Monday, October 17, 2016

Reader Response: Church Dogmatics ch VII (6)

We've made it into the third division (of four) in the chapter, which is to say we've discussed the problem of a correct doctrine of election, and we've talked about the election of Jesus Christ - although this being Barth, we will not be surprised to keep returning to that subject - and we are on to considering the election of the community.  This begins with a mercifully short section, entitled Israel and the Church.  As a preliminary observation, this was published in 1942, and that is probably significant.

Barth begins by clarifying why this section is here.  Scripture does not move from the election of Christ directly to the election of individual human beings in him.  It begins with a "mediate and mediating election", the object of which is "men as a fellowship elected by God in Jesus Christ and determined from all eternity for a particular service" (196).  Barth uses "the concept of the community because it covers the reality both of Israel and the Church" (196), and he sees the election of this community as mediate because in a sense the mid-point between the election of Christ and the election in him of individuals; and as mediating because the relation between Christ's election and the individual's election is "mediated and conditioned" by the election of the community.  Barth sees this mediation as mirroring the existence of Christ - in so far as the community stands over against the world, it reflects the freedom of God's election, and in so far as it serves the world it reflects his love.

Israel and the Church are bound together, then, as the one elect community in Christ, but Israel and the Church reflect the two different aspects of the election of Christ which we have already seen. "Jesus Christ is the crucified Messiah of Israel.  As such He is the authentic witness to the judgement that God takes upon Himself by choosing fellowship with man" (198).  But he is also "the Risen Lord of the Church.  As such he is the authentic witness of the mercy" shown by God in turning man to himself and to his own glory (198).  For Barth, Israel is the community which hears the promise, but which "resists its divine election" (198); in thus displaying what humanity is like, "Israel attests the justice of the divine judgement on man borne by God Himself" (198).  Israel reveals "the passing of the old man" (198), but in so doing it is also "the secret origin of the Church" in which the "new man becomes true" (199).  The Church, as the gathering of Jews and Gentiles together, is the community which recognises and testifies to the divine mercy in Christ - it not only hears the promise, but believes.  And yet, for all its newness, it understands its origin as being in Israel, and in its determination.

Barth is careful at this point to guard against the interpretation that makes Israel the 'rejected' community and the Church the 'elected' community.  "The object of election is neither Israel for itself nor the Church for itself, but both together in their unity" (199).  This must be so, for their election is grounded in the one election of Jesus Christ.  What Barth doesn't particularly dwell on here, but which is implicitly clear, is that there can be no question of 'the Jews' being rejected; the Church does not mean the Gentile Church, but means the gathering together of believing Jews and Gentiles.

This two-fold determination of the one elect community mirrors the two-fold determination of the elect Christ, and the two-fold determination implies the unity: behind the apparent resistance of election by Israel stands the rejection of God - but that rejection is seen in the light of God's election of man to fellowship with himself, and thus in light of God's taking this rejection on himself; behind the faith of the Church stands the election of God - but that election is seen in the light of God's rejection of sinful man, and thus in light of God's taking that rejection on himself (200).  Israel and the Church are one community, united in their witness to Christ - although only in the latter case is this actually known.

Barth backs this up by reference to Romans 9:1-5 - he will expound Romans 9-11 throughout this section.  From verses 1 to 3, he argues that "Paul is in a position to exercise the apostolic office committed to him by Jesus Christ only in the name and on behalf of both the Church and Israel,"  Indeed, "as the apostle of the Church, Paul can be, and means to be, more than ever a prophet of Israel" (202).  For Barth, Paul isn't just naturally distressed at the lack of faith shown by his compatriots; rather, this goes to the heart of his mission.  Israel's rejection of the Christ is one determining factor in his preaching.  On the other hand, from the Church's point of view, it is clear that "the Church lives by the covenants made between God and Israel" (203) - the promises which the Church grasps and believes are Israel's promises.  It is impossible for the Church to want to be without Israel, or at least in so far as it wants this it is not living from faith in Israel's Messiah.  "The Church leads no life of its own beside and against Israel.  It draws its life from Israel, and Israel itself lives in it" (205).  In the face of Israel's unbelief, the Church can only confess its faith in Israel's Messiah.  "In the name and on behalf of this dead Israel, it must confess the One who (as the Lord both of the dead and the living, Rom 14:9) does not even, in view of this form of death, cease to be the living Head of the whole community and therefore the hope even of these dead" (205).

I felt a bit uncomfortable reading through this section.  But I wonder whether I've just drunk a bit too much pluralism.  If Jesus really is Israel's Messiah, you'd have to say something like this, wouldn't you?

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