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Commentary on the Barmen Declaration: Fifth Article

Commentary on the Barmen Declaration: Fifth Article

The fourth article of the Barmen Declaration discusses the proper leadership of the church. This article more than the previous articles is most pertinent in its original context. The church in the West has never been the same since the corruption of the German national church.

Fear God. Honor the Emperor. 1 Pet. 2:17

The Scriptures

This Scripture is quite simple. Fear in the Biblical sense is not terror. Though terror is not excluded, fear for the covenant people of God is the source of wisdom (Prov 1:7; etc). It is to be a cherished role left only for God. And in this way the Lord is placed above the mere honor of a national ruler.

The Affirmation

Scripture tells us that by divine appointment the State, in this still unredeemed world in which also the Church is situated, has the task of maintaining justice and peace, so far as human discernment and human ability make this possible, by means of the threat and use of force. The Church acknowledges with gratitude and reverence toward God the benefit of this, his appointment. It draws attention to God’s Dominion [Reich], God’s commandment and justice, and with these the responsibility of those who rule and those who are ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word, by which God upholds all things.

The Barmen Declaration was not an attempt to undermine all government control. Despite (and in a sense because of) the fallen world we live in the government has the responsibility to protect its people. I do not look favorably on the phrase "human discernment" for this indicates a fallen basis as the starting point when it seems that "God's commandment and justice" are really the measuring rod of the government's work in the world to protect its people. 

The church is given God's word to proclaim that we have "responsibility" in this world. And the church is to be grateful for the appointments of God. But I fail to see the need to slight the primal level of responsibility for the state. 

We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the State should and could become the sole and total order of human life and so fulfil the vocation of the Church as well.

We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the Church should and could take on the nature, tasks and dignity which belong to the State and thus become itself an organ of the State.

The Negation

The simplicity to this statement is striking. There are two spheres. One for the organization of the Word. And one for the organization of government. It is correct to say that the church should stay out of government. But God's word is what "upholds all things" and proclaims "the responsibility of those who rule and those who are ruled." A separation of church and state is here proclaimed. But there is no call for a separation of religion and government. The Word of God speaks in Lordship over both (See Article 1).

(Check out the IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3 & Part 4)

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