Speaking & the Church’s Calling

What is the mission of the church? The church must preach the word of God. It must enact its message in the administration of the sacraments.

It must speak correctly the things of God for its time and place.

Barth--He Can Talk

From this, Karl Barth concludes that the church “cannot, then, escape the conclusion that it must regard and treat the work of dogmatics as its most essential task” (ยง22.2).

Throughout his discussion of doctrine, dogmatics, and preaching, Barth advances two crucial components to the church’s faithful practice of articulating its doctrine.

First, the calling to speak correctly about God both demands that we labor with all our resources to speak correctly and, in the end, that the grace of God superintend the speech so that it communicates faithfully and truly. There is no pure doctrine without the grace of God, but this is not an excuse for idleness.

Second, the task of speaking correctly will engage the traditions and creeds of the church, but cannot be assured simply by repeating the same words. The church’s task is always to say what needs to be said for its own time and place if it is to speak a truly faithful dogmatics.

But I now wish to circle back around to the claim that dogmatics is the church’s most essential task. And here I have to protest.

For all that Barth’s means and frameworks for doing Dogmatics is important–and an improvement on what often happens in the church–the church misses the heart of its calling if it thinks that its most important task is to speak correctly about God. Full stop.

The speaking correctly about the revelation of God in Christ is important for the purpose of directing the life of the church as a continuing embodiment of that revelation.

Perhaps Barth here falls victim to his own Logo-centrism, where Jesus is revelation of the Father as Word of God, which Word is revealed also in scripture and preaching. But Jesus not only speaks and embodies divine words, Jesus also acts.

The living Word of God feeds hungry people–and thereby reveals God.

The living Word of God embraces the outcasts and the dregs–and thereby reveals God.

The living Word of God heals the sick–and thereby reveals God.

The most important task of the church is to re-present the living Word of God in the deeds of that very Word’s body on earth, the church. If we attend so strictly to the dogmatic task that we fail to act, or so prize it that we fail to equally, let alone more abundantly, prize the self-giving love to which we are called, then we have failed in our Kingdom calling to love our neighbor as ourselves.

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