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Martin Niemöller: The Resistance (1892-1984)

By Jay Rogers
Published April 26, 2008

Martin Niemöller had been a World War I hero as a German naval lieutenant and U-boat commander. He was ordained as a Lutheran pastor in 1924. One of the earliest Protestant critics of Nazism, he and a few brave Lutherans formed a resistance movement called the “Confessional Church” of about 3,000 pastors. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, author of The Cost of Discipleship, came into contact with Niemöller when he joined the “Pastor’s Emergency League,” which was formed under Niemöller.

In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer describes the spiritual pattern that led to the mass slaughter of human beings. In the chapter entitled “The Persecution of the Christian Churches,” Shirer points to a sterilization law passed in 1933 as the event which began the persecution of Christians and Jews throughout Germany.

“On July 25 [1933], … the German government promulgated a sterilization law, which particularly offended the Catholic Church. Five days later the first steps were taken to dissolve the Catholic Youth League. During the next years, thousands of Catholic priests, nuns and lay leaders were arrested, many of them on trumped up charges of ‘immorality’ or of ‘smuggling foreign currency.’”

Abortion was also made legal during this time. This was the spiritual impetus which brought a revival of human sacrifices being offered to ancient pagan deities – complete with Nazi rituals – to the forefront. The Holocaust was preceded by vast pageants, which Hitler paid for from his personal budget, and used to promote neo-Paganism. Among the various sects of Protestants (most of which had adopted liberal theology and had apostatized in the late 1800s), a new “German Church” was instituted:

“Dr. Reinholdt Krause, the Berlin district leader of the sect, proposed the abandonment of the Old Testament, ‘with its tales of cattle merchants and pimps’ and the revision of the New Testament with the teaching of Jesus corresponding entirely with the demands of National Socialism. Resolutions were drawn up demanding ‘One People, One Reich, One Faith,’ requiring all pastors to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler and insisting that all churches institute the Aryan paragraph and exclude converted Jews.”

Pastors who resisted the neo-Pagan religion of the Nazis were jailed. Many were eventually led to the gas ovens of the concentration camps. Millions of Jews and Christians were executed. The sad state of the liberal Protestant churches led Germany to this holocaust. Although there were enough evangelical Christian leaders strategically positioned throughout Germany in the 1930s to resist Hitler; only a few stood against him.

“Not many Germans lost much sleep over the arrests of a few thousand pastors and priests or over the quarreling of Protestant sects. And even fewer paused to reflect that under the leadership of Rosenberg, Borman and Himmler, who were backed by Hitler, the Nazi regime intended to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists. As Bormann, one of the men closest to Hitler, said in 1941, ‘National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable.’”

As the methods of oppression by the Nazis grew worse, the resistance movement began budgeting for previously unimagined types of disobedience. For Niemöller and the resistance, the plan to assassinate a tyrant was a matter of obedience to God. They reasoned that Hitler was anti-Christ, therefore they decided to join the underground plan to eliminate him. Niemöller remained a key figure in the resistance movement until his arrest and imprisonment. In 1937, Niemöller preached his last sermon in the Third Reich knowing that he was soon to be arrested:

“We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of 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.”

Under orders from Hitler, he was imprisoned and finally transferred to the infamous Dachau concentration camp until the end of the war in 1945. He emerged from his years of detention as a towering symbol of the Church’s struggle. In his travels to America, he addressed over two hundred audiences, sometimes with the concluding words that have become famous:

“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Niemöller did much more than speak out, however, as did his friend Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As a consequence, Bonhoeffer lost his life and Niemöller lost eight years of his freedom.

William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall the Third Reich (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1960) p.234-239.
Christian History, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” Issue 32 (Vol. X, No.4), p.20.

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Your comments are welcome!

Other versions of the famous passage quoted above include “They came for the Catholics and I wasn’t a Catholic, so…”
A great essay and a needed reminder for us today. “We must obey God rather than men.”

Posted by Jack Kenny on 02/27/2009 08:22 AM #

All of the authentic versions of the famous quotation include the communists as the first targets. The inclusion of socialists as the first targets is a corruption. Thanks.

Posted by Lucas Koerner on 03/24/2009 06:34 PM #

These words are being sounded in the America today. I pray people will still listen to a powerful message that speaks volumes in a few simple but true words.

Posted by Kathy Walden on 08/27/2010 01:18 PM #

Communists, Socialists, where is the difference? They are both included in the corrupt Godless struggle for the souls of men.

Posted by Gary Hofacker on 09/27/2010 10:01 AM #

Thank you for posting this. May the memory of Martin and Deitrich never be forgotten for their bold stand for Christ and His Church.

Posted by Eric S on 10/03/2010 11:56 PM #

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Dr. Francis Schaeffer - A Christian Manifesto (DVD)

That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again!

Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.

Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.

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The Four Keys to the Millennium (Book)

Foundations in Biblical Eschatology

By Jay Rogers, Larry Waugh, Rodney Stortz, Joseph Meiring. High quality paperback, 167 pages.

All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?

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The Abortion Matrix: Defeating Child Sacrifice and the Culture of Death (DVD)

Download the free Study Guide!

Is there a connection between pagan religion and the abortion industry?

This powerful presentation traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God and crime against humanity has produced in our beleaguered society.

Conceived as a sequel and update to the 1988 classic, The Massacre of Innocence, the new title, The Abortion Matrix, is entirely fitting. It not only references abortion’s specific target – the sacred matrix where human beings are formed in the womb in the very image of God, but it also implies the existence of a conspiracy, a matrix of seemingly disparate forces that are driving this holocaust.

The occult activity surrounding the abortion industry is exposed with numerous examples. But are these just aberrations, bizarre yet anomalous examples of abortionists who just happen to have ties to modern day witchcraft? Or is this representative of something deeper, more sinister and even endemic to the entire abortion movement?

As the allusion to the film of over a decade ago suggests, the viewer may learn that things are not always as they appear to be. The Abortion Matrix reveals the reality of child-killing and strikes the proper moral chord to move hearts to fulfill the biblical responsibility to rescue those unjustly sentenced to death and to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 24:11,12; 31:8,9).

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Running Time: 195 minutes

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The Silent Scream (DVD) Eight Languages

“When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.” – President Ronald Reagan to National Religious Broadcasters Convention, January 1981

Ronald Reagan became convinced of this as a result of watching The Silent Scream – a movie he considered so powerful and convicting that he screened it at the White House.

The modern technology of real-time ultrasound now reveals the actual responses of a 12-week old fetus to being aborted. As the unborn child attempts to escape the abortionist’s suction curette, her motions can be seen to become desperately agitated and her heart rate doubles. Her mouth opens – as if to scream – but no sound can come out. Her scream doesn’t have to remain silent, however … not if you will become her voice. This newly re-mastered version features eight language tracks and two bonus videos.

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Languages: English, Spanish, French, South Korean, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese

Running Time: 28 minutes

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The Abortion Matrix DVD: Update

The Abortion Matrix:
Defeating Child Sacrifice and the Culture of Death

is a 195-minute presentation that traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God has produced. You can order this series on DVD, read the complete script and view clips on-line...
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