Friday, 30 November 2007

Can a minister be saved?

Our friend Ray Anderson was recently re-reading Barth’s shattering collection, The Word of God and the Word of Man (1928), and he suggested that some excerpts from the 1922 address on “The Need and Promise of Christian Preaching” (pp. 97-135) might be a useful sequel to the recent post on Kierkegaard. So, thanks to Ray, here are a few excerpts from Barth:

“Can a minister be saved? I would answer that with men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. God may pluck us as a brand out of the fire. But so far as we know, there is no one who deserves the wrath of God more abundantly than the ministers…. As a matter of fact the church is really an impossibility. There can be no such thing as a minister. Who dares, who can, preach, knowing what preaching is? …

“On Sunday morning when the bells ring to call the congregation and minister to church, there is in the air an expectancy that something great, crucial, and even momentous is to happen…. Do [the people] really know at all why they are here? In any case here they are – even though they be shrunk in number to one little old woman – and their being here points to the event that is expected or appears to be expected, or at least, if the place be dead and deserted, was once expected here.

“And here above all is a human being, upon whom the expectation of the apparently imminent event seems to rest in a special way…: he himself chose this profession, God knows from what understanding or misunderstanding of it, and he has now for better or for worse wedded his short, his only life to the expectation of the event. And now before the congregation and for the congregation he will pray – you note: pray – to God! He will open the Bible and read from it words of infinite import, words that refer, all of them, to God. And then he will enter the pulpit and – here is daring! – preach; that is, he will add to what has been read from the Bible something from his own head and heart, ‘Biblical’ ideas, it may be, according to his knowledge and conscience, or ideas which fly boldly or timidly beyond the Bible; yesterday one prepared a ‘fundamentalist’, and another a ‘liberal’ sermon. But does it make so much difference which it was when the subject is considered? Every one must apparently, perhaps nolens volens, speak of God.

“And then the [minister] will have the congregation sing ancient songs full of weighty and weird memories, strange ghostly witnesses of the sufferings, struggles, and triumphs of the long departed fathers, all leading to the edge of an immeasurable event, all, whether the minister and people understand what they are singing or not, full of reminiscences of God, always of God. ‘God is present!’ God is present. The whole situation witnesses, cries, simply shouts of it, even when in minister or people there arises questioning, wretchedness, or despair. Then perhaps it is witnessed to best of all – better than when the real problem is obscured or concealed by abundant human success.”


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