“Do not be deceived,” Scripture warns. “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). This truth is universal and applied universally—for individuals and for nations. One of the greatest and starkest examples of this principle on a national scale was the rise and fall of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The godlessness of the Nazi regime was the living embodiment of Psalm 2: A nation raging against God and devising schemes against Jesus, tearing godly “fetters apart” and casting away divine “cords” (Psalm 2:3). Yet, the Lord who sits in heaven, laughed and scoffed at the jack-booted fools of Hitler and his minions. God spoke to Germany in His anger and terrified them in His fury (2:4–5). It cost the lives of hundred of thousands, but the Nazis were rightly judged for turning the birthplace of the Reformation into a godless land of death and destruction.
The Germany history of the late 1930s and 1940s is a tragic one. And it didn’t have to be written that way. But Germany reaped what it had sown. It sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind. It is often asked whether other nations could become like Nazi Germany. From the average American’s point of view, the answer is sometimes yes—in other countries, but never in America. Erwin Lutzer, former pastor of Moody Church in Chicago and church historian, isn’t so ready to agree that what happened in Nazi Germany couldn’t happen in America. In his fine book When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learned from Nazi Germany, Lutzer writes: “Nazism did not arise in a vacuum. There were cultural streams that made it possible for this ideology to emerge and gain a wide acceptance by the popular culture. Some of those streams—myths accepted by the masses—are in evidence in America today.”
More concerned about the church’s response (or lack thereof) to an increasing alienation between faith and the public square, Lutzer highlights the similarities between the German culture of the 1930s and 40s and the American culture of today. “Since I believe, as Santayana has said,” Lutzer writes, “that those who disregard history are condemned to repeat it, I believe we are derelict if we do not study the Nazi era to learn all we can about our present struggle as the church in America. And … in doing so we might be preparing ourselves for our own impending future.” From here, Lutzer outlines seven lessons the church ought to learn from the history of Nazi Germany:
- When God Is Separated from Government, Judgment Follows
- It’s Always the Economy
- That Which Is Legal Might also be Evil
- Propaganda Can Change a Nation
- Parents—Not the State—are Responsible for a Child’s Training
- Ordinary Heroes Can Make a Difference
- We Must Exalt the Cross in the Gathering Darkness
Lutzer acknowledges that America is a long way from gassing the unwanted in concentration camp chambers. But we in America must face the reality of our own holocaust: the abortion of tens of millions of unwanted babies. And though a Hitler-esque figure may not be lurking in the dark corners of our political parties, America—especially in 2016—seems particularly in the mood for electing a strongman.
We live during a time when the nation is reeling from continued economic stagnation, increasing racial division, and near unanimous disdain for politicians in Washington. Many citizens, left and right, now believe the institutions that once sustained us a free and prosperous people—marriage, family, church, and civic organizations—are either passé (and therefore in need of change) or have failed us altogether. This is not unlike what was taking place in pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, at that time and in that place, the German church, by and large, didn’t stand up to Hitler and his thugs; they failed in being a distinctive voice for justice, mercy, and grace—for Christ. And the same can happen here. Unless we heed the lessons of history and understand that the “cross stands above politics and the world.”
“We must be confident that Christ will set the record straight,” Lutzer concludes. “Those who are faithful to Him and His cross will be rewarded with ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ All rival crosses will be exposed and judged, and every knee shall bow and ‘every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glare of God the Father.’” The same God who laughs at the foolish ideas of throwing Him out of the public square; the same God who will ensure that a nation—any nation—will reap what it has sown; the same God who will not be (and cannot be) mocked. He will have the last word. The only question is, will His people—the church—speak for Him before and during the coming judgment?
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