History tells us that before World War I Germany was a prosperous country, had a prosperous economy, and a world leader in chemical, optics, and machinery. It was also the most populated country with the Jews in any country in Western Europe when Hitler came to power. In fact a small part of them were architects of its Constitution, a fact that Hitler exploited. The German republic had just come from a severe economic hardship it experienced after World War 1.
German’s inflation was triggered by a huge increase in the money supply because of the heavy reparations assigned to Germany after losing World War I. The German government chose to pay its debts with cheap marks, printing as many as needed to stem the crisis. When the initial injections of newly printed money failed to work, the government’s response was the same: print more unbacked paper money.
By late 1923, 300 paper mills and 2000 printing presses worked around the clock printing German marks. This created a massive inflation and depression in 1929 which worsened Germany’s problems. On average prices doubled every three days. In a single month, prices exploded more than 32,000% higher enough to drive prices up by a factor of 320 in a single, 30–day period.
German sank into the most severe hyperinflationary period in recorded history after printing 1.3 trillion marks. This translates to about 4 trillion in today’s dollars. According to one expert, that is almost exactly the same amount of money the United States government has printed since 2008.
An article from Wikipedia about the Weimar Republic describes how this hyperinflation happened very quickly:
When the German people realized that their money was rapidly losing value, they tried to spend it quickly. This increase in monetary velocity caused still more rapid increase in prices which created a vicious cycle. This placed the government and banks between two unacceptable alternatives: if they stopped the inflation this would cause immediate bankruptcies, unemployment, strikes, hunger, violence, collapse of civil order, insurrection, and revolution. If they continued the inflation they would default on their foreign debt. The attempts to avoid both unemployment and insolvency ultimately failed when Germany had both.
In such desperate times when money is useless, whatever could be bartered was used in exchange for food or clothes. There was widespread corruption, prostitution, riots, political assassinations, and crime—social upheavals became common. The only ones who benefited were those with foreign bank accounts, farmers, landowners, and those with big mortgages. They were glad when the purchasing power of the mark fell so that they could repay their loans with worthless pieces of paper.
As a matter of fact, big corporations urged the government into deliberately letting the mark fall in order to free the government of its public commitments and help businesses that needed to cancel their large debts. For example, great German industrial corporations like Krupp, Thyssen, Farben, and Stinnes reasoned they would make German goods cheap and easy to export, and they needed the export earnings to buy raw materials abroad.
Inflation kept everyone working. Next, the masses who depended on fixed incomes, pensions, and savings greatly suffered. The professionals—engineers, lawyers, architects, scientists, and others—could not find any demand for their services. The currency lost meaning and the people lost faith in the financial system. When the thousand billion mark note was printed, few bothered to collect the change when they spent it.
There is a story of a student at Freiburg University that ordered a cup of coffee for 5,000 marks. He decided to order a second cup. When his bill was 14,000 marks, he protested but was told, “If you want to save money and you want two cups of coffee, you should order both of them at the same time.” One’s grandparents sold their restaurant in order to retire. However, by the time formalities were completed, all they received was enough to buy a loaf of bread.
There is another story, though perhaps not a true story, of a woman who filled her wheelbarrow with German marks and left them outside the store, confident that no one would bother stealing the money. When the time came to pay for her groceries, she walked outside only to discover that the bundles of money were left on the ground but the wheelbarrow was gone!
In 1995 and 2010, Dr Erwin Lutzer published two frightening books titled: Hitler’s Cross and When a Nation Forgets God. In Hitler’s Cross, Lutzer wondered why the Church was seduced by false promises of a greater and glorious Germany. He said, “the eyes of the angry people wanted a savior from their economic problems. This is when Hitler arrived.” Lutzer then illustrates his point by saying:
We should not be quick to condemn those who gave Hitler a chance, given the economic chaos that spread throughout Germany after World War I. He could never have come to power if the German economy would have remained strong after World War I. He rode to victory simply because he promised to rebuild the collapsing German mark and put the nation back to work. He cleverly exploited the economic crisis that postwar Germany was experiencing. Yes, it was the economy that gave rise to National Socialism.
Hitler’s success in the first few years rested not only on his foreign policy, which brought so many bloodless conquests, but on German’s economic recovery, which brought admiration from even among economists abroad.
Unemployment was reduced by putting the unemployed back to work by means of greatly improved public works and giving stimulus packages to private corporations. Government credit was furnished by the creation of special unemployment bills, and tax reliefs were given to firms which raised their capital expenditures and increased employment.
He made Germans feel important and made sure they were well cared for by the state. He gave them huge tax breaks and introduced social benefits and made sure that even in the last days of the war not a single German went hungry.
During his 12 year constant warfare, he never once raised taxes for working class people. The German soldiers were also offered more than double the salaries and benefits to what the Americans and British received.
The economy seemed to be working at least for the first few years. He definitely never let the financial crisis go to waste. Unfortunately those who welcomed Hitler’s regime because they expected to practice unhampered free enterprise were disappointed, and the Church was no exception.
Church, State and the Economy
So what does this have to do with the Church today? Everything! A strong section of the church also believed that Nazi regime was the answer to all their prayers. It was all about the economy. In examining the lessons that maybe learned from studying the German church, Dr. Lutzer writes,
Nothing else seemed to matter, under no circumstances were the Christians allowed to sit down and reflect how all this could be handled. The church did not heed the lone voices crying in the wilderness. The churches were nationalized under Hitler. The government said the churches needed repairs, so a “church tax” was created. Pastors were put on government salary, and therefore they were subject to state authority.
This led to the silencing of pastors because they feared they would lose their funding if they spoke out. The church in Germany appeared to be too preoccupied with the problems of the nation and the economy to see what was happening before its eyes. The religion of blood and soil had replaced the religion of humility and prayer.
Though burdened with unemployment and the physical hardship of its dejected people, the church, for the most part, still refused to repent and turn wholly to God….The church mistook the temporal benefits of the swastika for the spiritual benefits of the cross of Christ.
Whoever Has the Gold Has the Rule
The marriage of church and state according to Lutzer is “always detrimental to the mission of the church. Either the church will change its message to accommodate the state’s political agenda, or the political rulers will use the church to their own ends. Regardless, the purity of the church is compromised. This unholy unity contributed to the paralysis of the church during the Hitler era.
At the moment when the Church should have been condemning the politics of the day with one unified voice, the church found its existence dependent upon the goodwill of the state……The economy often trumps matters of liberty and principle because money is so integral to who we are and, of course, we need money to live. Unfortunately, sometimes it also trumps those values that are eternally important, such as one’s honor and witness for the Gospel.
The so-called golden rule applies: Whoever has the gold has the rule. Given our penchant for wanting to live and not suffer deprivation, we are prone to do exactly what the German people did, and that is to overlook eternal ideals for the sake of temporal survival.
Those who have studied Albert Einstein’s writings have come to a concluding idea that Albert Einstein was religious in a conventional sense, but his concept of God was not that of a personal God which is what most believers have–a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
When the German professor William Hermanns asked Albert Einstein whether “it isn’t only human to move along the line of least resistance” during the dark period of the Holocaust, Einstein responded:
Yes. It is indeed human, as proved by Cardinal Pacelli, who was behind the Concordant with Hitler. Since when can one make a pact with Christ and Satan at the same time? And he is now the Pope! The moment I hear the word “religion”, my hair stands on end. The Church has always sold itself to those in power, and agreed to any bargain in return for immunity. It would have been fine if the spirit of religion had guided the Church; instead, the Church determined the spirit of religion. Churchmen through the ages have fought political and institutional corruption very little, so long as their own sanctity and church property were preserved.
Today it is the same thing, the institutional church in Europe (Catholic, Protestant and Evangelicals) are supported through taxes. In some parts of Africa, it’s even worse. As far the Bible is concerned, church and state should be separate and independent, and each was meant to perform their God-ordained duties.
This independence gives an elder of a church, an opportunity of showing that he does not preach with a view to personal financial gain, but solely in the service of the Church of Jesus Christ. This was desperately needed in the Church in Germany because some who had joined the state church pointed out that joining the Confessing Church would jeopardize one’s funding.
William Shirer, in his classic book The Rise and Fall of Third Reich writes, some 807 other pastors and leading laymen of the “Confessional Church” were arrested in 1937, and hundreds more in the next couple of years. As for the majority of Protestant pastors, they, like almost everyone else in German, submitted in the face of Nazi terror. Shirer wrote:
It would be misleading to give the impression that the persecution of Protestants and Catholics by the Nazi State tore the German people asunder or even greatly aroused the vast majority of them. It did not. A people who had so lightly given up their political, cultural and economic freedoms were not, except for relatively few, going to die or even risk imprisonment to preserve freedom of worship.
What really aroused the Germans in the thirties were the glittering successes of Hitler in providing jobs, creating prosperity, restoring German’s military might, and moving from one triumph to another in his foreign policy. Not many Germans lost much sleep over the arrests of a few thousand pastors and priests or over the quarreling of the various Protestant sects.
And even fewer paused to reflect that under the leadership of Rosenberg, Bormann, and Himmler, who were backed by Hitler, the Nazi regime intended eventually to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists. As Bormann, one of the men closet to Hitler, said publicly in 1941, “National socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable.
According to Dr. Lutzer, the majority of the people, including the professing Christians, no longer believed that Christianity was worth suffering for, much less dying for. They were willing to substitute Mein Kampf for the Bible in exchange for jobs and the greater glory of Germany. Yet those who saved their lives lost them, and those who lost their lives saved them. What might have happened if at the church had condemned Nazism with one unified voice?
In a sermon in 1945, Pastor Martin Niemoller, and initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler gave what could be the kind of epilogue on the German church struggle. He said:
There were in 1933 and in the following years here in Germany 14,000 Evangelical pastors and nearly as many parishes… if at the beginning of the Jewish persecutions we had seen that it was the Lord Jesus Christ who was being persecuted, struck down and slain “in the least of these our brethren, “if we had been loyal to Him and confessed Him, for all I know God would have stood by us, and then the whole sequence of events would have taken a different course. And if we had been ready to go with Him to death, the number of victims would have been only some ten thousand.
Helmut Thielicke’s Summary on what Really Happened
Let me read, to you, one message that came from Helmut Thielicke, German theologian and pastor, this again is from Dr. Lutzer’s book Hitler’s Cross. In April 1945, amid the ruins of a defeated Germany, Thielicke spoke movingly to his congregation in Stuttgart about the meaning of all that happened. He said that the nation got what it deserved because it had repudiated forgiveness and kicked down the cross of Jesus Christ.
In a nation that was supposedly “Christian”, he went on to say that the Cross of Jesus Christ had been neglected and thus the church was blinded to German militarism. The church had overlooked its greatest danger, namely, that in gaining the whole world it might “lose its own soul.” Where then was the failure? This is part of he said:
- That in its temporal tasks the church should disregard the Eternal and in its faith in itself fail to see its guilt and need for forgiveness.
- That this people should proceed with fanatical energy to solve economic, social, and political problems and in solving these problems overlook or simply ignore the fact the first and foremost we need a Redeemer, who would set straight the deepest basis of our personal lives.
- That they were unaware of the dangers of which we have been shipwrecked—by being blind to the most terrible danger: namely, there is devil who can lead a man about by the nose in the midst of all his idealism, and there is a God upon whom we can wreak ourselves because “He is not mocked.”
- That we did not calculate the factor that is called “God “in our plans and therefore fell victims to megalomania.
- That we ignored that monumental call “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me” and hence landed in a giddy ecstasy of power worship that brought the whole world against us.
- That we ceased to trust ourselves to the miracle of God’s guidance and therefore we put our faith instead in miracle weapons that never came.
- That we no longer knew that God is in heaven and man is on earth and thus we lost all sense of the proportions of life and consequently were stricken with blindness in purely external political and military relationships.
Thielicke then came to the heart of the matter: Denying God and casting down the cross is never a merely private decision that concerns only my own inner life and my personal salvation, but this denial immediately brings the most brutal consequences for the whole of historical life and especially for own people. “God is not mocked.” The history of the world can tell us terrible tales based on that text.
In history, he says, the invisible is mightier and more creative and destructive than the visible. Anybody who still had not grasped that Germany with its program “was wreaked precisely on this dangerous rock called “God” and nothing else has no eyes to see. Because he sees only the individual catastrophes he no longer sees the basic, cardinal catastrophe behind them all.”
Finally he reminded his listeners that “the worship of success is generally the form of idol worship the devil cultivates most assiduously… We could observe in the first years after 1933 the almost suggestive compulsion that emanates from great successes and how under the influence of these successes even Christians stopped asking in whose name and at what price they were achieved…..Success is the greatest narcotic of all.”
Casting down the cross of Christ! Intoxicated with success! Substituting the temporary for the permanent! Thus was the church and the entire country crushed, crushed on the rock called God “who is not mocked.” Destroyed for being blinded by the pride of nationalism, instead of being humbled by its great need for repentance. The church stood with pride, but it would not bow in humility.
What is the great Lesson for the Church Today?
E.M. Bounds once said “Money is important, but money without prayer and intercession is powerless in the face of darkness.” This is one lesson the German Christians never learnt.
If society as a whole seems to be getting darker and darker, it is not the problem of the darkness; the darkness is just acting like its nature. But the light no longer dispels the darkness, and the salt no longer preserves. It is time for the light to say, if things are darker, the problem is with us.
The Bible says, Christians are the salt of the earth (See Matthew 5:1). One of the functions of salt is to restrain corruption. Being “salt” does not abolish corruption, but it holds it in check for the duration until the Master will come again.
Our presence in the world as the disciples of Jesus Christ works like salt in the meat because salt is used as a preservative. We cannot shun the all the evil in this world and you cannot change it but we can hold it in check for longer periods of time until God’s purposes of mercy, grace and redemption are fully fulfilled.
We can’t be passive saying all this will happen. “The anti-Christ is coming and all prophecies will be fulfilled and there is nothing we can do about it.” This attitude of passivity is unscriptural. It is true that the antichrist will come just like Hitler, in fact he will be worse than Hitler, but at this present time there is a force that is restraining him from being revealed at this time.
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8 NKJV)
It is the personal presence of the Holy Spirit within the church that is restraining the anti-Christ system. So it is the responsibility of the church of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to overcome the forces of darkness and to hold them in check.
I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that we what need is a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon us as individuals, on our homes, our families, our churches, our ministers, our pastors, and on every Christian believer everywhere. If we repent and humble ourselves first, then God will answer the fervent petitions of His people to spare our lands.
Without faith, brokenness, humility, repentance, and a return to God in submission to His Laws by both the leaders and the people, it seems we are moving in the same direction as Germany, or even worse due to the spiritual condition of the Church.
It is time to weep and pray for God’s mercy and grace to prevail in our lives, homes, and nations. It is only prayer and intercession that can change a nation. We cannot make laws for holiness and righteousness to prevail in the hearts of men and women. It will take only the mercy and grace of Christ to save us. Revive us Lord that Your people may rejoice in You. (Psalm 85:6)