The Confessing–and Faithful–Church

Every day I receive an e-mail from the Christian History Institute with a feature story about some aspect of church history, highlighting the faithfulness of Christians in ages past. Today’s was especially poignant to me as it revealed the stark difference between those who link their Christianity too closely to the State and those who stand for righteousness when the State does not.

This account centers on Nazi Germany, but the principles remain the same for any nation:

After Hitler came to power, he confronted Christians in Germany with uncomfortable choices. At first, few pastors seemed to recognize where Hitler was taking the church. He sought to co-opt both Lutheran and Reformed churches to support his National Socialist Party.

Many church people supported him. Sick of the decadence that had characterized the previous government, the “Weimar Republic,” many hoped that the Führer, with his emphasis on history and tradition, might usher in spiritual renewal. Others feared the Communists more than the Nazis.

Playing on the fears and longings of churchgoers, Hitler nationalized the church under a single bishop with a Nazi-inspired constitution. German churches were ordered to eject Jewish Christians, to accept Hitler as a prophet, and to accept German racial consciousness—which exalted the Aryan race above all others—as a second revelation. The so-called “German Christians” elected Ludwig Müller, an ardent Nazi, as their “Reichs-bishop.”

To keep their jobs, hundreds of clergymen accepted Müller’s racist and political restrictions. But a minority of church leaders did not. Martin Niemoller brought them together, inviting all German pastors to join what he called the Pastors’ Emergency League.

Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others joined him. These men insisted that the church belonged under the headship of Christ, not the state, and must obey God rather than national leaders. They urged German pastors to bind themselves by Scripture and centuries-old, reliable confessions of faith.

To their credit, once the stakes were made clear, many pastors resigned from the state church. A number of Protestants who stood against the Nazis gathered at the city of Barmen to discuss the situation and prepare a response. They called themselves the Confessing Church because they clung to the old confessions of faith. Niemoller and Bonhoeffer went to prison; Bonhoeffer died there. Barth fled to Switzerland. A number of Roman Catholic priests also resisted the Nazis. Some, like Bernhard Lichtenberg, died in concentration camps.

On this day, 4 January 1934, Reichs-bishop Müller tried to silence critics of the Nazi church, issuing a “muzzling order” forbidding them from speaking about the church-state issue from their pulpits. However, the Confessing Church refused to be silenced.

In May, they issued the Barmen Declaration, whose primary authors were famous Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Lutheran theologian Hans Asmussen. One of its key statements read, “We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the church should and could take on the nature, tasks, and dignity which belong to the state, and thus become itself an organ of the state.”

The leaders of the confessing church’s deepest concern was to call the entire German church to a much-needed renewal. This renewal did not take place until after the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Two things struck me in this account: first was the fear that seemed to be the motivation for many to accept Hitler’s regime; second was the courage it took for the Confessing Church to stand up to the pressure of conforming.

The fear was ostensibly valid due to the moral decadence that dominated the culture. When we allow fear to drive our actions, principle is often abandoned.

The courage was remarkable, as each member of the Confessing Church knew the probability of facing severe persecution and death. Many, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were martyred for their faithfulness to Christ.

What of American Christians? How many of us would succumb to the fear that compromises the faith if the government tried to dictate in the same way Hitler did? How many of us would choose instead to stand for Christ and be the salt and light we are called to be?

What Jesus told His disciples 2000 years ago still resonates today:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:34-38)

A Tale of Evil, Incompetence, & Heroism

Few people who go to church on Sunday expect to encounter mass murder. We think we are in a safe place. Yet sin abounds, and there is no place that is 100% safe. Last Sunday, a presumably safe place in a small Texas church turned into a scene of terror.

Details are now emerging about that killing spree. We see a combination of evil, incompetence, and, as we more recently found out, heroism.

The evil was in the heart of the perpetrator, Devin Kelley. We now know that he was a wife and child abuser, more than once. While in the Air Force, his actions of domestic abuse landed him in confinement for a year and he received a bad conduct discharge.

The incompetence focuses on the Air Force, which somehow forgot to enter his name into the National Criminal Information Center database, which would have disallowed him from purchasing guns.

Kelley was also an outspoken atheist, ranting against God and Christians on Facebook.

In a press conference yesterday, it was revealed that Kelley had a dispute with his mother-in-law who goes to that church, so the official claimed Kelley’s actions had nothing to do with religion; it was simply a domestic issue.

If that’s all this was, why try to kill everyone in the church?

No, this is deeper. This is rebellion against God and everything the Christian faith stands for. Kelley hated Christians, with his mother-in-law representing an outlet for his hatred.

The words of Jesus at the Last Supper recorded in John 15 come to mind:

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. . . . If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. . . . All these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.

Christians have been and are persecuted and attacked worldwide. We’re only now coming to grips with what might happen in America in the future. We’ve felt “safe,” but that safe feeling may be ending.

I mentioned heroism. It turns out that a neighbor heard the gunshots, grabbed his gun, and engaged Kelley, wounding him. He then followed Kelley all the way to the place where he apparently committed suicide by ramming his vehicle and overturning it.

The man who confronted Kelley, Stephen Willeford, is a former NRA instructor. Contrary to what some might think, that means he trained people to use guns wisely and carefully. He followed his own advice. And because of that Second Amendment right, more lives probably were saved.

Willeford says he’s no hero: “I think my God … protected me and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done.”

That kind of humility and dependence on God is actually a mark of genuine heroism, the kind God rewards.

Lewis on Anger, Hardship, & Persecution

I thought that, in this election season where emotions are running high, it might be good to note a few select quotes from C. S. Lewis on the subject of anger. In one of Lewis’s poems, not published until after his death, he states simply,

Anger’s the anaesthetic of the mind.

When anger takes over, the mind goes numb. Rational thought becomes difficult. Has that happened lately? Doesn’t anger spur all too many in their politics on both sides?

c-s-lewis-15In his excellent novel, Till We Have Faces, Lewis has his character note this:

My anger protected me only for a short time; anger wearies itself out and truth comes in.

All I can say is that I hope that comes true once we have put the election behind us.

Lewis also informs us in one of his essays,

Reasonableness and amiability (both cheerful “habits” of the mind) are stronger in the end than the . . . spleen. To rail is the sad privilege of the loser.

And a loser there will be. Some of us think that no matter who wins, the nation is the loser.

Many Christians are concerned about the possibility of persecution under a new presidency. However, maybe we ought to welcome it. I’m particularly distressed by how some Christians are treating fellow believers right now over political differences. Again, I think Lewis gives us some words that might provide perspective. In a letter to correspondent Don Giovanni Calabria, he says,

I could well believe that it is God’s intention, since we have refused milder remedies, to compel us into unity, by persecution even and hardship.

Satan is without doubt nothing else than a hammer in the hand of a benevolent and severe God. For all, either willingly or unwillingly, do the will of God: Judas and Satan as tools or instruments, John and Peter as sons.

Don’t misunderstand me, please. I do think it’s important what we decide in elections, and those decisions have consequences. But let’s never lose sight of the fact that the Lord can use even a bad consequence to push us in a better direction.

If hardship and persecution come, maybe we’ll finally discover that we need to love one another.

Is This America?

Is this America?

Aaron & Melissa KleinFor two years, Aaron and Melissa Klein have been living a nightmare. Owners of an Oregon bakery, they had the audacity to refuse to bake a cake for a “gay wedding.” By the way, I continue to put that phrase in quotes because I find it so antithetical to common sense and one of the classic oxymorons of our time.

I have commented before on this case because of the gaystapo tactics of the state of Oregon. Now, not only have the Kleins been fined $135,000, they have been given a deadline of this coming Monday to pay the fine or lose their home. In addition to that threat, they have been ordered not to speak at all publicly about the case. In effect, they have been unconstitutionally gagged.

The Kleins are appealing the ruling, so we don’t yet know the final decision. The trend of the nation, however, is against them.

What I appreciate most is the outstanding witness they have been to their Christian convictions. They have always been willing to serve anyone, regardless of a person’s lifestyle; what they refused to do is what any genuine Christian should refuse—participation in a ceremony that mocks God’s institution of marriage.

PersecutionIf forced to pay the fine, they should be able to do it, since people have come to their aid. The last I heard, more than $200,000 has been collected on their behalf. However, they will also have attorney fees and other expenses, not to mention the loss of their business. They are being persecuted for what they believe. They truly are suffering for their faith in Christ.

There comes a point where Christians may have to just patiently endure the suffering, knowing there is no recourse for them in a nation that has set itself against God, but that time has not yet arrived. There still are avenues to follow to fight for justice. I applaud the Kleins for taking a stand. They do this not only for themselves, but for all of us who may have to walk the same path.

This is not the America I’ve known for most of my life. We can be discouraged or we can take a stand for righteousness. I choose the latter.

Atrocities Against Christians (cont.)

Have you heard of another atrocity committed by Muslims against Christians, this time on a boat of refugees fleeing Africa for Italy? Here are the details:

Christians Thrown OverboardItalian police say that Muslim migrants from Libya threw 12 Christians overboard after they refused to pray to Allah as the group’s dinghy began to sink. In total, 15 African Muslims were detained on charges of suspected assault and homicide.

The Obama administration responded with a call to end “senseless” violence. As always, the administration shows its unwillingness to say what this really is, a logical outgrowth of Islamic belief that seeks to kill all who don’t bow down to their concept of God. There’s nothing “senseless” about it; it makes perfect sense if those are your beliefs.

This is just another in a long series of statements (or lack of statements) by Obama and his acolytes, who consistently refuse to acknowledge that Christians are being targeted and that Muslims are responsible for those murders.

WH Response

But what should one expect from a president who continually calls himself a Christian while advocating for unbiblical positions in public policy?

Backlash Continues

We haven’t reached the level of persecution yet in America that leads to mass murders, but how long will it take before we get to that point? The culture is shifting rapidly in favor of denouncing all Christian morality and any claims that Christ is the only Way, Truth, and Life. We need to be prepared spiritually for that possibility, while simultaneously working to reverse this awful trend.

The Biblical Perspective on Persecution

ISIS & Ethiopian ChristiansISIS has released another video, this time showing the execution of Ethiopian Christians. The locale seems to be identical to the earlier video of the beheading of Egyptian Coptic Christians.

Thousands of Christians in Nigeria have been massacred by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram.

Christian pastor Saeed Abedini continues to languish in an Iranian prison. He is told he must convert to Islam if he wishes to be released. Abedini’s plight is not part of the crumbling Iranian deal being negotiated by the Obama administration.

France Gay Marriage FairIn America, no one has been killed for being a Christian—yet. But the rising tide of antagonism toward Christianity has been well documented. All one has to do is think of the death threats to businesses run by Christians if they don’t participate in homosexual “weddings.”

A pastor recently set out to see if a double standard exists. He requested a bakery run by homosexuals to bake a cake for him with a message on it promoting traditional marriage. He is now being threatened with criminal charges.

Burn Down

Obamacare continues to try to force Christian organizations to violate their religious tenets by offering types of birth control they believe are wrong and by covering abortions.

There are a number of Christian legal organizations that are being kept busier than ever defending Christians’ right to religious liberty. David French, a lawyer with the American Center for Law and Justice, says many of the new cases come from colleges and universities. He notes,

Our knowledge of incidents is only as good as the reporting. However, it’s clear that—particularly on college and university campuses—we have seen a significant rise in attempts to silence Christian organizations by the misapplication of nondiscrimination laws.
As I’ve said before, the next steps will be to force Christian colleges to change their statements of faith regarding sexuality or lose participation in the government-run student loan program. Churches will be threatened with the loss of tax-exempt status if their pastors refuse to conduct same-sex weddings. A report released jointly by the Family Research Council and the Texas-based Liberty Institute highlights some of the most recent attacks:
  • A federal judge threatened “incarceration” to a high school valedictorian unless she removed references to Jesus from her graduation speech.
  • City officials prohibited senior citizens from praying over their meals, listening to religious messages or singing gospel songs at a senior activities center.
  • A public school official physically lifted an elementary school student from his seat and reprimanded him in front of his classmates for praying over his lunch.
  • Following U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ policies, a federal government official sought to censor a pastor’s prayer, eliminating references to Jesus, during a Memorial Day ceremony honoring veterans at a national cemetery.
  • Public school officials prohibited students from handing out gifts because they contained religious messages.
  • A public school official prevented a student from handing out flyers inviting her classmates to an event at her church.
  • A public university’s law school banned a Christian organization because it required its officers to adhere to a statement of faith that the university disagreed with.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice argued before the Supreme Court that the federal government can tell churches and synagogues which pastors and rabbis it can hire and fire.
  • The State of Texas sought to approve and regulate what religious seminaries can teach.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs banned the mention of God from veterans’ funerals, overriding the wishes of the deceased’s families.
  • A federal judge held that prayers before a state House of Representatives could be to Allah but not to Jesus.

While we should continue to fight back against these attempts to marginalize Christians, we also should not be surprised that this is occurring. We have been warned in the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” That’s not one of those promises Christians are eager to claim. Jesus, though, reminds us,

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great.

We need to keep that perspective and live for Christ and His kingdom, regardless of what the so-called powers of the earth try to do.

Persecution

Pray for the Persecuted

I’m not going to say much today, except to draw attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East. Latest reports are that even children are being beheaded by radical Islamists. They have no mercy. Please devote at least a few minutes to praying for those suffering this persecution. We need to remember those who are standing for our Lord.

Leaving Mosul

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. . . . If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name. . . .

Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (I Peter 4)