Master of Arts (MA)


John Morrison

Primary Subject Area



Karl Barth, Confessing Church, Word of God


This thesis analyzes the contributing factors to the actions taken by the churches in Germany during what Karl Barth and others termed the Kirchenkampf, or German Church Struggle. The Kirchenkampf took place mainly in the 1930s and 1940s. As Hitler rose to power, a new term was coined, Gleichschaltung, which described his program for bringing all of Germany and his conquests into line with the worldview of the Third Reich.

The primary sources for research include works by Martin Luther that shaped the mindset of the churchmen, and history texts detailing the Weimar Republic serving as background for the cultural upheaval experienced by all Germans. From the time of the Kirchenkampf, sources include church history texts with documents and data pertaining to the 1930s and 1940s, and works by Karl Barth directed at the churches of this era. Gleichschaltung was successful in most areas of Germany and German occupation. This thesis will analyze whether it was successful inside the German churches. Churches were granted many freedoms in the legal constitution of Germany prior to the Third Reich. In contradiction of their stated position the State controlled much of the church’s life including religious education of youth, preaching, finances, attendance, and written publications, to name a few. The Confessing Church arose at this time, not as a separate provincial church, but as an organized opposition to Gleichschaltung. They united pastors and faithful believers in Christ in the quest for truth and identity. Both truth and identity were at stake as outside voices were redefining “church” “Christianity” “revelation” and “worship.” Other sources of revelation were introduced, and the Old Testament and Paul’s writings were banned. Only those of Aryan descent could participate in church activities, and a form of Christianity mixed with Nordic German myths was creeping into the churches as a group called German Christians gained leadership positions. Despite all this, there were Christians who remained faithful to the confessions, to all of Scripture, and to one Lord. Karl Barth attests that this era was used by God to show the Church her need of Him, and to remind Christians that the True Church could never crumble.