In light of recent discussions on this blog about the church, I found the following stuff from Karl Barth (as quoted and summed by Eberhard Busch) very timely. I'd have loved it if he was there to say some of this at my denominational district conference the last couple days too. His statements may have stopped us in our tracks, methinks:
"For Barth . . . . 'To be awakened to faith and to be added to the community is one and the same thing . . . there is no legitimate private Christianity.' That people are connected with each other by cultivating some common conviction certainly does not make them a church. What makes their gathering a church is only that Jesus is in their midst. . . . Barth can speak about this in drastic terms:
'It (the church) may become a beggar, it may act like a shopkeeper, it may make itself a harlot--as has happened and still does happen, yet it is always the bride of Jesus Christ. . . . What saves it and makes it indestructible is not that it does not basically forsake Him--who can say how deeply and basically it has often enough forsaken Him and still does?--nor is it this or that good that it may be or do, but the fact that He does not forsake it, any more than Yahweh would forsake His people Israel in all His judgments.' . . .
The only way for the church to be the one visible church is for believers, each in their own place, to struggle in repentance to be the church of Jesus Christ. . . .
But there are two dangers in which she finds herself (even though she will face them both 'in the name of Jesus'!): sacralization, in which she is immersed in a self-glorification before the world that has a different orientation than she has, or secularization, in which she adjusts to the methods of worldly powers and fashions. . . .
[The mature church enjoys] a freedom to 'live in contact, solidarity . . . with God, but also with men . . . as companions in the partnership of reconciliation.' . . .
The difference between Christians and other people is not that those within the church have salvation and those outside her do not have it. The only difference is that members of the church have heard and recognized that which remains or is again hidden from others. . . .
In her missionary service, the church is not imposing something unfavorable on her fellow humans, for the Word of God became human--not Christian--and in him, Jesus Christ, God reconciled the world to himself. . . .
The church is called to be God's witness within her own times. But she can only be a witness and not the mediator of salvation. She cannot bring about the self-mediating reality of the world's reconciliation with God. God brings it about."
(Barth quotes taken from the Church Dogmatics, Vol IV, The Doctrine of Reconciliation, emphasis mine)