Wednesday, January 4

The Confessing Church

When the brash socialist agitator, Adolf Hitler first came to power as the Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he was welcomed by most church members and leaders from around the nation.  One prominent pastor and theologian leader even said that 1933 and Hitler's rise was a gift of mercy from God's hand.  To be sure, Hitler used the rhetoric of a Christian restoration of law and order, morality, and traditional values.

Since the defeat of the nation in the First World War and the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty, the German Weimar republic had allowed an extreme modernist culture to flourish, and many Christian leaders believed Hitler would bring a spiritual renewal to the German people.  They hoped that at last a German national church might be established, and in May, 1933, a constitution for a unified national church was produced by the new Nazi administration.  But then, in July, two restrictions were placed by the government on the clergy: that they be politically subservient to the Nazis and that they accept the superiority of the Aryan race.

A small group of church leaders in Germany began to resist such ideas and oppose the restrictions.  They believed the church should have full freedom to serve God apart from political influence, and they began to organize formal opposition to the new national church.  Prominent theologians like Karl Barth, Martin Niemoeller, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were among the leaders of this new opposition.

On this day in 1934, they met in Barmen and accepted Barth's Declaration on the Correct Understanding of the Reformation Confessions in the German Evangelical Church.  By April the opposition had officially formed the Confessing Church as the underground Protestant church of Germany.  At the first Synod of the Confessing Church, held openly at Barmen several months later, another Declaration was written which ultimately became the confession of the church.  The Declaration stressed that unity, "can come only from the word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit."  It added that in order to serve God properly, the church must be totally free from political influence.  It resisted the Nazi contention that God was giving a new revelation through the history of the German nation.  The Confessing Church maintained there was no revelation in addition to that of Jesus Christ and the Word of God.

Alas, each of the men who lead this confessing opposition to the Nazi’s paid dearly for their commitment; most died in prisons or suffered long and bitter confinements alongside the Jews and Gypsies in the concentration camps.  Nevertheless, they kept alive the independent proclamation of the Gospel during the difficult days of the Nazi terror.

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