By Beth Groh
Note from Lisa: When my sister sent me the first installment of this series of posts, my curiosity was piqued. But as the series progressed, I was gripped with the urgency of the consideration of these concepts. Please consider discussing them in your home as we are ours!
But it’s a book that had me in its grips the minute I started reading—When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany, by Erwin W. Lutzer.
Certainly I would recommend that you read it, especially since it’s a fairly quick read at 141 pages.
But I realize that time and money is short. So the next couple of posts will be devoted to giving you an overview of the lessons presented in this powerful book … lessons that we should heed today as Christian parents and grandparents, and those who care deeply about the generations to follow.
Let me tell you first what it is NOT saying! Dr. Lutzer is not comparing America today to Nazi Germany.
However, he does paint a chilling picture that many of the conditions that gave rise to the Third Reich – extreme economic hardship, devaluing of life, apathy in the church and the secularization of society—are certainly present in the United States today.
“…Nazism did not arise in a vacuum,” Dr. Lutzer states in his introduction. “There were cultural streams that made it possible for this ideology to emerge and gain a wide acceptance by popular culture. Some of those streams—myths accepted by the masses—are evident in America today.”
He reminds us, too, of this familiar warning: Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.
Fundamentally, Dr. Lutzer paints a sobering picture of how the Nazi worldview permeated so much of German society – in the schools, in the newspapers, in universities and, yes, in many churches.
That ungodly worldview created a lens through which people viewed everything --their government, their daily lives, their morality, even their faith. That man-centered worldview explains how such unspeakable crimes as the extermination of the Jews and other “inferiors” became acceptable or, at minimum, tolerated or ignored.
Ultimately, the battle for the heart and soul of German in the early 20th century was a battle of worldviews. A Christ-centered biblical worldview largely collapsed. A man-centered humanist worldview—taken to new extremes by Hitler—prevailed.
Tragically, we know the results. And we may know in our guts that there’s a battle of worldviews raging in our nation today.
So what are the seven lessons we can learn from the German worldview battle?
Let’s start today with Lesson One: Remove God from His place in society and government—judgment will follow.
Surprisingly, Hitler did not initially want to destroy the church. He just wanted to neuter it. To make it irrelevant to the lives of Germans—kind of like a social club on Sundays that had no impact on the beliefs and actions on the other six days.
One step was stripping Christian holidays of religious meaning—Christmas became “yuletide” and Easter became a pagan spring celebration. The state stepped in to provide marriage services and “blessings” by Mother Earth and Father Sky (pp. 24-25)
In 1934, Hitler summoned two Godly and outspoken pastors—Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller—to the Reich Chancellery in Berlin. In not-so-veiled threats, Hitler advised them: “You confine yourself to the church. I’ll take care of the German people.”
That night, Niemoller’s rectory was ransacked by eight Gestapo men and he narrowly missed a bomb detonation in his hall a few days later. The more than 2,000 pastors who originally stood behind Bonhoeffer and Niemoller got the message—and withdrew their support.
Later, hundreds of pastors would be amongst the millions who would be rounded up in prisons, proving correct one of Hitler’s comments in those early days: “One god must dominate another.” The Nationalist Socialist party made it, in essence, a “hate crime” to preach anything from the pulpit that could encourage people to defy the state.
While Niemoller, Bonhoeffer and many other brave Christians withstood persecution for their beliefs, millions of others chose to ignore the spiritual battle raging throughout their nation. Dr. Lutzer drives that home with the gripping story of one churchgoer, who later recounted how his congregation could hear the screams of the Jews on Sunday mornings as the trains went by their church to the concentration camps.
The nightmarish horror of those desperate cries haunted those in the church. Their solution: Sing hymns louder.
Before we get too self-righteous about, in essence, turning up the volume to drown out the horror, Dr. Lutzer asks what we would do.
“What train is rumbling past us today whose whistle we ignore?”