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Archive for the ‘Barth’ Category

Check out this definition of the church’s mission.

‘The Church’s commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ’s stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver to all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God.’

That’s it.  That’s the mission of the church.  Proclamation.

Now, without cheating, see if you can guess where this comes from.  And when.

Any guesses?

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Well maybe you think these are the words of some one-eyed fundamentalist, divorced from any pressing social or political needs.  Perhaps you think this definition represent a cowardly retreat from the social and political realities of the day?

Well the year was 1934, the place was Germany and this is article 6 of the Barmen Declaration – the document that founded the German Confessing Church.

And into that context, this determination to view the church’s mission simply as gospel proclamation proved to be the most provocative political challenge possible.  This is precisely because it refuses to engage with the world on its own terms.  The Nazis are confronted because the Confessing Church occupies itself with its one true Fuhrer (Christ), its one true Reich (God’s Kingdom) and its one true commission: delivering ‘the message of the free grace of God’.  Far from creating an ‘ecclesiastical ghetto’ for the Confessing Christians, this single-minded determination to let the Gospel set the agenda for the Church brings it into its most significant contact with the surrounding culture.

Barmen is profoundly political.  But it is so by refusing any other agenda but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Nothing could be more explosive.

A few years later, Karl Barth (who authored Barmen) was back in his native Switzerland.  (Interestingly it was his lectures on preaching that were the last straw for the Nazis, the Gestapo bursting in and forcibly deporting him.  Apparently his last words to his students on the train platform was the admonition: “Exegesis, exegesis, exegesis!”)  Anway, a young pastor from Brandenburg wrote to him in distress.  He had been sacked after preaching against Mein Kampf from the pulpit.  The pastor expected sympathy.  Instead Barth replied that the pastor had made a “decisive mistake”:

Your job, when you stand in the pulpit, is to again make well the sick church of Germany.  That can be done only by the Word alone.  You are to serve that Word and no other.  But you can’t do that if you seize on Mein Kampf… Was it not a shame, each minute that you wasted with this book instead of reading the Bible?   (William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, p248-249)

Interesting huh?

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Sermon introductions

It’s confession time:  I began my sermon tonight with “”a joke””.  You know, feed-line, punch-line, wait for response, polite church laughter, tenuous link to sermon.

ugggh.  I think I need a shower.

I post this quotation as penance.  Here’s Barth warning us all away from such ‘plain heresy’:

The theological damage of sermon introductions is in any event incredibly extensive… For what do they really involve at root?  Nothing other than the search for a point of contact, for an analogue in us which can be a point of entry for the Word of God.  It is believed that this little door to the inner self must first be found and opened before it is worthwhile to bring the message.  No! This is plain heresy…. We have simply to approach people knowing that there is nothing in them that we can address, no humanum, no analogia entis of any kind that we can put in touch with the divinum, but only the one great possibility which has no need of our skills, which alone is efficacious, and which does not need us as advocates… We have simply to assume the attitude of a messenger who has something to say.  We have no need to build a slowly ascending ramp, for there is no height that we have to reach.  No!  Something has to come down from above.  And this can happen only when the Bible speaks from the very outset. (Homiletics, p124-125)

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A parable

Nice huh?

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Like little children

Nothing transforms my prayer life like quoting Matthew 18:3 to myself:

Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Here’s Barth on coming to our Father in heaven as child-like beginners:

In invocation of God the Father everything depends on whether or not it is done in sheer need (not self-won competence), in sheer readiness to learn (not schooled erudition), and in sheer helplessness (not the application of a technique of self-help). This can be the work only of very weak and very little and very poor children, of those who in their littleness, weakness, and poverty can only get up and run with empty hands to their Father, appealing to him. Nor should we forget to add that it can only be the work only of naughty children of God who have wilfully run away again from their Father’s house, found themselves among swine in the far country, turned their thoughts back home, and then – if they could – returned to their Father … Christians who regard themselves as big and strong and rich and even dear and good children of God, Christian who refuse to sit with their Master at the table of publicans and sinners, are not Christians at all, have still to become so, and need not be surprised if heaven is gray above them and their calling upon God sounds hollow and finds no hearing. The glory, splendour, truth, and power of divine sonship, and of the freedom to invoke God as Father, and therefore the use of this freedom – the Christian ethos in big and little things alike – depends at every time and in every situation on whether or not Christians come before God as beginners, as people who cannot make anything very imposing out of their faith in Jesus Christ, who even with this faith of theirs – and how else could it be if it is faith in Jesus Christ? – venture to draw near to his presence only with the prayer: “Help my unbelief” (Mk. 9:24). Mark well that this has nothing to do with Christian defeatism. It describes Christians on their best side and not their worst, in their strength and not their weakness (2 Cor. 12:10).

Karl Barth, The Christian Life: Church Dogmatics IV.4: Lecture Fragments (trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981), 80.

Source: Jason Goroncy

Have you ever heard a more heart-warming doctrine lecture??

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blues-brothers-mission-god

When Karl Barth addressed the Brandenburg Missionary Conference in 1932 he introduced a missiological perspective which has determined the shape of mission theology in every part of the Church. 

“Must not even the most faithful missionary, the most convinced friend of missions, have reason to reflect that the term missio was in the ancient Church an expression of the doctrine of the Trinity-namely the expression of the divine sending forth of self, the sending of the Son and Holy Spirit to the world? Can we indeed claim that we do it any other way?”

Barth cuts through soteriological or eschatological consideration to bring us right back to the Source of mission.  It is not that ‘Salvation is like this therefore mission should be like that.’  It is not that ‘The End will be like this, so mission should be like that.’   No, the real argument is that ‘God’s being is like this, therefore mission should be like that!’  There are missions because of the missio Dei – because God is a sending God.  In Himself, in eternity, God’s being is a being of outgoing love.  This is the Fountainhead for mission.

David Bosch has memorably put it like this:

To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.

This insight has been picked up by all wings of the Church, from the conciliar to the Anabaptist, from the Roman Catholic to the evangelical. 

More important than all this consensus however is the bible’s own testimony.

 Consider the Johannine ‘great commission’: 

As the Father has sent me I am sending you.  (John 20:21; cf 17:18).

We ought to take that little word ‘as’ with full seriousness.  In the same way that the Father sends the Son, so the Son sends His church.  Let us ask, how has the Father sent the Son?

Lest we be Arians we must acknowledge that the Son’s generation from the Father is not a mere product of the Father’s will in time.  It is rather an eternal begetting that is of the very essence of the eternal Godhead.  There is not a God and then a sending.  There has only ever been a sending God – the missio Dei.  Both Father and Son are eternally constituted in these relations of Sending and Sent.

The Son’s being and act is a being and act found and expressed in the Father’s sending.  The Son’s own life is a life in mission.  This has always been true in eternity and it was made manifest in incarnation.

Christ’s most common self-identification in John is as the One sent from the Father.  And His most common articulation of His mission was always to do the will of His Father – a will expressed in thoroughly evangelistic terms – e.g. John 3:16; 4:23; 6:29; 6:38-40.  Christ is sent as the world’s Saviour, the One who seeks worshippers for the Father, who glorifies the Father in His saving death and only then says ‘it is finished’ (John 19:30).

Therefore, because Christ’s being is a missionary being, so His activity is a missionary activity. 

On the cross, the true being and glory of the Son was manifested, and in Him the glory of the triune God  (e.g. John 13:32; 17:5).  Here was demonstrated Christ’s obedience to the Father and, at one and the same time, His love for the world.  Christ’s being and act are laid bare at Golgotha, and shown to be a missionary being and act.

Therefore, returning to John 20:21, we see the continuity of Christ’s mission with ours.  Just as Christ has His being in sent-ness for the world’s salvation, so does the church.  We have received a commission that was passed from the Father to the Son in the depths of eternity.  Our missionary activity finds its origin not in any human enthusiasm for witness but in the being of God.  And our sent-ness for the salvation of the world is not only our activity.  It is, like God’s own missio, constitutive of our very life.

‘The Christian community is not sent into the world haphazardly or at random, but with a very definite task. It does not exist before its task and later acquire it.  Nor does it exist apart from it, so that there can be no question whether or not it might have or execute it.  It exists for the world.  Its task constitutes and fashions it from the very outset.  If it had not been given it, it would not have come into being.  If it were to lose it, it would not continue.  It is not then a kind of imparted dignity.  It exists only as it has it, or rather only as the task has it. Nor is it a kind of burden laid upon it.  It is the inalienable foundation which bears it.  Every moment of its history it is measured by it. It stands or falls with it in all its expressions, in all its action or abstention. It either understands itself in the light of its task or not at all.’ (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/3, p796.)

‘[The task of the Church] is no less, no more and no other than the ministry of witness required of it and constituting it.’ (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/3, p834))

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Rediscovered this old quote from Barth’s Homiletics:

“The theological damage of sermon introductions is in any event incredibly extensive… For what do they really involve at root?  Nothing other than the search for a point of contact, for an analogue in us which can be a point of entry for the Word of God.  It is believed that this little door to the inner self must first be found and opened before it is worthwhile to bring the message.  No! This is plain heresy…. We have simply to approach people knowing that there is nothing in them that we can address, no humanum, no analogia entis of any kind that we can put in touch with the divinum, but only the one great possibility which has no need of our skills, which alone is efficacious, and which does not need us as advocates… We have simply to assume the attitude of a messenger who has something to say.  We have no need to build a slowly ascending ramp, for there is no height that we have to reach.  No!  Something has to come down from above.  And this can happen only when the Bible speaks from the very outset.” (Homiletics, p124-125)

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You’ve been told!

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“One can never say of a single part of the narrative, doctrine and proclamation of the New Testament, that in itself it is original or important or the object of the witness intended. Neither the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount nor the eschatology of Mk 13 and parallels, nor the healing of the blind, lame and possessed, nor the battle with the Pharisees and the Cleansing of the Temple, nor the statements of the Pauline and Johannine metaphysics and mysticism (so far as there are any), nor love to God nor love to neighbour, nor the passion and death of Christ, nor the miraculous raising from the dead – nothing of all that has any value, inner importance or abstract significance of its own in the New Testament, apart from Jesus Christ being the subject of it all. His is the name in which it is all true and real, living and moving, by which, therefore, everything must be attested.” I/2, p10-11

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