Updated: Jan 11
In the mid-1930's in Nazi Germany a group came about who tried to form a nationalistic church - the "National Reichskirche." They wanted to create a connection between Christianity and National Socialism. They took on the name, "German Christians."
One of the German Christians first tasks was to remove all that was Jewish from the Bible. They began with removing the Old Testament. They began quoting New Testament Scriptures out of context. Even though Jesus and all of His disciples were Jewish, they portrayed them as non-Jews. Then they started on trying to remove all references to Jews and the Old Testament in their hymns. Even hymns played at funerals which might evoke Jewish thoughts were banned. Since Old Testament verses are quoted or alluded to about 300 times in the New Testament there was going to have to be a lot of revising.
This proved to be a monumental task. It would be impossible to remove the Jewishness from the Bible. Impossible. In 1937 the German Christians concluded this was a losing battle and the problem was with the written word of Scripture.
The German Church was under the control of the state and Ludwig Muller, who was the Reich bishop of this "united church," publicly stated that the idea of grace was "un-German." The German Christians wanted a positive Christianity. They said that a Jewish attitude had been inserted into the New Testament. The church's belief on the concept of sin and grace was just too negative for the Christians at that time. The German people who had lost World War I and had to pay a dear price for it did not need to be reminded constantly of their sin. Instead, the "united church" should encourage them and give them courage.
No, none of this pointing out their sin.
None of this need for God's mercy and grace.
None of this negative Christianity.
Only positive Christianity would do for the German people.
I was just shocked when I read this in chapter 11, the chapter on Nazi Theology, in Bonhoeffer - Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (Affiliate Link.) This entire chapter was very upsetting. Christianity at its very foundation is about how we are sinners in need of a Savior and God's grace. And how Jesus is the Christ - the Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:6.) To alter that message which is, after all, the Gospel, is heretical. Disturbing. Horrific.
The German Christians didn't just bend the theology of the Christian Church; they annihilated it. There was nothing "Christian" about the National Reichskirche.
This idea 90 years ago to alter God's word seems absurd to us today. But the German Christians had an agenda to fit and they altered the truth to meet that agenda. And I find myself wondering again how the theologians of the day, the Christians of the day went along with it. Why wasn't there a massive outcry? I suppose it is because they felt no power to make change. Christianity is based on the truth of God's Word. God has a redemptive plan to save us - beginning at Creation, through forming His own people and promising them they would be a blessing to all nations, and to give us a Savior at the fullness of time, and for that Savior to return. Yes, this concept of negative Christianity and positive Christianity seems completely absurd to me.
Or did it somehow creep into our thinking too?
Several years ago I took a class on "Fear of God" given by a woman with her doctorate in Christian History and who works at a local seminary. We spent 6 weeks reading and learning about how we are to fear God. The concept of fearing God is a key concept in the Bible. It is mentioned over and over. It is a profound reverence for the holiness of God. While taking this class I became so immersed in learning about what the Bible has to say about God's holiness that I just got down. I felt like such a horrible sinner. Negative Christianity. I had been so focused on fearing God that I had put aside how very much He loves me. How I am now under His beautiful grace. I have been declared righteous through Christ.
On the flip side of that I follow closely what is put out there by the Christian world. And it is more often than not a "God loves you" message. It is the message that if you were the only person in the entire world that Jesus would have still gone to the cross for just you. That your picture is on a magnet on God's refrigerator. What you are hearing is encouraging and uplifting. Positive Christianity. Often times "fluffy."
God is holy and we must fear Him.
God loves you and wants to be in a relationship with you.
Both messages are true, but the FULL story comes with both truths.
I've learned balance when thinking of God and when reading the Bible. I have a profound reverence for God and know there is nothing completely lovely or pure inside me. But I believe and remember the saving grace which has been lavishly bestowed on my worthless head - making me worthy. I deserve death. But I am given life. I'm grateful.
I have more than once been told this website is "convicting." I have thought a lot about that. "Convicting" isn't popular. Recognizing our sinful nature; the confession of the ongoing sin in our lives; our need for not only a Savior, but a Lord to lead us; the complete belief God is holy and we should be bent on the ground to Him is critical to our belief in Christ. So while I hope you learn from this site, and experience encouragement, I also hope you are convicted. I pray the content is balanced and truthful. I hope my words make you think. Challenge you in some way.
Half the truth isn't the truth.
Let's be careful to hold onto the whole truth.
Balance, my friend. Balance.
[This post contains an affiliate link to Bonhoeffer. A purchase of this worth-while read through this link helps defray the cost of this website. Thank you for supporting Passion to Know More!]