The Declaration of Barmen. No, this isn’t the drunken bloviations of a bunch of good old boys who have had a few too many at the local pub. Rather, this was a serious statement formulated by Karl Barth and agreed to by representatives of Germany’s Confessional Churches to address the rising threat of Nazi tyranny and the usurpation of the place of Christ by the state in the life of the church. It basically argued that the church cannot and would not give to the state what belongs to Christ alone and spoke out against the idolatry of the “great leader”
In its various articles it confessed:
- There was no other power beside Christ who reveals God’s salvation.
- That there was no area of life not under the Lordship of Christ.
- That the church could not abandon its order or message to conform to prevailing ideological or political convictions.
- The church could not allow special leaders, particular instruments of the state, to rule over its life.
- The church could not and would not become an organ of the state.
- The church could not subordinate the Word and work of Christ to any state agenda.
A friend of mine wondered whether it is time for another such declaration. I wonder particularly if it is time for such a declaration among the churches of America.
It seems to me that for too long we have looked to the political powers-that-be, whether on the right or the left, as our source of hope and have made of government an idol.
It seems to me that for too long the church in America has been politically captive to the left or the right rather than focusing on its distinctive message of the in-breaking rule of God.
It seems to me that for too long we have been infatuated with electing the “right” political leader into office and have lodged far too great a hope in fallible human beings and governments.
Karl Barth and the German leaders who signed this Declaration were prescient in recognizing the political captivity and the idolatry of power that was gaining a foothold in the German churches and compromising the Christian message with a gospel of power and hate that destroyed six million Jews, and countless others in the World War that followed. Unfortunately, much of the German church did not heed this declaration, and sadly, a deeply compromised church lost its power to speak into the life of a Germany re-building after the war.
I wonder if we have reached a critical juncture in the life of the church in America where we need to clearly choose between politics and the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus. And I say this across the spectrum from liberal to conservative in both the political and theological senses. Will the church in America simply mirror the political divides of this country, which we have done through so much of our national history (think of the debates on slavery)? Or will we seize this moment, which might be our last, to repent of our idolatry, and political captivity, and divisions among ourselves?
Is it time for a new Declaration of Barmen? Time and past time, I would say.