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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

On the Uses (and Abuses) of Religion in the Public Square by Public Officials –

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I am not quite a Rawlsian when it comes to the use of religion in the public square. I tend to be a mixture of the Hauerwasian and the Habermasian in these things. 

So it piqued my interest when, three days after the NTC “killed” analog ABS-CBN, I read House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano ‘s statement crucifying Sol Gen Calida for his alleged “constitutional meddling” in a matter that belongs to the legislature’s “sphere sovereignty”, to use that very Protestant concept. 

I know Sol Gen Calida knows his Bible very well — not too long ago I read his published testimony about how the Lord Jesus Christ transformed his heart from his younger womanizing ways into a dedicated husband. 

I wonder what his reaction will be when he reads the long note from his fellow avid Bible reader, Speaker Cayetano, which starts with prophetic warning from the ancient Jewish prophet Jeremiah: “But you, LORD, know all their plots to kill me. Do not forgive their crimes or blot out their sins from your sight. Let them be overthrown before you; deal with them in the time of your anger.”(Jeremiah 18:23, NIV)

Any plain reading of the biblical text deployed here would give the impression that, per Speaker Cayetano, Sol Gen Calida :

1. Has been plotting to “kill” the Speaker (at the very least, figuratively);
2. It is sinful of Sol Gen Calida to do so;
3. Sol Gen Calida, a self-confessed born again Christian like Speaker Cayetano, is a sinner who does not deserve forgiveness;
4. God will overthrow Sol Gen Calida for his sins against Speaker Cayetano;
5. And God will do so in the time of God’s anger.

These are powerful statements, perhaps, as powerful as the one attributed to Pilate by the gospel writers –

‘When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”‘ (Matthew 27:24, NIV)

PS – apologies to my Reformed Protestant friends; like Speaker Cayetano, I use the NIV out of evangelical habits, though for deeper study, I tend to use my old red Oxford Revised Standard Bible (that standard liberal text!).

Written by Romel

May 8, 2020 at 4:02 am

When Filipino evangelical christians invoke Romans 13 like a magical incantation….

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For the German Calvinist jurist Johannes Althusius (1557-1638), the biblical call to obey divinely-ordained rulers presupposes, to begin with, that they are legitimate representatives of God. 

However, when they offend God and defy true religion, they cease to be God’s servants and become tyrannous. As tyrants, they lose their political offices and return to private life; they then become subject to the natural rights of self-defense. 

Althusius was the first thinker – Protestant or Catholic – to offer a systematic account of political and communal life (probably outside of Thomas Aquinas). 

This he made in his famous work Politica Methodice Digesta, Atque Exemplis Sacris et Profanis Illustrata (1610), which is often invoked as the political theoretical basis of federated states today as well as of the Protestant political principle of” sphere sovereignty.

Althusius, according to the American legal scholar John Witte in his 2007 book Reformation of Rights, is distinguished for his idea that tyranny is essentially a “constitutional violation.” 

By this, he means “a violation of the political covenant by which the polity itself was constituted, a violation of the constitutional duties of the rulers and the fundamental rights of the people as set out in this political covenant, and even more fundamentally a violation of the natural law and natural rights that undergird and empower all constitutions and covenants.” 

Witte explains further:

‘For Althusius, a tyrant was a magistrate who acted “illegally and unnaturally” (contra legem et naturam) in breach of the contractual and covenantal duties that he or she swore to God and to the people. Any “egregious,” “chronic,” “persistent,” “pervasive,” “willful,” “intentional,” and “widespread” breach of a ruler’s constitutional duties, abuse of his constitutional powers, neglect of his constitutional offices, usurpation of another’s constitutional office, or violation of the people’s constitutional rights and liberties was, for Althusius, a prima facie case of tyranny. ‘

Here, the jurist of Emden was merely following the logic of John Calvin’s commentary on Romans 13. Here, Calvin writes for instance that:



Magistrates may hence learn what their vocation is, for they are not to rule for their own interest, but for the public good; nor are they endued with unbridled power, but what is restricted to the wellbeing of their subjects; in short, they are responsible to God and to men in the exercise of their power. For as they are deputed by God and do his business, they must give an account to him: and then the ministration which God has committed to them has a regard to the subjects, they are therefore debtors also to them. And private men are reminded, that it is through the divine goodness that they are defended by the sword of princes against injuries done by the wicked (emphasis supplied).

Althusius, says Witte, also considered as prima facie tyrannical violations of due process the following, especially if done systematically

“false arrests, accusations, indictments, and sentences of innocent parties, false imprisonment or protracted pre-trial incarceration, torture, starvation, or enslavement of prisoners, use of anonymous indictments and untested evidence, denial of rights to defend oneself, to have counsel, to examine hostile witness, to introduce exculpatory evidence, or even to have one’s day in court following prescribed procedures, imposition of extraor- dinary tribunals or ex post facto laws, use of biased, bribed, or incompetent judges, imposition of unjust, inequitable, or widely variant punishments, failure to grant appeals of motions, judgments, or sentences, excessive fines, cruel punishments, and more.”

For Althusius, these systematic abuses require a systematic constitutional response.

Now dear Filipino Protestant evangelical christians, please apply that to our current political quandary.

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