The Nazi State Church
The Third Reich’s persecution of Christian churches began shortly after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the Weimer Republic, in January 1933. This story has been told in many books. See especially William L. Shirer’s account in his epic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.1 The following article appeared in the New York Times on January 3, 1942:2
BERNE, Switzerland, Jan. 2—Dr. Alfred Rosenberg, long the antireligious polemist of modern Germany and the protagonist of the “new national church,” has just released for publication a thirty-point program that will form at the same time the program and tenets of the “religion of National Socialism.”
The Nazi religious concept is founded not on the worship of Wotan and Valhalla, dear to the memory of General Erich von Ludendorff, but surprisingly enough, in view of Dr. Rosenberg’s past attacks on Christianity and its teachings, on a partial worship of God, whose works are “eternal.”
Briefly but succinctly he outlines the organization and teachings of the church in the following phrases—for which, as the Swiss Socialist newspaper Volksrecht of Zurich points out, “one needs to be no ecclesiast to draw his own conclusion”:
1. The National Reich Church specifically demands the immediate turning over to its possession of all churches and chapels, to become national churches.
2. The German people have no call to serve the National Reich Church, but that church itself is called to serve its single doctrine—race and people.
3. The domain of the National Reich Church is limited by the territorial frontiers of the Reich and its colonies.
4. The National Reich Church will oblige no German to adhere to it. It is, however, ready to do all in its power to include in its ranks every German soul. Other churches or religious associations, above all those based on international bodies or directed from abroad, will not be tolerated in Germany by the National Reich Church.
5. The National Reich Church is immutably fixed in its one objective: to destroy that Christian belief imported into Germany in the unfortunate year 800, whose tenets conflict with both the heart and the mentality of the German.
6. No structural alterations will be carried out on existing churches in the Reich after their confiscation, for they are living monuments of German culture and development. As German property they are not only to be appreciated but also to be kept up.
7. In the National Reich Church there will be no erudites, pastors, chaplains or religious orders; only the national “orators” of the Reich Will be allowed to speak.
8. Services of the National Reich Church will be held only at night; they will be held on Saturday night with festive illumination.
9. In the National Reich Church German men and women, boys and girls must recognize God and his eternal work.
10. The National Reich Church will unceasingly pursue its efforts to attach itself to the State, to which it will submit as a loyal servant. For this reason the National Reich Church demands that all church property belonging to all confessions shall be immediately handed over to the State. It wishes that in the future no church of whatever sect be allowed to acquire, possess or receive by legacy any parcel of German soil, however small, for it is not the church that conquered, pursued and tilled the land but the German people.
11. All are excluded from becoming “orators” in the National Church who today or in the future attempt by any means to perpetuate the Christian faith, for they are not only liars to themselves but also to the German people.
12. Orators of the National Church will be assimilated into the category of state functionaries, under whose laws they will live.
Bible to Be Suppressed
13. The National Reich Church demands the immediate cessation of the printing of the Bible, as well as its dissemination, throughout the Reich and colonies. All Sunday papers with any religious content also shall be suppressed.
14. The National Reich Church shall see that the importation of the Bible and other religious works into Reich territory is made impossible.
15. The National Reich Church decrees that the most important document of all time—therefore the guiding document of the German people—is the book of our Fuehrer, “Mein Kampf.” It recognizes that this book contains the principles of the purist ethnic morals under which the German people must live.
16. The National Reich Church will see to it that this book spread its active forces among the entire population and that all Germans live by it.
17. The National Reich Church stipulates that the future editions of “Mein Kampf” shall contain its present number of pages and contents unmodified.
18. The National Reich Church will remove from the altars of all churches the Bible, the cross and religious objects.
19. In their place will be set that which must be venerated by the German people and therefore is by God, our most saintly book, “Mein Kampf,” and to the left of this a sword.
20. The “orators” of the National Reich Church, during their services, will explain to their hearers the contents of this book to the best of their consciences and their knowledge.
21. In the National Reich Church there will be no remission of sins; its tenet is that, once committed, a sin is irrevocable and will be implacably punished by the laws of nature and in this world.
22. The National Reich Church does not recognize the right of baptism of a German child by water in the name of the Holy Ghost.
23. Parents of a new-born German baby will swear an oath before the altar of the church in the following words:
The Husband: I swear before God this sacred oath; that I ______ father of this child, and my wife are proved descendants of the Aryan race. As father I swear to bring up this child in the German spirit for the German people.
The Wife: I swear before God this sacred oath; that I _____ have had a child of my husband and that he is the father of that child. I, its mother, am of proved Aryan descent. As mother I swear to bring up this child in the German spirit for the German people.
On the basis of this oath the new-born will be accepted as a German child; he will receive a. diploma naming him a German citizen.
24. The National Reich Church rejects the rite of confirmation and, above it, the rite of baptism, and forbids instruction in catechism, communion and the instruction of pre-communicants. The place of spiritual instruction for youth is and will remain—the family, the school and the German youth camps.
25. To solemnize the close of the school year the National Reich Church stipulates that this shall be a “day of youth.” This day shall fall on Good Friday, and on that day only chiefs of youth organizations shall be allowed to speak in the National Reich churches.
26. Marriage or German men and women in the church shall consist of an oath of fidelity spoken with the right hand touching the sword on the altar. There will be no kneeling to take any oath or to perform any reverence, as this action is undignified to a German.
27. The tenth day before Whitsun is designated the day of the family.
28. The National Reich Church refuses to recognize the usual day of penitence and prayer. Only one religious festival will be allowed—the day on which the National Reich Church was founded.
29. The National Reich Church forbids the creation of any religious insignia.
30. On the day of the foundation of the National Reich Church the Christian cross shall be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels inside the frontiers of the Reich and its colonies and will be replaced by the symbol of invincible Germany—the swastika.
This program, already widely circulated among the party hierarchs, has been submitted to Reichsfuehrer Hitler for his action. The people themselves have not been informed nor will they be until the church is accepted.
1 William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1960), 234-240.
2 Daniel T. Brigham, “Nazi State Church Plan to Oust Other Faiths and Ban Bible,” in New York Times, 03 January 1942. Retrieved from https://nyti.ms/2SWlgYq.
Tyler Robbins 2016 v2
Tyler Robbins is a bi-vocational pastor at Sleater Kinney Road Baptist Church, in Olympia WA. He also works in State government. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist.
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I don’t much about Nazi history… Did this “church” actually gain many joiners? I would have thought they’d have tried something more subtle, but there isn’t even a clever trick involved. It was overtly anti-Christian and anti-Bible.
Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.
Great article - thanks
It’s worth noting that
Hitler’s Schicklgruber’s treatment of churches was so bad, he actually had to conclude a series of treaties with the Vatican to avoid the Pope denouncing the Schicklgruber regime. His treatment of the church also inspired the “Confessing Church” of Bonhoeffer, and while I hadn’t seen this before, it seems consistent with the bludgeoning rhetoric the NSDAP used.
Interesting point; the architect of this, Alfred Rosenberg….wanna guess what part of his heritage was?
Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.
While I am not doubting the historical accuracy of this, I think a balanced way to look at that period as a Christian would include an acknowledgement that the churches of Germany and much of the world were complicit in supporting Hitler and/or not having the guts to stand up to him.
It was hardly Christianity’s finest hour. Bonehoeffer is a household name today because he was unique during that era—a Christian that had real guts.
Yes, they were complicit. I’ll do an article with that angle in the coming weeks.
Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.
It’s been awhile since I have read it, but “Hitler’s Cross” by Erwin Lutzer was a good read on this issue. He also deals with Hitler’s fascination with the occult. One photograph in the book shows a nazi flag draped over a communion table in a church.
Hitler’s Cross has been on my “to read” list for ages. I need to just buy a copy from Amazon or something.
I don’t much about Nazi history… Did this “church” actually gain many joiners?
I don’t want to spoil Tyler’s upcoming articles, but if I remember correctly, the Nazis largely took control of the German denominations and then changed the doctrine to reflect their ideology. Then it was set up so that you couldn’t be a member of a church unless you swore fealty to the Nazi party and doctrine.
Part of why Bonhoeffer was such a major problem for the Nazis was because he refused to toe the line (he made some extremely pointed remarks on the Führership in one specific broadcast early on, leading them cut off his microphone). Bonhoeffer also kept setting up and supporting independent study groups and organizations outside of Nazi ‘approved’ churches and seminaries.
It’s been a while since I read Shirer’s book on the Third Reich, but I just checked it out to re-read again last week. There’s a lot that could be said, and I wish Christians would pay more attention to that story. It’s a fascinating story that is rich with knowledge and things to learn from. The whole book, really, is quite eye-opening and is well worth your time and attention.
"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells
Yes, the “Evangelische” church in Germany bears a degree of guilt, and apologized for that after the war. My take is that a great portion of “why?” is because it’s a state church that you joined by being sprinkled as an infant (or simply by being born in many cases), and hence huge portions of members are in fact unregenerate. For that matter, huge portions of pastors there were, too—they came out not of actual seminaries, but out of the German university system. There are places where the pastorate is almost just a job, and Jacob Spener (founder of pietism) got his start, in part, by decrying this—noting that too many pastors were doing things like keeping mistresses.
Closest match you can find to this in the U.S. is Anglicans or Methodists in towns where the “power structure” has been going to that church for generations. (this includes the church I grew up in, FWIW)
Now of course, actual believers can do idiot, sinful things, too, so we’re not “off the hook” here, but that doesn’t change the fact that Hitler had an easier task because churches were often social institutions as much as religious ones. For too many, there simply wasn’t a real religious objection to what Hitler was doing. You’ll notice in the link I provided above that the Catholics stood up to him better in part because their priests, though still educated in state universities for the state Catholic churches, at least had hypothetical allegiance to the Pope and the Magisterium to restrain them.
Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.
I read recently (and need to do more research) that even in Italy, the pope did not have the guts to condemn the Nazi party when they essentially said that all Jews in Italy had to register and made it a crime to hide them. It seems unfathomable today. Apparently, some Catholics did lead the charge in getting Jews out of Italy but they did not get much leadership from the top.