There have been many complaints and murmurings over this formula [The Apostles' Creed] and probably, sooner or later in your studies, you will come up against men of letters and even teachers, who also do the same and think it dreadful that this matter should be reduced to this formula. . . This inveighing against so-called 'orthodoxy' is just a 'wolf's snarl', which an educated man should have nothing to do with.
Dogmatics in Outline
Human Experience Versus The Church's Confession
Several years ago, while working on two articles on the "Identity" Neo-Nazi movement, I became interested in The Confessing Church and its history. When I started the first article I was unfamiliar with The Theological Declaration of Barmen since I belonged to an Independent church without a long history. By the time I began the second article I was a member of a Presbyterian Church (USA). I now acknowledge the Barmen Confession as an amazing statement of faith directed toward the various spiritual alternatives of this century. While reading an article in Christianity Today, by James R. Edwards a hundred affirmations went off in my head. Edwards' in his article, "At the Crossroads,"1cites the similarities between the church struggle in Germany that led to the Barmen Confession and the struggle the mainline denominations are now experiencing. This is the conflict involving the issues of sexuality and Radical Feminism. I would like to make some observations about those similarities from a historical and theological viewpoint.
Sexuality and feminism are not the central issues; they are simply the place where the real struggle has erupted. Edwards names the issues: "Over the authority of Scriptures and creed versus the authority of alien and humanistic ideologies, between the church's faithfulness to the Lordship of Christ versus an accommodation and reformulation of Christianity to the spirit of the age."2The struggle for the church in this age , in every age, is the struggle between the ideology of the time and the Lordship of Christ.
In Germany the particular ideology, Fascism, was wedded to the ruling government and for that reason to the state approved church. Many sided with the popular religious view of the period, the German Christians or Positive Christianity as it was called. But that was not how that struggle began. Various ideological voices had earlier influenced both Church and nation before the stronger and more satanic voice, Fascism, won. George L. Mosse's many books detailing that period provides ample evidence of this. Documenting some of the influences producing or leading to Fascism, Mosse includes: Romanticism, Socialism, utopias, the "Volk", the idea of nature and history as an eternal force in the universe and such occult systems as Theosophy and various sun cults.3 These were not all racist, e.g. Theosophy or Romanticism in general, but they were the moving ideologies of those years. These were all seductive. In the end, within the Church, only those who stood under the Lordship of Christ could discern the seduction of their time.
Today, in The United States, many different ideologies are influencing our culture and our churches. The common root of much of today's ideology is an anthropomorphic centered world view, plus a subdued romanticism. This human centered world view is given a religious taint by a romanticism that is really naturalistic rather than God centered. "The Re-Imaging Conference" is a case in point. The conference was not about worshiping God but about how humans, (women in this case), could from human experience create god. In that setting, the word god contained only human definitions but still retained its religious flavor. Another influence, marketing and politics encased in a utilitarian pragmatic ethic has invaded the whole landscape. A pragmatic and utilitarian ethic is absolutely human centered. What ever works for the most people is considered good. All of these views are , in greater and lesser ways, opposed to the Lordship of Christ.
The Church is affected by the world when she fails to acknowledge God's revelation in Christ as unique. While God has allowed humanity to grasp through nature, "His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature" (Romans 1:20) His purpose, redemption, and being, can only be known in Jesus Christ. In fact, because of the fallen nature of humanity, there is always misinterpretation of nature's message. (Romans 1:21,22) Only God's revelation in Jesus Christ can overcome the darkness of the human soul.
Rejecting the uniqueness of Christ, the German Church allowed nature and nation to be equal with Scripture in revealing God and His purpose. Many of the theologians troubling the Church in the present struggle are attempting to replace God's revelation in Christ with new revelations. An example is Rosemary Radford Ruether. She has acknowledged the importance of the Confessing Church's emphasis on revelation rather than "religious consciousness" since she sees that this allowed the Church to stand as prophet to its culture. She writes, "It raised the possibility of the church not simply as the ally of established culture and the bearer of the ideology of the society in religious terms, but the church as critic of culture and even a standpoint for protest and resistance against society."4
Yet, Ruether rejects such theology believing it voids "all relative differences between human systems and cultural systems" and undercuts and invalidates any new synthesis or "possible cultural incarnations."5 Ruether looks for sacred revelation within human experience not the unique revelation of Christ. She hopes for a new revelation of God in a synthesis of differing cultures.
In the same way, James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow maintain a view of revelation which nullifies the uniqueness of the incarnation, placing it also in other humans. Writing the introduction to the book, Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection, they explain the spirituality of the various contributors as "incarnationalist." The two explain incarnationalist as those who, "assume that God's very being still becomes flesh and dwells among us full of grace and truth." They add the telling comment, "and in becoming flesh God is revealed through the sexual dimensions of our lives."6 Nelson and Longfellow, therefore, see our sexuality as a revelation of God. They in concept, although certainly not in ethics, are not far from the German Christian's acceptance of nation and race as revelation. As in Germany those who have traveled further down this heretical road have become Pagan and have embraced fallenness and brokenness as a revelation of God.For instance, StarHawk, contemporary Wicca advocate, sees deity revealed not only in "bud and blossom . . . flowing river and seed," but also in "fang and claw."7
How different the Biblical embrace of the unique incarnation of Jesus Christ. We are made in the image of God, even in our sexuality, but we are not an incarnation of God. We are not God in the flesh. The security of the believer is grounded upon this solid foundation. It is God's grace that reaches for us in our humanness. Paul, who addresses the Church as the "pillar and support of the truth" writes of that truth:
And by common confession great is the mystery of godliness:
He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Beheld by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)
This early confession of the church models the coming confessions of later church struggles. It precedes a discussion of heresy in the church, a "falling away from the faith" and attention paid to "deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons." German theologians who agreed with Nazism attempted to circumvent the creeds of the church. Their actions are not unlike those today who deny the central meaning of the creeds or their relevance outside of their historical occurrence. Robert P. Ericksen, author of Theologians Under Hitler, writing of Emanuel Hirsch, one theologian who embraced Nazism, explains that Hirsch believed "the various Christian confessions should be seen . . . as expressions for their time, rather than as expressions of pure truth." Hirsch believed that "confession . . . is a common account of teachers, gathered in response to decisive contemporary questions." The teachers were to speak for the church out of their own "theological precepts which they have developed as content and direction of contemporary Christian proclamation, based on their questions and answers bowing to the gospel."8
In contrast, Arthur C. Cochrane, author of The Church's Confession Under Hitler,in his article, "The message of Barmen for contemporary church history,"takes a different view. And, his view is surely the one held by the church during its whole existence. Cochrane writes of the Barmen Confession, that it is not just the voice of individual or particular groups, "but the voice of the one, holy, Catholic church." This is so because "the ecumenicity of a confession is grounded in the fact that it undertakes to confess the one Lord and the one faith attested in Holy Scripture and given to the whole church."9 In his article Cochrane, explains that a shared life for the churches arises out of the confession of the church. He applies this understanding to the contemporary issue of "Consultation on Church Union." He points out that this particular attempt for union is not out of a shared confession but out of an "ecclesiastical arrangement for a possible confession." Cochrane's assessment is important. He writes:
The Message of Barmen for contemporary church history is that church union per se, that is, an institutional or organizational merger in itself, is not necessarily a manifestation of the one, holy , catholic church. Rather the church has its very existence and its true unity in its fulfillment of the divine commission to bear witness to Jesus Christ, and therefore in its confession of Him.8
These issues are not static.They will change our nation, our world, and if we let them our own particular churches. Because of human sinfulness, such ideology as I have named, will grow, and ferment, changing even itself into deeper wickedness. The basic world view of individuals affects their moral understanding for good or evil. Indeed, the voice of modern prophets are filled with warning. Franklin H. Littell in a chapter from the book, The German Church Struggle and The Holocaust, warns of the dangerous position Liberal Protestantism has opened for the American Church. (He is speaking here of their academic disregard for the "holy" history of the Jews in the Hebrew Bible.) His extremely strong view that American Liberal Protestantism "stands solidly on ground but lately vacated by the 'German Christians" who collaborated with Nazism," is linked to his understanding of how the German Christians changed the makeup of the German religious community. Littell writes," they predictably produced a generation that came to power amiably inclined toward spirituality and religion-in-general but ill-informed as to the particular claims of the Christian faith and hostile to the particularism of Judaism.11
We are now dealing with a generation so "ill-informed." Susanne Heine, a German theologian, with clear discernment, states that the step from naming Old Testament patriarchy the cause of "women's sufferings down the centuries" to a position of anti-Semitism is not a great distance."12 I have, in fact, experienced the awfulness of hearing students and a teacher, a Wicca devotee, ridiculing the Jewish faith in a university's World Religion class on just this issue. Biblical Christianity has also been put in the same position; it is well known that many at the "Re-Imaging" Conference made a point of ridiculing, by redefining and even vilifying, the atonement.
Any faith formed out of the natural world carries with it all the disharmony and pain of fallen creation. The disharmony and pain of creation must be repented of and healed or it in the end will be glorified. In Nazi Germany the glorification of creature and creation rather than faith in Jesus Christ reached a point of absolute idolatry. The true church must always stand as prophet to the present time. The church must know no other authority than Jesus Christ.
by Viola Larson
1. James R. Edwards, "At The Crossroads" in Christianity Today, (August 11, 1997): 21.
3. George L. Mosse, see in particular: The Crisis Of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins Of The Third Reich, (New York: Schocken Books 1981) and Toward The Final Solution: A History Of European Racism, (New York: Harper Colophon Books, Harper & Row 1978).
4. Rosemary radford Ruether, The Radical Kingdom: The Western Experience of Messianic Hope, (New York :Harper & Row 1978), 115.
5. Ibid., 117. see also her book Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology, (Boston: Beacon Press 1993).
6. Sandra P' Longfellow and James B. Nelson, eds., Sexuality and The Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press 1994) xiv.
7. Starhawk, Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of The Ancient Religion of The Great Goddess, (New York: Harper & Row 1989) 22.
8. Robert P. Ericksen, Theologians Under Hitler, (New Haven & London: Yale University Press 1985) 160.
9. Arthur C. Cochrane, "The Message of Barmen for Contemporary Church History", The German Church Struggle And The Holocaust, ed. Franklin H. Littell & Hubert G. Locke (Detroit: Wayne State University Press 1974) 195.
10. Ibid., 198.
11. Littell, "Church Struggle and The Holocaust" German Church Struggle, 24.
12. Susanne Heine, Matriarchs, Goddesses and Images of God: A Critique of Feminist Theology, trans. John Bowden (Minneapolis: Augsburg 1989) 22, 23 see also n.26, 166-167.