Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Karl Barth: the Church's Struggle in 1933, Theology for Today's Struggle 2.

In the German Churches in the late 1920’s and early thirties there were cries for reform, but this was wedded to the belief that historical events, the rise of Adolf Hitler to power, and the political ideology of national socialism was God’s means of reform. The German Christians pushed, politically, for the church to reform herself in such a manner that the German people caught up in the events of the day would flock to the churches as a means of furthering the goals of the nation.

At least three actions were made in an attempt at reformation. One was the formation of a church union, the second was the call for a church bishop over all the churches and third the formation of a new constitution for the churches. But the overriding problem for the Evangelical churches was the tendency of everyone to interpret the events of the day as revelation and to wed this to whatever position they held.

Arthur C. Cochrane author of The Church's Confession Under Hitler, points out that even the pious von Bodelschwingh who was the first, and only, fairly elected bishop, held such a view. In his acceptance speech von Bodelschwingh stated:

"We thank God that he has given us a government which with a reverence for history strengthens the will to work mightily for a better future, which wishes to lead us back again to the discipline, faithfulness, and integrity of our fathers, and which honors work. In a joyful spontaneity we Christians want to place ourselves heart and soul at its disposal in this service to the nation."

Cochrane writes, “he was a man who was blind to the theological issue of the day. That issue was whether the norm for the reformation of the Church was to be ‘a reverence for history’ and political changes, or Jesus Christ alone as attested in Holy Scripture.” (96) Here was the great issue that would lead to Barmen.

The Church did not turn to the Word of God for reform and so reform failed and instead, within a totalitarian state, there arose a false Church system. It was lead by those who rejected a great deal of Scripture, viewed Jesus Christ as simply a heroic figure minus his redemptive action on the cross. Without question, they looked down on and persecuted confessing Christians.

Not unlike today, political pronouncements and new confessional statements began emerging. Barth complains about the political pronouncements. He points out the difference between reform arising out of the Church because of Holy Scripture and that which arises because of political ideology. Barth writes:

From Theological Existence Today:

“Of course I refer to the many Church pronouncements, with their political Preambles, very important for explaining the Church Reform taken in hand, or the conferences and sessions lying behind these pronouncements. Yet the meaning of these Preambles, rather, was not the justifiable affirmation, that by means of political events God’s leading has now given a chance to the Church to give new heed and obedience to the Word of God, which is ‘The Church’s One Foundation.'1.

Again, the meaning of these Preambles was not simply the de facto admission of the New State as the ‘Higher Power,’ co-ordinated with the Church by God, according to Romans xiii. … The point is really not as to whether the men of the Church who, then by silence [1918 and World War I] now by speaking, are to blame for expressing their political views as such, so far as they answer to their private convictions.

But who gave them the authority to express this opinion of theirs in the name of the Church? to establish the Church anew upon political views? to ‘assimilate’ (Gleichschaltung) Church and State on the fundamental Article, and by this ‘assimilation’ to exclude from the Church about-to-be-reformed those who do not agree with their opinions, and to bind the Church to one particular form of secular process in irresponsible fashion?

And above all, in principle, to set the ball a-rolling for Church Reform by means of proclamations of a new and unheard-of rule of theological standard? Or, is not this a proclamation of a new and unheard of rule in the Evangelical Church, when it is now publicly avowed that they have learnt to see the ‘new commission of the Lord to the Church,’ not at all in the Sacred Scriptures, but’ in the great events of our days’? …(26-27)

And consequently, ought not Church Reform to issue forth from out of the life of the Church itself, and thus be capable of becoming real reform of the Church? A lot of enthusiasm and seriousness has been put into this business during the past months: but the Holy Scriptures have not been allowed to be the Master in this work, and therefore, the Word of God has not either.

And yet the Evangelical Church still possesses the Bible, and with it the promise of reform, not by human, political and Church-political arbitrariness, but by means of the Word of God. Where the Bible is allowed to be Master, theological existence lives, it is then possible for Church reform to issue from the Church’s life. Where there is no theological existence, then, in our own day, as in every age of the Church in which she seeks selfishly to help herself, reform can and will be still-born. (30)”

1.As I did in the post before, I have divided Barth's longer paragraphs into smaller ones.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Karl Barth: the Church's Struggle in 1933, Theology for Today's Struggle 1.

In the year 2001, September 10th, I placed an article on my web site which was posted on Presbyweb the next day. I, of course, remember because of the awful events of that day. The article, “What Gate of Hell Stands Just Ahead?,” contained this paragraph along with a quote by Dr. Hermann Hesse, taken from the book, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, by Arthur C. Cochrane.

“Theologian, Arthur C. Cochrane, writes of an interesting train ride taken by Karl Barth and Dr. Hermann Hesse. Dr. Hesse, who became a member of the Confessing Church Movement, was one of three in a committee writing a constitution for the German Evangelical Church, an attempt at a church union during the years of Hitler. Dr. Hesse and the two other theologians invited Ludwig Muller, an advocate, for the German Christians, the heretical movement of the day, to be a part of the group. They were attempting to protect the church by compromise. In the midst of all the politics and troubles Muller and the German Christians were creating, Hesse called on Barth. Hesse states:

‘In my utter helplessness I telephoned Karl Barth and asked him to go with me to Berlin. It was July 3, 1933. We met in the train at Hamm. [This may refer to Hamburg] Barth put into my hand a pamphlet and said: `Read that!' … It was entitled Theological Existence Today. I read and read while the professor paced up and down the train. It was an attack upon us three men, upon the `German Christians,' and the Young Reformation Movement. All of us were accused because of our natural theology. As I read, the scales fell from my eyes. Here lay my mistake since my early days under Schlatter! Besides Holy Scripture, another side of revelation had been authoritative for me, namely, nature. When I had finished reading, I was deeply moved. I could only give the professor my hand and say: 'You are right! I am grateful to you for everything!' Then began for me through God's great grace a whole new era.'”

For many years I have been interested in the history of the Confessing Church. Consequently I became so intrigued with what Barth had written and Hesse had read that I went searching for the pamphlet Theological Existence Today. I have not found it newly published, but I found it used, twice, in five years, at It was written in 1933 in the midst of the German Church struggle, and the two copies I have were translated and published in the same year it was written, in order that the English population could know immediately some of what was happening in Germany.

Noting comments on other’s blogs and web sites, including introductions to movies such as
"Theologians Under Hitler" 1 I believe there is a lot of confusion about that crisis, about the Confessing Churches and about the Theological Declaration of Barmen. I believe this is a good time for the Church to grapple with that particular time in history and look again at the Barmen Declaration.

In light of my feelings I am going to start placing large sections of Theological Existence Today on my blog with explanations before hand about why Barth was writing what he was writing. I will also be depending on Cochrane’s book The Church’s Confession Under Hitler for my explanations.

A series of events precipitated the writing of this small booklet, including, several Confessing Church pastors being removed from their church offices. Also “Dr. von Bodelschwingh, the provisional Reichs-Bishop was forced to retire." At the same time, "The Central Church Press Bureau in Berlin was put under ‘German Christian’ control.”

The comment I want to make for this section is about the German Christians. They were the ones who stood in opposition to the Confessing Church. They saw Hitler as God's revelation. It is important to understand who they were in order to understand how it was that the Church was in crisis, and how it was that many so called Christians supported Hitler. The German Christians were made up of those who were both nationalists in politics and liberal in theology.

It is erroneous to call them conservative. Conservative and nationalist are not corresponding terms, for instance the Amish are very conservative but they are not nationalists at all. And the German Christian’s nationalism was racist. But it was certainly bolstered by a liberal theology that insisted God was revealed in more than Jesus Christ. Liberal theology had been evolving for two hundred years. Now, supposedly, God was doing a new thing, and the Volk, (the people), and the events of their day were new revelations alongside of Jesus Christ.

First Barth makes an apologetic for those who are theologians in the Church. This includes teachers and preachers.

From Theological Existence Today:

“What theological existence presupposes

The one thing that must not happen to us who are theological professors, is our abandoning our job through becoming zealous for some cause we think to be good. Our existence as theologians is our life within the Church, and, of course, as appointed preachers and teachers within the Church.

There are some things about which there is unanimity within the Church. One is, that there is no more urgent demand in the whole world than that which the Word of God makes, viz. that the Word be preached and heard. At all costs this demand has to be discharged by the world and the Church itself, cost what it may. Another thing there is agreement about is, that the Word of God clears out of the way everything that might oppose, so that it will triumph over us and all other opponents, for that reason that it has triumphed already, once for all, over us and on our behalf, and over all its other opponents. For the Word, ‘was crucified, dead, buried, raised again the third day, sitteth at the right hand of the Father.’

Within the Church it is agreed that God ‘upholds all things by the Word of His power’ (Hebrews i.3): that He supplies answer to every question, that He allows all righteousness to experience all anxieties, that He sustains all that He has made, and leads it to its truest end, that no thing can subsist and flourish without His Word.

Again, within the Church it is agreed that it is good for man to depend upon the Word of God, and that this is his only good in time and eternity, to rely upon it with all his heart, all his mind, soul and all his powers. Further, it is the unanimous opinion within the Church, that God is never for us in the world, that is to say, in our space and time, except in this His Word, and this Word for us has no other name and content but Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ is never to be found on our behalf save each day afresh in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. One is not in the Church at all if he is not of a mind with the Church in these things.

And, particularly as preachers and teachers of the Church, we are at one in fear but also in joy, that we are called to serve the Word of God within the Church and in the world by our preaching and our teaching. We agree, too, that with the fulfillment of our calling we not only see ourselves stand or fall, but we see everything that is important to us in this world, however, precious or great it be, standing or falling. So that to us no concern can be more pressing, no hope more moving than the concern and hope of our ministry. No friend can be dearer than one who helps us in this ministry, no foe more hateful than he that wants to hinder us in this ministry.

We are agreed about this too, that alongside of this first business, as the meaning of our labour and our rest, our diligence and relaxation, our love and our scorn, we brook no second as a rival. But we regard every second or third thing that may and should incite us as included and taken up in this first concern, and condemned or blessed thereby. On these things we agree or we are not preachers and teachers of the Church. And this is what is meant by what we term our ‘theological existence,’ viz. that in the midst of our life in other aspects, as say, men, fathers and sons, as Germans, as citizens, thinkers, as having hearts ever in unrest, etc., the Word of God may be what it simply is, and only can be to us, and taxes our powers, particularly as preachers and teachers, to the full as the Word alone can and must do.” (11-14)

1. While I have not viewed this movie I have watched the trailer. According to the trailer the Confessing Church did not address the Aryan controversy in the Theological Declaration of Barmen because they wanted to make sure more people signed on to it. This of course shows a total lack of knowledge of the history of the church or its government. I do have the book of the same title which fails to understand the theology of Barth.
2.I am dividing some of Barth’s long paragraphs up so as to make the reading easier.

Posting on a new subject:

I have not returned yet to my posts on Christianity, socialism, Marxism and its various turns and twists within the different people's movements in the post-modern world. When I do return it will be to explain a socialism and Marxism mixed and blended with some extreme far right issues from the past, such as "blood and soil" and "green movements" that were birthed from fascism. (This is not to say that most green movements are fascist.)

But for the time, and because of various twists and turns in the mainline Churches, I have decided to first do some posts on a small booklet written by Karl Barth in 1933 just as the Confessing Church entered its deepest struggles. My first post will be just above this one. But I will later return to the post on extreme socialism and Marxism with a broader base to work from.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Pictures

A Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving at the Larsons with half the family home. If they had all come home for Thanksgiving we would have needed to stretch the table all the way into the living room.
The Grandchildren are playing under the piano their favorite place to play. I hope everyone else had a wonderful thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

This isn't about thanksgiving, but I am thankful I found it. As I was looking for a song among my husbands hymnbook collection I discovered this on the inside page of one of the hymnals.

I Am Your Hymn Book

Next to the Bible, I should be your most
treasured book.

Hold me in your hand on Sunday when you
prepare to sing.

Let your heart listen to what has been
enshrined within me.

Hear the songs and the triumphant words of
the martyrs dying for a faith the same
as yours.

Give heed to the prayers of devout men who
have found the heart of God.

Follow the missionaries of the Cross on their
way to the ends of the earth.

Listen to the great minds of the Church as
they share with you the deep mysteries
of the plan and purpose of the eternal God.

Sit at the feet of the musicians and poets, of
the saints and the redeemed in all lands
and times, of all those who have seen the
hunger in the heart unsatisfied except
through song.

All these I have treasured .....for you.

I am your hymn book.

(Taken from-Tabernacle Hymns Number Five, Tabernacle Publishing Co. 1953)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Christianity-- Cosmovision & Marxism: The beginning of an exploration

“I know of no assembly of Christians, where there seems to be so much of the presence of God, where brotherly love so much prevails, and where I should take so much delight in the public worship of God in general, as in my own congregation.” David Brainerd, Presbyterian missionary to the Native Americans (1718-47)

Some Christian friends of mine, who also write, batted around the question “how do we refer to ourselves, Evangelical, Reformed, orthodox?” For me all of those names fit and I stubbornly refuse to let any of them go. But, of course, reformed includes Presbyterian and the designation Christian comes first, I belong to Jesus Christ.

I have decided to use the names as a way of explaining the problems I have with the prevailing philosophies among grassroots socialist and Marxists movements and the defenders of those movements within the mainline Churches.

So while I look at the new “buzz” word “cosmovision” and its relationship to Marxist and Socialist movements among indigenous groups of people, I will place along side it my thoughts about what it means to be Evangelical. And for me that word, evangelical, is at the heart of Christian discipleship.

Jesus Christ, the incarnate One, the second person of the Trinity died on the cross so that humanity could be redeemed. That is good news. And to be Evangelical means to be a herald of that good news, to proclaim in small ways and large ways, in silent and voiced ways that Jesus Christ came to save his people from their sins.

That understanding will come into conflict with those who seek to see indigenous people groups as part of their wider social movement yet insistently define them in such a rigid way that it totally destroys their individuality.

Cosmovision is the term that some anthropologists and many leaders within the peasant and revolutionary grassroots movement use in explaining the world view of indigenous peoples. It usually includes their land as well as what they believe about the sacred, transcendent or God. It means the people are viewed and do view themselves as a whole. Supposedly no decision is made without agreement by the whole community. It also means that what ever it is that they hold as sacred that is what keeps the land healthy, fertile and holy.

How does this fit with Marxism or socialism today? Originally Marx held to the idea of a class revolution springing from the workers whom he saw as exploited. For Marx economic conditions determined the historical outcome of people and nations. Since he was a positive thinker; there was no doubt that the working classes would revolt against their oppressors who were supposedly in their final stage capitalists.

In the seventies, in Latin America, many revolutionary groups were influenced by
liberation theology. To put it very simply, this is a theology, birthed out of both Marxism and Christianity. It does not begin with God’s revelation of Himself, but begins with the human experience of oppression. It is human experience over God’s revelation. And in this case the poor are God’s revelation along side of Jesus Christ.

Additionally sin is generally seen and focused on within the limits of a particular community or culture. That is, oppression of the poor or marginalized in a particular society, (which certainly is sin), is seen as the prevailing sin for that society. The solutions are political: basically communal decision making, communal property and redistribution of land. Along side the solutions are educational opportunities to realize both the extent to which you as an individual are complacent in the oppression and the extent to which you are the oppressed.

Stanley J. Grenz & Roger E. Olson in their book 20-th Century Theology: God & the World in a Transitional Age, explain this action and link it to Marxism. They write, “This means that each person must gain awareness of one’s own vested interests and subject them to scrutiny and criticism. By becoming suspicious and critical (dialectical) in relation to the dominant thought-forms of one’s own culture, a person’s knowledge can rise above the social-environmental conditioning.” This is a way to prevent relativism within a culturally bound ideology, but it also can and does turn into a control mechanism.

In the beginning some liberation theology was biblical in its content, meaning that Jesus Christ was central to the theology. For instance Oscar Romero the martyr Bishop of South America wrote:

" Progress will not be completed even if we organize ideally the economy and the political and social orders of our people. It won’t be entire with that. That will be the basis, so that it can be completed by what the church pursues and proclaims: God adored by all, Christ acknowledged as only Savior, deep joy of spirit in being at peace with God and with our brothers and sisters."

But such theology has either disappeared or changed. Now, for most, it is not even Jesus Christ along side the poor as God’s revelation. Instead Christ has departed and it is the sacred or holy by whatever name within the various communities.

And now leaders and intellectuals among the various socialists and Marxists revolutionary groups, who still supposedly speak for the working class, incorporate various other groups in the category of class including indigenous peoples. But indigenous peoples, like the working class in a prior time, are seen by the extreme left as one entity; the individual is not important. The difference is that these groups are held by sacred bonds to their lands and that in its self is linked to a reworked socialism.

In fact, if one listens carefully one hears a supposed embryonic Marxism tied to the ancient lands of indigenous people and socialism is made holy by its relationship to a sacred land. For instance, Stephen Bartlett Coordinator for Constituency Education, with Agricultural Missions Inc., writes:

"It was gratifying to hear Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez Frías, outspoken promoter of a socialist future, say that socialism in its broadest sense existed in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans. … To hear Evo Morales leader of a socialist party upon his innauguration [sic] to the presidency of Bolivia declare that he would, in the words of Subcomandante Marcos, [The leader of the Zapatistas, an indigenous people group of Mexico.], lead in obedience to the peoples, a concept that serves both as a fundamental principle of indigenous governance as well as of true Christianity. (See [reflections from the AMI (Agricultural Missions, Inc) Agrarian Delegation to the World Social Forum, Jan 19-31, 2006]."

To return to the title Evangelical and its discipleship meaning, one writer, an indigenous person, Tink Tinker of the Osage Nation and Professor of American Indian Cultures and Religious Traditions at the Lliff School of Theology, has written his views of early American missionaries in an article entitled “Fundamentalisms, columbusday, hate speech, and American Indians.”

While his aim seems to be to turn his words toward capitalism as a new kind of Christian fundamentalism, of missionaries and his people he writes:

"The community had been a coherent and integrous whole, intricately bound together in complex structures of family, clan, village, sodal and modal organizations. People woke each morning with a clear sense of who they were and what needed to be accomplished that day. If there were a ceremony, it would be a tribal ceremony in which all were involved as participants. Suddenly, with the appearance of the powerful White colonial official (and the missionary was always a colonial representative), people are faced with a choice as to whether to participate with the community for the good (salvation) of the whole, or to make an individual decision for personal salvation. … (4)1"

Respect for others which also means upholding their freedom demands that Christians treat indigenous peoples with great care. However, Christ commands his disciples to proclaim the good news to every tribe and nation. That is not an option; it is the command of Jesus Christ the Lord of the Church.

Cosmovision is an important tool for understanding groups of people and relating to them within their worldview. But naming their cosmovision as a central truth to be advocated for because the holiness and health of the land demands it is unthinkable for a Christian. The worth of the human soul and fellowship with Jesus Christ is far greater than any material good whether it is land, community or an ideology.

“But, blessed be God! I enjoyed liberty in prayer for my dear flock, and was enabled to pour out my soul into the bosom of a tender Father. My heart within me was melted, when I came to plead for my dear people and for the kingdom of Christ in general. Oh how sweet was the evening to my soul!” David Brainerd, Presbyterian missionary to the Native Americans (1718-47)

1 This is a sister site to AWID at There are some good articles here dealing with the abuse of women and focusing on the misuse of women in many lands. But it is a mixed bag. This site is linked to by Presbyterian Women’s Advocacy, advertising “The 11th AWID International Forum on Women's Rights and Development” at

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Presbyterians, Karl Marx, New Hampshire and the Zapatistas?

During the late summer I placed several posts on my blog entitled “Presbyterians Dancing with Karl Marx.” Just about a week ago I placed some correspondence on my blog between myself and Stephen Bartlett, Coordinator for Constituency Education, with Agricultural Missions Inc. an organization affiliated with several mainline Christian denominations including Presbyterian Women and Presbyterian Hunger Program.1

One of my points in the posts was that Agricultural Missions Inc. was too deeply affiliated with a new movement which includes both the World Social Forum and the United States Social Forum . Both of these movements are related and have their roots in extreme socialism and Marxism. I asked Mr. Bartlett some questions about statements he had made including his statements about the 2006 World Social Forum which was:

"How socialism is defined and envisioned today goes beyond rigid Marxist Leninist or even Maoist concepts, and seeks for its roots in indigenous cosmovision and collective governance practices, in a radically decentralized vision for a world in which, as the Zapatistas demand, all worlds fit."

All of Mr. Bartlett’s essay about that forum can be found here: [reflections from the AMI (Agricultural Missions, Inc) Agrarian Delegation to the World Social Forum, Jan 19-31, 2006].
As I stated in the last post, on this subject, my main interest is to now pull together some of the ideas sweeping through these grassroots socialist movements and look at them through the lens of history. Finally I want to look at the Church of Jesus Christ in relation to these groups and movements.

But first some observations about some of Mr. Bartlett’s thoughts which he was very gracious to share in the last post found here:
Presbyterians, Karl Marx, Cosmovision and Letters. I asked Michael Kruse of Kruse Kronicle, who writes a great deal on economics, if he would read the letter and the essay and comment. He has given permission for my use of material from his e-mail.2

The first comment I have is that in reading Mr. Bartlett’s letter I found his distinctions between capitalism and socialism a bit murky. It was hard to understand which was which, almost as though one was bleeding over into the other. I think the reader will find more clarification about capitalism by reading Michael Kruse’s definitions:

“What do we mean by capitalism? Here are some basic elements I would include:

* Privately owned business enterprises

* Relatively free markets

* Players in pursuit of endless win-win transactions

* Investment of wealth in productive activities

* Long-term future returns oriented

* Circumscribed in a strong juridical framework governing property rights and transactional justice”

Another problem I had was Bartlett’s push for what he calls 'Collective governance practices' and/or consensus decision making. He pointed to the Zapatista’s indigenous communities (a revolutionary group in Mexico) as one example and to the town hall meetings in New Hampshire as another example. The Zapatistas are attempting to forge their own territory with their own laws and economy within the country of Mexico; the people of New Hampshire are attempting to take part in the democratic practices of the United States by participating in local government. (Part of the murkiness I was referring to.)

In Kruse’s e-mail he complements Bartlett, “In some ways Bartlett is on the right track. Things need to be done through experimentation at the local level.” And here I agree. Bartlett is writing about farmers who make contracts with people in the city to buy their food directly from them. In reality the people have bought into the farm and are paying those who labor on the farm.

It is an exchange which is helpful to both sides. This is a popular practice in California where I live. But it is not socialism, it is instead localized capitalism. I can choose to buy from the farmer, buy from the farmer’s market, go to my favorite small grocery store or go to a supermarket. As for the favorite small grocery store, recently one of the butchers bought out the owner and is expanding the products selection including the wine section which was already exceptional. This is a picture of capitalism at its best and it has a lot to do with freedom.

Kruse continues, “But the aim should be for markets to emerge along with a just system of law and property rights. As wisdom from these experimentations is learned and multiplied, each nation should be able to emerge its own particular forms of economic freedom limited by certain other concerns just as they are limited in developed nations.”

But as far as such decisions about markets being made by collective governance practices Kruse has this to say:

“But the idea that a healthy national economy can be run by an expertocracy or consensus model of decision-making, is not only misguided, it will damn the population to poverty perpetually. Markets and genuine economic freedom are essential. The idea that collective economic decision making could even be possible comes from the communitarian wing of the Enlightenment/Modernist era, with its belief that sufficient reason applied by an expertocracy can lead us to a utopian common or social good. Marx was, of course, the poster boy for such

There are other areas that are just touched on in both Bartlett’s letter and essay which I want to address using other material. One is the concept of cosmovision and indigenous peoples; here the problem of freedom of religion for the individual is emerging. Another issue is the changing world of socialism and Marxism. A postmodern debate is developing within socialism.

I also want to write about the conflicts arising because of the green movement which in its extreme forms is blending fascist socialism with leftist socialism. It is also of interest to know that there is a rising anti-Semitism in both extreme left and extreme right.

See Also: Presbyterians Dancing With Karl Marx! Part 1

Presbyterians Dancing With Karl Marx! Part 2

Presbyterians Dancing with Karl Marx Part 3

(1 )In answer to a question I asked Ms Ann Ferguson, Program Coordinator, of Presbyterian Women, she stated in an e-mail to me that none of the line items in the PW budget were included in the money given to AMI. Rather the money came from the offering taken at the Presbyterian Women’s Gathering in 2006. The Editors of Horizon’s magazine reported in their Sept/Oct 2006 edition, that, “The Gathering Offering, collected during Sunday morning’s plenary session, totaled $54, 363. 61. This money will support women farmers, rangers and farm workers thanks to two organizations—Agricultural Missions, Inc. and Rural Coalition.” They go on to explain that it will also go to the Widening the Circle Fund. (27)

The AMI front page of their web site has this information: Rural Women's Gathering planned for Nov 1-5, 2007 in Mexico City and Oaxtepec, Mexico. 25 women from partner organizations of both Agricultural Missions and Rural Coalition, from the U.S., Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean will gather to envision the future of rural community and economic life, to plan for future consciousness raising and to help create educational materials for people of faith. The planning process includes AMI board members Lorette Picciano, Marta Benavides, Shirley Sherrod, Shelly Vendiola and Sherry Flyr. AMI staff Stephen Bartlett and Mozzie Johnson have been accompanying this planning process. This has been made possible through the generous support of Presbyterian Women. (Bold Mine)

(2 )Michael Kruse is at this time doing a series on Christian “Economic Fallacies.” He has finished two: Economic Fallacies: "Work is Instrumental" and Economic Fallacies: "Biblical Redistribution". They are both very important reading for Christians and I am sure the rest of them will clarify errors about economic thinking from a Christian point of view.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Good News From Afar: My Missionary Friends in Thailand

On Oct. the 17th I wrote about my missionary friends in Thailand, Good News From Afar . I wrote that I would start posting their newsletters but "because of some of the places they travel and because of the wonderful Christians they minister to, who live in suffering places, I cannot post their names. But this will give others a chance to read the wonderful stories they send and to pray for another part of the Church."

Here is the second posting.

Ministry to Children

These past months, I have been joining another missionary and some of her Thai workers in a ministry to the children’s cancer ward at the University Hospital here in ChiangMai. Hospital conditions are very crowded with 12 to 15 patients per room, plus one or both of their parents who are there to watch after them. Family members are expected to be the main caregivers, and they spend day and night with their children, even sleeping on straw mats beside or under the child’s bed. It is incredibly tiring and stressful for them. The children are at the hospital to receive IV chemotherapy, so they are often feeling ill from the side effects of the treatment. The objective of our visits is to provide a much needed diversion from the daily stress and boredom of being in the hospital situation..

Our time usually involves a song, a story or puppet show and a small handicraft that the children can do. The presentation of Christianity has to be a bit low key, but there are opportunities to share more openly. Christmas is a time when it is acceptable to give a Christian presentation. We actually have greater freedom here than we would in similar situations back home. Sometimes there is opportunity to pray with the parents or patients if the situation allows. This last week I met a 12 year old girl who attends a church in a small town about five hours away, where we worked years ago. I was able to pray with her, which was an encouragement, since she is at the hospital with her unbelieving father. Her mother who is a Christian had to remain at home to watch over the younger siblings.

Your heart certainly goes out to these youngsters and their families. It makes you more thankful for the life and health that we enjoy, and remember not to take it for granted. If Jesus were to come to ChiangMai, I think that we would see him in the hospital halls.

Please pray for continued open doors. The hospital staff has mentioned that they appreciate our efforts. Pray that we will be sensitive to each individual, and speak words that bring encouragement and life.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Side-Trip Into Barmen and the One Word of God

Today in my church we had a sermon concerned with The Theological Declaration of Barmen as well as a Sunday school class on the same subject. As a refresher on this Declaration, last night, I got out one of my favorite books, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler by Arthur C. Cochrane. The Office of the General Assembly actually used this book's copy of The Barmen Declaration when it was printed in the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions.

Also included in this book is “An Address on the Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation in the German Evangelical Church.” This was an address given to the delegates of Barmen by Pastor Hans Asmussen. It is a point by point explanation of Barmen by a pastor who was deeply involved in the Confessing Church’s actions.

This afternoon, when I once again had my attention drawn to a blog with postings propounding unbiblical caricatures of the Christian faith as well as continued mocking of Christians and Jesus Christ I couldn’t help thinking of some of the words of both Asmussen and the Theological Declaration of Barmen.

Before I write about those words, I will give an example of the abuse heaped on believers and Jesus Christ alike using one posting where this particular Presbyterian Pastor insists that biblical Christianity is passé. In the posting “
How Literalist Christianity Often Appears to Those Who Are Not Christian,” the pastor continues to push progressive theology which for him includes the denial of Jesus as God as well as the denial of the bodily resurrection of believers. In the comments on that posting he further denies the validity of orthodox faith with his statement:

That point is simply this: popular (literalist, fundamentalist, whatever)
Christianity is absurd. To equate the main dogmas of Christianity with any kind of reality save mythical and symbolic is incredible. Steve's definition simply removes the pious veneer. [For Steve’s definition see posting]
Is the Apostle's Creed credible on any level except myth? (Bold mine) [See note at end of my post]

Pastor Asmussen refers to the section of Barmen that speaks of a particular false doctrine the Confessing Churches rejected, in this case, “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.” (8.12 in Book of Confessions)

Asmussen explains:

For the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ we may not become weary of stressing repeatedly that it is false doctrine when other authorities are set up for the Church beside the incarnate Word in Christ and the Word proclaimed in him. That is what is happening today. … For it is only a relative difference whether beside Holy Scripture in the Church historical events or reason, culture, aesthetic feelings, progress, or other powers and figures are said to be binding claims upon the Church. All these factors cannot limit the proclamation of Christ, nor can they take a place beside Christ as subjects of proclamation. In proclamation they can have no other place than that of various marks of the one, basically unchanged world, which can find redemption in Christ and only in Christ. (254-55)

To put it more succinctly, historical events, reason, culture, aesthetic feelings, and yes even progress including progressive theology are placed under sin and in need of redemption in Jesus Christ.

Another important point in Asmussen’s sermon is that although the Church in Germany still held the Confessions and had a constitution, the unity of the Church in Germany was in peril because of the actions of the Church administration and the “German Christians.” He states, “It is not a case of occasional mistakes by individuals that one finds in administrative matters and could thus be removed. On the contrary, it is a question of a false doctrine all along the line and of a conduct that not only occasionally but systematically and comprehensively opposes the gospel, the Confessions presently in force, and the constitution of the German Evangelical Church.”

The idea here is that a Church, having orthodox confessions and constitution, and more importantly the Holy Scriptures, can still, because of church politics and administrational maneuvering, pursue false doctrine which causes disunity in the Church. Lack of discipline is often administrational maneuvering.

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6) "Truly, Truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way that man is a thief and a robber. ... I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved." (John 10:1, 9.) (8.10) Book of Confessions

Note: "There have been many complaints and murmurings over this formula [The Apostles' Creed] and probably, sooner or later in your studies, you will come up against men of letters and even teachers, who also do the same and think it dreadful that this matter should be reduced to this formula. . . This inveighing against so-called 'orthodoxy' is just a 'wolf's snarl', which an educated man should have nothing to do with."
Karl Barth
Dogmatics in Outline

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Presbyterians, Karl Marx, Cosmovision and Letters

This last summer I began a series of articles entitled "Presbyterians Dancing With Karl Marx!” The focus of the articles was several national and international groups and movements that various organizations in the PCUSA are affiliated with. My concern was Christian endorsement of ideologies that are unacceptable if Jesus Christ is Lord.

Because I erred in attributing a quote to the wrong person, I sent a letter to the person I was informed actually made the statement. I did this because I wanted to be certain that he had made the statement, but also because I wished to ask him about another paper and statement he wrote. Stephen Bartlett, Coordinator for Constituency Education, Agricultural Missions, wrote me back a gracious and interesting letter. (I wish, before hand, to commend him for his work with community gardens and children.)

Because I plan to write some more on this subject I am placing my letter to Mr. Bartlett and his response in this posting. His letter is long and I will later have a great deal I want to write so the posting of both of our letters will be the first part of this round of postings.

But first I want to stress that my next round of articles on this particular subject will deal with religious and political movements of the late nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, as well as their renewed images in our contemporary world. I will be using the first part of
Presbyterians Dancing With Karl Marx! Part 2 as my starting point. My concern is how the Church can be faithful to her Lord in the midst of a fragmenting world in flux. I intend to uphold the Lordship of Christ and His redeeming life and death.

Here are the letters:

Dear Mr. Bartlett,

I have written an article entitled "Presbyterians Dancing with Karl Marx." I posted it in three parts and placed it on my blog, "
Naming His Grace." As you can see from this mornings posting I attributed a quote I believe you made to Ms. Sherry Flyr.

I thought I should be much more careful and ask if this is your quote? Are you the author of this statement concerning the USSF's classes on the Agricultural Missions' web site "Katrina, the War, Gender and the struggle against
Homophobic Patriarchical Violent Capitalism, Immigration Rights, Worker Justice and Indigenous Peoples and their Prophetic Struggles and Cosmovision."

I also decided that I should ask why you referred to capitalism as homophobic Patriarchical and violent? Beyond that I also note that in your report from the 2006 World Social Forum, [reflections from the AMI (Agricultural Missions, Inc) Agrarian Delegation to the World Social Forum, Jan 19-31, 2006],
you state, "How socialism is defined and envisioned today goes beyond rigid Marxist Leninist or even Maoist concepts, and seeks for its roots in indigenous cosmovision and collective governance practices, in a radically decentralized vision for a world in which, as the Zapatistas demand, all worlds fit." Could you please explain what that actually means? For instance, does going beyond rigid Marxist Leninist still include Marxism? What exactly is cosmovision? What are collective governance practices?

Thank you for taking the time to read this e-mail and respond.
Viola Larson

“Dear Ms Viola Larson,
Warm greetings in Christ from Louisville, Kentucky! I am going to respond to your questions, but I would request that if you publish my reply to your email on your blog, that you do so in its entirety, and not in bits and pieces. Concepts like cosmovision and collective governance practices are not familiar to everyone. A shared understanding of what is meant by them is important to any serious dialog about emerging political and economic philosophies. Thank you in advance for that consideration.

Yes, the article you cited in your blog was from an article I wrote for our Netline publication, a publication of Agricultural Missions, Inc (AMI) with whom I have been working for nearly eight years. You may have been confused by a listing of workshop leaders that said Yours truly (referring to me, not Sherry), Sherry Flyr, Luckner Millien... If you click over to the Netline Publication from the homepage (not from the USSF 'more' link), you can see the same article, with my name prominently listed as the author.

The plenary sessions I was referring to at the US Social Forum were presented as they were entitled in the Forum itself. The choice of plenary themes would have been the decision of a large and diverse council responsible for organizing the forum plenaries and representing various organizations and social movements. In the article you quoted, I did not infer or make any judgment on their content but merely reported their overarching themes. But if you would like to have a more in-depth correspondence on the concepts and themes in question, that is possible. To explain these themes adequately would require a great many pages. I am still prayerfully learning about them myself, in my calling as a disciple of Christ, as a farmer, urban agriculturalist, teacher of gardening to children and advocate for peace and social justice. I am a member of Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where I coordinate a community garden, now in its 11th year and 6th year of summer gardening camps for children of diverse backgrounds.

I will try to define cosmovision for you. Cosmovision refers to an overarching worldview, or a cosmology or vision of the cosmos. It is most often referring to those beliefs about reality held by a great many Indigenous Peoples around the world, and in particular in the Americas (including North, South, Central America and the Caribbean). It expresses a worldview deeply rooted in the natural world.

Since in my work with Agricultural Missions (founded in 1930) it is my job to learn about and to accompany and support the efforts of people of the land, including indigenous people, we are respectful of religious or cosmovision beliefs different from our own Christian beliefs. Call it a humble and loving attitude of ecumenicity and interfaith dialog and mutual respect. It is our experience that indigenous cosmovision and sustainable and reverent practices of land usage are of great value to humanity, particularly in these times of environmental crisis. It is also the case that many indigenous peoples, even those who may not be Christian, nevertheless show high respect to the teachings and life of Jesus. In Jesus they often see a great Healer of divine inspiration.

To respond to your question about the discussion of the new concept of 'socialism' developing in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia, which I mentioned in another article you cited, you may again infer that I am describing some aspects of the debate going on among those most impacted by the negative effects of neoliberal globalization, in various countries and regions. You may be aware that Christians too have been debating to what degree unregulated capitalism, based as it is on the unbridled profit motive or self-interest, reflects the Sermon on the Mount or not. Again, I am describing the debate as it is developing and not taking one position or another.

Karl Marx, like Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, John Maynard Keynes, Galbraith, etc... was a philosopher and an economist, a highly influential one in his day, and the concepts and analyses he contributed have become part and parcel of modern Western thought, whether you are from the Chicago School or are Neo-Keynesian. It is worth noting too that just as Marxism may take different forms, so does capitalism. So it is hard to define exactly what may be meant by the moniker 'Marxism.' Some forms of socialism have fallen down for a variety of reasons and some of them were characterized as rigid, doctrinaire, bureaucratic, overly-centralized, party-bound, etc... Going beyond those forms of so-called socialist societies was what I was referring to, in the general debate at that social forum. For example, today there are welfare state countries in Europe who see their origins in Marxist thought, because of their generous safety nets providing health care and education for all, for free or very inexpensively. One commonly held idea of what 'socialism' means is where the economy is organized around the benefits that can accrue to a society and its members. That is, socialism is often thought to be any economy where social good takes priority over the capitalistic values of wealth accumulation and concentration. As I mentioned before, the life and words of Jesus are often difficult to reconcile with an economy that may enrich some and impoverish others, or lay waste to the environment on a global scale. Hence the urgent search for alternative models for organizing society. Here in Louisville, for example, as part of the work of the Community Farm Alliance, a farmer-led organization seeking the betterment for local farmers and local consumers of food, we are creating what is being called a 'solidarity economy' whereby people buy their foods from local farmers directly, even if this may be less convenient or require more cooking. In this way, family farmers of our region can survive economically and society as a whole benefits. In fact, we are now finding ways for local farmers to get food directly into the hands of the lowest income people in impoverished neighborhoods, so that those least able to get fresh and healthy produce may do so, and creating a link of solidarity between urban dwellers and regional farmers. One could call this a form of capitalism or a form of socialism, according to one's use of those terms. We call it a solidarity economy, within a capitalist economy.

'Collective governance practices' refers to decision-making procedures and norms of a community, social sector, social movement, organization, company, country or international body or forum that do not rely exclusively upon what we call representative democratic procedures and Roberts Rules/Parliamentary Procedure, but rather on horizontal inclusive consultation, consensus building, and social accountability norms. It is thought, for example, that agrarian or hunter gatherer societies typically practiced and still do practice collective governance, as do towns in Vermont where townhall meetings are held to hash out decisions for the community, and everyone has a voice. The Zapatista indigenous communities to whom I referred utilize collective governance practices, which is why their decision-making process is slow and tedious. However, such thorough consultations and town meetings have the advantage that once a decision is taken, everyone stands behind that decision and it can be implemented at once by nearly everyone involved. The degree to which a society is democratic (reflecting the opinion of the majority, or involving wide participation in decision making processes) is not only a concept within capitalist societies (voting, performing civic duties, paying taxes), but also within so-called socialist societies or, ideally, non-hierarchical societies, where community councils and other consultative bodies allow members of society to participate in decision-making. In general such democratic procedures are often referred to as Participatory Democracy. That, in essence, was what I meant by my use of the term: Collective Governance Practices. Think of a town hall meeting in New Hampshire! And extrapolate.

I hope this helps clarify the concepts you referred to.

peace in Christ,

Stephen Bartlett
Coordinator for Constituency Education
Agricultural Missions, Inc. (AMI)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pastor Bob Campbell's Thoughts on FOG.

Pastor Bob Campbell, of Tully Memorial Presbyterian in Sharon Hill, PA, has posted, on his blog, some questions and comments he is asking about both the FOG report, COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS CONCERNING THE NEW FORM OF GOVERNMENT , and the Foundation of Presbyterian Polity report, COMMENTS ON THE FOUNDATIONS OF PRESBYTERIAN POLITY .

I think Bob has some well thought out questions and comments and so I have linked to them and posted some of them here.

Some comments and questions on the former are:

"G-1.0101: “All the gifts of the gospel necessary to being the church are present to the congregation.” This sentence would be clearer if it said . . . present in the congregation.

Old G-5.0103 new G-1.0302: I think the deletion of this: “No persons shall be denied membership because of race, ethnic origin, worldly condition” is a mistake. I think our racism is still with us and needs to be stated directly rather than indirectly.

New G-1.04: I think the removal of the category of inactive members is a missiological mistake. Granted too few congregations reach out to inactive members but it is an important ministry that should be revived rather than abandoned.

New G-3.0107: “Presbyteries may apportion requested funds to sessions within their bounds.” Does this mean that presbyteries may require sessions to pay particular amounts to the presbytery? Since we have eliminated per capita apportionments, what does apportion mean in this context?"

Some comments on the latter are:

1.0202 Why exchange the word “Kingdom” for “new reality? Isn’t Kingdom more Biblical?

1.01 Why leave out the clause about the resurrection? The current FoG 1.0100 is a clear quote from Scripture. Why change it?"

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Breaking Bread and Living in the Vine

Blessed Be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intentions of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved." (Eph. 1:3-6) NAS

Marcie Brown, Toby Brown, Dave Moody, Brad Larson, Viola Larson, Chris Larimer

Part of this week I have enjoyed some wonderful fellowship with a few blogger friends involved in the New Wineskins. Breaking bread together (well for some breaking corn bread) reminded me of how all who belong to the Church universal, in the past, in the future, in heaven and in the present, have fellowship together under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

It is Jesus Christ who draws the Church to Himself, providing His disciples with nourishment, through faith, by our union with Him.

Because, in many ways this week, has brought me into fellowship with both those in New Wineskins and others in the renewal groups, I am reminded of a poem I used as one of my first postings on this blog. I wrote the poem over twenty years ago but it is good for the present time

Dave Moody, Chris Larimer, Janet Ruth

The Sweetness of Gathering to the Vine

The sweetness of gathering to the wine
is claimed by children resting in a tree
whose root became the food within the vine.

These, childlike made, they bless the cup and dine
upon the fleshy food they cannot see,
and drink the holy bloody wine.

Like sibling children fighting in a line,
who later laugh when by the bell set free,
these happy ones are laughing in the vine.

And raging gods whose deeds their shape confine
have called for war, whose very end shall be
determined by the drinking of the wine.

Go death to death, the children life define;
now blood of saints and Christ's good blood agree
the holy life is living in the vine.

If nails be sharp pursuing flesh to pine,
and wooden burdens bend and bruise the knee,
feast on the broken flesh, drink up the wine;
hold fast the fellowship within the vine.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Literature, Resurrection and Jesus Christ

Human pictures of paradise, God's heaven, the home of his people, are never satisfactory. As I wrote in my last post, fallen humanity's attempts at utopia generally turn into earthly hells. And this failure to grasp a pure vision of our home with God is as it should be.

Paul writing of God's Wisdom, hidden in past ages, explains how his contemporaries failed to understand the promise of God's Wisdom, Jesus Christ, and therefore crucified him. He goes on to paraphrase the Old Testament, linking Jesus with God's promises now revealed:

"Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love him."(1 Cor. 2:9b)

Home with God is linked to the believer's relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the One we now know through the pages of Holy Scripture, opened to us by the Holy Spirit who is sent by the Father and the Son. Our joy is now in Christ Jesus who we are united to by faith. We know the Son, yet, only anticipate heaven.

I once read a nineteenth century story of a woman's supposed vision of heaven. Interestingly enough what I read was a vision of an idealized United States in the nineteenth century. In that particular heaven, on Sunday afternoons, great Reformation leaders such as Luther and Calvin came to a library and lectured.

Native Americans were still not quite Christianized so they lived apart and were sent heavenly missionaries. Young people wandered here and there embedding roses in the marble floors of mansions.

Even C.S. Lewis', description of the future with Aslan (Jesus), in his book, The Last Battle, seems less than satisfactory. But a great deal of what Lewis writes about our future with God, in his essay, "The Weight of Glory" is very satisfactory.

For instance looking at the verse "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," and equating it with Jesus' statement that no one can enter heaven except as a little child, Lewis writes how one of the beautiful traits of a good child, or a dog or horse, is their love of praise. He goes on to write:

"And that is enough to raise our thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex forever will also drown her pride deeper than Prospero's book. ... In the end that Face which is the delight or the terror of the universe must be turned upon each of us either with one expression or with the other, either conferring glory inexpressible or inflicting shame that can never be cured or disguised."

But in my last post, Literature, Damnation and the Final Death, I wrote of Walter Wangerin, Jr, and his book Mourning into Dancing. I quoted Wangerin's picture of what he called Death Absolute, or the fourth death, the final death. He then wrote of the resurrection for those who belong to Jesus. I will end with his picture of our death and resurrection. It is long but beautiful:

"But I shall not perish! I, like the prodigal, will rather be coming home again!

No, this is not a wishful denial of the reality nor some incompleteness of the third death. My body will die. Every single relationship in which I now experience life--every relationship!-- will break. I will at once lose my place in the created world and friends and family and breathing, my reason, my senses and all my strength, yea, and my self--until the darkness is complete, until I am, from earthly perspectives, a nothing in a nowhere. I will die.

But I will not perish!

I shall not be lost utterly. I carry to the grave this promise: that 'God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish--' Perish: now what Greek word do you suppose is used there? Right, me apoletai, the familiar 'loss' in its extremity, apollumi. 'Should not perish' says the promise, 'but have eternal life.'

How can this be? If death is my impotence to maintain any sort of relationship, and if life is lived in relationship, how could I ever live again?

Because the God who created once is Creator still. Because God established a new sort of relationship by his Son--a new covenant in which God does it all, and we allow the doing. Its a one-sided relationship, wherein the impotent one, the monstrously incapacitated one, receives the benefit--as when a weak child falls, but the father holds her hand and lifts her up again. The lifting is pure gift. The new covenant is Grace.

This relationship can endure even when I am helpless. Especially then. This relationship endures though I am nothing in a nowhere--because I remain a something in the heart of God! This relationship endures in spite of the flat reality of the grave and my own dissolution, my crumbling into dust, because my side of the covenant is not fulfilled by my flesh and blood but by Christ's--who continues to live, yes, even while they bury me and the worms translate my subtle brains to soil.

'My sheep,' says Jesus, 'hear my voice, and I know them, and they shall never perish [me apolontai!] and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.'

I will die. All my resources will exhaust themselves. In myself and on my own, I will not be.

But the Shepherd remembers my name.

The Shepherd will whisper, 'Walter'--and though I have no ears to hear, yet the whispering Lord will give me hearing.

The Savior will cry across the divisions: Walter Wangerin, Junior!'-- and though I have no tongue at all, the calling will give me voice. The Word of God has always contained my own capacity to answer it.

Walter Wangerin, come forth!'

And straightway I will rise up, laughing and loving and leaping, alive: 'Here I am! For you have called me!'

Alive again, eternally."