This We Believe: The Theological Declaration of Barmen, affirmation 5

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“Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2.17)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. It fulfills this task by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of god, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.

Here we have an even more strident statement than last week. Not only can the church not take over the tasks of the State, nor can the church BE the state, the state also cannot take over the tasks of the church. The Church and the Government have different callings that lead to the same end—but each must fulfill its own calling.

There are plenty of examples throughout history of the government of a nation or kingdom attempting to rule the faith and life of religious communities. In the time of Jesus, even, the government dictated what was acceptable religious practice, what was merely tolerated, and what was completely out of the question. And in 1930’s Germany, the government was attempting to do the same—to rule out some expressions of faith, to tolerate others on the margins, and to dictate acceptable practice to the rest.
This small gathering of pastors and other church leaders were determined to resist. Under no circumstances can the government dictate, particularly something opposed to the gospel. The state cannot assume or restrict the authority of those doing ministry any more than it can be restricted by those called to ministry.

The church is not to be turned into a propaganda machine!

Where have you seen this dynamic at work in the world? Have you seen it in our own country or community? How do we as faithful Christians respond to this kind of situation? Can you imagine a situation in which the mixing of church and government might be beneficial? How does that fit into this (and last week’s) affirmations?

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One response »

  1. We seem to have some current conservative candidates for President of the U.S. who want to institute their perception of Christian doctrine upon the government. As you point out, this is not even Scriptural! If this were to happen, intolerance of other faiths, practices, and traditions would be acceptable. Our walk as Christians is to seek compassion, peace, and justice for all through the policies and laws of our government. We can work with our governmental leaders, for example, by urging them to pass laws that address hunger issues in this country and worldwide. We can feed dozens of families through the charity of the food pantry, but one law passed by Congress can affect millions of people who are hungry.

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