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Election and Reprobation According to Barth

In our last article on the above mentioned subject, we briefly summed up the first part of Barth’s idea of double predestination by saying that by it he means, first of all, that God chose Himself, that He chose the Man Jesus Christ, that He chose fallen man.

It is difficult to see what this has to do with “double predestination,” and therefore we must now ask the further question: does Barth believe in reprobation? Predestination, we remarked in our last article, means that God chose some to eternal life and glory and that He rejected others unto eternal damnation. This is Scripture. This is the contents of all Reformed Confessions. This is taught by all Reformed theologians whether they are infralapsarian or supralapsarian. Does Barth also teach this in his Dogmatics? He writes on page 180 ff.: “If we, on the other hand, would like to know what is meant by reprobation, which is also determined in God’s eternal counsel—reprobation, which belongs to the contents of the doctrine of predestination and to it alone—then we must consider what God has chosen for Himself in His Son, seeing that in Him He chose for Himself the fellowship with man,” and then he elaborates on this idea. We must turn our attention to the fact that God determined that that which must fall on man, now falls on Him in His only begotten Son. From eternity He determined that He Himself would suffer. In this we have the negative side (reprobation) of the eternal pre-determination (vorherbestimmulng).

We ask: is this the same as the Reformed doctrine of reprobation?

That God in Christ took the guilt of our sin upon Himself, that He suffered and died in our stead in order that we might have righteousness and eternal life—all this is certainly true. But this has nothing to do with the doctrine of reprobation. Rather it is implied in the truth of election. For God in Christ, according to Scripture, and according to all the Reformed Confessions, did not take upon Himself the guilt of all men, did, therefore, not suffer and die for all men but for and instead of the elect alone.

Does not Barth know this? Of course he does. But to my mind, he so deliberately twists the doctrine of election and reprobation that it appears to fit his own notions, into his own idea of reprobation.

This is not honest.

Let me refer to what Barth says once more, in order that it may become perfectly plain that I do not misinterpret him.

On page 179, just before the quotation I made above, he writes (I do not literally quote but paraphrase) that God makes Himself the object of His own wrathful judgment (Zorngerichtes) under which man had placed himself, that He subjects Himself to the reprobation which was merited by man, that He Himself tastes the condemnation of hell, which properly belonged to man. If we would want to know what God chose for Himself, seeing that He chose the fellowship with man, then we can only answer that He chose our reprobation.

All this is plain, though very erroneous, language. Barth simply identifies Christ’s suffering and His bearing of the wrath of God with reprobation. All fallen men are reprobate in virtue of their fall and rebellion against God. And this fall and reprobation was borne by God Himself in the suffering and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In as far as predestination also implies a No, writes Barth on p. 181 of his Kirchiche Dogmatik, II? 2, this is, to be sure, not a No that concerns man. Predestination is, as far as it also implies exclusion and reprobation, not the election and reprobation of man. It is, in as far as it also implies condemnation and death, not the condemnation and death of man. And a little farther, p. 182, that the justification of the sinner in Christ Jesus is the contents of predestination in as far as it also implies a No, or in as far as it refers to reprobation. Reprobation can not again become the part and the case of man. Faith in predestination is faith in non-reprobation and no-faith in his (man’s) reprobation. For man is not reprobated or rejected. Reprobated is in His eternal counsel God Himself in His Son.

A little farther Barth writes that it is impossible that we believe in our own reprobation. This, he writes, he has in common with all the representatives of the doctrine of predestination. Augustine and Calvin and all Calvinists have always maintained this. But, according to Barth, this is impossible if we also believe in an absolute decree including election and reprobation, If it is true, however, that God has taken reprobation on Himself, then we may and must also believe that reprobation is no more, “dass eben die Verwerfung uns nichts angeht,” that reprobation does not concern us at all.

But here Barth is mistaken. Is it true that the belief that there is not only election but also reprobation, makes it impossible for the believer to be confident of his own election? Of course not. For faith is a gift of God and this is also true of the assurance of faith. This is according to Scripture, Rom. 8:14-16: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” Moreover, this assurance of faith and this testimony of the Spirit of God comes to us in the way of walking in sanctification of life, not in the way of sin. For thus the apostle writes in the same context as the verses we quoted above: “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” The same note is struck in all Scripture. Thus, for instance, in Eph. 2:8-10: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast. For ye are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

The same language may be heard in our Baptism Form. For after that Form has described God’s part of the covenant, it continues as follows: “Whereas in all covenants there contained two parts: therefore are we by God through baptism admonished of, and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him, and love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.”

Not the denial of reprobation, not by maintaining that God by the suffering and death of His Son on the cross took reprobation upon Himself, which notion is not only unscriptural, but also absurd; but by the testimony of the Spirit of God in Christ, in the way of sanctification and a walk in all good works does the believer obtain the assurance of faith.

More about this next time, D.V.


To Prayer In Public Schools*

Our readers are probably acquainted with the fact that the United States Supreme Court has rejected a decision of the New York Court concerning a certain prayer to be offered in the Public Schools of New York.

The prayer that was proposed by the Regents reads as follows:

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our country.”

We may remark that this prayer is certainly very general and could be uttered by anyone that is at all “religious.” However, it could, of course, not be prayed by atheists, nor by several “religious” sects. Nor could it be prayed by any true Christian for the simple reason that it omits, and no doubt intentionally so, the name of Jesus.

Five parents protested against the introduction of this prayer in the public schools of New York. We do not know whether they were orthodox Christians, but the ground of their protest was that the prayer proposed was contrary to their religious convictions. The matter came to court and the New York State Supreme Court voted against the protest of the five parents and in favor of introducing the above mentioned prayer into the public schools of New York.

However, this was not the end for the case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court. And this Court reversed the decision of the Supreme Court of New York. It did so by a vote of six to one.

The majority opinion presented by Justice Black reads as follows (I quote from Christianity Today):

“The petitioners contend among other things that the state laws requiring or permitting the use of Regents’ prayer must be struck down as a violation of the Establishment Clause because that prayer was composed by government officials as a part of a governmental program to further religious beliefs. For this reason, petitioners argue, the State’s use of Regents’ prayer in its public school system breaches the constitutional law of separation between Church and State. We agree with that contention since we think. that the constitutional prohibition against laws respecting an establishment of religion must at least mean that in this country it is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers for any group of the American people to recite as a part of a religious program carried on by government.

“It is a matter of history that the very practice of establishing governmentally composed prayers for religious services was one of the reasons which caused many of our early colonists to leave England to seek religious freedom in America. The Book of Common Prayer . . . set out in minute detail the accepted form and content of prayer and other religious ceremonies to be used in the established tax-supported Church of England. The controversies over the Book and what should be its content repeatedly threatened to disrupt the peace of that country as the accepted forms of prayer changed with the views of the particular ruler that happened to be in control at the time. Powerful groups representing some of the varying religious views of the people struggled among themselves to impress their particular views upon the government and obtain amendments to the Book more suitable to their respective notions of how religious services should be conducted in order that the official religious establishment would advance their particular religious beliefs.

“It is an unfortunate fact of history that when some of the very groups which had most strenuously opposed the established Church of England found themselves sufficiently in control of colonial governments in this country to write their own prayers into law, they passed laws making their own religion the official religion of their colonies . . . But the successful Revolution against English political domination was shortly followed by intensive opposition to the practice of establishing religion by law . . . .

“It has been argued that to apply the Constitution in such a way as to prohibit state laws respecting an establishment of religious services in public schools is to indicate a hostility toward religion or toward prayer. Nothing, of course, could be more wrong. The history of man is inseparable from the history of religion. And perhaps it is not too much to say that since the beginning of that history many people have devoutly believed that ‘more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of. It was doubtless largely due to men who believed this that there grew up a sentiment that caused men to leave the cross-currents of officially established state religions and religious persecution in Europe and come to this country filled with the hope that they could find a place in which they could pray when they pleased to the God of their faith in the language they chose. And there were men of this same faith in the power of prayer who led the fight for the adoption of our Constitution and also for our Bill of Rights with the very guarantee of religious freedom that forbade the sort of governmental activity which New York has attempted here. These men knew that the First Amendment, which tried to put an end to governmental control of religion and of prayer, was not written to destroy either. They knew rather that ii was written to quiet well justified fears which nearly all of them felt arising out of an awareness that governments of the past had shackled men’s tongues to make them speak only the religious thoughts that government wanted them to speak and to pray only to the God that government wanted them to pray to.

“To those who may subscribe to the view that because the Regents’ prayer is so brief and general there can be no danger to religious freedom in its government establishment, however, it may be appropriate to say in the words of James Madison, the author of the First Amendment:

“‘It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties . . . . Who does not see the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?’

“The judgment of the Court of Appeals of New York is reversed and the cause is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”

More about this next time, D.V.


* The above editorial was written before I read what the Rev. H. Hanko wrote about this matter. It was too late for me to write something else. Besides there is enough difference between what he wrote and what I wrote and what I am still expecting to write to justify the publication of the above. H.H.