One of the Kirchentag Bible studies asked “When is the Kingdom of God coming?” (Luke 17:20). Does God work only through people, or in other ways? (At least we should perhaps be grateful it is not only through us as members of the Church!). In the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says that the Kingdom is both in you “and spread out upon the earth” (verse 113). But when the Church decided which books were to be part of the New Testament “Thomas” was not included- because it did not promote a hierarchical Church structure? (But it also said that women must become male to enter the Kingdom- verse 114- which might be another reason). And Revelation was included, though it predicted the implosion of the Roman Empire at the time when Church and Empire were allying.
The Wedding at Cana (John 2) is often understood to imply the inferiority of Judaism (water for ritual purification turned into wine)- and who are “the Jews”, who John depicts as always the enemies of Jesus, and whose identity as children of Abraham Jesus denies (John 8:39 to 45)? Only the religious leaders? Or “this generation” (Matthew 11:16)- which Christian antisemitism (and the Nazis) has often taken to mean “all Jews of every generation”. In fact the wine is the “First Sign” (verse 11) of the Kingdom of God- a great wedding feast (which is what all our worship should be).
Kirchentag (Church Congress) is an important part of the Protestant (Evangelical) Church (EKD), of nearly 20 million nominal members (though far fewer go to services), who pay Church Tax of 8 or 9% added to their income tax and collected by the State (though these amounts are declining rapidly these days). EKD is a federation of Lutherans, Reformed and United (in Prussia in 1818 Lutherans and Reformed were united by royal decree). Kirchentag takes place every two years alternating with the Catholic “Katholikentag”, with Ecumenical meetings in some years.
Our reading was from Nehemiah chapter 8- the reading of the Law (after the people’s return from Exile), which caused the people to weep (verse 9) when they heard it.
In a similar way in 1945 the leaders of the Protestant Church issued the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt https://marcuse.faculty.history.ucsb.edu/projects/niem/StuttgartDeclaration.htm acknowledging their failure to stand up to National Socialism. Some had resisted Hitler’s attempt to completely control the Church (for example the “Confessing Church”), but few had opposed antisemitism or had challenged the Holocaust, and some (the “Deutsche Christen”- German Christians) had actively supported Hitler. This Declaration was controversial for most church members for many years, but the modern Kirchentag movement began in 1949 as a lay initiative as the Evangelical Church began the task of rethinking its theology after the Hitler period. There is no equivalent in Britain, probably because our sense of our history is different- perhaps the Greenbelt Festivals come the closest.
Hitler had more respect for the organisation (not the beliefs) of the Catholic Church, and had agreed a “Concordat” with the Vatican in July 1933, though this did not fully protect the Church from Nazi pressure. In 1945 German Catholic bishops did not recognise any corporate failure equivalent to the Protestant Declaration- they said that although many individual Catholics had not resisted Nazism, many had risked their lives to support persecuted Jews. Before 1933 the Catholic Centre Party had meant that far fewer Catholics were members of the NSDAP, and in 1941 the Archbishop of Münster had spoken out against the Nazi euthanasia programme, achieving some change in the policy. It was not until 1965, after much argument among German Catholics, that the bishops acknowledged the fault of the Church for not speaking out about the Holocaust, despite the fact that many knew a good deal of what was happening.