Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Church within a Church: manipulation versus peace and unity 5

How do members of a Church, who are trying to bear a faithful witness to Jesus Christ, react when higher authorities use their positions to manipulate the situation in the Church? Does this scatter the sheep or draw them together? Is the Confession torn apart or lifted up by faithful witnesses?

In my last posting,
The Church within a Church: The Church's message and form 4, I wrote about the “The Declaration Concerning the Right Understanding of the Reformation Confessions of Faith in the German Evangelical Church of the Present,” a statement written by Karl Barth and confirmed by most of the Free Synods. In this posting I am writing about “The Ulm Declaration” written in 1934.

This declaration was the Confessing Church’s answer to the hierarchical manipulation of the Churches in Germany. In this case it was the attempt by the German Christians to bring the “southern provincial churches of Baveria and Württemberg” into the Reich Church which was under the control of the German Christians. The attempt was manipulative, dishonest and included an attempt to remove a Pastor from his Church.

Dr. August Jäger, the “Legal Administrator” stepped into a conflict between the German Christians in “the Standing Committee of the Church Council” and the Bishop of the Württenburg Church, Theophil Wurm. He attempted to use the conflict as a way of influencing the Church to dispose of their Pastor. The attempt included a radio broadcast which lied about the Pastor and his Church.

This drew the churches of Baveria and Württemberg into the Free Synod movement. Arthur Cochrane writes of the Ulm Conference, “It was the most representative gathering of ‘Confessionals’ that had been held, bringing together delegates from Bavarian and Württenburg Churches, the Free Synods in the Rhineland, Westphalia, and Brandenburg, as well as many ‘confessing’ congregations throughout Germany.”

The Ulm Declaration is the beginning of the Confessing Church’s insistence that they represented the true Church within the Evangelical Church of Germany. At the same time they understand that the German Christian’s call for peace and unity in the Church was totally political and had broken the peace of the Church.

So, one important action of this particular declaration was to tell the truth. The German Christians’ call for peace and unity was deceptive. The authors of the declaration wrote:

“It is not possible to preach peace and then immediately do violence to a Church that is bound to a Confession of Faith such as the Württenburg Church.”

The next action was to call for a true unity connected to the Church’s faithfulness to the Confessions. The authors wrote:

“Because of a constant endangering of the Church and its Confession and also in the interest of the truth, we exhibit, before Christendom and all who are willing to hear, a unity in which we intend, with the help of God’s strength, to remain faithful to the Confession, even though we have to expect that in doing so we will incur much trouble.”

After this the authors of the declaration confront some of the errors perpetrated against Bishop Wurm, and finally they give a call to faithfulness and offer a prayer, parts of which could be prayed by many in the PCUSA today.

“As a fellowship of determined fighters obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ, we pray Almighty God to open the eyes of all Christians to the danger that threatens our beloved Church. May he not let us waver in remaining faithful to his honor and in his service.”

1 This is just a small part of the incident for more information read, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler by Arthur C. Cochrane 137-139.

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