The Confessing Church was a movement within German Protestantism that opposed Hitler’s efforts to unify all Protestant churches under the banner of Nazi ideology. German Protestants disliked the Weimar Republic that had governed the country after World War I. The churches had traditionally cooperated with the state, and therefore looked favourably on Hitler as a new ally of sorts. Hitler was happy to oblige. An addendum called the Aryan Paragraph was included in the Church’s statement of faith. This reference allowed German Christians to note that they were Christian AND racially pure. Nazism was careful to trod on the path of tradition so that every German could feel good about what was all going on in the new regime.
There was an imperialist tone to Nazi doctrine that flattered the Aryan race. Germans were superior to other ethnicities and were therefore called to rule the world. The German people, German blood and the German fatherland were held up by the Nazis as the highest good. This fealty was embodied in the person of Hitler. Swearing of allegiance to Hitler forced Germans to sift a fundamental question: What is the church?
In 1934, the Nazis appointed a state commissioner to oversee the churches, but the two presiding bishops refused to give up control. And so the state put them under house arrest as a show of force. There were marches on the streets. Spokesmen for the church threatened that if their Bishops were not released, they would revoke allegiance to the Nazi party. And so the Nazi party temporarily backed down. They could not look like the aggressors. One propaganda poster featuring a woodcut of Martin Luther asserted: “Hitler’s fight and Luther’s teaching are the best defence for the German people.” Hitler wanted to unite the churches in a way that would exclude all those deemed impure and embrace all ‘true Germans’ in a spiritual homeland for the Third Reich.
The state Church moved to bring German Protestantism in line with Nazi racial propaganda. Taxonomy of the faithful was shifted to emphasize race, and priests and church members with insufficiently pure German bloodlines were excluded. The Nazis never enforced these measures themselves, rather, German Christians themselves forced out the racially impure to show their commitment to National Socialism.
In response to all of this, the Confessing Church was born. This parallel but dissenting branch was not recognized by the Nazis. The Confessing Church’s slogan was “Church must remain church,” and its members sought to protect religion from the grasp of politics. They considered that anyone baptized in faith was a Christian according to the Bible, regardless of their racial descent. The Barmen Declaration of 1934 declared their ecclesiastical independence, and noted the contradictions of being a Christian and a Nazi. They opposed a faith that blended anti-Semitism and neo-Pagan heresies with traditional doctrine.
At this point, the Nazis circled their wagons. They did not attack the Confessing Church directly, but began to pick off religious minorities on the outskirts of German society. Jehovah’s Witness for example, was targeted for persecution alongside of the Jews. The Nazis destroyed their national headquarters, outlawed their church, and sent supporters to concentration camps, where more than 1,000 were killed. The Confessing church could not justly complain, since they had up to this point failed to defend persecuted Jews. Loyalties were being sifted. What you really believed was no longer mere theology, it was a test for how you were willing to live in the world.
We know what happened to the Confessing Church. They suffered persecution by the Nazis. The progressive restrictions were recorded by Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer on his own road to martyrdom.
Romans 13: 1 tells us, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.” But what if the authorities are corrupt? What if cooperating with the state is a slippery slide to totalitarianism? What if allegiance to the state conflicts with the Lordship of Jesus Christ?
If the past is prologue, the Confessing Church of Nazi Germany is a historic example of the frog and the frypan argument. If you put a frog into a hot frypan, he will jump out to escape the obvious danger. But if you put the unsuspecting frog in a cool frypan and turn up the heat by degrees, the frog will stop noticing that there has been any change. By the time the pan is hot, the frog is already dead because it was blind to the incremental changes that heralded its doom.
I note today that in the news that Alberta has decreed that you cannot enter a restaurant or gym unless you have an iPhone which incorporates their scanner system. You cannot enter simply by providing paper proof about the vaccine. Looks to me like the frog in the frypan. The issue is no longer whether you can prove you are not sick, but whether you will willingly give up your charter rights and allow yourself to be tracked by their digital system of permissions. If you do not submit to the technology your basic rights will be denied.
Jesus said to be aware of the signs. What if the one before us says, “Beware, Slippery Slope Ahead”?