In a recent post I commented on a couple of lectures Karl Barth made for the 1937 Edinburgh World Conference on Faith and Order. These lectures are published in Karl Barth, The Church and the Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005). Here are a few more thoughts….
In his third lecture, “The Union of the Churches—A Task,” Barth emphasizes the complex and compelling paradox that we must labor intensively for the unity of the One worldwide Church while acknowledging that the task’s fulfillment is accomplished by Christ alone. Barth aggressively smashes up any naivete concerning Church unity. The authentic uniting of the Church is such a gargantuan task that no hope whatsoever can be placed on the churches themselves, or individual Christians. Our only hope for uniting into One Church is the supernatural work of the One Lord: “…in Christ alone this task is fulfilled… His voice and summons alone can bring that union into being” (p. 45).
In spite of the fact that Church unity exceeds our capacities to effect, Barth calls us to enter in partnership with Jesus in bringing about ecclesial oneness. He proposes four conditions that individual churches and denominational traditions must strive for….
1] The “relinquishing” of a church’s (or church tradition’s) “own particular confession for one which it will share in union with others” (p. 41).
2] The refusal to seek unity on the basis of a “secular motive” (such as trying to be united for the goal of being politically correct, as we might say today, or philosophically amenable) (p. 42).
3] The refusal to seek unity by compromising truth or by masking latent divisiveness (p. 43)
4] Repentance from any and all means by which a particular church or church tradition has contributed to the divisive multiplicity of the churches (p. 43-44).
Such conditions seem so insurmountable to promote in the current ecclesiological scene in North America alone. And that insurmountability seems to be part of Barth’s point. The Task is impossible. But we labor toward it regardless.
Sounds like the Christian life, if you ask me….