Corporate Election

There is no election of individuals outside of the community. God has a chosen people, and chosen persons are part of that people.

This chosen people is, itself, the body of Jesus Christ, the elect one.

So Barth has moved in his exposition of election from election in Jesus Christ (§33) to election of the community (§34). I’ve been working on this section for a few weeks, holding off on blogging about it until I had gotten a bit deeper in. I’m experiencing the section simultaneously as some of the most insightful and the most troubling of the Church Dogmatics.

First, the good stuff.

Barth’s movement from the election of Christ to election of the community resonates with me deeply. To be in Christ is to be part of Christ’s body. There is no such thing as a person isolated in relationship to God. To be in relationship to God is to be part of the family of God, which is to be God’s child as one is in the Son.

This kept bringing back the kind of note I kept writing in the margins the first time I read Richard Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul: Hays was arguing for an ecclesiocentric hermeneutic—that the community was the interpretive end of Paul’s use of scripture. But I kept wanting to say that this was only so because the community is in Christ. Thus, it is truly a Christological reading of scripture, first and foremost, with the communal dimension being the necessary consequence.

I think my critique of Hays was rather Barthian, now. (And I’m not sure but that Hays would agree to a certain extent with what I’ve said above.)

The heart of Barth’s discussion of the election of the community is his small-print exposition of Romans 9 and 10. Keeping in view the big question of Israel as a people, Barth works through Rom 9 with a recurring manta that the differentiations God makes are all about the election of a people.

Pressing against the notion of double-predestination, Barth wants to focus on the positive purpose of all the differentiations: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, the remnant—any rejection is subordinate to the purpose of election and salvation of Israel as a people.

But the chapter was also troubling.

Perhaps I’m only now coming to be as troubled by Paul’s argument as I should always have been, feeling the weight of his assessment of ethnic Israel’s place in the story. Or, perhaps, Barth speaks with a directness that sets of the radar of a politically-correct era.

But I kept wincing at Barth’s differentiation among who is “in” and who is “out.” He speaks of the church as those who respond in obedience to the message, the synagogue as those who reject it, and Israel as this elect people whose rejection of the message can be overcome when they join with the church in confessing Christ.

I wondered, often, if Barth was losing sight of the fact that we gentiles, who by and large populate the church, are participating in the salvation narrative of Israel?

Throughout this section, Barth develops more of the notion that people might reject the election that is theirs in Christ. I think that this is in line with what we see in scripture, especially with respect to Israel, but it then raises the question of what good it is to lay out the argument he does in the previous section.

If the whole point of focusing election on Christ is so that we have a certain hope of our standing before God, but then he can go on to say that our election may be rejected, has he really accomplished the pastoral purpose of assuring people of God’s favor?

Perhaps it’s that last line that’s the key. We always have God’s favor. In Christ. As the overflow of the promise to Israel. As part of the church.

9 thoughts on “Corporate Election”

  1. This is a constant struggle, Daniel. I think it is a struggle personally (to have confidence in our salvation in Christ), and to fully grasp and get a balance right. The branches in Rom. 11 could be cut off for their unbelief (cf. Heb. 3:13-4:1 & 10:26-31). But, the key is maintaining my trust in Christ. And, I don’t think a stumble in faith cuts us off (anymore than Abraham was cut off when he stumbled on multiple occasions) – I think John speaks to this end in 1 John 1:5-2:1. But, as long as I am in Christ, humble before Him, seeking him out (albeit imperfectly) I have no fear of being lost.

  2. It was only after coming to terms with the understanding of Christianity as corporate (something never mentioned in the revivalist fundamentalism of my youth) that the idea of corporate election (and a host of other ideas) began to make sense.

  3. So I am reading Berth’s commentary on Romans and find these words at the end of his comments on Romans 8. ‘For the love of God in Christ Jesus is the oneness of the love of God towards men and the love of men towards God. In His love our love celebrates its victory. In it the point has been reached where the unattainable identity has been attained. But when this is said, we turn ourselves about, knowing that we are in no sense competent to attain this identity or even to conceive of its attainment. It sufficeth us to know that thence we came and thither we go.’ (p. 329)

    There is a wonderful assurance in the tension that is kept between knowing and not knowing. Seems God likes it that way as does Barth. Can I live believing that nothing can separate me (us-the community) from the love of God, when all evidence around me seems to the contrary? Only God knows and I find that strangely pastorally comforting.

  4. Your (Daniel) post here seems less than clear to me in what it is saying. But, I reckon the story as told in the Bible says Israel as a nation in the promised land under law did get rejected. And inasmuch as Christians are saved communally in Christ, I would take it that it doesn’t mean a particular visible body of people are saved and no-one else. You can tell a worldly story about Israel, before and after the Jews, if you want, but salvation is in Christ, and what makes you think you know Christ from history (or some story or other)? Further, I understand the story of the Jews to be that they were only ever saved in Christ, not by being law abiding members of the nation of Israel in the promised land, and that a Christian’s salvation is assured from first ‘faith’ (which doesn’t have to be propositional, so can include the unborn), which differs from the supposed salvation of a national Jew which can be ‘lost’ by breakage of the law covenant.

  5. a couple of points:

    (a) if I need to “maintain my trust in Christ” and look within myself to make sure I have sufficient faith in order to have assurance, what happens in those times of darkness when I don’t find what I’m looking for within? Is my assurance of salvation really dependent on such things, right when I need it most??

    (b) “communal election” in Christ is not quite how the NT presents its teaching on election. See the conclusion of Jesus’ parable of wedding party in Matt 22, and the fact that in passages such as Romans 8.28 f. it’s clear that individuals (“the ones who love God”) are the ones who have been “called according to his purpose”.

    1. Donald, I don’t envisage any looking into oneself or any other looking anywhere in order to be in Christ and so saved (I don’t go for wearing fancy hats and waving flags!). Communal election in Christ is just the idea that it is the community of those in Christ who are saved.

  6. I wondered, often, if Barth was losing sight of the fact that we gentiles, who by and large populate the church, are participating in the salvation narrative of Israel?

    I very much doubt that he ever had such a sight.

    … As the overflow of the promise to Israel. As part of the church.‘ The overflow???? No, no, no, no, no! The blessing of the nations is not the overflow of the promise to Israel — some sort of spin-off — but the purpose, heart and climax of the covenant promise.

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