The Rise and Fall of the Confessing Church

Posted on July 29, 2021 by PLT Staff

Lecture given by Victoria Barnett at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA (February 21, 2008). Barnett argues that the emergence of the Confessing Church, a minority movement within the German Protestant church that fought against the church’s Nazification, was perhaps the most profound moment in the history of Protestantism since the Reformation. According to Barnett, the Confessing Church has shaped churches throughout the world on a symbolic level. However, the Confessing Church also kept silent and compromised with Nazis by proclaiming political loyalty and support for the state and by using behind-the-scenes diplomacy rather than speaking out publicly. By understanding the vision of the Confessing Church, we may better understand the theology and witness of its most famous member (and harshest critic) Dietrich Bonhoeffer. For a listing of all our Occasional Lectures, click here.

Excerpt: “But just as we can’t understand the history of the Confessing Church without always keeping its historical context in mind, we can’t understand Bonhoeffer’s reflections on the church unless we also explore what he at that point had learned from the church struggle, and the rise and fall of the Confessing church movement…Bonhoeffer saw clearly what the cost of compromise is, what the cost of complicity is. He understood something about failure, about what happens to the human soul when backbone dissolves, about what happens to the Christian church when it makes one compromise after the other. He understood that when the church does that–when it continually redefines its message, its interpretations of scripture, its very theology, so that it stays out of trouble–that these are sins not of omission but of commission, of complicity. And that is why he was such an uncomfortable figure for Protestant leaders in the early postwar period.”

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