Archives For Jesus Christ

Since 2014 I’ve been committed to considering what different things God might have to say at the close of Christmas. Traditionally this is Epiphany, the 6th January, marking the end of the twelve days of Christmas.

Magi from the East (Persia), following the star (likely to be the well-timed rare alignment of three planets in our Sol system; a Nova or Super Nova) find confirmation of Micah 5:2:

‘but you, O Bethlehem who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from old, from ancient of days’.

The Magi, after arriving in Jerusalem, are sent by the malicious, King Herod, to Bethlehem. The order is: ‘diligently search for the child and report back’ (Matthew 2:9). The Magi are once again ‘guided by the star that they had seen when it rose before them’ (ibid). At this the Magi ‘rejoiced exceedingly with great joy’ (Matthew 2:10). Arriving at the house where Mary and Joseph now reside, the Magi gift their famous tribute of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

This sacrifice honours the One whom they have sought to honour. Their mission is complete. Their journey comes to an end, and they’re offering enters them into a history they never intended to be included in. The Magi aren’t Jewish, but they know the Old Testament; they know of the Jewish prophets. From the East the Magi arrived, perhaps with apprehension and anticipation, but by the time that they end up leaving, they leave having that apprehension and anticipation answered with great joy. The Magi are not disappointed.

With their own eyes they not only see, but joyfully participate in the confirmation of the prophet Micah’s significant foretelling of the birth of the one who comes from the Ancient of Days; the birth of The King of Israel, in insignificant Bethlehem.

This great joy emboldens the Magi. They take heed of a dream in which they are warned not return to King Herod. This is later justified by Herod’s command to kill all male infants aged two and under, in Bethlehem and the surrounding region.

Like the Magi’s visit and their presenting of gifts to the infant Christ (Matthew 2:11), Epiphany is a time of stepping back and gifting God with the attention of our hearts and minds.

Wise men still seek Him, and Epiphany (the traditional close of Christmas celebrations and contemplation) is a good place to end one year and begin another.

Instead of us making our own resolutions, it’s a good time to seek out the resolutions God has already made towards us. Understanding that we ‘worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh’ (Philippians 3:3); and that we can rely on His strength to do so, not solely our own.

Looking to what God has already revealed about Himself, we ask, what can we draw from God’s self-revelation that will take us into the New Year with confidence?

What is it about God’s self-revelation that will help us build on God’s resolution towards us, one that outlasts vain and clichéd New Years Eve promises?

Epiphany is not without substance. The great joy of the Magi is not without justification.

They may leave empty-handed, but they don’t leave empty and disillusioned. The Magi leave well guarded; full of the joy of the Lord. This is a joy they’ve witnessed face to face with, and received from, the One who is the ‘fountain of all joy’ (Tony Reinke)[i].

As Karl Barth noted, this great joy is the radiance of God’s glory:

‘God’s love becomes an event and a person, God’s fellowship, powerful and a fact [.…]It is a glory that awakens joy […] God’s glory radiates it […] because it is God who Himself radiates joy […] His glory is radiant, and what it radiates is joy. It attracts and therefore it conquers.’ (Karl Barth, CD. II:1, pp.643, 655, 654, 661) (Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 30:5; Isaiah 55:12; John 15:11)

May Epiphany remind us that ‘the presence of the Creator is not an idle or unfruitful presence. It is not the presence of cold confrontation. It is not a presence which leaves blind eyes blind or deaf ears deaf. It is a presence which opens them. God’s glory is the indwelling joy of His divine being which as such shines out from Him.’ (Barth, CD 2.1:647)

May Epiphany not be a cold confrontation with the great joy experienced by the Magi. May this great joy, be the joy of the Lord working in our lives. May we ‘not be grieved, knowing that the Joy of the Lord is our strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10), and that it is only in Him that great joy is to be found. That we too are guarded and that we too can march on as wise men, when kings, rulers, or the world (and sometimes those about us), are all too happy to deceive, mock, destroy, steal and tear down.

With the Magi, may we say that the great joy awakened in them by the glory of God is now also before us, for us and given resolutely to us. With the Magi, we can embrace the birth of the new and the continuing reminder of God’s faithfulness to His people, and the fact that His joy WILL BE our strength, and none other[ii].


References:

[i] Tony Reinke noted that ‘joy is fundamental to God’s triune nature. To find God is to find the fountain of all joy […] We participate in joy when we reach the essence of all joy: God Himself’. I disagree with how Reinke’s article conflates happiness with Joy, but I agree with the fact that ‘God is the fountain of joy’.

[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer: ‘One should, in such times of confusion, go back to the beginning, to our wellsprings, to the true Bible, to the true Luther. One should keep on, ever more undaunted and joyfully, becoming a theologian who speaks truth in love (ἀληθεύοντες ἐν ἀγάπῃ). (DBW 12)

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

© Rod Lampard, 2019

Also published @ The Caldron Pool, January 13, 2019 under the same title.

neonbrand-463099-unsplashGrace 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).

In other words, life with God, begins with, God with us.

Jesus Christ is the Gospel (Barth). He is the author, recipient and standard of both the Shema Yisrael and Lord’s Prayer:

“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)

 


References:

[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]

Originally published 7th November 2016.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

©Rod Lampard, 2018

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.

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)