A New Barmen Declaration for American Evangelicals?
Yes–But With Careful Qualifications
by Pastor Mark Dankof
I was in an arts and crafts store in suburban Philadelphia recently, wandering through the section devoted to wooden icons conducive to visual enhancement and improvement at the hands of skillful craftsmen with the proper paints and brushes, carving tools, and creative conceptions.
There were many Christian crosses and crucifixes to be seen by browsing customers, none more prominently displayed than one which sported Old Glory with the words United We Stand transposed on the cross’s center where vertical and horizontal lines intersected. The symbols of red-white-and-blue post-911 American nationalism stood out as a starkly blasphemous substitution for any Christological reference or context. The blasphemous character of the blatant hijacking of a symbol of remembrance of the Crucified Christ in the interest of paying overt homage to Caesar, was then magnified exponentially by the complete indifference and obliviousness of the store’s comatose denizens to the implications of the message conveyed. Perhaps their hearts and minds were preoccupied with images from MTV and ESPN–or maybe Fox News.
As for me, on the drive home that night, the image of Calvary’s enshroudment by Old Glory was one I could not erase from my mind. The presumptuous obscenity of it all was not simply rooted in the inversion of the Biblical relationship between Christ and Caesar, but in a declared state of collective amnesia over the events and changes in this alleged Republic in my own brief lifetime. My mental calculator could not stop the incessant tabulating–the Kennedy and King assassinations; Vietnam; Watergate; Roe versus Wade; the drug and sexual revolutions; Waco and Ruby Ridge; Constitutionally undeclared, preemptive foreign wars; 2 trillion dollar plus federal budgets; 550 billion dollar budget deficits; 7 trillion in national debt and counting; the destruction and outsourcing of the manufacturing sector of the American economy with the derivative multi-billion dollar trade deficits; the burgeoning drive to jettison the American Constitution in favor of World Government; the USA Patriot Act; and the cultural embrace of virtually anything which defies a theistic world view and the accompanying understanding of the revealed and natural law of God–notions which used to peripherally influence even the most secular Americans extant. It is the Weimar Republic of Germany–as Yogi Berra would put it–all over again.
And where is the American church in the midst of this spiritual and political morass? J. Gresham Machen, Kurt Marquart, Robert Preus, Carl F. H. Henry, and James Montgomery Boice were among those in the larger American evangelical world both Lutheran and Reformed, who noted the dismal declension of orthodox views of Scripture in the contemporary scene of the 20th and 21st century institutional church and its affiliated educational entities. The malignant decline in the study of Biblical languages; the jettisoning of reverence for the prophetic and apostolic Word of God; the evaporation of expository preaching and corresponding study of church history, systematic theology, and theistic apologetics among apostate clergy, would metastasize in quantum leaps and bounds–only to be accompanied by Federal tax laws and corporate-foundation sources of income designed to buy–or coerce–silence to the excesses of Caesar in tandem with the adherence to a Christ denuded of Biblical definition and Confessional witness. This would, of necessity, join with a fatal accommodation to an American culture no longer drifting away from the standards of the Confessing Church, but now in absolute antithesis to it. An Americanized version of the “German-Christian” movement has now emerged. The 501c3 boys have emerged victorious! Bring on Bush’s Federal subsidies to “faith-based ministries!” Provide Federal financing and tax subsidies to foundations and corporations who desire to financially empower the World and National Council of Churches! Concurrently subsidize theological chairs for seminary and state university faculties devoted to jettisoning the Apostolic Age for the New Age! Give an implied or expressed Establishment ecclesiastical imprimatur for more governmental subsidies for abortion, stem-cell research, and the fast-track slide to wholesale euthanasia and marital relationships which contradict revealed and natural law--along with the corporate witness of the Confessing Church for the last two thousand years. And follow the trail of the money in both directions to discover the source, genesis and endgame of the agenda of Babylon. The real agenda is as follows: The deity and supremacy of Christ and His Word may be denied with impunity when convenient. The deity of Caesar and State, however, must be affirmed and promulgated at all costs in the New American Empire, including the sworn allegiance of its newly repristinated German-Christian church and clergy to the same. But the witness of a newly formed Confessing Church and an Americanized version of the Barmen Declaration must emerge to oppose it, even unto death.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and martyr of the Confessing Church, critiqued the institutional German ecclesiastical context in November of 1932. His words apply equally seven decades later to the present American crisis which combines an epidemic of bad theology with sycophantic allegiance to the State and the chieftains of Corporate America:
No one who knows today’s church will want to complain that the church doesn’t do anything. No, the church does immeasurably much, and also with much sacrifice and seriousness; but we all do precisely too many second, third, and fourth works, and not the first works. And exactly because of this, the church is not doing what is crucial. We celebrate, we represent, we strive for influence, we start a Protestant movement, we do Protestant youth work, we perform charitable service and care, we make propaganda against godlessness–but do we do the first works which are the basis of absolutely everything? Do we love God and our brother with that first, passionate, burning love that risks everything–except God? Do we really allow God to be God? Do we leave ourselves and our church to Him completely? If that were the case, things would have to look different, there would surely be a breakthrough [Bonhoeffer’s sermon preached on Reformation Day, November 6, 1932 as quoted in Georg Huntemann’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer: An Evangelical Reassessment (Baker), p. 285].
Thus, for Bonhoeffer, Niemoller, Barth, and the other key players in what became the first synod of the Confessing Church at Barmen in the Ruhr, the final text of the Barmen Declaration of 1934 and its six (6) component articles was designed to reflect the Church’s first works. And the first works of the Church could not be seen in isolation from the necessity of the maintenance of Confession regarding the identity and Lordship of Jesus Christ; this in turn was linked to the Confession of clear lines of demarcation and delineation between Confessing Church and Caesar’s State as expressed by Barth in the clear words and prophetic warning of Article 5, designed as Barmen’s central contradiction of the Deutsche Christen (“German-Christians”) statement at the Braune Synod in Saxony in 1933 which posited a German State linking race, sociology, and political power to an ideology of neo-paganism and the idea of Herrenvolk :
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. See:
The Barmen Declaration saw the statism of the German-Christian movement in clear perspective in 1934. Its witness against neo-paganism and the Totalitarian State must be revived in an American Confessing Church movement in clear opposition to what orthodox Catholic columnist Joseph Sobran wryly observes as the clear trend of today’s purportedly Christian church in America to “. . .not only render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to render unto Caesar what is God’s and God’s alone.”
But this Confession, which also has implications for American Constitutional study as it relates to human nature, God, the separation of powers, and the specifically enumerated powers of the Federal government in Article I, Section 8, must strengthen the theological weaknesses of the faithful framers of the gathering of the Confessing Church in Barmen by the Ruhr. R. V. Schnucker is mistaken in stating that American evangelical criticisms of Karl Barth and his neo-orthodox colleagues in 1934 is “a meaningless debate” [See Schnucker’s article on Barth in Walter A. Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker), pp. 126-127]. Notions of universalism, a fallible Scripture which testifies to the Word but is not of itself the Word, and the modern German theological distinction between Historie and Geschichte in determining the relationship between faith and literal events in history involving specific points in linear time, are key elements in determining what comprises a Biblically founded faith and witness. The truly Confessing Church cannot exist without a clarity of witness on these critical issues. Carl F. H. Henry’s God, Revelation, and Authority will provide readers of Dave Black On Line with a voluminous and documented rationale for jettisoning the theology of Barth, Bonhoeffer, Emil Brunner, and others in the prayerful consideration of these pivotal ideas and debates under the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God. And kudos to our beloved Dr. and Pastor Dave Black of Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, for providing the leadership and scholarship necessary for jumpstarting the re-examination and evaluation of the importance of Barmen in these dark hours of American and Church history. Come, Lord Jesus, come.
(Pastor Mark Dankof is a free-lance journalist and member of the Constitution Party. On November 11, 1984, he took his ordination vow as a Lutheran pastor at age 29, pledging fidelity to the Holy Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Scriptures, and the Lutheran Confessions of the 16th century. Maintaining the web site Mark Dankof’s America at www.MarkDankof.com, he joins Pastor Dave Black of the Reformed tradition in a Confessional critique of the dark state of contemporary American Christendom and its surrounding cultural and political ethos. Hoping to one day complete a theological German exam and a dissertation for a post-graduate degree in systematic theology from a historical perspective, he also enjoys American and Middle Eastern history. His interview with 3rd Party Presidential candidate Michael Peroutka may be found on Dr. Black’s site as well as at www.Peroutka2004.com)
(Mark Dankof is a Lutheran pastor and free-lance journalist, occasionally contributing to Iran Dokht, Al Bawaba, Nile Media, CASCFEN, and other Internet news sites. Once a 3rd party candidate for the United States Senate in Delaware , he maintains the web-site Mark Dankofs America while pursuing post-graduate theological education at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.)
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