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Election and Reprobation According to Barth

As we remarked before, the next chapter of Barth’s Dogmatics deals with the Church. And under this main heading, he first discusses the subject: Israel and the Church. Besides, under the same heading he treats, what would seem to be only remotely connected with the subject of the Church: The judgment and the mercy (erbarmen) of God, The heard and the believed promise of God, and, finally the passing and the coming man.

It was not my purpose originally to include in our discussion Barth’s conception of the Church since this hardly is connected with our chief subject: Election and Reprobation according to Barth. However, under the heading: The Judgment and the Mercy of God, there occurs a rather long discussion of Romans 9-11. To part of this we must call your attention and especially to Rom. 9:14-18. These verses read as follows:

“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this purpose I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”

How does Barth explain these verses? How, according to him, does it become evident that there is no unrighteousness with God? As I understand him (and I think I do), he reasons as follows: God, according to vs. 15 is a God of mercy. He is full of compassion. He is merciful to all men although this does not become immediately revealed. However, this does become revealed in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, into the flesh, in the fact, especially, that this Son in human nature takes all our sins and our reprobation upon Himself and removes them forever for all men, that all this becomes evident in Christ’s resurrection and exaltation. This is, according to Barth, the answer to the question: “Is there unrighteousness with God?”

However, let us note that this is Barth’s answer, not God’s as it is in the text. And notice:

1. That, according to the text, Paul does not give his own answer to the question: “Is there unrighteousness with God.” That was, indeed, implied in the question as it was proposed by man. The question was: “What shall we say then. Shall we say that there is unrighteousness with God.” And Paul’s answer was, first of all, an emphatic and unqualified: “God forbid!” This means, of course, that, whether we are able to explain this or not, we must and can never say anything of the kind. Whether we are able to explain this (as Barth attempts to do and that, too, by his universalistic explanation of salvation and his false theory of reprobation) or whether we can never explain it, this must above all be emphasized, there is no unrighteousness with God!

2. That, according to the text, Paul lets God speak. He does not make an attempt to give his own answer to the question. Let us remember that the question was occasioned by what was said in vs. 13: “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” This, according to Paul, might easily give rise to the question: Is God arbitrary: Is there unrighteousness with Him? And this question is answered by God Himself. God Himself says that it is His sovereign freedom to love the one and to hate the other. “For he saith to Moses.” Notice, by the way, that Paul here refers to Scripture. To say that the Scripture says something is to say the same thing as what God says. But what must be emphasized in this connection is that it is not Paul but God that speaks. This is, evidently, forgotten by Barth. He offers his own explanation and answer to the question: “Is there then unrighteousness with God?”

3. Notice, too, that Barth does not interpret vs. 15 at all, but simply tries to fit it into his own false philosophy of reprobation. He uses the text as if it merely stated that God is merciful and has compassion. But this is exactly not the meaning of the text. What the text means to. emphasize is not that He is merciful and compassionate, which is, of course, perfectly true in itself, but that He is sovereignly free to show his mercy and compassion to whomsoever He will, that is, to the elect in distinction from the reprobate. Was not the question: “Is there then unrighteousness with God,” occasioned by what was stated in vs. 13: “Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated.” Well, then, vs. 15 is a partial answer to the question that was proposed. And the answer is: It is my sovereign right to be merciful and compassionate to whomsoever I will and that, too, in distinction from others to whom I will not be merciful and compassionate. This meaning of the text Barth conveniently forgets. He simply twists Scripture into the frame of his own thinking.

4. This is emphasized in vs. 16: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” What, we ask, is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth? The answer is in the text itself: the mercy of God. In other words, salvation from sin and death and the becoming heirs of eternal glory is absolutely from God alone. That this is not of the will of man nor dependent upon any activity on his part, was also clearly expressed in vss. 11 and 12: “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth: It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.”

5. But, even as in vss. 15 and 16 the idea of election stands on the foreground, so in vss. 17 and 18 reprobation is emphasized. And again also these verses are an answer to the question: “Is there then unrighteousness with God?” And again, it is not Paul that answers the question, but God Himself: “For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”

Especially the last verse is extremely difficult for Barth with his absurd theory of reprobation to explain. However, he makes an attempt at it.

How he does this we hope to see next time, D.V.

—H.H.


As To Prayer In Public Schools

In my last editorial on the above mentioned subject I quoted the majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court which was written by Justice Black.

There was also a minority opinion which was written by Justice Stewart and which reads as follows:

“With all respect, I think the Court has misapplied a great constitutional principle. I cannot see how an ‘official religion’ is established by letting those who want to say a prayer say it. On the contrary, I think that to deny the wish of those school children to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our nation.

“The Court’s historical review of the quarrels over the Book of Common Prayer throws no light for me on the issue before us in this case. England had then and has now an established church. Equally unenlightening, I think, is the history of the early establishment and later rejection of an official church in our own States. For we deal here not with the establishment of a state church, but with whether school children who want to begin their day by joining in prayer must be prohibited from doing so.

“I think the Court’s task, in this as in all other areas of constitutional adjudication, is not responsibly aided, by the uncritical invocation of metaphors like the ‘wall of separation,’ a phrase nowhere to be found in the Constitution. What is relevant to the issue here is not the history of an established church in sixteenth century England or in eighteenth century America, but the history of religious traditions of our people, reflected in countless practices of the institutions and officials of our government.

“At the opening of each day’s Session of our Court we stand, while one of our officials invokes the protection of God. Since the days of John Marshall our Crier has said, ‘God save the United States and this Honorable Court.’ Both the Senate and the House of Representatives open their daily Sessions with prayer. Each of our Presidents, from George Washington to John F. Kennedy, has upon assuming his office asked the protection and help of God.

“The Court today says that the state and federal governments are without constitutional power to prescribe any particular form of words to be recited by any group of the American people on any subject touching religion. The third stanza of ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ made our National Anthem by Congress, contains these verses:

“‘Blessed with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land:

Praise the pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!

Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,

And this be our motto ‘in God is our Trust’.”

“In 1954 Congress added a phrase to the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag so that it now contains the words ‘one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ In 1952 Congress enacted legislation calling upon the President each year to proclaim a National Day of Prayer. Since 1865 the words ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ have been impressed on our coins.

“Countless similar examples could be listed, but there is no need to belabor the obvious. It was all summed up by the Court just ten years ago in a single sentence: ‘We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.’ . . . .

“I do not believe that this Court, or the Congress, or the President has by the actions and practices I have mentioned established an ‘official religion’ in violation of the Constitution. And I do not believe the State of New York has done so in this case. What each has done has been to recognize and to follow the deeply entrenched and highly cherished spiritual traditions of our Nation-traditions which come down to us from those who almost two hundred years ago avowed their ‘firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence’ when they proclaimed the freedom and independence of this brave new world.

“I dissent.”


These, then are the majority and minority opinions of the Supreme Court of the U.S. on the question whether in the public schools of New York a certain prayer may be offered at the beginning of each school session.

And what must be our opinion? We cannot agree with either the majority or the minority opinion.

Logically, of course, given that the education of our children is at all the business of the State or of the government, the majority report or opinion is correct. This is especially true in view of the fact that five parents protested against the introduction of this prayer in the class-room of the public school. I do not know whether the protest was against the introduction of the particular prayer that was proposed or against the introduction of all prayer in the class-room. If I had been one of the Protestants, I would have voiced my objection, not only against this particular prayer, but against all prayer and, in fact, against the introduction of all “religion” in the public schools however difficult this might appear to be. And this is the opinion of the majority of the Supreme Court. Hence I say that, granted education is the business of the State or of the government, this opinion is correct. But this is not our opinion.

Our standpoint is that the education of our children is not the obligation of the government, but of the parents. As far as school-education is concerned, the parents instruct their children, partly through the school-boards that are elected by them and then through the teachers that are appointed by the board.

Of course, it is the calling of the Church to instruct the children in the Bible and in doctrine. Strictly speaking, this is not the calling of the school but of the Church through the minister of the Word and in the catechism classes. However, all the instruction in the school is religious instruction or must be such. This, of course, is easier in some branches than in others. It is easier, for instance, in history and geography than in arithmetic and mathematics. But the fact remains that all education in the school must be religious instruction.

However, it must be emphasized that the education in the schools is not the business of the State or of the government, but of the parents.

This is the principal reason why I dissent from either the majority or the minority opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States.

—H.H.