As many of you know, I recently completed the monumental task of reading through Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. I kid you not, I read it start to finish in a little under two years. Karl become a very good friend over the course of these two years. After finishing Church Dogmatics, we needed some space and went on break to think and process where we would go from that point. About a week together, he and I got together again, mostly in the mornings over coffee as I went through Dogmatics in Outline.
As a point of clarity, Dogmatics in Outline is not a summary or the cliff notes version of Church Dogmatics. Barth utilizes the Nicene Creed as the filter or lens in which to talk about Church Dogmatics in lecture form and it just so happens that it is more accessible than the 9,000 page plus English translation of Church Dogmatics.
So, back to me and my friend Karl. Karl and I became good friends over the course of the past two plus years. We shared a lot of coffee and a lot of beer. We agree on a a great deal of theological matters and we disagree on a number of things as well. I’ll be the first to admit, despite all of our time together, he is very much an enigma to me as well. I know him well enough to know that I don’t know him as well as I or others might think I do. There are things I wish were different about Karl. I wish he didn’t ramble on so much. I really wish he used more inclusive language and was inclusive of certain communities of people. That’s a strange thing to say of someone often accused of being a Universalist.
I’m pulling a Karl right now and just rambling on. The purpose of this blog was to share a series of statements from chapter 22 of Dogmatics in Outline called “The Church, Its Unity, Holiness and Universality.” I am afraid I might be seen as one who is really down on the universal and/or local church. I promise I am not. As I have said previously, I love the church (universal and local) so deeply. However, I believe in and desire more for her.
The statements I want to share from Karl gave me hope today.
“To-day there is rather too much than too little said about the Church. There is something better: let us be the Church!” p141
“The first congregation was a visible group, which caused a visible public uproar. If the Church has not this visibility, then it is not the Church.” p142
“The truly ecumenical Christians are not those who trivialize the differences and flutter over them; they are those who in their respective Churches are quite concretely the Church. […] In Him, despite all varieties in the individual congregations, we shall somehow be bound up with one another.” p143
“In faith I attest that the concrete congregation to which I belong and for the life of which I am responsible, is appointed to the task of making in this place, in this form, the one, holy, universal Church visible.” p145
“Where the life of the Church is exhausted in self-serving, it smacks of death; the decisive thing has been forgotten, that this whole life is lived only in the exercise of what we called the Church’s service as ambassador, proclamation, kerygma. A Church that recognizes its commission will neither desire nor be able to petrify in any of its functions, to be the Church for its own sake.” p146
“There is the ‘Christ-believing group’; but this group is sent out: ‘Go and preach the Gospel!’ It does not say, ‘Go and celebrate services!’ Go and edify yourselves with the sermon!’ ‘Go and celebrate the Sacraments!’ ‘Go and present yourselves in a liturgy, which perhaps repeats the heavenly liturgy!’ ‘Go an devise a theology which may gloriously unfold like the Summa of St Thomas!’ Of course, there is nothing to forbid all this; there may exist very good cause to do it all; but nothing, nothing at all for its own sake! In it all the one thing must prevail: ‘Proclaim the Gospel to every creature!’ The Church runs like a herald to deliver the message.” p146-7
“Where the Church is living, it must ask itself whether it is serving this commission or whether it is a purpose in itself?” p147
“We may often have distaste for the whole of Church life. If you do not know this oppression, if you simply feel well inside the Church’s walls, you have certainly not seen the real dynamic in this matter. In the Church we may be just like a bird in a cage which is always hitting against the bars. Something bigger is at stake than our bit of preaching and liturgy! […] If we really hope for the kingdom of God, then we can also endure the Church in its pettiness.” p147-8
“The Christian hope, which is the most revolutionary thing we are capable of thinking and beside which all other revolutions are mere blank cartridges, is a disciplined hope.” p148
I’m grateful for my friend Karl. The thing I love most about Karl is he always points me to Jesus. He is perhaps best know for saying “The answer is Jesus. What’s the question?”