I just got back from speaking at a Christian Worldview conference. I addressed the issue of Christian activism and the excuses Christians use for not getting involved. While the conference was going on, news was coming out that the church may have awakened from its slumber:
Catholic leaders . . . [threatened] to challenge the Obama administration over a provision of the new health care law that would require all employers, including religious institutions, to pay for birth control. . . . Catholic leaders are furious and determined to harness the voting power of the nation’s 70 million Catholic voters to stop a provision of President Barack Obama’s new heath care reform bill that will force Catholic schools, hospitals and charities to buy birth control pills, abortion-producing drugs and sterilization coverage for their employees.
If religious institutions give into this, they won’t be able to stop this administration or future administrations silencing and neutralizing the church.
One of the objections I answered was, “Christians shouldn’t be involved politically because our Citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). Adolf Hitler loved hearing such nonsense from church leaders because he knew that with the church out of the way, he could do most anything.
As I pointed out to the audience, it was the apostle Paul who wrote “our citizenship is in heaven” and who used his Roman citizenship to avoid being beaten (Acts 22:25–30) and made a formal appeal to Caesar for adjudication of the charges leveled against him (25:11–12).
Hitler believed in an exclusive heavenly citizenship Christianity. “I will protect the German people,” Hitler shouted at Martin Niemöller, a decorated submarine commander in World War I and a minister of the gospel. “You take care of the church. You pastors should worry about getting people to heaven and leave this world to me.”1
Niemöller became an ardent critic of Hitler and his policies, “protesting against the anti-Christian tendencies of the regime, denouncing the government’s anti-Semitism and demanding an end to the state’s interference in the churches.”2 Sound familiar?
Hermann Rauschning, an early Hitler confidant, relates what he heard Hitler say about the clergy:
“You can do anything you like to them — they will submit. They’re used to cares and worries. . . . They are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them.”3
For many church-going Germans, their heavenly citizenship obligated them blindly to accept the prevailing civil requirements of citizenship and to remain silent in the face of opposition no matter what atrocities might be committed. Unlike Paul, they would have taken the beating and liked it. “In no country except with the exception of Czarist Russia did the clergy become by tradition so completely servile to the political authority of the State.”4
Niemöller tried in vain to awaken the church against Hitler’s plans: “‘We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silent at man’s behest when God commands us to speak. For it is, and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than man.’”5
A Christian’s heavenly citizenship, Niemöller concluded, must have an impact in the world in which he lives. It’s no less true today. Richard Land and Louis Moore write, “We Christians are citizens of two realms–the earthly and spiritual. Such dual citizenship includes rights and responsibilities in both spheres.”6
- Quoted in Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 140. [↩]
- William L. Shirer, Nightmare Years: 1930–1940 (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1984), 153. [↩]
- Hermann Rauschning, The Voice of Destruction (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1940), 54. [↩]
- William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 236. [↩]
- Quoted in Shirer, The Nightmare Years, 154. [↩]
- Richard D. Land and Louis A. Moore write, “Preface,” Christian Citizens: The Rights and Responsibilities of Dual Citizenship (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), v. [↩]