Fear the LORD your God, serve Him only and take your oaths in His name (Deuteronomy 6:13).
Their words showed their distress. Articles written by faculty members of the WELS seminary warned pastors about the disturbing development. They had received word that Lutheran pastors in Germany would not be allowed to continue their ministry unless they took a new oath.
The oath began: “Ich schwöre bei Gott…” In English, it read: “I swear by God the Almighty and Omniscient I will be loyal and obedient to the Führer of the German Reich and nation, Adolf Hitler, observe the laws and faithfully perform my official duties, so help me God.”
Lutheran pastors in Saxony, the home of Martin Luther, accepted that oath on April 20, 1938, the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday.
Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary was near Milwaukee, far away from Nazi Germany. We might wonder why the professors were so disturbed at this news. But most of the members of our church body had relatives in Germany at that time. Many of our pastors and professors had come from there. They were concerned about the Christians now in the hands of the Nazis.
The question was, “Could the day come when such an oath be demanded of the pastors in America?”
This was not a pledge of allegiance to a nation. It was a surrender of the Christian Church to the whims of a man, and partnership with those who would kill millions of innocents. It was an attempt by the Nazis to highjack the Christian faith by having pastors swear loyalty to their leader with God as a witness. Faithfulness to Hitler was to be tied to faithfulness to God.
As WWII progressed, the threat looked more real. The Wehrmacht rolled up victory after victory. With the entire British army cornered at Dunkirk, it looked like Hitler would rule Europe and England. Germany and Japan were planning for the United States to be the next victim.
Today we look back on those years in the comfort of knowing how the war turned out. Germany was defeated. Hitler killed himself. Atomic bombs brought Japan to its knees. The threat to American pastors evaporated.
But it could have easily ended differently. The victory of the Allies over Germany and Japan was often in doubt. History shows that if just a few things had taken a different turn, we might be speaking German today—and our pastors might be forced to take an oath of loyalty to a modern Nazi leader.
Many of those developing the atomic bomb came from Germany. What if they had been loyal to the Führer? Other new weapons—rockets, jet engines—were coming into German production. What if they had arrived earlier? Numerous battles in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific ended up being Allied victories by apparent flukes.
Codes were cracked without the enemies realizing it. A pilot spotted the Japanese fleet heading toward Midway only minutes before he had to turn back or run out of fuel and ditch in the ocean. A storm ended just in time for the D Day landing. Clouds cleared just in time for airpower to turn the tide in the Battle of the Bulge. More examples could be listed. How lucky could we get?
But it was not luck. Nor was it superior planning, equipment, or manpower that won the war for the Allies. It was the grace of God at work. And he worked through sinful, frail, mistake-prone humans.
“Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (I Corinthians 1:31). Good to remember that. We might add, “Let him who would serve his country loyally, first serve his Lord faithfully.”
May our pastors continue to swear faithfulness to the Good Shepherd, alone.
“So help me God!”
Eternal Father, strong to save, we praise, thank and glorify you for preserving our nation from those who would have taken away our freedom to worship you in spirit and in truth. We know that such enemies still threaten. We know that efforts without your help will fail. Thank you for the veterans of the past and provide us with warriors and leaders who will serve faithfully in the future. To you alone the glory! Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military