Tag Archives: Barmen

This We Believe: The Theological Declaration of Barmen, affirmation 6

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“Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28.20) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Timothy 2.9)
The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God, to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and Sacrament.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes and plans.

This is one of the clearest statements against proof-texting that our tradition has to offer. “Proof-texting” is when you pull a statement out of its context and use it to prove your point. Never mind that if it were read in context, it might not prove your point! (or it might, but that still doesn’t make it okay!) Proof-texting is a way to make Scripture say whatever you want it to say, rather than the other way around. We are to read the word of God in order to be formed in Christ’s image, to be made new and transformed, to be informed by God’s will. But it is so so so tempting to come up with what we believe and then find the sentence or even half-sentence in Scripture to support it. This is how we got into trouble RE slavery, women, people of different ethnic backgrounds, LGBT people, and numerous other situations. If we are willing to read only a few words, we miss the overarching story of the Bible, we miss the historical context, the literary context, and often even the simple and obvious meaning.

This affirmation tells us that the Church’s task is to deliver the message of the free grace of God to all people, and we do this through Word and work, sermon and sacrament. Our task is not to decide what we want and then to make scripture fit that. The Word speaks into many situations and about many things, but it serves only the One, not anything or anyone else.

Have you ever engaged in proof-texting? (it’s okay to admit it—most of us have done it at one time or another!) How can we avoid falling into that trap? Have you ever seen the Word of God or the work of Christ set in service to another ideology or master, rather than the other way around? What do we, as faithful Christians, do when we see that happening? How do we avoid it to begin with?

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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?

This We Believe: The Theological Declaration of Barmen, affirmation 4

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“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20.25-26)
The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from the ministry, could and were permitted to give to itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.

This is a really important statement in a place where the church and state were once synonymous, and where that problem seems to be rearing its head yet again. The purpose of offices of the church is to serve—people who hold ordained office do not have more power than those who do not. Instead we say that people are called to an office to be set apart to a particular task—not to lord it over others, but to focus on the task that is their calling. So some are called particularly to care for people in the congregation. Some are called particularly to guide the congregation or the denomination in following the path of the gospel and the confessions. Some are called particularly to preaching or teaching. And so on. None of these offices entails particular authority or power, especially outside the church (but not in it either!). And it is not possible for those who hold offices in the church to transfer that authority outside the church simply because of their title.

In other words: the church cannot be the state. The purpose of the church and its leaders is different from the purpose of the state and its leaders. The tasks to which each is called are different, though they may sometimes (hopefully) lead in the same general direction—toward the kingdom of God coming on earth.

There is no ruler in the church other than Christ, and no way for the church to take over the political realm…however tempting that may initially appear!

Have you seen this temptation in the church? How do we resist it, and maintain our calling as disciples of the one teacher, children of the one ruler?

This We Believe–the Theological Declaration of Barmen, affirmation 3

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“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined and knit together.” (Ephesians 4.15-16)
The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and Sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

Here we are reminded of a few really important things—one, that the church is the body through with Jesus acts in the world as Lord and Savior; two, the church is made up of sinners who are forgiven, not of perfect people who need no forgiveness; three, the church’s purpose is to show God’s love in the world in word and in deed, always obedient to Christ; four, that the church belongs to God, not to us, and we rely on God for everything from vision to direction to resources to teaching.
It is so tempting to see the church as “ours” and to try to form it into yet another organization that helps us to be good people or to pursue our goals, but that’s not what the church is for. The church’s purpose is to follow Christ, to do his will, and pursue his goals. Not the goals of the government, or the goals of an individual, or the goals of the culture, but the goals of the gospel.
What are the goals of the gospel? To make the love of God known in word and sacrament, to form a community of the forgiven, to show us God’s ways and teach us to rely on God’s grace. To help us grow up in every way into Christ, becoming more and more in his likeness each day.
Easier said than done, of course—it’s much easier to pursue our own goals than to listen for God’s, easier to follow our own direction, easier to be formed into our culture’s likeness than Christ’s. To live this part of the confession requires a willingness to be transformed, and time spent in prayer and study that helps us grow up into Christ.

Have you ever realized that the goals of the gospel and the goals of an individual (or agency or culture or government or even yourself) were not the same? How do you choose to pursue the gospel?

This We Believe: The Theological Declaration of Barmen affirmation 2

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“Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so in the same way and with the same seriousness is he also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

“God’s mighty claim upon our whole life.”

There’s not a much more stunning statement than that, when we sit and contemplate the implications. Our whole life–not just our Sunday morning lives or our Wednesday evening lives, but our business, economy, government, friends, intimate relationships, families, leisure time, hobbies, environment, shopping choices, food….everything. Whole. All of life is claimed by God. And not just all of life, but all of MY life, all of YOUR life, every aspect of every moment of every day.

Wow.

One of the reasons this affirmation is so important, in addition to being thoroughly biblical and thoroughly in line with orthodox Christian theology, is of course the context. The Nazi party was trying to take over every aspect of life, including the church, and to insinuate their doctrine into the church’s theology. The German Christian movement (the movement that created a theology in line with the national socialist party) was going along with this plan, and the Confessing movement was standing against that corruption of biblical theology. When someone or something, government or economy or ideology or relationship or even “church” is trying to claim a higher authority than Christ, there is a problem and it is important to stand against that, and FOR the authority of Jesus Christ as head of the church and lord of the conscience.

Hence the rejection of the false doctrine that some areas of life would belong to other lords–ie, that we can compartmentalize our faith, keeping the Lordship of Christ in the “Sunday” box, and the lordship of the current governing party (or our preferred political party or ideology) in the Monday to Friday box, and the lordship of the almighty money in the all-the-time box, and the lordship of personal fulfillment in a Saturday box, etc. These are rightly named for what they are–idolatry. We don’t like to hear it, but it’s true. Many of us have put our faith into a box we take out now and then, like Christmas decorations we put away for a season and pull out to exclaim over for a few weeks a year. Having any area of our life not subject to the Lordship of Christ (notice we keep saying “the lordship of Christ” not “the lordship of the bible”–our lord is a person, God in the flesh, with us in our life…not words on a page–bibliolatry is just as much idolatry as holding anything else up in place of Christ) means we are idolaters.

This is a hard affirmation to make, and a harder one to live out. But important in their time as in ours.

What lords compete for your allegiance? How do you live out the affirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord of your whole life, in every circumstance and area?