Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Two different faiths in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)?

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is certainly divided despite calls for unity. Some of the division can be seen in a commentary that Carmen Fowler LaBerge of the Presbyterian Layman wrote and her detractors counter arguments. LaBerge's article, "Commentary on a Comment: People are going to hell while you're playing at Presbyterianism,” was supposedly answered by teaching elder, John Vest, with his article, “Playing at Presbyterianism,” and teaching elder Marci Glass' article “More Lines in the Sand.”

Evidently the troubling thought in LaBerge's article was this, “You cannot reach people with a love you have not experienced and you cannot invite people into a relationship with a God you do not really know.”

LaBerge suggests the problem with the divisions is not that there are two different focuses but two different faiths. Of course, both Vest and Glass resent the implications. But is this so, are there two different faiths operating under the name PC (U.S.A.)? I think the answer is yes and no. The division is not complete. But last night as I was reading a historical biography of pastor Paul Schneider, the first martyr of the Confessing Churches during the Nazi era, I couldn't help thinking of some of the similarities surrounding that question in Schneider's time.  

The early ideological bent of the German Christians was not apparent to many in the German church in the early years after 1933. Even Paul Schneider, at the very first, aligned himself with the movement. However many moderates within the German church movement clung to the hope that there could be unity in the German church if the political infighting would cease. For them compromises were possible. They believed that all sides in the 'church struggle,' as it was called, were orthodox in their faith. And then the famous Berlin Sports Palace rally of German Christians occurred. 20, 000 German Christians listened as Dr. Reinhold Krause spoke. [1]

Not only did Krause insist that the Old Testament should not be included in Christian scripture, he also wished to do away with some of the New Testament. Of Paul and various passages and doctrines of the New Testament, Krause stated:

It also will be necessary that our National Church proceed to remove all plainly distorted and superstitious passages from the New Testament and that a firm renunciation of the scapegoat doctrine and inferiority-complex teaching of the Rabbi Paul be announced, for Rabbi Paul distorted the happy and simple good news of “Love your neighbor as yourself:” Regard your neighbor as brother and God as your Father.[2]

This was a renunciation of original sin and the need for Jesus' redemptive death. Krause, defaming Paul and Barth in one breath, went on to proclaim what he and the more radical German Christians believed was the proper connection between God and humanity:

It is indeed correct that the entire development of dialectical theology, from Paul to Barth has made a cerebral game out of our God and Father. Theology has always sought to segregate God and man, to justify its existence by proving the curse of original sin and the role of the Church in redemption from the fall. We know of no segregation between God and man, if man by his own decision, does not segregate himself from God. The Savior demonstrated this truth to us in the parable of the lost son. We are fallen only when we depart from God, and if we have the will to say, “I will return to my Father,” then we are saved. Kant is correct; each person is responsible for himself. No one can release me from my sins.[3]
As for Jesus, he was simply a heroic example. “We must return to the heroic Jesus whose life serves as an example for us and whose death was the seal to that life, the conclusion of a life lived in heroic struggle in fulfilling the task assigned to him by his Father.” Krause goes on to warn the German Christians against “an exaggerated preaching of the crucified one” and suggests that they needed , not a leader in heaven, but one on the earth.

Earlier in his speech, Krause had suggested that Martin Luther followed Meister Eckhart in his mysticism and had freed himself from the bondage of monasticism by arriving at “a subjective inner experience of God,” and that he had achieved “union with the Deity which has been achieved by the Nordic seekers after God.”[4] 

Finally, many moderates in the German Christian movement understood that this was not Christianity and fled the movement. They did not all join the Confessing movement that was developing but they all kept a wary eye on the German Christians. And some who never became Confessing Church members used their positions to aid their brothers and sisters in the Confessing Church. [5]

Intertwined in all of the heresy was a dark racism, nationalism and a particularly vile and aggressive anti-Semitism. But it was the heresy that finally reached the hearts of some of the moderates. They finally understood that another faith was operating in their midst. So one can ask is that kind of heresy evident in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But lets point out the precise heresies first.  
  1. The rejection of some scripture; the loss of scriptural authority.
  2. The rejection of the doctrine of original sin.
  3. The rejection of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
  4. The pelagian heresy that one can accomplish one's own salvation.
  5. Unity with God is acquired by seeking for an experience rather than through Jesus Christ.
  6. The demoting of Jesus from redeemer to simply a heroic example.
  7. Although not predominate in this speech the German Christians also promoted a second and new revelation-supposedly given by the “Spirit”

Have any of these heresies been advocated in the PC (U.S.A.)? And I am not here asking if any of the confessions of the church teach any of these heresies; the three denominations which formed the protestant church in Germany during the time of Hitler also held Reformation confessions as well as the ecumenical confessions. Nonetheless, the German Christians existed and espoused doctrines which belonged to another faith. And for awhile they became the political leaders and theological leaders in the church. In fact many of the professors in the seminaries backed them and their theology, ideology and anti-Semitism.

We wait. Not nationalism, but a desire to be relevant to the culture under girds the heresy that is in the PC (U.S.A.). Not racism, but a disregard for the moral sensibilities of many of our various immigrant communities is connected to the heresy. Not anti-Semitism, and yet its odor drifts through some of the heresy. We wait and pray for salvation.

Picture by Penny Juncker

[1] Claude R. Foster, Jr., Paul Schneider: The Buchenwald Apostle, A Christian Martyr in Nazi Germany, A Sourcebook on the German Church Struggle, (West Chester, PA: SSI Bookstore, West Chester University 1995) 299.

[2]Ibid, 302.


[4]Ibid, 300.

[5] Kyle Jantzen, Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler's Germany, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 2008).


Chas Jay said...

Viola, thank you for posting this. My heart is so very broken about the lostness of so many that have eyes and do not see and ears but do not hear.
I have posted on Marci's blog and pointed out that Carmen wrote that "One of us is wrong. One of us is deluded. One of us is bearing false witness..." Marci has that complete quote yet she claims that Carmen wrote that her friend John Vest is wrong and deluded. Marci claims that Carmen wrote with such clarity that John is wrong and deluded, but Carmen did not. I tried to point out what is clear and the response from Marci wasn't one that would admit she wasn't being truthful but more digging in to attack Carmen.
I'm called self-loathing by her friends. I wonder if she sees how judgemental that is or that the title "More Light" is a declaration that they are the enlightened ones of truth and that you and I are the liars.
There can only be one Truth. Sadly, that is what they claim doesn't exist. It is either sinful behavior or it is not sinful behavior. It cannot be both.

Anonymous said...

There may be two faiths in the PCUSA, or better yet, two postures regarding our roles as disciples of Jesus, whether we stand with humanity and face God, or whether we stand with God and face humanity.

But other than futile attempt to score rhetorical points, there is no way the debate in the PCUSA can be compared to the events that led to the German catastrophe of World War II. The God-and-Country nationalistic zeal that seduced the German church is nowhere present in the liberal branch of the PCUSA. If anything it stands convicted of being anti-nationalistic. Nor is the xenophobia and scapegoating of minority ethnic groups and religions that expressed itself to its fullest horror under the Nationalist Socialist party. (very Orwellian how a right wing Fascist government stuck the word "socialist" in its title - the inspiration for "double speak". Hitler hated the Socialists more than he hated the Jews)

These juxtapositions you create serve only to trivialize the ghastly horror and suffering of World War 2. Such disproportionate rhetorical hyperbole, rather than supporting your point of view, takes away from it, by drawing one's attention to the rhetoric itself instead of the issues (very post modern though, where a person can be famous for being famous and an argument scores points by projecting unsubstantiated ideology onto reality)

There is nothing in common between the free thinking faith of the liberal branch of the PC(USA) and the German church that placed itself under Hitler's autocratic authoritarian control. Not a shred. As contemporaries they would have been mortal enemies.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Viola Larson said...

I don't want to have a long conversation with you but I am going to point out that both Marxism and Fascism are socialist ideologies. Neither of them have anything to do with capitalism. The Nazis were nationalist and mystical (nature) in their outlook kind of like a combination of the new age and anti-Semitism. But they were also nationalist.
The Marxists are internationalist and atheist but also socialist. Both movements grew out of the darker side of the romantic movement. Their roots are the same.
And yes Hitler did hate the Socialist.

Viola Larson said...

Chas Jay thanks for your comments I agree with all you have said. Carmen didn't really say quite what see has been accused of. Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...

Viola, I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family!

Thank you for such a thorough and well reasoned article. The connections you draw are well taken, IMO. Of course, there is no comparison between the political-social agendas of the "German Christians" and the religious progressives of our day. But the *theological* commonalities are truly striking.


John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

Thank you John you have made my point: )