- Barmen Declaration
- Following Hitler's rise to power in Germany in 1933, the Nazi Party put pressure on German Protestants to restate their faith in a manner that would ideologically support Nazi claims. A "Faith movement" arose within these churches (Lutheran, Reformed, and Evangelical), advocating "positive Christianity" Their program included uniting the churches in each of the 29 German states into a single body under a bishop, active opposition to Marxism, and a denunciation of pacifism. The German Christians, as they were generally called, wanted to end any missions to Jews, fire all pastors of Jewish ancestry, and disavow intermarriage between Christian Germans and ethnic Jews. Their program amounted to an allegiance to Hitler and his racial ideas.In summer 1933, the German Christians scored a decisive victory in the elections of the state churches, and a national bishop for the German Protestants was designated. A minority of church leaders led an opposition force called the Confessing Church movement. At its first synod, at Wuppertal-Barmen on May 29-31, 1934, it issued a statement written mainly by theologians Karl Barth (Reformed) and Hans Asmussen (Lutheran). This Theological Declaration of Barmen refuted the program of the German Christians.While not mentioning Hitler and the Nazis explicitly, the declaration stated clearly, "We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures, and truths as God's revelation. . . . We reject the false doctrine that. . . . the Church could . . . allow itself to be given special leaders [Führer, a reference to Hitler] vested with ruling authority."The Barmen Declaration was not accepted by the German Church, but it became the basis for the anti-Nazi activity of individuals such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who became a participant in an assassination attempt on Hitler, for which he was executed.In the aftermath of World War II, the Confessing Church has become an important model for Protestants in approaching the political complexities of the contemporary world. Several churches have added the Barmen Declaration to their doctrinal statements, among the first being the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (now a constituent part of the Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) in 1967. Barmen also became the basis for the Bel-har Confession, drafted in 1982 and adopted in 1986 by the then Dutch Reformed Mission Church, as it moved to end apartheid in South Africa.See also creeds/confessions of faith.Further reading:■ R. Ahlers, "The Barmen Theological Declaration of 1934." Toronto Studies in Theology, vol. 34 (Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press): 39-42; Victoria Barnett, For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest against Hitler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992)■ A. C. Cochrane, The Church's Confession under Hitler (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1962)■ Ernst Christian Helmreich, The German Churches under Hitler: Background, Struggle, and Epilogue (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1979)■ J. Gordon Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds, 2 vols. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1988, 1994).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.