Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ecclesiology: Chapter 14


Chapter 14: Election and History


 

Pannenberg is now ready to explore the doctrine of election. While Jesus preached the future rule of God, the future is present by anticipation in the person of Jesus. People participate now in the future of divine rule by being in fellowship with Jesus. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are signs of that future rule, giving advance notice of the whole course of life of those to whom they apply. Participation is important here in order for us to bear the image of God and allow God to fashion us into the likeness of God. He proposes thinking of religion as the divine education of the human race. This education occurs in the context of cultural history. Important for inner formation is the medium of spontaneity, within which the image of the Son and his free relation to the Father take shape in human life. He refers at the natural level to the self-organization of the living creature. This natural occurrence also occurs at the level of the human race and its history. The struggle for existence continues in the rivalry of cultures as they reflect the struggle between alternative ideals of life. The common end of this striving is the unity of the race as a species and the achieving of what is common to humanity in the lives of individuals and in the forms of their association. The divine origin of ideals of life declares itself in a sense of election and calling that sets the lives of individuals or particular societies in relation to the rest of humanity and to all peoples. Applied to the theological discussion, the people of Israel had a sense of election in the free historical action of God. The existence of the church rests on the historical work of God in the history of Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian sense of election has an eschatological basis in terms of the living eschatological reality of the risen Christ, who is the new humanity. Election as it meets individuals in baptism and the Lord’s Supper sets us on the way to fulfill our destiny. Confident in our election, we perceive the way and the goal dimly. The fellowship of the church has its basis in calling, election, and the accompanying sending all of which has an eschatological goal. He admits that the hints he has offered of election and calling are not congruent with the classical formulation of the doctrine of election. He will part company with Origen and Augustine. The mistakes they made show up in Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin. Karl Barth acknowledged his departure from the Reformed tradition. Pannenberg will depart further from that tradition. He will criticize the Lutheran Formula of Concord (1577) for its discussion of this doctrine. The placement of this discussion is important. He has not discussed the doctrine under the doctrine of God. Even Barth followed that rule. Instead, by placing the discussion of election as part of his consideration of the church, he is able to connect it with the election of Israel and the entire notion of the particularity of a people chosen to witness to the world.

            First, Pannenberg will discuss the election of individuals. He needs to justify and clarify his view of election by a critical discussion of the traditional form of the doctrine that relates it primarily to individuals and their participation in eternal salvation. One, he discusses the classical doctrine of election. The discussion by Paul in Romans 9-11 and 8:28-30 focus on the plan of God for salvation. The plan involves the divine acts in history, especially relating to Jesus Christ. Later theology shifted the focus to elect individuals. Determinism arose through Gnostic influence. Origen and Augustine treat election as an act of God that takes place in eternity before time. They also see eternal election relating directly to individuals with restriction to the theme of their participation in eschatological salvation. These presuppositions guide the discussion in scholastic theology of the Middle Ages, Aquinas, and Calvin. He views this as an abstract view of election in contrast to the biblical statements of the electing activity of God in history. Such an abstract view of election makes the divine decision timeless, detaches individuals from all relations to society, and restricts the purpose of election to participation in future salvation. Such an abstraction moves against the historical nature of election in the Bible to a people who have a role in history. He acknowledges the Bible refers to God choosing individuals, such as kings and patriarchs, but the election serves the historical purposes of God. The early church realized God had called them into a new divine act of historical election by founding the church and its mission of offering salvation to the nations. The idea that God first foresees and then determines that we find in Origen rightly has the suspicion of Pelagianism. This view dominated in the Middle Ages. The determinism of Augustine rightly makes God seem unjust and cruel. This view dominated among the Reformers. Luther developed the insight that the eternal election of God is in Jesus Christ and is thus in the historical turning toward us in Jesus Christ. His goal, then, is to chart a different course than this classical formulation and its attending problems.

            Two, he discusses election and calling. If salvation occurs already in the timeless nature of election, it would seem to devalue the preaching of the gospel and the present call to salvation. However, the aim of the counsel of the love of God is to have creatures who participate in the fellowship of the Son with the Father and the sending of the Son into the world. Interestingly, both Schleiermacher and Barth saw the problems with the classical formulation of election and its focus upon individuals. While election relates to the eternal in Ephesians 1:4, it also relates to the future consummation of the divine plan in 1:10. As among those “in Christ,” the elect are proleptically what they shall be.

            Three, he discusses the election of individuals and the fellowship. The biblical emphasis is upon the election of people. This was true of Israel. It was also true of the Christian community, in which belonging to Jesus Christ was the basis of election. The electing will of God relates to the community and beyond it at all humanity. Election of individuals serves the saving will of God for humanity. The eschatological destiny of humanity shows itself in Christ, in individuals, and in the community. The elect serve the greater goal of the saving action of God. The saving action of God is that of reconciliation with God and with each other. Election has a fellowship as the primary target. This means others are not elect. If God elected Israel, this meant the exclusion of other peoples. Yet, even that community remained open to new members. The chosen stand in for a future definitive human fellowship under the rule of God. It therefore remains an open question which individuals will or will not belong to this eschatological fellowship. Election to a fellowship does not exempt the elect from divine judgment. We must bear the consequences of what we do. He does not think one can guarantee an ultimate universal reconciliation. However, in a history that is still open the possibility of forgiveness, the promise is still present for those who repent.

Second, Pannenberg will discuss election and the people of God. He will focus specifically on the relation of election to the church, especially through the theme of the church as the people of God. The eternal election of God aims at the human society that will find definitive form in the eschatological fellowship of the rule of God. The work of election in history has an orientation to those on the way to this goal. The community anticipates the final rule of God and the destiny of humanity. The elect community is a sign of that end. As a sign, the community is a witness to the will of God to save. The church is a provisional representation of the fellowship that will be under the rule of God. Participation comes through faith, hope, and love.

One, he discusses the concept of the people of God in ecclesiology. Historically, the notion of the people of God dropped out of use until the reformation period picked it up again in order to oppose the hierarchical and juridical concept of the church as a clerical dominion that contrasted with the secular powers that had developed during the Middle Ages. However, in the Bible, the concept of the people of God is broader than church. Vatican II tried to do justice to this. From among Jew and Gentile, Jesus called a people to grow together in the Spirit and to form the new people of God. It sees the church as the core of this humanity of the future. It sees the church in Christ as a sign and instrument for the inward union with God and for the unity of all humanity. In its light, a theology of election underlies this function of the church for all humanity, a function that has a close link to the church as the people of God. The whole church can welcome the emphasis in Vatican II as encouraging us to consider the function of the church relative to the divine economy of salvation. The view of the church in terms of election as the people of God relates its description as the fellowship of believers to its function with respect to the ordaining of humanity for fellowship with God in the consummation of the kingdom of God.

            Two, he discusses the church and Israel. We cannot biblically reflect on the church without also reflecting on Israel. With all that I have just written, is the church the new people of God? Does Israel continue alongside the church as the old people of God? Note, also, that the term “people of God” is not plural. In spite of their painful history, do they in some way belong together in our notion of the people of God? What I want to urge is that the churches be clear that when they think of themselves as the people of God, it has an implication regarding our relationship with the Jewish people. Moltmann can say that Israel is the original, enduring, and final partner of Christianity in history.[1]

As we move through these difficult waters, I should stress that the New Testament does not refer to the church as the “new” people of God. We see the term from in the Epistle of Barnabas 5:7, 7:5, and 14:1ff. The unfortunate verdict is that Israel never was the people of God, since it rejected such a designation in building the golden calf, and only the church is the people of God that the Old Testament promised. Melito of Sardis and Hippolytus differed in that they thought of Israel as the people of God for its time, but the church has replaced it. Such thinking, if not in accord with the New Testament, is understandable. As Robert L. Wilken presents it, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the end of the temple worship, and the demise of the priesthood, the subjugation of the Israel by Romans, all seemed permanent.  Christians did none of this, by the way. Christians in the second and third centuries continued the prophetic interpretation of world events they found in the Bible. Therefore, for them, the involvement of Jews in the crucifixion and its expulsion of the first Christians from the synagogue led the judgment on Jerusalem and its Temple. Historical reality led Christians to think that Christianity had replaced the Jewish way of life and that the Jews would no longer continue to exist as a people. Of course, history would show that the Jewish way of life did not end. It appears that it took the horror of the holocaust to force the church to face this reality. The theological theme of supersessionism, that the church succeeds Israel in such a fashion as to displace Judaism from the status of the people of God, never became a dogma of the church of the Middle Ages. Such reflections may help us understand why early theologians reasoned the way they did, to a point where it sounds anti-Jewish to us, even if at the time it may not have been intended that way.[2]

Paul offers a vision of the people of God, Israel, and church in Romans 9-11 that I think is worth our reflection. In 11:1, he raises the question of whether the rejection of the gospel of Jesus Christ by the majority of the Jewish people means that God has rejected them. He answers emphatically in the negative. Christians would themselves become anxious of their comparatively new elect status if that were the case. He makes the point by advocating the inviolability of the election of the Jewish people in 11:29 (for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable) and 9:6 (It is not as though the word of God had failed.) Therefore, God has not annulled the covenant with the Jewish people. Their overwhelming rejection of the gospel was obviously painful to Paul, but he found some comfort in the Old Testament view of the remnant. “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” (Romans 11:7) As the people of God, Israel is for the time this remnant. At the same time, the people of God are expanding as the apostolic mission to the Gentiles is bringing in believers from the nations.

24 including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea, "Those who were not my people I will call "my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call "beloved.' " 26 "And in the very place where it was said to them, "You are not my people,' there they shall be called children of the living God." (Romans 9:24-26)

 

Therefore, a link already exists between church and Israel, which he describes in terms of the root of the olive tree that carries the wild branches that contrary to normal rues God has grafted into it.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. (Romans 11:17-18) 

Paul regards the majority Jewish reaction as the expression of a hardening by God based on the divine plan of salvation, but not forever.

7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, "God gave them a sluggish spirit, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day." (Romans 11:7-8)

25 So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25) 

His point is that the hardening does not finally exclude them from God or from sharing in divine salvation.

In a similar theme, the death of Jesus brings peace between Jew and Gentile.

12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:12-20) 

Paul does not seem to argue for a special path for Jew and Christian. Rather, the returning Christ will show himself to be identical with the Messiah whom the Jews await and will renew the covenant of God with the Jewish people by remission of their sins. Paul could appeal to the Old Testament prophets, who wrote of a new covenant that did not mean God had abandoned the earlier covenant.

20 And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the Lord. 21 And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord: my spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouths of your children, or out of the mouths of your children's children, says the Lord, from now on and forever. (Isaiah 59:20-21)

9 Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be expiated, and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin: when he makes all the stones of the altars like chalkstones crushed to pieces, no sacred poles or incense altars will remain standing. (Isaiah 27:9)

33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:33-34) 

Interestingly, Judaism has a counter-thesis at this point. Some have argued that Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah, but that he has become the Savior of the Gentiles. The problem with this, of course, is that Jesus was Jewish and that the first believers were Jewish he had come to believe Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah. Any Christian mission to the Jewish people must witness to this belief that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah. Yet, the mission to the Jewish people is of a different nature than to others, for the New Testament itself stresses that Christians believe in the same God, as do the Jewish people. For Christian witness, the focus has to be on the fact that the God of Israel has definitively revealed who God is in Jesus of Nazareth, and has done so first to the Jews. At the same time, such a Jewish approach may well answer the question of whether synagogue can recognize the church as belonging to the same people with it.

To complete the New Testament picture at this point, in a less nuanced way we find a similar discussion of the church as the people of God.

7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner," 8 and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (I Peter 2:7-10)

 

Once again, we must return to the notion of the church as the new people of God or as the replacement people of God. Paul had already warned the church of arrogance in relation to Israel.

17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. 19 You will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree. (Romans 11:17-24) 

Sadly, the church in its history ignored this warning. In essence, the church decided that it was the place of the initially actualized eschatological consummation, and thus could think of itself as the “new” or replacement people of God. This choice was dangerous and destructive for the history of the church well beyond its relation to Jews. It took the form of dogmatic intolerance, resulting in a history of division and dogmatic exclusiveness. Such a painful history began with the mistake it made regarding the Jewish people. It took the horrors of the holocaust under Nazi Germany to prepare the church to confess that it has this fellowship of destiny and solidarity with the Jewish people. Christians today, as individuals and as churches, need to handle their relation to the Jewish people with the type of openness that we find in Paul.

            Here is the point, as Pannenberg sees it. We can think of a single people of God that constitutes the object and goal of what God does in election. The term “people of God” leaves room for all humanity transformed and renewed for participation in the lordship of God. The Christian church is not exclusively identical with the eschatological people of God. Rather, the church is a provisional form of this people, a sign of its future consummation that will embrace Jew and Gentile, whether the “righteous” of all nations who stream in from every culture to the banquet of the reign of God.

            Three, he discusses the people of God and the official church. The actual and historical church can never be anything more than a provisional sign of the destiny of itself as well as humanity. The eschatological fellowship of Christians can take adequate shape in no political order. Without going to lengthy discussion here, the historical separation of church and state, which we find in Romans 13, Augustine, during the Middle Ages, and in the modern era, is a reflection of the notion that the political order will never reflect the destiny of humanity in fellowship with God or with each other. The increasing secularism of this era makes it seem impossible, but the notion of the people of God as expressed here opens the possibility of a newly formulated relation between church and society. Christians cannot identify themselves with any one model of political order. In the past, separation of church and state occurred within a society that had a Christian basis. Today, secular society emphasizes its separation from religion in order to give religion a marginal role in its social life. The point here, with Pannenberg, is that the secular order needs a religious or quasi-religious basis and justification in the faith of its citizens that will precede all manipulation by rulers. Christian awareness is now on the point of outgrowing the antagonisms of the denomination age and thus the historical reasons for making religion a private matter. A recovery of the social sense of Christians as the people of God could initiate a new epoch in shaping the relation between Christianity and the public order, especially since many people in North America and Europe no longer are sure where they stand in regard to the Christian tradition.

            Third, Pannenberg will discuss the election of the people of God and the experience of history. He wants to deal with the relation between the theological doctrine of election and the history of Christianity, including secularized forms of the belief of the belief in election. Divine election is an act of historical calling. Yet, it also forms the starting point of a history of the elect, for election orients itself toward a future goal. Election assigns to the elect community a function in relation to this goal. We can see this in the Old Testament with the election of the Patriarchs. Deuteronomy understood the history of Israel in light of this election. The link of election to keeping the covenant is clear in the Deuteronomic history we find in Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. What he will want to do is link this sense of election in the history of a particular people to the universal history of culture.

            One, he will explore the thought of election as a religious category for the historical constitution of the cultural order. The political system of an ancient culture, Israel being one, linked to a religious basis. The difference was that while surrounding cultures grounded this religious basis in cosmology, Israel grounded it in its historical election. The grounding of its political and legal system in the historical acts of God gave Israel uniqueness in its context. This meant focusing on the election of a people instead of the royal connection to the divine. This meant that election is not for Israel alone. Amos 9:7 is a powerful example of comparing Israel with other nations in a way that attacks its sense of uniqueness. Amos is re-reading the cosmological self-understanding of other cultures in light of their historical experience. This observation will lead him to explore a theology of history that closely links to the concept of the election of the people of God.

            Two, he explores aspects of historical self-understanding related to the thought of election. Election refers to the historical origin of a people. Yet, this initial act is a historical process that moves toward the rule of the electing God in relation to the goal implied in election. The elect community will need to correspond to the destiny the electing God has marked out for them. Therefore, election connects to the revelation of God to a people. Election presupposes knowledge of God that revelation provides. The irrevocable nature of election rests upon the self-identity of the electing God and on the faithfulness of God. This also means that the elect community has an obligation that by their conduct they should correspond to the fellowship with the electing God. We see this in the Old Testament in its emphasis upon the covenant. We also see it in the declaration that Israel is the possession of God and a holy people. In the New Testament, the theme of the sanctification of the people of God is the focus. The separation of the people of God distinguishes it from the ways of the world. For Pannenberg, modern Christianity has largely forgotten this point. Its members think they must adjust to the world instead of consciously and concertedly differentiate themselves from its rules and form of life. Of course, in this separation, it can every only be an anticipatory sign of the destiny of humanity. The other side of this separation from the world, however, is that election involves the elect community in witness and mission to the world. This witness is to humanity as a whole. Insight into the general connection between election as separation from the nations and the sending of the elect to bear witness to the nations forms the framework for an understanding of the distinctive nature of the task of Christian mission. Matthew 28:19 makes it clear that the risen Lord have the mission proclaiming the gospel to the nations and making disciples from among them by baptism in the triune God. In this way, the church serves our humanity destiny for reconciliation with God and with each other. Jesus seemed to live with the Jewish vision of the nations making pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The community of believers also lives with that vision, and witness to it. They are the city on the hill that one cannot hide, as Jesus put it in Matthew 5:14. The mission of the church means setting aside the Law of the old covenant and proclaiming a gospel for all people. The final theme of election is divine judgment. This means that the elect community can fall under divine judgment. It also means that the nations can fall under that judgment. His concern here is that if the church is silent concerning historical acts, people will have a weaker sense of the reality of God. We have no protection from making mistakes in this regard. An affirmation of the divine governance of the world is empty and meaningless without taking this risk.

            Fourth, Pannenberg will discuss the task of interpreting theologically the history of the church and Christianity in the light of the doctrine of election. He will offer some observations on election and the world government by God as they lead him again to the theme of eschatology. Most presentations of church history detach its history from any connection with the reality of God. The result is fatal, not only for theology, but also for faith. Biblical writings speak of the acts of God in history. When church accounts of its own history leave the impression that God has withdrawn from human history, it creates an ambiguity in terms of how the church itself experiences the reality of God. He objects to the approach of Oscar Cullman, who detaches from world history the concept of salvation history.[3] Rahner seems to move down the same path.[4] Pannenberg thinks that the links to logos theology as we see in John 1, theology of creation, and especially a theology of history in keeping with the testimony of the Bible, are important in this regard. Such a theological interpretation of history will include the doctrinal discussions, the divisions of the church arise from them, and the missionary expansion of the church. He refers to Protestant theologians like E. C Rust, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Hendrikus Berkoff as among the few who have developed approaches to a theological interpretation of the history of the church. He likes E. Muhlenberg as well. As Pannenberg sees it, one does not have to see the activity of God in both natural events and human history as in competition with the operation of finite and temporal factors. He refers to F. C. Bauer in his 1842 work, Die Epochen der kirchlichen Geschichtsschreilbung as an imposing presentation of the notion of the unfolding of the idea of the church, especially as he focused on the incarnation. If God was flesh in Jesus, the church as the body of Christ is an incarnation as well. John Macquarie will say that the church is the community in which the raising of humanity to God-humanity, which we see in Christ, continues. He connects this notion with the church as the body of Christ. The church has the purpose of forming a new creation after Christ. The church is an extension of the incarnation, although he stresses that the church is still in process.[5] Pannenberg thinks, in contrast, that the notion of election as the people of God is a more fitting way of viewing church history. On its historical paths the church is subject to the providence of God as to a reality that differs from it in nature and that is transcendent to it and to world. This reality manifests itself in the sending and preservation of church by God and in divine acts of judgment on it. Although he respects what Muhlenberg has accomplished, he thinks the focus is far too much on the opportunities in history for God to act for our salvation, and not enough on God acting in judgment on the church. As he sees it, then, only the category of judgment enables us to trace back historical disasters to God. Such a history cannot overlook the truth claim of Christian belief in God. Such a presentation cannot simply presuppose it dogmatically. In other words, as is typical with Pannenberg, such a presentation will be quite aware of the debatable character of the reality of God in history. Now, as he sees it, a theology of church history, when it comes to the theme of the missionary church, focuses on the church as an eschatological community and as the end-time people of God. The church and its members know that Jesus Christ has chosen them for participation in the eschatological fellowship of salvation with God. Yet, Christ also calls and sends them to bear witness to all peoples concerning their eschatological destiny and the way that in Jesus Christ it has already broken in. His point is that Christian mission presupposes the sense of election of church as the eschatological people of God.  As an example, he rejects the notion of a fall of the church due to the Constantine era. It has led to a spiritualizing concept of the church that does not recognize that had the church not accepted responsibility for renewing of the political order it would have fallen under the judgment of God. In any case, the history of the church also consists in its formation of doctrine. The schisms that resulted opened the door for the victory of Islam in the East, and thus came under the category of judgment. In fact, as he sees it, the inner decay of Western Christianity because of the swollen claims of the papacy is an expression of the judgment of God. The alienation of the modern world of Western culture from Christianity, inasmuch as its secularism derives from the divisions of the 1500’s and the Wars of Religion express divine judgment. The shattering of social peace by the intolerance associated with confessional difference are surely expressions of divine judgment. John Wesley will trace the “mystery of iniquity” from the early church and through the history of the church, concluding that the grand objection of those who do not believe against Christianity is the lives of Christians.[6] However, Pannenberg also agrees with Danielou, who thinks that along with judgment, we need a focus on repentance and new beginning. The rise of the ecumenical movement, for example, ought to give all traditions an opportunity to look self-critically at its history. He thinks this attempt is hardest within the Roman Catholic tradition. Within the Protestant tradition, however, as this self-criticism continues among them, they need to realize the central importance of Rome for the Christian world and the beneficial role it can for Christianity as a whole. Rome could well find itself in the situation of Peter.

31 "Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32) 

            Pannenberg concludes with a brief consideration of secular belief in election and nationalism in the history of Christianity. He refers to European nationalism, Moscow as the “third Rome,” the mission of the new American nation, and Zionism as examples. As a rule, these secular interpretations have not been beneficial. It has led to a sense of superiority over other peoples.

Fifth, Pannenberg will discuss the goal of election and the government of the world by God in the process of history.  He will want to discuss the theme of eschatology. To conclude, the ultimate aim of the election by God is the fellowship of a renewed humanity in the kingdom of God. We can think of this renewed humanity as the fulfillment of the purpose of God in creation. It was the aim God had of all creation living in the divine presence. The aim of God will find fulfillment in overcoming sin and death, the yearning for fellowship with the Creator, the witness to all people of fellowship with God and each other, and settling the issues related to justice and peace. Amid the strife of world history, the people of God offer a model of the rule of God, which took place in Israel and the church. In this regard, as we have already suggested, the conduct of the church and individual Christians will obscure that which the church celebrates in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The church entangles itself in the conflicts of the world. Christians have contributed to the disasters that have taken place in the history of Christianity. True, the church suffers rejection repeatedly in its history, and thus, shows a difference between elect and non-elect that seems like no one can bridge. However, this would not be so if with full clarity the church always and everywhere discharged its function as a sign and representation of the consummation of humanity in the rule of God that has dawned already in Jesus Christ. In fact, the life of the church often distorts the sign of the divine rule to the point of unrecognizability. His point is that a person may remain, on justifiable grounds, aloof from the church. This means that some of those who do so act of disenchanted longing for the rule of God that they can no longer see in the church’s life. One might think of the analogy of Romans 9-11 here, that the hardening of Israel led to a new mission among Gentiles. The perversions of the fellowship of the body of Christ may well open new doors for reaching this world. He refers to “the supreme art of God’s world government” reflected in causing good to come from evil. To take one example of judgment upon the church, the divisions between East and West, and later the divisions within Protestant world, opened the way for the thought of tolerance in civil life and in the life of and faith of the church. The church has become increasingly aware of the provisional nature of its assessments, remaining open to the future of God and divine judgment.

Pannenberg concludes with a parable that may suggest the church of today is applying wisdom it could have long ago applied to itself in far better than it did in the past as it invited schism and war.

"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27 And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?' 28 He answered, "An enemy has done this.' The slaves said to him, "Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29 But he replied, "No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' " (Matthew 13:24-30)



[1] The Church in the Power of the Spirit, 135.
[2] “The Jews as the Christians Saw Them,” First Things, 73:28. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/03/003-the-jews-as-the-christians-saw-them-20.
[3] Cullman, Salvation in History, p. 153ff.
[4] Rahner, Theological Investigations, V. 97ff, 104ff.
[5] Principles of Christian Theology, Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1966, 348.
[6] John Wesley, Sermon 61, “The Mystery of Iniquity.”

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