The Spanish philosopher Santayana once said that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat its mistakes. This is tragically true, and it is one reason why so much of contemporary education offers little by way of history – or if it does, it is revisionist history. Our elites prefer us to be ignorant and docile.
Thus we are largely ignorant of even recent history. Consider what took place 80 years ago. A nation of 80 million people – largely made of Protestants (two-thirds) and Catholics (one-third) – allowed one of the greatest mass murderers in history to come to power and reign supreme.
The German people of course were in many ways deceived by Hitler who lied regularly, and effectively used the media and entertainment as major propaganda tools. Yet they largely went along with his program, and refused to believe things could really be so bad.
Regrettably much of the church went along with this. Sure, by this time most of the church was largely dead, spiritually speaking. Church and state were far too close, theological liberalism had taken its course, and a faulty pietism had gripped most believers.
They fell for the idea that the church should only concentrate on spiritual matters – whatever that means – and let the state take care of everything else. Thus their faith had no bearing on the important issues of the day, and was simply a privatised and ineffective faith – just what Hitler and the Nazis wanted. As Hitler told Niemoller, “You confine yourself to the church. I’ll take care of the German people.”
The point of all this is whether we have learned the lessons from history. It seems we have not, sadly, and America and the West are seeing many of these issues being replayed, and that includes the church. There are plenty of resources I could call your attention to here, but let me focus on just a few.
Two recent books by Erwin Lutzer on this issue should be in every concerned believer’s home. I refer to When a Nation Forgets God (Moody, 2010), and Hitler’s Cross (Moody, 2012 – but originally published in 1995). Both volumes are must reads, especially to see where the church stands today.
Lutzer reminds us that the Western church has largely fallen into the same trap that the German church had: a bifurcated church. Hitler told the church to just stick to their business, and leave the rest to him. We are hearing the exact same things today with many believers thinking their faith has no connection at all with the political, social and cultural world around them.
And various types of hate crimes laws, and vilification and discrimination legislation are reinforcing this. Increasingly the church is being told it cannot enter the public arena with its beliefs, but must simply remain silent in the public square. And many believers are foolishly going along with this.
Recall this: all that Hitler did was done legally. He was voted into power by the masses and supported by the masses. He really was looked upon as being the German messiah by most Germans and most Christians. The nation was eager to embrace a demagogue who promised to lead them out of all their woes.
The recent re-election of Obama must in part be seen against this backdrop. Promises of “hope and change” have fooled many into thinking this man can somehow turn America around and bring heaven to earth. Regrettably millions of evangelicals even voted for him – and for a second time as well.
The church largely remained silent while Hitler and the Nazis killed 11 million people. Sure there were some believers who resisted, like the Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer and Niemoller. But they were in the minority, and many of them had to pay for this with their lives.
Many hundreds of resisting pastors were sent to the concentration camps, and Bonhoeffer was executed just a few weeks before Hitler committed suicide. He of course had written widely about the dangers of “cheap grace” and the dangers of taking our eyes off the cross.
As he wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
That was commonplace in Germany in the 30s and it is quite commonplace in America, Australia and much of the West today. We have substituted the cross for a message of entertainment, cheap thrills and self-help. Our gospel is all about me, me, me, while the biblical gospel, and the gospel that Bonhoeffer preached, is all about Jesus, the cross, and dying to self.
No wonder the German Christians were so ill-equipped to withstand Hitler. How could they with such an anaemic and lifeless gospel? They had so compromised with the world that they could no longer resist it. And most did not have the courage to take a stand anyway.
Things are no different today. We have an entire generation of spineless believers who have been raised on a gospel of self. They will abandon the faith as soon as any opposition or difficulties arise. They are not the stuff of soldiers of the cross; they are self-centred and self-absorbed worldlings who will deny Christ at the drop of a hat.
I love what Jon Speed said just recently in relation to Obama’s re-election: “All of this talk about Christian persecution coming under four more years of Obama is amusing. The only Christians who get persecuted are those who: 1) share the gospel when the government says not to (check the Book of Acts) or, 2) stand against evil when the majority are toeing the line (see the Book of Daniel).
“If you haven’t already been doing these things when you had the freedom to do it, what in the world makes you think you will do it when you don’t have those freedoms? The government WILL NOT CARE if you keep the gospel inside of your church walls and only vote against evil. Every oppressive government has allowed churches to meet just as long as they keep their mouths shut (Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, China even has state controlled churches). If persecution is coming, don’t worry, you won’t see any of it just so long as your Christianity is limited to your church attendance.”
Exactly – just like what we found occurring in Germany last century. Let me conclude with three further points. One, if we would actually study history, hopefully some of us would learn its lessons. I and other voices have been crying out for years now, warning Western Christians that perilous times lay just ahead, and we urgently need to get our house in order.
Like the watchmen on the wall of old, we have warned, we have exhorted, and we have pleaded with God’s people. Yet so often these words fall on deaf ears. People do not believe us, or do not want to believe us. They certainly seem ignorant of recent history. I like how a good friend of mine recently put it:
“Bill, let’s use this analogy. Let’s say we are Germans in the Third Reich. For years during the Weimer Republic in the 1920’s you warned us of the Nazi Party. You constantly reminded us of their 25-point plan. You quoted Hitler’s and other‘s speeches. In the 1930’s you were showing their discrimination of the Jews and you made us aware of their euthanasia programs etc. Now I picked a fight with a member of the SS and he and his goons beat me up within an inch of my life. You and others can see our freedoms being wilted away. Yet the majority thought you and me and others were crazy. Look what the Nazi’s are doing. They are making Germany great again. Now is not the time to talk of democracy etc. Let’s say I stop at the end of 1938. No one wants to end up in one of Himmler’s concentration camps. We have little idea of the calamity that is about to come. Now what would we do? That is an interesting point in itself.”
Quite so Carl. We are losing our Christian freedoms real fast today, yet so many believers have their heads in the sand. They don’t want to know about it and they don’t seem to care about it. We are totally self-consumed, and as long as we are happy and have our fair share of consumer goods and pleasures, we just don’t want to rock the boat.
The second thing worth mentioning is how gullible and easily deceived we are. We are so prone to believe lies, and our leaders are so prone to tell us lies. One little book has recently appeared making this case, tying it directly in to the Nazi horror. I refer to Andy Andrews’ How Do You Kill 11 Million People? (Thomas Nelson, 2011).
In it he notes how easily the Germans fell for all the lies. Hitler had said, “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think. Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” And he points out that less than 10 per cent of the population actually worked or actively were involved with Hitler. The other 90 per cent basically just sat back and allowed it all to happen.
Now with all due respect, the contents of his entire book could easily be reduced to a five-page essay. Indeed, a 6-minute video has perfectly captured the essence and substance of this book, so I urge all of you to watch this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH_Izul6J5M
The last thing I wish to share is found in all three books. Indeed, it is something I have shared before, but it bears repeating. It is just as true today as back then. Simply replace ‘Jews’ with ‘the unborn’ for example, and we have the identical situation taking place. Here is the quote:
“I lived in Germany during the Nazi holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!
“Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews in route to a death camp. Their screams tormented as. We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me; forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.”