There is a battle for truth across our nation and throughout the world that demands God-fearing people to rise up and not be silent.  

When it comes to antisemitism, the assault on Israel and the Jewish people requires Christians to speak out. Similarly, Judeo-Christian values are under attack and must be met with a vigorous defence while there is still opportunity. 

The Bible says in Romans 12:9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” 

This verse in its context urges Christians to possess a servant-hearted attitude particularly under challenging circumstances, such as persecution.

Understanding the times properly requires us to determine with sincerity what is good, truthful and honourable according to God’s Word whilst abhorring what is evil. 

Standing with Israel is the right thing to do because it is the Biblical thing to do. Rejecting the evil of antisemitism and lies surrounding Israel, for example, is necessary if we are to cling onto what is right in obedience to Almighty God.

But what happens when the pressure is on? How do we respond when the nation, or even the church, remains silent in the face of evil? 

In a world of confusion and chaos, how do we view events with a moral clarity and measured foresight of what is taking place around us?

We take a look at the following example from Germany in the 1930s and close by highlighting some major battle grounds facing the UK and Europe today and how you can make a difference.

Germany  1930s

In 1933, a movement called Deutshe Christen (translated “German Christians”) began to promote the nazification of the German Evangelical Church through the creation of a pro-Nazi “Reich Church”, having been persuaded by the Nazi Party statement on “positive Christianity” that ironically claimed to support religious freedom, yet was blatantly antisemitic in its content. 

Unbelievably, the group wanted Protestantism to conform to the Nazi ideology. Some of its members called for total removal of any Jewish elements from the Bible, including the Old Testament, defrocked clergy of Jewish descent and pushed the narrative that “the Jews had killed Jesus”.  By 1939, around 75% of German Protestant churches apparently approved the founding of an antisemitic research institute with the main task of creating a “Fifth Gospel” to support the false doctrine of an “Aryan Jesus”. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Nazis found Deutshe Christen to be a useful group to consolidate its power before ultimately removing its leaders.

They didn’t represent all Christians in Germany and received opposition from many church leaders. This led to the formation of the Confessing Church in 1934, which took a bold stand against Deutshe Christen. Despite this, most leaders avoided criticism of the Nazi regime and there was still a silence about the persecution of German Jews.

Although the Confessing Church recognised the threat of the Third Reich, rejected the impending war and were critical of the Deutshe Christen that willingly and openly colluded with the Nazis, it was actually a theological bond that prevented many within the Confessing Church from openly opposing the regime directly.

Lutheranism, which formed a large part of German Protestantism and was associated with historic antisemitism, held a fundamental doctrine that placed government as one of God’s ways through which He rules the world (the second being the church) and that obedience to the government was a Christian duty. Opposition to government, therefore, was viewed as rebellion towards divine order.

The rise of Nazism put this belief to the ultimate test. Although there were those like Bonhoeffer that decided to reject this position and not yield to the Nazi state, there were many that chose to stay silent. Bonhoeffer’s famous quote, “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself,” could not have been a more desperately relevant message for the church as the fate of the Jewish people in Europe drew closer. In 1938, three leaders of the Confessing Church circulated a prayer of confession and intercession, repenting of sins of the German people, but with no prayers for Hitler or for German victory. There was uproar throughout Germany.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As dark clouds gathered over pre-war Germany, there were those who were prepared to stand alone for the sake of justice and righteousness. Courageous men and women that understood the times and possessed a moral conscience were prepared to not remain silent in the midst of this evil. One such man was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German-born theologian who had served in Spain in the decade prior and had studied in New York. He was one of the earliest voices against the rising Nazi ideology, describing it as an illegitimate form of government and incompatible with the Christian faith. 

In a 1933 essay, he argued that the church was called to question state injustice. Secondly, he said it had an obligation to help all victims of injustice, whether they were Christian or not. Finally, he suggested the church might be called to “put a spoke in the wheel” to bring the machinery of injustice to a halt.

Raising the alarm

Bonhoeffer didn’t remain silent. He put the words of his pen into action. Already well travelled and connected, Bonhoeffer journeyed throughout Europe and the United States reporting on the situation in Nazi Germany to church leaders of various denominations. In September 1933, he attended the ecumenical World Alliance meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, where a resolution was passed condemning Nazi actions against Jews. Fired up with a passion against this injustice, he presented the German Consul in Sofia with the resolution explaining that Nazi policies were damaging Germany’s image abroad. However, his outspokenness wasn’t appreciated by all Christians back home in Germany. The German Evangelical Church in Berlin demanded he stopped his ecumenical activities at once, but Bonhoeffer refused. 

Between September 1933 and April 1935, he served as pastor to several German-speaking fellowships in London. This caused them to break away from the official German church, joining the Confessing Church instead. Back in Germany, however, the Confessing Church was coming under increasing pressure by the Gestapo. With many too fearful to oppose the Nazis, those that did so faced conflict from both sides. Bonhoeffer himself was becoming more and more isolated, but he didn’t give up.

Bonhoeffer understood the importance of reaching young leaders. Having returned to Germany in 1935, he persisted in training young clergy at an illegal seminary until it was closed in September 1937 by the Gestapo. The “would-be-Millennials”, if it was today, were very much on his heart and worth fighting for. He spent the next two years secretly travelling throughout eastern Germany to attend to his students, many of whom were ministering illegally. 

Bonhoeffer’s efforts appeared to be coming to an end when in January 1938, the brave pastor was banned from Berlin and later forbidden from public speaking. He was later also banned from printing and publishing.

Gravely concerned about what was happening to the Jewish people, the church, and his country, it was only a matter of time before Bonhoeffer was faced with one of the biggest challenges of his conscience – conscripting to the war himself. 

But in 1939, Bonhoeffer had an opportunity to escape Germany to the United States. He accepted an invitation to New York only to soon regret his decision. Despite pressure from friends to stay, he wrote the following in a letter, “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.” He returned to Germany on the last scheduled steamer to cross the Atlantic.

A mission of a different kind

But God had not finished with His faithful servant. Even through this, Bonhoeffer was not prepared to compromise his Christian values. 

Bonheoffer’s brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi, worked in the Justice Ministry and was a strong opponent of the regime as well. He was able to help Bonheoffer avoid military service, obtaining an assignment in the office of Military Intelligence. This office became the centre of a resistance movement that ended with an attempt to overthrow the regime in 1944 with the failed assassination of Adolf Hitler. 

Under the guise of Military Intelligence, he made several trips outside the Reich in 1941 and 1942, informing ecumenical contacts in Geneva and the Vatican of the resistance plans. Working with another member of the Confessing Church, Friedrich Perels, the pair sent details of plans to deport Berlin Jews to foreign contacts as well as trusted German military officials, in the hope that the plans could be thwarted. 

He then became involved in an ambitious plan to get the Jews out of Germany by giving them foreign papers. Known as “Operation Seven”, the Gestapo uncovered the plot and Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law were arrested in April 1943.

Bonhoeffer was initially charged with conspiring to rescue Jews, using his foreign travels for non-intelligence matters, and misusing his intelligence position to help Confessing Church pastors evade military service. 

When the attempted coup of 20 July, 1944, failed, Bonhoeffer’s links to the wider resistance movement were discovered and he was moved to the Gestapo prison in Berlin. In February 1945, he was taken to Buchenwald concentration camp, and in April he was moved to the Flossenbürg concentration camp where he would pay the ultimate price. 

On 9 April, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged with other conspirators. His brother Klaus Bonhoeffer was also executed for resistance activities, as were his brothers-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi and Rüdiger Schleicher. 

Lasting legacy

In the years since his death, Bonhoeffer has become widely known as one of the few Christian martyrs in an era otherwise stained by Christian complicity with Nazism.

Meanwhile, Bonhoeffer’s letters and theological works still influence Christians throughout the world. His most famous book, The Cost of Discipleship, written during the rise of the Nazi regime, is considered a modern classic. 

His last writing before his execution was Letters and Papers from Prison, in which he penned, “There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behaviour. Christians are called to compassion and to action.”

In the same prison papers he wrote,

 “We have learned a bit too late in the day that action springs not from thought but from a readiness for responsibility”.

It was this sense of responsibility that drove the exceptional Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He discerned with foresight and clarity the earliest stages of the increasing persecution of the Jewish people. Not content on being a bystander to antisemitism, he was also burdened by the direction his homeland was headed by becoming absorbed by the wickedness of such evil. He recognised the important role that the church played in combating injustice and suffering and worked tirelessly to influence his Christian brethren.

But when the church fell silent, Bonhoeffer held onto principles that are worth adopting today. We should be alert to the disturbing warning signs that accompany an evil in our midst that bears the same hallmarks.

With a third of Europeans having never heard of the Holocaust, or “just a little” about it, there is no room for complacency. The 2018 poll, commissioned by CNN, revealed that in France one out of five people between the ages of 18 and 34 have never heard of the Holocaust. In Austria, where Hitler was born, 12% of young people said they had never heard of the Holocaust, whilst 4 out of 10 Austrian adults said they know “just a little”. 

Understanding the current climate

Today, the UK and Europe face growing antisemitism at levels not seen in the West since World War 2. Whilst far right anti-Semitism still exists 80 years since the Allied nations rose up to defeat it, Western Europe is also experiencing antisemitism from two other directions: a surge from the far left and the significant rise of radical Islam, which is also the greatest threat to Israel and the West. 

Meanwhile, our treasured Judeo-Christian values are also in danger from the same threats alongside an aggressive form of secular humanism, leading to rapid moral decline in our nation and a hostility towards Christianity itself. 

And despite living in an era of supposedly unlimited access to news and information, an increasingly manipulative agenda-setting media is contributing to an even more divided and polarised society. 

Whilst the UK experiences these dramatic shifts, a largely silent and compromised church stands at a crossroads regarding its position on Israel as does the government.

This is the time for people like Bonhoeffer, people like you to rise up, cling to what is good and condemn the evil in our midst.

Here are a few ways you can make an impact:

1. We need to warn the church. 

The Bible says, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20).

The political climate of 1930s Germany is a solemn reminder of the dangers of deliberately portraying evil as good and darkness as light. For example, the attempt by the “Reich Church” to eradicate the Jewishness of Scripture should act as a warning to Christians today especially in light of the destructive, antisemitic, “replacement theology” that some churches have embraced. The church needs to wake up and realise that many are being deceived by lies rather than seeing truth. Every person can be like Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a single light in the darkness warning of the times in which we live. 

2. We need to encourage one another.

Proverbs 4:7 states, “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” 

Bonhoeffer had clear vision about the emerging threats and never gave up in helping fellow Christians understand the times in which they were living. Some compromised, some isolated themselves and others paid the ultimate price. The times we are living in calls for Christians to encourage and edify one another with the Word of God and with Godly wisdom and understanding. Cling onto what is good. Never give up. Believe that you can make a difference in your lifetime. Ask for God’s wisdom to understand the times we are living in and do not lose heart.

3. Don’t give up on the younger generation.

Bonhoeffer made asserted efforts to reach young Christians, even risking his own life doing so. Why the youth? Because Bonhoeffer knew the importance of passing the baton to the next generation. And when it comes to Israel, let us not forsake our duty to instil a heart for the Jewish people. The next generation must be prepared to stand firmly through what lies ahead. Let us not give up on our young people. Pray for them and let’s harness their passions towards standing for the truth.

4. Pray for the nation.

The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy to pray for kings and all who are in authority “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” The Bible says that God will judge the rulers of the earth for how they use, or misuse, their authority. It is imperative that we pray for the state of our nation and for its leaders. 

We must also pray for the Jewish community in this nation and that the church will have boldness to stand against antisemitism. Pray also that Britain will stand with Israel.

5. Do not remain silent.

Bonhoeffer was a victim of an assault on freedom of speech. Nevertheless, he spoke the truth. History shows that shutting down freedom of speech is one of the first stages of a slippery slope towards other freedom restrictions. This freedom must be defended, but even if silenced, we must not give up speaking out against antisemitism and defend our Judeo-Christian values, regardless of the cost.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer has famously said, 

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”


Written by Alastair Kirk, Christians United for Israel UK
Originally published in CUFI’s Torch Magazine, Jan 2019, under ‘Understanding the Times’.