I’ve read that there were actually churches in Nazi Germany who took the cross down from over their altars and replaced it with the Nazi Swastika. Even many of those who did not do this in the physical sense did it in the moral and spiritual sense.
There were other Christian leaders who knew the Nazis were wrong and wanted to oppose them, but they confounded themselves by trying too hard to compromise and work with Hitler. They had the mistaken notion that they could find a way out of the crisis that didn’t involve going directly against the state.
It should be remembered that Niemoller spent seven years in Nazi concentration camps. He was not a failed pastor or a failed Christian. He was simply wrong in his early understanding of the evil he was dealing with.
Here is Niemoller’s quote. It conveys a thought that Christians today need to consider quite seriously.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
Bonnhoeffer, on the other hand, saw the dangers of Hitler and the Nazis early on. I often wonder what would have happened if the churches of every denomination in Germany had united and stood against Hitler’s murderous intentions from the beginning. Would he have succeeded in wreaking the havoc on the world that he did, or would the German people have forced him to alter his course?
Bonnhoeffer’s famous descriptions of cheap and costly grace are pertinent for American Christians today. Here they are:
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost Of Discipleship
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship