Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Blogging with Barth: CD 1.2 §22.1 "The Word of God and the Word of Man in Christian Preaching" pp. 743-758

The Leitsatz (thesis statement) for §22 states: "The Word of God is God Himself in the proclamation of the Church of Jesus Christ. In so far as God gives the Church the commission to speak about Him, and the Church discharges this commission, it is God Himself who declares His revelation in His witnesses. The proclamation of the Church is pure doctrine when the human word spoken in it in confirmation of the biblical witness to revelation offers and creates obedience to the Word of God. Because this is its essential character, function and duty, the word of the Church preacher is the special and immediate object of dogmatic activity."

In section §22 ("The Mission of the Church") and in subsection §22.1 ("The Word of God and the Word of Man in Christian Preaching"), Barth wants to think about the Word of God and how it relates to the preaching task:
We have reached the final and really critical point in the doctrine of the Word of God, that which is both its starting point and its end: the Word of God as the preaching of the Church. Must the same serious meaning be attributed to this as to the first two aspects, “The Word as God’s revelation” and “The Word as Holy Scripture”? Must this third aspect, the preaching of the Church in the whole sphere of humanity in which it is actualised here and now, be included in the indirect identity between revelation and Scripture? Is the Church’s preaching also God’s Word, and to what extent? Is God’s Word also the preaching of the Church, and if so to what extent? The task of theology and of dogmatics in particular consists in the attempt to answer this question (743).
Barth is intrigued by the question how is the Word of God related to the word of humanity in preaching. Can the preached word be the Word of God too? The answer is, of course, yes!
In the human authority and freedom thus founded by it and in it, it becomes the object of the Church’s preaching, and men, who as such are identical neither with Jesus Christ nor with the prophets and apostles, become indirectly and by faith (upon the sole ground that they are baptised members of the Church and therefore participants in its commission and its authority) the bearers and speakers of the Word of God as it becomes a word spoken by them in the form of their human word. We know that in Holy Scripture the Word of God is the Word of God in a different but no less real sense than it is in revelation. The same is true of the witness of the prophets and apostles as compared with the original witness of the Son of God Himself. However sharply the difference between the Lord and the servants must be stressed, the very solemnity of this relationship, founded and formed as it is by the resurrection of Jesus, forbids us to entertain the notion that, with the transference of the Word of God to its biblical witnesses and the self-communication of Jesus Christ to His followers, anything in the nature of a weakening or dilution, or even a disturbance or distortion of the Word of God has taken place. The same thing is fundamentally true of the relationship of Holy Scripture with revelation on the one hand, and with the preaching of the Church on the other. Once again in a different form, but here too neither diminished nor weakened, we have to do really and truly with the one integral Word of God, with God Himself, with Jesus Christ through the Holy Ghost, just as certainly as Holy Scripture, and in and through it God’s self-revelation, is given to the Church. In this case the Word of God is preached only indirectly, formally and relatively in the authority and freedom of Jesus Christ Himself and the authority and freedom of the prophets and apostles, that is, in the authority and freedom accorded to the Church as instituted under the Word and assembled by the Word. But this does not alter in the very least the fact that in this case, too, it is really and truly the one integral Word of God to be believed as such by those who speak and those who hear it (744).
Therefore, to state the problem, we must begin with the affirmation that, by the grace of revelation and its witness, God commits Himself with His eternal Word to the preaching of the Christian Church in such a way that this preaching is not merely a proclamation of human ideas and convictions, but, like the existence of Jesus Christ Himself, like the testimony of the prophets and apostles on which it is founded and by which it lives, it is God’s own proclamation (745-746).
God inhabits the human words of preaching and makes them the Word of God, as both Calvin and Luther contend (see small print section on 746-747). And God has already made everything happen that needed to so that this human proclamation can become the Word of God:
What has to happen in order that the proclamation of the Church may be the Word of God, and that men in the Church may really proclaim the Word of God, has already happened, as, generally speaking, everything that has to happen in order that the Church may live as the Church of God has already happened. Provision has been made that in the Church men may again and again believe and hope and love, that in it the name of God may be constantly invoked in thankful prayer, that in it the disciples of Jesus may ever and again suffer, and that in it brother may find brother and receive his help. All that has been provided. No presupposition is required from us. We are not even asked whether we see it all performed and fulfilled by ourselves or others. Our business can only be that of accepting as something which has happened for us and to us that which has already been performed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ in respect of the whole life of the Church. It is always in this acceptance that the Church lives its life as created by Jesus Christ and rooted in Him. The same is true in relation to the proclamation of the Word of God, which is only one of the functions of the life of the Church. It can be only a question of accepting what has already been created and founded in Jesus Christ. It is not we who have to care for the truth and validity of the identification of proclamation in the Church with the Word of God. We have to accept that it is so and allow it to be true. Because Jesus Christ has risen, because God’s revelation and testimonies are, therefore, given to the Church, it receives and holds His commission, which means that it has Himself in its midst as the Lord of its speaking, the Lord who in and through its speaking bears witness to Himself. Humanly speaking, it is a stark impossibility which here stares us in the face - that men should speak what God speaks; but it is one which in Jesus Christ is already overcome (748-749).
But even in what we do badly, the sometimes (or even always) problematic task of proclaiming God, is in God's grace, made possible by Him. Preaching is a divine victory concealed in human failure:
If there is proclamation, if the attempt does not fail, it is just at the point where success is achieved that it can and will be understood, not as a human success, but as a divine victory concealed in human failure, sovereignly availing itself of human failure. God then makes good what we do badly. And the fact that God makes good what we do badly cannot be understood as a dialectical change which, so to speak, takes place naturally. It cannot be postulated or assumed as a consequence which in some ways follows necessarily. It can only be hoped by faith in the foundation which God Himself has laid for the Church, that is, by faith in Jesus Christ. What then happens is by no means a matter of course—the very achievement of this divine victory forbids us to think it self-explanatory. For what happens is that men are really able to speak of God, and to let others hear of Him. But, again, it is not self-explanatory that this is not self-explanatory. All the poverty and helplessness and confusion and impotence of Church proclamation to ourselves and others, as we think we see it in our own age and in every age; the whole sea of impure doctrine in which the Word of God seems formally to be drowned in the Church’s proclamation; everything which might cause us to doubt the truth of the identification as we see the actual state and course of things in the Church: all these things are a reminder that this victory is not achieved self-evidently; that it can be only a divine victory, a miracle. Yet even the most painful aspect of the Church has not the power to dissuade us from regarding it as self-evident. If we are in fact dissuaded, it is because the identification of the Church’s proclamation with the Word of God is true. The achievement of the divine victory stands out miraculously to comfort and to warn, not merely against the bad aspect, but against every aspect that the Church can present. In that achievement grace itself assures us that it is achieved by grace, and not as the result of some self-explanatory dialectical necessity. Jesus Christ in the power of His resurrection is present wherever men really speak really of God. It is not this or that aspect of the empirical Church but the very glory of this event which casts the deep shadow on all human action in the Church, which makes our need plain to us by delivering us from need, and compels us to recognise that of ourselves we are not able to speak of God (751-752).
Of course, the preaching task, and the failed human specimens who undertake it, must rely deeply on prayer. Not only that, they must work! So the summons is to the study desk and the knees...
The human frailty of the Church’s proclamation must be constantly borne in mind to the precise extent that we have to be clear that both those who speak and those who hear in this matter necessarily rely on the free grace of God and therefore on prayer. But if they are dependent on prayer, undoubtedly they are also dependent on serious and honest work. For how can they pray if, even in praying, they do not also work? How can they pray if they indolently rely upon a spiritual outpouring which is going to come or has already come on them? How can they pray if they do not eagerly and persistently aspire to the Word of God for which they pray? (755).