Eighty years ago, on May 31, 1934, some members of the German churches gathered in the city of Barmen to confess their faith. The German church was in a titanic struggle for its very existence as the new Nazi regime tightened its grip on every sector of German society.
Millions of Germans, humiliated and improverished by the Great War and its aftermath, longed for a new hope. Thousands of Christians wanted desperately to believe that Adolf Hitler represented God’s will for the nation, and so fell in line with his programme.
It is difficult for us to conceive how this was ever possible. It happened in part because Christians were not satisfied with Christ alone, but wanted another source of comfort and assurance beside Christ, and in addition to Christ. They wanted an earthly Führer (leader, guide) in addition to a heavenly Lord.
Anytime we seek our comfort and assurance in anything other than Christ, we are already in trouble. In 1930s Germany they sought it in a political leader. In our day people are more likely to seek comfort or significance in something pleasurable, thrilling or risky, perhaps something illicit or subversive.
Christians may seek it in success or achievement, a loving relationship, a worthy cause, a good reputation, or church activities. We convince ourselves that these are all good things and so must be God’s will.
This was the mistake of the German Christians: they mistook cultural values and priorities for the Word and will of God. The believers who gathered at Barmen, however, confessed Jesus Christ alone, and in so doing began at great cost, a movement of resistance against the Nazis:
“Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.”
Alongside Jesus Christ there can be no other Lord, no other ultimate or equivalent authority, claim or allegiance. Christ alone is our hope and our salvation, our comfort and assurance, our duty and our freedom. In him we believe and in him we rejoice; him we obey, and in him we are saved.
In Christ alone, our hope is found…
(Note: this article first appeared in The Advocate May 2014, Baptist Churches of Western Australia)