But in the realm of apologetics this question does have significant consequences. One side of the argument says that Hitler was a Christian and that he used Christianity to support and promote his evil. The implication being that if Hitler was not a Christian, or generally religious, that he would not have pursued the agenda that he did, and the world would never have experienced the Holocaust or World War 2. This side of the argument generally will throw Hitler into the face of Christians as an example of the evils in the world caused by religion in general, and Christianity in particular.
Those on the other side of the debate will claim that Hitler, in spite of his claims, was not a Christian, and that his actions were not the result of his Christian faith. Rather he only pretended to be a Christian in order to maintain the support of Germany’s Christian churches. And Hitler’s actions came from his own person and merely used Christianity as an excuse.
By Their Fruit
Indeed, Hitler called himself a Christian, and he attributed much of his actions to his own brand of Christianity. But is a person a Christian simply because they apply the label to themselves. Or because they wrap themselves up in Christian rhetoric or activities? Or is there more to being a Christian than that?
In Matthew 7:15-23 Jesus says
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
In this passage Jesus tells us that there will be those who will come pretending to be something that they are not. A prophet is one who delivers a message from God to the people. These people that Jesus refers to here are claiming to have a message from God; but Jesus warns us to look beyond the words and to examine their actions. What kind of fruit are they producing? Is it consistent with what Jesus is telling us? Or is it contrary to his message to us, as well as that of his apostles.
For sure, I cannot know another person’s heart. But I can compare their actions with those of Jesus; and their words with the words of Jesus. And if the two do not line up, then it should be pretty clear that person is not a Christian, a Christ follower. It is not enough to call Jesus Lord. If you do not live in obedience to him, he will deny knowledge of you and cast you out, at least according to his words recorded in Matthew 7.
In this passage Jesus tells us that we can, and should, look at a person’s actions to determine if they truly are following him or not. So what about Hitler? Could you see him fitting in among Jesus other disciples? How well did his life line up with Jesus teachings in the Sermon on the Mount? Is there any evidence to support his claims to being a Christian, apart from those claims?
Masquerading as a Christ Follower
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. – 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
Paul makes an interesting claim here. It seems like there are servants of Satan who masquerade as servants of righteousness, as Christ followers. Just because someone stands up and proclaims themselves as being a follower of Christ, as one who has a message from God, as one who claims to know the will of God, does not make it so.
So how would one determine that one claiming to be a messenger of God is really a messenger of Satan? Look back at the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew as he tells us to look at the fruit produced, at their actions. Are they doing what Jesus tells us to do, or something else altogether? Is the message, or direction, they claim to be bringing from God in line with the message and direction from Jesus and his apostles? Does the one delivering the message take center stage, or does he point to the giver of the message?
I don’t see any evidence that Hitler, as a messenger, sought to focus attention on Jesus. Nor do I know of any actions on his part that were consistent with Jesus teachings. Publicly it appears that Hitler was in-line with much of German Christianity at the time, but I do not believe that changes the need to compare him, as an individual, with the standard, Jesus. Just because you are traveling with the herd, doesn't mean you are going in the right direction.
Privately, it appears like Hitler had no real personal belief but was simply using the beliefs common in Germany at the time to advance his cause. The following excerpt from Wikipedia illustrates what may have been his true feelings about religion.
In 1985 the Austrian author WilfriedDaim published a photograph of an alleged document signed by Hitler in 1943, which proposed the:"Immediate and unconditional abolition of all religions after the final victory ('Endsieg') not only for the territory of Greater Germany but also for all released, occupied and annexed countries ..., proclaiming at the same time Hitler as the new messiah. Out of political considerations the Muslim, Buddhist and Shintoist religion will be spared for the present. The 'Führer' has to be presented as an intermediate between a redeemer and a liberator, yet surely as one sent by God, who has to get godly honour. The existing churches, chapels, temples and cult places of the different religions have to be changed into 'Adolf-Hitler-consecration places'. The theological faculties of the universities have to be transformed into the new faith. Special emphasis has to be laid on the education of missionaries and wandering preachers, who have to proclaim the teaching in Greater Germany and in the rest of the world and have to form religious bodies, which can be used as centres for further extension. (With this the problems with the abolition of monogamy will disappear, because polygamy can be included into the new teaching as one of the statements of faith.)”
If this quote is to be believed, then Hitler was only pretending to be a Christian in order to support his on-going goals. And once his goals were accomplished he would drop the guise of Christianity, creating a new religion centered on himself.
Was Hitler a Christian like he claimed, or only masquerading as one? I personally see no reason to suppose that Hitler truly had a relationship with God as a disciple of Jesus. And by associating himself with Christianity, I believe Hitler did a great deal of harm to the cause of Christ, both in his day and on into our current time.
I believe Hitler was a man who used the religion of his people to accomplish his goals, rather than a man who defined his goals based upon his religion and then carried them out because of his faith. And in that respect he is not much different than many quite respectable people of our day, for whom Christianity, or religion in general, is more a matter of convenience, or furthering their own agenda, than a matter of personal faith.
It is unfortunate that Christians the world over find themselves judged by the actions of pretenders. It does make it more important that we who do profess his name do our best to emulate our Lord and give no reason for unbelievers to speak ill of Christ because of our own lives.