Archives For Confessing Church

There are a vast number of books that discuss Karl Barth’s theology.

So far some of the best include Gorringe, Busch, Bloesch and Webster.

Outside selected writings, which were core readings while I was at college, I’m yet to completely engage with William Willimon, Sung Wook Chung  or explore works from and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. This said, I may never actually get there because I’m passionate about primary and secondary sources.

It’s one thing to read what people say someone said; it’s another thing to hear what that person actually said. Some filters are necessary. Others mislead and can hinder this objective.

Given the amount of lecturer-directed reading we did of Barth and the student-directed discussions about his theology over those years, my focus since then (as some of you will know) has been on working through his Dogmatics; consulting ‘companion texts’ or sending off an email to mates for their perspective when I’ve found it necessary to do so.

Places to start actually reading Barth are Evangelical Theology: An Introduction’ and ‘Dogmatics in Outline’. These are almost always readily available and inexpensive.

As far as good, short accessible introductions to Karl Barth’s historical context and theology go, I reckon Dean Stroud’s (2013)[i] outline in ‘Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow’  is a serious contender:

‘In 1930 Karl Barth began teaching at the University in Bonn, and not long after that he was calling Christians to radical opposition to the “Thüringen {Nazi-conformist} German Christian movement.’’ (circa 1920’s-1938[ii])
But even before his arrival at Bonn, Barth’s commentary on Romans had caused a stir.
The first edition had appeared in 1919, which was followed by expanded editions from 1921 through to 1932. In his reading of Romans, Barth challenged readers to hear the epistle as God’s word directly addressing the present moment.
No longer was the letter a relic of the past whose message was more historically interesting than contemporarily relevant.
Heinz Zahrnt, whose history of Protestant theology in the 20th Century contains a lengthy discussion of Barth’s commentary, calling it ‘’a great explosion,’’ (bomb theology) in that Barth ‘’proceeds with the single assumption about the text ‘that God is God.’
For Barth, secular history was not an “idealized pantheistic” course of grand events so much as a record of “naturalistic” and “materialistic” forces.
In short, human history was nothing to brag about and certainly it was no hymn of praise to human achievement and progress, given recent events such as World War One.
As Zahrnt expressed it, Barth “turned 19th Century theology on its head” and then went “not from the bottom up but from the top down”. I.e.: we do not reach God by starting with humanity or human achievements and victories, but rather, God reaches out to us in revelation…
For Barth “God is the subject and predicate of his theology all in one”.
Barth and neo-orthodoxy sounded radical to those trained to view Scripture as a curious example of ancient history, not the sacred word of God.
According to Barth’s interpretation, no longer is the reader in charge of the biblical text but the text judges the reader.
And so when the “German Christians” insisted on inserting Hitler and racial hatred into the Scriptures or removing Paul and robbing Jesus of his Jewish identity, Barth was ready to object with a vigorous regard for biblical authority.
19th Century liberal theology had weakened biblical foundations, and “German Christians” has simply taken advantage of this human-centred interpretation.
Barth’s neo-orthodox interpretation of Romans repeatedly hammers away against idolatry of self-worship in human form, nation, or leader…
The gulf between humans and God is too wide for the human eye; only God in his revelation and his word may cross that divide. Hence every human effort to identify a leader, a nation, a fatherland, or a race with the divine always results in the worship of the “No-God.”
Barth urged future preachers in Germany to take the biblical text seriously, to submit themselves to it, and not the other way around.
By focusing on the text through exegesis, pastors would hold up and alternative rhetoric to the culture. From his lectures it is clear that for preachers in the Barthian tradition, the biblical text reigns supreme.
Without the preacher intending to be controversial or political, the Holy Spirit may make him so in the faithful hearing and proclaiming of Scripture. Barth issued a call to arms against the German Christian movement and argued against any marriage of Christianity with Nazism.
He warned that “what under no circumstances is allowed to happen is this, that we in zeal for a new thing we consider good, lose our theological existence.
God is nowhere present for us, nowhere present in the world, nowhere present in our realm and in our time as in his word; that this word of his has no other name and content than Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ for us is nowhere in the world to be found as new every day except in the Old and New Testaments. About this we in the church are unified or we are not in the church”
Theological existence today, for Barth, was being bound to God’s Word and to Jesus Christ alone and to no other name or race of land.’[iii]

On the whole I’m uncomfortable with labels outside just being called a Christian, so the term Barthian is not something I’m quick to apply to myself or others with any deliberate zeal.

I am, however, convinced that what The Word of God might say to the Christian through a Barthian lens has the potential to transform lives, beginning with their theology.


References:

[i] Stroud, D. 2013 (editor), Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of resistance in the Third Reich, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company

[ii] Ibid, p.23

[iii] Ibid, pp.31-33

Image: Storied Theology – On Loving Freedom

Originally published 14th September 2014 

©Rod Lampard, 2019

The general reasoning against any sizeable interest in the suffering and pain of Germans in World War Two might go along these lines:

‘’Well, the fact that some Germans suffered horribly doesn’t equal the unnecessary loss and pain their country caused to the Jewish people or the Allies.’’

For obvious reasons, this response isn’t without justification.

However, any discussion about German suffering is avoided with the vigour of a young theologian. Who once confronted with the task of unpacking Karl Barth’s complex rejection of natural theology, quietly sums it up, then stamps it with a Dante-esk ‘abandon all hope – ye who enter here!

The conversation moves on and the issue is conveniently ignored.

So it is with some difficult primary documents.

They are politely ignored or misappropriated in haste. Sometimes dangerously decontextualised in an attempt to bring the past into agreement with the present[i]. In this case the intellectual method is betrayed and history is abandoned. Either in favour of an ultra-conservative or progressive party-line. Primary documents are for a time effectively written off, partially discounted, misused or conveniently ignored.

The victim? A warts-and-all linear view of history.

Read and received rightly, primary sources show us exactly where, how and when the past can read and inform the present.

Such an undertaking allows us to carefully acknowledge the past with all the seriousness and respect that it rightly deserves.

If allowed to speak as it is, what a primary source can teach us is invaluable. Their contents will challenge comfortable opinions by dragging us into the context. Sometimes even becoming a contradiction to the self-serving and selective views of history so endemic of our time.

For example: Not all Germans were National Socialists. Some even paid the high price of active resistance.

It’s a rare occurrence for those in the English-speaking world to be granted a first-hand insight into the pain, suffering and thoughts of those few Germans who went against the stream during World War Two. Their voice is smothered by the fog of war and their sacrifice forgotten. So when we get the chance to read about it, it’s worth every penny.

Christian Puritz’s 2013: ‘Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch’ is anexample of such rarities:

WilhelmBusch_Family photo 1943

Pastor Busch and Family, 1943. Just before Wilhelm’s son (centre) left for the Russian front where he died a year later.

 

Busch’s recount of what resistance was like and what it cost is described by him in his diary:

When my son reached the senior classes in the grammar school he himself wanted to resist the ungodly repression of those days.
He chose his friends from the Bible Circle that I was leading. This work had already been so defamed that only a handful of young people had the courage to swim against the tide and keep coming.
His friends decided one day to disobey the command of the Hitler Youth (to which all young people without exception then had to belong) to assemble on Sundays during the time of the church service. (Church Youth Groups were forbidden by the Gestapo, the Secret State Police)
I never commanded my son to enter my youth work; he just grew into it of his own accord.
My boy decided to do a bicycle tour. He invited his friends. And in the end he said it would be nice if his father came as well…
On one of the tours we made a discovery that shocked us. My boy had a nose bleed which just would not stop. We took him to a hospital and eventually were told: ‘This boy has haemophilia; his blood can’t coagulate.’
And yet later they conscripted him for the war in Russia. I ran to see the army doctor who examined him.
But a pastor who belonged to the ‘Confessing Church’ and who was not ‘standing without reserve behind our beloved Führer’ did not get a hearing.
I can still see the little troop standing on the station. Destination Russia!
They were just children, eighteen years old. I could have screamed when I saw my child marching away, looking so pale. What did this tender artistic soul have to do with an unjust war? He had been caught in a pitiless machine.
Then somewhere in Russia he bled to death. Abandoned and alone! No! Not alone! In his wallet was found a bloodstained scrap of paper with the words:
‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want… And though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me.[ii]

It’s true enough that when compared to the suffering of millions under the Nazi reign of terror, this is of little consolation.

However, there is a uniqueness within these first-hand accounts. There is a solidarity of suffering which shows a different side to Germany during World War Two. By their resistance to National Socialist rules, they become an exception to the rule.

Not all  Germans were Nazis. There wasn’t a total alignment of Germans towards the totalitarian Fascist state.

This kind of insight is also reflected through the lives of German men and women, such as: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Theologian), Oskar Schindler (Industrialist), Paul Schneider (Pastor), Claus von Stauffenberg (Soldier), Edith Stein (Feminist/Carmelite Nun), and Sophia Scholl (Student).  {Oskar Schindler being the only one on this list to not be murdered by the Fascist State}

.       Left to Right: Bonhoeffer, Schneider,          .      Stauffenberg, Schindler Scholl & Stein

 

In these cases and the few like them, there is a juxtaposition of those inside the Axis with those outside it.

In their resistance we witness a politics of realignment. The unavoidable and political ”nein”  to any state, political party, ideology or politician who lays claim to being a secondary messiah equal to that of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

We are reminded by them, that in Jesus Christ we are turned back towards freedom. In their struggle we are handed the reminder that we may stand, must stand and therefore ought to stand against any stream, scheme or masked revelation that seeks to ‘tame and control the Gospel by adapting it rather than being adapted by it’. (Karl Barth CD.II/I:163)

In 1969, Billy Graham talking with William F. Buckley Jnr. outlined the finer points of dichotomy between the Christian revolution of the heart and all Marxism revolt.

 

Under Marxist rule the first victim is religious freedom. By their very existence, the genuine Christian, the sinner saved by grace, stands in direct opposition to Communism, because society’s salvation, criticism and hope begins and ends with the freedom and authority of Jesus Christ, not Karl Marx.

The Polish people exemplified this in the early 1980’s, when ‘their hostility towards Communism was demonstrated, not by riots, but by openly showing their allegiance to God…’ [iii]

This pertains to the pursuit of truth vs. political conformity. Where the freedom that gives life to the intellectual method is maintained against any who would seek to enslave it.

Just as

…’the light of eternity shines into the sadness.’ (Pastor Busch) [iv]

insight brings hope.

 ‘It would be wrong not to lay lessons of the past before the future’[v]
– (Winston S. Churchill, 1948)

 


References:

[i] For example: the attempt to synthesise Leftism (White Rose Society) with this, (The Historical White Rose Society).

[ii] Puritz, Christian (Trans/Ed.) Christ or Hitler?: Stories from my life and times, by Pastor Wilhelm Busch (1897-1966) (First) Evangelical Press. Kindle Ed.

[iii] Wojtyla, K. cited by O’Sullivan, J. 2006  The President, The Pope & The Prime Minister: Three Who Changed The World Regnery Publishing, Inc.

[iv] Puritz, Ibid.

[iv] Churchill, W. 1948, The Gathering Storm: The Second World War, Vol.1 Houghton Mifflin Company Kindle Ed.

Billy Graham, 1969. The Decline of Christianity, Firing Line, William F. Buckley

YouTube: The Decline of Christianity

Stanford Transcript: The Decline of Christianity

Commenting on contentious issues comes with a level of risk. These risks include misinterpretation, malicious dismissal, personal attacks and harassment. Therefore, I proceed here with the utmost caution.

Over the course of the next month Australians of voting age will be having their say in a postal-vote on same-sex marriage. From this plebiscite the Government will, presumably, discern the will of the people and act accordingly.

As a Christian theologian, I acknowledge that I may be accused of having a bias. I respond to this with humility, saying I have given this matter a great deal of consideration. As such I have endeavoured to speak truth in love.

I have also refrained from delving into biblical exegesis which backs our scientific understanding of human biology, procreation and the dangers of irregular sexuality. I have chosen to leave this out, not because of a lack of knowledge on my part, but because these subjects have been addressed at length by people, who are far more eloquent than me, and have more time and resources to devote to the subject at hand.

However, since Australia is still a country that values civic principles such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, in writing this, I am choosing to exercise my right as a free citizen, who is not a subject of a party, a church denomination or secret society.  It is in the spirit of these civic principles that I present the following:

I will be voting “no” to SSM because genuine marriage equality is no better displayed than in traditional marriage. This is a union that is equally shared between a man and a woman. This is where male and female, who are not brother and sister, come together to create a home. This is true equality. As such, it makes marriage the property of those who inherited the truth that man, is free to be for woman, and woman, is free to be for man.

From this union comes a new generation, who is at the mercy of this equality and by being conceived into it, becomes an heir to true equality. To eventually take on the responsibility for preserving it.

From this comes the nurture of children. This involves the man and the woman, as father and mother, who are given, not just an inheritance from those men and women who nurtured them, but the responsibility to preserve the tried and true, against its usurpation. In some cases, to even move beyond abuse and neglect, where true equality has become compromised, or irregular; to rise up, and be what they were not shown.

Man and woman invite each other into this equal union. It is an act of reconciliation between the man and woman. Misogyny and misandry are alien to it, and only pose a threat to the unity, balance and true equality that such a union encourages.

There can be no compromise with misogyny or misandry. No allowance for a whole generation to only know one parent and be withheld unjustly from the other. We see on a daily basis, the results of fatherless homes. Some of us have even experienced the brokenness of an orphan heart and wrestle daily with wounds caused by the absence of a mother or a father.

Love is not defined by the state, which is governed by whimsical fads, customer satisfaction ratings and is often bloated and self-serving.

I will be voting “no” to SSM because I also believe in the Biblical witness which proclaims this true equality. It points to centuries of witnesses who followed its faithful path.

Their witness is an inherited and loving “no” against those who would replace Father and Mother with ”parent one and parent two”. It is an inherited and loving “no” against those who would chain innocence to irregularity, by confusing a child about their own identity, imposing adult presuppositions, fads or twisted social experimentation on them.

God is love. Love is not God. If love was god, it would be a false god; a god made in human image. It would not be God. Therefore love is love, is a lie. If love is love, then there is no argument against racists who love their race more than others and proudly show it. The answer then is that love cannot, does not and must not be construed as, being able to define itself.

As the anti-Nazi theologian Karl Barth stated in 1938:

‘God is not what we know as love in ourselves…We are taught by John’s Gospel [et.al] and [his] 1st letter, not about the deity of love, but the love of the Deity’
(C.D 1:2 1938:374)

I will be voting “no” to SSM because love is love, is a lie.

An environmentalist seeks the preservation of nature and what is good in nature. They rightly stand against the imposition of human structures, specifically, the violence done to nature by grotesque pollution, and human pride and greed, which arrogantly justifies the unnecessary destruction of nature.

It stands to reason then, that any environmentalist who argues for SSM based on the argument that love is love, and all that is behind love is love, necessarily allows the person who loves his or her money, more than the environment, to destroy the environment. Empowering them to act in violence against the environment.

Making, by default, the environmentalist in their “no” to the greed and pride of the lover of money, and their ”yes” to SSM, a hypocrite of the highest order. Not only are they not protecting the natural union between man and woman, woman and man, for the generations to come, they are negating their stand against the abuse of the environment. Therefore any environmentalist, who supports SSM, makes environmentalism obsolete.

I will be voting “no” to SSM because there is no creative power in darkness.

The moon is dressed up and reflects the light of the sun. It is imitation light. It is not light itself. It does not produce life, nor does it have the power to nurture it, without corrupting it. It is a morbid light. Light imitating light.

The moon can never be or fulfil the role of the sun. No matter how much man and woman, in worship of that morbid light, may wish to twist this fact. Light which imitates light, is a false dawn; at its end there is only darkness; the flames of annihilation, self-annihilation and the malady of nothingness. Light that does not become light, cannot produce life.

“the moon gives off light, but not life. It is a cold, morbid light. It is light without heat ; a secondary light, only a dim reflection from a dead world.”
(Orthodoxy, p.18 paraphrased)

I will be voting “no” to SSM because as a son broken by the absence of his father, I cannot in good conscience consign others to the same depth of pain and loss, felt by the absence of a mother or a father.

Coming from a background where my father was not around, not just because of his own failures, but those of others, I cannot, in good conscience, consign others to experience that pain, and loss.

I cannot in good conscience consign a child to confusion over their gender, which is determined biologically. I cannot in good conscience consign a child to a numerical system such as parent 1 and parent 2, where they may never know the love of a father and a mother.

I cannot in good conscience consign a man to abandon his children, for want of being a woman, or a woman abandon her children for want of being a man. Then demanding those children accept the loss of that parent and accept the heartache and longing it causes with the self-justification that the adult’s want overruled the needs of the child.

I cannot in good conscience surrender love to abuse and the perversion of science to aesthetically turn the moon into a sun, and the sun into a moon, and then demand it be widely accepted as scientific fact.

I see a loving “no” as being part of our corporate responsibility towards future generations, and our collective responsibility to preserve, for those generations, the good, like that of civic principles which uphold true freedom and true equality, that have been handed to us, often at great cost.

It is with these considerations in mind that I say “no” to same-sex marriage.


References:

Barth, K. 1938, Church Dogmatics 1/2 Hendrickson Publishers

Chesterton, G.K, 1901 Orthodoxy Relevant Books

Related reading: 

When a Man Loves a Woman: Barth’s Freedom in Fellowship

Bonhoeffer’s Discourse On Pride, Identity, Lust & Christian Discipleship

#loveislove?

Stumbling through some images yesterday, I came across an ‘old’ e-formatted copy of Leo Tolstoy’s 1879 work – ‘A Confession’. I had originally been looking for humorous pictures about coffee, power etc. Instead, I found myself navigating my way through this book.

As I made my advance into Tolstoy’s world,  I found it difficult to put down.

There are free versions of this available from Christian Classics (Link: A Confession CCEL).

In short, Tolstoy’s documented struggle with theology, science, life, faith, the Greek Orthodox church, severe depression and mental illness, is ripe for contemporary reflection. Which is saying a lot for a 134 year old academically astute work of art.

Karl Barth was aware of Tolstoy’s work. However based on the indexing in his Church Dogmatics I could only find a loose connection to the imagery of being ”held over the abyss by the infinite” (CD, IV:I:411), which Tolstoy uses in the abridged quote below.

Considering that Barth was born in 1886, there is a strong possibility here that Tolstoy had a big influence on Barth’s thought and theology. I am keen to confirm this link, so if anyone can point me in the right direction with this, I would appreciate it.

For me, among the highlights of this journey was this postscript (Some of which I hope to write and post about this week. After I pray and mine it some more):

I had a dream.

Leo Tolstoy

The dream was this:
I saw that I was lying on a bed. I was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable: I was lying on my back.
I looked down and did not believe my eyes. I was not only at a height comparable to the height of the highest towers or mountains, but at a height such as I could never have imagined. I could not even make out whether I saw anything there below, in that bottomless abyss over which I was hanging and which I was being drawn.
My heart contracted, and I experienced horror. To look thither was terrible. If I looked thither I felt that I should at once slip from the last support and perish. And I did not look. But not to look was still worse, for I thought of what would happen to me directly I fell from the last support. And I felt that from fear I was losing my last supports, and that my back was slowly slipping lower and lower.
Another moment and I should drop off. And then it occurred to me that this cannot be real. It is a dream. Wake up!
I try to arouse myself but cannot do so. What am I to do? What am I to do? I ask myself, and look upwards.
Above, there is also an infinite space. I look into the immensity of sky and try to forget about the immensity below, and I really do forget it. The immensity below repels and frightens me; the immensity above attracts and strengthens me.
I am still supported above the abyss by the last supports that have not yet slipped from under me; I know that I am hanging, but I look only upwards and my fear passes. As happens in dreams, a voice says: “Notice this, this is it!” And I look more and more into the infinite above me and feel that I am becoming calm.
I remember all that has happened, and remember how it all happened; how I moved my legs, how I hung down, how frightened I was, and how I was saved from fear by looking upwards.
I ask myself how am I held: I feel about, look round, and see that under me, under the middle of my body, there is one support, and that when I look upwards I lie on it in the position of secured balance, and that it alone gave me support before. And then, as happens in dreams, I imagined the mechanism by means of which I was held; a very natural intelligible, and sure means, though to one awake that mechanism has no sense. I was even surprised in my dream that I had not understood it sooner.
It appeared that at my head there was a pillar, and the security of that slender pillar was undoubted though there was nothing to support it. From the pillar a loop hung very ingeniously and yet simply, and if one lay with the middle of one’s body in that loop and looked up, there could be no question of falling. This was all clear to me, and I was glad and tranquil. And it seemed as if someone said to me:
“See that you remember.”
And I awoke.

Source:

Leo Tolstoy 1879 A Confession  Kindle for PC. (Loc. 962).

Image credit: Tolstoy, Wikipedia

(Originally posted 7th July 2013)

Barmen these then and now

For some time now I have been seriously captivated by the Barmen Declaration and the Confessing Church. I recently had the privilege of recounting how applicable this particular part of modern Church History is to our current, “post-modern” context.

The principle author of the declaration was Karl Barth, who wrote it during a synod in the May of 1934 Barmen, Germany. The Barmen Declaration was agreed upon and signed by members of the ‘Lutheran, reformed and united churches’ (2010:12).

In his 2010 book ‘the Barmen theses then and now’, Eberhard Busch convincingly argues for its continuing relevance, by brilliantly illustrating the significance of the ‘Theological Declaration of Barmen’.

The socio-political context was pre-world war two, Nazi Germany. The Confessing Church was formed in ‘protest against’ (Busch 2010:8) the Nazis and their Nationalist church movement (Nazi sympathisers), who rallied under the nationalist banner ‘German Christians’.

According to Busch, the ‘German Christians’, as an organised majority, did this because the German church in the early 1930s were a community ‘struggling for its identity’ (2010:2).

Consequently a large portion of Christians were easily manipulated by nationalist-socialist ideology (Nazism).

Busch asserts that ‘Hitler’s hidden agenda was that the church should make itself superfluous, so that the state could become absolute ruler’ (2010:1).An example of this was the influence and practice of anti-Semitism, which manifested itself in November 1933, when nationalist-Christian’s decided ‘to purify the gospel ‘’from all Oriental distortion’. The result of this was that ‘they distorted the gospel message’ (2010:24).

The Barmen declaration was a product of protest; it was and still is both a theological and political polemic for these reasons.

Firstly, the Barmen Declaration was a protest against the ‘German Christians’ and their acceptance of the ideology of the State, University and State coercion forcing people into allegiance to it. Secondly, it was a protest against the aggressive policy that had merged the church with the state, by subordinating the church to the state.

Thirdly, the ‘Barmen Declaration’ instructs the church through its confessional language and its contemporary relevance, to deal graciously with people who merge theology with ideology. Busch notes that ‘even when we say ‘’no’’ to their activities, we are still basically saying ‘’yes’’ to them thus loving them’, and all the while doing so firmly without obtrusion (2010:45).

For example:

Barmen thesis one: salvation is through Christ alone.
In context this means that any view which suggests that salvation could come through Hitler is false and therefore is to be rejected. This is because ‘Jesus is the one Word of God and the proper hearing of this Word takes place in trusting and obeying’ (2010:37)…‘The one word is the way upon which, and the door through which, God comes to us in his truth and in his life, comes as the light that overcomes the lie and as the resurrection that disempowers death’ (Busch 2010:23). There are no ways to God, there is only one way and it is from God to us founded and expressed entirely through, and in Jesus the Christ.

Barmen thesis two: is about evangelical ethics. This is to be understood as ‘the one Word having two forms, gospel and law; God’s gift and command’ (2010:37). The ‘basis of evangelical ethics is not a program, not a principle, not a categorical imperative, but rather a person, Jesus Christ’ (Busch 2010:42). God does not ‘require of us the begrudging fulfilment of obligation but rather he expects of us our gratitude for the beneficence we have received’ (2010:44). In context this meant ‘obeying God rather than’ (citing Acts 5:29, p.42) an ideology or the consensus of the mob.

Barmen thesis three: is about the ‘church struggle’ (2010:50) with ‘false doctrine’ (2010:52).This corresponds with the issue of placing ideology over against theology by separating the secular from the sacred. Busch understands this to be primarily about compromise. It means that ‘the church puts itself in jeopardy – whether in its retreat from the world into an interior space to attend to a sacral activity, or in its conforming to the world around it, to which it surrenders’ (2010:52).

Barmen thesis four: concerns the priesthood of all believers. It proposes that the Church is not ‘reduced to its office bearers’ (2010:67) and therefore identified in isolation from the laity. This means that ‘the church cannot rule, and there shall be no ruling within it…to serve others does not mean to wait on them, but rather it means to be free for them, free to stand in support next to them’ (2010:66).

Barmen thesis five: outlines the importance of maintaining the separation between Church and State. This pertains to the importance of the churches commission and mission. It must not be confused with the false division between sacred and secular. For example: ‘the more the church endeavours to be proper church, the better it can invite and encourage the state to be proper state’ (2010:84).

Barmen theses six: the final thesis deals with ‘ecclesial arrogance’ (2010:94). To unpack this Busch differentiates between those who do not reject the word and those who seek to silence it. He rightly accuses those who seek to silence the word of ‘making the gospel an opiate of the people’ (2010:95)…‘sometimes demanding, sometimes smiling, they demand that the Word of God should bless and not disturb the arbitrary acts of humans’ (2010:95). This, Busch writes places the gospel ‘into the service of human interests’ (2010:93).

Finally, one of Busch’s key observations is that the “German Christian movement”:

‘demonstrated just where the church ends up when it begins to conform its own order to the state’s wishes – the outcome is that not only the church’s order but also its message is conformed to those wishes’ (2010:74).

English: German stamp, showing Karl Barth. Deu...

With this in mind, the contemporary relevance of Barmen should be clear. Through Barth and many others, God has provided a reliable platform for today’s Church to frame a firm but gracious no, to a growing number of people, who seek to subordinate the Word of God and the church to an ideology.

These include: Nationalism, ecclesial elitism, Islamic fascism, homosexual activism, militant atheism, environmentalism, nihilism and extreme feminism.

It is perhaps fitting to finish with the thunder that sounds out from one of Barth’s rallying cries: ‘let us respond to the world when it wants to make us fearful:

Your lords are leaving, but our Lord is coming’ (cited by Busch 2010:72).

Source:

Busch, E. 2010 the Barmen theses then and now: the 2004 Warfield lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids Michigan, U.S.A

(Originally published 2nd May, 2013)

The word martyr [μάρτυς] means to ‘bear witness’, this is derived from the word marturion [μαρτύριον] which is understood to mean evidence testimony; witness; to be testified.

The word martyr is also connected to martyromai [μαρτύρομαι] ‘I am urging; I am bearing witness; I am declaring; I am insisting.’ [i]

Along with a lot of His colleagues, family and friends – of whom one was Karl Barth and the other Martin Niemöller, Bonhoeffer fits the profile of declaring; bearing witness; insisting. He was a martyr.

Today, fascist theory might only exist in fringe elements of society, but the style of political activism employed by the Nazi’s isn’t.

Rhetoric and labels offer to tempting of a tool to withstand. Evident in the ‘punch a Nazi‘ slogan, which when translated comes to down being a leftist justification for punching a Trump voter, conservative or anyone who is deemed to be an ”oppressor” by pharisees on the Left.

Anyone who, in their opposition, falls foul of the tar and feathering. The put downs. The emotional manipulation and the slurs. Such as the tattooing of the ”wrong side of history” on the social media arms of their victims. People who in their disagreement and opposition, find themselves, ridiculed into silence, falsely branded as racist, bigot, phobic or worse.

The significance of Bonhoeffer, Barth and Niemöller’s resistance must not be overlooked. Their resistance is as relevant as ever. In 1993, Lutheran academic Gene Veith pointed out that the Fascist political play book is still in service today:

…’fascism is a worldview….the defeat of Hitler and the Axis powers in World War II meant the military defeat of fascism, but an ideology cannot be defeated by military power alone. Ideas linger…despite the military victory over fascism, it will long continue to live’ [ii]
(Veith, 1993 Modern Fascism)

Although the Church in the 21st Century shares a different context with the German Church struggle; the Kirchenkampf,  there are parallels.

It  can, however, be difficult to see those similarities. Some similarities are subtleties. The pretenders are in large part invisible to the majority, but are working hard at ‘gradually liquidating the True Church through intimidation.’ (Bethge cited by Metaxas, 2010:294, italics mine).

‘Marx’s categories [generalised dehumanising labels] have been used to complete the work begun by Napoleon [in Europe] and continued in another more horrible way by Hitler […] to replace civil society with a committee of intellectuals – as the official ”voice of the worker” – in which only abstractions can be uttered and only Leftist bureaucrats takes part’ [iii]
(Roger Scruton, 2015. Fools, Frauds & Firebrands)

Part of the Christian and his or her response to this new Church struggle may perhaps require applying Bonhoeffer’s admonishment to ‘not defend God’s word, but testify to it…’ (Metaxas citing Bonhoeffer, 2010:261).The Confessing church is a church of martyrs.

Rather than retreat into gated communities, under the appearance of defeat, or defeatism, the church must, like Bonhoeffer, in Christ, step-up:

…‘Although I am working with all my might for the church opposition, it is perfectly clear to me that this opposition is only a very temporary transition to an opposition of a very different kind, and that very few of those engaged in this preliminary skirmish will be part of the next struggle. And I believe that the whole of Christendom should pray with us that it will be a ‘resistance unto death’, and that the people will be found to suffer it’
(Eric Metaxas citing Bonhoeffer 2010:195-196 [iv])

Marxist, Leon Trotsky saw the danger of not supporting the Church struggle in Germany, which by default meant negatively affecting, through the compromise of freedom, the proclamation and testimony of the Church:

‘…It is only necessary to find real and effective methods to intervene in the struggle, to stir up the religious-democratic opposition, to broaden it and to assist the young Catholics, especially the workers, in their struggle (and not, of course, the Nazi police, which wants to “destroy” these religious organisations). Thus, in Russia we always defended the struggle of the Armenian church for its autonomy.’ (19th August 1935) [v]

The work of the church today is to try and define this new Church struggle, not be defined by it. It comes from within, by way of pressure from without: culture seeking to determine the agenda of the Church. In pushing back, the church today must be cautious of schism. Those involved in the opposition, because of their opposition, must be careful not to trigger it. The Church must be careful of it’s “no” and even more careful of it’s “yes”, but speak it must!

Right from the start those in the church opposition have to ask:

1.  How does struggle connect with ‘bearing witness’?

2. Is ‘bearing witness’ found in the act of struggle as opposed to full subjugation to the powers with which the Church struggles against?

3. Who or what are those powers?

In 1964, Ronald Reagan said that ‘the martyrs of history were not fools [vi]’. Those who speak out are not fools. Those who bare witness to Christ, to the truth and grace that impacts and transforms are not fools. In Bonhoeffer’s story there is holy ground. His stand and those who stood in the same opposition; their ‘no compromise’ theology and service to the Church are real examples of genuine resistance.

‘The reaction should be one of a spiritual and psychological nature, and on a scholarly level.’
(Jacques Ellul, p.67 [vii])

The term martyr (marturion), is understood to be witness. One who declares and insists. All who are raised up in Christ, are called to raise up Christ. As Shelly Rambo puts it:

‘Perhaps the figure of ‘the martyr’ [μαρτύριον – marturion] that we need to mobilize [recover] is not the one who sacrifices him-or herself but the one whose compulsion is to witness and to provide testimony.’ [viii]

How Christians tell their story, live out the struggle or ‘bear witness’ in testifying to that story, may require more effort and attention than is currently being wielded. One thing is clear, the struggle is something we share. Genuine resistance can and should employ testimony.

If this should eventuate in the way it did for Bonhoeffer, and has done in the Middle East, then, with the Moravians of old, from sigh to prayer, “may the lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.”

The Confessing church is a church of martyrs. Church, sleep no more!


References:

[i] Goodrick,W.E & Kohlenberger.J.R 1999  NIVAC:The Strongest NIV exhaustive concordance Zondervan USA

[ii] Veith, G.E.1993 Modern Fascism (Kindle Locations 179-181). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

[iii] Scruton, R. 2015 Fools, Frauds & Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

[vi] Metaxas, E. 2010 Bonheoffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet and Spy Thomas Nelson Publishers

[v] The Church struggle under fascism, 1935 Leon Trotsky

[vi] Reagan, R. 1964 ‘A time for Choosing’, PDF transcript

[vii] Ellul, J. 2015 Islam & Judeo-Christianity: A Critique of Their Commonality, Wipf & Stock Publishers

[viii] Shelly Rambo, 2010. Spirit & Trauma: A Theology of Remaining

paul-schneider-quote-2Arrested four times, Paul Schneider became one of the first theologians of the Confessing Church to be murdered by the Nazis, and the first protestant pastor to die in a Nazi concentration camp.

In a nut shell, Schneider was labelled a firebrand. Like a lot of the Confessing Church Pastors and theologians, his theological resistance was “politically incorrect”.

His defiance was a veritable revolt against ‘compromise with Nazi ideology, and the indifference of the people.’[i]

As a result the ‘terror state would forbid him to preach, and attempt to silence his opposition by enforcing a form of exile’[ii]. Schneider was later arrested and imprisoned.

His tenacity is evidenced by accounts such as this:

‘…few dared to risk as much as Pastor Paul Schneider in Dickenschied, who disciplined those parish members who were in the Nazi Party’ (Bethge, Bonhoeffer: A Biography. p.568)

Then,

‘in January 1939 two prisoners who tried to escape were hanged in front of the assembled inmates. Paul Schneider called out through his cell window: ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners…The response was another twenty-five lashes.’ (source)

Greg Slingerland narrates the scene brilliantly:

On a January morning in 1939 in the concentration camp of Buchenwald, two beleaguered prisoners who had attempted to escape were brought into the parade grounds of the camp. There they were mercilessly executed.  As the bodies of the two prisoners went limp, a voice rang out across the camp from the window of the punishment cell.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I witness against the murder of these prisoners!”

Not quite six months later, Schneider, beaten and starved, was euthanized by the Buchenwald camp doctor. Schneider was survived by his wife, Margarete and their six children. (source [iii])

Along with Schneider’s outspoken preaching in prison, his theologically informed political defiance permeated his sermons.

The first in 1934, where he firmly asserts a theological critique against the ideology of the day:

‘we have tolerated the teachings of Balak (Numbers 22.6), of liberalism that praises goodness and freedom of men and women while minimising the honour of God and letting the seriousness of eternity fade away into a misty haze[iv]we cannot close our eyes to the high storm-waves we see surging toward our people in the Third Reich[v]

The other is in a sermon smuggled out of a Gestapo prison camp in 1937 entitled: ‘About Giving Thanks in the Third Reich’. He draws deliberately onBelshazzar, a poem written by Heinrich Heine, a 19th century German Jewish poet[vi].’

Schneider matches the attitudes of late 1930’s Germany with the attitude of ‘the Babylonian ruler, who fully ripened in his godless, proud, and wasteful misuse of God’s gifts, had drunk himself sick and mocked God’[vii] (Daniel 5:13-30)

‘…His face is flushed, his cheeks aglow, till a sinful challenge to God resounds.
He boasts and blasphemes against the Lord, to the roaring cheers of his servile horde…
“Jehovah, your power is past and gone – I am the King of Babylon”
But scarce the awful word was said, the King was stricken with secret dread.
The raucous laughter silent falls, it is suddenly still in the echoing halls.
And see!
As if on the wall’s white space, a human hand began to trace.
Writing and writing across the stone, letters of fire, wrote, and was gone
The King sat still, with staring gaze, his knees were water, ashen his face.
Fear chilled the vassals to the bone, fixed they sat and gave no tone.
Wise men came, but none was equipped, to read the sense of the fiery script.
Before the sun could rise again, Belshazzar by his men was slain.’(source)

 

Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar's_Feast_-_WGA19123

Dean Stroud notes:

‘Schneider no longer believed that ‘’our evangelical church” (read German Evangelical [Free] Church) could avoid direct conflict with the Nazi state’[viii]

For the Church in the West, these are still ominous words. As witness (marturion; martyr) they also point us towards the ‘storms that are not so much around us, but in our hearts.[ix]

Heard as they must be heard, Schneider joins the chorus of voices who cry out to us today against complacency, indifference, arrogance, and the unwillingness to face the danger posed by those who seek to be our ideological masters.

Dangers that we, in the West, as a multi-ethnic community, can still face up to together, or continue to ignore. The danger of continued indifference, though, may lead us to a place where we are bound together under those ideologies and their yoke of slavery.

“In regimenting German thought, all radio programs emanate from the – [state own broadcaster] – the Department of propaganda. Every newspaper prints only what the State wants its people to read and any letter in the German mail is subject to censorship. For in Nazi Germany any instrument that forms thought, communicates ideas; must be used to glorify the Nazi super state and its demigod”
(Henry R. Luc, Julien Bryan, Louis de Rochemont, March of Time: Inside Nazi Germany, 1938)

Each poignantly targeted at us today, Schneider’s words and example, are yet another loud theological indictment on the lifelessness of ideological servitude.

For:

“The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain.”
(Ronald Reagan, 1964. A Time For Choosing)

References:

[i] Stroud, D. (ed.) 2013 Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance, Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing p.75

[ii] Ibid, p.94

[iii] This website is in German, but can be translated via the Google toolbar. {the mechanic seems reliable}

[iv] Given the content, what he means here is a view of freedom without responsibility; power without accountability; denial of the transcendent.

[v]  Ibid, p.80 (Schneider)

[vi] Ibid, p.96 (Schneider)

[vii] Ibid, p.104 (Schneider)

[viii] Ibid, p.76

[ix] Ibid, p.82 (Schneider)

Image 1: Rembrandt, 1686-8 ‘Belshazzar’s Feast’

Image 2: Paul Schneider, graphic created using picmonkey

Updated 15th May 2017, from an article I originally posted on October 1st, 2014