Faith and Heritage has generally avoided discussing German National Socialism, as there is simply no need to do so. You’re reading this in English, over 90% of our readership is in Anglo countries (if you include South Africa), and the tradition with which we identify derives from the British Isles. Even the majority of German Americans arrived in America before 1930 and bear no responsibility one way or the other. Saying that the European race has no right to existence or to ethnonationalism on the basis of German crimes is as absurd as saying that Turks, Arabs, Jews, Aztecs, Mongols or any of the other peoples who have committed collective crimes throughout history don’t have the right to exist on that basis either. The point is irrelevant. Moreover, there are plenty of Christian nationalists in the Anglo tradition, free of Nazi baggage and its sinful totalitarianism, to whom we can look for historical inspiration.
That being said, we received a message prompted by my post on Friday asking about the 1934 Barmen Declaration, which is worth going on record to answer:
I wonder if you have dealt with the Theological Declaration of Barmen. It seems like anti-Nazi and anti-Nationalist also it may be construed as anti-kinist. It seems Kinism and Nazism are treated as the same thing with my Christian friends. I had this thrown in my face the other day and have never seen or heard of the Barmen Declaration.
To understand the Barmen Declaration, it’s first important to understand the historical context.
Setting the Stage
Positive Christianity is a theology emerging from the late nineteenth-century higher criticism, itself beginning to coalesce in Germany in the early part of the twentieth century. Higher criticism places reason and rationality above the truth of Scripture, makes biblical truth subjective, and seeks to divide the historical Jesus from the divine Jesus. All manner of liberal heresies have their root in this attack on the inerrancy of Scripture. But Positive Christianity takes higher criticism in another direction. Rather than the story of Jesus being God’s plan to bring salvation to a fallen world, the New Testament became the story of an Aryan Jesus sent to combat Jewish power. Positive Christianity thus sought to deemphasize the Old Testament, to remove what its advocates viewed as the Semitic, non-German elements of Christianity from the German Church, and to reimagine Jesus as an Aryan superman. Some of the smaller, more radical elements of Positive Christianity wanted to entirely remove the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament, replacing them with elements from Germanic paganism and Vedic Hinduism, thus creating a new syncretistic and purely Aryan religion. Positive Christianity is rightly considered as apostasy by both Protestants and Catholics.
Proponents of Positive Christianity in the German Church referred to themselves as “German Christians.” To avoid confusion when distinguishing advocates of Positive Christianity from Christians of German descent in general, I’ll use the German term for the former, Deutsche Christen, to refer to them henceforth.
Prior to 1933, there were twenty-eight regional Protestant church organizations in Germany under a loose federation. In April 1933, the leadership of the federation agreed to write a new constitution forming a new and more centralized national church. However, the goal of those pushing for such a move was not simply to reorganize into a better or more efficient structure, but to use this as an opportunity to have the Deutsche Christen seize control of the entire Protestant German Church and then to transform it into a subservient arm of the German state. But the Deutsche Christen candidate, Ludwig Müller, was soundly defeated in the election for Reichsbischof position as head of the new church. Outraged by the results, the German political government usurped the jurisdiction of the church and forced the duly elected Reichsbischof to resign in favor of Müller in September 1933. Müller began to immediately put the Deutsche Christen platform into effect by executively defrocking the handful of racially Jewish Christian pastors, stripping his political opponents of their positions, and even having some of the higher-ranking ones arrested. In November 1933, the Deutsche Christen held a rally at which speakers openly advocated removing all noncompliant pastors from their office, expelling all racially Jewish Christian converts from the church, removing the Old Testament from the Bible, eliminating all non-German elements from church services, and adopting the narrative of an Aryan Jesus fighting corrupt Jewish forces.
Rather than rallying and unifying the Protestant German church, however, these moves rightly appeared to many German Protestants as an imposition of the national socialist political program upon the church, corrupting and attacking the authority of Scripture and the autonomy of the church. The opposition to Müller and the Deutsche Christen called themselves the “Confessing Church.” While they did not officially break with the national German church, they asserted that Müller had no authority over them or right to speak for them. In response to the continued aggressiveness from Müller and the Deutsche Christen, leaders from the Confessing Church met in Barmen in May 1934 to formulate an official response. The result of this was the Theological Declaration of Barmen. This declaration was supported by members of the Confessing Church across the board, both by liberals like Bonhoeffer and Barth and by conservatives like Niemöller and Schneider.
In response to the Barmen Declaration, the Nazi government removed Müller from his position and replaced him with the equally political, but much less aggressive, Hanns Kerrl, once again proving that the German church was sinfully subject to state control. For the next two years, the national socialists attempted to get the Confessing Church to reconcile with the Deutsche Christen, but in May 1936, when some of the leadership of the Confessing Church sent Hitler a message protesting the continued anti-Christian policies of the government in a number of areas and demanding the government stop interfering in church affairs, Hitler lost patience. Hundreds of Confessing Church pastors were arrested, and the entire Confessing Church was put under repressive measures.
Due to the resistance of the Confessing Church and the rise of pagans like Rosenberg and Himmler, the Nazi leadership moved increasingly away from attempts to make Deutsche Christen the religious foundation of the German state. This progressed to the point that when Kerrl died in 1941, no replacement Reichsbischof was appointed.
The Theological Declaration of Barmen
Having understood the context in which the Declaration was written, let’s discuss the contents of the Declaration.
The Declaration has two sections. The first section is basically the introduction: saying who they are, stating their opposition to false doctrine and commitment to the Word of God, disavowing that the Declaration is intended as an attack on the unity of either the church or the nation, and calling upon the readers to judge whether they or the Deutsche Christen speak according to Scripture.
Here representatives from all the German Confessional Churches met with one accord. . . . It was not their intention to found a new Church or to form a union. . . . In opposition to attempts to establish the unity of the German Evangelical Church by means of false doctrine, by the use of force and insincere practices, the Confessional Synod insists that the unity of the Evangelical Churches in Germany can come only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. . . . Be not deceived by loose talk, as if we meant to oppose the unity of the German nation! Do not listen to the seducers who pervert our intentions, as if we wanted to break up the unity of the German Evangelical Church or to forsake the Confessions of the Fathers! . . . If you find that we are speaking contrary to Scripture, then do not listen to us! But if you find that we are taking our stand upon Scripture, then let no fear or temptation keep you from treading with us the path of faith and obedience to the Word of God.
The second section deals with six points where they affirm their belief in a scriptural principle and reject the opposing false teachings.
In view of the errors of the “German Christians” of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the Church and also therefore breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths [paraphrased]:
- Jesus Christ is as He is presented in Scripture, and He is the only Word of God. There are no other sources of God’s revelation.
- Jesus is the supreme Lord over every single aspect of the Christian’s life. There is no area of life where another authority supersedes His.
- The Christian Church was instituted by God and receives its form, mission, and message solely from God and Scripture. The Church may not alter any of that to suit the political ideology of the day.
- The leaders of the church are shepherds meant to minister to the sheep. They are not meant to be political leaders to rule over them.
- The state is divinely appointed to administer justice and promote peace, but the state is also called to rule in a godly manner and to remain inside its God-appointed jurisdiction. The state has no authority to exceed its jurisdiction and subsume the responsibilities of the church. Likewise, the church has no authority to exceed its jurisdiction and take on the functions of the state as its religious arm.
- The church’s primary responsibilities are the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments. This mission must not be hijacked in favor of a political program.
Again, those are my paraphrases; I encourage you to read the actual text to verify that I have faithfully captured each point’s intent. While these may seem obviously true to the point of “duh,” it’s plain to see how each one addresses issues and heresies being pushed by the Deutsche Christen that I previously outlined.
The Issues Involved
As you can see, the two main goals of the Declaration were to denounce idolatry and to defend the lordship of Christ, particularly in the area of ecclesiastical independence from the state. Never is German ethnonationalism in and of itself attacked, nor is the German nation declared to not exist or to lack the right of self-determination. If the liberals in the Confessing Church had tried to include such anti-ethnonationalist points into the declaration, it is unlikely that the conservatives would have been willing to cosign it. Only the Deutsche Christen’s heretical departure from Scripture and the state’s sinful, totalitarian power-grab of the church’s jurisdiction are denounced. In this I am in full agreement with the Barmen Declaration, and there is no conflict between the Declaration and ethnonationalism or Kinism.
The Barmen Declaration should be primarily understood as a declaration for ecclesiastical independence; both idolatry and usurpation stem from the church’s transformation into a political organ. God takes this issue very seriously. While the roles of king and high priest should have a supporting, symbiotic relationship, and while each has the responsibility of correcting the other if they stray, they are never to be united into a single office or one co-opted by the other. In addition to violating the separate nature of their jurisdictions, this is an attack on the person of Christ, as only in Him are the roles of prophet, priest, and king truly united. In 2 Chronicles 26, we see the record of King Uzziah committing this sin. Uzziah was a good king; he defended and expanded the kingdom’s borders and initiated many public-works projects. 2 Chronicles 26:4 specifically says, “[H]e did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” But then he became arrogant and sinned by attempting to usurp the high priest’s role.
But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the Lord who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord, but for the priests, the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the Lord God.” Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the Lord, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the Lord had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land. (2 Chronicles 26:16-21)
God’s people are His, and no political ruler may usurp the place of His priests without consequences.
We can see another evil within Positive Christianity besides this totalitarian usurpation: racial idolatry. In 1937, Hanns Kerrl gave a speech in his role as Reichsbischof to a group of Deutsche Christen in which he proclaimed:
The Party stands on the basis of Positive Christianity, and positive Christianity is National Socialism. . . . National Socialism is the doing of God’s will. . . . God’s will reveals itself in German blood. . . . Dr Zoellner and [Catholic Bishop of Münster] Count Galen have tried to make clear to me that Christianity consists in faith in Christ as the son of God. That makes me laugh. . . . No, Christianity is not dependent upon the Apostle’s Creed. . . . True Christianity is represented by the party, and the German people are now called by the party and especially the Fuehrer to a real Christianity . . . the Fuehrer is the herald of a new revelation.
This is, of course, outrageous blasphemy, a horrendous violation of the first and second commandments. But compare Kerrl’s statements with how Kinism approaches the issue. While the Deutsche Christen started with their ideology and hacked up and reinterpreted Scripture to make it fit, we start with the inerrancy of Scripture, building from there to determine the biblical blueprints for the nation, society, and family. David’s foundational article on Christian ethnonationalism alone contains over sixty scriptural references in its footnotes. This is a night-and-day difference in how we approach God’s Word and racial issues compared to the Deutsche Christen whom the Barmen Declaration was addressing.
Kinism affirms the historical view of Jesus as God’s Son come to redeem sinners of all races from their sin, not as an Aryan Superman come to fight Jewish power.
Kinism affirms the inerrancy of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments, not that the Old Testament is tainted by Semitic influence.
Kinism affirms that Jesus Christ is Lord over all and that all other authorities derive their power from Him and thus have scriptural boundaries set on their jurisdictions, not boundaries determined by themselves or a political program.
Kinism affirms that the role of king and high priest, state and church, are separate; neither entity has the right to subvert, control, or assume the other’s role.
Kinism affirms that the church’s primarily responsibilities are spiritual and that its duties, both spiritual and physical, are established in Scripture, not determined by the latest political ideology.
So, to answer the original question posed by the reader’s message: while the Barmen Declaration is anti-racial idolatry and anti-totalitarianism, it is in no way anti-ethnonationalism or anti-Kinism. Anyone saying differently has either never read the declaration and is making assumptions about its contents or is just being disingenuous.