By Pastor Brent McDougal
One of the greatest Christians of last century was a man named Martin Niemoller. He lived during Hitler’s Germany when Hitler tried to radically alter the gospel by telling Christian pastors they could no longer preach a Jewish Christ.
You can no longer preach the Sermon on the Mount, he said, with Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek.
You can’t preach a weak Christ suffering and dying on the cross.
Instead, you must preach an Aryan Christ with a whip in his hands, driving out the money changers from the Temple. That is the kind of God who changes the world, not a sacrificing God of peace who pours love into our hearts to change the world.
So in 1938, Niemoller stood in his pulpit and preached and sermon called “God is my Fuhrer.” He began by reading the names of 83 fellow pastors and other Christians who had been arrested by Hitler and were now in concentration camps. The church prayed for these leaders for five minutes of intercessory prayer, and then Niemoller preached:
“We must resist — we cannot let all of us be thrown into the pot with the world — for you are the salt of the earth. You must remain and not lose your savour. Do not yield, do not bend, for salt must retain its savour. We must resist the ungodly force of Naziism.”
And he concluded:
“The gospel must remain the gospel — the church must remain the church — evangelical Christians must remain evangelical Christians. We cannot, for heaven’s sake, allow a Germain gospel for Christ’s gospel. We cannot, for God’s sake, allow a Germain church for Christ’s church. We cannot, for Christ’s sake, allow a German Christianity for evangelical Christianity. We must be salt! We must retain our savor to save the world!”
Days later, storm troopers seized him in the middle of the night and threw him in prison. For seven long years they tried to break him, but every time he said with fire in his spirit, “I will not yield! I will not yield!”
Then came the day in 1945 when the Allies marched in and took over the prison where he was and set him free. He came marching out a free man to preach the gospel around the world.
While Hitler and the 3rd Reich faded into history, Hitler himself taking his own life in a bunker, the gospel of Jesus Christ and the salt of the earth kept going to change the world.
Jesus declared, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salt again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matthew 5:13)
We can’t concede our role of being salt in the world.
Salt preserves; salt flavors; salt even heals.
But we forfeit our crucial role when we get overwhelmed by the busyness of American life, fretting here and there, never satisfied to be still and show the world a different way of living.
We lose our saltiness when we embrace an identity as consumers, not souls. If we’re nothing more than the consumers of goods and services, pampering ourselves and serving our own pleasures as life’s main purpose, we’re good for nothing and no one.
We can also lose our saltiness when we put false hope in political solutions, drawing hard lines between ourselves and our neighbors. When we forget that the state is there to help facilitate real life — families having enough, friends gathering at the local pub, safety in our neighborhoods — we have lost sight of Jesus’ sacrificial way of remaking the world.
Have you lost your saltiness?
There’s an interesting footnote to Niemoller’s story. He didn’t speak out for the first four years of Hitler’s tyranny. He deeply regretted not having the courage sooner to be the salt of the earth, with his position of influence.
“First they came for the socialists,” he would later write, “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.”
However God has called you to be salt — with a voice of advocacy, through acts of kindness, through time given to those who are lonely, to serve alongside the mentally ill — don’t miss your opportunity to be one who preserves, flavors, and heals the world.
You are the salt of the earth. Today, now, here.