aRt and tHeOlOgY: Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Reading through Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonheoffer I have discovered the importance of the ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church’ in Berlin. It seems that Bonheoffer preached there quite a bit.

Source: Wikipedia, circa 1900
Source: B-17_Flying_Fortress_Wikipedia

The church was built in the 1890’s, and damaged by Allied bombing during 1943.Today, the church is a reminder of the devastation associated with war. In some respects it also stands as a visual metaphor for what happens when the Church capitulates theology to ideology. Instead of theology being held up as a critique of ideology.

The more I look at these pictures, the more I find myself taking in the serious message that each image conveys.

Sorrow is a corrective. Ambrose of Milan write that:

93. Let, then, nothing call you away from penitence, for this you have in common with the saints, and would that such sorrowing for sin as that of the saints were copied by you. David, as it were, ate ashes for bread, and mingled his drink with weeping, and therefore now rejoices the more because he wept the more.

(‘Concerning Repentance’ L:942-944)

Sorrow doesn’t allow us to ‘abdicate responsibility’ (Lesley Houston, 2013). It compels us to take responsibility by remembering what we did and where we come from. Sorrow involves confession. It is more sobering than sentimentality, nostalgia or having a morbid fascination with the past. Sorrow calls for authentic reflection. It requires crawling,  walking, thinking, waiting, talking, sitting, crying, grieving, apologizing to ourselves and to others. It means running towards the future with a cautious abandon, and having faith as-a-curious-obedience that accepts, as much as, gives mercy.


Sorrow disarms our pride and negativity. It aligns us towards repentance and forgiveness. Although this comes with a caveat. For example: World War One army Chaplain , Oswald Chambers, wrote:

”There is more pride in human grief and misery than in joy and health; certain elements in human sorrow are as proud as the devil himself. There are people who indulge in the luxury of misery; they are always talking of the agonising and distressing things—“No one ever suffered as I do; there is a special element in my suffering, it is isolated.” At the back of it is terrific pride; it is weeping that will not stop”.

– He Shall Glorify Me, 489

When I look at the remnants of what was the ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church’, I am saddened and reminded of the churches failure, at that time, to accept  ‘calls to behave like the church’ (Metaxas 2010:179). As a result its artistic beauty is left in ruins. The ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church’  is no longer a whole building, it is disunified, much like the church was in Germany during the 1930’s. Therefore, this becomes a an architectural metaphor that perfectly illustrates what happens when the church  compromises on its confession of Christ.

Still, Christians are like salvage merchants. We are called to own the past, deal with it and make progress towards restoration through devastation. Often in spite of the expectations that fall on us to surrender to spirit of the age (the zeitgeist). All the while believing and hoping that what remains as the result of our actions, or the actions of others, is redeemable.

This action turns a static monument into a monumental movement. Since it is only in Him that we ‘live, move and have our being’ (Acts.17:28), scars become beautiful stories of healing, repentance and redemption – ‘God never creates evil out of good, but good out of evil’ (Karl Barth, CD.II.2, 1957:757). The redeemer is behind this creative impetus. Art can direct us towards God, and is itself empowered by Father, revealed through Son and present in the Holy Spirit.

thCABORZFZ_Kaiser Wilhelm Church
Image credit: corinekm
Good news 1964_Ambassador College
Source: Good news 1964_Ambassador College


Barth.K,  1957 Church Dogmatics.II.2 Hendrickson Publishers
Carson, D. A. 2010, God Who Is There, The: Finding Your Place in God’s Story Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Chambers, O., & McCasland, D. (2008). The quotable Oswald Chambers (214). Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers.hambers
Ambrose Of Milan, 2013. Concerning Repentance (Kindle Locations 942-944). Kindle Edition.
Houston,L 2013 Christian Leadership lectures, Tabor Adelaide
Metaxas, E.2010 Bonheoffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville, USA
PDF Good NEWS, 1964 Edition featuring KWMC

Related reading:

One Immovable Place, aboldjoy, 2011
Battle of Berlin : Australian War Memorial Issue 25
World War One Sonnets


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