Archives For Jesus Christ

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

Image credit: Tim Marshall, Unsplash.com

lnfhktqpyqs-allef-vinicius

.

Quiet thunder shifted from within the gloom

His hands, like blackened skies, slowly eased open,

Salt water is a bitter sweet rain,

.      but tears erode sighs,

.            and if he’s honest, he’ll tell you, that they sometimes still do.

This, the scarred out pouring,

.            and its solemn reminder

.            of a mended heart once utterly ripped in two.

.

He was the insignificant

The worm

A failed participant

Whose cord was tied round his neck in the womb

Born the cold colour match for the umbilical blue

Deemed an untalented fool

Beaten with words,

.          left to find value in friendless schools

The one aimless wonder

The abandoned son of a broken father

The amusement of pointless punters

Just another pawn in the clanging mix of a jester’s set of tools.

.

Words fail wherever pain grips the heart

Memories collide.

Though there’s little danger of flammable sparks.

For when Christ’s forgiveness crashes into the past,

the soldier is backed by his Captain;

who is Himself scarred;

is He Himself proven more than fit for the task.

.


(©RL2017)

Photo credit: Unsplash.com Allef Vinicius

barth-quote rl2016Grace shows humanity God’s commitment to humanity. This commitment isn’t the result of our empty attempts to placate a bored King who has everything. God’s commitment to us has nothing to do with any human sycophantic transaction. It is a totally aware, pure, turning towards creation by its Creator.

God’s commitment picks humanity up from its failure to fulfill its own commitment towards Himself. Even when rejected, God’s commitment remains unchanged. It cannot be undone. The follow through of grace means that human commitment is fulfilled. God has done it. What is left is the human response to the completed work.

That human commitment fulfilled by God necessitates a turning of the creature back towards the Creator. Hearts and minds are directed back to the memory of His act on our behalf. Humanity is graciously shown the way and firmly commanded to follow.

For Karl Barth, ‘all that [then] remains for me to do is to let my eyes rest on Him, which really means to let my eyes follow Him. This following is my faith. But the great[er] work of faith has already been done by the One whom I follow […] To abide in; to trust in God (Ps.91:1) to believe is to stand in in the communion of saints; who has received, receives and will receive the forgiveness of sins, who hastens towards the resurrection of the flesh and eternal life […] His faith is the victory which has overcome the world.  But that it is this victory does not rest with [the believer], but solely with Him in whom he [may] believe.’ [i]

Human commitment is empowered by God’s grace to be lived out. That humanity is empowered  towards commitment means that whilst God’s act of grace is immutably superimposed, it is not forcefully imposed. We are simply shown the creation and opening of a door where there was none before. God has an exit plan. He spells it out with the letters e.n.l.i.s.t. This is the response to the call of grace: ‘grateful obedience’ (Barth, 2/1 p.229). The commitment of the ‘free man to the free God.’ (Barth, 2/2 p.561) is empowered by God’s revolution; a revolution no man or woman can lie about to control or trump.

This is confronted by God’s act and claim on humanity, to humanity, for humanity vs. humanity’s self-justification and rejection in its counter-claims about God.

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men and women by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12, ESV)

No other can lay claim to being this truth; fact; Christ event: God’s revealing of Himself in Jesus Christ. No other can lay claim to being the source of goodness; ethics, right and wrong. No other can claim to be the sole hope and promise of our future. Come Nero, hashtag riot, Hillary, Trump, unjust law, illness, closet-oppressive utopian idea, rainbow ideology or Hitler,

“The subject of theological ethics is not the Word of God as it is claimed by humanity, but the Word of God as it claims humanity. It is not man as he is going to make something of the Word of God, but the Word of God as it is going to make something of man* […]The grace of God is always this: Jesus Christ. It is from what God has done for us that we must learn to read what God wants with us and of us. We must seek the command of God only where it has itself torn off the veil of all human opinions and theories about the will of God**” [ii]

This is the chief reason for why we Christians call the Gospel, Good News. God lives and He speaks!

‘A Christian is one who knows that God has accepted him in Jesus Christ, that a decision has been made concerning him in Jesus Christ as the eternal Word of God, and that he has been called into covenant with Him by Jesus Christ as the Word of God spoken in time.’ [iii]

Summed up by Barth, in true Barth fashion:

‘We hear the Gospel as we obey it. For Jesus Christ is the basis in which we may believe in God, the Word in which dwell the light and force to move us to this event. He Himself is the Gospel. He himself is the resolve and the execution of the essential will in which God willed to give Himself to us. The grace of God, of the God in whom we may believe, is this. In Jesus Christ the eternal Word became flesh. Without ceasing to be who He is in Himself, God became as one of us.’ [iv]

As Karl Barth repeatedly remarks, God wills to be with us & wills that we should not be without Him:

‘Death could not hold Him [Jesus Christ], & therefore it cannot hold us. In the midst of death we have in Him no future but that of resurrection and eternal life. The grace of God decides and has already decided concerning our human existence. What then does it mean to be human now that this decision has been reached by the grace of God? It means to be one who stands and walks and lives and dies within the fact that God is gracious to us, that He has made us His own.(Gal. 2:19)’ [v]

The human response to the question of God’s grace, is ‘our answer to this Word. It is a free action bound by commitment’ (Barth, 2/2:546 paraphrased).

“Hear O, Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” (Deuteronomy, 6:4-5, ESV)

 


Source:

[i] Barth, K. 1942 The Basis of the Divine Claim, CD 2/2 Hendrickson Publishers (p.559)

[ii] Ibid, p.546* & pp.560 & 559**

[iii] Ibid, p.547

[iv] Ibid, pp.557 & 558

[v] Ibid, pp. 558-559

[the words wrapped in parenthesis are my own]

Blogpost 18th May 2016Here’s my two cents, in response to some current events.

Human identity is not found in what the world, the oppressor, flag or economic status allows us to define ourselves as. Nor is it in the what that world, that oppressor, flag, or economic status defines for us.

If it is to be full human identity, it begins with Jesus Christ. That means that we are called to self-identify with [Yahweh] God who made humanity in His own image. The God who chose to create man as man, and woman as woman.

The one who chose to raise humanity up, then speak and walk with both, in a garden of His making. Providing for both, even when both chose to entertain the subtleties of evil and its sly use of God’s own words to incite human rejection of Him.

Defined by their Creator, man is to be fully man, woman is to be fully woman. Unique, different, reconciled, enabled to be together in a joy-filled, committed relationship with each other. Both free for each other and free for God.

New life begins here. This is real freedom. Real identity. All of which is based on the call to relationship within a new covenant. One called into being by the God who acts in freedom.

Choosing to decisively grasp humanity one final time, in His physical appearing and dwelling in history through His son, Jesus Christ. Choosing to once again to make Himself the painful reminder to humanity of its real identity; of its real home and ultimate place of rest.

Offering humanity a path to freedom from it’s oppressors, it’s soulless routines; freedom from the false security of its alliances, the injustice of empty promises and the smoke and mirrors used to buy and sell our hearts allegiances.

Our freedom was brought at a great price. We are instructed to be responsible with how we choose to invest it. May future generations look back with reverence, gratitude and humility towards those who stood against the currency of shares, likes and comments. Who stood firm against the tide of over indulgence, abdication of responsibility, blame and selfish self-fulfillment.


Related reading:

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

This weekend is about a monumental moment in time. No matter how hard we try to evade it, it still confronts us with a monumental Word, whose scarred reach, stretches further into the hearts of men and women, than is at times fathomable.

Will all that will be written over the course of this Easter weekend, grasp the weight of the events it represents? Through all the scripted thoughts, edited paragraphs and literary considerations, can any of us really claim to understand the gravitas of those three days?

Can we even truly claim to have a superior insight over against those who not only found themselves swept up in those events, but came to give their lives for them? Can we really afford to discount, detach and de-construct the accounts, seeking to reduce our own responsibility to hear and act, by cheapening theirs? This weekend, what if we were to actually hear and see what and who stands before us? What if we trimmed off the fashionable arrogance and could hear, then see what and who actually stood before them?

That, Word became flesh, testifies to an event. This event both comforts and terrifies us.  By it God speaks. He freely chooses to transform the world; speaking life into deserts and renewing deserted places. By this decision the creature is realigned; reconciled; physically embraced by its creator. It is by this Word that we are taught of how humanities attempts to conquer, mountain, monster and myth, will not succeed if it includes the corrupted primal quest to supersede God. God cannot be devoured or surpassed.

He is free and in His freedom He chooses to act in His Son for us, on behalf of us to be with us. Inviting us to be with Him. We see this thundering throughout history and we hear this resolutely spoken throughout the biblical text:

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

 

Cross Easter 25th March 2016

 

As Karl Barth, in 1942, wrote:

‘And God has chosen this man in the election of Jesus Christ. It is the lost son of man who is partner of the electing God in this covenant […] God does not merely give Himself up to the risk and menace, but He exposes Himself to the actual onslaught and grasp of evil.
Man cannot evade his own responsibility by complaining that God required too much of him, for what God required of Himself on man’s behalf is infinitely greater than what He required of man.
The exchange which took place on Golgotha, when God chose as His throne the malefactor’s cross, when the Son of God bore what the son of man ought to have borne, took place once and for all in fulfilment of God’s eternal will, and it can never be reversed. There is no condemnation-literally none-for those that are in Christ Jesus.
For this reason faith in the divine decision (predestination) as such and per se means faith in the non-rejection of man, or disbelief in his rejection. Man is not rejected. In God’s eternal purpose it is God Himself who is rejected in His Son.  The self-giving of God consists, the giving and sending of His Son is fulfilled, in the fact that He is rejected in order that we might not be rejected.
Predestination means that from all eternity God has determined upon man’s acquittal at His own cost. It means that God has ordained that in the place of the one acquitted He Himself should be perishing and abandoned and rejected – the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.’ [i]

 

For the duration of this weekend our attention is held, in remembrance, of the Word which calls us to pull back from devouring each other. The call to repentance and the acknowledgement that we cannot do it alone.

For the duration of this weekend our hearts are held to attention, as the sound of nails slamming through the hands of Jesus Christ, echo down to us through history.

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

He who will be, was. He who was, is.

Maranatha!


[i] Barth, K. 1942 CD.II/2 The Doctrine of God: The Election of Jesus Christ, Hendrickson Publishers, (p.167)

‘In Jesus Christ, the fact that the Word became flesh undoubtedly means that, without ceasing to be eternity, eternity became time […] God humbles Himself and lifts us up by becoming one of us.’

(Karl Barth, CD. II:1 1940 , p.616)

Epiphany 2016