“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”—Edmund Burke
by Kevin Paulson
Sir Neville Chamberlain is one of the most tragic figures of the 20th century. The son of a renowned British politician, he served in three cabinet posts before becoming prime minister in 1937. The following year he saw Europe trembling with a crisis fever not witnessed since 1914. With Hitler threatening to occupy Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, and the Czechs preparing to resist, the West was compelled to do something.
Contacting the Nazi leader, Chamberlain suggested a man-to-man conference.
Three successive meetings—at Berchtesgaden, Godesberg, and Munich—quickly followed, with the final gathering attended by Benito Mussolini and French Premier Daladier. It was finally agreed that Czechoslovakia would give Sudetenland to the Germans in compliance with Hitler’s demand. Chamberlain and the Western leadership now felt safe. After all, had not Hitler promised this would be his last territorial claim?
Yet amid the loud rejoicing which followed the Munich Agreement in September 1938, one voice of dissent could be heard. For several years this voice had warned of the growing Nazi threat, urging fellow citizens and government leaders to act. But few cared to listen, and most called him a warmonger. Though almost everyone wished he would keep quiet, he challenged the prevailing mood. “What about the Czechs? Has anyone asked for their opinion?” the voice inquired.
Not until one year and 8 months later did Prime Minister Chamberlain fully see the folly of his ways. On May 10, 1940, the Nazi blitzkrieg slashed into Western Europe, devouring Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and eventually France. Meanwhile, on the streets of London, a tired, broken man whose policies had collapsed around him, slowly made his way to Buckingham Palace to submit his resignation.
King George weighed his options carefully. He thought of Lord Halifax, a moderate thinker whose leadership could probably unify both the government and the people. But again and again his mind could hear that single voice of warning, the one dissenter whom most had written off as an extremist. Who else could best inspire the nation with the courage to stand, to fight, and to win? The king made his decision. Lifting the telephone, he sent for Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill.
No one, historian or otherwise, can dispute the good intentions or sincerity of Neville Chamberlain. He wanted very much to stop aggression and prevent another terrible war. To him, the policy of appeasement was the best way to accomplish this goal. He could not have been more wrong. What stupendous tragedy might have been spared the world had Chamberlain and his colleagues listened to Churchill and confronted the problem early while the enemy was ill-prepared!
Does this experience from the past have any lessons for Christians today? Tragically, the policy of appeasement is not unique to Neville Chamberlain or the political world. The Bible gives examples of leaders in God’s work who resorted to this method of solving problems. When Aaron consented to make a golden calf under threat from the Israelites, he followed this approach. Exodus 32:1–5. Eli failed to remove his wicked sons from the priesthood despite their heinous crimes, perhaps hoping that mild correction would be enough to change their attitudes. 1 Samuel 2:17. Like Chamberlain, neither Aaron nor Eli was a bad person. They simply lacked the courage, the moral backbone to meet a crisis head-on.
Today, thousands of faithful Christians find their basic Bible beliefs under fierce attack. The authenticity of the Bible, the biblical presentation of Creation, a clear understanding of the gospel commission, the reality of victory over sin through faith in Jesus Christ, moral lifestyles, healthful and temperate living, the sacredness of marriage, fidelity to the marriage vows, sexual morality, the sanctity of the family and family values, Christian courtesy and respect towards authority, and many other fundamental Christian beliefs have come under fire in recent years.
While some critics have tried an open assault, many more prefer to be subtle. Through television, the media, public educational systems, entertainment, political agitation, and other methods, they are gradually, imperceptibly instilling their anti-Christian views and values upon those around them, especially the young.
Will we, like Neville Chamberlain, adopt the policy of appeasement, hoping that the problem will disappear without pain? Or will we adopt the spirit of Winston Churchill, whose uncompromising courage led free nations through crisis to victory?
If there is one sin that God hates more than any other it is remaining neutral in the case of a moral emergency. God regards indifference and passivity in a religious crisis as the highest form of hostility to His government.
Unlike the nations of Western Europe, true Christians may be sure of victory. Though we partake of blood, sweat, toil, and tears, God’s faithful, Bible-believing people will finally prevail. “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Joshua 1:9.