1935 Description of the German Church Failing To Resist Totalitarianism

On June 24, 1933, announcement was made of the appointment by Minister Rust of Dr. Jaeger as State Commissioner for all the Evangelical Churches of Prussia.  When the new commissioner immediately announced the dissolution of all the church consistoria of Prussia, including the Upper Consistorial Council of Berlin, it was evident that the State of Prussia had openly broken with its declared principle of neutrality and was officially supporting the church party of German Christians [i.e., the Nazi faction].

At this stage of the struggle the most courageous church leader, in resisting the demands of National Socialism, appears to have been the Prussian General Superintendent Dr. Dibelius, whose position may be likened to that of an Anglican archbishop.  When he was informed that his resignation was requested he wrote to the State Commissioner as follows:

"The principal object of my work is the spiritual leading of my flock; its functions are those of bishops and clergy, and can be given or taken away only by the church.  Because of the great need for my duties I cannot accept the notice given by the State commissioner.  I have my duty before God.  I must and I will fulfill it; especially at the moment when leadership is more necessary than ever."

A religious institution sows the seeds of its own destruction when it becomes so wrapped up in its own forms and doctrines of worship that it becomes insulated from the real social needs of the people which it is to serve.  This explains the weakness of German Protestantism in the post-war [WWI] years and is one of the principal causes of its present embarrassing situation.  However feelingly one may sympathize with the trials which these days of judgment have meant for the church, and however earnestly one may hope that the German Church will again recover a position of spiritual leadership in the nation, it must be recognized that the present dilemma in which the church finds itself is largely of its own making.

The National Socialist revolution in the church was a tragic witness of the failure of the church to adapt its message to modern life and to play a role in the nation vital and significant enough to challenge the claims of conflicting loyalties.  The church was not able to offer more effective resistance to the inroads of pagan religious movements because its own life and message had become corrupted and complacent.  The fate of German Protestantism may well serve as a warning to the Protestant churches of other countries.


Paul Banwell Means, Things That Are Caesar’s: The Genesis of the German Church Conflict, Round Table Press, 1935. pp. 239-241; 256.

Paul Banwell Means (1894-1980), b. Nebraska; earned a B. A. in Political Science from Yale (1915); did graduate work for two years at Oberlin; from 1917-1919 studied at the University of Calcutta; Rhodes Nebraska Scholar at St. John's Oxford (1919-1922).  After the publication of this book Means was a missionary in Malaysia.  He was then professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies, University of Oregon as well as a member of the Methodist Oregon Conference.  During WWII he served in Naval Intelligence on the staff of Admiral Ernest King, returning to his university position in 1945.  During the 1950s and 60s Professor Means was active both in Oregon and on many missionary teaching tours in Southeast Asia.

The failure of the German Protestant church to take an effective stand against Hitler and the National Socialist Party is the subject of this book.  Means discusses the influences of Marxian Socialism, the Christian Social Movement, the Influence of Liberal Theology, and the new position of the Church post WWI.  He then examines the post-war rise of National Socialism and the effect on the Church.  He says that a Nationalist Religion was the New Paganism of the Young Germanic Folk Movement, that Anti-Semitism became a National-Religious Dogma, and examines the Nazi seizure of power and their attempt to control the Protestant Church.