A Note from Karl Barth

In a letter “To Dutch Christians” dated August, 1942, K. Barth had this to say about groups not unlike Chicago Invitation. The Sitz em Leben is different of course. And one can certainly argue with Barth’s ecclesiology. But he wrote this:

“Official ecclesiastical bodies the world over, and in the most favourable cases, usually deliver themselves of nomore than half-true, weak, and partly binding decisions. Even without evil intent, they are complelled to think to a certain degree not only of the Gospel but also of their statutes and finances, the external unity and preservation of the church, the relationship to state authority, and so forth.

“The church would be blameworthy if, in addition to those burdened with official leadership, it did not always have a free vanguard. Without breaking directly with the leadership, such groups take upon themselves the responsibility for placing before the whole congregation ecclesiastical questions which they have investigated independently–fundamental questions generally omitted from the decisions of official church councils and synods.

“Since the government of the Christian church is the concern of the entire Christian community, it must be visible to all. Thus, with due respect for their office, ecclesiastical authorities should not be shielded from the controlling influence and limited competition provided by the activity of such independent groups. This activity cannot be schismatic if an dfor long as it is seriously directed to the internal unity and preservation of the church.”

Al Janssen

2 thoughts on “A Note from Karl Barth

  1. Very nice reference, Al!My current favorite one is still from Pascal’s Pensees: “The problems of the world would be solved if men learned to stay happily in their rooms. It does sometimes seem that the problems of the Church would be solved if clerics would learn to stay happily in their parishes.”Also, more recently the editor of Touchstone Magazine, David Mills wrote about his experiences in the Anglican church when asked to address ‘restructuring.’The article is quite long, but good; both sad and funny. It is found in the Sept 04 issue and is called “Reorganizing Religion: Why the Church Bureaucracies Have to Go.’ It is easily downloaded from their website: http://www.touchstonemag.com.It is tough on centralization, and approvingly quotes Princeton’s Robert Wurthnow: ‘denominations already function mainly as a source of identity, but not of programs or ministry.’

  2. An excellent short affirmation of the value, reality, and purpose of Office. If you would like a longer one (in Episcopal Church vestments) I commend “In The Ruins Of The Church” by R.R.Reno. He does for the Episcopal Church what CI does for the RCA.

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