Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Historical Theology

First Advisor

Timothy Dost

Scripture References in this Resource

Genesis 1-11; Romans 13


Weber, Christoph, Reading the signs of the time: “Three voices in the confessional Lutheran Church to segregation, racism, and apartheid in South Africa from 1900–1978.” Ph.D. diss., Concordia Seminary, 2022. 425 pp.

According to August Vilmar, reading the signs of the times was an essential task of all pastors and theologians. It was a part of their prophetic task to interpret the world and its context with the word of God and to proclaim the voice of the church in law and gospel. The three theologians analyzed in this dissertation: Karl Meister, Hermann Sasse, and Friederich W. Hopf respected Vilmar and used him as a theological role model. They all ventured to explain the church’s position concerning the political situation of their time. Meister defended the apartheid policy as advocated by D.F. Malan’s National Party in a presentation that Meister held at the General Lutheran Conference in Durban in 1950. Hermann Sasse’s criticism of totalitarian states in the 1930s can be viewed as a theological rebuttal of many of the theological and political positions held by supporters of segregation and apartheid. These concern the concepts of Volk, nation, state, government, and race. Sasse wrote to Hopf just before the latter traveled to South Africa for the first time in 1956 that no Lutheran pastor could support apartheid. Hopf dealt most clearly and critically with apartheid after the Soweto Uprising of 1976.

Foundational for both Sasse and Hopf was their ecclesiological understanding. The political positions they had against apartheid resulted from their concept of church. Understanding the church from the definition of the seventh article in the Confession of Augsburg, they would deny any other secondary aspects like culture, race, or Volk, and nation to play a definitive role in the constitution or existence of the church. The sufficiency of word and sacraments implied that other criteria must be excluded from the foundational ecclesiology. Sasse was critical of the pseudo-religious role that the totalitarian states played. The state and politics were usurping the part of the church, to the detriment of all. Sasse and Hopf accepted the two-realm teaching of the Lutheran church but not in a way that invariably credited the present government with unquestioned authority. From the understanding of the mandate given to both realms by God, they argued that the state was often in real danger of losing its mandate through abuse and tyranny. Hopf appreciated the Maphumulo Memorandum that called for a dynamic approach, that the church had a responsibility to call the government to account on how it fulfilled its mandate.

Sasse used the concept of vocation widely to explain the genesis of Völker, nations, state, and government. This allowed him to counter the racial categories and the idea of creation orders, which he found to be easily misunderstood and therefore preferred to use the term divine orders. The contingency of history and God’s sovereignty in both the call and judgment, which designates the fall of an institution, is better explained by the concept of vocation than the more rigid biological concepts of race.

Another layer is added to the analysis of the dissertation by applying the theory of social knowledge by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann to the topic. The social construction of reality attempts to explain the dynamics at work when humankind makes sense of their world. The role played by society, the significant conversation partners, and the individual describes the creation and sustaining of a plausibility structure that exerts coercive objectivity on the individual, even though it is socially constructed. This reality makes the ability to read the signs of time objectively tricky and is an explanation of why most people tend to go with the flow. This is also true when the hegemony of an idea suddenly collapses and the plausibility structure is overhauled. Suddenly most people change sides and cannot remember ever supporting the previous view or explanation of the world.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.