Resisting Groupthink: Christian and Otherwise

The Holocaust Museum stands in DC as our nation’s tribute to the over six million Jews who were killed in the WWII genocide.  There were lots of factors leading up to separation, objectification, deportation, and eventually, annihilation, of the Jews.  One of them was the burning of books.  Hitler understood that ideas are the soil in which attitudes take root, and that attitudes are always the precursor to action.  Change ideas, and you’ll change action.  The Bible agrees with him.

All “other ideas” were a threat to the man and his plan.  That’s why there’s a section in the museum memorializing that tragic night of May 10, 1933 when big bonfires were made of books.  It wasn’t just Jewish authors whose works were toast – anything deemed “Un-German” was destroyed.  Hitler’s absolutism, his declarations about Aryan supremacy, his objectification and demonization of Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Professors, Pastors, and Priests – none of this could have possibly happened in an environment where free thinking was encouraged, or where there was a true marketplace of ideas.

I ponder what the implications of this are for Christ followers and churches.  I know I’m called, as a shepherd, to protect my flock.  I also know that Paul well knew the danger any single shepherd faces when he’s viewed as the sole repository of truth.  “I am of Paul”, “I am of Cephas” etc. was the precursor to the TV pastors of the 80′s and 90′s and the Rock Star pastors of our new millenium.  We like to follow people.  It is incumbent then, that we who are followed must point people beyond us, always, to Christ.  We need to realize that though we lead, we are still learning, still growing, still repenting.  Because of this we must – MUST point people beyond ourselves.

The ones who resisted the Reich (and there were hundreds, at least, scattered throughout Europe) shared two qualities, both of which are important for our maturity:

1. They wouldn’t be swayed by ‘groupthink’ because they were secure enough, courageous enough, to question authority.  Acts 17:11 speaks of a group who search the Bible daily, recognizing that no teacher is the final authority.  I always get concerned when I hear, “well Richard says…”  or “CS Lewis wrote that…”  Listening to teaching is a good thing.  Listening to more than one is best.  But when we talk about our faith, we need to be able to point people to the Bible as our final source of authority, rather than what any single teacher says.

2. They resisted censorship. The people who sheltered Jews were generally widely read.  So was the Apostle Paul, as evidenced by his quotations of Greek poetry in Acts 17.  In my last post, I encouraged broad reading, because as the people of God who live scattered amidst prevailing cultures, we’re called, not to separation, but to discernment.  We need to be able to attend movies, read books, listen to the news, and build bridges between these cultural poets and God’s eternal truth.  Though separation and censorship is easier, it’s the stuff that makes for groupthink rather than maturity.  That’s fine if the teacher is wholly mature, and a perfect communicator of truth – but Jesus hasn’t shown up in the flesh lately, so discernment is still needed.

3. They put it all on the line.  My wife and I pondered what it would be like to be a pastor in 1933 Germany, with three young children.  The lines seemed clearly drawn:  Fall in line with the party, or face termination, retribution, and even imprisonment.  It would have been easy, perhaps, to justify my need to care for my family, to rationalize that I could do more good “on the inside” than in the unemployment line.  A simple nod to Ceasar, and I can get on with saving souls.  Most pastors did just that.

Meanwhile there were people, a few, for whom the thought of compromise never surfaced, not even for a moment.  Resisting the Reich and sheltering Jews was happening throughout Europe, even with the realization that those who were caught would pay a terrible price.  They put their own lives, and those of their families, on the line.

“He who sakes to save his life will lose it” was what Jesus said.

We’d do well to live more loyally to Christ than our movements, and more loyalty will inevitably to lead to more liberty, more courage, and more life.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • fluger

    I can’t tell you how true I find this.

    I grew up as a Missionary Kid in South America; and in that kind of environment, its easy to develop a very specific world-view. I’m very grateful that my parents encouraged me to be inquisitive and well-read; otherwise the trauma of college (at SPU) and the, to me, radical ideas I was exposed to might’ve made me shut down and become more insular; or else shatter my faith. I know for a fact that many of my fellow MKs had these happen to them.

    Frankly, even more jarring was leaving a Christian campus and the bubble COMPLETELY and being thrust into the real world with non-Christians. These was the nail in the coffin for a lot of my friends’ faith. I recall many a bitter argument with some friends that were abandoning God; not because they didn’t believe in Him anymore; but because they didn’t want to follow Him anymore.

    Anyway, I feel like both those times in a young Christian’s life would be easier transitions if we were more exposed to the world around us; being in the world, not of it.

    Thank you for this article.

    • Lamont

      People leaving the faith isn’t a result of turning from Christ, it’s a result from never knowing Him! They were of the world, and not of Christ. That doesn’t mean they will never come to Christ, it shows mostly that the were never born again. I blame that on the fact that many church’s today do not preach the gospel! A truly converted (born from above) person will never be lost. Christ will not lose any that he is given.

  • fluger

    I can’t tell you how true I find this.

    I grew up as a Missionary Kid in South America; and in that kind of environment, its easy to develop a very specific world-view. I’m very grateful that my parents encouraged me to be inquisitive and well-read; otherwise the trauma of college (at SPU) and the, to me, radical ideas I was exposed to might’ve made me shut down and become more insular; or else shatter my faith. I know for a fact that many of my fellow MKs had these happen to them.

    Frankly, even more jarring was leaving a Christian campus and the bubble COMPLETELY and being thrust into the real world with non-Christians. These was the nail in the coffin for a lot of my friends’ faith. I recall many a bitter argument with some friends that were abandoning God; not because they didn’t believe in Him anymore; but because they didn’t want to follow Him anymore.

    Anyway, I feel like both those times in a young Christian’s life would be easier transitions if we were more exposed to the world around us; being in the world, not of it.

    Thank you for this article.

    • Lamont

      People leaving the faith isn’t a result of turning from Christ, it’s a result from never knowing Him! They were of the world, and not of Christ. That doesn’t mean they will never come to Christ, it shows mostly that the were never born again. I blame that on the fact that many church’s today do not preach the gospel! A truly converted (born from above) person will never be lost. Christ will not lose any that he is given.

  • Jim A.

    Amen. Our son, while at Georgetown, delighted in taking us to the ESPN sports bar and other venues when we would visit DC. Imagine our surprise, arriving one weekend, to be told we were going to spend Saturday at the Holocaust Museum. What an incredibly moving place.

    It reminded me of traveling in Siberia in 1968 on the Trans-Siberian railroad, being arrested, and accused of photographing bridges. It was 23 years after the end of World War II, the Soviet Union had been nearly decimated by the Germans, so many Soviet citizens died, and, yet, they consficated my books, my map, my journal, and my photographs. None were ever returned; despite many pleas to the Embassey.

    You would think we would learn. But it was the “Cold War.” Soviet citizens were afraid to be seen with an American. Censorship was enforced (I had a Newsweek magazine with me, purchased in Japan, showing a Soviet tank being set on fire in the streets of Prague). Alcoholism prevalent. Fear obvious. Beautiful churches, but most people were afraid to attend. There was a profound sense of sadness among the people I met. Soviet policy discouraged religious beliefs.

    We must have the courage of our convictions and live with Christ at the center. Easy to say, hard to do. Especially every day, day after day. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

  • Jim A.

    Amen. Our son, while at Georgetown, delighted in taking us to the ESPN sports bar and other venues when we would visit DC. Imagine our surprise, arriving one weekend, to be told we were going to spend Saturday at the Holocaust Museum. What an incredibly moving place.

    It reminded me of traveling in Siberia in 1968 on the Trans-Siberian railroad, being arrested, and accused of photographing bridges. It was 23 years after the end of World War II, the Soviet Union had been nearly decimated by the Germans, so many Soviet citizens died, and, yet, they consficated my books, my map, my journal, and my photographs. None were ever returned; despite many pleas to the Embassey.

    You would think we would learn. But it was the “Cold War.” Soviet citizens were afraid to be seen with an American. Censorship was enforced (I had a Newsweek magazine with me, purchased in Japan, showing a Soviet tank being set on fire in the streets of Prague). Alcoholism prevalent. Fear obvious. Beautiful churches, but most people were afraid to attend. There was a profound sense of sadness among the people I met. Soviet policy discouraged religious beliefs.

    We must have the courage of our convictions and live with Christ at the center. Easy to say, hard to do. Especially every day, day after day. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.


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