Archives For Jesus Christ

Rembrandt_1633 Christ in the storm on the sea of GalileeAlthough I’ve browsed through ‘City of God’ and ‘On Christian Doctrine’, my main interaction with Augustine’s work centres on his ‘Confessions’.  (A phenomenal read if you ever get the chance to dig into it.)

I like many of the things Augustine says and wrestle with some of his more introspective reflections.

One of those is his statement:

‘The appearance of what we do is often different from the intention with which we do it, and the circumstances at the time may not be clear’[i]

Augustine seems to be saying that what we intend is not always what we do. Circumstances pending, what we do is sometimes only for the sake of what we want others to see and therefore say about us.

Avarice overrides responsible action as pride corrupts intention. Thus leading us onto a path where we turn ‘the loss of confessing self in order to be for others, into an all consuming self, an expressivist exhibition’[ii]

The divide between appearances and intentions, then, forms the basis of his point. This existential division creates an ethical-theological tension perpetuated by the sometimes fog of circumstances.

This is identified by Jean Bethke Elshtain in ‘Augustine and the limits of politics’:

 ‘Augustine lays the miseries of human life at the doorstep of sin, our division (within selves and between self and others), our enthrallment to cupiditas[iii] and our all-too-frequent abandonment of caritas[iv]. We are, in other words, ignorant but it is ignorance of a particular kind, not innocent naiveté but prideful cognitive amputation.[v]

What Elshtain means by ‘prideful cognitive amputation’ is ‘philosophical solipsism’ (extreme subjective idealism)[vi]; thoughtlessness (not to be confused with mindlessness), but understood as ‘the banality of evil.(Hannah Arendt’s controversial assessment of Adolf Eichmann) [vii]

Elshtain, a feminist, presents her analysis of Augustine as an attempt at rescue. Saving Augustine from the ritualistic frown passed on to our forebears by the hubris and suspicion of post 60’s modernity.

For her, Augustine is relevant and worthy of a second look:

‘He confesses what he knows and what he does not know. He does know that the world isn’t boundlessly subjectivist; it does not revolve around the “me, myself and I”[viii]

Augustine himself thunders the point home:

‘I flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it so that you might bring healing to a soul that had sinned against you. I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner’[ix]

Elshtain brilliantly adds, ‘when we start to regard ourselves in our own light, our light dims’[x]

Reading this in the emerging light of advent we might be called back to Karl Barth’s assertion

‘To thank means to accept with confession,… to acknowledge the gift, the goodness and the kindness of the Giver’[xi]

God makes himself known in Jesus Christ, ‘the sign of all signs[xii]

In Augustine’s sigh we hear that the heart has ears. Before the beauty of Christmas this can only mean an awakening to an awareness of our own need for grace; an acknowledgement that we are carried, firmly, lovingly held above the abyss.

Confronted by such a grace we learn that God is God and we are not. Yet, by Divine decision; a fierce and free decree. In Jesus Christ, we are spoken to, spoken for and therefore not given up on.

In His example we see in part, the point of Christmas. That the ‘principle of charity requires nothing less than to make one’s best effort.’[xiii]

Jesus is Victor!


Source

[i] Augustine, St. Confessions Penguin Classics III/XIX 1961:67

[ii] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.6

[iii] Latin for desire, eagerness, enthusiasm; passion; lust; avarice; greed; ambition; partisanship (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[iv] Latin for charity, grace, dearness, high price; esteem, affection (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[v] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.37

[vi] Ibid, p.59

[vii] Ibid,

[viii] Ibid, p.5

[ix] Augustine, St. 1961 Confessions Penguin Classics V/X p.103

[x] Elshtain, ibid pp.11, 66 &62

[xi] Barth, K. 1940 The Limits of  the Knowledge of God C.D II/I Hendrickson Publishers p.198

[xii] Ibid, p.199

[xiii] Elshtain, ibid p.55

*I’ve borrowed the second part of the title to this blog post from Elshtain, who uses it on page xiii in her introduction.

Image: Rembrandt, 1633 ‘Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee’

Originally published 14th December 2014

Easter speaks of human salvation and God’s embrace of humanity.

The Advent of the prophesied Jewish Messiah, who we celebrate at Christmas, points the way to Easter. The hope we get a glimpse of at Christmas, joins with the sadness and joy that surprises us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God has not abandoned Humanity. Though rebellious man and woman, betrays, breaks and beats God to a pulp, then puts Him to death through the cruellest of punishments, does not mean that God is forcefully and successfully overthrown. It is an act of grace that God gives of Himself in His son, who dies and is raised to life again, both in order to save and to show God’s salvation. This the embrace of Easter.

God brings life where there is death, exchanges joy for mourning, renews deserted places, heals broken hearts, rescues abused souls, and gives consolation to those long abandoned by their neighbours, loved ones and sadly, sometimes even by select churches. He does this on His terms.

By this, in this and through this, God comes to be for His creature. The Creator brings His creature into realignment – reconciliation and relationship with Him; whereby the creature finds the outstretched hands of unmerited favour; grace. God’s embrace of  humanity is grounded in Jesus Christ.

God is free and in His freedom He chooses to act in His Son for us, on behalf of us, in order to be with us and that we would be with Him [i]. Easter is about invitation to be with God, in spite of our best efforts to be or replace God. We see this thundering throughout history and we hear this resolutely spoken throughout the biblical witness and Judeo-Christian tradition:

“I will be your God and you shall be my people.”

In other words, life with God, begins with, God with us. Humanity doesn’t conjure up God. Although it can and does try to do this, any human attempt to create god will miss the mark every time. It was human minds, hands and hearts that built the Titanic, created the brutality of Blitzkrieg, called ‘greed, good’; slaughtered millions under communism and raised leaders to godlike status, only to find those leaders wanting, abusive; and mad with the power that was handed to them.

We are taught by this that all human attempts to conquer, mountain, monster and myth, fail if it includes the corrupted primal quest to supersede or conquer God.  We cannot make god in our own image, because it will always be a counterfeit god, a morbid light, an idol, empty of any real power. It will never be the God who speaks and steps in to save those lost in the freedom He granted that which He has made.

Cross Easter 25th March 2016

As it reads in the Gospel according to John,  ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’

Easter teaches us that no matter how much His creature, who acts in rebellion against Him may will it, the Creator does not stay dead. ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ God is not devoured, will not be dissected, cannot be dethroned or surpassed. He makes Himself known to us on His terms. This is the embrace of the Resurrection; the events that unfold on the third day.

Will all that will be written over the course of this Easter weekend, grasp the weight of the events that Easter, outside its neo-pagan box, represents?

What if we trimmed off the fashionable arrogance of modern society, and for one moment stepped out of the encroaching neo-pagan fog, then took the time to hear, and see what, and who actually stood before ordinary men and women, who on a human level, were not all that far removed from ourselves?

This Easter weekend, what if we were to actually allow ourselves to read, hear and see what they witnessed? To see and hear, as best we can, who it was that actually stood before them, spoke to them, stood with and gave for them?

Can we truly claim to have superior insight over against those witnesses? Against those who not only found themselves swept up in those events, but came to give their lives for them? At what risk do we discount their voice, by detaching ourselves from their witness, choosing instead to live in ignorance under a de-constructed version of their accounts?

For the duration of this weekend we are called to give our attention to the remembrance of Jesus Christ. We remember the how, where and in whom, God, chose to speak and act in time and space .

The same God who rescued the Hebrews from the tyranny of Ancient Egypt, reaches to include all of humanity in His gracious emancipation. Just as our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the Passover feast in remembrance of that deliverance around the same time as Easter every year, we unite with them in the understanding that Easter is the embrace of Exodus. God liberates His creature from sin, from itself and ultimately from all that seeks its total and final annihilation.

For the duration of this weekend our minds are called to the attention of an historical event, agreed upon by the majority of serious historians. In this event our attention is held by the sound of nails slamming through the hands and feet of

‘Christ, [who] had been put to death in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But despite this setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief started) but even in Rome.’ (Tacitus, Annals circa 116 A.D)

For the duration of this weekend, the world is called to attention. Not just to remember, but to anticipate and have faith in His answer and challenge, decisively spoken on day three.

He who will be, was. He who was, is. He who is, will come again.

Maranatha!


[i] Barth, K. 1942 CD.II/2 The Doctrine of God: The Election of Jesus Christ, Hendrickson Publishers.

A lot of people leave out the Christian part when it comes to Martin Luther King Jnr because they either don’t know, or don’t really wanna know. Like all, especially those who move from the position of spectator, to being on the field, he wasn’t without sin, but he was a man who knew that ALL sin is answered first and foremost by God, in and through Jesus Christ.

After posting this illustration from Vince Conard to Facebook, a friend pointed out that given the tone, aggression and disunity of our day, mention of Martin’s faith, is anathema on some circles within the West. The fact that he was named after a German theologian and reformer, in 1934, of all years, presents a challenge to those who rail against the West in the name of a mostly concocted cause, in ways far from King’s own.

Martin Luther King’s legacy is first of all a Christian witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the overcoming of sin. All sin, not just the bits and pieces some people choose to focus on over others, including the sin of treating others, who are created in the image of God, differently because of the colour of their skin.

Martin Luther King’s legacy is a Christian witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the liberation of humanity from its primal atheism. This is a liberation from humanity’s rejection of grace, its self-displacement, subsequent displacement of others and self-destruction.

Karl Barth spoke consistently about his view that the “no” of God heard in Jesus Christ has nothing on the great “yes” of God, spoken at the same time. This humiliation of God is the exaltation of humanity. This is something He chose and in exercising His freedom God hands to us freedom.

Freedom consecrated by response, responsibility, partnership with God, prophesy, ministry, healing and teaching. Freedom made real by His choice and His suffering at the hands of whip, condemnation, betrayal, spear, and death on a Roman cross. Freedom vindicated by the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus, who is not another myth like that of the half-god/half-man Hercules, but is Himself very God and very man.

What grounded Martin Luther King from the start was faith in Jesus Christ. It’s well documented that when things weighed MLK down, he would lean on the gifts of Mahalia Jackson, who would minister to him through word and song. It’s his defiant Christian faith that should inspire us and point us to the goal of liberation as he saw it, liberation from ALL sin, in the name, word and deeds of Jesus the Christ.

“God is neither hard-hearted or soft minded. He is tough-minded enough to transcend the world; He is tender-hearted enough to live in it. He does not leave us to our agonies and struggles. He seeks for us in dark places and suffers with us, and for us in our tragic prodigality.” (A Tough Mind & a Tender Heart, Gift of Love, p.9)

The faith of Martin Luther King Jnr is not to be confused with optimism. It’s not the “faith” of optimists and psychologists who preach from the pages of positive psychology. The clever term they use in order to justify reducing the Christian faith to principles that can be lived without any need for a relationship with the One who authored that faith; the One who anchors humanity to the living hope this defiant faith testifies to.

To segregate Martin Luther King Jnr from this defiant Christian faith, is to fail to hear what it is that he had to say, what he set in motion, and what he hoped to see achieved.  This segregating of King from his faith and theology may serve the secular political aims of modern liberals and their quest for total power by any means necessary, but it ultimately enslaves King to the servitude of ideology-as-master and the reactionary political groups it controls. Groups and agendas, he, in all likelihood would never have signed on to because they persist in denying their own sin, and yet, are loud and proud in their condemnation of the sin of others.

Paraphrasing Thomas F. Torrance from his book Atonement: ‘all self-justification is a lie’.

Beware the auctioneers.


References:

Artist: Vince Conard, https://www.instagram.com/vince_conard/  (Used with permission)

King, Jnr. M.L. A Tough Mind & a Tender Heart, Gift of Love (p.9)

Torrance, T.F. 2009 Atonement: The Person & Work of Jesus Christ InterVarsity Press

Epiphany marks what is technically the end of Christmas. The wise men, avoiding Herod and his schemes visit Mary, Joseph and Jesus. They mark the birth by way of tribute to the child born to be King.

Advent closes and the door opens to a new year and with it the remembrance of what Christ’s election means. Instead of being crowned a king, He moves past the crowds willing to crown Him as such. His response was wrapped in the fact that His kingdom was not of this world. His rule is like no other.

How we approach Jesus Christ, might be like that of the Shepherds, fishermen, tax collectors, Mary, Joseph, His cousin John, or the Roman and Jewish officials. How we come to Christ is nothing compared to how He comes to us.

As Karl Barth rightly saw it,

‘we live by the fact that God Himself willed to be the Bearer of our contradiction, that in the full mystery of His Godhead He so deeply condescended to us. We live by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by God’s own suffering and triumph, sorrow and joy, by His original participation in the twofold nature of our being. Enduring to be what we are and as we are, He bears us.’ (CD. 3:1:382)

That in the appointment of Jesus Christ,

‘as the Bearer of creaturely existence and its contradictions, God did not in the same way will and accomplish His humiliation and death on the one side and His exaltation and resurrection on the other […] He took to His own heart very differently in Jesus Christ the infinite hope of the creature and its infinite peril.’ (ibid, p.383)

Jesus Christ is the living action of God.

‘He sees the hopeless peril of the created world which He has snatched from nothingness but which is still so near to nothingness. He sees that it cannot and will not check itself on the edge of this abyss [therefore] God Himself willed to become man, to make His own the weakness and frailty of man, to suffer and die as man, and in this self-offering to secure the frontier between His creation and the ruin which threatens it from the abyss. God is gracious to man and woman.’ (ibid, pp.383-384)

Thus Barth adds,

‘we cannot stop at the suffering, death and burial of Jesus Christ. This is not the final word. The cross is followed by the resurrection, humiliation by exaltation, and the latter is the true, definitive and eternal form of the incarnate Son of God. This is the Yes for the sake of which the No had first to be spoken’. (ibid, p.384)

We stand in ‘defiant confidence’ not because we ‘cling to an idea of God, but because that confidence has its origin and object in God’s self-revelation’ (ibid, p.380). We don’t construct God, in Jesus Christ, He confronts us with the truth about Himself. Any response to this that is neutral or indifferent is, according to Barth, ‘of radical and genuine ungodliness’ (ibid, p.379).

For ‘Christian faith sees and knows what it holds. It does not need to persuade itself of anything. It has nothing to do with a tense clinging to the consequences of an idea or a laboriously constructed concept of God.’ (ibid, p.379)

Reason dictates that if God has revealed Himself to humanity, like those wise men, we should follow and respond in gratitude and obedience to that knowledge. As risky as the journey is, and as limited as we might be in being able to comprehend it completely.

For 2018 may epiphany mark for you a return to this defiant confidence, not because it proudly boasts of its own ideas or because it rests on human constructs of what and who we think God is, but because in the freedom given to us in Christ’s incarnation, under God’s grace, you find His “Yes” to you, and then by the light of that, your own “Yes” to the Him. The One who was, who is, and is to come.

‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

 


References:

Barth, K. 1945 The Doctrine of Creation, C.D. Volume 3 Part 1  Hendrickson Publishers, 1958

Photos excluding heading image: RL2018

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

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)

In his discussion on ‘The Freedom of Man for God’, Karl Barth distinguishes between human triumphalism and ‘God’s triumph’[i]. Barth’s exposition asserts that human triumphalism stands against the God who triumphs.

Human triumphalism is both an active and passive denial of God.

Linked to works righteousness, it is a fanatical rejection of the Creators rights to His creation.

His Lordship is undermined, ignored and forgotten in order for humanity to assert their own. This act exemplifies itself in the form of ‘primal atheism’[ii]; humans reaching for God’s power whilst at the same time proclaiming that such a power only exists in a special few (mysticism) or does not exist at all (atheism).

In short, men and women seek to become lordless powers.

Examples of this can be seen in how some modern proponents utilise Religion or ideology to justify their rejection of God’s Lordship in Jesus Christ.

Via claims to superior, “inside” knowledge or the Darwinian excuse that the strong determine the treatment or mistreatment of the weak.

In the progressive quest to work for God, or alternatively ignore God, we find elements which seek emancipation from God.

Consequently, the biblical promise of a ‘newness of life’ (Romans 6:4) is replaced with a mystical fog or a reason induced cold pragmatism. Most often affirmed by an esoteric elitism who, hiding behind entitlement, choice, nature and good intentions, hypocritically end up forcing a tyrannical ‘denial of life’ upon humanity.

Ultimately, the charade is found wanting and sinful humanity is once again reminded of its tendency to parade darkness as light.

No matter how hard we try, we cannot apprehend that which can only be given to us.

Humanity remains unfree in the ignorance and futility of its quest to be free from the Creator, who has and still does, have a right to His creation. By enforcing His right the Creator appears as powerless. In mercy, He lowers Himself in order to raise us up.

‘Freedom to be for God is not a freedom which we have taken, but a freedom which God has given to us in His mercy’ [iii]

Our lack of  sensitivity and response to God’s approach i.e.: our lack of ‘receptivity to revelation through gratitude and humble recognition’[iv], leads to a rejection of God and His freedom.

Paul writes:

‘We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death He died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:10)

This in consequence means that ‘to be with God is to be in Christ’[v].

God’s triumph is God’s revelation which has been given in Jesus the Christ and is asserted in this time of grace by the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, and only in Christ, is God’s triumph reconciled to human triumphalism.

From this point we stand and say “Jesus is the Victor”. From this point we abandon all questions that concern ourselves with what we have to do to be in God’s will, or win his approval. From this point we take up our true concern: the invitation into participation with what God has already done and is doing right now on our behalf.

As Barth noted:

God’s continued  presence in us and for us means a ‘state or position in which humans may find themselves, but only with amazement, only with gratitude, only in humble recognition of an accomplished fact…an earlier state is one of self-glorification and self-will. Apart from the triumph of God it would still be the state of humanity today. Marked again by forgetting or denying the triumph of God by seeing (and calling) the power of God on us and in us as anything other than the Holy Spirit’[vi]

References:

[i] Barth, K. 1938 Church Dogmatics I.II Hendrickson Publishers p.260

[ii] Ibid, p.321

[iii] Ibid, p.258

[iv] Ibid, p.260

[v] Ibid, p.258

[vi] Ibid, p.260

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