Be Careful Where You Anchor Your Hope!

Be Careful Where You Anchor Your Hope!

And therein lies the danger – when the wrong fear compels us to embrace the wrong kind of savior. But our souls are anchored elsewhere – where our real Hope awaits within the Veil. We cannot afford to forget that, no matter how discouraged or desperate we become when we consider how to rescue our country.

Once there was a Christian community which loved its Church, its country and its God.  Its members were patriotic and loyal. Indeed, to be a Christian was to be a member of the national community. To serve God was to serve their country and vice-versa.

Flawed as it was, its constitution was one of the most advanced of any Republic in history. More than any other around it, this nation had successfully integrated a significant minority which had become an important part of its community, contributing to its wealth and progress. Compared to the oppression this minority had suffered in the past, their status since the mid-nineteenth century showed what was possible if freedom and equality was extended to everyone.

But a dark side had emerged. After a recent catastrophic war, this country’s standing at home and abroad had taken a serious downturn. The land these Christians were so proud of was no longer the respected leader it had been.  And they became fearful of the future.

Their fears would come to govern their behavior and justify their actions.  No longer were they governed by a fear of God, but by fear of “the other.”

Their government seemed incapable of governing. Factions, left and right, grew more and more hostile to each other as they battled for control. As one historian points out, The language of politics was permeated by metaphors of warfare, the other part was an enemy to be smashed, and struggle, terror and violence became widely accepted as legitimate weapons in the political structure….proceedings degenerated all too often into unseemly shouting matches with each side showing open contempt for the other, and the chair unable to keep order… Mutual fear, mutual recriminations and mutual hatred between the two parties far outweighed any potential purpose they might have had in common.

The language of many Christians became more and more violent as did their behavior.  At one point a “Fighting League” of Christian students was established at every university.  What began politically led to conflicts in the streets. Many Christians feared the growing power of socialists and communists and the implications of their influence on the morality and the churches. Their anxieties grew.

Open gay lifestyles, pornography, and bizarre entertainment alarmed Christian citizens who wanted only the best for their country and a return to the morality of an earlier era. Older Christians felt angry and betrayed by the new cultural trends that openly mocked older traditions, both religious and political.  There was also the growing belief that the new feminism and sexual openness was seriously eroding the traditional family.  Indeed, as historians note, many conservatives perceived a “crisis of masculinity” and were especially incensed at the public campaigns for gay rights.

Democracy as they understood it wasn’t working.  Serious economic problems threatened the middle classes.  In desperation, many Christians were attracted to extreme right-wing groups that promised to restore the country’s greatness, to overturn the inept system, and to respect and nurture Christianity and the traditional family.  A widely-held belief was that a left-wing conspiracy had overthrown their previous leadership to establish a socialist system.   Loyal, patriotic citizens had been stabbed in the back and betrayed.

Street violence, effective use of new media technology, and political intrigue grew.  Some media even undermined the Republic with their sensational exposures of real or imagined wrongdoings of… politicians.  One major media empire had as part of its mission the “constant harping on the iniquities of the Republic… (and) was another factor in weakening (its) legitimacy and convincing people that something else was needed in its stead.   In place of the feeble compromises of…democracy, authors…proclaimed the need for strong leadership, ruthless, uncompromising, hard, willing to strike down the enemies of the nation without compunction. 

To overturn an unjust, inept, unpatriotic, and foreign system would require actions which were extreme but necessary. We must save our country or lose it. This is what God would want. We have no other choice.

And a leader emerged – uncompromising, patriotic, moral and, above all, effective. The fact that he was a political amateur worked in his favor since he was seen as untainted by the corrupt and inept politicians of the Republic.  Here was a leader whose popularity was largely untouched by scandals that he himself generated. Even a violent attempt to overthrow the government was viewed by most of his patriotic Christian followers as unfortunate, but necessary to save the nation.  Although tried and found guilty of treason, his record only enhanced his reputation to his followers.   Christians flocked to his movement.

He was not alone. Judges routinely ruled “selfless patriotism” as mitigating factors in the extremists’ revolt against the State.  In many ways, the legal foundations of the Republic were being slowly undermined by those who did not believe that the current government was “constitutionally anchored.”

Within the national Christian community, politically liberal sentiments were suspect.  Christians associated with Christian communities in other countries were viewed as unpatriotic globalists.  These nationalist Christian leaders rejected anyone who dared to deny the greatness and destiny of their nation.  Influential media reported that more than half the candidates for ordination were followers of the extreme right.  One Christian leader attending a conference reported that there seemed to be more concern for the economy and foreign policy than there was for theological issues.  However, one clear-thinking theologian warned his fellow Christians in a broadcast that a leader like this could gradually become a “misleader,” making an idol of himself and therefore, mocking God.

Loyalty to the leader and his agenda soon became commensurate with loyalty to the nation. Anything less was branded as treason. Those with opposing political views were no longer merely friendly opponents but enemies of the people. It wasn’t long before Christians so embraced the leader and his movement that even the Scriptures were subject to bizarre interpretations based on the leader’s principles.  The racism that had always percolated below the surface soon became the law of the land. Indeed, most Christians did not object to this increasing isolation of vulnerable people.  After all, didn’t they do it to themselves? They have too much influence.  It’s not our problem.   They are “other,” politically and socially, and therefore, the enemy.  They are vermin and have poisoned the blood of the nation.

One pastor and former war veteran, remembering his fellow soldiers who had died in action wrote that, “We had to fight on so that their death should not have been in vain or forgotten.  But what had become of our country? A land of injustice and corruption, subject to the whims of liberal and conservative alike. Then the Party came into power with a program having a moral and religious basis. That’s why I became a member of the movement.” He went on to say that the leader, as opposed to his followers, possessed a deep morality and religion that could change people’s hearts so that the nation could be reconstructed.

The voices that sought to remind Christians that real power lay in suffering and in the weakness of Christ were ignored or silenced. The prophetic calls to return to the pure word of God were replaced by the word of the leader. Christians traded their birthright for the lure of naked political power. The fear of man had become a snare that failed to save their church and nation they loved. And what is saddest of all is that the leader they clung to in desperation shared neither their faith nor their morality. In private moments he despised their Christianity, their morality, and their sheep-like subservience.  Their desperation borne of fear led them to cling to a leader and system that betrayed them in the end. The actions that their fear generated swallowed them and their nation whole.   The reputation of their country never recovered.

Be careful, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ in what you place your hope. Proverbs 29:25 is just as meaningful today as it was in 1933 Germany. Snares do not advertise themselves. As Michael Horton points out in his magnificent book Recovering our Sanity: How the Fear of God Conquers the Fears that Divide Us, the fear of losing cultural, social, and political power often drives a large number of evangelicals to ‘put their trust in princes.’

And therein lies the danger – when the wrong fear compels us to embrace the wrong kind of savior. But our souls are anchored elsewhere – where our real Hope awaits within the Veil. We cannot afford to forget that, no matter how discouraged or desperate we become when we consider how to rescue our country.

Chris Bryans is a member of Northside Presbyterian Church (PCA) and is a retired professor of history from Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne FL.

*Whether one agrees with Bonhoeffer’s neo-orthodox theology is not the point here.  What is clear is that he was so very convinced that Christ’s commands were not optional.  He possessed an extraordinary command of Scripture as well as its applications. This was missing from what had increasingly become a cultural “cut-flower” Christian faith that characterized much of Germany even prior to the Weimar era. Indeed, liberal theology had so poisoned the Reformed doctrine of Scripture that it was easy to infect Christianity with extremism.  Biblical illiteracy abounded within the average church.  How else could so many believe the view that the Old Testament was a “Jewish book” that needed to be purged from Christianity?  How else could the German Christian movement reconstruct a Christ who had more in common with Norse heroic myths than the New Testament?  I remember hearing Bonhoeffer’s friend, disciple, and his greatest biographer discuss how very strange it was when Bonhoeffer had his seminary students engage in what we would call today “a quiet time” on the seminary grounds.  It wasn’t a part of their church experience.


Eberhard Bethge Dietrich Bonhoeffer Man of Vision, Man of Courage (Harper and Rowe, 1977).

Georg Denzler & Volker Fabricius (Herausgeber) Die Kirchen im Dritten Reich Band 1 & 2 Fischer Verlag 1988.

Richard J. Evans The Coming of the Third Reich The Penguin Press, 2003.

Heinz Hürten (Herausgeber) Deutsche Geschichte in Quellen und Darstellung Band 9 Weimarer Republik und Drittes Reich 1918-1945 Reklam, 1995.

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