Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Karl Barth to the Church in Crisis

Some interesting reading from Eberhard Busch's book on Karl Barth which describes Barth's activities and approach to church and state in those fateful days of pre-WWII Germany:

"Barth sent [a] sermon immediately to Adolf Hitler with a letter saying that he should learn what the Christian church is really about. . . ."

On October 31, 1933, in Berlin Barth challenged the German Church at a public gathering of 150 pastors with the following tirade of questions:

"'What has happened this summer in Germany? Did it happen justly or unjustly? What about this kind of seizure of power? What abotu the liquidation of all other parties? What about the confiscation of property? What took place in the concentration camps? What happened to the Jews? Can Germany, can the German Church, accept responsibility for so many suicides? Has the Church not also become guilty in all this by remaining silent? Whoever proclaims the Word of God has to speak what the Word of God says about such actions.'

Barth was immediately expelled from Germany for these statements. . . .

During the 1930s, it became obvious how easily a church so proud of herself could be led astray. Barth tried to bring clarity by using the phrase 'The Church must be the Church.' She may neither be a hidden monastery nor a department store.

And he worked hard to get this point across. He did so out of the conviction that the church herself is her own greatest threat and that she must resist this threat above all others.

He regarded Dietrich Bonhoeffer's idea of leaving the church because of the infiltration of Nazi ideology as an unhelpful escape from this task. He insisted that you, the followers of this ideology, have left the church.

Part of the significance of the Barmen Declaration was that it called those in error back to the church. Therefore, he called those resisting this error the Confessing Church. . . .

For Barth the church is in order when Christ alone is at her center and when her members are no more and no less than brothers and sisters."


Dale said...

Thanks Jon. Sometimes when I see old photographs of altars in German churches draped with swastika flags I wonder: what capitulation to idolatrous imperialism will history convict the church of our own era of? And I wonder: will I have the ears to hear it when the Barths and Bonhoeffers of this age call us to confessional purity?

Anonymous said...

I had this paragraph typed in from an unposted blog entry:

[In the church] Jesus Christ rules alone, and any ruling of man can only represent this government of His. It must let itself be measured by that government. But Jesus Christ rules in His Word by the Holy Spirit. Church government is thus identical with Holy Scripture for it witnesses to Him. So the Church must continually be occupied with the exposition and application of Scripture. Where the Bible becomes a dead book with a cross on the cover and gilt edging, the Church rule of Jesus Christ is slumbering. There the Church is no longer the one holy universal Church, but the threat is threat of the breaking in of what is unholy and separatist. Of course even this 'Church' will call on the name of Jesus Christ. But it is not words but reality which matters; and such a Church will not be in a position to bring reality into action. (Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, 146. Emphasis mine)

I love the line: "Church government is identical with Holy Scripture for it witnesses to [Christ]." When the German confessing Church really and actually confessed Christ, it brought reality into action...

jon said...

THanks guys. Still processing that Barth quotation. I love the line:

"Where the Bible becomes a dead book with a cross on the cover and gilt edging, the Church rule of Jesus Christ is slumbering."