Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Church and Post-Weimar Germany

Wow, it's been a long time since I've written anything here. But I guess we're all used to that by now, hm? Well, anyway, I've been reading a wonderful book by German historian Joachim Fest titled Plotting Hitler's Death: The Story of the German Resistance. The opening chapter attempts to answer the question of how the German people could allow somebody like Hitler and his Nazi party to gain so much control? As I read through Fest's analyses of the general feelings of the German populace, I couldn't help but think of modern Christendom.

One reason why Hitler was allowed to gain so much power was pragmatism. Many people really were uncomfortable with much of Hitler's views and methods, and many were even vocally opposed to him. But in the end, they allowed him take over more and more governmental functions simply because they thought that some good might come of it, despite the bad. You see, Germany just wasn't a great place to live at this time. After their defeat in World War I and all the humiliations placed upon them by the Treaty of Versailles, Germans were left with a nation that they just couldn't have pride in. And national pride was a very deeply ingrained trait in Germans. Also, following WWI, they went through an incredible inflation period and then the Great Depression. Joblessness was at an all-time high. Things just really stunk. The government that was created after WWI, the Weimar Republic, just never seemed to do anything that actually benefited anybody or helped to restore the national pride. All Germans knew that some sort of change was needed. They were not all agreed on what sort of change, but they knew that something needed to happen to better their existence. Along came Hitler who promised change. He promised to restore national pride to Germans. He promised to repudiate the humiliating articles of the Treaty of Versailles. He promised financial prosperity. Now whether you were right or left-wing, socialist or democrat, that all sounded really good. However, there were the downsides to Hitler. For the right, he was too radical. For the left, he was too conservative. For the socialists, he was...well, too anti-socialist. To the democrats, he was too authoritarian. But most of them decided that perhaps much of the stuff the disagreed with about Hitler was just bluster on his part, and as crazy or evil as he may have seemed, perhaps it was worth it to let him have more power if he would bring about all those positive changes that he promised. They were being pragmatic. They were allowing positive change to occur by whatever means, regardless if evil changes also occurred.

How does this apply to the church? First of all, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am comparing nobody to Hitler or to the Nazis. My comparison is with the apathetic German populace. So, to the church. Today's Christians are very pragmatic. They perceive that worship and the Christian religion had become stale and cold and that it was just not gaining any new converts. So change was needed. It is true that the church must always be reforming, but not just any change will do. But for many people today, any change will do. Worship services have been altered so that the preaching of the word has taken a secondary role behind music and drama and puppet shows. False teachers are allowed to speak in our churches because they attract such large followings. Doctrine is no longer important--instead all we want is something or somebody who can draw a crowd. No matter if this speaker fills his listeners with distortions of the truth, or with nothing at all--just ear-tickling about how you can be healthy and wealthy. Just so long as he carries a Bible (no matter whether he actually opens it or not) and drops the name of Christ now and then (no matter if his Christ matches up with the one described in Scripture), and that's good enough. Some people recognize the error in these persons or methods, but they decide that the good outweighs the bad. "Sure," they may say, "our means of getting people into the church are not Scriptural, and may even be anti-Scriptural, but at least we're getting people into the church, where we can then teach them the Gospel." It seems as if many of these people are trying to "trick" people into church--they lure them in with promises of relevance and great music and drama, and then later, when they feel that the new converts are ready for it, then they'll teach them real doctrine. Unfortunately, they never seem to decide that the people are ready for the real doctrine, so they continue in the unScriptural frivolities indefinitely, despite the promise that such methods were only going to be temporary. Which leads to my next point...

Many of the political, governmental, and military leaders of Germany allowed Hitler to gain power because they felt assured that they would be able to "tame" him. After he had served their purposes, they would rein him in and prevent him from doing the things that they disagreed with. But Hitler was clever. He was able to work his way up into power in such ways so that by the time anyone would want to reign him in, they would be unable to.

As I said, many people recognize the errors and dangers of some of the things coming into the church, but they allow it anyway because they figure that after they have exhausted the usefulness of the method or ideology of person, then they could step back in and put a halt to any extreme errors. But this just doesn't happen. Error is like leaven--it spreads quickly throughout the whole of the dough and then you can't separate it from the rest of the dough. All erroneous teachings must be nipped in the bud. Once you allow an error to come into the church, you will not be able to just take it away once you feel like. Pastor Gregory N. Barkman, in a sermon from Galatians about Paul's confronting Peter for his hypocrisy, asks what it would be like if Paul had just been nice and had been more interested in unity than in doctrine. What if Paul had decided to wait before speaking up? What if he went to the church in Jerusalem 25 years later and tried to put a stop to their segregating practices? It would have been a lot harder. By then it would have been an ingrained tradition. There would be young people who had been raised that way. And many of them could have said, "Hey, Peter did it, so it must be right!" This argument would have been particularly forceful if they had already started thinking that Peter was the infallible head of the church. This error of Jewish Christians not eating with Gentile Christians might have spread to other churches, making Paul's task of correction even harder. Thankfully, Paul did not wait 25 years, but he addressed the problem as soon as he became aware of it. Had the Germans done this in 1933, a lot of hardship could have been spared. And so it is for the church today.

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