Saturday, September 3, 2011

Karl Barth: the Church's Struggle in 1933, Theology for Today's Struggle 1-a reposting

I will be gone for over a week and wondered what I could post for reading. Sometimes, on my feed, I see someone reading an article and go back and read it myself. This time it was a series I did in 2007 entitled “Karl Barth: The Church’s struggle in 1933, Theology for Today's Struggle.” I believe it is relevant for the time, so I am reposting the first one with the other posts listed beneath.

Karl Barth: the Church's Struggle in 1933, Theology for Today's Struggle 1.

In the year 2001, September 10th, I placed an article on my web site which was posted on Presbyweb the next day. I, of course, remember because of the awful events of that day. The article, “What Gate of Hell Stands Just Ahead?,” contained this paragraph along with a quote by Dr. Hermann Hesse, taken from the book, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, by Arthur C. Cochrane.

“Theologian, Arthur C. Cochrane, writes of an interesting train ride taken by Karl Barth and Dr. Hermann Hesse. Dr. Hesse, who became a member of the Confessing Church Movement, was one of three in a committee writing a constitution for the German Evangelical Church, an attempt at a church union during the years of Hitler. Dr. Hesse and the two other theologians invited Ludwig Muller, an advocate, for the German Christians, the heretical movement of the day, to be a part of the group. They were attempting to protect the church by compromise. In the midst of all the politics and troubles Muller and the German Christians were creating, Hesse called on Barth. Hesse states:

‘In my utter helplessness I telephoned Karl Barth and asked him to go with me to Berlin. It was July 3, 1933. We met in the train at Hamm. [This may refer to Hamburg] Barth put into my hand a pamphlet and said: `Read that!' … It was entitled Theological Existence Today. I read and read while the professor paced up and down the train. It was an attack upon us three men, upon the `German Christians,' and the Young Reformation Movement. All of us were accused because of our natural theology. As I read, the scales fell from my eyes. Here lay my mistake since my early days under Schlatter! Besides Holy Scripture, another side of revelation had been authoritative for me, namely, nature. When I had finished reading, I was deeply moved. I could only give the professor my hand and say: 'You are right! I am grateful to you for everything!' Then began for me through God's great grace a whole new era.'”

For many years I have been interested in the history of the Confessing Church. Consequently I became so intrigued with what Barth had written and Hesse had read that I went searching for the pamphlet Theological Existence Today. I have not found it newly published, but I found it used, twice, in five years, at It was written in 1933 in the midst of the German Church struggle, and the two copies I have were translated and published in the same year it was written, in order that the English population could know immediately some of what was happening in Germany.

Noting comments on other’s blogs and web sites, including introductions to movies such as "Theologians Under Hitler" 1 I believe there is a lot of confusion about that crisis, about the Confessing Churches and about the Theological Declaration of Barmen. I believe this is a good time for the Church to grapple with that particular time in history and look again at the Barmen Declaration.

In light of my feelings I am going to start placing large sections of Theological Existence Today on my blog with explanations before hand about why Barth was writing what he was writing. I will also be depending on Cochrane’s book The Church’s Confession Under Hitler for my explanations.

A series of events precipitated the writing of this small booklet, including, several Confessing Church pastors being removed from their church offices. Also “Dr. von Bodelschwingh, the provisional Reichs-Bishop was forced to retire." At the same time, "The Central Church Press Bureau in Berlin was put under ‘German Christian’ control.”

The comment I want to make for this section is about the German Christians. They were the ones who stood in opposition to the Confessing Church. They saw Hitler as God's revelation. It is important to understand who they were in order to understand how it was that the Church was in crisis, and how it was that many so called Christians supported Hitler. The German Christians were made up of those who were both nationalists in politics and liberal in theology.

It is erroneous to call them conservative. Conservative and nationalist are not corresponding terms, for instance the Amish are very conservative but they are not nationalists at all. And the German Christian’s nationalism was racist. But it was certainly bolstered by a liberal theology that insisted God was revealed in more than Jesus Christ. Liberal theology had been evolving for two hundred years. Now, supposedly, God was doing a new thing, and the Volk, (the people), and the events of their day were new revelations alongside of Jesus Christ.

First Barth makes an apologetic for those who are theologians in the Church. This includes teachers and preachers.

From Theological Existence Today:

“What theological existence presupposes
The one thing that must not happen to us who are theological professors, is our abandoning our job through becoming zealous for some cause we think to be good. Our existence as theologians is our life within the Church, and, of course, as appointed preachers and teachers within the Church.

There are some things about which there is unanimity within the Church. One is, that there is no more urgent demand in the whole world than that which the Word of God makes, viz. that the Word be preached and heard. At all costs this demand has to be discharged by the world and the Church itself, cost what it may. Another thing there is agreement about is, that the Word of God clears out of the way everything that might oppose, so that it will triumph over us and all other opponents, for that reason that it has triumphed already, once for all, over us and on our behalf, and over all its other opponents. For the Word, ‘was crucified, dead, buried, raised again the third day, sitteth at the right hand of the Father.’

Within the Church it is agreed that God ‘upholds all things by the Word of His power’ (Hebrews i.3): that He supplies answer to every question, that He allows all righteousness to experience all anxieties, that He sustains all that He has made, and leads it to its truest end, that no thing can subsist and flourish without His Word.2

Again, within the Church it is agreed that it is good for man to depend upon the Word of God, and that this is his only good in time and eternity, to rely upon it with all his heart, all his mind, soul and all his powers. Further, it is the unanimous opinion within the Church, that God is never for us in the world, that is to say, in our space and time, except in this His Word, and this Word for us has no other name and content but Jesus Christ, and that Jesus Christ is never to be found on our behalf save each day afresh in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. One is not in the Church at all if he is not of a mind with the Church in these things.

And, particularly as preachers and teachers of the Church, we are at one in fear but also in joy, that we are called to serve the Word of God within the Church and in the world by our preaching and our teaching. We agree, too, that with the fulfillment of our calling we not only see ourselves stand or fall, but we see everything that is important to us in this world, however, precious or great it be, standing or falling. So that to us no concern can be more pressing, no hope more moving than the concern and hope of our ministry. No friend can be dearer than one who helps us in this ministry, no foe more hateful than he that wants to hinder us in this ministry.

We are agreed about this too, that alongside of this first business, as the meaning of our labour and our rest, our diligence and relaxation, our love and our scorn, we brook no second as a rival. But we regard every second or third thing that may and should incite us as included and taken up in this first concern, and condemned or blessed thereby. On these things we agree or we are not preachers and teachers of the Church. And this is what is meant by what we term our ‘theological existence,’ viz. that in the midst of our life in other aspects, as say, men, fathers and sons, as Germans, as citizens, thinkers, as having hearts ever in unrest, etc., the Word of God may be what it simply is, and only can be to us, and taxes our powers, particularly as preachers and teachers, to the full as the Word alone can and must do.” (11-14)

1. While I have not viewed this movie I have watched the trailer. According to the trailer the Confessing Church did not address the Aryan controversy in the Theological Declaration of Barmen because they wanted to make sure more people signed on to it. This of course shows a total lack of knowledge of the history of the church or its government. I do have the book of the same title which fails to understand the theology of Barth.

2.I am dividing some of Barth’s long paragraphs up so as to make the reading easier.

The additional postings on this subject:

Karl Barth: the Church's Struggle in 1933, Theology for Today's Struggle 2.

Karl Barth: the Church's Struggle in 1933, Theology for Today's Struggle 3.
Karl Barth: The Church's Struggle in 1933, Theology for Today 4
Karl Barth: The Church's Struggle in 1933, Theology for Today 5


Deborah Hollifield said...

What a blessing you are, and what a blessing it is to read something like this before preaching on Sunday morning - thank you so much.

Dan McMillan said...

Thank you, Viola, for resurfacing Barth and the struggle for the Word in 1933. The Word of God is first, and "brooks no rival". Can we preachers and teachers hear this, or do we simply nod and go our merry way "brooking all sorts of rivals" to the plain meaning of God's Word. Dan McMillan

Greg Scandlen said...

Thanks for reposting this. I expect today's progressives would resist any comparison to the German Christians because the Germans were supporting national socialism and our progressives abhor all of that.

But I think there is an easy test -- Are we trying to conform the church to the world, or trying to conform the world to God?

Clearly (to me, at least) both the German Christians and today's progressives believe the church should better reflect the current political environment, whatever that environment may be.

That (to me) is completely wrong and the polar opposite of what the church should be doing. It is the unique responsibility of the church to work on conforming the world to God. Why else have a church at all?

Greg Scandlen
Waynesboro, PA

Jodie said...

Address the current political environment perhaps, understand it on its own terms certainly, but reflect, no.

If we are to be imitators of Christ, there is yet a third option. We are to be mediators for the world before God. Bless the world and be a blessing to it.

It's our oldest most sacred calling.

Greg Scandlen said...

I don't think so, Jodie. Christ is the mediator before God, not us. Let us not try to do what only the Lord can do.

Jodie said...

Perhaps Greg,

But what does it mean then, to become a >>disciple<< of Jesus? Doesn't Jesus himself call us to become like him? To do as he does?


Viola Larson said...

I know this is going to sound strange-but please don't continue on debating with Jodie. He has been asked to not comment here.

This comment from another blog is one of the reasons:

"I've never made up my mind about Viola. Is she a frustrated propagandist for the right, or is she a self brainwashed dolt? Does she read much and understand little, or is she a card carrying cynical party member who is proactively looking for useful idiots to indoctrinate?

Maybe both?

Either way, her Nazi references diminishes the evil and true suffering of the Nazi victims and at the same time it is character defamation of the Church.

Either way it is conduct umbecoming of an elder in the Church. She really should be defroked.

(why don't I tell you how I really feel?...)"

He will start out friendly and then attack you. I just didn't get to him soon enough to delete.