In Germany, the story is similar to what happened in Uganda. In 1909 when the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was reaching the whole of Europe and spreading throughout the world, things did not proceed well in Germany.
Revivalist Thomas Ball Barratt a British-born Norwegian pastor and founder of the Pentecostal movement in Norway, was baptised in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues in November 1906 while attending the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles.
In 1907, Barratt held revival meetings in Oslo, which attracted international attention. Jonathan Paul from Germany came to those revival meetings and was convinced this was truly the work of the Holy Spirit. That same year he returned from Oslo to start revival meetings in the city of Kassel in Germany, the result of which was the formation of a German Pentecostal Denomination.
The revival prompted the evangelical churches in Germany to a meeting in Berlin to discuss the disputed manifestations of the Holy Spirit. They issued a statement, known as the Berlin declaration, a theological statement by fifty-six leading evangelical theologians that condemned the Pentecostal experience.
The declaration stated that the Pentecostal movement was “not from above, but from below, and that speaking in tongues, healing miracles, and all manifestations of this revival were of the devil. These leaders blasphemed the Holy Spirit and the witness of the Holy Spirit in believer’s lives was for the most part silenced.
God’s Word became a human theory rather than the living, breathing revelation of the eternal Triune God. Along with the higher criticism movement that had destroyed the concept of divine revelation, this event spiritually prepared the way for Hitler and the Nazis. Subsequently, the German church became divided during the Nazi regime which also like Amin, Hitler was able to exploit.
Pastor Martin Niemoller was one of the members of what had now become the Confessing church. He had been a U-boat captain during World War I and was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery. He had initially welcomed the coming to power of the Nazis in 1933, hailing them as the heroes who would restore the dignity of Germany, get rid of the communists, and restore moral order.
Niemoller thought that the Nazi victory would bring about a “national revival” for which he himself had fought and prayed for a long time. But this didn’t happen and before long he found out that he too had been deceived.
Most of the German evangelical leaders didn’t have any idea of what was to come. It was only Bonhonffer and Hildebrandt who knew what was going on. Niemoller and Bonhoeffer agreed that the church should be independent of the state, but they disagreed about the nature of the Nazi regime. To Niemoller the German’s Christians meddling in church affairs was one thing, but it was quite unrelated to what Hitler was trying to do elsewhere.
In the name of Pastors Emergency League, Niemoller even sent a congratulatory telegram to the Fuhrer, in which he swore their loyalty to him, and their gratitude to him. Dully deceived, many other senior clerics publicly endorsed Hitler’s chancellorship, choosing to see this as the advent of the new ethical-spiritual age beyond the materialism and turmoil of the Weimar Republic.
In his opening policy statement in the Reichstag, Hitler announced that the “national government sees in both Christian denominations the most important factor for the maintenance of our society. Protestant anxieties about a third Roman Catholic chancellor in succession were allayed by the rumour that, although nominally Catholic, Hitler “thought like” a Protestant. His intentions were not immediately revealed.
Soon after he was sworn in as chancellor, he paid tribute to Christianity as an “essential element for safeguarding the soul of the German people” and promised to respect the rights of the churches.
The time came when Niemoller and other church leaders had to meet with Hitler. He had heard that there might be a church spilt because some pastors objected to his agenda.
He declared his ambition to have a peaceful accord between Church and State. Peace he said is all he wanted and blamed them for obstructing him and sabotaging his efforts to achieve it. He assured them that he was doing the best for Germany.
Niemoller was waiting for a chance to speak, and when had the opportunity, explained that his only object was the welfare of the church, the state, and the German people. Hitler listened in silence and then said,
You confine yourself to the Church. I’ll take care of the German people.
When it was over, Hitler shook hands with the clergy and Niemoller realized this would be his last opportunity to speak his mind. He chose his words carefully and said,
You said that ‘I will take care of the German people.’ But we too as Christians and churchmen have a responsibility toward the German people. That responsibility was entrusted to us by God, and neither you nor anyone in this world has the power to take it from us.
Hitler turned away without saying a word. That same evening, eight Gestapo men ransacked Niemoller rectory for incriminating material. A few days later a homemade bomb exploded in the hall. Interestingly, the police came to the scene even though no one had called them.
‘These threats’, according to Lutzer, were easier for Niemoller to bear than some of the criticism he received from his colleagues for his strong words to Hitler.
Clearly the majority of the clergy had adopted an attitude of safety first. More than two thousand pastors who had stood with Niemoller and Bonhoeffer withdrew their support.
They believed that appeasement was the best strategy; they thought that if they remained silent they could live with Hitler’s intrusion into church affairs and his political policies.
Just like Amin did with the Ugandan Churches, Hitler always said the best way to conquer your enemies is to divide them. The voice of courageous Christians in German had to be silenced to make way for National Socialist policies.
In the larger scope of things, we may have preferred the German church to react differently by being more courageous, on the other hand, we cannot overlook and only accuse the church who gave us Martin Luther, a man whom God used to restore an important truth to the church at large.
In fact Albert Einstein paid tribute to the Church in German as the only institution that opposed the Nazi regime.
Attributed in The Church’s Confession under Hitler by Arthur Cochrane is a quote by Albert Einstein:
Being a lover of freedom, when the (Nazi) revolution came, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities were immediately silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short few weeks.
Then I looked to individual writers who, as literary guides of Germany, had written much and often concerning the place of freedom in modern life; but they, too, were mute. Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual and moral freedom. I am forced to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.
Yes, it was mainly the Church and individuals like Irena Sendler, Andre Trocme and his wife Magda Trocme, Corrie Ten Boom, and many others who opposed the Nazi regime and restored light in the midst of great darkness.
God also raised up intercessors to pray and stand in the gap for God’s purposes and will to be done regardless of what the enemy intended to do.
In the end the demonic power, that had strengthened and guided Hitler, the SS and Nazism, was broken through the persistent prayers of faithful men and women.
One of the greatest lessons to learn from both the Ugandan and German church is that, it’s only prayer and intercession inspired by Holy Spirit that can unite the church against the powers of darkness.
As we draw close to the end of this age, we need to remind ourselves that the final contest between, good and evil, light and darkness, heaven and hell, for the kingdoms of this world, it is only One Person who is sufficient for these things, and He is the glorious Third Person of the Godhead in those people whom He is able to indwell.
John Seymour, The Nazi Persecution of the Churches 1933-45, London 1968
Michheal Burleigh, The Third Reich, A New History. Copyright © Pan Macmillan 2000-2001
Dr. Erwin Lutzer, When a Nation Forgets God, 7 Lessons We Must Learn from Nazi Germany. Copyright © Moody Publishers 2010
Arthur Cochrane, The Church’s Confession under Hitler. Copyright © Pickwick Publications, 1976
Robert K. Ssebatta, Reclaming the Forgotten Biblical Heritage, An Urgent Call to Revival and a Great Awakening, Volume 2 Copyright © Watchman Research Media Publications, 2014