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Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands seit der Reformation.
Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands seit der Reformation.
Johannes Wallmann
UTB, Stuttgart, 2000
351 pp.,

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Mary Noll Venables


Fear God. Honor the Emperor.

Church history from a German viewpoint.

In May 1934, concerned Christians from Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches in Germany met together in Barmen. The confessing church, as the group came to be known, opposed the increasing influence of National Socialism and issued a courageous call to resist Nazi dominance in the church. They called on their fellow Christians to "withstand in faith and unanimity the destruction of the … Evangelical Church in Germany." They warned of "German Christians" who dominated church government and subordinated Christian principles to National Socialism. "Fear God. Honor the emperor," they reminded their listeners, denying that the State "could become the single and totalitarian order of human life" or that the Church was merely "an organ of the State."[1]

The Barmen declaration challenged the overarching authority of National Socialism and the quiescence of German Protestants. In any totalitarian regime, a comparable document would be a spirited defense of the church and its freedoms. In a German context, the Barmen declaration was particularly brave. Not only did it oppose the present government, it also opposed a long history of state direction of German Protestantism.

Johannes Wallmann's Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands seit der Reformation (Church History of Germany since the Reformation) delineates the confessing church's anomalous relationship to the state. Although this is a survey text, the leitmotiv of church-state relations is inescapable. From the early days of Martin Luther's career as a reformer to the administration of the "church in socialism," secular authorities steered the Protestant church in Germany. Whatever their political hue, German governments greatly influenced Protestant churches.

Wallmann's book exemplifies a common German genre that is relatively unknown in the Anglo-American publishing world. It is what Germans call a Handbuch, literally a handbook. Handbooks introduce a subject at a fairly high level. Like other handbooks, Wallmann's is not ...

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