When the brash socialist agitator, Adolf Hitler first cameto power as the Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he was welcomed by most churchmembers and leaders from around the nation. One prominent pastor and theologian leader even said that1933 and Hitler’s rise was a gift of mercy from God’s hand. To be sure, Hitler used the rhetoric ofa Christian restoration of law and order, morality, and traditional values.
Since the defeat of the nation in the First World War andthe humiliation of the Versailles Treaty, the German Weimar republic hadallowed an extreme modernist culture to flourish, and many Christian leadersbelieved Hitler would bring a spiritual renewal to the German people. They hoped that at last a Germannational church might be established, and in May, 1933, a constitution for aunified national church was produced by the new Nazi administration. But then, in July, two restrictionswere placed by the government on the clergy: that they be politicallysubservient to the Nazis and that they accept the superiority of the Aryanrace.
A small group of church leaders in Germany began to resistsuch ideas and oppose the restrictions. They believed the church should have full freedom to serve God apartfrom political influence, and they began to organize formal opposition to thenew national church. Prominenttheologians like Karl Barth, Martin Niemoeller, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer wereamong the leaders of this new opposition.
On this day in 1934, they met in Barmen and accepted Barth’sDeclaration on the Correct Understandingof the Reformation Confessions in the German Evangelical Church. By April the opposition hadofficially formed the Confessing Church as the underground Protestant church ofGermany. At the first Synod of theConfessing Church, held openly at Barmen several months later, another Declaration was written which ultimatelybecame the confession of the church. The Declaration stressed thatunity, “can come only from the word of God in faith through the HolySpirit.” It added that inorder to serve God properly, the church must be totally free from politicalinfluence. It resisted the Nazicontention that God was giving a new revelation through the history of theGerman nation. The ConfessingChurch maintained there was no revelation in addition to that of Jesus Christand the Word of God.
Alas, each of the men wholead this confessing opposition to the Nazi’s paid dearly for theircommitment; most died in prisons or suffered long and bitter confinementsalongside the Jews and Gypsies in the concentration camps. Nevertheless, they kept alive theindependent proclamation of the Gospel during the difficult days of the Naziterror.