would think they would know who their own messiah is, and yet they say Jesus is NOT the messiah. Makes you wonder….

    Nevertheless, we see why Christians attack and attacked Jews based on the New Testament, and interpretations of the New Testament, such as Luther’s interpretation.

  • “After all, Luther started the reformation. If the reformation is the basis of Protestantism, then a major part of the Protestant interpretation of the bible is due to Luther’s interpretation of the Bible. Luther DID start the reformation. Therefore, a major part of the Protestant interpretation of the bible is due to Luther’s interpretation of the Bible.”

    Almost all of this paragraph is wrong. Luther was a key figure in the Reformation, although I don’t know that he started it. The seeds of the Reformation were there well before Luther, and there were many other important figures in the Reformation aside from Luther. But, granting that Luther played a major role in the Reformation, it is simply false that Protestant interpretation of the Bible is mostly based on Luther.

    First, there is no monolithic Protestant interpretation of the Bible, as there are numerous streams of Protestantism with differing interpretations. In fact, many modern-day Protestant denominations do not trace their roots back to Luther at all. Second, Luther and the other Reformers primarily diverged from the Roman Catholic Church on matters of soteriology. In most other areas of theology, they simply retained the traditional Roman Catholic understanding. The Jewish question was not at issue in the Reformation, and so most Reformers could not have cared less what Luther wrote about Jews in his declining years. It simply had nothing to do with the main thrust of the Reformation.

    Bottom line: you have failed to make any substantial connection between biblical Christianity and the anti-Semitic ramblings of Martin Luther in his old age.

  • As you pointed out, there are various interpretations and traditions with reference to the bible and Christianity. If what you say is true, then there is no uninterpreted biblical Christianity, as all Christianity is merely different interpretations of the bible–yours included.

    With reference to Protestantism, as you say, “…there is no monolithic Protestant interpretation of the Bible, as there are numerous streams of Protestantism with differing interpretations.”

    One of those major factors was Luther and his interpretation of the bible, which greatly influenced Nazi Germany. The fact of the matter is, Luther wrote about the Jews, and supported his view with biblical passages. This Christian interpretation of the Bible and the Jews greatly influenced Nazi Germany.

    Bill, in this day and age you can easily check what you say before you say it. I used to carry tons of books with me and go to the library, but much of the information you can google for yourself. Luther was not just a mad man, as there are viable arguments that support Luther’s views against the Jews, and his interpretation of the bible. Why, you can even check the information and references in Wikipedia!–it’s common knowledge and arguments. Below you will find a list of the Christian themes from the New Testament that was used to support Nazi Germany’s genocide of the Jews.

    From Wikipedia:

    According to Rabbi Michael J. Cook, Professor of Intertestamental and Early Christian Literature at the Hebrew Union College, there are ten themes in the New Testament that are the greatest sources of anxiety for Jews concerning Christian anti-Semitism:

    The Jews are culpable for crucifying Jesus – as such they are guilty of deicide
    The tribulations of the Jewish people throughout history constitute God’s punishment of them for killing Jesus
    Jesus originally came to preach only to the Jews, but when they rejected him, he abandoned them for Gentiles instead
    The Children of Israel were God’s original chosen people by virtue of an ancient covenant, but by rejecting Jesus they forfeited their chosenness – and now, by virtue of a new covenant (or “testament”), Christians have replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people, the Church having become the “People of God.”
    The Jewish Bible (“Old” Testament) repeatedly portrays the opaqueness and stubbornness of the Jewish people and their disloyalty to God.
    The Jewish Bible (“Old” Testament) contains many predictions of the coming of Jesus as the Messiah (or “Christ”), yet the Jews are blind to the meaning of their own Bible.
    By the time of Jesus’ ministry, Judaism had ceased to be a living faith.
    Judaism’s essence is a restrictive and burdensome legalism.
    Christianity emphasizes excessive love, while Judaism maintains a balance of justice, God of wrath and love of peace.[5]
    Judaism’s oppressiveness reflects the disposition of Jesus’ opponents called “Pharisees” (predecessors of the “rabbis”), who in their teachings and behavior were hypocrites (see Woes of the Pharisees).

    Cook believes that both contemporary Jews and contemporary Christians need to reexamine the history of early Christianity, and the transformation of Christianity from a Jewish sect consisting of followers of a Jewish Jesus, to a separate religion often dependent on the tolerance of Rome while proselytizing among Gentiles loyal to the Roman empire, to understand how the story of Jesus came to be recast in an anti-Jewish form as the Gospels took their final form.[6]

    Some scholars assert that critical verses in the New Testament have been used to incite prejudice and violence against Jewish people.

    Therefore, the Germans, who were Christians, followed Luther in his views of the Jews, which resulted in the Holocaust.

  • Joe2501

    What is Christianity? There are so many different opinions. Christians 300 yrs ago were clearly anti-Jewish and anti-black. Today, Christians are politically correct sheep. A few hundred years ago the church Ostracized anyone showing the earth was not the center of the universe. Now, if anyone claims that biological racial differences exist, he is ostracized and called antichristian. Jesus’ death was demanded by Jews, but now we are told that Jesus was Jewish despite his proclamations against Jews. It seems that for modern Christians the bible means nothing – only political and social pressures. The same with the church of 300 years ago. If a Christian actually follows the bible, he will be kicked and scorned – just as the early Christians said would happen. This mainstream Christianity of today is watered down and not Christian in a biblical sense. Jesus most certainly believes in divine law and

  • Joe2501

    The problem with your response is that it assumes that Jews committed no wrongs it the society that may have led to unfavorable consigns against them. The fact that every European country had kicked them out at one time or another is inconsequential. Yes, the bible contains very antiemetic (actually anti-Jewish) sentiments, but this was not the basis of nazism.

    One is apparently not allowed to exam the fact that rich and powerful Jews did in fact manipulate trade, stock markets, food markets, and governmental regulations in anyway to cause misery. Just as we are told to ignore people like Ben bernanke or Bernie Madoff and their Jewishness and their connections to the economic collapse of western civilization in 2008-2012.

    If we are going to be honest, we need to concentrate our efforts at contemporary life and actions and not the bible. The bible, at least in this context, explains better a pattern of behavior rather than particular actions occurring now.