The spirit of the Barmen Declaration must live in our own time

Sunday, May 22, 2005

In 2004, Gabriel Fackre, Professor Emeritus of Christian Theology, Andover-Newton Theological Seminary, signed (and no doubt contributed to the writing of) a public letter celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Barmen Declaration in which the Confessing Church, at the risk of its members’ lives (viz Dietrich Bonhoeffer), spoke its unambiguous “No!” to the “German Christians” who were fully collaborating with the Third Reich. The letter explores the implications of the Declaration for our own time in America. It was placed [as] a Religious News Service story, and can also be found on the Confessing Christ website. The following excerpts from Gabriel Fackre’s Theology and Culture Newsletter No. 44 communicate the essence of the public statement. His website is

An Open Letter to Pastors and Teachers, May 31, 2004

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to weep, and a time to laugh;… a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccles. 3:1,4,7b) In the face of events that are scalding the earth and fracturing the nations, we are thinking of each of you and asking ourselves, as you also are doing… “How can those who confess Christ hold their tongues?” We remember you in our prayers as you preach, teach, and “equip the saints” for their ministry in times like these.

And we remember our Barmen forebears on this 70th anniversary of their Declaration. Can they help us bear witness in our time, as they did in theirs:

· to “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture… the one Word of God which we have to hear, and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death” (Article 1)?

· to say again loud and clear: “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11)?

· and to find a way to “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 3)?

Confronting the “German Christians” and their fusion of blood and soil with the “one Word of God,” Barmen spoke a bold “No!” Today, we have to do with “American Christians” who cannot separate nation from gospel, counting upon God to bless their crusades and praying to “Jesus, the warrior” rather than to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” To this, we likewise speak a firm “No!” So also to any other ethnic or theocratic claim to hold hostage the sovereign God and view ourselves as a “righteous empire.”

While the divine majesty is wrongly blended with national allegiances and ethnic loyalties, we know also that Jesus Christ is Lord of our lands as well as our souls. We ought not to be silent before the present tyrannies and injustices that abound on our own soil and in other nations. We encourage you to seek places in every congregation where the wounding of Christ and the folly of nations can be faced and the issues aired. We pray that you may find ways within the life of the congregations you serve to examine, as students of Scripture and as theologians, the inflamed situations described imperfectly every day in the media, risking judgments and acting in humility rooted in the one Word of God each of us is called to proclaim.

While making our witness, however, we acknowledge our own temptation to forget that “there is no one who is righteous, not even one!” (Rom. 3:10) Again, the wisdom of another forebear, Reinhold Niebuhr is ours to learn. In the heat of the struggles of his day against the powers and principalities, he confessed to the sin that persists in the champions of justice as well as in its foes. He also prayed for forgiveness of his own self-righteous fury.

Along with the courage to speak and the contrition that must accompany it, comes the consoling Word spoken by another of our great teachers in an earlier time of tribulation. Writing to Christians in England as the bombs fell and the struggle against Hitler went forward, Karl Barth said that “the world in which we live is the place where Jesus Christ rose from the dead… although at present the glory of the Kingdom of God is held out to us only as a hope, yet the kingly rule of Christ extends over the whole of the universe… and confronts and overrules… the principalities and powers and evil spirits of this world.” Amen!

There is a time for those who confess Christ to speak and there is a time to be silent. It is when we listen for the Word of God and look for light from this Source that we are able to discern the signs of the times. And so we pray for each of you and for the Church in whose midst we all kneel as servants: “Speak to us, O Lord, the Word we need and let that Word abide in us until it has wrought in us your holy will.”

Signatories: Andrew Armstrong, Frank Baldwin, Lee Barrett, Dawn Berry, Richard Christensen, Deborah Rahn Clemens, Herbert Davis, Willis Elliott, Roger Easland, Beth Ernest, Gabriel Fackre, James Gorman, Gail Miller, F. Russell Mitman, Deborah Schueneman, Frederick Trost, Theodore Trost III, Bennie Whiten, Henry Yordon

And Gabe Fackre and his wife Dorothy (in whose voice the Fackre Newsletter speaks), add this:

What books have you discovered to be helpful in discerning the present state of affairs? Here are some recent ones that we have found challenging: R.R. Reno, In the Ruins of the Church , Alan Wolfe, The Transformation of American Religion, Philip Jenkins, The Coming of Global Christianity, David Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite , C. Braaten and R. Jenson, eds., The Ecumenical Future, Reinhard Huetter, Bound to be Free.

Your replies will feed into Gabe’s writing of Volume 5 of his Christian Story series on the doctrine of the church. (Volume 4 on the doctrine of Christ is scheduled for 2005). If you respond, write to us either by e-mail at or or to PO Box 428, West Hyannisport, MA 02672. We will summarize the results in the next Newsletter.

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