The Christian Community and the Civil Community

The influential essay of 1946, "The Christian Community and the Civil Community" (Barth 1954), is the fruit of Barth's intensive thinking about faith and politics through the Nazi period and the war. It reflects a changed situation. After 1945, the focus of concern was less on saving the church from the seduction of political religion, or justifying and fighting a necessary war, and more on building effective humane society out of dehumanized ruins. Barth had not spent the years since 1934 merely insisting that Barmen was the right place to stand. Rather, the Word of God had opened up a particular road, and to be faithful meant to be going forward along that road. The 1946 essay is a revealing marker on the road being traveled.

The Barmen Declaration could be read in two ways. In one, the twofoldness of church and state was paramount: Barmen V trumped Barmen I. In the other, the one Lordship of Jesus Christ includes both church and state: Barmen I defines the meaning of Barmen V. This second reading may more closely reflect Barth's own intention in 1934, and certainly corresponds to the direction of his thinking thereafter. Church and state, significantly renamed as Christian and civil communities, are still systematically distinguished. The theologically inescapable connection between them is now explained in a way that matches the pluralistic mobility and experimentation of politics, rather than the traditional hierarchical and competitive juxtaposition of church and state as legally defined institutions.

Barth offers a diagrammatic clue to his argument: God is the center of two concentric circles. The Christian community is the inner circle, the civil com munity the outer. So there is no possibility of the civil community being left outside God's will and care - it has the same center, source, ruler, and goal. The difference between church and state is not that the church belongs to God and the state to itself, or to the devil, but that the church knows God as Lord through his revelation, and so consciously obeys and witnesses, while the state does not know - indeed, as the necessarily pluralist, tolerant, inclusive community, it cannot know God in his Word. The state nevertheless belongs to God, who in his providence brings good even out of evil. Under God, therefore, learning from experience in politics occurs. Though the definitions of "natural law" are at best inconclusive, they repeatedly call people from a worse to a better kind of state (Barth 1954: 28).

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