Archive for the 'Theology' Category

21st Century Theological Declaration of Barmen for the United States of America

Originally written by Karl Barth and the confessing church in Nazi Germany in response to Hitler’s national church, it is adapted for today’s political climate in the United States. Its central doctrines concern the sin of idolatry and the lordship of Christ

I. An Appeal to the Evangelical Congregations and Christians in America

History of the original Barmen Declaration: The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church met in Barmen, May 29-31, 1934. Here representatives from all the German Confessional Churches met with one accord in a confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, apostolic Church. In fidelity to their Confession of Faith, members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches sought a common message for the need and temptation of the Church in their day.

With gratitude to God they were convinced that they had been given a common word to utter. It was not their intention to found a new Church or to form a union. For nothing was farther from their minds than the abolition of the confessional status of their Churches. Their intention was, rather, to withstand in faith and unanimity the destruction of the Confession of Faith, and thus of the Evangelical Church in Germany.

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 insisted that the unity of the Evangelical Churches in Germany came only from the Word of God in faith through the Holy Spirit. Thus alone is the Church renewed.

Current Response to the original Barmen Declaration: The original work contained three calls to action to the German people. These calls for action are equally applicable to the American people today:

1) The Call for Prayer: the Barmen Declaration challenges congregations to range themselves behind it in prayer, and steadfastly to gather around those pastors and teachers who are loyal to the [historical] Confessions [of the Christian faith].

2) The Call for Caution: the Barmen Declaration cautions Christians to guard themselves, to not be “deceived by loose talk, as if we meant to oppose the unity of the… nation! Do not listen to the seducers who pervert our intentions, as if we wanted to break up the unity of the [followers of Christ in this country] or to forsake the Confessions of [that faith]!

3) The Call for Discernment: this word of warning within the Barmen Declaration challenges people of faith to “Try the spirits whether they are of God!” As followers of Jesus Christ, we should carefully examine any teachings from any church to see whether they agree with Scripture and with the historical traditions of that faith.

  • Be careful of any sudden changes in doctrine: “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, in order that God’s people be of one mind upon earth and that we in faith experience what he himself has said: ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you.’ Therefore, ‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’” 

II. Theological Declaration Concerning the Present Situation of the American Church

History of the original German Churches responsible for the Barmen Declaration: According to the opening words of its constitution of July 11, 1933, the German Evangelical Church was a federation of Confessional Churches that grew out of the Reformation and that enjoyed equal rights. The theological basis for the unification of these Churches was based on both the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the recognition of individual church freedom within their shared organization.

Declarations from the original Barmen Declaration: The original work contained three declarations by these member churches. These statements are equally valuable for the American people today:

1) The Declaration of Unity: the Barmen Declaration stated its intent to stand together on the grounds of classic evangelical faith as an organization of churches. It reminds us even today that we are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

2) The Declaration of Diversion:  the Barmen Declaration stated that shared common belief in the core concepts of the gospel of Jesus Christ were being challenged by outside influences from the surrounding culture. There were ideologies incompatible with classic Christian thought that were being inserted, sometimes forcefully, into their practice of faith.

  • Be careful of any alterations in principle: “This threat consists in the fact that the theological basis, in which the… church is united, has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of…  [those in government who would subvert the church for their own ends]. When these [nationalistic] principles are held to be valid, then, according to all the Confessions in force among us, the Church ceases to be the Church..”

3) The Declaration of Assertion: the Barmen Declaration stated that they must assert what they know to be true, according to their faith. “We may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation.”

4) The Confession of evangelical Truths: the writers of the Barmen Declaration felt that their faith was under attack. To answer these unwanted concepts from those who would subvert their faith on behalf of governmental influence, they held that the following confessions of faith were crucial:

1. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)

  • 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. 

  • We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. 

2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)

  • As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures. 

  • We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him. 

3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16.)

  • The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance. 

  • We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions. 

4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 20:25,26.)

  • The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation. 

  • We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers. 

5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17.)

  • Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things. 

  • We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well. 

  • We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State. 

6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)

  • The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of th free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament. 

  • We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans. 

The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declared that it saw in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invited all who were able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreated all whom it concerned to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.

A similar hope is offered to the churches of Christian faith in the United States of America. As people of faith, we reject any effort by outside forces to dictate how we are to practice that faith. Like the originators of the Barmen Declaration, it is also declared that American Christians should carefully consider these theological principles as they conduct the workings of their churches and their individual faith.

A PDF of this document is available for download here.

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Walking in Two Worlds: God in Three Persons

Walking in Two Worlds: God in Three Persons Sermon Audio Here


Job 38:1-7; Luke 9:18-26

In the early days of the church, there wasn’t a Sunday set aside for understanding the Trinity. Then along comes a heresy that tried to sell the idea that Jesus was NOT the Son of God, but a created being. This caused the early church leaders to write worship services that specifically taught about the nature of Jesus and how He related to God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

Traditionally, Congregationalism has not been very creedal in expression. Since we recognize Jesus as the Lord of each individual congregation, we tend not to adhere to a specific set of doctrines as a larger group. However, we *do* tend to fit within the larger frame of Ancient Christianity, and there is a simple expression of broad faith that was used very early on: the Nicene Creed. It’s an explanation of Christian faith that explicitly describes each person of the Trinity. The first portion deals with God the Father:

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

There are three central concepts that are taught in the Nicene Creed:

Authority Comes From the Father

I don’t know about you, but I find it very comforting that God the Father is credited first with redeeming our lives. It is the Father who decided to send the Son as the fulfillment of the plan of redemption for all humanity. This leads us to the portion of the Nicene Creed that deals with the Second Person of the Trinity:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man; he was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried, and the third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father; from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

Redemption Comes Through Jesus the Son
Charles Wesley reaffirmed this in his hymn, “You Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim”.

And just so you don’t think that I only listen to hymns, I also see that the Christian Punk band Undercover wrote on a similar theme on their second album called “God Rules”, named after their song “God Rules”. The lyrics leave little to the imagination:

There is a famous sermon called “That’s My King”, preached by Dr. Shadrach Meshach Lockridge. The most well-known portion of this sermon is only 6 mintues long, and it’s one of the most powerful descriptions of Jesus that I’ve ever heard. It directly deals with how Jesus is viewed:

That’s a great question that Pastor Lockridge asks: do you know Him? Jesus asked it of His disciples in Luke, and He’s asking it of us today. Do you know Him? And how is it that we are even ABLE to come to know Him? Well, that leads us to the resurrecting work of the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

Wisdom Comes From The Spirit

Closing Prayer: “What Shall I Say to You, My God?” —A prayer by the theologian Karl Rahner (1904-84)

What can I say to you, my God? Shall I collect together all the words that praise your holy Name?
Shall I give you all the names of this world—you, the Unnameable? Shall I call you “God of my life,
meaning of my existence, hallowing of my acts,
my journey’s end, bitterness of my bitter hours,
home of my loneliness, you my most treasured happiness”?
Shall I say: Creator, Sustainer, Pardoner,
Near One, Distant One, Incomprehensible One,
God both of flowers and stars,
God of the gentle wind and of terrible battles,
Wisdom, Power, Loyalty, and Truthfulness,
Eternity and Infinity, you the All-merciful,
you are the Just One, you Love itself?

No matter how we best understand you, God of All, move in us so that Your Kingdom is seen and known and lived among us. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Blocking My Own Blessings

a big rock in the road
On Sunday mornings, the adult class that I teach has been working through Steps to Christian Maturity, by Bill Bright. The founder of Campus Crusade, Dr. Bright was pretty influential in my life through his evangelism training materials that I learned to use as a new believer.
A few weeks ago, we were working through God’s Promises and Provisions through Prayer. One of the verses about God’s provision really struck me, and caused me to re-think my views on God’s blessing.
Here it is, Ephesians 1:3 –
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

I’m sure I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this verse, but this time it hit me: the PAST TENSE. Look carefully – God HAS BLESSED US. This is not a promise that God *will* bless us if we follow hard after Him, or that God *might* bless us based on some other condition. This is a DONE DEAL. God HAS blessed us!
This made me think – hard – about what God has already done in us, and what we are doing about it. Do you feel as if you’ve received every spiritual blessing already? I know I sure don’t! And what THAT brings to mind is the question:
If I’ve already been given every spiritual blessing in Christ… what is getting in the way of me actually laying hold of that blessing? How am I blocking my own growth in my spiritual walk?
When I put it that way, I’m convicted. I know very well what things I’m holding on to instead of letting go, and letting God’s blessings actually get through to me.
As we enter this new year of 2014, let’s ask ourselves… and each other: what is holding us back from living the Kingdom life to which God is calling us? What are we clinging to that needs to be released?
I am looking forward to discovering this year just how God is going to move among us. It should be quite an adventure!
Keep Following Jesus – Ed

Bible names – mining for insight

hebrew names As I was doing my study this morning, I found myself in Genesis 5, and there are a lot of “begats” in there…

Every time I’ve read them before, I’ve basically logged the names mentally, but not really paid much attention to them until a specific name showed up later in the text, or had some special comment made about it…

…but then it occured to me: my own daughters have very specific names, chosen for very specific reasons. There’s a story behind each name in my family; indeed there’s a story behind how Jami and I even came to choose various names. Why would I automatically assume that Bible names didn’t have much meaning to their parents and treat them like mere footnotes in history?

Enter this site: Abarim Publications. They have some *great* Hebrew insights as to the meaning of names in the Old Testament. Even better – they explain, using the Hebrew, WHY they give a specific meaning to a particular name. It was a fascinating look at the names in Genesis 5, and one does not need to be a Hebrew scholar to appreciate the information on a name.

I recommend taking a look at this site: if you have a name that’s Hebrew in origin, you might discover all kinds of things about your name that you never knew!

Shalom (KFJ)- Ed

Infant Baptism Scripture

baptismal font We celebrated the baptism of a beautiful little girl yesterday. I was asked by a church member for the Biblical support for this particular action, and I really enjoyed the resulting Bible study. I’m posting these verses here in case anyone else would be interested in the fruits of that request.

Matthew 28:19-20 – Jesus talks about the need to make disciples, not converts
Ephesians 6:1-4 – And here’s the reminder that children are to be included in this process of discipleship (esp. verse 4)
Acts 16:15 – Baptism applied to members of a household (you’ll note that ages are simply not mentioned)
Galatians 3:29 – Here’s the New Testament idea of the Abrahamic Covenant – note especially the last phrase, “heirs according to promise”.
Here are the references for parts of the Abrahamic covenant:
Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-7; 17:1-14 – made between God and Abraham
Genesis 26:1-5, 23-24 – includes Issac, Abraham’s son
Genesis 28:10-15; cf. 48:15-16; 50:24 – includes Jacob, Abraham’s grandson
Exodus 2:24; 6:2-8 – includes all of Israel, descendants of Abraham
Genesis 17:9-14 – signs that accompanied biblical covenant
– please notice that the sign includes children – babies are circumcised before they understand being brought under the covenant

We are not justified by the covenant of works, but by the covenant of grace. And since the covenant of grace has fulfilled the requirements of the covenant of works, a new sign to reflect the new covenant is appropriate. That sign is baptism.
Acts 8:12 – notice both men and women participate in the new sign of the new covenant
Colossians 2:11-12 – notice that baptism has REPLACED circumcision THROUGH Christ (the bridge between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace)
Galatians 3:7 – The promise that God made to Abraham in the covenant is still in effect; Christians are, by faith, still ‘children of Abraham’

Since that covenant is still working (Romans 9:8) but its sign has been changed from circumcision to baptism (Colossians 2:11-12), it is reasonable to understand that children are included in that covenant of grace (Acts 16:15). If children are included, then children are able to be baptized.

Since parental faith was exercised in the Abrahamic covenant on behalf of children (Genesis 17), it is reasonable for parental faith to apply in the new covenant, since faith by the father is counted to the children (Romans 4:11).

Consider all of the “household belief” Scriptures in the book of Acts:
Acts: 1:14; 3:4; 4:27; 5:1; 10:2; 14:13; 15:22; 21:5

I hope this blesses you as much as it blessed me!
KFJ – Ed

Kingdom Work

The recurring theme in my faith in Christ is Kingdom Work: the Lord rescues humans to participate in God’s Kingdom; humans respond to God’s rescue to be active subjects in God’s Kingdom. I understand that the Lord relates to the Creation as its Sovereign. In fact, any definition of our understanding of God is lacking if it does not contain description of God as the One Who Has Authority.

God’s authority is an integral part of the Lord’s character; Yahweh does not reign over creation out of boredom, but out of who the Lord is as King and Ruler of all that has been made. Humanity responds to Yahweh’s rule with either joyous acceptance of grace, ungracious indifference to God’s authority, or rebellious rejection of the Lord’s right to rule.

God relates to the Creation as its Sovereign. One of the primary descriptions of God in the Old Testament is “I Am”; the One who Exists. This implies that the various aspects of God’s character will impact how we understand who Yahweh is and why God does what God does. Genesis starts with the depiction of the Creation of the Universe. The act of creation shows that God is an Artist – the Lord takes joy in creation, and in the details necessary to complete that creative act.

As an artist, I have some insight into the process of creation; part of the joy of creating is the sheer creative act. Another integral part of creating is the joy of sharing that creation with others. God, being completely self sufficient, does not need to share the creation with anyone else, but it is apparent from Scripture that the Lord takes joy in demonstrating the nature of Deity to those in creation so that we in the creation can respond. In other words, it seems that God has created an audience for the opportunity to hear its response to Yahweh’s creative work.

The Lord’s Sovereign nature requires God to be at the center focus of creation itself. In humanity, this would be the sin of pride or egoism; however, God is able to be completely holy and sinless in the Lord’s desire to be known and respected as Sovereign of the Universe. Yahweh is, after all, the only one truly capable of fulfilling that role. Since God’s authority is an integral part of the Lord’s character, there is no conflict between the majesty of God’s creative act and the requirement for glory in recognition of that same act. Just as God’s love and justice do not cancel each other out but complement each other, so do God’s attributes of sovereignty and love. Yahweh is a just and good ruler who desires all of creation to recognize the Lord’s benevolence.

Humanity responds to Deity’s rule with either joyous acceptance of God’s grace, or rebellious rejection of the Lord’s right to rule. God’s design of humanity with the ability to choose to love or not to love emphasizes God’s sovereignty. God could have created humanity to only respond with unreasoned praise; however, praise which is forced does not truly reflect the attitude which is being initially sought through that praise. In other words, if the Lord had forced us to give God honor, that forcible act would not be honorable. It cancels itself out. The Lord’s authority does not force the issue, and makes God’s Kingdom worthwhile in our eyes.

Chuang Tzu, Quantum Physics, and Predestination: a mash-up

I read a lot, and broadly… I find that I am interested in almost everything that’s in print, and I read as one under compulsion. That by itself might not be a problem, but my mind starts to see connections between disparate topics where they might not actually exist. Be warned: this post is about one such “connection”…

Point 1 – Chuang Tzu, a Chinese philosopher from the fourth century BCE, wrote about the intersection of the “I” and the “Not-I”:

There is nothing that cannot be seen from the standpoint of the “Not-I”. And there is nothing which cannot be seen form the standpoint of the “I”. If I begin by looking at anything from the viewpoint of the “Not-I”, then I do not really see it, since it is “not I” that sees it. If I begin from where I am and see  it as I see it, then it may also become possible for me to see it as another sees it. Hence the theory of reversal that opposites produce each other, depend on each other, and complement each other. (The Way of Chuang Tzu, pg 42)

Point 2 – Wigner’s Friend thought experiment, an expansion of the Schroedinger’s Cat experiment from quantum physics. This explanation of the Wigner’s Friend experiment is from David Saltzberg, writer of the Big Blog Theory:

Wigner’s Friend is a  gedankenexperiment proposed by the great physicist Eugene Wigner to explore the roles of consciousness in the quantum measurement problem.  It can be discussed as an added layer to the Schroedinger’s cat experiment.  Suppose Wigner leaves the room with the cat of unknown status  in the box while his friend looks in the box.  Typical theorist, he exits the room leaving the dirty work of cleaning up dead cats to an experimentalist friend.  He asks to be told about the experimental results later.   If it is Wigner’s friend’s consciousness that forces the cat to be 100% alive or 100% dead, then even for Wigner, who is out of the room and does not know the result, suddenly lives in a world where the outcome is 100% determined.

Point 3 – Predestination, the concept that God knows (and has in some fashion determined) the future:

God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions. (Westminster Confession of Faith, III, 1-2)

From Point 1, I gain the insight that I recognize that can be two simultaneous points of view that are mutually exclusive and yet both are viewpoints of the same truth. From Point 2, I gain the insight that a deterministic state does not necessarily depend upon one’s own observation. From Point 3, I gain the insight that God does not determine the actual outcome of choices made within the scope of free will, although God knows the results of those choices before we (who make the choices) know their outcome.

How is this a mash up? Because when I consider these three concepts from disparate sources, I gain a different insight about how God’s foreknowledge and my free will intersect. I understand that even though those two concepts seem to be diametrically opposed, they in fact inform and define each other. I am not God; I do not have the ability to see as God sees, to know as God knows at the level at which God possesses knowledge. God is truly “Not-I”, to use the term of Chuang Tzu.

I also understand, using the Wigner’s Friend thought experiment, that my observation of the events which happen in my own life determine their status; when I make a choice of A over B, then A becomes true for me, and B does not. The Lord, however, is like Wigner: God is “out of the room”, so to speak, and is not influencing my ability to choose either A or B. God knows the outcome of my choice, but does not cause it in any way.

This helps me grasp how the Infinite Sovereign Creator of the Universe interacts with me, a created part of that universe. God knows my name; God knows my choices; God desires what is Good for me, but does not force that Goodness upon me (which would render it Evil – more Chuang Tzu, I’m afraid). This means that if there is any Goodness in me, that it is a reflection of God’s own character; “to the praise of His glorious grace”. In my mind, the goodness that may be manifested in my life is like a quantum reflection of God’s goodness; I am merely trying to live my life in connection with God.

Sola Dei Gloria!


Pastor Ed Backell

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