Friday, May 16, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §21.1 "The Freedom of the Word" pp. 661-695

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §21 states: "A member of the Church claims direct, absolute and material freedom not for himself, but only for Scripture as the Word of God. But obedience to the free Word of God in Holy Scripture is subjectively conditioned by the fact that each individual who confesses his acceptance of the testimony of Scripture must be willing and prepared to undertake the responsibility for its interpretation and application. Freedom in the Church is limited as an indirect, relative and formal freedom by the freedom of Holy Scripture in which it is grounded."

We're working in section §21 ("Freedom in the Church") and in subsection §21.1 ("The Freedom of the Word"). Barth continues a discussion about the written Word in relation to the Church. This time he is tackling the complementary theme of the freedom of the Church and we'll see two subsections - the freedom of the Word and freedom under the Word. Both should be great. After the previous long paragraph, this will make for a bit shorter reading. Barth begins in this way - with a reflection on freedom and authority:
To understand what it means that God has a Word for the Church, we must think of the freedom as well as of the authority of the Church. The Church, called and grounded in the Word of God, is a communio sanctorum not only in the sense that here men are gathered into a communio and as such are ruled and determined by the sancta, i.e., by the sanctuary of the evangelical faith set up in their midst, but—just because of this—in the further sense: that here men participate in this sanctuary, that it is therefore entrusted to their hands and committed to their keeping, that they themselves now become this communio of the sancti in virtue of the communicatio of sancta which takes place in this very communio, being called to be not hearers only, but also doers of the Word. Authority and respect for authority is only the objective side of the obedience that is demanded, created and implanted within the Church by the Word of God. Had we spoken only of authority, we should have spoken equivocally of the sovereignty of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who is not a God of the dead but of the living. His authority is divinely majestic just because it has nothing in common with tyranny, because its true likeness is not the power of a natural catastrophe which annihilates all human response, but rather the power of an appeal, command and blessing which not only recognises human response but creates it. To obey it does not mean to be overrun by it, to be overwhelmed and eliminated in one’s standing as a human being. Obedience to God is genuine precisely in that it is both spontaneous and receptive, that it not only is unconditional obedience but even as such is obedience from the heart. God’s authority is truly recognised only within the sphere of freedom: only where conscience exists, where there exists a sympathetic understanding of its lofty righteousness and a wholehearted assent to its demands—only where a man allows himself to be humbled and raised up, comforted and warmed by its voice. Exactly the same is true of the various forms of ecclesiastical authority and the reverence due to them (661-662).
In Barth's thought, freedom is linked with authority because underneath the authority of the Word, we are called to free obedience (certainly only something a Christian could understand)! Continuing on...
That there is also freedom in the Church must be taken seriously because here, too, in this aspect of the matter, it is clearly a question of the totality. To the question: How does God’s Word come to us men in Holy Scripture and how does it exercise sway in the Church of Jesus Christ? we give this second answer, that it happens through free obedience. In making such a statement we say fully what is to be said to that question. Just as God in His revelation is the Holy Spirit no less than the Son, so God’s Word in Scripture is Spirit no less than Word. And we err no less in refusing to appreciate its freedom than if its authority remains hidden from us. The real relationship is this. As the Son can be revealed only by the Spirit, and in the Spirit only the Son is revealed, so authority must necessarily be interpreted by freedom, and freedom by authority. In the Church neither authority nor freedom can claim to be a principle of ultimate validity and power. In the Church both can be understood and considered only as predicates of God’s Word, and therefore in the light of this which is their proper subject, and therefore only in the light which they cast upon each other (666).
Barth continues with the point that the Word itself is the free Word for free people - that true freedom is supremely that of the Word, which is the ground of the freedom of the church.
We have to discuss the question of freedom in the Church, which primarily and properly means the freedom of the Word of God. We have to show that there is not only authority but also freedom in the Church, that there is not only authority but also freedom under the Word. We have to show that this is a genuine freedom which comes to man in the Church, which is not merely allowed him, but conferred upon him, which is not merely permitted but commanded, which is not fortuitous but necessary. This being the case, we obviously have to understand freedom primarily and essentially in concrete terms, that is, as the freedom of the Word of God. Only as such is it truly freedom, immediate, absolute and meaningful. By it the freedom assigned to us men in the Church is established. As human freedom, it is genuine just because it is limited by the former as an indirect, relative and formal freedom. Human freedom, like human authority, means nothing if the Word of God is not primary and basic, containing and exercising both authority and freedom in itself. Because the Word of God has and exercises freedom in itself, for this reason and on this ground, where it is heeded, that is, in the Church where like evokes like, there is also a human freedom. Since this human freedom is thus evoked, it will neither evade the freedom of the Word, nor degenerate into freedom apart from the Word or without the Word or in contradiction to the Word. It can be freedom only under the Word. Again, it is as such, and only as such, that it will be a genuine human freedom (669).
When we speak of freedom in the Church, in the first instance we mean generally that in the Church, without prejudice to its authority, that is, order, normativeness, guidance and direction, there is also man’s own choice and decision, his own determination and resolve (669). 
In thinking of these men in the Church, we think chiefly of the apostles and prophets themselves. They certainly belong—and indeed as the oldest and first—to the succession of men who have believed and attested the Word of God, and thus, by becoming subject and obedient to it, they have gained a share in its freedom. As apostles and prophets they do not only stand in a succession with all the other men of whom the same may in general be said. As prophets and apostles they stand over against this succession with their word which is the Word of Holy Scripture. To this extent they are also bearers of the Word of God itself, with the direct, absolute and material freedom which is proper to it (670). 
In Scripture we have to see the motivation in which prophets and apostles believed and witnessed. We have to understand this motivation as the life and operation of the Word of God Himself. We have to yield to and follow this motivation of the Word of God which takes place in Scripture. We have to be stirred up and to stir up ourselves by it in our own faith and witness. This is the problem we have to see side by side with that of the authority of Scripture, not as a distinct problem, but as the problem of the concrete understanding of this authority. It is, therefore, really a question of the freedom of the Word, and only then and on this basis, and in the interests of the Word itself, a question of human freedom in the Church—the freedom under the Word which is demanded and at the same time created and bestowed by the Word. The freedom of the Word cannot imply any limitation of the authority of the Word. On the contrary, we have obviously failed to understand its authority, and therefore its loftiness, dignity, value, validity and power, and we are not honouring it as it ought to be honoured, if we do not understand and honour it as the effectual working of Scripture as the present living Word of God in accordance with His true and fulfilled promise, i.e., as a deciding, willing, guiding, governing, determining action talking place in the Church, whose concrete subject is precisely Scripture itself. Thus the superiority of Scripture over against the Church is not the idolatrous calm of icy mountain peaks towering motionlessly above a blossoming valley. The argument of life cannot be played off against the authority of Scripture. Nor can the latter be questioned and assailed in the name of a struggle for the spirit as opposed to the letter. The reason for this is that Scripture is itself spirit and life in the comprehensive and profound sense of these ideas—the Spirit and life of the living God Himself, who draws near to us in its faith and witness, who need not wait until spirit and life are subsequently breathed into the document of His revelation in virtue of the acceptance it finds in the Church or the insight, sympathy, and congeniality which its readers bring to it, but who with His own Spirit and life always anticipates the reactions of all its readers, who in this book really exercises that government in the Church which human church government can only follow by interpreting and applying His Word, by recognising the mighty acts done by Him, by preaching the truth He proclaims, by serving His revealed will. The true freedom of man in the Church, freedom under the Word, consists in this following of the God who at all times precedes us all in Holy Scripture, and in adherence to the action which He takes by Scripture (672-673).
Barth next moves to illustrate and explain and bit more deeply about the freedom of the Word, and the begins to unpack the power of the freedom of the Word. He writes:
The freedom of the Word of God and therefore of Holy Scripture consists primarily in the simple fact that, in contrast to all other elements in the life of the Church and the world, as a direct witness to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, it has a theme of ineffaceable distinctiveness and uniqueness. This theme—because it has been given to it by God Himself, and because its witnesses are God’s own witnesses—constitutes Scripture as a subject which distinguishes itself from all other subjects, and has its own position and activity in relation to them (673).
The next and really decisive insight may be comprehensively defined as the insight into the peculiar power of this subject in its opposition and relation to all other subjects. Freedom means ability, possibility, power—power in its illimitability or its equality over against other powers. It is such power that the subject has which we find constituted by the theme of Holy Scripture—by God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. Because it is the subject constituted by this theme, it has the power of the Word of God (674).
But the new subject which in Holy Scripture confronts other subjects—and this is how we must at once characterise its power—involves a radical compromising of the power of all other subjects. We cannot say more. It does not mean their suspension in the sense of destruction. It is not that other powers do not continue really to confront the power of Holy Scripture. It is not that there does not have to be constant opposition and conflict. In God’s revelation as such, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that suspension and destruction have, of course, been completed, and completed once for all. Our age, however, is not itself the age of this revelation, but the age which is encompassed by its beginning and its ending, that is, by the ascension and by the return of Jesus Christ, by the time of this revelation and by the final victory of the Word of God, and the annulment of all other powers. Our world rests in the light of this victory because we have its attestation, but it is not itself the bearer of this Light. Jesus Christ Himself and He alone is the bearer of this light. The power of the attestation of this victory, and therefore of God’s revelation, consists in the opposition and conflict with the power of the other subjects in the sphere of our world and existence—a power which here and now is still left to them, although they are already threatened with its ultimate cancellation and destruction. It involves the relapse into a comfortable quietism if we see things otherwise, if in the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we act as though the dominion of the Word of God is opposed by no other dominions, and therefore by no trials, obstacles, adversaries or perils (676).
It belongs, therefore, to the recognition of the freedom of God’s Word that we appreciate its exposed position, understanding Scripture as the sign which can be and is spoken against. But it belongs even more to this recognition to realise that its own offensive power is greater (and qualitatively infinitely greater) than the offensive which is mounted against it and from which it has to suffer. If it is true that in the sphere of our world and existence it is actually challenged, it is even more true that it constitutes itself the fundamental challenge to the subjects and powers which exist in this realm and on this level. When it confronts them, it may be that many penultimate words have still to be spoken, but the ultimate word has been already spoken, so that whatever else can and must be said, however serious and difficult it may be in face of the contradiction raised, can, so to speak, be said only in retrospect and by way of recapitulation. Self-evidently, it is by virtue of the content of Scripture that, while it is the sign which can be spoken against, it is at the same time the sign which can never be really and effectually spoken against, which in all its lowliness and assailability confronts all other signs with a decisive because qualitative superiority. The freedom of the Word of God consists in this secret but decisive superiority which it has in face of the totality of world principles, and the recognition of this freedom consists in the quiet and steadfast realisation of this superiority. The outward aspect of the relation between the power of Holy Scripture and other powers will never disclose this intrinsic superiority (677).
The whole truth is that in spite of all appearances to the contrary, Holy Scripture has more power than all the rest of the world together. The whole truth is that all other world-principles are already unmasked and delimited in Holy Scripture, that they are already overcome for all supposedly final and absolute validity, that their power is already surpassed and their triumph outstripped (678).
The recognition of this full but hidden truth is the recognition of the freedom of God’s Word. It will be immediately apparent that this recognition is not possible apart from faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It will also be apparent that we cannot believe in the resurrection without recognising that, in face and in spite of all appearances to the contrary, the world is not victorious over Scripture but Scripture over the world (678). 
Again, the secrecy in which the Word of God is free and transcendent must not be interpreted quietistically. It is true that we cannot expect to see its victory in events, forms and ordinances which are unequivocally recognisable in this sense. The leaven is really hidden. The grain of wheat must really die. All that is humanly visible must always be a picture of this dying and not the picture of a triumphant, divine, world principle. Our faith alone will thus be the victory that has overcome the world (I Jn. 5:4). But all the same, it must not be forgotten that with this faith of ours we stand in the midst of the world. Scripture is in the world. Therefore concrete relationships subsist between the Word of God and the powers of this world. Real contacts and reactions take place in which the freedom of the Word of God, which we recognise by faith, demonstrates and establishes its reality. If it is in accordance with the character of the revelation, and therefore provided for, that the war declared upon the world by the testimony of Jesus Christ will constantly assume the visible form of human defeats, human sinning and failure, human suffering and dying, this testimony is nevertheless a challenge to battle, and not the telling of a dream which at the end necessarily leaves everything in the real world exactly as it was before (679).
And what of this power of the freedom of the Word. In what other ways does it demonstrate its power?
First, the Word of God demonstrates its freedom and supremacy in the world in the fact that it has the power to maintain itself in face of the open and secret, direct and indirect attacks made upon it (680).
Further, the Word of God demonstrates its freedom and supremacy in the fact that it possesses the power continually to isolate and distinguish itself from the elements of the world which crowd upon it and affix themselves to it (681).
Further, Scripture demonstrates its freedom and supremacy in the fact that, above and beyond the power of resistance and criticism, it has the power of assimilating and making serviceable to itself the alien elements it encounters (682).
Finally, and above all, the Word of God demonstrates its freedom and supremacy in the fact that it can change its own form and therefore its effect upon the world. We understand Holy Scripture falsely, that is, not as Holy Scripture, if we regard it as a fixed, inflexible, self-contained quantity. God is the living God. He is this from everlasting to everlasting. Therefore He is it also as the Lord of our temporal world, as the One who once revealed Himself to prophets and apostles, who once placed His testimonies in their mouth. But this means that He is not buried in this “once,” in the writings of these men. They are not a kind of stone mausoleum, in which, so long as it does not crumble and vanish from the earth as is ultimately the way with these structures. He can be known by historical scholars and honoured by other men under their guidance. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are to be understood strictly as the Word of God, which means as the forward and backward looking testimony to Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ is the living Lord of the Church and of the world. But if this is true, the form assumed by the Word of God in the human word of prophets and apostles is not His grave, but the organ of His rule, moved by the living hand of His Spirit and therefore itself alive. Thus we have not only to expect that, by deeper, more precise, more serious, more believing research into Scripture on our part, many a hidden meaning and connexion in these documents will be brought to light; just as by dint of excavations many important and interesting conclusions are to be expected about the life of those who have lived in the near or distant past (683). 
Barth complete his discussion on this section with a reflection on the freedom of the Word as it operates in its primary sphere - the Church.
The freedom of God’s Word is its freedom to found for itself a Church. This means that it unites with itself and among themselves men of every time and place, of every type and destiny and training, of every kind of natural and spiritual disposition, and in it all of every form of sinfulness and mortality. It does so in such a way that it procures from them a hearing, the hearing of obedience, i.e., the hearing by which, for better or worse, for grace or disfavour, for life or death, they are bound to Jesus Christ. It does so in such a way that in all their sinfulness and sickness and its varied manifestations they have to recognise in Him their Lord. This hearing in obedience is Christian faith and the sphere of Christian faith is the sphere in which God’s Word exercises its power. Even if this alters in its outer aspect towards the world, if it contracts or expands, it will always be the sphere of Christian faith. Even its suspension as a separate sphere can only signify that there will not then be any other sphere than that of the Christian faith now elevated to become sight. We know of no other freedom of the Word of God than that which summons us to Christian faith. It is even part of the content of this Word that it has in fact assumed this freedom and this freedom alone: the freedom to create for itself the hearing of obedience. In its founding of the Church, the activity of the Word of God is free in a double sense. It is free, i.e., powerful, over against the sinfulness and sickness of mankind which make the hearing of obedience and therefore Christian faith in itself impossible. It is free also, i.e., powerful, over against the natural diversity of men which has been made disruptive by sin and death, rendering it impossible for them to be at one with God and among themselves by faith. The Word of God is free, and exercises this freedom in the founding of the Church, in overcoming the double limitation of this impossibility, and in imparting to us the possibility of faith (687-688).
The Word of God does not effect only the founding of the Church, but also its continual preservation. The freedom of Scripture gives evidence that it is divine freedom, the sovereignty of the Creator, in the fact that by it, and by it alone, the Church is what it is. Without Scripture it would inevitably dissolve at once into nothingness, perishing from the impossibility of the actuality and unity of faith (688).
The preservation of the Church by the active freedom of the Word of God means concretely that it is unceasingly under the authoritative claim of Scripture (690).
From a human standpoint the preservation of the Church depends, therefore, on the fact that Scripture is read, assimilated, expounded and applied in the Church, that this happens tirelessly and repeatedly, that the whole way of the Church consists in its striving to hear this concrete witness. As a rule the step aside which means a step into the abyss of death, the fatal lack of this self-forgetful attention, will scarcely betray itself as such at once. It will normally take the form of great fidelity (to what the Church has said) and great zeal (for what the Church believes that it must itself say). In this way it will apparently bear the seal of divine justification and necessity. Whenever life is exchanged for death, or death for life, in the Church, this fidelity and zeal are usually operative: much good will, much serious piety, wide vision, deep movements, and in it all the sincere conviction of not being in any way self-willed but rather obedient to the Word of God. What is not noted is that this so-called Word of God is only a conception of the Word of God. It may be created freely. More probably and frequently it will take the shape of an old (no longer newly tested), or new (not yet seriously examined) interpretation of Scripture itself, but not the Word of God as it actually lets itself be heard in Scripture. As such, conceptions of the Word of God may be very good, as also, for example, recognised dogmas and confessions, luminous and helpful theological systems, deep, bold and stimulating insights into biblical truth. But in themselves these things are not the Word of God itself and cannot sustain the life of the Church. Similarly, conservatism and radicalism can only deceive and endanger the Church if they try to outshine this and claim it for their conceptions. The criterion whether it is following the Word of God with this self-forgetful attention consists in whether through everything that it says itself, or thinks it has or can receive from Scripture, it is able and willing to hear the voice of Scripture itself as the final verdict which pronounces true death and true life. The continued life of the Church depends, therefore, on whether Scripture remains open to it, whether all its conceptions, even the best, remain transparent to its content—so that it can itself confirm and legitimate, or qualify, or even completely set them aside. But Scripture cannot be the breath of life to the Church apart from this freedom. If the Church is true to itself, it will allow this sovereign freedom to Scripture, and if it departs from Scripture, it will continually have to return to it. We must again conclude that the Church’s being true to itself depends on whether Scripture wins and maintains for itself this freedom within it, and whether Scripture compels the Church continually to return to it. How can we give to Scripture this freedom, however faithful we are to it? Here again we are confronted by the actuality, and we can only give thanks that it is given and pray that it will be continually given (691-692).
Looking at the same thing from another angle, we maintain that the freedom of the Word of God is its freedom to rule the Church. It is not for nothing that the Church has been founded, and it is not for nothing that it is sustained. Both things happen that it may serve a purpose, the purpose of the divine revelation, and therefore the glory of God and the salvation of mankind. In the time between the ascension and the second coming, the Church as the communion of those who have been summoned by the Word and have believed the Word is the sign of God’s revelation, the sign of the incarnation of the Son of God and the sign of the new humanity redeemed by the Son of God in His coming kingdom. As such a sign, the Church must serve. It must testify in this world to the already accomplished atonement and the coming redemption of its own members and of all mankind in the power of the testimony of Jesus Christ its Lord, who is also Lord over all. But it must not, and cannot, do this in its own strength. It is not the case that the time between the ascension and the second coming is to some extent the kingdom of the believing man autonomous in and by virtue of his faith (692). 
Scripture as the proper organ of Church government will not destroy the immediacy of the relation between the Church and its Lord, and will not impose on the Church the rule of law, so long as the distinction between Scripture itself and all human conceptions of it is maintained and continually made, so long as by constant attention to Scripture, in the unbroken discipline of its reading and exegesis, we allow it to take continual precedence of all human theories in order to follow it faithfully, so long as its government and its being allowed to govern are really taken seriously in the Church (694).
The freedom of the Word of God in regard to the government of the Church means that in all circumstances the Church walks in the way which was yesterday indicated to it by Scripture, which has to be trodden to-day, and which to-morrow will again have to be indicated by Scripture; in a way, therefore, where to-day it is willing and ready to take fresh directions with the obedient spirit it showed yesterday. Just for this reason, exegesis in the Church cannot and must not be discontinued. Each new day its task consists in tracing out the particular freedom which the Word of God takes to-day in the course of its government of the Church. But here again we conclude with the reminder that at this focal point of the Church’s action the decisive activity is prayer, the giving of thanks for the reality of this government and the petition that it may never cease to be a reality. Because it is the decisive activity prayer must take precedence even of exegesis, and in no circumstances must it be suspended (695).
Soli Deo Gloria