"We have tolerated the teachings of Balak, of liberalism that praises the goodness and freedom of men and women while minimizing the honor of God and letting the seriousness of eternity fade away into a misty haze." (Pastor Paul Schneider first Confessing church martyr)
The next Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly is now looming before us in the summer of 2014. Remembering attempts by some in leadership at the last GA to move the denomination toward a vote of yes for same gender marriage with overt actions such as draping the liturgical dancers, communion table and cross in rainbow colors and inviting a gay man to be the main speaker on the day of voting gives one little hope for the future GA. And yet the cry for unity and warning against schism continues to be put forward by many who are participating in the discussions on same gender marriage. And unity is a call that all faithful Christians must embrace—but what kind of unity? What is its source?
In the recently published book, Preaching in Hitler's Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich, edited by Dean G. Stroud, one finds two sermons by Paul Schneider the first Confessing pastor to die in a concentration camp. In one of the sermons I found the paradox that too often hovers over the idea of Christian unity. One must sort through a maze of insistence that despite differences that involve heresy and gross immorality there must be unity. That is coupled with the knowledge by most who love Jesus and hold to the authority of his Scripture that they must be in unity. Schneider in his sermon, “Christ crossing the stormy lake and Jesus' Glory,” using the text of Luke 8:22-25 and Matthew 14:22-32, while focused on Jesus' care for his church reaches deeply into the paradox that too often strangles the postmodern church.
There is a detail about Schneider that feeds into his sermon. Schneider began ministry as a liberal but, somewhat like Bonhoeffer, after ministering to those living in poverty and noting their deep faith in Jesus Christ he laid aside his liberalism. Christ and Scripture became his reality and shaped his ministry.
Another important detail is about the immorality troubling the church during the Nazi era. Racism was the dominating theme, which mostly manifested itself as anti-Semitism. There was a sexual immorality also which encouraged German women to have sexual relationships, with or without marriage, with German men in order to bolster the supposed Aryan population. This was coupled with an effort to get rid of those people considered “unworthy of life,” such as the mentally ill or the disabled. But all of this immorality was bolstered by a paganism that insisted on a different revelation than that given by God in Jesus Christ and the written word. The German Christians were implicit in the idea of two revelations; one concerning Jesus Christ and one that saw Hitler and national socialism as a revelation given by God.
The bitter fight, the church struggle, was over the two revelations. The church that upheld a revelation of nature, blood and soil, would also uphold all of the other immoralities. Any church organization or denomination that upholds a new revelation other than that which has been given by God through Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture will in the end, using their heresy, uphold various kinds of immorality. In mainline church culture today, among those who proclaim new revelation, the immoralities include advocacy for the killing of unborn babies (those unworthy of life?), greed and advocacy for sexual immorality. In some cases anti-Semitism has also raised its ugly head.
In that place where the German Christians were calling for unity in the nation and the church, Schneider stated:
“Insofar as they place “blood and race” alongside of the Word of God as authentic sources of revelation, alongside the will of God revealed alone in the words of Scripture, alongside Jesus as the only mediator between God and men, they, in truth, fall away from the living God and his living Christ. In our church a blazing fire has broken out over these matters, and there can be no peace until those who have betrayed the pure teaching and those wolves who have come into the sheepfold in sheep's clothing have vacated their bishop's chairs and their seats as our representatives—or at least until the Confessing Christians have abandoned this falsified church of Christ.
Schneider, in his sermon gives a reason for the imploding German Church. Because of his background he was very aware of the problems with liberal theology in Germany. And he blames the whole church, as did Bonhoeffer, for what happened:
“All of this has not come upon us out of nowhere, nor has it come upon us overnight and without our own guilt. Disorder and lack of church discipline have been widespread now for a long time in the Evangelical Church. There is no longer a fence between saints and pagans who adamantly want nothing whatever to do with God's word and who want to hear nothing at all of God. We have tolerated the teachings of Balak, of liberalism that praises the goodness and freedom of men and women while minimizing the honor of God and letting the seriousness of eternity fade away into a misty haze. We do not despise enough the deeds of the Nicolaitans of which the letters to the churches of Revelation warn us, these who mock morality, these who are mean and tight fisted, these who scorn Sundays and who go to Holy Communion as obvious sinners who refuse to repent. ..”Schneider then goes on to encourage the church with the care of the Lord. He uses the text of Jesus in the boat asleep and speaks of how Jesus calms the storm. (I have written about that part of the sermon before I had access to the whole sermon in, “The little ship of Christ’s church is sailing in a storm.” Lessons from the book, Paul Schneider: Witness of Buchenwald.”) But as I stated above, Schneider ends with a sweet call to unity. It is nestled in the church's relationship to her Lord.
“That is our great hope and joy [that the Lord 'guides the little boat of his church, the little boat of your Christian life.']. Shouldn't we squeeze closer together in the boat of Christ's church, even closer than we are right now in these pews in a unity of faith of our hearts? … 'Oh Jesus hear our pleas, turn to dust the hordes of the foe, let the world behold it—with us is indeed our God. Guide your children always toward the safe harbor, and let your people in unity rejoice in eternal peace!' Amen”