Friday, March 12, 2010

Hitler And The Nazis' Use Of Romans 13 Against The Confessing Church

Romans 13:1-7 (ESV)

[1] Let every person be subject to the Hitler. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. [2] Therefore whoever resists Hitler resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. [3] For Hitler is not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of Hitler? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, [4] for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. [5] Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. [6] For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. [7] Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Thanks to Pastor I. Todyaso for pointing this version of Romans 13 out.

Hitler and the Nazis indeed abused the text of Romans 13 in the same way that the Afrikaner Calvinists in South Africa did. Hitler commanded blind submission and unquestioning Absolute obedience to him and Nazi policies. In this way likewise the Church and State became unseparated as such:
Hitler, the democratically elected ruler of Germany from 1933 to 1945, commanded both Catholic and Protestant Christian leaders to preach ‘unconditional subjugation’ to Hitler under the pretence of the Holy Bible - specifically, the Book of Romans, Chapter 13. When Hitler’s aim was to disarm Germany's citizenry, Christian leadership obediently mollified their congregations with Romans 13. When Hitler’s aim was to abduct dissidents in the dark quite of the night without due process - Romans 13. When the burning flesh of her lawful neighbors manufactured the air unbreathable - Romans 13. Etc.

National Socialism in Germany developed much in the same way as Afrikaner Calvinism did as Nazism was mainly a stream of Social Calvinism mixed with racism, nationalism, theocracy and separatism though there were other things mixed in that formed Nazism as well such as a syncretic mixture of Christian religion, the Occult and Paganism. Nazi Christianity was truly a corrupt and perverted version of True Christianity as it was a civil religion rather than a Christ-centered relationship focused on the righteousness of God in Christ and the obedience to Christ's command for justice for all.

It should be noted here that the Fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur teaches the literalist interpretation of Romans 13:

“Now listen to this. It doesn’t matter whether your ruler is Caesar, Herod, Pilate, Felix, Fetus, Agrippa, Stalin, Hitler, Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton, it doesn’t matter who it is, he says be subject, you teach them to be subject.” — John MacArthur.

And this was exactly the attitude in Germany at first---people were unwilling to criticize/debate the Nazi regime publicly possibly out of fear for their lives; fear for the safety of their families; fear for their future; fear on numerous levels but mainly because the Nazis weren't after them. The Nazis protected the interests of the Status Quo. Gradually within this stifling political climate a reactionary movement within the Church began to spring up known as the Confessing Church led by Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonnhoeffer and many others who followed the Reformed tradition of resisting the State began to speak out against Nazism and Hitler. They also wrote and distibuted anti-Nazi propaganda such as the Barmen Declaration and after the war, the Stuttgart Declaration Of Guilt and also, the Darmstadt Statement.

Martin Niemoller a former Hitler supporter who became another leading figure of the Confessing Church summarized his change of heart in this famous poem:
“They came first for the Communists,

and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,

and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,

and by that time no one was left to speak up.”

- Reverend Martin Niemoller, Lutheran Pastor arrested by the Gestapo in 1937

Hitler tried to quell the Confessing Church's dissent by misusing the Romans 13 passage of course:
The Nazi government led by Hitler used Romans 13:1 against the resistance movements in the German church. Nazi leaders argued that since Hitler was duly elected, opposing him was opposing God's instituted authority. Faithful opposition countered by saying blind allegiance to Hitler was idolatrous and that what he proposed and lived out clearly opposed Scripture: "We must obey God rather than any human authority" (Acts 5:29)...

Romans 13:1 in its proper context says government is to uphold good (godly) behavior and punish bad (13:3). We're to honor this authority, but there are limits beyond which we will not go. This cost many in Germany their lives! - link

However to no avail because for Barth and the Confessing Church not only was Jesus the one and only True Lord for Christians/God the only True King but the Church was neither under nor over the State---but set apart for a Higher Calling which included being a critic of the Status Quo of the State. The Barmen Declaration highlights their points with these statements:
8.10 - 1. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14.6). "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved." (John 10:1, 9.)
8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
8.12 We reiect the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation.

8.13 - 2. "Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30.)
8.14 As Jesus Christ is God's assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God's mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
8.15 We reiect the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords--areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

8.16 - 3. "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together." (Eph. 4:15,16.)
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

8.19 - 4. "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men excercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your srvant." (Matt. 20:25,26.)
8.20 The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the excercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
8.21 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.

8.22 - 5. "Fear God. Honor the emperor." (1 Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God's commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commision, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church's vocation as well.
8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.

8.25 - 6. "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matt. 28:20.) "The word of God is not fettered." (2 Tim. 2:9.)
8.26 The Church's commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of th free grace of God to all people in Christ's stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.
8.27 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.
8.28 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invites all who are able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.

I'll leave you with one more video on the Confessing Church:

Next I'll post on Romans 13 and the Religious Right...

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