May 29th—31st 1934
According to the opening words of its constitution of July 11th 19331, the German Evangelical Church is a federation of confessional churches that have grown out of the Reformation and stand side by side on an equal footing. The theological requirement for the unification of these churches is laid down in Article 1 and Article 2.1 of the constitution of the German Evangelical Church recognized by the Reich government on July 14th 1933:
Article 1: The inviolable foundation of the German Evangelical Church is the gospel of Jesus Christ as testified to us in Holy Scripture and brought to light again in the confessions of the Reformation. In this way, the full powers that the church needs for her mission are determined and limited.
Article 2.1: The German Evangelical Church is divided into regional churches (Landeskirchen).
We, the representatives of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches, free synods, church assemblies, and church ministries2 united in the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church, declare that we stand together on the ground of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of German confessional churches. We are united by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
We publicly declare before all evangelical churches in Germany that what they hold in common in this confession, and thus also the unity of the German Evangelical Church, is seriously endangered. It is threatened by the teaching and actions of the ruling church party of “German Christians” and of the church leadership3 exercised by them, which has become more and more apparent during the first year of the existence of the German Evangelical Church. This threat consists in the fact that the theological requirements on which the German Evangelical Church is united has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “German Christians”, and by the church leadership3. When these principles are held to be valid, the church ceases to be the church, according to all of the confessions held in authority4 with us, and the German Evangelical Church, as a federation of confessional churches, becomes internally impossible.
As members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches we can and must speak together on this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and remain faithful to our various confessions, we must not remain silent, since we believe that we have been given a common word to utter in a time of common need and temptation5. We commend to God what this may mean for the relationship between the confessional churches.
In view of the errors of the “German Christians” of the present Reich church government, which are devastating the church and therefore also breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me.”6 (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 through me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1,9)
Jesus Christ, as testified to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God, that we must hear, trust, and obey in life and in death.
We reject the false doctrine! As if the church can and must recognise as a source of her proclamation, other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation, apart from and besides this one Word of God.
- “Christ Jesus, whom God has made to us wisdom, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30)
Just as Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, and with the same seriousness, he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life; through him we experience a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world to a free, grateful ministry to his creatures.
We reject the false doctrine! As if there are areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords, areas in which we do not need justification and sanctification through him.
- “But speaking the truth in love [we] may grow up in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined together.” (Ephesians 4:15,16)
The Christian church is the congregation of brothers in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and Sacrament through the Holy Spirit. With her faith as with her obedience, with her message as with her order, in the midst of a sinful world, as the church of pardoned sinners, she has to testify that she alone is his property, and that she lives and wants to live only from his comfort and from his instruction, in the expectation of his appearance.
We reject the false doctrine! As if the church is allowed to abandon the form of her message and her order to her own pleasure, or to the changes of prevailing ideological and political convictions.
- “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their mighty ones dominate7 them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever wants to be great among you, let him be your servant.” (Matthew 20:25,26)
The various offices in the church do not establish the dominion of one over the others, but the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and commanded to whole congregation8.
We reject the false doctrine! As if the church, apart from this ministry, can and may be permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders with ruling powers.
- “Fear God, honour the king.” (1 Peter 2:17)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the church also stands, the state has by divine arrangement the task of providing for justice and peace, by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The church, in thanks and in awe of God, acknowledges the benefit of this divine arrangement of his. It reminds us of God’s kingdom, of God’s commandment and righteousness, and thus the responsibility of rulers and ruled. She trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
We reject the false doctrine! As if the state should and can, beyond its special commission, become the single and total order of human life, and thus also fulfil the purpose of the church.
We reject the false doctrine! As if the church should and can, beyond its special commission, appropriate the nature of the state, the tasks of the state, and the dignity of the state, and thus itself become an organ of the state.
- “See, I am with you always, to the end of the world9.” (Matthew 28:20) “God’s Word is not bound.” (2 Timothy 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 if the church in human arrogance could place the Word and Work of the Lord at the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.
The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgement of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of confessional churches. She invites all who can subscribe to her declaration to be mindful of these theological principles when making decisions about church politics. She asks all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.
Verbum dei manet in aeternum.10
1. The constitution of the German Evangelical Church has been replaced by the basic order (Grundordnung) of the Evangelical Church in Germany (№ 1.1).
2. Gemeindekreise, literally “parish circles”. This refers to home groups, Bible study groups, youth groups, etc.
3. Kirchenregimentes, literally “church regiment”. This refers to the supervision and leadership of the church, held by the synods since the Weimar Constitution, before that held by the lords and princes.
4. Kraft stehenden. This refers to the power or the force that the confessions hold in the church.
5. Anfechtung. This can also be translated challenge (in a legal sense), but the context seems to be of a Christian’s time of trial/temptation (cf. Luke 8:13)
6. All Scripture quotations have been retranslated from the Greek, with an aim to emulate the style of the Luterbibel. Supplied words are in brackets.
7. Gewalt, Greek κατεξουσιάζουσιν. Although the Greek is usually translated “exercise authority over”, and it cannot be determined from the New Testament if this is more emphatic than ἐξουσιάζω (Louw-Nida 37.48, fn.), Gewalt denotes force/power.
8. Gemeinde. Usually translated community, this word is used in the Luterbibel for the Greek ἐκκλησία (church/congregation).
9. Welt, Greek αἰῶνος. Usually translated “age”, αἰῶνος can refer to the world (cf. John 9:32).
10. The Word of God remains forever, the motto of the Lutheran Reformation (cf. Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 2:25).
English Translation of the Barmen Declaration by Peter Chapman, licensed under CC BY 4.0.