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The Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934

In 1933, German President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany.  Less than two months later, Hitler became the nation’s dictator. Many German Christians initially welcomed Hitler’s Nazi party to power as a "gift and miracle of God."  A "faith party" of so-called "German Christians" developed, based on the Nazi Aryan model, with the goal of reorganizing the Protestant regional churches into a single, national church under the control of a German national bishop.

Almost immediately, Hitler installed Ludwig Müller, a fervent Nazi, as chairman of the council of the Federation of the regional Protestant churches.  This led to Müller's election as national bishop in September of 1933 and the establishment by constitution of a single "Protestant Reich Church," in which the clergy was forced to accept the superiority of the Aryan race, expel Jewish Christians, and basically proclaim that Hitler was lord.

It was in opposition to these "Christians" that the Declaration of Barmen was addressed.  The opposition was led by Martin Niemöller, an anti-Nazi Lutheran pastor, who organized an Emergency League of Pastors in 1934, from which the Confessing Church was born.  This organization, which included ministers from Reformed, Lutheran and other churches, took its name from the fact that its members affirmed the historic confessions of the church.  The members also pledged to bind themselves to the doctrine of Christ as Lord, rejecting the heresy of Aryanism (superiority of the German race).

The leaders of the Confessing Church met on May 29-31, 1934 at Barmen.  The resulting Barmen Declaration was drafted by Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Lutheran theologian Hans Asmussen with input from other leaders, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Many of the leaders were later sent to Nazi training camps.  Niemöller was imprisoned in 1937, narrowly escaped execution, and was released in 1945.  Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging in Flossenbürgon 9 April 1945, just three weeks before the liberation of the city by Allied troops.

Even though the Barmen Declaration was written expressly to the so-called "German Christians", it is applicable to Christians throughout our history.  As our religious freedoms come under increasing attach within our own country and generation, we can affirm the declaration's assertion that the Word of God (Christ) alone is the source of all authority and truth, and any powers or ideologies conflicting with, or attempting to replace Him must be rejected.

Excerpt from the "Appeal to the Evangelical Congregations in Germany"

...Try the spirits whether they are of God!  Prove also the words of the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church to see whether they agree with Holy Scripture and with the Confessions of the Fathers.  If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us!  But if you find that we are taking our stand upon Scripture, then let no fear or temptation keep you from treading with us the path of faith and obedience to the Word of God, in order that God's people be of one mind upon earth and that we in faith experience what he himself has said: "I will never leave you, nor forsake you."  Therefore, "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

The Theological Declaration of Barmen 1934

Excerpt from Intro:  ...As members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation. We commend to God what this may mean for the interrelations of the Confessional Churches.

In view of the errors of the "German Christians" of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the Church and also therefore breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

Article 1:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.  (John 14:6)

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.... I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.  (John 10:1,9)

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.

Article 2:

Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.  (I Cor. 1:30)

As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so in the same way and with the same seriousness is he also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords--areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

Article 3:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined and knit together.  (Eph. 4:15, 16)

The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.

Article 4:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.  (Matt. 20:25, 26)

The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give to itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.

Article 5:

Fear God. Honor the emperor.  (I Peter 2:17)

Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State.

Article 6:

Look, I am with you always, to the close of the age.  (Matt. 28:20)

The word of God is not fettered.  (II Tim. 2:9)

The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.

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