Archives For Barmen Declaration

On December 1st, 2018 the state owned Church of Sweden, which claims to have 6.1 million members, boldly proclaimed on Twitter that Greta Thunberg was the appointed successor of Jesus Christ.

The Church of Sweden isn’t alone.

American Comedian, leading anti-Trump figure and Leftist Twitterarti celebrity, Sarah Silverman revived the idea of Greta being a second revelation of God, proclaiming as recently as September this year,

Proclamations like these are dangerous because the world has been down this road once before.

Karl Barth was a reformed Swiss theologian, and opponent of Nazism. In 1934, he helped pen the Barmen Declaration. The declaration was a protest against aggressive policies of the state forcing people into allegiance with its ideology; and a stand against compromising Church authorities, who were keen to maintain a place at the table of power, merging theology with ideology.

The Barmen Declaration was part of a larger revolt among German Confessing Church Pastors, who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the state, unless newly added direct references to Adolf Hitler were removed.

The oath of allegiance had been changed to include “unconditional obedience to the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, Supreme commander of the Wehrmacht”, earning the updated oath of allegiance the term, ‘The Fuehrer Oath’ (or Hitler Oath).

As a consequence, Barth was removed from his teaching position at the University of Bonn and forced out of Germany.

Barth’s no to Nazism coincided with his famous “nein” to natural theology. For Barth, the starting point of faith is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Natural theology, which seeks God’s revelation in nature, is a road fraught with peril. This is no more powerfully evidenced than in the spiritual, emotional and psychological vice-grip the Nazis were able to slowly close around the German people, with their consent.

Hitler stood on the podium of natural theology, and was falsely raised up as the second revelation of God.

Leni Riefenstahl’s well known Nazi propaganda film ‘Triumph of the Will’ portrayed him as omnipotent; powerful, transcendent. The film concluding with Hitler declaring the Nazi party to be “unchangeable in its doctrine, hard as steel in its organization, supple and adaptable in its tactics, and in its entity, like that of a religious order…”

Responding in 2018 to the Swedish Church’s proclamation, Danny Bloom of The Times of Israel, said it best: “Jesus Christ is now a 15 year old autistic “climate activist” who speeches are written by her parents and other adults for her?’ Bloom called the proclamation of the Church of Sweden, and the media’s obsession with Greta, ‘child exploitation.’ He then asked, ‘is Greta to be called an “oracle” or a “savior” all of her teenage years, then what? What happens to her in her 20s and 30s?”

Bloom’s point is valid. What are the long term consequences of telling a 16 year old girl, who suffers from mental health issues, that she is a victim of injustices on par with the Versailles Treaty? What are the long term consequences of telling her that she is the answer to those perceived injustices; that she is, like Hitler was before her, the second revelation of God?

As presented to the world last week, the apocalyptic climate change narrative is the mein kampf of activists. Greta’s grief, anxiety, frustration and anger, is induced by an hypothesis turned dogma. All of which is justified, not by science, but by an interpretation of the scientific data.

Bill Muehlenberg’s criticism of Leftist activists exploiting Greta is the same for any church denomination who chooses to surrender Christ to climate change histrionics. Those who, under the dubious banner of natural theology choose to lead that child, and others, to believe that she is the Messiah.

It’s imperative that we say “no” to this surrender. Instead of raising Greta to god-like status, we remind her and the world of the cost and necessity of the Theological Declaration of Barmen, with its “no” to Nazism, and natural theology, in our “no” to child exploitation, and hysterical apocalyptic climate change histrionics:

8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

8.12 We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

Karl Barth wrote that ‘Christianity is the protest against all the high places which human beings build for themselves’ [i]

Lutheran theologian, Gene Veith brilliantly expands on this stating,

‘Nazism was a calculated crusade to deny the transcendence of God and usurp Christianity’.
Without theology being free and independent of ideology there is nothing to challenge ‘the ideas that led to Auschwitz with special scrutiny. This is especially true when those ideas, often adopted uncritically, are still in vogue today.’ [ii]

Karl Barth’s punishment for not following the party line and refusing to pledge ‘unconditional obedience’ to the state and its Fuhrer, is an eerie precedent, and it’s being repeated in society today.

The Barmen Declaration is still relevant. It’s a source of encouragement for anyone who wants to take a stand against the exploitation of Greta and children like her. It’s a light for theologians and pastors who are still determined to push against the tide of compromise.

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

In our own “no” to hysteria, and the resurgence of tyranny via natural theology, may we find the strength to graciously echo the stand taken at Barmen, and the “no” of those same Confessing Church pastors, some of whom paid for that “no” with their lives.


References (not otherwise linked):

[i] Barth, C.D IV/II p.524

[ii]  Veith Jnr, G.E. 1993 modern fascism: the threat to the Judeo-Christian worldview Kindle for P.C. Ed.

Brave German Pastors Defy Nazi Control: https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/10953135?fbclid=IwAR3J3hIcZGpBkfl2r5hdx9nAkL-xUdH3FT7Rg99h5dKRvB7Isdyl3RwJ50A

First published on Caldron Pool, 1st October 2019.

©Rod Lampard, 2019

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)