Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The Church within a Church: The Church's message and form 4
The Confessing Church in Germany, during the time of Hitler, was in many ways a Church within a Church. This is because the denominational institutions of the day were gathered under an artificial structure lead by a political bishop. It is also because its ideology and theology were attached to the German government‘s ideology.
Only those who resisted the artificial structure and denied the prevailing ideology and theology existed as the body of Christ. They became a Church within a Church.
Sinful and often failing, yet hid in the righteousness of Christ, they, from our historical perspective, can be seen as the faithful body of Christ.
The ideology of the compromised German Church was racist and nationalistic, the theology was liberal, denying the unique Lordship of Christ and the revelation of God found only in the Holy Scripture. By merging the two positions the German Christian’s provided themselves a basis for revering Hitler while rejecting both the Hebrew Bible and its Jewish people.
In the last posting of my series the “Church within a Church,” I wrote about two confessional statements that were written by the Confessing movement before the Free Synods were called. In this posting I will write about one of two statements that were written during the time of the “synodical movement.” In my next posting I will write about the second one which also entails the manipulative actions of the German Christians toward their brothers and sisters in the Confessing Church.
All of the statements, before and during the time of the Free Synods, are concerned with the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the form or structure of his Church.
The very first Free Synod, held in Barmen, produced a declaration that was the closest of all the statements to the Barmen Declaration. Like the Barmen Declaration, its author was Karl Barth. It was “The Declaration Concerning the Right Understanding of the Reformation Confessions of Faith in the German Evangelical Church of the Present.”
The Declaration first addresses an error. The error:
"It consists in the opinion that beside God’s revelation, God’s grace, and God’s glory, a justifiable human arbitrariness also has to determine the message and form of the Church, that is to say the temporal way to eternal salvation.”
Here the Declaration uses both the picture of the medieval Pope and the “fanatics” that the Reformation Confessions rejected. This is about the structure of the Church and its unity which is found in its confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. In other words rather than a unity that is demanded by human institutions (the Pope)or human ideals (the Fanatics), unity would be found in the Church’s confession of Jesus Christ as her unique Lord.
Next the Declaration speaks of “The Church Under Holy Scripture.” After insisting that the Old and New Testament are a unity, the Old witnessing to “the coming of Jesus Christ,” the New to “Jesus Christ who has come,” the Declaration defines for the Church those events that count as God’s activity. That is, God’s activity is seen in his action in Jesus Christ “testified to by Holy Scripture,” rather than God’s activity seen in current events.
Under “The Message of the Church,” the Declaration speaks of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. It is a rejection of any kind of justification or sanctification accomplished by doing good works.
The last part of the Declaration is about the “Form of the Church.” Here once again is an insistence that the form of the Church flows out of its head which is Christ. The Church is “called, assembled and upheld, comforted and ruled, by the Lord himself through the ministry of proclamation.”
The Church’s message and form is “one and the same in different times, races, peoples, states, and cultures. The justification for differences in Churches in this or that place depends upon whether they are consistent with the unity of the Church’s message and form.”
This meant that the German Christians’ insistence that there be a German Church aligned with German culture and a rejection of the Hebrew Bible and its Jewish authors was not consistent with the Church’s message. This meant that the German Christian’s insistence on a human authority along side Jesus Christ was not consistent with the Church' form and was rejected.
Differences in Churches are justified when they are consistent with the Church’s message which is the gift of grace. As Barth puts it under “The Church’s Message":
“The gift of grace is our membership in Jesus Christ: in him we are justified by the miracle of faith which ever again excepts the forgiveness of sins, which has taken place in him. And in him we are sanctified by the miracle of obedience that ever submits itself to the judgment and direction of the commandment, which comes from him.”
All quotes taken from The Church's Confession Under Hitler, Arthur C. Cochrane.