Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 2 we discovered the “German Christian” movement, a group that wanted to conform Christianity to German nationalism. In part 3, we complete our survey of this heretical campaign. Again, we draw heavily from Eric Metaxas’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Recall that the German Christians sought to radically reinterpret and edit vast tracts of the Bible. The radical Scripture twisting brought some German Christians to the realization that the Bible itself must be tossed aside. Metaxas records their next move:
As they bent themselves into pretzels, some German Christians realized it was a losing battle. So in 1937, a group of them stated that the written word of Scripture was the problem. “Whereas the Jews were the first to write out their faith,” they said, “Jesus never did so.” True “German” Christianity must therefore move beyond written words. “A demon always resides in the written word,” they added.
And what about the sacraments of the church? How could they be coopted to the German nationalistic cause?
German Christians sometimes spoke of baptism as a baptism not into the body of Christ but into “the community of the Volk” and into the Weltanschauung of the Führer. Communion presented other difficulties. One pastor spoke of the bread symbolizing “the body of the earth that, firm and strong, remains true to the German soil,” and the wine was “the blood of the earth.” The paganism of it all escaped them.
Metaxas rightly proclaims that the German Christians were not merely tinkering around the edges of Christian doctrine. Theirs was a complete demolition project.
Ludwig Müller, the man whom Hitler would put forward as his choice to lead a “united German church”—in the new position of Reichsbischof—declared that the “love” of the German Christians had a “hard, warrior-like face. It hates everything soft and weak because it knows that all life can only then remain healthy and fit for life when everything antagonistic to life, the rotten and the indecent, is cleared out of the way and destroyed.” This was not Christianity, but Nietzschean social Darwinism.
How could so many Germans become so hopelessly confused about the difference between Christianity and German nationalism? Metaxas offers the following explanation:
For many Germans, their national identity had become so melted together with whatever Lutheran Christian faith they had that it was impossible to see either clearly. After four hundred years of taking for granted that all Germans were Lutheran Christians, no one really knew what Christianity was anymore. In the end, the German Christians would realize that they were living in Barth’s abyss after all. True Christians viewed them as confused, nationalistic heretics, and they could never satisfy the staunch anti-Semites on the Nazi side of the abyss.
Did the entire German Lutheran Church apostasize? No. Even though they were outnumbered and under constant siege, a significant remnant of Christians stayed faithful to Jesus Christ during the Nazi reign. They would organize themselves and go by the name of “The Confessing Church.” We will hear about them next.