Always Christ and Christ Again
I continue to read Barth's "The Great Promise" and enjoy getting some deeper looks at how Scripture applies to and defines the church. I won't bore you with all the details. Instead, I will jump into some more thought provoking quotes from my latest reading.
"This is something which theologically as well as practically cannot be elucidated enough, that indeed the whole content of the Bible from A to Z including everything we call the Christian Church and Christian dispensation absolutely depends on this name Jesus. The name is the last thing that could still be said about someone, and everything now centers around this someone himself." (The Great Promise, 27)
There are some great points here. That all of Scripture points to Christ is sufficiently thought-provoking from a hermeneutical point. That the Christian Church is dependent is not controversial. But something perhaps that is missed is the name — Jesus. This is not "the eternal logo." This is not "the Son of God." Barth is not saying that the Scriptures points to the hidden and utterly Divine second Person of the Trinity. No, Barth says the manifestation in history of the man Jesus. It is this historical reality that consumes the Scriptures and is fundamental to the Church. Everything revolves around "this someone himself."
Here Barth perhaps pokes a bear that I should let rest. Among Protestants, almost all fighting revolves around "justification by faith alone." This has been called "the doctrine upon which the church stands." It is certainly now "the doctrine upon which the church argues the most." It is completely foreign to Barth's point to make a proposition or doctrine the foundation of Church. For Barth, it is the historical person, who ate, breathed, and slept, that is the foundation of the church. It is the God-man dead upon the cross and risen again that the church depends upon. Not the theological formulation of what these events mean.
"We do not have to seek God anywhere else but in what he tells us. His omnipotence lives and works in his word. His word creates, governs, and supports us. God's omnipotence is therefore concentrated and collected in his revelation. What God's omnipotence really is, we only notice when we do as Mary does, when we grant, concede, agree: 'Let it be to me according to your word''!" (The Great Promise, 34)
There are few quotes I like more than this one so far. I really do not have anything to add. My only quibble is that Barth would eventually separate the sacraments of the church from "what he [God] tells us." For Barth, Christ alone is a sacrament. Barth's perspective on the sacraments essentially became memorialistic.
"Where people who have received the promise are together, as are here Mary and Elizabeth, where the Church is, there is meaning and truth in what unites these people; not in what they do together, not in their speaking and thinking, their being touched in their hearts, not in their weak attempts to pray together and to praise God, but behind all of this, (certainly not without all of this) there is still in the background, still hidden: Jesus Christ and John the Baptist. That means there is the word of God spoken by God himself in the midst of the fear and poverty of our lives; and there is John, the proclamation of this word through men...There is this mysterious happening: God who concerns himself with man, and man who gratefully and fearfully attempts to serve God, this happening which is the mystery 0f the Church: always Christ and Christ again, and with him John the Baptist pointing to him." (The Great Promise, 41-42)
I think this portion is absolutely beautiful. This is roughly the end of a large section of similar themes. The church being where Christ is present, God's spoken Word. But alongside the Word is the proclaim-er of the Word. This is the beauty of the church. Today's individualistic age seeks often to remove the middle man. This is the beauty of corporate worship, there is both Jesus and John.
That there is a significant need in the church for John is missed by those who thinking they can "worship" anywhere and on their own. Though the point is true it misses the miracle that is the church. The Westminster Large Catechism addresses this from a different angle,
Q. 155. How is the Word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.