Living out the gospel in the real world is never an easy thing. Jesus' parable of the four soils attests to that fact. While a hard and fast statistic cannot be derived from that parable in terms of the contemporary church, or even the parable for that matter, it is nevertheless interesting to consider the fact that only twenty-five percent of the persons in view in the parable were truly born again. Even Billy Graham at one point estimated that only twenty percent of professing Christians were truly born again. Only ten percent of the professing Christians in Nazi Germany stood for Christ, the gospel, liberty, and justice in the face of Jewish extermination. These statistics are simply something to think about when it comes to the issue of living out the gospel in truly difficult circumstances. It is quite easy to wear a Christian T-shirt in America with its cultural Christianity and the ever increasing sub-culture of pop Christianity and its MTV mentality. How many would be so bold as to wear those same shirts, in a figurative sense, in the Sudan or any number of "closed countries" as defined by various missions groups?
While standing for Christ in the midst of persecution is an issue, persecuting others in the Name of Christ is an issue as well. Is that dynamic a Christian concept as many would have us believe? Or is it an aberration of the gospel?
Sara J. Melcher contends that the major persecuting religions of the world are monotheistic, and that their willingness to persecute is tied directly to their concept that God is universally relevant and supreme. More specifically, she asserts that believing Christ is the only Savior leads to religious superiority and indeed persecution. She laments her own Reformed (Evangelical) tradition and argues for a critical evaluation of Protestant theology in regard to the claim of Christ's exclusivity. She opines, "The experience of the Shoah (Holocaust) of World War II and subsequent genocides in our global experience--many of which were fueled in part by religious exclusivism--are compelling reasons for Christians to revisit their theological statements. The participation of Protestants in the atrocities of the Shoah-- including Protestants of the Reformed tradition--is something that must be squarely faced and considered from the vantage point of the theological formulations...Such global occasions as genocide--with its implicit accusation of complicity or indifference on the part of professing Christians--call for a deep commitment to reformation."
Part of Melcher's problem was failing to make a distinction between the national church in Germany and the Confessing Church and its resistance to Nazism. Moreover, consider the small community of Huguenots in the French town of Le Chambon. The Huguenots are no strangers to persecution. During the Reformation when John Calvin sent four-hundred evangelists to France, the Huguenots, they were persecuted mercilessly as most of them were martyred for the faith. It was a Huguenot congregation, a church in the Reformed tradition, that stood for Christ in the face of Nazi Germany and rescued many Jews from death. While most churches in Germany during WWII were sympathetic to the Nazi's, this true church of Christ stood for liberty, justice, and the gospel.
According to Elizabeth Kirkley Best of the "Shoah Education Project," the cost of standing for Christ and rescuing Jews was high as the death penalty was in force for simply hiding Jews from deportation. Many Christians did not get involved in their plight and chose to look the other way. "One story was told of a group of worshippers on a Sunday morning who during service heard the cattle-cars containing Jews on their way to death, roll by, whistling in the distance. The pastor merely instructed them to sing louder to drown out the noise. While many of the Churches of Europe responded in this way, Le Chambon was one of the largest, most unified, pacifist rescue efforts of the war."
This little congregation was pastored by Andre Trocme. He and his wife Magda served faithfully and committed themselves to live out the gospel in the sin-sick world in which God had placed them. Through faithful teaching, the congregation adopted a love of the gospel and committed to save as many Jews from the Nazi's as possible. Other Christians in the community were committed to the same cause and together they housed and rescued almost five thousand Jews, most of whom were children.
This group of Christians, committed to Reformed or Evangelical theology, including the fact that Christ is the only way of salvation, believed in liberty and justice for all. They believed in religious freedom. During the war, "they housed, fed, obtained food coupons, arranged identity and travel documents," and engaged in a variety of other activities to aid the Jews in the midst of the worst of circumstances. Unlike those who would hold to sub-Christian principles in regard to their view of religious freedom, these Christians "allowed the Jews to practice their worship freely, and unlike many other rescue efforts, did not force them" to become Christians. In time, however, many were indeed converted, presumably as the result of having seen the gospel lived out in such a real and powerful way in support of the gospel proclaimed. Best notes that "the village became the only whole town recognized after the war as 'righteous gentiles' and [was] honored...by Yad Vashem in Israel."
Again, this praise came at a price. A bounty was placed on Pastor Trocme's life and he was forced into hiding. Daniel Trocme, a relative who worked in the resistance and rescue efforts, was arrested with a group of Jews and executed with them. Pastor Trocme survived and became active in peace movements throughout Europe after the war.
The people of Le Chambon stood strongly and openly against the Nazis in their attempt to exterminate the Jews. "At one point, school children handed a visiting Nazi official a letter of protest acknowledging Jewish presence in the community and declaring their absolute stand to protect and defend those Jewish lives."
Christians in this community did not use guns in their battle, though the Scripture does allow for self-defense and just war. They understood, however, that ultimately the weapons of their warfare were not carnal but spiritual. They committed themselves to prayer and faith in God. They needed to be committed to such as the Nazi war machine was committed to much more than conquest and political domination of Europe. A utopian bent of sorts and an Aryan purity were two major prongs in their quest. A utopian rule of a Master Race containing pure lines and a return to elements of Nordic belief and culture would bring in a Third Millennial Reign or Reich. Part of the realization of that goal was the process of Judenrein, a term relating not only to Jewish extermination but to Jewish DNA eradication. "While other towns who had earlier had even millions of Jews were becoming Judenrein, this small town which had before had no Jewish citizens became the only predictable haven in France for refuge." It is a town remembered for the saving of life and the preservation of liberty.
When more Jews seeking refuge were to arrive in town, the Christians of Le Chambon would contact one another with this information so preparation could be made in terms of the number arriving on any given occasion. They had a unique way of referring to these refugees in the midst of war and persecution. As the Christians were contacted, they would be told that x number of "Old Testaments (large and small) had arrived," and were then asked how many they wanted. "By the end of the war, close to 5000 'Old Testaments,' the Chosen of God's Word, had been saved thanks to the soulish bravery of a few."
Of course, in contrast, history attests to the fact that true Christians persecuted other Christians during the Reformation and in the early years of the founding of America. There are Christians who would do the same today by their own testimony. And lest our shock meter goes too high, the question must be raised, "What about the vast majority of Christians in America who would impose Christianity upon the populace through the government if they could?" One does not have to be theonomic to hold to such a position, he simply may be Falwellian.
While it is certainly possible to find flaws in the people of Le Chambon if an attempt were made, surely they serve as an example of how Christians should view the atrocities of persecution and the value of human life and religious freedom. For the sake of Christ; the gospel; liberty and justice for all; for a solid answer to the likes of Melcher; and the reputation of biblical Christianity in a pluralistic world; let us preserve "Old Testaments" and others that our biblical and winsome way might be used for the greater goal of the glory of God among the nations as Christ is and is seen as the most attractive thing in the Universe.