Living and Dying for God

December 8, 2008

Thanks to salguod for pointing out a riveting article in the Time magazine archives from December, 1940 describing the faith and perseverance of German pastors who dared to preach in opposition to Hitler:

Not you, Herr Hitler, but God is my Führer. These defiant words of Pastor Martin Niemoller were echoed by millions of Germans. And Hitler raged: “It is Niemoller or I.”

This defiant preaching by Niemoller and others was not without effect. Over a year before America entered the war, the writer states:

Though the Nazis have jailed over 10,000 pastors, priests and monks for long or short periods, an unknown number have been beaten to death, the churches stand far higher in German esteem today than they did in the easygoing ’20s. Church congregations have grown remarkably. Sales of the Bible have shot up from 830,000 copies in 1933 to 1,225,000 in 1939, topping Mein Kampf by about 200,000.

Protestants and Catholics alike were facing a moral crisis. Would they disregard the pervasive evil taking over Europe, and lend their voices in support of Hitler? Or, would they speak out against the evil, at risk of their freedom and their lives?

Some certainly did choose the path of least resistance. Niemoller, on the other hand, was recognized as a “living martyr and symbol of Christian resistance in Germany both to Germans and the whole world.” At the time the article was written, he was being held in the Germain concentration camp at Sachsenhausen:

At Sachsenhausen Pastor Niemoller has been placed on a regime of half rations, double heavy labor, solitary confinement. Rock-breaking, roadbuilding, ditch-digging, harsh treatment are fast wearing him out. He has not been beaten, but has told his wife on the rare visits she is permitted that he has seen others beaten unconscious. “When I write the address, ‘Concentration Camp, Sachsenhausen,’ ” said one daughter, “then I am always very proud.”

Niemoller survived the concentration camps and went on to advocate peace and to serve as the president of the World Council of Churches. His pre-war record is not without blemishes. But his faith and depth of conviction led him to risk his own life inside Hitler’s Germany.

Rev 12:11 They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.

When I think of those jailed and martyred pastors, I cannot help but wonder how the church of today would have handled such dire circumstances. Are we really living for God? Or do we love our lives too much to risk death for our convictions?

Sometimes it seems that churches of Christ fancy themselves as the only ones who have cared enough to get their doctrines right. As the argument goes, if the others cared as much, they would study harder and come to the same doctrinal conclusions we have. That line of reasoning does not stand up very well when contrasted to the very real demonstration of convictions described in that Time magazine article. I think I know which kind of conviction Jesus considers more important.

One comment

  1. Thanks Alan. Interesting stuff.

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