Christ liberates--therefore, the church for others (1972).
In 1969, the eight Protestant regional churches in East Germany separated from the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), which until then covered both German states, to form their own church federation. It was argued that the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the refusal of the East German authorities to deal with the EKD and provision in a new GDR constitution had made it impossible to maintain German Protestantism's organizational unity. The leaders of the newly-formed church federation sought to define the task of the church in the GDR by adopting from a WCC study of the 1960s the ideas of the "missionary structure of the congregation "and the "church for others" (a reference to Bonhoeffer's prison reflections on the role of a church in "a world that has come of age"). According to the WCC study, the local congregation must play a key role in a secular world of rapid social change. The church in the GDR was to be a "church for others", a church "not alongside, not against, but within" the secular, Marxist society of the GDR. Heino Falcke was invited to give the main address at a synod meeting in Dresden in 1972, analyzing what this miqht mean in practice. His response was that the church should offer neither all-oat opposition nor total and uncritical support to the agenda of the Communist Party, bat neither should it seek merely a form of pragmatic accommodation with the authorities. The church would be a "church for others" in that it would take the side of the oppressed and offer a space for critical debate and free speech. "In the promise of Christ," Falcke stated in a phrase that angered the Community authorities, "we will tirelessly remind our society of our committed hope for a socialism that can be changed for the better."
The liberation of human beings through Christ
Christ deals with human bondage at its roots
The cause of freedom concerns all peoples and all nations today. But what freedom actually means is controversial. Freedom is endangered by political repression, economic exploitation and dependency. Our age has seen incredible strides towards freedom, but even revolutions for freedom do not themselves create human beings who are free, and they also pro duce new bondage. The scientific-technical revolution has opened unimaginable possibilities for freedom yet at the same time, through technocracy, manipulation of human beings and the nightmare of possible self-destruction, it threatens freedom to an extent never previously known. The cause of freedom invokes both fascination and resignation, inspiring commitment on the one hand, but on the other a fatalistic retreat to the islands of private freedom. The world is constantly in flight from bondage without really finding its way to the realm of freedom. (1)
In his great chapter on freedom in Romans, Paul writes of how this world struggles in bondage and longs for nothing more than the breakthrough of the freedom of the children of God for all people (Romans 8:19f). We are thus challenged to understand that the gospel is a message of liberation and to bring this understanding to the world's present day struggles for freedom. (2)
Christ does not offer a special kind of religious or spiritual freedom. He reaches down to the hidden roots of human bondage because he himself has endured them to their utmost. He not only became a brother to those who are marginalized and poor, to the victims of political, religious or social oppression, but, in the deepest bondage to sin and death, he hung on the cross for us. For us and with us, God broke through this bondage from which no human being could escape, bringing back to life the one who had been crucified. This exodus leads to that realm of freedom which seeks to destroy the powers of sin and death, and all bondage in the world. We have not yet arrived. The freedom of Christ still takes the form of the cross, though through the power of a great hope. This hope transcends all human movements for freedom, but precisely for this reason intervenes in them, sets up signs of liberation and offers a confidence that we cannot give up.
Christ liberates us to live from the love that we have received
Through Christ freedom is received as love. In him we encounter a love that accepts us unconditionally and which is there for us without any qualification. When we receive this word of love we are brought out of the prison of self-centredness into the freedom of a new confidence. We are free because we have received this love and are supported by it. This is the freedom of the children of God who, though they were God's enemies, are accepted and adopted by God as the brothers and sisters of God's son. (3)
Christ thus revolutionizes our understanding of freedom. We like to think of freedom as independence. To be free means having the ability to decide for ourselves what is important. The key word here is autonomy. (4)
The primary root of this autonomy, however, remains the self, even when this is expanded to include the collective (nation, class, race etc.). When we speak of freedom we mean our own freedom, but our individual freedoms collide with and limit each other. The second root of autonomy lies in the law of achievement: I have to do something with myself, to give my life meaning and value through what I can achieve. Our world is dominated by thoughts of success and the mentality of achievement, pushed forward by the deep hunger each person has to be accepted by others. The problem is not only that those who are too weak to keep up will fall by the wayside. The hunger for acceptance from others cannot be satisfied through our achievements. To be accepted and loved for our own sake is not something that we can work to achieve, it is something that can be received only as a gift. It is not surprising that in a world which is dominated by achievement and by what is useful, we find ourselves asking questions about the meaning of life and the question of the "gracious neighbour". (5) There is a widespread fear of not being needed, of being supplanted and ultimately ending up alone.
This is what Paul means by the bondage to sin and to the law, from which we are freed through Christ. Christ becomes our "gracious neighbour" who seeks us out for himself, who seeks us out for our own sake, offers love to those unworthy of love, accepts those who are unacceptable and who supports us in the final solitariness of death. It is because Christ liberates us from the pressure to achieve that he makes possible new action, which no longer has to prove itself but can focus completely on the task in hand and on the neighbour. Because the root of this freedom is love, it includes the neighbour.
The societal implications of this liberation become clear when we think about the achievement-oriented society, something we will discuss further in the third section.
Christ liberates us to take responsibility
Today human beings clearly recognize that freedom and responsibility belong together. The tasks which we face in the world today and in the future can be tackled only by responsible people, who can think for themselves, take responsibility for decisions and know how to assume responsibility.
By making us his children, God liberates us to take responsibility before Cod and before human beings. The sons and daughters of God, Paul says, are liberated from the dictates and authoritarian powers of the world, which treat us like children and use threats and promises to prevent us from being able to act as responsible people who have come of age. But to belong to Cod means to be able to speak openly in confidence and without fear: "Abba, Father". God declares us to have come of age by liberating us from the slavery of fear. "For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption" (Romans 8:15). Fear makes us immature. Human beings who fear for their lives create idols out of transient things that they believe will provide security. The power of technology and of weapons, consumerism, norms of behaviour and ideologies become idols born of fear. People who are fearful are people who can be dominated, people who can be subjugated and people who can be exploited.
It is by being liberated to become the sons and daughters of Cod that we are able to find a way out of this self-imposed immaturity. (6) The modern age claims that we come of age by discarding the idea that we are children of God and by freeing ourselves from God's authority. But the father of Jesus Christ is not an intimidating patriarch. Through Christ he assumes authority for us by becoming the author' and origin of our freedom. He does not lead us into new dependency but makes us his dependants, able to make our own judgments and decisions. He does not want servile fellow travellers but sons and daughters who have come of age, partners who are able to take responsibility, who are able to speak freely before God and before human beings. Taking responsibility for the world as people who have come of age needs to be based on a renewed understanding of prayerful responsibility before God. (7) It is worth remembering that the theologian par excellence of a world that has come of age,
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was last seen before his execution exercising his freedom by finding joy in prayer. (8)
Thus it is that God seeks to liberate us to become his sons and daughters, able to assume responsibility for the world as human beings who have come of age.
This also has consequences for society. Because God uses his authority to promote our freedom and responsibility, all authorities in the family, in the church or in society are to be judged on whether or not they promote freedom and enable us to assume responsibility. As sons and daughters who have come of age we cannot stand before God in self-justification. Thus we cannot force other people to toe the line and make ourselves masters of their consciences (Rom. 14:4). But taking responsibility is certainly not the same as the private freedom of laissez-faire according to which I can think, want and act exactly as I like. Being people who have come of age means daring to speak openly, answering for this before others, listening to criticism and meaning what we say. It does not mean falling into a kind of pluralism that is an ideology of vagueness, but it does allow a plurality Of opinions to be heard and encourages independent thought. If God can take the risk to have partners who have come of age, then church and society should not risk any less than that.
Christ liberates us to an existence for others
Because we received freedom as love, it is freedom for others and with others. It is freedom in community and seeks the realm of freedom for all people. (9) We can recognize this aim in the socialist understanding of freedom, according to which it is in genuine community that the individual first gains personal freedom. (10) But the realm of freedom still exists in contradiction to the way of thinking that turns freedom on its head, into something based only on the interests of individuals and groups. We try to create freedom for ourselves by cutting ourselves off from others, by making others pay the cost, thereby creating new bondage. The cross of Jesus breaks though this back-to-front understanding of freedom. At the same time it is the way of being there for others, because of the love that we have received.
TO BE THERE FOR OTHERS MEANS TO FOLLOW THE LOVE OF JESUS THAT BREAKS THROUGH BORDERS
We speak of one humanity and it should be clear to anyone in our global village that in reality we can be free only when we help others out of their bondage. But this is blocked by the tendency that exists in all groups the world over to attempt to achieve internal stability by sealing themselves off from the outside world (Abgrenzung). We hold ourselves together by the things that differentiate us from others: class and race, religion and world-view, societal achievements and denominational preferences. Thus such necessarily relative differences are built up to become forces that divide, and freedom becomes a reward for conformity with group behaviour.
The love of Jesus breaks through the borders of these taboos. He makes himself available to those who have been excluded. He takes the side of the "tax-collectors and sinners", the religious, moral and social outcasts. On the cross, alongside criminals, he puts his own identity at risk. As love that breaks through borders, the unconditionally accepting love of God demands to be taken seriously by society.
This love liberates us from the pressure to seal ourselves off from others. Someone who knows that they have been unconditionally accepted by God knows that they do not have to establish their own worth by denigrating others. They are liberated to break through prejudice and to devote themselves to those in particular who have been rejected by their collectivity, their community or their society. They become sensitive to the neighbour who disconcerts them, even to their enemy. They do not make light of the borders that do exist but name them in order to transcend them and reach those on the other side. This love that crosses borders will be our starting point when we come to think about what it means to take sides.
TO BE THERE FOR OTHERS MEANS TO BE IN SOLIDARITY WITH THOSE WHO SUFFER
Christ, who suffered even unto death, directs us first of all to those who are suffering. Through his cross, suffering and those who suffer are gathered up in God's love and brought into God's promise. So we are freed to take up suffering and to show solidarity with those who suffer.
Marxists have rightly criticized Christianity for making an ideology out of the cross and suffering when there should have been protest and resistance against oppressive situations. But there is also a tendency to play down suffering and to push those who are suffering outside public consciousness. Some people do not want to accept that even in the socialist society suffering remains, and that painful questions about the meaning of life, self-alienation and the pain of death persist. Whoever needs to repress suffering in order to remain optimistic and relish his or her work is not free. What is so amazing about Paul's message of freedom is that it can face the agony of unresolved questions and lead us into solidarity with the world that is questioning, suffering and struggling. The sons and daughters of God share their hunger for justice and peace, their groaning on the meaningless conveyor belt of life. The spirit of the crucified one himself is united with the cry out of the depths, with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8:23-27).
People who have been liberated to be there for others need to react with great sensitivity to the sufferings of others. When an entire nation was able to ignore the concentration camps in its midst during the persecution of the Jews, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "Only those who cry out for the Jews may also sing Gregorian chant." Let us therefore do something about the misery of others, those whom we see day after day in the mass media, and those who are at our door. The saints of the church, it is said, are so immersed in the sufferings of Christ that they take on his own wounds on the cross. Are saints not needed in the world of today, saints who show so much solidarity with the world that they are marked by its questions, suffer from its wounds, carry its guilt? Those are the open wounds of Christ today.
TO BE THERE FOR OTHERS MEANS DEVELOPING THE CREATIVE IMAGINATION OF LOVE
Taking on suffering as the sign 'of the cross does not mean leaving things as they are. The resurrection of the one who was crucified is a "yes" to the radical renewal of all people and relationships. It challenges the paralyzing dogma that the world cannot he changed for the better. It encourages us to believe instead in a world that can be changed for the better, despite all experience. We are free only when we can hope, when we have a promise that is stronger than all pessimism and fear of the future. Fear and striving for security become ingenious in the technology of war, in strategies of deterrence and in all forms of self-assertion. But God's promise releases the creativity of a love that becomes resourceful for others and for new forms of living together. In our age, faced with many challenges we have never before known, we need the virtues of creative thought, courageous experiments and a readiness to learn without fear. We often hinder ourselves by setting in stone the image we have of others. But hope allows others to be capable of new things, for it sees them in the hands of Christ who is to come, who still opens up new possibilities for us. (11)
The love inspired by the promise of Christ is also creative in changing societal relationships. This is something that we have learned not least from socialism and it therefore leads us urgently to challenge the many forms of bondage in our world. "Liberation through Christ" remains an empty phrase for many people when it does not offer hope of freedom from hunger, freedom from the terror of war, discrimination and exploitation. This hope can create people who, through devoted love and tenacious patience, work for others and refuse to give up the struggle for more humane relationships. This is the task for which Christ liberates us and for this we need the promise given by the risen one, that despite all experience of failure "your work in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58).
The liberation of the church to serve
I do not intend here to speak of the legal freedom that Christians and churches in society require for their service. We know the problems in that area. The more basic question is whether we follow the freedom to which we have been liberated through Christ (Gal 5:1). The Bible shows us that the people of God repeatedly threw their own freedom away.(12)
How do we shackle ourselves as churches in the GDR with the result that we ourselves need liberation?
Why do we still appear to so many people to be a closed society? Why do we find it so difficult to practise the love that transcends boundaries despite our efforts for a missionary existence? Of course to be there for others does not mean to be like others. But why does our being different not express itself more clearly as being there for others in solidarity and love? Are we still imprisoned in the language of church jargon? Why, despite all our efforts to translate this into something more meaningful, does this not seem to amount to more than a verbal change of clothes, so that instead of the decisive word that can liberate, all that comes out is a pale imitation of what the world has already said?
Have we yet found freedom from the fear that makes us hold on to our treasured traditions and freedom from the equally fearful attempt to follow the spirit of the times? The call to freedom certainly does not mean following the latest fashion in either the church or the world. But the slogan "No other gospel" is only biblically-based if it helps others to understand the gospel and to welcome historical transformation free from fear. In obedience to the word of God should we not become free to deal responsibly with the tradition and thought of our age? How far along the road are we in becoming "communities that have come of age"? Does the authority of "ministry" prove itself in sponsoring freedom and responsibility? Is there fruitful cross-fertilization between the expertise of theologians and that of non-theologians? Do the apparatus, the institutions and the rules of the church help promote witness and service and the growing unity of the churches in the Federation of Protestant Churches in the GDR? Where are they a hindrance, where are we trapped in inappropriate structures and why do we find it so difficult to make the changes that are necessary?
Are we too inhibited in our dealings with Marxists and in becoming part of our socialist society? Are we not trapped in prejudices, in part through disappointments that we have not been able to come to terms with, and do we not encounter prejudices that we ourselves are responsible for? Should not issues of social commitment be discussed much more openly in the church, without thereby immediately raising suspicions?
Are we not trapped in a false concern for our identity as Christians and churches, particularly on the issue of working with others to tackle the challenges of today's world? In the interaction of societal forces, Christians as a minority will be neither team captains nor those who set the rules, but just team players like others. Christian service may be misunderstood and the intention behind it is often only occasionally discernible. Thus emerges the frequently asked question about the specifically Christian character of our service. This question nees to be asked insofar as it maintains our alertness and sharpens our service and action on behalf of the Lord. However, this question also may put us back into bondage and push us to seal ourselves off from others. If it is merely about strengthening our identity through our works, it hinders the necessary readiness to cooperate with others. This concern for our own identity becomes a new form of self-justification through works.
What are the root causes of these symptoms of bondage? Churches and Christians are always in bondage when they believe that they possess their own freedom and need to maintain their own standing rather than trusting that freedom comes from the Lord in following his call. If we believe that our freedom can be guaranteed through particular language, institutions and behaviour then we have become victims of fear for our own freedom and identity. Our main concern becomes the church itself and this introversion becomes its "Babylonian captivity". When we say "Christ liberates", this has to be understood from the perspective of the Reformation--Christ alone liberates, and his call alone can liberate us from ourselves to be there for others. His word reveals the shackles of the church and makes us impatient with its refusal to change for the better. Through his promise, we will not spare even the church from radical criticism in the hope of a church that can be changed for the better.
Through the word of Jesus Christ the church is set free to serve
"You were called to freedom" (Gal. 5:13). It is by witnessing to Christ that we receive his freedom. We can be a church that has been liberated only by being a church of the word, It is not obvious that this is the case and that the word that liberates is at work among us. Often we hear the complaint that the way the church preaches says little or nothing, and especially that it has nothing to do with the issues, questions and tasks of everyday life and the world as it is today. But these questions of how we act in everyday life, questions of social ethics and responsibility for the world, are now the priorities. Christians are now asked about their actions, and it has been said that Christianity has now entered the age of ethical challenges.
But it is precisely at this point that a false and fatal alternative threatens us. A church that is there for others--say some--must takes its issues from the agenda of the world, it must first of all be part of today's world and caught up in its issues. Others say: if the church really has something to offer, then it should stay with what is important to it: the word of God. (13)
As long as these two perspectives are seen as being in opposition to each other, as long as there is a rift between exegesis and present-day reality, "between the Word and the World", the church will continue to be held back from being liberated to serve: the word will remain at a distance from reality, everyday life will he without promise and our action will he without direction.
We need to recover an understanding of the gospel and learn to understand the rich instructive power of the word for everyday life, not only for our private lives, but for the life of the world. Theologians and non-theologians need to work together on this so that there can be a mutually enriching encounter between the everyday experiences of Christians in secular professions and the exegesis of theologians. Only in such discussions will we encounter the liberating word.
The history of the proclamation of the word of God, from the Old Testament right up to the present day, shows how the word continually finds itself in new situations, has to deal with new problems and understand such situations as an opportunity for faith and service. This historical dynamic of the gospel is intended to make us receptive to our present situation. It makes us ready to learn and directs us to the task of exploring our situation. It is thus relevant that for years there has been a great need in our church for information about our society and the problems of the world and that in this we are trying to learn from the social sciences (sociology, psychology, social psychology). The call of Jesus Christ is of course directed to the individual, but to individuals in their social networks and duties. It is through their social networks that individuals act and suffer and are part of contemporary fate. This is something that is often overlooked by an individualistic theology. But the church is on target if we talk about issues such as the present-day structures of society, the process of urbanization, developing countries and racism. This is because the love that demonstrates solidarity hag to raise these issues, and keeping oneself properly informed is part of the service of the Word.
Only when we really take our social existence seriously will we experience the liberating power of the Word. Because this Word wants to set us free from paralyzing guilt and depressing experiences and fill our lives with promise, leading us to acts of love.
In recent times there have been calls for a "GDR-specific theology". We certainly have to ask whether we have really taken the specific situation of our society seriously. To talk of being "GDR specific", however, cannot be a theme in itself or an issue on a par with the witness of the gospel. Especially not if a socialist analysis and interpretation of the situation is adopted which would force the gospel into a pre-defined analysis of society or make it fit into predetermined and limited areas of activity. There is no such thing as a value-free analysis of the situation. The questions that one raises, or does not raise, one's own priorities, all depend to a great extent on the preliminary decisions and interests that one brings to the situation. Both Christians and non-Christians are imprisoned by prejudices and blinkers and cannot see what is really at stake. Thus in obedience to the Word in Christ, Christians need to have an open mind and decide what is to be done and to be said on that basis. This perspective has to remain in dialogue with and be tested against other perspectives.
The Word in Christ does not want only to describe situations but to change them. It does not want to allow things in church and society simply to remain as they are. It wants to change situations so that the promise that they have been given can be fulfilled in them. For this Word brings forth God's creative love. For the church, to be obedient to the call of the Word means to expose itself to the changes that this call implies. Above all, it means to be become part of the mission of the gospel. The call of Christ is a call to mission and we can only stand in freedom if we allow ourselves to be moved to mission.
So many positive and good things have been said over the past decade about missionary communities that I want to mention only one thing: we have realized that the church not only undertakes mission but b mission: Mission is not only an issue about how the church is structured and what it does, but also about its very existence (Sein). Does our congregational life, our conduct as a church, our Christian existence speak for the fact that we have been liberated through Christ, or does it speak against it? In our secular society, the church can no longer automatically assume that it is in the vanguard in terms of promoting confidence and institutional authority. Only what we live will be heard. This demonstrates just how much the church has to be liberated so that it can become fit for the service of liberation.
The church in the service of freedom
Responsible action in socialist society
Christ's commission to the church and to Christians cannot be restricted to the proclamation of the Word. The whole of Christian service in all areas of life is included and has to be lived out from the perspective of this commission of Jesus Christ. It is here that a decisive choice has to be made especially concerning the work of Christians in society. The expectations that our state has of Christians are certainly somewhat different. We are told that Christians, irrespective of their religious convictions, should be guided in their societial commitment by the socialist understanding of society and presentation of history. Of course, Christians are able to find inspiration from their faith, but the basic norm for their action in society remains socialism alone--not least, it is suggested, because it turns the original ideals of Christianity into a reality, and corresponds to the kind of society that Christians should be seeking. Religious activity has a role as a private and leisure-time activity. As far as the tasks that face us in society are concerned, however, the gospel has been demoted, relieved of its duties and placed into retirement. That is something that, quite simply, we cannot accept, because the Lord is not going but coming--and his word, not least in society, is a word of liberation and a word that shows the way forward.
In theological terms we have to differentiate between the "two kingdoms", yet we cannot retreat to a new separation of the two kingdoms. (14) This would most clearly correspond to relegating the gospel to the very edges of society, restricting its authority to the individual's relationship with God and allowing free reign to political reason and practice. In this way the gospel of freedom would be distorted into a gospel for our leisure time, trapped in the misunderstanding that it is directed at feelings of religious self-alienation rather than the liberation of human beings in society. As if political responsibility comes about by liberating ourselves from Christ instead of being liberated by him.
But what does it mean to understand our life and work in the socialist society from the perspective of the commission we have been given by Christ? It means above all else that we must have faith that even the socialist society is under the Lordship of the liberating Christ. Unlike the self-understanding of socialism, we count on there still being a promise for our society, through the promise of the risen one, and we believe our society can serve the one who was crucified. We can allow neither socialists nor anti-Communists to take away from us the possibility to see our society in the light of the promise of Christ. So we can be freed from a fixation with socialism's self-understanding which offers us only the option of wholesale approval or an equally wholesale condemnation. Christ frees us from the paralyzing alternative between taking an anti-stand on principle and uncritically allowing ourselves to become collaborators, to more constructive and discerning forms of participation. This is not an ideology of keeping our hands clean, or of a "Third Way". It is the path of responsible participation based on faith and underpinned by a better promise than that offered by socialism, has a commission that is more binding than human commissions can be and is therefore more constructively engaged and committed.
Socialism began as a protest and a struggle against the misery of people in oppressive relationships and with the claim that it would abolish all self-alienation and oppression and bring about a realm of freedom. But the cross and resurrection of Christ makes us critical of such exaggerated claims. It is the liberating Christ's solidarity with the suffering, his promise of freedom, that compels us to take part in the socialist protest against the misery of humanity and to join in the task to change inhuman situations, so as to bring about greater justice and freedom. So Christians will be engaged in building up the socialist society wherever it is a question of creating more just forms of living together, and of serving human beings within socialism's economic and social structures.
The task of fighting lack of freedom and injustice in our society remains because our history stands under the sign of the cross. This task makes sense, however, because history also stands under the promise of the liberating Christ. This promise will support us especially when socialist society has let us down and when the aims of socialism have become distorted or unrecognizable. Precisely because we do not have to demand of socialism that it provide the realm of freedom, such experiences do not drive us into wholesale cheap criticism contrasting the ideas with the reality of socialism, nor into disassociating ourselves in a cynical fashion. In the promise of Christ, we will tirelessly remind our society of our committed hope for a socialism that can be changed for the better.
Is this too great a task for Christians who have to prove themselves in everyday society? How do we summon up the energy, the nerve and time necessary for responsible participation? We feel the challenge to make our views heard in discussions, to participate both constructively and critically in organizations and initiatives, so as to help shape them to do more for the disadvantaged. But how can we keep going? Do not a series of experiences tell us that individual and distinctly Christian initiatives are apparently not wanted?
Yet when it is the liberating Christ who calls us to responsible participation, surely we should experience this call as a "joyful service" rather than as a heavy demand? (Barmen Theological Declaration, second thesis.) Christ liberates Us from crushing absolute demands to a wisdom that can discern what is required in this time and hour (Eccl. 3:1-8), when to speak and when to keep silent, when to be challenged and when it is someone else's turn, when to take action and when to hold back. He also frees us from the dictatorship of ethical principles set in stone and opens the door to responsible compromise. In reliance on Christ surely we should free ourselves from scepticism and prejudices and discover new opportunities for responsible participation: for responsible decision-making especially in organizations in our society in which we can find possibilities for constructive and meaningful service.
Christ frees us to the love, which transcends borders in solidarity with the suffering. Our responsible participation will show itself in the extent to which we become a voice for the weak and disadvantaged. This is true in regard to neighbours in this society who from the point of view of productivity and ideological criteria appear to be of no use to society and stand in the shadows, who are disadvantaged or overlooked. This is also true for our "neighhours" far away, especially for those in the so-called Third World. We do not need to repeat what has often been said. The urgent priority remains that more should be done both in terms of practical aid and in terms of consciousness raising in church and society. To take sides in the name of the Christ who liberates is to take sides for the suffering and oppressed. That also includes taking sides for the political concepts that can best help them. For many developing countries that means a decision for socialist models of society, and at any rate against neo-colonial dependency and exploitation. But this taking sides for political programmes must not become an overt end in itself, but we must always bear in mind the people that such action is supposed to help.
For the sake of responsible participation, it is important for our society to extend the arenas in which open discussion is possible. Responsible participation is required. But would the readiness for this not be increased if "hot issues" could be discussed more openly, if people with a different point of view were not immediately categorized as people with the wrong point of view who need to be educated and indoctrinated, rather than being respected as responsible discussion partners? Would not the (Communist) Party gain authority in its leading role if this authority was more recognizable as the sponsor of freedom and as an aid to self-responsibility? We approve of the desire to unite all members and groups in society in a common responsibility. A pluralism that is a non-committal ideology does not correspond to Christian responsibility.
However, common interests can develop only where trust is granted, partners are respected and all points of view are required to prove themselves in open discussion. Surely it is essential for the future of socialism that it strive for and promote such responsibility?
Responsible participation presupposes that the information needed to arrive at a sound judgement is freely available. That is firstly a question to ourselves: is our interest in information as alert as is required of a love that demonstrates solidarity with the world? But it is also a question to our society: Is there not a need for more comprehensive, nuanced and objective information? In a world that is becoming ever more complex, the possession of information that is key to control and planning means power and the ability to take decisions. If we are ever to attain responsible participation, then information must allow people to make their own judgments. Only in this way can the slogan, "Work together, plan together, govern together", become a reality.
For the sake of responsible participation, it is important that the church offer more help to individuals to become better informed. The church should offer individuals a fellowship and the space to discuss things in a way that is encouraging and helpful.
Above all, the church needs to be an example of an institution and fellowship in which responsible participation and open and free discussion of different opinions can take place. With our differences in theological, spiritual and congregational approaches we find it difficult to reconcile freedom, partnership, and respect for each other's conscience with our common responsibility before the Lord. The church is just as unable as socialism to accept a laissez-faire attitude to opinions, words and actions. But on the other hand, all our rules and regulations are relativized by the Lord who is truth and who leads us into all truth.
In this way the church could offer a space for critical debate, a place for free speech, an openness to radical questioning and a readiness to learn without fear. That would be a contribution of the utmost importance to creating responsible partnership in society.
Human beings liberated at the workplace and in their leisure time
Our society particularly values work, production, technical and scientific achievement. Behind these values are understandable and irrefutable needs and goals from which Christians cannot withdraw in their working lives. One of the central aims of socialism is to abolish the self-alienation and exploitation of human beings through labour, and to turn labour into a meaningful, free and above all a humane task for people. Such an aim and everything that is done in our society in this direction can only meet with our approval. Christians will help to bring humanity to the workplace; where a worker is not seen only as a means to the end of fulfilling the plan, where workers are not simply objects but subjects who can assume joint responsibility for planning; and where each individual's ability and inclination is taken into account appropriately when it comes to training and the choice of profession.
Even Marxist authors draw attention to the difficulties that stand in the way of this aim of making work more humane in the highly specialized and automated world of work. (15) But precisely because Christians do not see work as a means to salvation all that gives meaning to their lives, they can face difficulties objectively and affirm that even in the socialist society self-realization is part of what work means and that in many professions this is only partially possible, or even not at all possible. If we receive liberation and meaning for our lives through the love of Jesus Christ, then we are freed to work with dedication without counting the cost to ourselves.
This is something especially important for Christians who are not allowed to exercise professions that correspond to their abilities and inclinations. However painful they may find this experience, they can also find meaning in the discipleship of Christ, who freely became the servant of all.
From the point of view of liberation through Christ, however, we must clearly state our opposition to the idea that human beings gain their humanity through work, that it is work that gives meaning to life and that is life's primary aim. This is something that we have to oppose for the sake of genuine human freedom. This way of thinking imprisons human beings in a mentality of achievement, in which they make excessive demands on themselves, and then face emptiness when they are no longer able to keep on going or find no recognition. People who are not productive, who are ill or are old, are at the mercy of having no meaning in life, even though they may receive excellent social care. The "achievement principle" can play a certain role in society but where it dominates, human beings are in danger of being judged on their usefulness, of being replaceable, and, in the final analysis, of becoming mere objects. Liberation through Christ goes beyond this. His promise of the realm of freedom provides us the vision of a society in which human beings are not classified according to their achievements and abilities but are accepted in love and, through this love, receive dignity. (16)
Thus liberation through Christ throws new light on our leisure. Experts claim that in the future leisure will take on an ever greater significance both for human beings and for society. It was said at the WCC assembly in Uppsala in 1968 that "the corporate, communal uses of leisure could well make or break a culture". (17) In this context we can appreciate anew the biblical proposition of the Sabbath, the day of rest. We must be aware of the fact that although Protestantism has developed a work and professional ethic, and more recently has claimed an ethic of changing the world, it has little to say when it comes to leisure, to celebration and to festivity.
Because we are trained to stress the virtues of diligence, soberness, usefulness and professional success, rather than the gift of creative imagination, leisure often becomes empty, dead time whose only purpose is to make us "fit" for work. Is the gospel of freedom unable to offer us a new understanding of how we use our leisure? Its liberating word can create liberated human beings who do not need to repress their problems, knowing instead how to accept and deal with them, and are therefore able to celebrate cheerfully. Thus we can develop renewed confidence and humanity, joy and hope.
This perspective raises questions about how we understand the church, and particularly our idea of missionary communities. Are we not in danger of rashly replacing structures for maintaining pastoral care with structures for action, replacing a lower-middle-class style of meeting with a lifestyle based on social activism and then equating this with faith? Instead of the Volkskirche or "people's church" we would have a sort of missionary elite, where the church becomes a simple structure of expediency, and where an achievement mentality begins to take root. Such a concept can make us unable to see the real tasks of the church today, unable to respond to people's justifiable expectation that they can take part in the life of the congregation without thereby being taken over by it. The community of the liberating Christ is not only/t place to prepare ourselves for action but also a place to find peace. Human beings who face pressure to achieve the required qualification should be able to find acceptance in the church without there again being categorized according to their spiritual achievements, their use to the church and their ability to learn. The parish could become a place for freedom where human beings encounter Christ as the "Lord of gladness" (Cantate Domino, 126). Of course, this doesn't mean being outside history or society, but being at the heart of its conflicts and pressing tasks.
On the way to the cross, Jesus had a meal with his disciples as a foretaste of the realm of freedom. He offers just such a feast of liberation to those who are burdened and heavily laden, so that he can say: "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30). Leisure and the fellowship of the church are not places of flight from the pressure of everyday life but the beginnings of a new mission. From this perspective, the church has good reason to see the "spare time" role to which it is directed by society as an opportunity for service in which it can act as a help for the lives of others.
The Lord's Supper brings together the Freedom that Christ distributes
The Lord's Supper is the feast of liberation and it would be good if this could be more clearly seen in the way in which we celebrate it. In the Lord's Supper the freedom that Christ distributes is realized in community. At this table, even the inadequate disciples are accepted. At this table everyone has come of age. They are called together by the love that transcends borders and unites that which has been divided. It is the meal of the suffering Lord who is in solidarity with the oppressed, and the meal of the one who has risen, who sends us to renewed action. It is the meal of the Lord who is to come, and a taste of the realm of freedom in the very midst of history.
(1) In Romans 8:18ff, Paul sees the world that is subject to the "bondage to decay" and struggling for its freedom, in the light of the hope of the "glorious liberty of the children of God". Ernst Kasemann in his interpretation of this text writes that "the world is constantly in exodus, without finding the way out to salvation" and that, "To the church which lives from the promise, as the reverse side of the gospel, and is hence the bearer of a certain hope, the unrest of the world appears to be significant as a path through the world where hope is still concealed." ("The cry for liberty in the worship of the Church", in Perspectives on Paul London, SCM Press, 1971, p.127).
(2) A number of authors in recent years have attempted to use the concept of freedom to interpret the message of the New Testament for our historical situation, e.g., the Protestant theologians Ernst Kasemann, Jesus Means Freedom, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1972; Jurgen Moltmann, "The Revolution of Freedom", in .J. Moltmann, Religion, Revolution and the Future, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969; and the Catholic theologian from Erfurt, Heinz Schurmann, "Die Freiheitsbotschaft des Paulus--Mitre des Evangeliums?", in Catholica, Munster, 1971.
(3) Gal. 4:4ff. The concept of "accepting" other human beings has biblical roots. Jesus "accepts the sinners" (cf. Luke 15:2). The concept plays an important role in psychology and psychotherapy. No human being is able to live and to develop without having been accepted by others. Inspired by these insights, the concept is now often used in theology to explain the fundamental and central importance of the message of justification for human beings. The concept also shows that our acceptance by Christ is inseparably linked to our acceptance of each other (cf. Rom. 15:7).
(4) The concept of autonomy is made up of the Greek words autos ("self") and nomos ("law").
(5) Martin Niemoller coined the oft-cited thesis that unlike at the time of the Reformation, present-day human beings are not seeking the "gracious God" but the "gracious neighbour".
(6) This is an allusion to Immanuel Kant's definition of enlightenment in his work, What is Enlightenment?: "Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity." Kant's prescription for Mundigkeit (maturity) is: "Have courage to use your own reason!" Liberation through Christ includes a positive position towards the Enlightenment, for God's revelation exposes the historical]y relative character of all the existing powers of the world and lays bare their claim to absolute truth. Enlightenment is an act of the self-liberation by human beings to which they must themselves however be liberated in order not to fall victim to idolatry and absolutism in relation to great historical figures (cf. the post-Enlightenment idolatry of science, profit, nation etc.).
(7) Both aspects are combined in the New Testament word parrhesia which signifies both freedom and Mundigkeit (maturity), similar to frankness. It signifies both the open unreservedness of prayer before God and the frank and open testifying before human beings (Heb. 4:16; 10:19; Acts 4:13, 29).
(8) E. Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, rev. ed., Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2000, pp.927-28.
(9) According to Galations 4:26, we have freedom as children of the "mother", the coming Jerusalem, i.e. as citizens of the free city of God (Greek: polis). The freedom of the children of God thus has a political character as the freedom of the Polls, not private liberty. See Schurmann, "Die Freiheitsbotschaft des Paulus", p.36.
(10) "Only in community is personal freedom thus possible ... In the actual community, individuals, in and through association, also attain their freedom", Philosaphisches Worterbuch, article on Freiheit (freedom), vol. 1, p.377.
(11) According to Romans 8:29 we are to be conformed to the image of God's son. This promise breaks through the bondage of the images that we build up of ourselves through word and deed and those images we make of others in order to categorize them.
(12) After the liberation from Egypt the people of Israel in the desert rose up against Moses: better to expire in Egyptian bondage than an exodus into this sort of freedom (Ex. 16:3)! The congregations of the letter to the Galatians found the oppressive yoke of the law preferable to the freedom of Christ (Gal. 3:1f; 4:8-11). Christians in Corinth misused freedom for their own religious self-edification at the expense of their brothers and sisters (1 Cor. 8:9-11; 14:1-5).
(3) This corresponds to the difference in the theological debate that has broken out between a "Theology of the Word" on the one hand and a "Theology of" the World", a "political theology", or a "theology of revolution" on the other.
(14) Luther taught the distinction between the "spiritual" and the "worldly" regimens. What this doctrine actually means is highly controversial in theological debate. It is undisputed that Luther wanted to liberate worldly responsibility from the domination and control of the church, not however to leave it to its own autonomous laws, but rather to place the faithful in this arena under the rule of the triune God. Christ liberates human beings through faith to a correct use of reason (i.e. practical and based on Christ's commandment of love), so that human beings could remain obedient in discipleship in family, profession and society. The Barmen Theological Declaration of 1934 was forced to defend itself in the situation of its time against the "false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords--areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him". Against a separation of the two kingdoms, Barmen stated: "As Jesus Christ is God's assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God's mighty claim upon our whole life" (2nd thesis). The state has, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the church also exists, "the task of providing for justice and peace by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability". The church, however, has the duty of pointing in its proclamation to "the Kingdom of God, God's commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled" (5th thesis).
Luther's distinction between the two kingdoms is today often picked up in the distinction between salvation and well-being, and in the action of faith for a responsible use of reason. In order that no separation results from this, it is necessary to ask about the relationship between salvation and well-being, and to examine the aims of the specialist area concerned, for expertise may be able to see its own aims.
There have been repeated statements in newspapers belonging to the Christian Democratic Union and in other GDR publications that amount
more or less to a separation of the two kingdoms. Based on the partied truth that Christians in politics and society have to use human insight and specialist reason, it is claimed that Christians in their engagement in society, in their work for peace, in standing on the side of" socialism, and from the standpoint of world historical development, need to be guided by dialectical historical materialism. Theological correctives and critique are rejected and the relevance of the gospel for societal and political decisions is obscured (ef. articles in the Neue Zeit from 5.12.1970, p.5, and from 19.12.1970, p.5). Christians, however, also need in societal and political issues to examine both concretely and critically how socialist insights, objectives and decisions are related to the service of human beings to which Christ calls us through the gospel.
(15) Cf. Der Mensch und seine Arbeit. Soziologischen Forschungen, Dietz-Verlag, Berlin, DDR, 1971. The editors of this book examine sociologicol studies among young Leningrad workers.
(16) Cf. Matthew 10:1-16, the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
(17) The full citation reads: "It may seem rather farfetched to a single solitary individual that the future of civilization hangs on the balance of how he uses or misuses his leisure. It stands to reason, however, that the corporate, communal uses of leisure could well make or break a culture ...", in Drafts for Section Prepared for the Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, WCC, 1986, p. 125.
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|Publication:||The Ecumenical Review|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2004|
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