The debate over the beliefs of Adolph Hitler continues to rage. Atheists claim Hitler was a Christian.
Christians claim Hitler was an atheist. This post will not try to resolve this issue. Instead what I’d like to show was how it was Christians who ultimately opposed and defeated Hitler.
The German Confessional Churches, made up of evangelical Christians, formed the only organized internal opposition to Nazism. They did this on the basis of opposing the false Reich Church of “German Christians.” The “Confessing Church” was made up of many evangelical denominations.
The argument of the Confessing Church was that the German Evangelical Church was being corrupted by the “German Christians” of the Third Reich. The “Theological Declaration of Barmen” was written in 1934 to oppose Hitler’s national church and the attempt by the Nazis to change their beliefs and try to control them. The Barmen Declaration made several points which were preceded by the words “We reject the false doctrine . . . ” (I will be paraphrasing.)
- . . . that there is another revelation to humanity outside of the Word of God.
- . . . that there are areas of a Christian’s life that are not subject to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, that could be lorded over by another.
- . . . that the church could abandon the Gospel message in exchange for other political or ideological messages.
- . . . that the church could give itself to “special leaders vested with ruling powers.”
- . . . that the church could become an organ of the state.
- . . . that the church could place the work of the Lord into any arbitrarily chosen man-made purpose or plan.
The Confessing Church, made up of 6000 pastors, said that the “Christianity” of Hitler and his national church had errors and they rejected the false doctrine of the German Christians, criticizing them for supporting the Nazis.
This caused the Nazi regime to rage against the Confessing Church.
Karl Barth, who argued against the liberal “historical critical” theology of Friedrich Schliermacher (which contributed to Karl Marx’s loss of faith) wrote the Barmen Declaration. He sent the Declaration directly to Adolph Hitler. Within the year Barth was forced to resign from his position at the University of Bonn because he refused to swear an oath to Hitler. He was exiled from Germany.
Martin Niemoller formed the “Pastor’s Emergency League” in response to Hitler’s appointed bishop of the German Evangelical Church, Ludwig Muller, who was using the “Aryan Paragraph” (a law used to block Jews from holding positions of public service) to defrock pastors of Jewish descent. In 1936, as leader of the Confessing Church, Niemoller wrote a memorandum to Hitler in which he argued that the Nazi regime was anti-Christian, anti-semitic, and demanded that the regime stop interfering with church affairs.
As a result of the church refusing to go along with Hitler’s Reich Church, hundreds of pastors of the Confessing Church were arrested. Martin Niemoller was arrested and sent to two different concentration camps.
Another leader of the Confessing Church was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Two days after Hitler came to power, Bonhoeffer went on the radio and warned against following Hitler and being seduced by a cult of leadership. His “Bethel Confession” spoke about anti-semitism being a false doctrine. He was actually involved in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler. He ended up in Tegel prison, the Buchenwald concentration camp, and was finally hanged at the Flossenberg concentration camp.
Hitler conquered 21 nations, including much of Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Denmark, Yugoslavia, Greece, Norway, the Netherlands, Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine, Luxembourg, Libya, Tunisia, East Prussia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia). He was also attacking Great Britain, but the United States tried to stay out of the war (other than helping to provide arms and food through the Lend-Lease Act).
It wasn’t until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor that the United States was willing to declare war. Four days later Hitler declared war against the United States. At this point, Great Britain was the only democratic nation left standing between Hitler and the United States. The U.S. entered WWII and began to fight against Hitler.
If the United States hadn’t joined the battle against Hitler, it’s doubtful that England would have been able to stand. The United States, that bastion of creationism, fundamentalist Christianity, evangelicalism, and biblical inerrancy, led the charge against Hitler. The invasion of Normandy on D-Day (as portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”) was accomplished by American, Canadian, and British forces. Great Britain, another bastion of Protestant Christianity, almost stood alone against Hitler for a time.
To blame Nazism on Christianity, when it was Christian believers within Germany who opposed Hitler at the outset, and it was Christian nations who fought wars against Nazism, is an unjust charge. As I try to reveal in this blog, Christian believers have been heroic in their opposition to tyranny. Their battle against Hitler’s Nazism is a great example of how Christians have been at the forefront of the battle against evil.
It’s also important to note that the Christianity that embraced Nazism wasn’t interested in preserving sound doctrine. They were willing to compromise biblical Christianity in order to bring about their German paradise on earth. They abandoned the truth of the Gospel and were willing to follow Hitler as Lord instead of remaining faithful to Jesus and his Word. As a result, they became a sad, ugly, compromised people who will be remembered by history as a failure and scourge against humanity.