As I’ve been reflecting more and more on the contrast between worship and idolatry, I’m convinced that those two concepts are most certainly two of the most fascinating motifs in Scripture. Worship is ascribed to the Lord; idolatry is ascribed to all else. If Christ is to be first place, we must tear down all idols – those we knowingly serve and those we unknowingly serve. This sanctifying work is most certainly the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
During the reign of Nazi Germany, we find that there were two “prophetic” voices, though the two voices could not have been more opposed to each other. On one hand, Hitler would have all people come under his lordship and his rule and he would demand that all of Germany swear allegiance to himself. From our perspective in history, we shall call this idolatry. For instance, the German pastors were told the following:
“In the recognition that only those may hold office in the church who are unswervingly loyal to the Führer, the people of the Reich, it is hereby decreed: Anyone who is called to a spiritual office is to affirm his loyal duty with the following oath: “I swear that I will be faithful and obedient to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people, that I will conscientiously observe the laws and carry out the duties of my office, so help me God.” … Anyone who refuses to take the oath of allegiance is to be dismissed.” (Bonhoeffer, p. 308, emphasis mine).
Yet Hitler and his “prophets” were not the only voices in Germany. While the Nazi’s were calling for allegiance away from Jesus Christ, a young German pastoral theologian led a group of young disciples to Christ and the cross. Bonhoeffer addressed these young disciples with the following words:
“Confirmands today are like young soldiers marching to war, the war of Jesus Christ against the gods of this world. It is a war that demands the commitment of one’s whole life. Is not God, our Lord, worthy of this struggle? Idolatry and cowardice confront us on all sides, but the direst foe does not confront us, he is within us. ‘Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.'” (p. 309)
Perhaps no other source of deception during Nazi Germany was the call for Christians to give up allegiance to Christ and trade it in for Adolf Hitler. While the Germans did not know that Hitler would go on to be responsible for the murder of millions, there is no doubt that trading allegiance to Christ for anything or anyone is idolatry.
Our American patriotism would do well to pay attention to the subtle deception that slowly occurred in Germany. For wise thoughts on how Christians can reflect on American patriotism, see Kevin DeYoung’s “Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day.” My own additional comment along with Kevin’s thoughts are that while “being a Christian does not remove ethnic and national identities,” I would stress that being a member of the Kingdom of God transcends those identities and can require us to think long and hard on how strong those ethnic and national identities are in the grand scheme of eternity. Some of us probably are overly concerned about the negative aspects of “patriotism” that we may go overboard (surely we do!). Yet for quite some time I believe that for some, the terms “American” and “Kingdom” and “Christian” have been a far more synonymous than they should be. This seems to have been an incredibly influential problem for Nazi Germany too. That is not to suggest that all who are patriotic are Nazi’s, so please do not read into what I’m suggesting. Let’s just think deeply about the focus of our worship – Jesus Christ. Jesus can and often does demand that our allegiance not only transcend our ethnic and national identities, but sometimes demands that we cut off those cultural ties that may blind us to gospel-fidelity.