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The Hagiography of the Barmen Declaration

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Here is George Harinck demolishing the hagiography around the Barmen Declaration, during a lecture at Fuller Seminary.

My notes of his lecture:

it was a theological statement , not a political tract. It was not a protest against National Socialism as such, but against German Protestant Christians who violated the classic Lutheran division of responsibilities between church and state (using Hitler, a nominal Catholic, to advance their ecclessiastical careers).

High-ranking Protestant churchmen (who were also leading Nazi party-members) who attended its Synodical drafting all endorsed it, because they did not see it as a threat to politics. Neither did Hitler, who didn’t want to meddle in church affairs as he did not really understand the Protestant church dynamics.

The backdrop to this is a German Protestant Church that resented the secularization embodied in the Weimar Republic and the ascendant Catholics who led its short-lived reign.

The Nazi ideology appealed to this longing for relevance in the German Protestant Church.

The Declaration was really Karl Barth’s singular ecclessiastical achievement, yet it was more than anything else, an attack on his old enemy — natural theology.

In other words, it was a jeremiad against the new intertwinement between church and culture that National Socialism creeping into the German Protestant church had represented.

Thus, the Barmen Declaration was an attempt to redefine the relationship between the German Protestant church and National Socialism, and not an all-out critique of Nazi ideology as such.

Moreover, it had nothing to say about Hitler’s anti-semitism, and while its six theses quoted from Scripture, none were from the Old Testament, that very Jewish Bible. It was only years later, with the benefit of hindsight, that Barth would frame it as a choice between Christianity and Nazism.

Against this, the Dutch neoCalvinists like Klaas Schilder criticized Barth’s earlier position, arguing that National Socialism was a societal and political evil that must be denounced and resisted. Membership in the Nazi party is demonic participation in a demonic organization. 

Also, Harinck missed Herman Dooyeweerd writing early on against the racism of the Nazi party in his essay, De grondwet van de nieuwe Duitsche evangelische kerk en de positie der Gereformeerden in de “Landskerken” in: Anti-Revolutionaire Staatkunde, maandelijks orgaan, jrg. 09 (1933), p. 433-446

“De kerk heeft reeds haar onaantastbare grenzen tegenover de staat uitgewist, zij heeft reeds een principiële inbreuk op haar wezenskarakter aanvaard, door zich, zij ’t al onder protest van een belangrijke minderheid, te binden aan de rassengrondslag van de nieuw Duitse staatsorde.
Zij heeft de bekende Ariërparagraaf uit de Duitse ambtenarenwet ook op de geestelijke ambtsdragers van toepassing verklaard en zich ook ten aanzien van de kerkelijke huwelijksbevestiging op het rassenstandpunt gesteld. De (nat.-soc.) Duitsche christenen dreven dit besluit door. […]
Maar de Christelijke kerk kan niet gedogen, dat zij aan een “rassen-theorie” wordt gebonden. Zij kan niet, zonder geestelijk zelfmoord te plegen, afwijken van de leer van het Evangelie, dat in Christus geen onderscheid kan zijn tussen Griek of Jood. […]
Welnu, dan volge de kerk ook niet de “rassenpolitiek” van de nieuwe staatsorde.”

(“The church has already erased its untouchable borders from the state, it has already accepted a fundamental violation of its essence by committing itself, albeit in protest of an important minority, to the racial basis of the new German state order. She has also declared the well-known Aryan paragraph from the German civil service law applicable to the spiritual office holders and has also taken the racial standpoint with regard to the ecclesiastical marriage affirmation. The (nat.-soc.) German Christians made this decision. […]
But the Christian church cannot tolerate being bound to a “racial theory.” Without committing spiritual suicide, it cannot deviate from the teaching of the Gospel, which in Christ cannot distinguish between Greek and Jew. […]
Well, then the church does not follow the “racial policy” of the new state order. “)

[My thanks to Jan der Nederlanden for pointing out these resources].

There’s much to learn from this in relation to current events.

Written by Romel

June 17, 2020 at 6:35 am

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