Decision Making in Tumultuous Times

Here are some notes I took down for an alumni lecture that Dr. Ben Merkle gave alumni from New Saint Andrews College. There should be a video coming out soon. These are just my notes:

God is shaking things. God is sharpening things.

You are called to be faithful with the matter in front of you.

Don’t let precision get in the way of being decisive. The choice is right now. Don’t let your decisiveness take away your ability to see clearly. A good leader embraces both.

Academics tend to be precise. Business men tend to be decisive.

These types of leadership clash. They should not be opposed but you should be able to grab both sides and pull them together.

Mute the crowd and make your decision before God. Is a case decided by the evidence or the volume of the crowd?

The crowd is increasingly employed against godly faithfulness.

You have to sit there and turn off the crowd in the court-room of your mind before God as judge.

Prayer is a good place to find the mute button. You are getting men out of your vision and filling your sight with God.

Know that today’s work will be sharpened tomorrow. You don’t need to solve tomorrows problems. But today’s decision will be refined tomorrow.

God brings great growth through great sharpening. The thing that comes out of it is the thing that explodes.

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash

The Tragedy of the “Leaders”: A Pastor’s Reflections on the Reformed (Gereformeerd) Churches in the early 1940s

Below I have transcribed another piece of writing from Hermanus Knoop entitled “The Tragedy of the ‘Leaders.” It is from the book “A Theatre in Dachau.” You can find the book here with Inheritance Publications in Neerlandia, Alberta. You will find the piece that I have transcribed on p. 67-73. It is by Rev. Hermanus Knoop with an introduction by Dr. Klaas Schilder.

In this piece, you see Knoop’s keen awareness that there is not one square inch over which Jesus as Lord does not declare “mine!” The influence of Kuyperian thought lived on even though it’s principles all but died out in the early 40s. All of human life is to be lived under the Lordship of Christ. Right around this time, Knoop’s German colleague and contemporary, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was also teaching the call of discipleship, and the heavy consequences or costs for following that call of the gospel. Whether Dutch or German, the confession of the Christian Church during WWII, was that Jesus is Lord.

Rev. Hermanus Knoop writes with a certain ethos (character) and pathos (emotion) since he wrote having experienced the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp in Dachau. Knoop describes a distinct time of history that had distinct challenges. There are timeless principles in here for leaders in various positions and strata in society in every age. You see the continuing fire of Knoop’s Biblical and Reformed conviction as well as his prophetic awareness, following this age of compromise in the Church.

The Tragedy of the ‘Leaders’

The well-known Czech statesman Masaryk was asked by a journalist, upon receiving word that he had been appointed president of Czechsolovakia, whether or not he was happy with the distinction. “Happy?” he answered. “No, I am not happy, but I have a feeling that we may not be disappointing.” That is the language of one who is not ambitious for a political plume or a post of honour, but is deeply conscious of his great calling and is, therefore, fully conscious of his great responsibility. Being a true leader is a matter of great responsibility, which one must assume with its most dire consequences, and therefore is at the same time a mater of sacrifice. True leadership means being a devotee, sacrificing that which is most precious and dear. A leader lives solely for those whom he must lead. To him the words of Brand apply: “Though you should offer all but life, your sacrifice is nothing still.”

He who is called to be a leader and is not ready to accept the extreme consequences had better not accept the task. He is nothing more than a disappointing jumping-jack, not fit for the task. He is a despicable seeker of sinecures who toys with duty and gambles with his appointed trust for the sake of personal advantage, gain, and glory. He is a filthy bankrupt who should be brought to justice for swindling. He does not care at all if he causes disappointment.

How glorious it would have been, and how significant and different, if all those who were called to leadership in the Reformed (Gereformeerd) Churches, in any sphere of life, had given evidence of such a deep consciousness of their calling during the German occupation! Instead, a disturbing lack of leadership came to light. Ability and character did not prove able to cover each other. Again, as of old, it was the ‘little people’ who stood immovable, while many who had such preeminence over the ‘little people’ either simply toppled over, quickly got off their leader’s seats, or tried, by shifting and fitting, by yielding step by step, to save their own little affairs. Or else they were conspicuously absent from field or highway. Were not journalists, politicians, preachers, and officers of various organizations duty-bound to give leadership and guidance to the Christian people as it sought for guidance in the great difficulty in which it suddenly found itself?

Surely they had the right to expect every leader to speak up saying, “Here we are, you can depend on us. We are attacking; follow us! Now it is as never before, but you are not alone.” This was the fire-test of their principles which showed what they were really worth to us. This was also the fire-test which showed what we were worth. Right now, especially now, we had to live from those principles, whatever the cost. With tact, surely, but also with firmness and stability. That is how it should have been. That would have been a feast in the midst of our great sorrow. But did they live up to that expectation? Alas, very many did not. They would have moved mountains if they had possessed faith as a mustard seed. They would have lived up to it if they had lived in the strong consciousness of their calling of responsibility now, of self-sacrificing devotion now. They would have lived up to it if the principles they preached had been a part of their flesh and blood. But, alas, it appeared that for many this was not the case, and therefore in our own circles we had to behold the tragedy of the “leaders.” We were witnesses of the desertion of many who were called to be leaders, or at least whom we had always considered as leaders. We discerned the faithlessness and cowardice of many who had climbed to a seat of leadership, and clung to it as a cramped clutch. So we discerned that they did not carry the feeling that they must not cause disappointment.

Oh, how they did cause disappointment, many of those ‘leaders’ who did not prove worthy of this privilege of grace! Did they ever really for one moment foster that inner anxiety which says, “If only we do not cause disappointment.” but it was only when there were no clouds in the sky that they were such principled men. Before the war, when elections were again at hand, they gave deeply principled guidance. They were favourite speakers at mass-meetings. The youth-meetings received their enthusiastic enlightenment. They battled with words, hard words, and witty words, against the principles of the N.S.B., because these conflicted with Scripture. They forcefully called men to battle, to stand for the antithesis. But at that time it was quite easy and brought them no small profit. But when the sky began to turn cloudy, did they offer their freedom, their lives, their position, their honour?

Then God finally deemed it time to purge His threshing floor. When their fire-test in the shape of the German occupation came, where did they stay? What did they do? Were they equal tot he test? God blew down all their display and appearance of sufficiency.

Yes, indeed, it was the tragedy of the “leaders.”

That was the great offense of which I had to take note for about a year and a half before my imprisonment – an offense which I often mentioned in my preaching. I heard our people complain in great vexation that they had looked to their highly beloved and trusted leaders for guidance, but had been failed by them. I saw their deep consternation when they discovered that the leaders had either disappeared or had begun to negotiate with the enemy, and were trying to save the situation for themselves by the policy of yielding, rather than letting them demolish; or were giving them advice, for example about their treatment of the Jews, which was in diametrical opposition to their previous preaching. Thus people complained that their pastor would not pray for the queen and the lawful government, and if he did, his prayer was so diplomatic that one had to ask, “now what was he really praying for?” So they tactfully moved away from the truth, lest they came into conflict with the prowling Gestapo. They would not risk their life for Christ and the sake of His Gospel.

One of my colleagues once said to me, “I can still say so much that is glorious about the Lord Jesus,” to which I replied, “Then why do you not once mention this glorious fact, namely, that He is Lord, and that no man, no Fuhrer, is lord besides Him. Is not your official calling to say everything about Him that you find in the Bible?”

There was also constant complaining by Christians concerning their Christian daily periodical, which used to give such vigorous leadership, but now was simply never being forbidden. And why not? Because it twisted itself into every possible shape so that it might maintain its existence. Because it was not faithful, it gradually permitted itself to be assimilated by the German rule, to at last lend itself to the Nazi propaganda in order to help infect our Christian people therewith. This was what De Standaard did, their standard, the publication of Abraham Kuyper, who in the past had aroused and led the Kleine Luyden (the “little people”).

There was constant complaining about church periodicals. How great was the consternation concerning the “leadership” of De Heraut, a “leadership” which was definitely pro-German in spirit. It was a vassal which sold itself to the oppressors, thereby being able to preserve its regular size. Meanwhile, well-known professors and ministers continued to lend their cooperation to this Germanized periodical.

There was complaining over the lax leadership given by the Synod of the Reformed (Gereformeerd) Churches. Did this Synod really give leadership? Did it give fearless testimony against the constantly expanding, constantly more pervading, ever-further encroaching Nazi terrorism which appeared in the Jewish programs, the imprisonment of pastors, and the labour-camp measures? The Reformed (Gereformeerd) Churches do not stand out among the Christian churches for courageous and tenacious resistance for the faith. Later a highly placed Gestapo testified that the Reformed (Gereformeerd) Churches were the most pliable.

But this Synod did have the courage to persecute brothers and to cast them out in a manner very much akin to the methods practised by Nazism. Those simple Reformed (Gereformeerd) people saw this clearly and plainly as well, and they were bitterly grieved by this. This grief was for the corruption rooted at the centre of the institution.

Thus they complained in advance about the surrender to the demands of an occupying power which did not honour a single international rule of warfare, even though this power had subscribed itself to it. What about the required “Aryan Declaration?” If the “Christian leadership” had given forceful and courageous advice to say “No!” to this demand – because it was not at all a measure of administration, but entirely an action to prepare for the gruesom and cowardly persecution of the Jews and, ultimately, their eradication – surely much Jewish suffering would have been avoided.

And what did De Heraut dare to write about this persecution in the issue of November 17, 1940? Why was the declaration of the Protestant Churches to Seyss Inquart concerning the persecution of the Jews, not read from the Reformed (Gereformeerd) pulpits? Why? De Heraut answered, “[Because] such an announcement from the pulpit in public worship would endanger those who made the announcement.” Why, then? To save one’s life. And to save the “life” of “our” churches. As if that was most important. Did they not know that Hitler had said that he would solve the Jewish problem? And did they not know that such a solution meant, in the vocabulary of the National Socialism, nothing but annihilation? Or, were they blind though seeing, deaf though interrogation? And could they not know that everyone who signed this declaration became personally responsible fro the great misery which soon overcame our Jewish countrymen?

Why did the “leadership” not call for a front of open resistance, a resistance through obedience in faith by all who know that their salvation is of the Jews? A mass resistance for the faith could have effected very much. Even if it had not, we would still have had a quiet conscience that we had been faithful to our calling before God with respect to the Jews as well. But the “leadership” failed. Read again what Dr. H.H. Kuyper dared to write in De Heraut of December 8, 1940, and you will be filled with deep indignation about what this unfaithful “leader” did not hesitate to bring forth.

I still believe that a massed resistance could have accomplished much. This was seen, for example, in the case of the churches’ care for the needy, in which the Germans also wanted to meddle. I myself experienced that if one gave a well-motivated reason, one could very well accomplish something. The same was true with regard to the occupying power, which wanted to centralize and rule everything. It demanded that those who planned to hold a lecture had to inform the authorities in advance of its contents. Thus we simply let ourselves be controlled and muzzled. Several times I refused and informed them to come and listen if they wanted to know. It is better to be prohibited from speaking than to speak while wearing a muzzle. Thus it was with the members of the Department of Culture and others. The “leadership” of the Reformed (Gereformeerd) section of our people kept silent and so the people became members of such National Socialist organizations.

Barring a few laudable exceptions our confessing journalists shied from making the sacrifice for Christ’s sake by joining the National Socialistic Fraternity of Journalists, to save their jobs and their lives. But the leadership silent – or led the way.

It is not surprising that our Reformed (Gereformeerd) people, left in the lurch by their leadership, felt forsaken. And, since the leaders erred from the path, the sheep also wandered off. In many cases, the responsibility for the breakdown of the resistance for the faith lay with the leaders. Certainly, how differently our Reformed (Gereformeerd) people would have acted if all those who were called to give leadership had all proved true, and if they had confirmed their lofty pre-war words by equally noble deeds. Here the lack of a sense of responsibility became manifest. The instinct to save one’s own life was altogether to strong. Oh, indeed, if this had been different, many more victims would have fallen, and many more would have had to undergo the gruesome suffering of the horrible concentration camps. But was not the cause of the Lord worth all this, even apart from the cause of the oppressed and tyrannize fatherland?

This might all have become very dreadful, but one thing is certain: Our Reformed (Gereformeerd) people would have been proud of those leaders, and in the event that they came through this conflict alive, would have received them after the liberation of the country with open arms, eager to follow their firm leadership. How mighty and beautiful the flowering of our life of faith would have been! Alas, this faithlessness has been an abomination to the Lord. It has surely avenged itself.

It was not only complaints about the tragedy of these “leaders” that I heard during the year and a half before my seizure. I also heard something else. “Our people” drew from this tragedy a definite conclusion for the future. They would never forget this. For of course, it would not be at all impossible that when all this was past – recall how things went after the Napoleonic occupation – they would see the spectacle of all these deserting leaders coming unashamedly out of their hiding places to sit in the saddle and again take up their reins of leadership. “But,” they grimly assured, “they shall not succeed. Whether they are preachers, journalists, burgomasters, legislators, party officials, or labour leaders, they will have to comfort themselves with the fact that their little kingdom is done for, that they are finished and not needed anymore. First of all there must be a thorough purging! They may have been ever so capable, but they have proved to have no character. It would just be a little naive to allow a responsible leader who defaulted in the hour of peril to calmly take up the reins again later. By their laxity they have proved that they were not equal to the calling of confirming their words with their deeds, and did nor dare do the weighty tasks that the hour demanded.” It was this conviction which I saw growing deeper in the people in those days, and in my last interrogation I testified to the German Security Police of that conviction.

The tragedy of the “leaders” is one of the saddest episodes in the history of the occupation.

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