Friday, November 30, 2007

"the hour may strike, and perhaps has already struck"

Partly because it was written to an "anxious pastor in then Marxist East Germany who was struggling with how the church could continue to express the traditional form of church that they had inherited whilst having to go underground in order to maintain community witness" (Hirsch), Karl Barth's letter is astoundingly accurate in our day:

"...I am not now saying anything new to you in reference to this question. It was indeed one of your most renowned and ablest men, General Superintendent Gunther Jacob in Cottbus, who not long ago announced the “end of the Constantinian era”. Because I have certain wariness about all theoretical formulation of a philosophy of history, I hesitate to make this expression my own. However, it is certain that something resembling this approaching end begins to show itself simply everywhere, but very sharply in your part of the world. It is certain that we all have reason to ask ourselves each of these questions and in every case quickly and clearly to give the answer:

No, the church’s existence does not always have to possess the same form in the future that it possessed in the past as though this were the only possible pattern.

No, the continuance and victory of the cause of God which the Christian Church is to serve with her witness, is not unconditionally linked with the forms of existence which it has had until now.

Yes, the hour may strike, and perhaps has already struck when God, to our discomfiture, but to his glory and for the salvation of mankind, will put an end to this mode of existence because it lacks integrity.

Yes, it could be our duty to free ourselves inwardly from our dependency on that mode of existence even while it still lasts. Indeed, on the assumption that it may one day entirely disappear, we definitely should look about us for new ventures in new directions.

Yes, as the Church of God we may depend on it that if only we are attentive, God will show us such new ways as we can hardly anticipate now. And as the people who are bound to God, we may even now claim unconquerably security for ourselves through him. For his name is above all names…"

(Source: Karl Barth, “Letter to a Pastor in the German Democratic Republic” in How to Serve God in a Marxist Land (New York: Association Press, 1959) 45-80)

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