From Founding Principles to Present Challenges: America’s Christian Identity
written by Colonel (Ret) Steven D. Martin
America is quickly approaching two hundred fifty years as an independent nation. Our nation was founded on the cornerstone of the great pilgrim quest to worship God without the constraint of government. From the beginning, freedom of religion has been part of the very fabric of this nation. As a result, many people throughout our history have considered us a Christian nation even though our founders expressly desired that all religions be able to worship equally according to their own beliefs.
Although we did not have a religion central to our nation, the laws of our land and the way in which our society conducted itself has been strongly influenced by Judeo-Christian principles. This is reflected in everything from our Declaration of Independence to the Bill of Rights within the Constitution, to the basic laws of our land. For much of our history, Biblical social values and a basic commitment to private virtue have been the moral compass on which our society has functioned.
Our second president, John Adams once wrote,
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
In recent years, we’ve seen a shocking decline in the moral standard in our country. It has predictably mirrored the decline in church attendance and the ability of the church to maintain influence on the moral compass of our nation. Into the void of influence, we’ve seen others fill the breach with the perversion of our nation with wokeism and soft totalitarianism ever encroaching on our daily freedoms. A famous and oft used quote says that “history repeats itself.” American journalist Sydney J. Harris once thoughtfully stated,
“History repeats itself, but in such a cunning disguise that we never detect the resemblance until the damage is done.”
We in the church—and in America at large—have looked at history through rose-colored lenses thinking that we are not subject to the mistakes of the past. We live our lives in blissful oblivion thinking that surely mistakes that have plagued other great societies could not befall us. Solomon told us in Ecclesiastes,
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.Ecclesiastes 1:9
I have always been fascinated by Germany in the 1930s. I have often tried to wrap my mind around how a civilized nation with a strong Christian background could have been so utterly taken in by the great evil of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party. Even to this day, it baffles my imagination that the atrocities committed between 1933 to 1945 were committed by people who—prior to 1933—would have considered themselves a moral and religious people.
How did Germany’s moral compass become so distorted in such a short period of time?
World War I—the “Great War” or “War to End All Wars”—had devastated Europe. Germany was in ruins after having lost the war. The Treaty of Versailles further humiliated Germany by requiring her to accept responsibility for starting the war. It demanded that Germany relinquish territories formerly under German control. The German nation was disarmed, and it was expected to pay $33 billion (almost $1 trillion in current US dollars) in reparation to the Allies. The German collapse was complete. They had lost all—including their dignity. This crushing judgment against Germany did little to end all wars. In fact, it set the stage for an even greater war.
Following the stock market crash of 1929, the German economy was in shambles. Most lost their savings, jobs were few, and hunger filled the nation. Into the void of German pride and dignity stepped Adolf Hitler. This revolutionary leader had been imprisoned in 1923, after attempting to overthrow the Bavarian government. He decided that the overthrow of the Weimar government would not be accomplished by revolutionary means, so he would use democracy to take control, and then destroy the same democracy that brought him to power. While in prison, he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle) that would set the blueprint for Germany’s future. Hitler stepped in when the country was at its lowest point. People thought that things could get no worse.
First the lies, then the laws, and then a new god to be worshipped
When Hitler came to power in 1933, he delivered on his promises. His programs of reviving the German economy were thought to be ingenious by many worldwide. Now Germans had jobs and health services. Bread was on their table and money in their pockets. It seemed to be a fair trade for their freedom of speech, freedom of travel, and freedom of elections.
So what if some people suffered? Germany was making a comeback, and no one wanted to discourage this progress. Most turned a blind eye rather than dwell on trivial matters that would “work themselves out.”
For most Germans, the man for whom they had waited had arrived. Hitler was able to ignite a wave of optimism in the German people. He brought them out of humiliation into pride and strength. Hitler’s view of a Super-Aryan race mesmerized a nation. His well-concealed view that the so called “subhuman races” hindered the development of the master race set the stage for the Holocaust. Hitler began with lies, then he turned the lies into laws, and finally he was worshipped as Lord. Rausas J. Rushdoony stated,
“Behind every system of law, there is a god. To find the god in any system, locate the source of the law in that system.”
German nationalism set the stage for the fall of the church. Long before Hitler, the church gave in to social agendas. Rather than trusting in God, their trust was in government. A strong Germany equated to a strong church. All that was expected of good Christians was to help Germany become great. Hitler came to power extolling the virtues of the Christian German nation. Being a good Christian meant being a good German. Pictures were distributed of Hitler leaving a church after service. Adoration for Adolf Hitler poured from German pulpits. The slogan, “One State, One People, One Church,” was seen in churches across Germany. The majority of German pastors were elated at the change in the economy and in national pride. They did not stop to ask the hard questions. What was good for Germany was good for the church.
Most German churches chose safety first. They felt that in time a compromise could be reached between the church and state. The church made peace with an enemy with which it should have been at war.
Hitler was their savior—he was adored and even worshipped by the German people
In time, the new “Messiah of Germany” would not even share the church with Christ. Churches had the cross of Christ and swastikas hanging side by side, Mein Kampf beside the Bible. Swastikas replaced the cross, and The Bible was re-written to reflect the virtues of a pure Aryan race. In bowing to the swastika, the pastors turned their backs on the cross.
Propaganda reflected the “positive Christianity” of the German state. Hitler stated that private virtues could not stand in the way of greater virtues of the state. Unbridled power made the state strong. It was not the meek who would inherit the earth, but the ruthless. His plan to push Christianity out of Germany revealed itself when he banned prayer in schools, changed Christian holidays to pagan festivals, and forced the church to accept his outrageous demands. By the time the persecution of the Jews began, the churches of Germany had no inclination or power to speak out against it.
As the German church fell in line with Hitler, the Confessing Church stood its ground for the cross of Christ. Men of faith such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller made public calls to fellow pastors to take a stand and “confess Christ before men.” Their pleas fell largely on deaf ears. Under persecution from the state, even the resolve of the Confessing Church began to fade. God’s separation of the wheat and chaff had begun. Some remained faithful to Christ through the fiery trial—it cost Niemöller his freedom and Bonhoeffer his life.
How different Germany’s history could have read if Christians had not compromised the cross and stood their ground against Hitler
Germany of 1933 and present-day America share Christian roots, a widespread acceptance of Biblical social values, and a basic commitment to private virtue. We as Christians think that we would never see the church pushed toward irrelevance, but further examination of the facts is disturbing!
Today, we see increasing hostility toward Christianity from society in general and state institutions in particular. Civil libertarians use the term “separation of church and state” to forbid practice of religion in the realm that belongs to the state. Courts often interpret freedom of religion as freedom from religion. In Hitler’s Germany, propaganda preceded transformation. We see endless anti-Christian propaganda being forced upon us. Anyone who speaks out against it is accused of “hate speech.” As Hitler did in Germany, our school textbooks are being re-written to delete our Christian heritage and to promote humanistic values.
A state that is hostile to religion will always attempt to push the church toward irrelevance
The Church is being pushed toward irrelevance in the wake of this onslaught against Christianity. If the Church changes its message to accommodate the state’s political agenda, then the purity of the church is compromised and the cross of Christ will be exchanged for the banner of a false god. Roe versus Wade was finally overturned, but our government still actively seeks ways to end the lives of babies while still in the womb. As babies are exterminated by the thousands, do we seek safety first rather than protecting the weakest among us and thus grieving the heart of God? Martin Niemöller’s words are a strong reminder for us today—
“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
God will not be mocked.
The German people turned to another god rather than repentance to the one true God, and they were crushed. According to Erwin Lutzer,
“We must always remember that God is neither Republican nor Democrat. When we see the cross wrapped in the flag of a political party, it is always distorted or diminished.”
We must support our government, but we must be ready to criticize it or to defy it when it defies God. Blind obedience to the government will never be in the best interest of the cross of Christ. Our war against the enemies of the cross must begin in our personal prayer time with the Lord. 1 Peter 3: 14-15 and 17 says,
But, and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
There is much deception being pushed at us today. How will we respond? Now is our time to “confess Christ before men.”
Author’s Note: Adapted from the book Hitler’s Cross by Erwin W. Lutzer
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