Martin Luther is famous for two things primarily.
1. Reformation theology.
2. Rabid antisemitism later in life.
This 1933 Nazi poster celebrates Martin Luther’s 450th birthday: “Hitler’s struggle and Luther’s teaching provides the best defense for the German people.” Of course, the struggle is the war against the Jews. They were not praising Luther for his reformation theology but for his antisemitism. So when they said “Luther’s teaching,” they were referring to his views on the Jews.
For 450 years, he had been a hero of the German people. “Luther was far more than a religious figure; he was a German hero whose heroism and Germanic traits both Hitler and the Nazis were eager to promote.” What the Nazis did was to separate Luther from his theology and prop him up as a model for his Germanic qualities. Luther himself stated:
“‘I was born for my beloved Germans: it is them I want to serve.’ Thus, Nazis saw Luther as a servant not so much of Christ or of the church but of the German race and nation (Volk). Such references linking Luther and Hitler were quite acceptable in Nazi Germany, and this allowed Protestants to feel right at home in the new Reich, and the Nazis could appeal to an honored German tradition.”
The German Christian Movement
Enter the Hitler-approved State Church.
The “German Christian” movement was a faction within the Protestant Church of Germany, not a separate sect, and eventually attracted between a quarter and a third of Protestant church members. Enthusiastically pro-Nazi, the movement sought to demonstrate its support for Hitler by organizing itself after the model of the Nazi Party, placing a swastika on the altar next to the cross, giving the Nazi salute at its rallies, and celebrating Hitler as sent by God.
Luther’s combative nature fit the new German Christian (Deutsche Menschen) Nazi Gospel, which bristled against Christian virtues:
So when a sermon lauded a Christian trait, background noise was blaring the accepted perversion of words, meanings, and attitudes. Love, forgiveness, sin, redemption, salvation, prayer, humility, and weakness all have their place in the Christian vocabulary, but in Nazi speech, these are replaced by hatred, rejection, brutality, final victory, obedience to Hitler, and rejection of the weak, the ill, and the marginal.
Hitler replaces Jesus, Germans replace the Jews
Luther was misused and distorted to create “the gospel of the Germanic race.” His theology was all but forgotten, but his proud German heritage and diatribes calling for severe persecution of the Jews, even death, were used to create a gospel where Hitler replaced Jesus, and the cross was discarded for swastika (twisted cross). “Ancient Germanic folklore replaced Old Testament prophecy. Before Hitler, darkness covered the land, but now Hitler brings light. The implication is that Hitler, far more than Jesus, is the true light of the world.”
Germans are not the Jews coming out of Egypt into the promised land, but the humiliated volk coming out of WWI to rise up to new levels, ridding the world of its worst enemy, the Jews, and bring salvation—the 1,000-year Reich (Empire)—to Europe. Hitler was Messiah, and the Germans were the chosen people.
Speaking Truth to Power
Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian, pushed back against the “German Christian” Nazi gospel.
“The Reformation as renewal of the church based on God’s word is ‘made accessible’ for Germans (Deutsche Menschen) not in accordance with their character but rather in accordance with the wisdom and will of divine providence. It was and is as appropriate and inappropriate for the Germanic race as for any other race. Whoever treats the Reformation as a specifically German affair today interprets it as propaganda and places himself outside the evangelical Church.”
Barth is boldly exposing the Nazi’s goal. They are not Christian in any sense. They are merely using Luther for their own sick pagan counterfeit religion. Barth would later preach “Jesus as a Jew” one year after Hitler came to power. By this time, Barth had a powerful following. Copies were made of his sermon, and he even had the audacity to send a copy to the Fuhrer himself! More on this next week.
In time, the Nazis had their disdain for Christianity and the “German Christian.”
“By 1935, 36, there were new rulings. For example, the Nazi party said you can’t use a swastika unless it’s for the Nazi party itself. … they found letters sent in from pastors begging to be allowed to retain the swastika because they had it on the altar next to the cross.”
The Nazis had no more use for them. They were on their way to becoming a totalitarian regime.
The astute theologian could have seen this coming. Hitler was never pro-Christian. As far back as 1920, in his 25-point plan for national socialism (not to be confused with Socialism. This is more nationalism, racism), Point 24 was clear that the Church was subservient to the German race.
“We demand freedom for all religious faiths in the state, insofar as they do not endanger its existence or offend the moral and ethical sense of the Germanic race. The Party, as such, represents the point of view of a positive Christianity without binding itself to any one particular confession. It fights against the Jewish materialist spirit, within and without, and is convinced that a lasting recovery of our folk can only come about from within, on the principle: COMMON GOOD BEFORE INDIVIDUAL GOOD.”
So when Schneider and Bonhoeffer preached against Nazism, it was a violation because it offended…the Germanic race.”
Hans Kerrl, the Nazi Minister for Church Affairs, was very clear when he explained:
“The [Nazi] Party stands on the basis of Positive Christianity, and positive Christianity is National Socialism … National Socialism is the doing of God’s will … God’s will reveals itself in German blood … [Theologians] have tried to make clear to me that Christianity consists in faith in Christ as the son of God. That makes me laugh… No, Christianity is not dependent upon the Apostle’s Creed … True Christianity is represented by the [Nazi] Party, and the German people are now called by the Party and especially the Fuehrer to a real Christianity … the Fuehrer is the herald of a new revelation.“
What Hitler called Positive Christianity “[was] an entirely new religion, whereby Hitler, and German history, more broadly, becomes a vehicle for divine revelation.”
Hitler worship became bolder and bolder. Nazi newspaper publisher Julius Streicher said with passion, “It is only on one or two exceptional points that Christ and Hitler stand comparison. For Hitler is far too big a man to be compared with one so petty. Our Fuhrer is the intermediary between his people and the throne of God. Everything the Fuhrer utters is religion in the highest sense.”
In time, the Nazis would build their own Church without ministers but instead have party spokesmen; and the Bible would be replaced with Mien Kampf. He established his own 12 Commandments, which centered around keeping German blood pure.
“Adolf Hitler, you are our great Führer. Thy name makes the enemy tremble. Thy Third Reich comes, thy will alone is law upon the earth. Let us hear daily thy voice and order us by thy leadership, for we will obey to the end and even with our lives. We praise thee! Heil Hitler!”
Final Solution for Christians
Documents that have come to light in the past 20 years reveal that Hitler had a final solution for Christians as well.
“In 2002, a Jewish student uncovered a report from the Nuremberg trials in the 1940s. It was compiled by members of the OSS, an American spy agency in WWII. The report was called: The Nazi Masterplan, the Persecution of the Christian Churches. It laid out a step-by-step plan two de-Christianize Germany… ‘Take over the churches from within.’ ‘Discredit, jail, or kill Christian leaders.’ ‘Re-indoctrinate the congregants.’ Give them a new faith in Germany’s Third Reich.'”
No, the Nazis were not confessing Christians. They were building a pagan religion built on German mythology and Hitler’s demagoguery.
In Part II, I will talk about Christian resistance to Hitler.
 Stroud, Dean G.. Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich (p. 36). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.  Stroud, (p. 36).  Heschel, Susannah. The Aryan Jesus (p. 3). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.  Stroud p. 57  Stroud p. 36. “their rabbis [should] be forbidden to teach on pain of loss of life and limb.” —Luther, the Jews, and their Lies.  Stroud, p. 24.  Stroud, pp. 36-47.  Eberhard Busch, Unter dem Bogen des einen Bundes: Karl Barth und die Juden 1933-1945 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1996), p. 165.  Susannah Heschel, “The Aryan Jesus in Nazi Germany: The Bible and the Holocaust,” timestamp 14:52, accessed April 18, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnnggA-mIJI  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_Christianity.  Dr. Jen Rosner, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFL71mhSV8Y.  700 Club, https://youtu.be/dXWImaYevG0. Jean-Denis, Hitler Youth, 1922-1945, (G.G. Lepage: 2009) p. 89.  700 Club.’