Barth, the Church & Pacifism

Readers are referred to a very interesting article written by a Adam Borneman and published in 2014 on the Political Theology Today website –  Barth on War, Peace, and Pacifism: A Primer .

I sent in the following comment (at a time I was feeling impatient), which may be of interest.


I don’t know much of Barth but, given the extraordinary and contradictory position of churches to pacifism generally (including the statistic that 60% of the American force to Iraq have been evangelical protestants), I can easily believe it.  Consequently, I liked your conclusion of this supposed great theologian: i.e. “one cannot but wonder whether this leaves Barth with any groundwork for a sustainable Christian ethic whatsoever, not least in times of war.” 

How extraordinary that such an eminent theologian should write, “one can be pacifist not in principle but only in practice. But let everyone consider very carefully whether, being called to discipleship, it is possible to avoid – or permissible to neglect – becoming a practical pacifist!”    Such blatant contradiction at the centre – it is mad! crazy!

Here is another contradiction of Barth from his own writings:

“What the world needs is revolutionary knowledge that by the love with which God has loved it, it is freed from the unhappy necessity of seeking its salvation in any national, political, economic, or moral principles, ideas, and systems (whether western or eastern)…” (thank you fellow commentator John Walker for this)

And yet he wrote (and, I assume, did not recant):

“Every Czech soldier who… fights and suffers, will do it also for us—and I say this today without reservations: he will do it also for the Church of Jesus Christ which, under the conditions of Hitler and Mussolini, can only be destined to either ridicule or extermination.”

Come on people, get real!  Don’t you all know that the Church thrives under state persecution???  It could be a Nero, a Stalin, a Mao or a Hitler – doesn’t matter!  The Church is NOT dependent on the state to provide freedom for Gospel proclamation!  Did Jesus promise us safety if we preach His Gospel?  No, He said, “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you.”  If, as Barth wrote, “(we are free) from the unhappy necessity of seeking (our) salvation in any national, political, economic, or moral principles, ideas, and systems”  then we are also free of any obligation to live under (State) laws that justify lethal violence!  As Christians our new obligation is to the Spirit and to love all in fulfillment of the law. Barth’s exhortation to the Czech (above) is worse than nonsense – it is the spirit of the anti-Christ.

God’s spoke of His values (Gen 9:5,6) to inspire the rule of law to Noah & to all Noah’s descendants including us in order to prevent recurrence of the pre-Flood carnage (Gen 6:11), in which people felt entitled to reek any amount of violence, or extract any amount of revenge, they liked (Gen 4:23,24).  All law has as it’s basis “don’t murder” in order to limit the overwhelming problem of humanity’s capacity for vengeance & violence.  Every nation’s Law, not just Jewish Law, was given to be our GUARDIAN until the Christ should come (Gal 3:24).  But, now the Christ HAS come and we who believe in Him at last have a real choice – nay an obligation – to love our enemies in PRINCIPLE AND in practice! 

We who are the first fruits of the Gospel are to pray for state rulers to promote peace in this period before the faith of Christ has come to justify (transform) all.  Extreme levels of ongoing fear make physical survival a cognitive imperative, affording little room for human beings to hear and meditate on the Word of God.  Compared to rampant violence, violation & fear, (even) worldly peace attained through (mere) law and order, is a great blessing.

However, let us not waste breath on those who, at the moment, reject Christ’s rejection of the Kingdom of Man – they will always continue to kill and tell lies in order not to die…   Without the faith of the Prince of Peace in the Heavenly Father of all, they CANNOT do otherwise.  The terms “national pacifism” and “pacifist nations” are extreme oxymorons.

Barth doesn’t see this because he, like all of us, are a steeped in Constantinian, Augustinian & Anselmic theology from the moment we enter the Church.  Without a true and PACIFIST view of the Cross we cannot understand the Prince of Peace, nor the Scriptures, which testify to Him.  Our God is Pacifist – it is only doubting, fearful, angry, and violent humanity that seeks to make Him otherwise.

We must also understand that God’s pacifism is subservient to His love.  He seeks to grow our loving faithfulness to Him.  He allows our violent deaths as He allowed Jesus’ violent death because of the greater blessing to be attained thereby.  He ‘experimented’ with calling a nation for Himself for the greater blessings thereby attained.  But modern states cannot fulfill God’s Kingdom plan – but they can and do oppose it on this question of how to treat our (corporate) enemies.  Jesus calls His followers to transfer their primary allegiance for ultimate safety & wellbeing from secular states to the Him and His Kingdom of light and love. 

Why has God ordained it to be this way? 

Consider that those who are martyred in the Faith are most praised in Scripture – “greater love has no man (or woman or child)” than that they lay down their lives for Jesus, for Father God, and for their enemies – in the knowledge and faith they got from Jesus about the Faithful Creator.  Jesus manifested His faith in God, and the truth about God and us, by allowing Himself to be killed by our sinfulness; so that God might raise Him from death – so that we might imitate His faith and so be transformed to be like Him; free at last from our fear of death which turns us into murderers and liars!   This at last is both Humanity’s and God’s justification.  In the end our very natural instinct for self-preservation is the vehicle for the maximal growing of our faith through which we may know God (since the degree of intimacy of ALL personal relationships depend directly on the degree of mutual faith). 

Much more could be said, all derived from Scripture.  So wake up Church!  You say, “But this is NOT what the Scriptures say!”  But it IS what they say – you just have too few Christian pacifist theologians to show you (& the Constantines, Augustines, Anselms & Calvins have been killing them off for 1500+ years).  What an exciting time to be a Christian… the start of a new golden age of the Church!  So start reading Biblical Universalists.  And read Rene Girard & S. Mark Heim on sacrifice.  And read me!

Or go on in your patently obvious, sad and pro-violence contradictions! 

Jub the pacifist

April 3rd, 2017