by Eberhard Juengel
Monday, Jan. 07, 2008 at 4:46 AM
The truth of faith can only prevail without worldly authority through the word of proclamation. The Christian chruch must affirm pluralism relativizing its own existence. The state has the task of limiting egoism.
THE CROSS, STATE AND SOCIETY FROM A THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
Egoism versus Pluralism
By Eberhard Jungel
[This article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Eberhard Jungel is an emeritus professor of systematic theology at the University of Tubingen. He is the author of “God’s Being is in Becoming” and “God as the Mystery of the World.”]
“In this sign you will conquer!” The shining cross was hoisted by Constantine’s troops marching against Rome in 312 to fortify his imperial rule. According to the account of Eusebius, the vision of the cross that happened to the whole emperor’s army was followed by the vision of an interpreted dream in which the Christ of God orders Augustus to replicate the sign of the cross seen in the sky and use it as a protection. The emperor obeyed, conquered and used the victory-bringing symbol “as a protection against every power that hostilely opposed him.” The so-called Constantinian age with the state acknowledgment of Christianity and its immediately privileged status began in the sign of the cross. The sign of the cross stood for military victory. The cross promised success. In this case, it was not a sign of reconciliation or readiness to help. It was not a forerunner of the Red Cross or a memory of the salvation-bringing death of the Son of God who according to Paul was crucified “in weakness” (2 Cor 13,4). It was much more the opposite. The emperor was later instructed theologically by the bishops about the real meaning of the cross. Although God’s victory over death was achieved in the death of the crucified, the real meaning of the sign of the cross was repressed at the beginning of the Constantinian age. The cross in whose sign Constantine should conquer symbolizes a victory, namely the death of the adversary.
With the “Crucifix decision” of the German constitutional co9urt on May 16, 1995, the Constantinian age seemed definitively ended in the Federal Republic of Germany. While Emperor Constantine had commanded “that the image (of the cross) be worn by all his troops,” the German constitutional court declared the state-decreed installation of crosses or crucifixes in state schools to be unconstitutional. The new religion policy begun with Constantine led Theodosius the Great to elevate Christianity to the exclusive state religion through state decree on February 28, 380. This promotion of Christianity into the only state religion had bitter consequences for the Gentiles. Their temples were despoiled, the Olympic Games ended (in 394) and the schools of philosophers in Athens were closed two centuries later – to name only a few examples. However this compulsory state church structure had become obsolete by the time of the Enlightenment. According to the constitution of the German Empire up to 1806, the sect prohibition was a protection of the two privileged churches with their catholic and evangelical confessions. But what was valid de jure had long been obsolete de facto. That “everyone should become blessed according to his own style” was the idea of Frederick the Great and the position of the philosophy of the European Enlightenment. “Woe…to the legislator,” wrote the great Kant, who would bring about through coercion a constitution (a creed and a church order) directed at ethical (for Kant, religious) goals! This would bring the opposite of the ethical constitution and undermine and make uncertain its political constitution.” The Weimar constitution of 1916 ended the compulsory state church structure de jure and guaranteed the right of self-determination for religious communities (Art. 137).
The constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany adopted the prohibition of a state church and the guarantee of the right of self-determination of religious communities from the Weimar Constitution (140 GG). In its past decisions, the German constitutional court did not interpret the separation of church and state in the sense of a radical separation or the state’s obligation to religious neutrality in the sense of a strict secular idea of neutrality. Did the high court’s decision in May 1995 break with its earlier idea of balancing the relation of state and church for a radical separation of the two authorities? Did it seek a constitutional turn with its invalidation of state-decreed installation of crosses or crucifixes in state schools as unconstitutional? That is one question to be discussed in the first part.
Another question is how the relation of state, church and society correspond to the self-image of the church. How does the relation of state, church and society relate to the crucifix decision of the German constitutional court? The longer second part of this address will focus on that question.
A. THE PROBLEMATIC OF THE SUPREME COURT “CRUCIFIX DECISION”
“No other Supreme Court decision in recent times has been discussed with so much passion… Nothing can compare with the emotions released here. These emotions overshadowed everything in the past. For a few days, the Germans seemed to be a people who took seriously their Christianity.” This was written in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper on September 8, 1995.
Several important explanations were triggered by the decision of the German constitutional court.
1. The Senate with a narrow majority (5 to 3 votes) sustained the constitutional complaint of a couple in rebuking the violation of their basic rights. The decision was based on the incompatibility of Art. 13 par 1 of the Bavarian Public School order of June 21, 1983 (state-decreed installation of crosses or crucifixes in compulsory state schools) with Art. 4 par 1 GG. Art. 4 par 1 GG declares: “The freedom of faith, conscience and the freedom of religious and worldview confessions are inviolable.”
“The crucial point for justifying the Supreme Court decision “was in the area of basic rights. The subjective right of dissenters was violated and made the school cross unconstitutional.”
2. The decision prompted vigorous indignation among church supporters, church people and politicians. It was publically decried by many high judges. The former constitutional judge Ernst Benda spoke of a “bad choice” that was “nearly incomprehensible.” He said “the court would be forced to correct itself sooner or later.”…
3. The range of the crucifix decision may have been overrated. The decision “contains no general prohibition of the cross in public spaces and no principled breach with past decisions of the German constitutional court on religious freedom and on the relation between the state and the church. Contrary to the fear of some circles, the decision in no way interprets the Weimar church article incorporated in Art. 140 GG and the school article 7 GG in the sense of a radical separation of the state and religious communities or of a secular idea of neutrality and understanding of freedom. State organs are by no means obliged to excluding and ignoring the religious moment…
The definition sovereignty of “bearers of basic rights,” the citizen and the religious communities, is involved in determining and judging the “religious contents of their faith.
4. The right to express religious convictions and define the “religious contents” of one’s faith, the religious right of self-determination of faith communities of believing or unbelieving individuals, was an achievement of the Weimar Constitution adopted by the German constitution and confirmed by the German constitutional court. According to its past decisions, the strict prohibition against state intervention in this religious right of self-determination is part of this achievement because determining the meaning, content and forms of their faith is exclusively the affair of citizens and religious communities. The state is not part of this conversation…
5. The German constitutional court’s statements about the meaning and function of the cross led to the assertion of the unconstitutionality of state-decreed installation of crucifixes:
“The cross remains one of the specific faith symbols of Christianity. It is really its faith symbol. It symbolizes the redemption of humanity from original sin and Christ’s victory over Satan and death and his rule over the world. Suffering and triumph coincide in the cross. For believing Christians, it is an object of worship and exercise of piety… For non-Christians or atheists, the cross on account of the meaning added by Christianity and its meaning in history becomes the symbolic expression of certain faith convictions and the symbol of its missionary expansion. Regarding the cross as a mere expression of western tradition or as a cultic sign without a specific faith reference would be a profanization of the cross counter to the self-image of Christianity and the Christian church. The cross has an appellative character. The symbolized faith themes are models worth following.” If one ignores the consequence that the German constitutional court drew from this statement, the Christian faith could hardly protest against these statements about the meaning or significance of the cross. How did the German constitutional court meddle unconstitutionally in the affairs of the Christian religious community?
The decision of the German constitutional court assumes that church and state meet “in a pluralist society.” It recognizes that the negative and positive sides of religious freedom cannot be realized without problem in one and the same institution in a pluralist society.” To what extent does the pluralist society represent a challenge for the positive and negative freedom of religion? To what extent does it represent a challenge for the state regulation of this relation?
We can now leave the discussion of the crucifix decision and explore in an explicitly theological perspective the relation of state and church in this pluralist society.
B. THE RELATION OF STATE AND CHRUCH IN A PLURALIST SOCIETY
“Quid est imperatori cum ecclesia: What has the emperor in common with the church?” – The question of Donatus implies a negative answer. “The true church suffers (political) persecution.” However another relation than persecution is possible between the emperor and the church, between church and state. For the church, there is more than the alternative of persecuting and being persecuted. According to the testimony of the New Testament, there is also an explicitly positive relation between church and state. This interests us here since the state and the church meet today in a pluralist society. In the following I will try to clarify the question of the relation of the state and the church in pluralism. This will take three steps. Firstly, pluralism should be explained. The second step asks how the church should judge social pluralism and how it understands itself and its mandate in a pluralist society. In a third step, the question will be raised how the church in a pluralist society faces the state according to the truth of the gospel.
1 .The state-church antithesis is as old as the church itself. A political community exists alongside the church community. When it reflects on itself, the church encounters the heavenly state, the eternal polis, not some kind of present earthly state. Christians understand themselves as citizens of an eternal political community in which they already have citizenship – as a whole series of New testament texts expressly attest (Phil 3,20; Hebr 11,10-16; 12, 22; 13,14; Rev 21). Thus the ultimate goal of the church is the heavenly Politeuma, God’s reign, not a pious religious community. This eschatological orientation of the church to the concrete state, namely to God’s coming reign, gives a positive and critical orientation to the relation of the church to the earthly state. How this relation should be defined concretely and in principle is a classical question that has stirred theoreticians and practitioners time and again. But in this classical question, pluralist society with its chances and dangers brings a specific modern or late modern problem consciousness that should be clarified first of all.
What is pluralism? The term “pluralism,” a philosophical concept, was originally the opposite of “egoism.” In his “Anthropology from a Pragmatic Perspective,” Immanuel Kant noted: “Only pluralism can be opposed to egoism.” Pluralism is the opposite to a logical, aesthetic and moral way of thinking. Pluralism counters a logical egoism, an aesthetic egoism and a moral egoism. “The logical egoist thinks testing his judgment in the minds of others is unnecessary (criterium veritatis externum).” “The aesthetic egoist is one who is satisfied with his own taste.” The “moral egoist” limits “all goals to himself and sees `benefits’ only `in what benefits himself’ and in `his own happiness.’” On the other hand, pluralism countering egoism relies on external criteria for examining judgments and attitudes. In other words, pluralism takes the world seriously as the possibility of different existence problematizing and correcting itself. The pluralist knows he is only one among many others. Therefore he views himself “as a mere cosmopolitan” and acts that way.
While Kant only focused on the way of thinking or mentality, later thinkers referred the term “pluralism” to basic metaphysical orientations and understood monism and pluralism as opposites, not egoism and pluralism. The monist reduces everything to one and knows everything by one (“in contemplating nature, everything must always be respected as one…”). On the other hand, pluralism around the turn of the millennium understood the world as a processual and unfinished diversity in which the different parts of reality only refer to each other through outward relations without one part dominating the other parts. The universe of beings has to be understood as a pluri-verse rather than a universe. This philosophical pluralism of the modern age used political metaphors, for example the pluralist world supports a Federal Republic of Germany more than an empire or kingdom. Such political metaphors imply “the transfer of the (originally philosophical) concept of pluralism to political theory.” Political pluralism arose, turned against the all-round competence and omnipotence of the state and emphasized the claims of all social groups and associations to self-determination.
In older political pluralism at home in the US above all, “the autonomy of social groups over against the state is emphasized like the independence of particular things over against the universal unity of reality. The state is basically on equal footing with many other social groups to which individuals belong and cannot claim any undivided loyalty for itself. Rather its authority depends exclusively on the free consent of individuals… In cases of doubt, the one who pursues a higher moral goal should command loyalty.” This is also true for the possible case of conflict between the state and the church. Against this older theory of political pluralism, the ingenious teacher of public law Carl Schmitt objected that it annuls the distinction between state and society. “The state…is one society alongside and between many other societies existing inside or outside the state.” The state is basically de-politicized. It becomes the plaything of different social interests.
“Pluralism” is defined by Carl Schmitt as “a majority of firmly organized social power complexes going beyond the state that usurp state functions without ceasing to be social (non-governmental) creations.” Carl Schmitt saw this political pluralism realized in the Weimar Republic. Against it, he conjured the totalitarian state dominating all areas of human life.
The “conservative” criticism of pluralism by men like Carl Schmitt obviously benefited the totalitarian conformity of all social forces and associations by National Socialism. The Marxism realized in the states of “command socialism” also contested the theory of political pluralism with thoughts, words and deeds. This may not be repressed. The connection of “socialist pluralism” or “pluralist socialism” discussed in western euro-communism was discredited in the East as an “ideological subversion of Marxist-Leninist parties and the continuation of the counter-revolution within the socialist group.” With the “Perestroika” proclaimed by Gorbachev, pluralism became a goal worth discussing in the “socialist camp” that contributed to the speedy end of the socialist world of states.
In the Federal Republic of Germany, political pluralism was welcomed on principle because of the danger of extreme anti-pluralism experienced in the Third Reich. Since modifications of pluralism gained acceptance in the US that in no way implied the complete denial of all state sovereignty but only prevented the omnipotence of the state, pluralism in Germany had its chance in political theory and political praxis. A multitude of social areas of life and creative forces cannot be reduced to the same root and summarized generally and exhaustively under the same point.” This was affirmed in principle.
The affirmation of pluralism may not ignore its inherent dangers. Since the relations between the individual interests of social associations are full of conflict with each other and with the overall interest in a pluralist democracy of highly industrialized societies, the possibility of endangering the social unity and the possibility of threatening individual freedom by the power of intermediary authorities are part of pluralism. If not counteracted, the dominance of big economic organizations can suppress competition and necessary confrontations with cartels so that minimally organized or unorganized interests cannot be felt.
The origin of citizen initiatives and new social movements beyond the established parties and associations and the fact that novel and disparate interests can be articulated very well show that political pluralism is capable of development and self-correction. The affirmation of the state as an exercise of rule according to human insight and human ability with the threat and exercise of authority is concerned for justice, peace and – supplementing the 5th thesis of the Barmen Theological Declaration – for freedom. The state has the task of limiting the “egoism” of persons, particularly interest-groups and parties ineradicable within social pluralism so that the rivalry of organized interests does not become a social bellum omnium in omnes and possible opponents do not become real enemies. Something can come out of competition and technical antagonism; nothing can come out of hostility.
2. We now ask systematically about the term and historical genesis of political pluralism. What is the relation of state and church within pluralist society? To what extent the confessional schism unintended but actually caused by the Reformation led to a religiously conditioned form of political pluralism in the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation will remain undiscussed.
I start from the fact that the Evangelical church with its Theological Declaration resolved at the 1934 Barmen synod at least implicitly affirmed political pluralism by rejecting the “false doctrine that the state beyond its special commission could become the only and total order of human life.” If the state cannot become the only and total order of human life, there are obviously several orders or independently ordered areas of human life that make an unmistakable special contribution to human life. Four areas of life with specific tasks can be clearly distinguished, namely state, church, science and the economy.
With their respective functions, the church, state, science and the economy refer to the whole of society – as conversely the whole of society (and every individual in it) depends on the special “achievement” of the state, church, economy and science. However the whole of society in no way depends on a specific state form, specific economy, specific organization of science or specific church. With regard to the functional area of social life characterized with the keyword “church,” there can be no state-guaranteed monopoly of authority of a single religion or world order in pluralist society. If the emphasis in the past was on the “church,” the Christian church was not in any case the only church. Rather “church” was the general expression for any “relatively self-contained pious community” in the sense of Schleiermacher. In pluralist society, a single religious or worldview community cannot make its basic convictions universally binding for the whole society through an exclusive state-guaranteed monopoly of authority and condemn all divergent convictions to illegitimacy. Pluralist society renounces on producing inner homogeneity with the help of a state-guaranteed religious-worldview monopoly on truth.
The church should not deplore this or the secularization that first made possible pluralism. Secularization means that the spiritual treasures of the church can now also exist in worldly form. The great respect for freedom of conscience for example (which the philosopher Hegel declared “a sanctuary” which would be an outrage to encroach), the worldly assertion of the inviolability of the dignity of the person, worldly personal engagement to protect damaged human life, the general school obligation and many other achievements of the modern constitutional state are secularized treasures of the church. These treasures are often first recognized in their full significance through their secularization. The de-church phenomenon that occurred in the form of cultural secularization in no way necessarily means a de-Christianization. Secularization is not a counter-term to Christianity. Pluralism is also not a counter-term to Christianity. Rather the secular world that claims to be come-of-age is a child of Christianity – I leave open whether desired or undesired – of protestant Christianity as an heir of the Enlightenment. The evangelical churches should rejoice over their worldly child instead of deploring it as a lost son or lost daughter. They should bless and wish well their worldly child so the child really becomes come-of-age.
When we first see the secular society positively in this light, we can also see the dark shadows of the eclipse of God that sinisterly accompanied secularization as secularism… Europe’s confessional schism with its terrible belligerent aftermath, the inability of all churches to ensure religious peace, made it necessary to put public life on a foundation independent of all confessional oppositions. On this worldly basis, independent of all church claims to truth, God-forgetfulness was regularly staged privately by middle class Europe and then with programmatic ideological pressure influenced the whole society with communist Europe. The power monopoly and the ideological truth monopoly played a decisive role (synchronization or enforced conformity of all media, indoctrination in the school and kindergarten and so forth!). Whoever only allows one claim to truth installs the lie. Whoever represses other claims of truth deludes the public and himself. In all areas, the DDR (East Germany) was marked by this grand delusion with which people deluded themselves. The DDR ultimately perished in this lie. Glasnost was deadly for the DDR.
The collapse of this political-ideological system represents a tremendous chance but is in no way a guarantee for a new religious awakening or a church revival movement. In no case does it mean that the church of worldly society has to pass the laws for its actions. Melanchthon already clearly declared: “The gospel does not bring any new law for civil (worldly) existence.” Martin Luther did not tire distinguishing law and gospel. He regarded the skill of rightly dividing law and gospel as the highest theological skill. Whoever has this skill, Luther said, “is at the top.” The gospel contains exactions to worldly legislators but is not a political legislator – as Christ is not a “second Moses.” The evangelical churches can and should proclaim these exactions of the gospel to political power. Doing more would be counter-productive. The evangelical church would betray the gospel if it identifies itself with political power or commends itself as a societas perfecta.
Rather evangelical Christendom (in Europe’s West and East) affirms the arising pluralist society. Thus evangelical Christendom defends the truth claim of the gospel as a universal truth claim – “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (Luke 2.10) while affirming it within society as one truth claim among many that has no other authority than the apostolic appeal: We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5,20). Sine vi, sed verbo, without worldly authority, the Reformers only championed the truth of the gospel through the word.
The basic evangelical conviction that the truth of faith can only prevail without worldly authority through the word of proclamation (Augsburg Confession, CA 28), prepared the pluralism of modern society which is a good guarantee that secularization will not be misused in a totalitarian way. Therefore the Christian church must affirm pluralism relativizing its own existence. In this way, it takes seriously that the gospel of justification of the godless will only be effective as a liberating word that can only be heard by a liberated conscience in free consent.
In its “Declaration on Religious Freedom” resolved at its first 1948 plenary assembly in Amsterdam, the “World Council of Churches” explicitly acknowledged the Christian faith’s capacity for pluralism in four guiding principles: “1. Every person has the right to determine his own faith and creed. 2. Every person has the right to express his religious convictions in church service, instruction and practical life and openly draw the consequences for relations in the social or political community. 3. Every person has the right to join forces and form a common organization for religious goals. 4. Every religious organization that forms or maintains the rights of individual persons has the right to determine its principles and practice in serving its goals.” The Catholic Church also clearly affirmed modern pluralism and pluralist democracy with the declaration on religious freedom “Dignitatis humanae” resolved by the Second Vatican Council and the Pastoral Constitution on the church in the contemporary world “Gaudium et spes.
That the church understands itself as capable of pluralism cannot mean that the church must understand its commission in a particular way and limit itself to the large number of its members. The gospel that the Christian church has to attest and proclaim is the proclamation of great joy which will come to all the people (Luke 2,10). The word of the cross, although a scandal to the Jews and a folly to Greeks (1 Cor 1,23) means that God in Christ has reconciled the whole world. Therefore the 6th Barmen thesis defined “the commission of the church” as “directing the message of God’s free grace to all people” in Christ’s stead and in service of his word and work through preaching and sacraments.” In this sense, the church is and remains a “people’s church.”
How can the Christian church represent this universal claim of the gospel which in truth is a universal consolation without problematicing its capacity for pluralism? It can only assert its truth claim in a petitionary way. The formal claim of the truth of the gospel to universal validity and obligation does not contradict the material substance of the gospel as the word of reconciliation. In the power of beseeching authority, the church can be active in forming the world without being synchronized to the schema of this world. “The faith that has lost confidence in forming the world becomes completely private and appointed for destruction. Faith would be robbed of its own creative will if it is misused for alien goals or sinks in depressive paralysis.”
3. The church speaking in the apostolic authority of petition as a witness to truth and acting according to the truth of the gospel set in a relation to the state according to the truth of the gospel is part of the Christian faith’s formation of the world. What is the relation of state and church for the church willing and capable of pluralism? At least several important aspects of this relation should be named.
a. The church should affirm the state in a pluralist society and in an anti-pluralist society as an exercise of rule helping people to a certain goal according to God’s gracious arrangement. Thus the church affirms the state in a pluralist society as a kindness. It “acknowledged the kindness of this order in thankfulness and reverence toward God” (Barmen V). God’s gracious order makes the state into a kindness even when the state understands itself differently and conceals God’s kindness through ambiguous acts of violence. The church is loyal to the state by contradicting the state. When the church criticizes the state, the church affirms the state as God’s gracious order.
It is very important that the church never ceases to acknowledge the kindness of God’s gracious order in the mere fact of the state. Its acknowledgment is expressed “in thankfulness and reverence toward God.” To the state, the church brings neither fear nor awe but only worldly honor due to it and critical respect in the pluralist state: “Fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Petr 2,17).
I translate “honor” in this case with “critical respect” because affirmation of the state as a divine kindness always implies the remembrance of the task for whose sake the state is ordered by God, namely to ensure law, peace and freedom under threat and exercise of force. To this end, the state exercises rule. The state’s exercise of rule is not an end-in-itself that can be instrumentalized at any time for any possible goal. Ends-in-themselves are for their own sake. God is there for his own sake: in the person of the Father, the person of the Son and the person of the Spirit. The person exists for his own sake and to that extent a person is inviolable indignity corresponding to God. The state does not exist for its own sake – as the church does not exist for its own sake. The exercise of rule by the earthly state is only legitimated by the goal that it serves. According to Paul, the state exercises rule as Dei minister tibi in bonum, God’s servant for your good (Rom 13,4). As such, the church insists the state exists for all persons living in the sphere of control of the respective state and not for itself. By claiming the state as God’s servant for the good of people, the church “honors” the state and shows the state critical respect. This respect is critical in that the state is constantly reminded of its task constituting its nature.
The criticism of the state missing its function is a criticism benefiting the state itself. Thus criticism does not represent an alternative to its due respect. Rather with this due criticism, the church respects the state as God’s gracious order. Representatives of the state should learn that the due criticism of the state by the church is nothing but the potential expression of its respect with which it burdens the state to be God’s kindness benefiting people.
In a pluralist society, the state depends on the critical sympathy of its citizens in a special way and the critical respect of the churches existing within its borders. This is at least implied in the political importance that the state assigns to the consciences of its citizens.
In the case of the Federal Republic of Germany, the state affirming pluralist democracy and protecting its constitution declares freedom of faith and religious and worldview confession as well as freedom of conscience as inviolable. According to a correct remark of G.W.F. Hegel, the conscience always represents “the possibility” of “making the particular into a universal principle and relativizing the particular through action.” To that extent,”the conscience is always on the point of capsizing into evil.” Then the terror of virtue threatens. Pluralist democracy protecting the conscience can be violated by the conscience acting out of peculiarity. Therefore the state depends on the critical sympathy of its citizens joined by the critical respect of the church.
b. In a pluralist society, the church will always question the form of the state within which it exists whether it is a better or worse state form according to the judgment of faith and whether and to what extent it can be improved. The incorrigible state threatens to fall out of the category of the state and should be replaced by another state form. Karl Barth was right when he said: “one can go to hell in a democracy and be blessed under a mob rule or dictatorship. But it is not true that one as a Christian can seriously affirm mob rule or dictatorship. We should strive for democracy… The assumption of the equal affinity or non-affinity of all possible state forms with the gospel is false.” When the church charges the state to be Dei minister tibi in bonum (God’s servant for your good), criteria must be cited from the ministerium verbi divini (servant in God’s word) that distinguishes better or worse state forms. While the church must constantly be reformed, the state must constantly be improved.
c. The church presupposes the qualitative distinction between state and church. In its service, the church lives from the indicative of the gospel and from the indicative of peace between the reconciling God and the world already reconciled in Jesus Christ. In the “not yet redeemed world,” the church also lives from this indicative that gives a priority to acting sine vi humana, without human authority. Even if it uses human force – as for example in church law or state church law – it can never exercise despotic rule… The indicative of peace with God has to prove itself as definitive in the actions of the church. On the other hand, the state stands under the imperative to ensure the worldly peace in the still unredeemed world and therefore must act “under threat and exercise of force,” that is if necessary without the free consent of the concerned. The church can and should formulate demands to the legislators following this qualitative distinction of indicative and imperative and conscious of never being a legislator itself. Such political demands from the indicative of the gospel must be formulated so they are plausible and politically convincing for the state. The religious persuasiveness of the church in a pluralist society only has significance for the members of this church, for actual and potential Christians. On the political plane, however, political arguments only count that can be politically criticized.
6. In a pluralist society, the church has to respect citizens as subjects directly responsible for the state and individual Christians as come-of-age citizens. Obviously the church assumes that the individual as a citizen does not cease being a Christian and thus deciding and acting in a Christian way. Still the political actions of the Christian can be realized in a great variety of political possibilities. Individual Christians as citizens can come to very different decisions. The church has to affirm this. Thus the church has to approve or sanction different political judgments and actions of Christians.
Nevertheless there are special cases in which the Christian faith only allows a single political decision, when the Christian’s political action has a confessional character. Then Christians have to judge as a Christian community. Every Christian must be able to identify with this judgment.
However in the normal case the church in a pluralist society is most politically effective by presenting the indicative of the gospel in its own existence and convincing the world that God’s reign is coming.
“The Christian community… speaks most unmistakably in the civil community through what it is.”
To be outwardly what it is appointed to be, the church negotiates with the state within whose borders it exists so the state-church legal conditions do not hinder but facilitate its existence as a Christian church. State-church legal conditions exist for the church in the Federal Republic of Germany. The guarantee of freedom of religion and conscience (Art. 4 GG) is found in the classical basic rights part of the constitution while the legal state-church article of the Weimar Constitution was adopted in Art. 140 of the constitution. The incorporated Weimar articles were confirmed. The core statements on separation of church and state, freedom and independence of religious communities, office laws and their limitation by state laws, church tax system, church property, state benefit system, holiday law, military and institutional pastoral care have full constitutional rank. The bond of throne and altar was dissolved. The “Christian state” was ended with state church rule, state church sovereignty and the privileging of the national confession. However the churches were not pushed aside or forced off the road in to the worldly right of association. Rather the churches can frame norms and ideas to bring their spiritual self-image and their spiritual self-determination into the world of law. “What faith, confession, exercise of religious freedom in its religious significance and foundation mean (and demand) is neither authentically defined nor normatively fixed by the worldly state but is left to every citizen and every religious community in free self-determination according to their own confessions.”
Consequently, the evangelical church would mistrust itself and not only the state if it read this state-church law as an enticement to power or transformation into an ecclesia triumphans. Self-critical hope characterizes the self-image of a church trusting in Jesus Christ, not self-tormenting mistrust.
f. The church for its part should do the best for the pluralist state. The church should always pray for the state. The state can rely on this. The honest intercessions of the church for the governing may be the only thing on which the state in this world can rely a hundred percent. Even if it may be small and powerless, the Christian church in its intercessions for the state and its representatives is a spiritual and political constant. The state and church join forces in the still unredeemed world despite strict distinctions until the heavenly Politeuma ends both. Then the church will also end with the earthly state. Thanks be to God.