The Church, The State & The Royal Lordship of Jesus Christ

The clear intent of ‘The Barmen Declaration’ is found in its authors struggle to find balance. They did this by reasserting orthodoxy within a hostile historical context; a grey situation discoloured by misplaced allegiances, betrayals and compromise.

For instance, the authors of ‘Thesis Five’ reject, in two correlating parts, ‘false doctrine’:

Firstly, the State ‘becoming the single and totalitarian order of human life.’
Secondly, ‘the Church appropriating the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.’
Eberhard Busch
Eberhard Busch

The authors were rejecting the trend in 1933 Germany, whereby theology was sliding into blind agreement with ideology. This trend would consequently lead to the worship of human lords over and against God.

Beginning his chapter with a summary of Thesis Five, Eberhard Busch cites Gustav Heinemann, a delegate to the Barmen Confessional Synod, 1934, and President of the Federal Republic of Germany { or West Germany}, 1969-1974.

“Let us respond to the world when it wants to make us fearful: Your lords are leaving, but our Lord is coming…Their lordship will end, and His Lordship will become apparent to all in the future”[i]

Busch then unpacks this reflecting on the power distinctions between Church and State.

‘the fact that the spheres of Church and State are separate as two entities demonstrates that we are living in an as yet unredeemed world. It cannot redeem itself, but can only be redeemed – by God through the Redeemer whom he has sent…one day the Church and State will be one, but one in Jesus Christ.’

This distinction involves understanding the abuse of power and the accountability, just critique allows. Itself a tool for the prevention and cure of corruption.


‘We must be very precise here: the fact that a state has power does not mean that it is corrupt.
Jacob Burckhardt’s axiom, “power is in itself evil”, is famous but not correct. One easily concludes that the temptation to abuse power always lurks close to power itself. But it must be stated that the wrong use of power is what is evil.
As a result of placing the gospel before the law, the way of speaking of the law is completely different. It is the law of God that encounters humans, in distinction from all other legal orders…The law of God “calls to our mind” what just action is. And it is not merely common, but is framed and interpreted by the terms “kingdom of God” and “God’s righteousness.” Thus it does not enforce submission and allegiance, but instead calls for responsibility.
Rulers and the ruled are made accountable in the same way…It is part of the political sentinel’s office of the Church to “call to mind” that common responsibility.’[ii]

These words are worth highlighting:

‘In placing the gospel before the law, the way of speaking of the law is completely different… it does not enforce submission and allegiance, but instead calls for responsibility.’

What stands out the most though, is Busch’s clear discourse which shows that The Barmen Declaration is an important historical document. One that is still relevant, as it shines the light on theologians and pastors who are still determined to push against the tide of compromise.

Not compromise in a diplomatic sense, where an exchange of understandings is metered out in order to establish mutual respect, but in the perilous decision to abandon theological critique as unscientific, intolerant, anachronistic and therefore ultimately irrelevant.


[i]  Busch, E. 2010 The Barmen Theses: Then and Now Wm.B Eerdman Publishing Company, p. 71
[ii] Ibid, pp.80-82

Image: On Scripture, and Understanding Jesus


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