Reading the Church Dogmatics 5: Practice, Discipline and Judgment

… as it confesses God the Church also confesses both the humanity and the responsibility of its action.  It realises that it is exposed to fierce temptation as it speaks of God, and it realises that it must give an account to God for the way in which it speaks.  The first and last and decisive answer to this twofold compulsion consists in the fact that it rests content with the grace of the One whose strength is mighty in weakness.  But in so doing it recognises and takes up as an active Church the further human task of criticising and revising its speech about God.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I/1, p.3

I said in my first post in this series that the subject matter of theology is the church insofar as the church speaks of God. It seems to me, at this point in my reading, that for Barth church practice speaks of God only insofar as it is a practice under discipline and a practice under judgment.

That is, it speaks of God only insofar as it points away from itself to standards by which it may be corrected, and is disciplined about applying those standards. Theology pursues this disciplined discrimination, and as such is a form of labour, a form of work, a form of discipline – and (in a sense to which we will return) a form of science‘.

But however perfectly theology might pursue this discipline, and however assiduously church practice might therefore become disciplined practice, its speaking truly of God would not be something guaranteed by that discipline, not something producible, not something that lies in its power. It would still be subject to the verdict of God upon its truthfulness – it would still stand under judgment.

Church practice stands under discipline as a way of acknowledging that it stands under judgment – as, perhaps, a sign of its situation under judgment. Its theological discipline can be a partial, fallible, participation in the enactment of that judgment – but it does not exhaust it, contain it or complete it.


This post is part of a series on the opening of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics I/1.

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