Those who know history well enough will remember how the Nazis systematically purged their chosen targets, one group after another. Niemöller’s chilling text reflects the regret of a man who spoke up almost too late in protest of the unfolding evil. Here is his poem.
FIRST THEY CAME
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak out because I was Protestant.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Perhaps Paul had witnessed something similar in the ruthless rise of the ancient Roman Empire during his own lifetime. In the face of mounting Roman persecution of the church, and while he himself was imprisoned (probably in the infamous Mamertine prison in the capital city of Rome sometime around 64AD), he was moved of God to write these challenging words to the Christians back at Ephesus:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Within four years, Paul would take the ultimate stand. He would be put to death by Caesar for his Christian convictions.
1876 years later, on April 9, 1945, another Christian Pastor followed in Paul’s footsteps. His name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and it was 67 years ago this week that he was sent to Buchenwald Concentration Camp, where he would learn the true cost of commitment to Christ.
This courageous man chose not to sit by idly and let Nazi atrocities unfold around him unchecked. He chose to speak up. He chose to take a stand. Doing so ultimately cost him his life, as he was arrested, tortured, and put to death by the Gestapo, just one month before the Nazi regime fell to the Allied Armies.
I post these thoughts here as a reminder of the world in which we now live. For far too long, believers have had it rather easy here in America. We have been able to go about our lives relatively unconcerned with the unfolding events around us.
But perhaps we should now wake up and realize what is happening to our once great Christian nation. Every single day, the news carries headline after headline about one form or another of the ongoing assault on the traditional Christian values in America.
(Examples of such abound in the news. Here are some recent examples:
1. The U. S. Air force has removed now God from its logo.
2. Religious entities have now been required to provide certain benefits for employees even if providing those specific benefits violate their religious convictions.
3. School teachers were warned to hide from students if they choose to pray during a nationally organized prayer event.
4. Middle school football coaches were reprimanded for bowing their heads during a post-game prayer.
5. Christian prayers at Military funerals have been banned.
Perhaps the time has come for Christians to speak up when they sense that what they know in their heart to be true, right, and/or good is under attack. If not, then no one should be surprised when those things which are known in his or her heart to be false, wrong, and/or evil will have been allowed to grow unchecked until they will have reached the point that they are no longer preventable.
NOTE: You can read more about Bonhoeffer and his experience here on Chrsitian history's website: