Archives For National Socialism

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)

GVL Barth Quote CD II_I p_444Written not long after the beginning of World War II, Barth’s statement, ‘that every genuine proclamation of the Christian faith is a force disturbing to, even destructive of, the advance of religion’, has clout.

Natural Theology is on Barth’s radar. In part because of nominalism and how it was used to subsume Christians into National Socialism. Natural Theology was a slippery slope, that fed into the notion that the Führer knows best; that those in the Fatherland (State) who showed allegiance to anyone other than the Führer were traitors; or worse, heretics.

There could only be ‘Mien Kampf’, the Führer and his prophets. This is different to the sole claim and uniqueness of God,  ‘attested by God, in His revelation [Covenant and Jesus Christ] by prophets and apostles. This means that all so-called or would-be deities and divinities apart from Him lose their character as gods. The faith and worship offered to them cannot be taken seriously. They fade away as idols and nonentities. And so God’s freedom, majesty and sovereignty shine out in His uniqueness […] The decision is reached that this God who chooses us is God alone, and that all other so-called or would-be gods are not what they claim to be.’ (Barth, p.443)

Present in this section is a direct reference to Barth’s historical context. It might be pessimistic to suggest a connection between his time and our own, but I don’t consider it a stretch.

‘It was no mere fabrication when the Early Church was accused by the world around it of atheism, and it would have been wiser for its apologists not to have defended themselves so keenly against this charge.
There is a real basis for the feeling, current to this day, that every genuine proclamation of the Christian faith is a force disturbing to, even destructive of, the advance of religion, its life and richness and peace.
It is bound to be so.
Olympus and Valhalla decrease in population when the message of the God who is the one and only God is really known and believed. The figures of every religious culture are necessarily secularised and recede. They can keep themselves alive only as ideas, symbols and ghosts, and finally as comic figures. And in the end even in this form they sink into oblivion.
No sentence is more dangerous or revolutionary than that God is One and there is no other like Him.
All the permanencies of the world draw their life from ideologies and mythologies, from open or disguised religions, and to this extent from all possible forms of deity and divinity. It was on the truth of the sentence that God is One that the “Third Reich” of Adolf Hitler made shipwreck.
Let this sentence be uttered in such a way that it is heard and grasped, and at once 450 prophets of Ball are always in fear of their lives. There is no more room now for what the recent past called toleration. Beside God there are only His creatures or false gods, and beside faith in Him there are religions only as religions of superstition, error and finally irreligion.
If everything divine is not recognised, sought and honoured as the sole possession of the one God, He is robbed of His honour, and the worship apparently offered to Him is profaned.’
(Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, II/I 1940 p.444)