Progressive Christianity?

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One of the links from Al Mohler’s The Briefing is titled, What Christianity Would Look Like Without Hell.

The author is John Shore author of a book titled Unfair: Christians and the LGBT Question.

The essence of Shore’s argument is that God is love and nothing but love. Shore concludes that hell is inconsistent with his interpretation of what God is and what God is not. Shore equates the doctrine of hell “with the toxic lie that the Bible condemns homosexuality.”

Shore insists that Bible believing Christians who believe such things are naïve.

Shore then argues for a Christianity without the doctrine of hell and what it would look like. Here are some examples of Shore’s conclusions:

” A Christianity without hell would have nothing to recommend it but the constant and unending love of God. It would allow Christians to point upward to God’s love—but never downward to His/Her wrath.”

My comment: This statement sets the tone for all of his other statements. It is based on Shore’s presupposition that God is love and nothing but love and Shore gets to define what that love looks like by assuming that God is a God without wrath. It could mean to Shore that there is no such thing as sin and therefore no need for Christ to die on the Cross, taking the wrath of God upon himself in the atonement.  On the other hand judging by this statement and Shore’s other statements Shore is actually a universalist meaning that all people are saved regardless of what they believe. Whatever the case Shore is well on his way to inventing his own religion.

Shore goes on: “A Christianity without hell would be largely unevangelical, since there would be nothing to save anyone from.”

My comment: I wonder what Shore means by “largely evangelical” unless he means converting people to his point of view. I’m guessing that is what he means since he concludes with this statement: “I want that Christianity. I insist upon that Christianity.”

My Comment: Shore is insisting even demanding a Christianity void of absolutes and void of all doctrine except for the doctrines he finds acceptable and redefines to make them acceptable. Shore’s source of authority is Shore. Shore’s concluding statement above smacks of the intolerance of the LGBT movement that demands conformity to their beliefs.

Shore continues: “A Christianity without hell would trust that God’s loving benevolence towards all people (emphasis on all) extends beyond this life and into the next.”

My comment: I can only surmise that Shore has no use for the Jesus of Scripture since Jesus speaks more of hell than he does of God’s love.

Shore: “Bringing peace about the afterlife, a Christianity without hell would free Christians to fully embrace this life, to heed Christ’s commandment to in this life love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

My comment: This statement is interesting since Shore is making an attempt to quote the Bible. He paraphrases the second great commandment (Matt. 22:37-39). The commandment is in the context of the Pharisee’s testing Jesus in regards to the law (Ten Commandments).  Shore paraphrases the second summation of the commandments while ignoring the first; the command to love your God with your whole heart, mind and soul. Shore is cherry picking a verse out of its context and then defining for us what he thinks Christ meant by loving our neighbors. Presumably, loving our neighbors would not mean telling them about hell. Shore clearly does not believe there is a hell while Jesus certainly did. My question to Shore would be that if Jesus is right and Shore is wrong and there is such a place as hell would it be loving to not tell people about it? Again, what we see here is Shore setting himself up as his own authority, his own interpreter of Scripture as it suits him. Shore practices the age old error of getting the Bible to say what you want it say to say rather than what it actually says.

Then there is this from Shore:

“In short, a Christianity without hell would be a fearless, trusting, loving, divinely inspired source of good in the world. And this Christianity would be more biblical—would be truer to not just the words but the very spirit of Christianity—than any Christianity that posits the reality of hell.”

My comment: The arrogance contained in these statements is breath-taking. Shore’s entire argument is based on Shore being his own authority and driven by his agenda for a Christianity that has no need for a Savior. Yet, he has the audacity to say that his version of Christianity is more biblical and more in keeping with the spirit of Christianity. Wow!

The piece originally appeared on the Patheos website under the label “Progressive Christianity.” Patheos is a mish-mash of eclectic religious thought including atheism. Shore’s article was reproduced by the online version of Time Magazine under “opinion.”

Personally, I wonder why Shore and those that agree with him bother with the label of “Christian” at all.  Shore’s gospel is the gospel of anything goes and that is no gospel at all.

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Beyond Redemption_P4 What do the Scriptures say?

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A thought provoking and excellent read and a real tribute to a man who had to over come the emotion of ministering to war criminals for the sake of the gospel.

A thought provoking and excellent read and a real tribute to a man who had to over come the emotion of ministering to war criminals for the sake of the gospel.

A number of years ago I counseled a man in the church I was serving in.

The man had a burden for his father who was dying in a VA Hospital. The son’s burden was that the father would respond to the gospel even as he lay dying.

The dying man was a World War 2 veteran and had lived a life apart from Christ. According to the son the son’s childhood had been a living hell with frequent beatings, drunkenness and spousal abuse. The father had few friends and had alienated all of his family. Now, he lay dying from cancer.

The father was hated by nearly everyone who knew him and when he finally passed away only six people showed up at the funeral which was held in a VA Chapel. One of the people who came didn’t even know the deceased and just wanted to honor a veteran in some way. The other person who did not know the deceased was me and my job was to give a short message to a very small crowd of five.

The father, in some sense was a war criminal, guilty not necessarily of war crimes but guilty of some pretty horrible crimes against his family and many others. He was not a nice man without any perceived redeeming qualities what-so-ever.

Death by hanging was the fate of many tried by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

Death by hanging was the fate of many tried by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

When I counseled the son (prior to the father’s passing) my text was the same as the one that resonated with Pastor Gerecke when he was asked to minister to the Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg.

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43 ESV)

As we can see from the text Jesus was crucified between two criminals usually identified as thieves or robbers. Robbery suggests murder and capital punishment as opposed to petty thievery that would not require the death penalty.

Most of the Nuremberg defendants believed they would be hung while the two thieves knew for a fact they would die because they were already on the gallows so-to-speak as represented by the crosses they already hung on.

The parallel between the two sets of condemned men is obvious.

Are men facing death for their crimes capable of genuine repentance and the forgiveness of their sins?

Let’s examine the text to see if there is any evidence that the thief’s conversion was genuine.

The first observation we can make from the text is that Jesus assured the thief that on the very day he would be with Jesus in Paradise. That is compelling textual evidence that the thief was truly converted but there is more.

The parallel text in Matthew indicates that at first both thieves mocked Christ (Matt. 27:44).

At some point the second robber stopped mocking Jesus and instead asked for salvation. If you were to read the rest of the story you would see that certain signs and wonders would follow this incident.

The second robber made his request for salvation before any of the signs and wonders took place thus indicating something else convinced him to repent.

We can also note that the text records that everyone around the crosses were mocking Jesus; the crowd, the soldiers, the robbers, the scribes and Pharisees, everyone. To repent and ask Jesus for salvation would mean the robber had to swim against the tide of popular opinion and the mockery of the Savior.

The second robber also rebuked the first for not fearing God. The second robber clearly recognized Jesus’ innocence and it suggests a recognition of Jesus’ deity. The rebuke of the first robber was for being irreverent. In other words the second robber went from being a mocker himself to someone defending Jesus in a very short time. What could explain this apart from a genuine change of heart?

Remember what Pastor Gerecke had said about his former SS Lt. Colonel who played the organ at the worship services. He said of the man, “the simple Gospel of the Cross had changed his heart.” So it was with the second robber.

This is a key point. For any of the Nuremberg defendants to be genuine about repentance they would, like the robber, have to realize that Jesus was innocent of everything and that he was indeed God who was dying for the genuine crimes of others!

The second robber asks Jesus to remember him in His kingdom thus recognizing that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Jesus grants him the request; the guilty dying for the innocent and the innocent paying for the guilty party’s sins.

As the first robber and others mocked Jesus by telling Jesus to come off the cross and thus do a miracle (he saved others and cannot save himself) the second robber recognized Jesus did not have to come off the cross to save anyone because Jesus simply had the authority to save.

Furthermore, the second robber noted his own guilt and the fact he deserved death. He asked Jesus for salvation on the basis of mercy and grace with nothing to offer in return. No good works, no self-justification, no excuses. He just relied upon Jesus mercy and grace which is all we have to appeal to in salvation.

Luke does not say what changed the second robber’s mind at that late hour. In order to discover that answer we have to look elsewhere in the Bible.

In John Chapter Three Jesus told Nicodemus that the process of being born again is a mysterious working of the Holy Spirit-the results are evident, but the process is unseen. The second robber showed evidence of a changed heart. I think all would agree, but what changed his heart?

In Acts 16 Luke writes of the conversion of a woman named Lydia. Luke writes, “the Lord opened her heart to believe.”

And so it is with all who believe, you, me, a robber on a cross, a Nazi about to be hung. Salvation belongs to the Lord declared the prophet Jonah (Jonah 2:9) meaning that salvation is a sovereign work of God from start to finish just as it is the secret work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men that we can only see the results of.

We judge people by the scope and magnitude of their sins and thus minimize our own by comparison.

I’m not as bad as that father who beat his wife and children.

I’m not as bad as the drunk next door.

I’m not as bad as the pornographer, the robber or murderer and certainly not as bad as any Nazi.

All of those statements may be true from a human, self-righteous point of view with the person making the statements never realizing that they have within themselves the capacity for every one of those heinous sins.

The old statement, that there by the grace of God go I rings true.

The words of James come to mind:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
(James 2:10 ESV)

While we may differ in the scope and extent of sin Scripture in an individual’s life is quite clear that all far short of the glory of God.

 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
[11] no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
[12] All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
[13] “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
[14] “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
[15] “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
[16] in their paths are ruin and misery,
[17] and the way of peace they have not known.”
[18] “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

There simply isn’t any wiggle room. All are guilty and all without Christ will perish according to God’s Word (Rom. 6:23)

Consider the apostle’s Peter’s first sermon:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24 ESV)

Peter is informing those hearing the sermon that they are guilty, either implicitly or complicity in killing the Son of God even though they had ample proof of his deity.

The Holy Spirit is active in the hearts of the crowd and they respond:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-39 ESV)

Jesus died on the Cross for sinners like you and me as well as the worst of the worst. Even the apostle Paul thought himself as the worst of sinners before he received Christ:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15 ESV)

Paul considered himself the foremost among sinners because he persecuted the church and was complicit in the murder of Stephen.

He goes on:

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:16 ESV)

Paul was an example of God’s mercy and grace. Once a hard-hearted Pharisee that persecuted the church in the hopes that people would not believe; now the apostle to the Gentiles (anyone not a Jew) preaching the good news that anyone no matter what they have done can be saved.

Paul himself is blown away by what he is saying and he exclaims the wonder of it all like this:

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17 ESV)

Pastor Gerecke recognized these truths. Once more he recognized that these truths could apply to even the worst of the Nazi war criminals and so he agreed to work with them.

On a human level it’s nearly incomprehensible that some of these men could be forgiven by God for their crimes but we forget that God forgave the apostle Paul and the crowd that repented at Peter’s first sermon. God’s ways are not our ways and we should rejoice in that for it should give us, the foremost of sinners hope that we have a Savior who can and does save even the worst of the worst.

This side of heaven we will never know who among the Nazis at Nuremberg was genuinely repentant. All we have is Pastor Gerecke’s testimony and what he believed about men who believed they were about to die.

And that perhaps is the greatest take-away from Pastor Gerecke’s mission to the Nazis, all die, all had an opportunity to repent and seek forgiveness; some did, some maybe and others clearly did not.

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

The question then becomes what do we do with our sin because we too will die.

Thank God for his mercy and grace to all those who truly repent and believe upon Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Beyond Redemption_Part 3_Were the War Criminals Repentant?

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Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

After Gerecke had been selected to give Nazi war criminals spiritual counsel he decided to hold church services for them and to personally counsel those who were willing.

Mission at Nuremberg

In all, Gerecke worked with thirteen of the defendants.

Gerecke was “in charge” to determine if the men were truly repentant for their crimes and whether or not he would allow them to return to their Lutheran faith. Once Gerecke determined that that they were repentant he allowed them to partake of the Lord’s Supper as a sign of their repentance.

Gerecke’s attitude is reflected in what he believed about the former SS Lieutenant Colonel who served as his chapel organist. Gerecke believed that by the end of the trial he had brought the man back to faith and he noted “The simple Gospel of the Cross had changed his heart.”

Whatever else we might conclude about the possibility of redemption for Nazi war criminals it is clear that Pastor Gerecke believed it possible and the organist would have been Gercke’s Exhibit A.

Some of the defendants at Nuremberg guarded by American Military Police. My father was a MP stationed in near by Cologne at the time of the trial.

Some of the defendants at Nuremberg guarded by American Military Police. My father was a MP stationed in near by Cologne at the time of the trial.

Here is sampling of what happened with some of the defendants Gerecke ministered too.

–Karl Donitz-head of the German Navy after Raeder, received 10 years in prison.

Donitz believed Gerecke could help him after Gerecke told him they would simply deal with the Word of God in relation to the hearts of men rather than a political debate. In other words Gerecke stuck to the gospel and that opened the door for him to speak with Donitz.  Donitz responded with repentance according to Gerecke.

–Hans Fritzsche headed the news division of the ministry of propaganda under Joseph Goebbels. Fritzsche was acquitted.

Gerecke believed Fritzsche to be repentant. Most of the defendants believed they all would receive the death penalty from the vindictive allies. However, the allies (the western ones anyway) wanted justice to be served above all else and if there was not enough evidence to convict Fritzsche then an acquittal was appropriate.

I think that given the attitudes of the time it must have been a hard decision for the judges to make and it would have been easier to convict Fritsche and give him a light sentence like the one Donitz received.

–Herman Goering was the highest ranking Nazi to be tried. Goring was head of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) and was Hitler’s designated successor almost to the end when he fell out of favor. Goring’s sentence was death by hanging but he committed suicide the night before the execution. Gerecke was one of the first to get into Goring’s cell the night he killed himself.

Gerecke never believed Goring repentant and refused him communion. In the book Goring comes across as extremely personable especially to Gerecke whom he loved to chat with.

Gerecke suspected Goring of game playing perhaps hoping for an acquittal or light sentence. Goring also comes across as delusional in the book. He is shocked that he is not treated with the respect he thought he was due.

Gerecke also ministered to the defendants families if they let him), Gerecke ministered to Mrs. Goring and their young daughter. Gerecke took the example of Jesus seriously as he would minister to any sinner who wished him too.

Herman Goring, death by cyanide capsule.

Herman Goring, death by cyanide capsule.

–Alfred Jodl was the General who was Chief of Operations for the German Wehrmacht. In his capacity as Chief of Operations he was the second highest ranking general after Keitel and Hitler’s closet military advisor. Jodl’s reputation was that of a sycophant and a yes man never standing up to Hitler’s often ludicrous military decisions.

His sentence was death by hanging.

Jodl had pled “not guilty” and said, “For what I have done or had to do, I have a pure conscience before God, before history and my people.” His not guilty plea speaks of his lack of repentance and a sense of false assurance.

Jodl would have used the “I was only following orders” defense offered by many of the Nazis.

— Ernst Kaltenbrunner was a  high-ranking SS officer who had responsibility for the death camps.

Kaltenbrunner was an unrepentant psychopath and had no use for Gerecke. There is a whole chapter in the book detailing his crimes and frankly it is as appalling as a visit to Auschwitz-Buchenwald.

Kaltenbrunner was a Nazi to the nth degree apparently without any conscience what-so-ever. In my opinion he received justice in this life (death by hanging) and would receive justice in the life to come for his lack of repentance.

–Wilhelm Keitel was head of the German Army and like Jodl a chief military advisor to Hitler and like Jodl considered to be a yes man by many other generals in the Wehrmacht.

Keitel was a bit of surprise at Nuremberg. At first he refused to admit any guilt like Jodl but at the end made no excuse for what he was responsible. Gerecke believed him to be repentant and Keitel faced the gallows with some dignity and military bearing.

–Konstantin von Neurath was minister of foreign affairs for Hitler. He received fifteen years in prison for his crimes.

Von Neurath was initially unresponsive to Gerecke but Neurath’s family thanked Gerecke for helping him “get right with God.” Neurath was one of the five Catholics so it is apparent that both Gerecke and O’Connor ministered to him at some point during the trial.

–Erich Raeder was head of the German Navy prior to Donitz. He received life imprisonment for his role as Hitler’s naval advisor up until 1943.

Raeder was skeptical about certain Christian tenets and Gerecke at first considered him an intellectual skeptic regarding Christianity but later believed Raeder was more suspicious of the American Army than he was of Christianity.

Raeder became an ardent Bible reader and one of Gerecke’s best students. Gerecke believed Raeder returned to the Lutheran faith.

Although Raeder received a life sentence he was released from prison in 1955 due to poor health.

–Joachim von Ribbentrop was another minister of foreign affairs. His sentence was death by hanging.

Von Ribbentrop was unrepentant at the start of Gerecke’s ministry. His wife was even more adamant in her opposition to Christianity. Both were ardent Nazis.

Later after reading the Bible and the Lutheran Catechism von Ribbentrop became penitent and right before the end of the trial he asked to take communion which he did indicating that Gerecke believed him to be repentant.

–Alfred Rosenberg was a racial theory ideologist and minister of the eastern occupied territories. As the minister for the eastern conquered territories he was responsible for the death of perhaps millions. His sentence was death by hanging.

Rosenberg told Gerecke he had no use for his childhood faith but added he believed in God, but not Christ.

This was a reflection of Gottglaubige or “believers in God.” Certain Nazis didn’t want to be Christians but also wanted to distinguish themselves from atheists.

Although this appears to be an odd attitude it does reflect the attitude of many within our own culture. They want to believe in “God” as they chose to define him but want nothing to do with the Christ of the Bible even though they may call themselves “Christian.”

NYT

–Fritz Sauckel was the planner of the Nazi slave labor program which killed hundreds of thousands. His was the Reich’s Labor Minister and his sentence was death by hanging.

Saukel initially pled “not guilty” and said, “I declare myself in the sense of the Indictment, before God and the world and particularly before my people, not guilty.” Saukel was considered an “old guard hard line Nazi.”

Sauckel became the first to work seriously with Gerecke. He saw himself as a person who did no wrong against God or man even though he was responsible for the slave labor that killed many.

Sauckel seemed eager to repent but Gerecke saw through it telling him, “you don’t want to go through the motions, you want to let the motions of God’s Holy Spirit go through you.”

According to Gerecke Sauckel did eventually repent crying out so loud that every guard on his floor heard him say “Gott sei mor gnadig, ein Sunder,” God, be merciful to me a sinner. Sauckel then helped with other men including Speer, Fritzsche and Schirach all of whom Gerecke believed returned to faith.

–Dr. Hjalmar Schacht was a banker and industrialist. He was acquitted.

He objected to being tried with the likes of Goering and Kaltenbrunner and because of that association believed he was unfit for communion. He told Gerecke that once he was declared a free man he would take his wife back to church and partake of the Lord’s Supper.

Gerecke did not render an opinion as to Schacht’s repentance. What is interesting to me is Schlacht’s sense of self-righteousness in being associated with “worse” sinners like Goring and Kaltenbrunner.

Schlacht played the game that many of us play by comparing ourselves to other sinners rather than comparing ourselves to the sinless Son of God.

Gerecke was asked later if the men who he thought repented did so simply because they would meet their deaths on the end of the rope.

Gerecke replied, “My only answer is that I have been a preacher for a long time and decided that [finding God] is the only way a good many folks find themselves.”

The apostle Paul considered himself to be the chief of sinners.

The apostle Paul considered himself to be the chief of sinners.

In other words, only God knows for sure the inner workings of man’s heart.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 ESV)

In the next installment I will work through many of the relevant Scriptures.

For further reading…

From Hitler’s Wolves to Christ’s Lambs, an article from the Gospel Coalition on Gerecke and Nuremberg.

Beyond Redemption? Part 2 Nuremberg

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I recently finished author Tim Townsend’s Mission at Nuremberg-An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis.

Mission at Nuremberg

During the reading of the book a flood of Scripture came to my mind in the different sections of the book. Some were the Scriptures quoted in the book but many were not as I considered the man who ministered to the Nazis at Nuremberg, Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS).

The two passages that kept coming to my mind after I finished the book were Acts 2:22-24 and Acts 2:37-39.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. (Acts 2:22-24 ESV)

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:37-39 ESV)

Both passages are in the larger context of the apostle Peter’s Pentecost sermon and both passages, speak volumes to the situation that Pastor Gerecke faced at Nuremberg when he accepted the assignment to be chaplain to men accused of waging an unjust war and for the extermination of millions. I will come back to the passages in a later post.

Here is Pastor Gercke’s background:

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

Pastor Henry Gerecke (LCMS)

Pastor Gerecke barely made it into the chaplain’s corps of the US Army. The age limit was 50 and Gerecke just made the cut of by a couple of weeks.

Gerecke was from Missouri, a state that had a high proportion of German immigrants. Gerecke was fluent in German a fact that contributed to him being asked to minister to the war criminals, Gercke had also been a minister to criminals within the St. Louis jail system, an experience that helped prepare him to minister to criminals of a different sort.

Prior to the war Gerecke served as a local church pastor but really did much more. It seems he always had a heart for the down and out, the type of people who seem to have been forgotten or the type of people who seemed to need the most spiritual help. To Gerecke the men on trial were in most need of spiritual help since it was almost unthinkable that any would escape the death penalty and all would face their Creator shortly.

According to Townsend Gerecke’s reputation as a pastor and evangelist was second to none and if he had any enemies Townsend does not record them.

Gerecke’s deployment took him to Great Britain where he gave excellent service at a major hospital giving comfort to the wounded and the dying but also ministering to the enormous staff that populated the base. He seemed tireless in his work and was loved and admired by  all he ministered too.

He followed the hospital unit to France and by the end of the war to Munich in the German state of Bavaria. From there he was asked to go to Nuremberg and minister to the top surviving Nazis who were incarcerated.

As we look back almost 70 years the concept of a trial for war crimes does not seem out-of-place or even unusual. The US and Great Britain have prosecuted their own soldiers for war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan and when they do it’s usually big news.

The Nuremberg trials were something different at the time and unique in many ways. For the first time the major leaders, both military and civilian would be brought to trial and held to account for their crimes.

The prosecutors came from the four major powers that included the US, Great Britain, France and Soviet Russia. The inclusion of Soviet Russia in a trial about war crimes must have struck the other allies at least a bit ironic.

The judges panel at Nuremberg, 1945

The judges panel at Nuremberg, 1945

Nevertheless, led by the US and Great Britain the western allies decided the trial would not be about vengeance but instead would focus on justice. They wanted the world to remember what the Nazis did in the hopes that the world would learn and that such a government would never rise again to wreak such havoc on mankind.

In retrospect, it was naive but the allies were serious about justice and wanted to present to the world a fair trial to those who never would have done so to their enemies.

The western allies gave considerable thought to the trial as they were breaking new ground. They even considered the spiritual welfare of the war criminals some of whom were the most hated men the world has ever known!

The two men who eventually got the job of ministering to the Nazis were Pastor Gerecke for the Lutherans among the them and Catholic priest Father Sixtus O’Connor for the Catholics. Father O’Conner also spoke fluent German.

Gerecke’s  initial reaction to being asked horrified him-ministering to vile men who had caused so much death and destruction. He didn’t want to shake their hands much less have a chat over spiritual things. He asked himself how could he try to bring comfort to men who had caused so much heart ache. He recognized there was a difference in ministering to burglars in St. Louis and those accused of mass murder and waging an inhuman war.

In case you are not familiar with German war crimes this snippet from Wiki gives you an idea of the magnitude of what transpired as well as explaining Gereke’s reluctance to even meet the men responsible:

The government of Germany ordered, organized and condoned a substantial number of war crimes in both World War I and World War II. The most notable of these is the Holocaust in which millions of people were murdered or died from abuse and neglect, 60% of them (approximately 6 million out of 10 million)[citation needed] Jews. However, millions also died as a result of other German actions in those two conflicts. The true number of victims may never be known, since much of the evidence was destroyed by the perpetrators, by burning of bodies, murder of witnesses and destruction of documentation in an attempt to conceal the crimes. Wiki

Scripture is what turned Pastor Gerecke’s mind around. Luke 23:32-43 in particular ministered to Gerecke before he could minister to the Nazis.

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews. ”One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43 ESV)

With this passage Gerecke realized the possibility of redemption existed for even the worst of the worst. I will deal with this passage at length in a later post.

Gerecke realized that if there was an opportunity to love the sinner and not the sin this was it and so he accepted and he became chaplain/pastor to the 15 Lutherans while O’Connor had the smaller flock of 6 Catholics.

We need to understand that the Nuremberg defendants were charged along the following lines:

1. Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of a crime against peace.

2. Planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression and other crimes against peace.

3. War crimes

4. Crimes against humanity

The general idea was that indictments #s 1 and 2 involved the major military and civilian administrators that enabled Hitler and the Nazis which led to wars of conquest, the committing of war crimes and crimes against humanity that included but were not limited to the holocaust death camps.

In other words it was possible for a defendant to be convicted in four ways or one way or anything in between. Depending on the conviction an appropriate sentence was carried out.

Some of the defendants at Nuremberg guarded by American Military Police. My father was a MP stationed in near by Cologne at the time of the trial.

Some of the defendants at Nuremberg guarded by American Military Police. My father was a MP stationed in near by Cologne at the time of the trial.

Below is a list of the defendants, what their role in the Nazi government was and the sentence they received. They are in alphabetical order.

1. Karl Donitz-head of the German Navy after Raeder, received 10 years in prison.

2. Hans Frank-governor general of occupied Poland, death by hanging.

3. Wilhelm Frick-minister to the interior authored race laws, death by hanging.

4. Hans Fritzsche-headed the news division of the ministry of propaganda under Goebbels-acquitted.

5. Walther Funk-Hitler’s minister of economics, sentenced to life imprisonment.

6. Herman Goering-highest ranking Nazi to be tried, head of the German Air Force and was Hitler’s designated successor, Goring’s sentence was death by hanging but committed suicide the night before the execution.

7. Rudolf Hess-Hitler’s deputy fuehrer until he flew to Scotland in 1942 in a weird attempt to broker peace, received life in prison.

8. Alfred Jodl-General, Chief of Operations, death by hanging.

9. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, high-ranking SS officer who had much of the responsibility for the death camps, death by hanging.

10. Wilhelm Keitel-head of the German Army, death by hanging.

11. Gustav Krupp-industrialist, found innocent of the charges but later charged for crimes that did not merit the death penalty.

12.  Konstantin von Neurath – minister of foreign affairs, fifteen years in prison

13. Franz von Papen-diplomat, found innocent of two charges acquitted of another two, later retried for lesser offenses and went to prison for eight years.

14. Erich Raeder-head of the German Navy prior to Donitz, life imprisonment, released after ten years.

15. Joachim von Ribbentrop, minister of foreign affairs, death by hanging.

16. Alfred Rosenberg-racial theory ideologist and minister of the eastern occupied territories, death by hanging.

17. Fritz Sauckel-planner of the Nazi slave labor program, death by hanging.

18. Dr. Hjalmar Schacht-banker and industrialist, acquitted.

19. Baldur von Schirach-head of the Hitler Youth, ten years in prison.

20. Arthur Seyss-Inquart-commissioner of occupied Holland, death by hanging.

21. Albert Speer-head of armaments and Hitler’s friend, twenty years in prison.

22. Julius Streicher-publisher of anti–Jewish newspaper, death by hanging.

These men were the primary people at the Nuremberg trials and the men that Gerecke and O’Connor tried to reach.

The question becomes did any of these men repent and if so have they have been forgiven by God for their enormous crimes and are they in heaven?

For some, the idea is repulsive at face value and given the magnitude of their crimes understandable from a human point of view. A Christian however has to view the situation through the lens of Scripture regardless of how they may feel about it. Viewing the situation through Scripture is what Pastor Gerecke did and in part three of this series I will give his opinion about those he ministered too.

Beyond Redemption? Part 1

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This is part one of a series derived from my reading of Mission at Nuremberg, An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend.  For those with an interest in theology and history I cannot recommend this book enough. To say that it is thought-provoking would understate what Mr. Townsend has accomplished in telling Pastor Gerecke’s story and his ministry to hardened war criminals.

There are many angles to the story that I could have focused one but I chose to focus on what I believe is the central proposition-Could a hardened Nazi war criminal find redemption at the Cross of Jesus Christ? 

Part One

In 2007 on a mission trip to Poland we took a side trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Although I was familiar with Nazi death camps and intellectually understood the horror of a death camp it’s something quite different to actually visit one and experience it.

Seven years after our  visit I still  remember the small courtyard where prisoners were lined up against a wall and shot, by the hundreds, just because of some small infraction of camp rules or because they were no longer useful for work. You can see where the bullets chipped away the masonry as the shooters sometimes missed their target. The target area today is covered by a large wreath that serves as a memorial to the victims. When you enter the small courtyard you stand where the executioners stood with their rifles and you look directly at the wreath and the chipped masonry. It’s a courtyard of death and only the beginning.

The court-yard is just past the gallows where hundreds more were killed as examples because of some infraction. Graphic pictures tell the story as you realize real people were hung right where you are standing. The trip between the buildings can only be described as a house of horrors as you realize what took place. You wonder, how could this happen?

Then you enter some of the buildings which have been turned into a museum. You pass display rooms full of luggage symbolizing the trains that rolled into Auschwitz-Birkenau on a daily basis and the people who would never leave. To this day the wall mural of small children leaving the train haunts me as you realize tiny children were killed in the hundreds of thousands. How could this be you wonder? How could anyone be so cruel to their fellow human beings?

Then you pass rooms full of eye-glasses and rooms full of human hair and tooth fillings. The Nazi’s accumulated numerous items taken from the prisoners to help them in the war effort. To the Nazis their victims were not human, but sub-human, useful only for work or the “products” they could scrounge once their victims were gassed.

And then  you reach the crematorium, the only one left standing. As the Russian Army approached the Nazi’s fled blowing up the crematoriums leaving one furnace only partially destroyed. You walk into the furnace after first walking into the showers where Zyclon B was administered. Millions went to their deaths in this way throughout Germany and Poland. How could this be as you realized over 6,000,000 perished in the death camps.

A crematorium before being blown up. It's where the victims of Cyclon B were taken to be reduced to ash-an ash that sometimes floated over the camp and the surrounding area.

A crematorium before being blown up. It’s where the victims of Cyclon B were taken to be reduced to ash-an ash that sometimes floated over the camp and the surrounding area. http://en.auschwitz.org/m/index.php?option=com_ponygallery&Itemid=3&func=viewcategory&catid=21

Eventually the tour gets more personal and if you are a thinking, reflective type person you begin to wonder how in the world could this even happen in what was thought to be a Christian Europe?

You wonder about good and evil and you wonder what kind of monsters could perpetrate such horror seemingly with no regrets and no conscience. You wonder how a so-called “Christian” nation could collectively conspire and/or allow a regime so evil to murder over 6,000,000 people. It boggles the mind as you struggle with man’s inhumanity to man.

As an American of primarily German extraction those kinds of questions haunted me. Did I have the same DNA the German Nazi’s did? It’s a horrifying thought.

I was born in the USA 90 years after my paternal great-grandfather came here from Prussian Pomerania. I see that as God’s providence but the flip side is had he not done so my father and mother and grand  parents could have been part of the holocaust in some capacity. This too was a terrifying thought. It is true that not every German was a Nazi but realizing that your family could have been is a sobering thought.

Some people speaking in the comfort of their own American homes and having grown up in an environment quite different from Nazi Germany might say, “oh something like that would never be on my radar, for I am not capable of such evil. I’m not perfect, but the holocaust, no way I’d participate.”

My answer to that as pastor is don’t be so sure, nor so self-righteous as to think you lack the capacity for every kind of evil.

Consider what the Scripture says before you assume that horrendous evil could never be on your radar.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)

When Scripture uses the word “heart” it usually means not the “cardia” but the center of the human will and emotions-the inner man, who we are on the inside.

The unconverted heart (to Christ) is deceitful and crooked, quite bumpy like a very bad road and desperately sick meaning medically incurable. It is not a pretty picture of the human condition and it flies in the face of people who seem to believe that mankind is “basically good.” A trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau should change that impression pretty quickly.

Consider Ephesians 2:1-3 as well:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)

Paul is giving us bad news. The unconverted follow the course of a sinful world, following the prince of the air whether they know it or not and whether or not they seem “good” by human standards. Paul says that the converted all once lived like that, in the passions of the flesh and quite willing to carry out those passions; passions that can be and are, quite evil. Paul says, we were children of wrath (the wrath of God) just like the rest of mankind.

We may choose to not believe that; but it is what Scripture says and means. It ought to be sobering to consider our unconverted nature before we seek to judge someone else’s unconverted nature.

I am referring to what’s called the doctrine of total depravity.

The doctrine of total depravity means we  do not commit all the sins we are capable of committing. It just means we all have the capacity to be the worst of monsters, like the Nazis who mapped out the holocaust and executed it the best they could before being stopped. That should be sobering if you value the teaching of Scripture.

So, what  happened to the Nazis? How could a so-called Christian nation (most Germans were either baptized Lutherans or Catholics) fall into some of the worst kinds of depravity recorded in history.

A philosopher by the name of Hannah Arendt can give us a little insight.

Hannah Arendt was a political philosopher who lived from 1906-1975. She is most famous for her “banality of evil” comments she made in observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann was a major architect of the holocaust who had escaped to Argentina after the war. In 1962 the Israeli Mossad grabbed him out that country and brought him back to Israel for trial. The trial was an international sensation and although I was only nine-years old I remember it because even then I was reading my dad’s books like William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

Eichmann on trial in Israel, 1962

Eichmann on trial in Israel, 1962

Here are two paragraphs that outline her philosophy coming out of the Eichmann trail.

She controversially uses the phrase “the banality of evil” to characterize Eichmann’s actions as a member of the Nazi regime, in particular his role as chief architect and executioner of Hitler’s genocidal “final solution” (Endlosung) for the “Jewish problem.” Her characterization of these actions, so obscene in their nature and consequences, as “banal” is not meant to position them as workaday. Rather it is meant to contest the prevalent depictions of the Nazi’s inexplicable atrocities as having emanated from a malevolent will to do evil, a delight in murder. As far as Arendt could discern, Eichmann came to his willing involvement with the program of genocide through a failure or absence of the faculties of sound thinking and judgement. From Eichmann’s trial in Jerusalem (where he had been brought after Israeli agents found him in hiding in Argentina), Arendt concluded that far from exhibiting a malevolent hatred of Jews which could have accounted psychologically for his participation in the Holocaust, Eichmann was an utterly innocuous individual. He operated unthinkingly, following orders, efficiently carrying them out, with no consideration of their effects upon those he targeted. The human dimension of these activities were not entertained, so the extermination of the Jews became indistinguishable from any other bureaucratically assigned and discharged responsibility for Eichmann and his cohorts.

Arendt concluded that Eichmann was constitutively incapable of exercising the kind of judgement that would have made his victims’ suffering real or apparent for him. It was not the presence of hatred that enabled Eichmann to perpetrate the genocide, but the absence of the imaginative capacities that would have made the human and moral dimensions of his activities tangible for him. Eichmann failed to exercise his capacity of thinking, of having an internal dialogue with himself, which would have permitted self-awareness of the evil nature of his deeds. This amounted to a failure to use self-reflection as a basis for judgement, the faculty that would have required Eichmann to exercise his imagination so as to contemplate the nature of his deeds from the experiential standpoint of his victims. This connection between the complicity with political evil and the failure of thinking and judgement inspired the last phase of Arendt’s work, which sought to explicate the nature of these faculties and their constitutive role for politically and morally responsible choices.

Much of Arendt’s work revolves around the ideas of thinking and judgment. To apply this to Eichmann she would have concluded he didn’t believe what he was doing was morally wrong and that sort of thinking made his judgment rational to him.

I believe her assessment is biblically accurate. An assessment like that fits the biblical data that the inner man is badly damaged, medically incurable as Jeremiah 17:9 would say. In other words Eichmann’s unredeemed heart became so hardened he was immune to compassion and moral categories seemed irrelevant to him.  Eichmann’s conscience was seared and his heart hardened just as Pharoah’s heart was hardened in Exodus. Some would say that Eichmann was mentally ill but the Bible would say he had a hard heart.

Jesus defines our basic problem as a heart problem, or an inner man problem. He never says we are mentally ill. He says we have a treasure problem:

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit,  for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45 ESV)

In other words, our actions, attitudes, behaviors, speech and so forth come from the inside out and are dependent on what we treasure.

Eichmann saw himself in terms of wanting of being a well-thought of  bureaucrat. He aimed to please Hitler and his superiors even if that meant supporting genocide and extermination of those the Nazis deemed undesirables. Eichmann did not fear God and so he had a hard heart. His passion was pleasing his superiors. His idol was the affirmation he received from the accolades associated with pleasing them.

I would submit that Eichmann’s example fits the profile of many a Nazi. There wasn’t anything particularly evil about Eichmann or anyone else in being German that enabled the holocaust. A thoroughly hardened heart is capable of every kind of evil. When someone goes on a killing spree in modern America we see the hardened heart in action. It differs only in scope and magnitude to what the Nazi’s did.

So what hope do any of us have. Jeremiah 17:10 gives us a clue.

“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:10 ESV)

The passage means that only God  understands the inner recesses of human motives, thinking and decisions (ESV Study Bible). In other words without God we cannot grasp the depth of our own depravity and our desperate need for a Savior to do some heart surgery!

Much of the above has come to my mind again as I read through the story of Pastor Henry Gerecke a Missouri-Synod Lutheran pastor/Army chaplain who was given the job “of saving some” of the Nuremberg defendants-the most evil among the evil.

As far as I know Eichmann never repented but what if he had? Would God have forgiven his sins and judged him with mercy? For some, that is an impossible thought and I certainly understand the emotion but then again I think of the story of Corrie Ten Boom who could and did find forgiveness in your heart when she recognized one of the SS guards at a church where she was giving her story.

To answer our question we must consult the Scriptures.

Stay tuned for Part Two.

For further reading:

The UKs Daily Mail did a major story on the release of the book. I’ve linked it here.

Interesting link titled 30 Worst Atrocities of the 20th Century. The author makes the important point that atrocities are not limited to a particular nationality, a particular religion or a particular type of government. The only difference in the listed atrocities is the scope and scale of each. In other words the capacity to commit atrocity is a universal human problem.

 

 

 

 

Great Quote by C.S. Lewis on popular religion

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“We who defend Christianity find ourselves constantly opposed not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion. Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you command friendly interest.

But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character. People become embarrassed or angry. Such a conception seems to them primitive and crude and even irreverent. The popular ‘religion’ excludes miracles because it excludes the ‘living God’ of Christianity and believes instead in a kind of God who obviously would not do miracles, or indeed anything else.”

From: The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings From C.S. Lewis, page 31 (January 22 reading, titled “When the Temperature Drops”

Defining Emotions

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As a certified biblical counselor (ACBC) I am often confronted with the power of emotion and the havoc that emotion can play in a person’s life.

In the past week I’ve seen this played out numerous times. The case of Eliot Rodgers and the massacre he perpetrated comes to mind first.

We live in a highly therapeutic  culture that takes an evolutionary, non-cognitive view of emotions especially at the popular level. This explanation of the non-cognitive view is found  in Pastor Brian Borgman’s Faith and Feelings book.

Emotions? Cognitive or not cognitive?

Emotions? Cognitive or not cognitive?

The non-cognitive view is generally an evolutionary perspective that sees emotions as a physiological change in feeling ( e.g. sweaty palms, racing heart, euphoria), which is claimed by the person experiencing the change (fear, happiness, etc.) In other words we are subject to our emotions and not ultimately  responsible for them. They are something that happens to us, physically and chemically. We cry and feel sadness. We feel anxiety because our hearts race.

The non-cognitive view is the prevailing view in our therapeutic culture and frankly, it’s the prevailing view in many evangelical churches. It means, among things that emotions are sovereign and that humans are nothing more than a “bag of chemicals” to use counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick’s phrase.

The other view of emotions is the cognitive view. Again, here is Borgman with an explanation:

The cognitive view of the emotions sees the emotions as based on beliefs, standards, judgments, evaluations, concerns and thoughts. The emotions and reason are interdependent. The emotions are not simply impulses; they are indicators of what we value and what we believe…The  emotions reflect and express the inner man, the heart, the soul, the mind.

Borgman’s explanation of what emotions are is the biblical explanation. The contrast between the non-cognitive view and the cognitive view could not be sharper especially when we realize we are responsible for our emotions! The old “I can’t help how I feel” simply does not line up with  Scriptural teaching.

It should be quite clear that if emotions influence motives and conduct then we had better be able to do something about controlling them. And Christians should look to the Scriptures as to how to do that.

Borgman concludes, “the emotions are more than feelings; they tell us what we value and what we believe, producing desires and inclinations that affect our behavior.”

If this was not true then the apostle Paul’s words below would not make any sense at all:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32 ESV)

For more on the cognitive view of emotions follow the link to an op ed by David Brooks in the NYT. His comments on human nature are helpful.

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