Barth wrote a lot on the church, and to be sure, much has been written about Barth’s view of the Church. I make no claim to be an expert on Barth, on ecclessiology (the study of the church), and especially not on Barthian ecclesiology. I’m only somewhat familiar with Barth’s project and am only now wading into deep waters by slowly reading a volume of his massive Church Dogmatics.
As you can follow along with my counter to the right, it is a tedious process, though quite rewarding. I chose to begin with Dogmatics II.2, because this is where Barth does some of his most original and interesting work revamping the Calvinist concept of election. I’m still trying to square this with my Methodist theology, but that will be a work in progress for some time.
This morning, I came across this gem:
As the church, the community [of God]…is the centre and medium of communication between Jesus and the world, having its commission to all who stand outside. (239)
To be sure, it is a small nugget, but profound nonetheless. At my seminary, we liked to talk about ecclesiology a great deal; this was related, largely, to an institutional bent towards the Roman Catholic tradition that as a whole was very fruitful. At the time, though, I found the bend toward ecclessiology an odd and not wholly necessary distraction.
But serving a local church has made me realize that we protestant Christians really do have a hard time articulating the “why” of the Church. I certainly was not told why I went to church as a child, or even why the Church exists. Also, in doing a recent study of The Shack, I challenged my people to think through the anti-church bias present in much of the book (which is, really, a modern bias as a whole) – assumptions that many of them (even life-long churchgoers!) shared.
Between the Catholic scandals, the defenders of the “house church” movement, and the New Atheists, the institutional church is under assault. We pastors desperately need to articulate the “why” of the Church to our people. If protestantism proves anything, it is that the conception of the Church as a collection of individual believers who come to get their spiritual fuel tanks filled (a consumerist model of church) cannot be sustained. Barth gives us a good starting place to rethink that practice: through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Church is how Jesus reaches out the world and asks them to respond in faith and service. Like Israel of old, the Church exists not for itself but for God and thus for all the world.
P.S. If you want some help articulating the ‘why’, check out Gerhard Lofhink’s Does God Need the Church? It is, quite simply, marvelous.