Many orthodox Christians, in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in conversation with one another, find themselves often referring to the Confessing Church of Germany. The analogy, while not complete, is nonetheless helpful.
German Christians took their theological and political position by reinterpreting scripture, insisting some scripture was less than the word of God and claiming new revelation. They promoted nationalism, anti-Semitism and a Christianity that fit their cultural milieu. The Progressives of today have on the whole reinterpreted scripture, they insist that some scripture texts are not useful or relevant and they often refer to the new thing that God is doing or to God’s on going revelation. With this ‘new revelation’ they are aligning the denomination with the decadent morals of western culture. Using Kyle Jantzen’s book Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s Germany I want to show how the analogy is possible and then at the end offer some lessons the orthodox might draw from Janzen’s history.
Kyle Jantzen in his book looks at three local parishes in Nazi Germany. He reveals the battles that were fought between local members of the Confessing Church and German Christians. As someone has pointed out it was messy. The Confessing Churches in many cases were churches within churches. Confessing pastors and members often fought very personal battles, some with their parishioners standing behind them, some with moderate leadership protecting them. And discernment often failed.
One very radical German Christian pastor was accepted in a parish because his candidacy sermon seemed biblical and he used the Apostles Creed and the trinitarian version of the invocation. The author writes, “It soon came to light that Pastor Gille was in fact from the extreme racial wing of the German Christians. He had in the past regularly deviated from the Apostle’s Creed because he did not fully subscribe to it and generally conducted syncretistic German Christian religious celebrations rather than the prescribed services of the Old Prussian Union Church.” The protest from parishioners reveals the heretical views of the German Christians.
In the petitions against the German Christian pastor many of the complaints were about his lack of orthodoxy. Jantzen writes, “One accused Gille of neglecting to preach about Jesus Christ, of belittling God by conflating divine and human faithfulness, and of emphasizing human obedience as the way to God rather than Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection.” On the other hand those pastors who were faithful to biblical and confessional standards continually spoke the truth, refused to cooperate with higher church bodies and worked to protect their parishioners.
One particular Pastor, Herbert Posth of Berge, refused to send money to higher church organizations, refused to handover his parish responsibilities to German Christian leadership and fought continuously to keep German Christian pastors out of other confessing churches. Posth used his vow of ordination including the upholding of biblical and confessional truth as his foundational reason for his faith stand. Other Confessing pastors ministering at the local level struggled in the same way. All of them in the end, as the struggle continued, insisted that it was the German Christians who had become the false Church and that they themselves were the true church which upheld the Bible and the Confessions.
Some local pastors and leaders were never members of the Confessing Church but because of their orthodoxy protected those pastors who were a part of the Confessing Church. Such non-Confessing pastors detested the German Christians because of their heretical views and because of their aggressive political manipulative activism. Jantzen writes of one such pastor and leader, Ulrich Bettac.
Bettac, as Jantzen points out, used three means of stopping the aggressive takeover of his district. The author writes: “by advancing pastoral candidates who would support the Confessing Church in their parishes, by transforming the divisive monthly pastoral conferences into informal ‘brotherly get-togethers’ which drew in neutral and Confessing Church clergy, and by opposing German Clergy in interpersonal conflicts among pastors in the Nauen district.” There are some important points here.
Bettac intentionally stayed with the Prussian Church government rather then join the Confessing Church which rejected the church government. However, Bettac referred to the ‘brotherly get-togethers’ as confessional church convents. He only invited those who were neutral or confessing church pastors, that is those who actually rejected his leadership. And he chastised confessing church pastors because they did not nominate their members to the synod which would have prevented the German Christians from taking over the synod. On the other hand, without the Confessing Church, there would have been no formal protest against the German Christians.
In all of the above I believe there are lessons:
• The Confessing Church in Germany lived in messy times-so do we and that is not unusual-read some Reformation history.
• The local Confessing Church pastors and elders stood on their ordination vows, the Bible and the Confessions. That was their foundation. Sometimes they lost their churches and/or went to jail, sometimes they won.
• Those pastors who had parishioners in agreement with them were helped by them. Your church cannot help you if they don’t know what is going on. Neither will they know how to help if they have not been taught the essentials of the faith. Teach the Bible and the Confessions.
• Not giving money to higher denominational bodies which advocate for heretical views was and is important. Where your heart is there will your treasure be.
• Discernment. Discernment. Discernment. Ask questions.
• Do not speak against those you know to be theologically orthodox just because they stay in full fellowship in the PCUSA. You do not know where God is calling them or how he will use them.
• Do not speak against those you know to be theologically orthodox, who join, if possible, theological synods or presbyteries. You do not know where God is calling them or how he will use them.
• Do not speak against those who you know to be theologically orthodox who leave the PCUSA. You do not know where God is calling them or how he will use them.
• The Confessing Church had a particular confession which confessed Christ in the midst of claims of new revelation. In the midst of new claims to new revelation we also need a new confession; we need to once again confess Christ.
• Rest in the Lord Jesus Christ.