Karl Barth on Church Governance and Scripture

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In his explanation on what it means for the church to be “apostolic” (as in the Creed’s declaration that the Church is one holy catholic and apostolic) Barth argues:

[In the church] Jesus Christ rules alone, and any ruling of man can only represent this government of His. It must let itself be measured by that government. But Jesus Christ rules in His Word by the Holy Spirit. Church government is thus identical with Holy Scripture for it witnesses to Him. So the Church must continually be occupied with the exposition and application of Scripture. Where the Bible becomes a dead book with a cross on the cover and gilt edging, the Church rule of Jesus Christ is slumbering. There the Church is no longer the one holy universal Church, but the threat is threat of the breaking in of what is unholy and separatist. Of course even this ‘Church’ will call on the name of Jesus Christ. But it is not words but reality which matters; and such a Church will not be in a position to bring reality into action. (Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline, 146. Emphasis mine)

Barth’s identification of “Church Government” and “Holy Scripture” is startling. We might tend to think of those engaged in the task of Church governance as “consulting” Holy Scripture in their governance. But to say that Church government is identical to Holy Scripture–that is quite another thing! In other words, the church governs only when it, like Scripture, carries out the task of witnessing to Jesus Christ’s governance. For the Church to pronounce anything independently of Christ’s rule is to forsake its calling and to set itself alongside Jesus as another Lord in competition to him.

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2 thoughts on “Karl Barth on Church Governance and Scripture

  1. David, this puts me in mind of Isaiah 9 – “…a son is given and the government will be on His shoulders…of the increase of His government …there will be no end…” It’s an awesome subject for meditation, especially in this Christmas season.

    See you Thursday! 🙂

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