From Hitler’s Wolves to Christ’s Lambs

Chad Bird authored this short account that is told more fully in his blog “Flying Scroll”. This account of salvation among some of what we would consider the worst criminals and sinners to ever live should cause us to stop, take account of our sin and revel in what we have been saved from. These men got justice for the crimes they committed in this life, but they received grace for the crime of the rebellion in the garden just as we have.

Here is a link if you would like to frequent the website this post is from. It’s a great site:

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2013/09/24/from-hitlers-wolves-to-christs-lambs/

From Hitler’s Wolves to Christ’s Lambs

They walked to the gallows together, pastor and penitent. Each step up took them closer to the fall—the abbreviated, fatal fall to come. As the criminal stood above the trapdoor that, moments later, would open to rope him into eternity, an officer asked him if he had any final words. “I place all my confidence in the Lamb who made atonement for my sins,” he said. “May God have mercy on my soul.”

Then, turning toward the man who had been the shepherd of his soul during his incarceration—the man who had been his confessor, his preacher, and the one from whose hand he had received the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, he said, “I’ll see you again.” Then noosed, hooded in black, and legs tied, he dropped out of this world into another.

Shepherd Among Hitler’s Wolves

No doubt many condemned men throughout history have found repentance and faith when certain death looms nigh. What makes this story remarkable is that this man, along with many others hanged that day, was among the most hated men in human history, guilty of atrocities so horrific only words forged in hell could adequately describe them. These were Hitler’s men. His closest confidants. His very own pack of wolves.

Yet in the months leading up to their executions or imprisonments, many of them had been transformed from Hitler’s wolves into Christ’s lambs thanks to the ministry of a former farm boy from Missouri. This pastor reluctantly agreed to be the chaplain of the 15 Protestant war criminals during the Nuremberg trials at the close of World War II.

Henry Gerecke was in his early 50s when he went, cell by cell, to introduce himself to his infamous “congregation” and to invite them to chapel services. Some refused, others wavered, and still others promised to be there. Of the 15 chairs set up for the first service, 13 of them were filled. Scriptures were read, sermons preached, hymns sung, prayers offered. And, through it all, hearts were changed.

Soon some of the very lips that had once barked, “Heil Hitler!” spoke a repentance-confessing, faith-affirming “Amen!” as they knelt to eat and drink the body and blood of their forgiving Lord. They expressed a desire for their children to be baptized. One of them, though he began reading the Bible to find justification for his unbelief, ended up being led to faith by the same divine words.

So reliant did these men become upon their pastor that, when a rumor surfaced that he might be relieved of his duty and allowed to return home, they wrote a letter to Mrs. Gerecke, begging her to ask him to stay. On that letter were the signatures of all these former Nazis, men who had enjoyed power and rank, now humbly beseeching a housewife in America, who had not seen her husband for two and a half years, to let him stay. In her brief reply, “They need you,” is packed a whole volume about sacrifice and love.

True Scandal

Pastor Gerecke’s story has already been told (see links below), but it deserves to be retold, again and again, to every generation, for two important reasons. The first has to do with the men to whom he ministered, the ones who repented and believed in Christ. The scandal of Christianity is not that these men went to heaven; it is that God loved them so much that he was willing to die to get them there. Had it been a human decision, many would have thrown these men, guilty of such atrocities, into the flames of hell.

But the truth is that people are not condemned because they murder, or steal, or lie. They are condemned because they reject Jesus as the one who has already endured hell for them on the cross and earned a place for them in heaven. There is no one so vile that he is beyond redemption.

Another reason Pastor Gerecke’s story needs to be remembered involves his vocation and those who share it. What pastor, knowing he was about to visit men such as these, would not have struggled to find any hope in their possible repentance? But Gerecke visited each cell anyway, invited each man to hear the Word, and left it to the Spirit to do the work of making new creations of these hardened criminals.

Faithful Servant

Gerecke did not mince words, surrender his convictions, or water down the truth for them. On the evening before he was to be hanged, one of the men, Hermann Goering, asked to receive communion, just in case he was wrong and there was some truth to the Christian claims. But Gerecke refused to give communion to one who so obstinately refused repentance and treated the Lord’s Supper as if it were an edible, just-in-case, insurance policy.

When Christ calls men into the office of the holy ministry, he calls them to be faithful—not successful, not popular, not practical, not winsome, not cool, but faithful. They are to preach even when they doubt it will bear fruit. They are to give the Word of Christ to sinners and let the Christ of that Word do his work. And he does. He convicts, he calls, he saves, he baptizes, he feeds, and, finally, he welcomes us into his kingdom with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In 1961, at the age of 68, Pastor Gerecke passed from this life into the next. He entered that innumerable company of saints who had gone before him, some of whom had been among his flock during his years of ministry, one of whom, atop the gallows, had promised, “I’ll see you again.” And he did.

Online Resources

I strongly urge you to learn more about Pastor Gerecke’s story. The details and quotes I included come from these resources.

Gerecke’s story, in his own words, was published in the Saturday Evening Post, 1, September, 1951, pp. 18-19, under the title, “I walked to the Gallows with the Nazi Chiefs.”

Don Stephens, in War and Grace: Short Biographies from the World Wars, (Evangelical Press, Faverdale North, Darlington, DL3 0PH, England) devotes a chapter to Gerecke and his ministry.

In 1950, Gerecke was called to be assistant pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Chester, Illinois. That congregation’s website includes audio files of Pastor Gerecke speaking about his experience. Follow the link and click on the audio files on the right side of the website.

Train for godliness

“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things; immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:7-16

We would say that we are bible believing people. We would affirm the authority of the bible. We would even affirm the inerrancy of Scripture.

A pastor from Jakarta, Indonesia told me once that the problem with western Christians is that they know more than they do. I think he is right. Christians in the east don’t consider bible study to be the mass taking in of information but the taking in of information they immediately go and practice. In other words bible study ends in doing what they just learned or it’s not bible study. We study, give it the holy grunt of affirmation, nod, pray then go back to doing whatever we want that does not in any way inconvenience me.

So much of what western Christians do nullifies what they say they believe.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. I’m part of the problem. We organize our fall schedule around Friday night, Saturdays in Athens and Sunday afternoons with the Falcons. I get it. But the fascination with the sports culture and our children blows my mind. We have our little ones playing football when the helmet is larger than their bodies. Muslims have their little ones in school to learn Isalm. So, when the worldviews of Christianity and Islam clash the Muslim appears to win the day regarding ideals and mission advancement, but our kids could win at 12 man football!

We train our bodies like they are the object of our worship. I’m all for training. I do work at that (primarily so I can eat not to be a rock hard poster child for the temple of the body), but I do give time to the discipline of keeping in some measure of shape. But do we train for godliness? Paul affirms that there is some value to physical training but that training for godliness is far better. Why? Because this physical body is doomed to corruption due to the fall, but the soul will last forever and can be trained for the eternal kingdom now!

Why don’t we act like this is true? It could be that we know the right things (or maybe we don’t) and we just have not taken what we know to practice.

Do this:

1. Take an inventory of how you spend your time.

2. Catalog the amount of time spent on temporal things that are going to perish.

3. Catalog the amount of time spent on eternal things that will be rewarded and will last into the eternal kingdom.

4. Begin exercising spiritual disciplines that will help reverse any negative trending (prayer, bible study, silence, solitude, fasting, and fellowship).

5. Begin to take note of “feeling” the soul’s healing and growth as opposed to “feeling” the flesh’s demise (when I say flesh I mean the sinful nature not the physical body itself).

6. Note how often you practice the things you are reading in your bible. Does that tell me I’m a Christian or a “poser”?

7. Repent of anything contrary to the gospel.

If we truly believe the gospel, then we have to act like we do. If our “beliefs” don’t go from head to heart to hands/feet, then those beliefs are no different from those of the demons who believe and tremble (James 2:19).

Just a word about priorities: George Muller, my hero, said that the most important task of his day was to make sure his soul was happy in the Lord and at peace in the Lord or he could not handle the day’s tasks. I don’t believe setting spiritual priorities means we don’t do our work, but I don’t believe we need to work in the place of spiritually nourishing our souls in the Lord either. At some point we have to decide that my soul’s rest will make me a better worker, able to trust the Lord, and then I may be more productive rather than believing I need to be productive before my soul is fed. If the Scripture is true, then I have to give priority to godliness and maybe let the productivity go. What is wrong with our Christian culture when tasks take the place of training in godliness? Could it be that the “Christian culture” needs to be changed? Could it be that we look less like Christians and more like secularists using Christian language? We must decide who we will serve.

Train for godliness like you really believe eternal things are eternal and temporal things are temporal and the eternal kingdom, the new heaven and earth are coming at the return of our King who will rule his Kingdom well.

Thankful for older and wiser men who will be a Barnabas

There has been no doubt a “youth movement” in the church with church planting, church revitalization and missions. For this movement I am grateful. I have been part of that movement. Over ten years ago the Lord led us to be part of planting a church. At that point I was under the age of 30 and still in the process of discovering who I am and what I’m gifted at. The process of discovering, refining and being good at what one is wired to do can be fun and exciting or it can be hard and almost crippling. For me, this process has been somewhere in the middle of those two.

Maybe some of the “youth movement” have had no trouble finding their stride and getting the work done. Some have found finding their stride a challenge and some have quit altogether. I’m somewhere right in the middle.

Truthfully, what I have always wanted was to walk in the shadow behind some older, wiser, seasoned, loving, Barnabas kind of mentoring pastor who would help me be what I was made to be and show me how to do the work for the long haul, and didn’t fully understand that desire until it was blatantly obvious to me that I’m clueless. Perhaps I’m overstating my lack, but I’m just being truthful with how I perceive me.

Where are those men? It seems there has been a shortage of them. For whatever reasons, and I’m sure there are many, and maybe the reasons deserve some research, but older and wiser Barnabas type men seem to be missing from the ministry where I am. There are older men, but they are not necessarily multiplying themselves into younger men. Let me be super clear too. I have not sought that out in the past either. I’m sure if I asked someone they would have been that for me. So, I must take my share of the responsibility for not asking for that kind of help.

In the past year it has become evident that we needed older and wiser men to share the load of pastoral ministry and to give wisdom and counsel and mentorship. By God’s grace we sought out some older and wiser men. These men stepped up through some Holy Spirit led prayer and asking to serve and they have been a balm to the soul. These men not only serve, but they model what I want to be in wisdom, demeanor, decision-making, encouragement and grace. We all work and do our jobs outside of the church and don’t spend huge time together, but these men took major roles and model righteousness, holiness and wisdom, and I’m taking notes. These men do what they do well and excel at it and their example has caused me to want to be like them. These men provide a model to learn from while making the work doable. I’m thankful for them and the young men that have arisen along with them to learn as well.

Maybe the next “youth movement” will come not in younger men being on the tip of the spear but by older men leading the charge and the younger men learning and taking over as the older men hand over the role. I want to be one of those older men at some point and maybe that point is now.

All that to say, I’m thankful for the older men who seek to teach younger men how to be what they need to be. If you are older, take a younger dude under your wing and show him how to do what you do.

Thank you to those older men teaching me how to be what Father made me to be. I’m learning from you and want to continue to learn. I hope I can teach some younger men as the older men are teaching me.