No More Business As Usual

Suppose you were a Christian pastor preparing your sermon for next Sunday in a less than peaceful and settled environment. Suppose you are a Christian in the Middle East with IS breathing down your neck, or in Africa with Boko Haram nipping at your heels.

Would things simply be business as usual? Or would your sermon preparation and preaching take on a new sense of urgency, desperation and importance? If such very real threats were all around you, hopefully your spiritual resources would be ratcheted up a few notches, and people would know something is quite different.

This need not be mere speculation. We have lived through times like this before where the church really had to stop playing games and really get serious – or else. The church in Germany in the 1930s and 40s certainly found itself in this position.

What would the church and its leaders do in this situation? Would it just be business as usual as the Nazis consolidated power and their anti-Jewish pogroms began in earnest? As we know, sadly, for most churches it was business as usual. Only a minority of Christian pastors took a strong stand against Hitler.

The Confessing Church for example was one group which did resist the Nazis, and sought to stand resolute in the face of ever increasing opposition and persecution. And of course many of these brave souls paid for this with their lives.

Image of Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich
Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich by Stroud, Dean G. (Editor) Amazon logo

To get a better handle on how the churches responded during these terrible times, a book by Dean Stroud which came out last year is well worth getting. Preaching In Hitler’s Shadow (Eerdmans) is a two part book. The first half of the book looks at the rather uneasy relations between church and state during this period, while the second half contains a dozen sermons preached back then by Christian leaders such as Bonhoeffer, Niemoller, Barth and Bultmann.

Let me briefly highlight just a few of these. Right now we are commemorating the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht. On the 9th and 10th of November, 1938, a major attack on Jews in Germany and Austria occurred. This was a ‘night of broken glass’ in which Jewish synagogues, buildings and shops were ferociously set upon.

There were some 100 Jews killed, tens of thousands arrested, with 1000 synagogues and some 7000 Jewish businesses destroyed. A week after these horrific events occurred (November 16, 1938), Helmut Gollwitzer gave a sermon on this.

The hard words of John the Baptist about repentance as found in Luke 3:3-14 was the text that he used for his sermon. He too warns his people about wrath to come, and asks them who they will side with: the Nazis or Christ and the Jews? He reminds his listeners that we are all capable of great evil:

It is inside all of us; this truth that upright men and women can turn into horrible beasts is an indication of what lies hidden within each of us to a greater or lesser degree. All of us have done our part in this: one by being a coward, another by comfortably stepping out of everyone’s way, by passing by, by being silent, by closing our eyes, by laziness of heart that only notices another’s need when it is openly apparent, by the damnable caution that lets itself be prevented from every good deed, by every disapproving glance and every threatening consequence, by the stupid hope that everything will get better on its own without our having to become courageously involved ourselves. In all these ways we are exposed as the guilty people we are, as men and women who have just enough love left over for God and our neighbour to give away when there is no effort or annoyance involved.

He closes with these words: “God wants to see our deeds. . . . Now just outside this church our neighbour is waiting for us – waiting for us in his need and lack of protection, disgraced, hungry, hunted, and driven by fear for his very existence.” And as Stroud reminds us, all his hearers would have known that by ‘neighbour’ he meant their Jewish neighbour.

On October 3, 1937, Paul Schneider preached his very last sermon. He had been arrested often before, but this time he was sent to the concentration camp Buchenwald where he was later murdered. In this sermon he reminds his listeners about the descent into hell taking place all around them, and asks them if they are taking a stand. Given how right now in Australia religious education is being debated, this is most relevant:

God is asking us if we have really and truly been brought to our knees in prayer by the distress in our churches, in our congregations, and in our schools. When the government took away religious instruction from the schools and churches, were we as worried about our children’s Christian instruction as we were happy to have them freer for work? How sad that there is not enough serious prayer on behalf of the congregation and the church and their Christian concerns! Why is this?…
Today we should be aware of the fact that confessing Jesus will carry a price and that for his sake we will come into much distress and danger, much shame and persecution. Happy the man who does not turn aside from these consequences. He will then see that God is a sure help in times of trouble who will come to our aid.

Finally, this sermon by Rudolph Bultmann preached on June 22, 1941. Speaking on the parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:16-24) he asks his listeners how they will respond while living in Hitler’s shadow:

We all know that Germany today no longer is a Christian country, that church life is only a remnant, and that many wish and hope that even this remnant will disappear. What is the reason for this? Is it not that for us all, without exception, the affairs of daily life were more important than God’s call? That the striving for profit, power, and pleasure was more powerful than the question: How am I holding myself in readiness for God?


I am told that a novel by John Marsden, Tomorrow, When the War Began (later made into a film) begins with some Australian High School children away camping, only to return to town and find it is under enemy occupation. Having neither read the book nor seen the film, I cannot speak to this further.

But it seems to me this offers a profound spiritual lesson here. Folks, things are simply not the way they once were. The truth is, we are living in enemy-occupied territory. When are we going to wake up to this reality? When are we going to realise that we have long ago moved from being a Christian culture to a post-Christian one, and now an anti-Christian one?

And it is getting worse all the time. Given such realities, there simply cannot be any more business as usual. No more easy-believism, no more cheap grace, no more compromise and carnality, and no more trivial pursuits. In time of enemy occupation we must cast aside everything superfluous and unnecessary, and engage in the battle.

This is certainly true of what comes from our pulpits. No more ‘your best life now’ baloney; no more ‘how to get rich for Jesus’ heresy; no more promises of a life of ease, comfort and entertainment. We are in a war, and we need to get serious. Pastors and priests in Germany had to wake up to this reality.

Many never did, or many did but only when it was way too late. What about you? Are you awake? Are you aware? Are you alert? Or are you still asleep at the wheel? Things are moving along far too quickly, and anti-Christian policies and programs are taking place all around us.

Religious freedom as we know it is certainly being curtailed and limited, and may soon die out altogether. And when this happens, just whose fault will it be? We dare not wait until that point. It is now that we must snap out of our slumber. It is now that we must get into combat mode. It is now that we must stand up for everything near and dear to us, before we lose it all.

Three-quarters of a century ago all this transpired in Germany. Most Christians did not see the darkening clouds on the horizon, or if they did, they failed to react properly. Most just pretended that things were business as usual. They paid a horrible price as a result.

Have we learned the lessons of history?

[1449 words]

7 Replies to “No More Business As Usual”

  1. Dear Bill

    What profound truth, I have just returned from Israel and was deeply effected by the pure hatred of the moslems living in the Land, to both Israeli’s and westerners generally, then I watched this excellent video by respected London Times journalist David Aaronovitch about moslem anti semitism. The clouds of war really have gathered.

    Being in Jerusalem, which is on the edge of civil war incited by Hamas in Gaza and Ababas of the Palestinian Authority, was an eye opener to the flabby, complacent, stupor of the average comfortable Christian. It is real life and death there and it is Spiritual life and death here.

    The Times of Israel gives a good feel to what is currently happening in Israel, highly unstable and dangerous.

    Blessings Naomi

  2. Dietrich Von Hildebrand’s story sounds interesting too!

    “In this context, von Hildebrand offered an interesting insight into why opposition to Nazism was so hard. It was not because it was risky, though that was undoubtedly true. It was because it was tedious. To stand in opposition to something takes time and energy and yields little or no results and rarely brings immediate social credit (in fact, it typically brings the opposite). Sooner or later most people become tired of being indignant and simply accommodate themselves to what appears to be an invincible force. They may not privately approve but they publicly acquiesce.”

  3. Yes, Bill, we as the Church need to “get serious” and “stop playing games”, and although many won’t like this, it starts with worship (of which the sermon is a vital part). Romans 1:18-32 indicates clearly that corrupt worship leads to corrupt morals. The horrific moral collapse described in Rom.1:30-32, and which we see in our world today, is simply the end product of a process which begins in 1:18-25. I fear that the modern Church has focussed on the morals, and neglected the worship.

    Look at Isa.6:1-7. There the prophet sees the glory and holiness of God, is struck with his own sinful state, and worships in the proverbial dust and ashes and cries for cleansing. We see all too little of that in the entertainment-ridden, jazzed-up, happy-clappy carnal atmosphere of the modern church service. There is there virtually nothing of the holiness of God and the consequent cry of the sinful heart which cries “Woe is me!”

    Yes, it’s time to get serious! “Take away from Me the noise (yes, that’s right!) of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.” (Amos 5:23) Get rid of the trappings of “contemporary worship” with all its titillating entertainment, its rock bands, and its concert performances. It’s simply an affront to a holy God when we indulge in these things, but then wail about e.g. homosexuality. If you read Romans 1 that comes as a consequence of the idolatrous worship – and all the paraphernalia that goes with it. This is just the symptom of a deeper problem, and for too long we have “come in” at this intermediate stage, rather than dealing with the problem at its root and origin. Worship is properly a response to God’s revelation, and in line with the revelation of God’s character. Worship today has become man-centred: it’s all about what will appeal to this or that people-group (usually the youth). Biblical worship is all about God: His holiness, His truth, His majesty and glory, and the consequent reverence and humble fear. See Habakkuk 2:20.

    And yes, music comes in here. I have said this before and I will say it again: the modern church has let in the world’s so-called music and brought it into the sanctuary. Remember the three friends of Daniel in Dan.3. They would not bow down to Babylon’s gods, nor would they be lulled into worship of Babylon’s gods by the seductive strains of Babylon’s music! Get Babylon’s music OUT of the sanctuary of the Holy and true God! Amos 5:23 again.

    But I fear that I am crying in the wilderness. But I am dead serious: until we get this right we have little hope.

  4. Civilization certainly appears to be a very thin veneer which requires diligence and hard work to maintain and we know that only God’s spirit can do the vital work on the inside so it can become more than just a veneer but our essence and even that with out cooperation is a painfully slow process.
    What concerns me in this also though is the fact that courage and all the other good qualities and fruit we are to display don’t just appear over night. If we stay asleep and the battle which we have so far ignored is finally coming to our backyard, which it must unless someone wins it somewhere else, how will we withstand the sudden onslaught that we neither expected nor were prepared for through long and hard training.Who knows where that point of no return is and whether we have already passed it. But for the grace of God…
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  5. I have been firing letters at my MP (UK) regarding the Department for Education’s demands for all schools, including faith-based ones, to teach “British values” which of course include the homosexual ideology. Religious teaching is already under attack here and the kick-back is considerable….but insufficient to stop the dreaded tidal-wave from rolling relentlessly forward.

    Britain’s main concerns right now are the economy and immigration problems….all very serious and not to be ignored….but which means inevitably that matters of morals, worship and religious teachings have been shoved way down the concerns-scale.

    It’s now becoming taboo to even bring these topics up in casual conversation….people just want to talk about “nice things” and my husband occasionally accuses me of spreading doom and gloom.

  6. I heartily agree with Murray. I like his talk of sanctuary, of God’s truth, His holiness, His majesty and glory and the consequent reverence and humble fear. For me, communication with God is a solomn matter. The joy and exhuberance comes afterwards not during. There seems to be a divide in approach about this, as I see it, the difference in bringing the people to God as opposed to bringing God to the people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *