Monday, June 4, 2012

Afraid to say 'heresy'

A book I just finished reading, Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s Germany has some comforting lines that are often repeated in one form or another.[1] In differentiating between the German Christians and the Confessing Church the author, Kyle Jantzen, for instance states, “The Emergency League [forerunner of the Confessing Church] bound together Protestant ministers who vowed that they would base their teaching solely on the Bible and Reformation Confessions.” (my italics) 

This emphasis on the Bible and Reformation teaching is the dividing line. And that is why I am so troubled by the constant heretical content of the teaching of leaders and pastors in the Presbyterian Church (PC (U.S.A.).
Picture by Penny Juncker

In just a few months time various Presbyterian leaders and teaching elders have offered heretical teaching about the person of Christ. Most of their teaching involves ideas about pluralism and revelation. That is, Jesus is only one of several revelations and he is not the unique Savior of humanity.

In the last century, in Germany, church doctrine was disparaged for the sake of nationalism. Biblical revelation was either placed along side national revelation or totally discarded. Jesus and the Church were made to serve false religion. But it isn’t always nationalism or racism which demeans and attempts to overpower biblical faith—through the centuries various cultural interests have nearly overcome the Church. Both biblical standards and biblical doctrines have come under attack for various reasons. But at the root of all reasons, human egotism is a basic factor.

The German Christians, those who gloried in German nationalism and Hitler, intensified a push for church unity. Their reason; they wanted to unify the churches in Germany as a way of undergirding National Socialism. And at that time National Socialism was a means of reinforcing German egotism.

Some Christians in Germany, who were unaware of the issues of the church struggle, and who were patriotic, believed such unity was biblical. It was about Christian fellowship and love-or so they thought. But a German Christian rally at the Berlin Sports Palace Stadium in 1933 changed that understanding. Even Hitler was unhappy because the speech given that day starkly clarified the difference between orthodox Christianity and the heterodoxy of the German Christians.

The speaker at the stadium, Reinhold Krause, a German Christian, standing before an audience of 20, 000 denounced the Old Testament and the apostle Paul. A pulpit declaration, written by Confessing Church members, put it this way, “'men who call themselves Christians’ repudiated the divine revelation of parts of the Holy Scripture and advocated the setting aside the ‘offense of the cross.'”[2] The German Christians were adverse to any idea of atonement, or redemption on a cross. Jesus was remade into a non-Jewish Aryan hero, one whose cross held no importance.

The Church struggle went on, even at times intensified, throughout the Nazi years but German Christianity was never as popular after the rally. Reinhold Krause lost his job. When pastors and even the laity began to understand what it was the German Christians denied they left the organization. A pastor who had been a member of the German Christians wrote to his parish superintendent after the Sports Stadium rally:
Pastor Gotthelf Müller of Heidenau notified Zweynert that he was so offended by the German Christian Sport Palace assembly in Berlin that he had withdrawn from the movement. After a fruitless discussion with Saxon bishop Coch [a German Christian] Müller had promptly joined the Pastor’s Emergency League [an organization formed by Martin Niemoller]. [3]
Jantzen, records the same church district superintendent’s words in a letter when he had read that the name Church of the Atonement was banned by the German Christian leadership, “This decree has shaken me and filled me with great concern. If the Church of the Atonement is no longer suited to the times, will Redeemer Church and Church of the Cross suffer the same fate, which logic would say they must suffer? Can anyone still answer for that in good conscience?”

Another word, ‘heresy’ was banned by the German Christians who didn’t care for church doctrines:
In February, 1934, Christian Kinder, at the time German Christian Reich leader, explained at a rally in Berlin. That “quarrels about dogmas and forms of the Confessions of faith” only frightened people away from the church. The following year, Minister of Church Affairs Kerrl tried to legislate anti-doctrinal Christianity: in an attempt to impose peace in the church struggle, he banned the use of the word heresy (Irrlehre) for two years.[4]
As, Doris L. Bergen, the author of Twisted Cross, points out “Opposition to church doctrine facilitated German Christian efforts to synthesize Nazi ideology and Christianity because it implied denial of the sanctity of biblical texts.”[5] But as I have pointed out above there was opposition and this is the correct reaction to heresy. Denounce, continue to uphold the truth, and in some cases move to more solid ground.

Today, Christology, the atonement and all other Christian doctrines are under attack—but this time for the sake of antinomianism. The old desire to do as one pleases; the insistence on worldly rights within the confines of what is meant to be holy is our particular church struggle. What surprises today is the few who are shocked and turn away from organizations and people who spout such heresy.

The Church Superintendent I have written about above, belonged to neither the German Christians nor the Confessing Church, and yet he worked to keep the German Christians out of offices and pastorates. He set up a fellowship for pastors and would neither invite nor allow German Christians to join. He was troubled by their disregard for the essential truths of Scripture. Yet, who today, in the PC (U.S.A.) cares?

There is a general call for unity, in fact, another great push for unity, not to bolster nationalism but to legitimize diverse opinions about Christology, atonement-the nature of God, biblical authority and sexuality.

Those living in 1933 during the time when Hitler took power, were wise enough to say heresy when a movement started suggesting that parts of Scripture are not inspired or that the cross is a poor symbol of God’s purposes. Pastors took a chance and had their pay cut, or were dismissed and even went to prison for reading statements from the pulpit about the German Christian’s heretical speeches. So, simply a question, why are we afraid in this age of freedom to say, with conviction, it is heresy?

[1] I have used this book before in some of my postings, but for the first time I made a point of taking time to read it straight through. It is an excellent book.
[2]Kyle Jantzen, Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s Germany, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2008) 149.See also Doris L. Bergen, Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich.

[3]Ibid, 140.
[4]Doris L. Bergen, Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press 1996) 146-47.


Sherry L. Kirton said...

this is a third attempt to post: Opera for iPhone couldn't handle the form.

When is enough, enough? At what point do we stand and remove ourselves from the oppressive leadership's constant attacks on Reformed Theology, or as RC Sproul calls it, Biblical Theology?

Our Wee Kirk is doing well: worshipping in unity, training in Truth and for righteousness, serving in various ways, and fellowshipping, but we are concerned as we see the lack of love and help given to our brethren who have discerned that it was time for them to leave. We pray for ourselves, our leaders and the salvation of others, but wonder how long we can stay? Heresy is a reality within our demonination's leadership. We continue to pray for the Spirit of all Truth to have sway over us all, in Jesus' name. This is the true reason for our fellowship in the denominiation. If we cannot agree that salvation is solely of the Lord, that the cross paid for it, that Jesus is the reason for our life here and after death, then how can we have fellowship within the denomination? How can the light have fellowship with the darkness?

Saddened, but always filled with the hope that comes from the power of the cross,
Sherry Kirton, Peace Pres., Elk Grove, CA

Viola Larson said...

I'm very thankful your Wee Kirk is doing well. I pray for you often.