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Advice about exploring Karl Barth's ecclesiology in Church Dogmatics IV/2 67.4 "The Order of the Community”

I wrote some instructions to a couple of students who were interested in doing papers on Karl Barth’s ecclesiology for a Christian Theology course.  I gave them orientation information about the Church Dogmatics in general, a selection to read with some reading hints, and a couple of other suggestions for readings 

  • J. I. Packer called the Church Dogmatics the most important theological work of the 20th century. 
  • Eugene Peterson says, "I would not want to be without even a page of his multivolumed Church Dogmatics."
  • Flannery O'Connor wrote, "I like old Barth. He throws the furniture around."

If you would like to do a paper on Karl Barth’s ecclesiology, please read, summarize, and reflect on the following passage.

Barth, Karl. “§67.4 The Order of the Community.” Pages 676-726 in Church Dogmatics Vol. IV/2: The Doctrine of Reconciliation. Edited by Geoffrey William Bromiley and Thomas Forsyth Torrance. Translated by G. Bromiley. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1958.

This would give you a glimpse into systematic theology’s discussion of the doctrine of the church and would give you an exciting glimpse into Karl Barth’s work. 

Four ways to get a copy of the Church Dogmatics to read:

  1. Get it at the library. You can get the hard copy from the library.  At most libraries: BT75 .B28  Most libraries do not have the new study edition (2009).  In the old version, the Latin and Greek are not translated but you can muddle through.  (The page numbers in the 2009 version correlate with the old version). 
  2. Buy it. You could order the Study Edition from Amazon for $35 with the translations. Church Dogmatics, Vol. 4.2, Sections 67-68: The Doctrine of Reconciliation, Study Edition 26 [Paperback]

  3. Buy the whole set. Order the whole set of the Church Dogmatics from Christianbook.com for $100. Unfortunately, the Latin and Greek are not translated but you can muddle through without it.  Or buy the study edition with the translations for $350.  (Read along in 2011 with Daniel Kirk).   
  4. Access online the study edition. You can also find those translations online at the Digital Karl Barth Library if your library has access to it.  Link for Duke students  At the Digital Karl Barth Library, you just click where it says: [note] and it will give you the translation.

About the organization of the Church Dogmatics

  1. If you are confused about the organization of the Church Dogmatics, see the back cover of the study edition.  (Click on the image below).  
  2. From Wikipedia: "The section sign (§) also called the "double S", "sectional symbol" or signum sectionis, is a typographical character used mainly to refer to a particular section of a document, such as a legal code. When duplicated, as §§, it is read as the plural "sections" (§§ 13–21)."  Barth scholars often call one of these a "paragraph" which I think is the wrong word in English--it would be better to say "section."  I have moved to not leaving a space after it: §67 because otherwise it gets separated at the end of a line.
  3. There are 73 sections in the Church Dogmatics.  It is useful to think of these as composing 100 pages each--thus, the Church Dogmatics is about 7,300 pages--actually 8,000 pages--but you get the idea.  Therefore, Barth readers refer to volumes and they also refer to sections.  I am encouraging you to read just one subsection of section 67 to give you a manageable and yet coherent chunk to read.     

Church Dogmatics Outline


Advice on a couple tricky terms in §67.4:

  • You will want to keep in mind that Barth uses the word “community” instead of “church” but he means “church.”

He writes,

The word “community,” rather than “Church,” is used advisedly, for from a theological point of view it is best to avoid the word “Church” as much as possible, if not altogether. At all events, this overshadowed and overburdened word should be immediately and consistently interpreted by the word “community.” Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology, p. 37

  • When he talks about church or canon “law,” I think you could think of “church policies and procedures” and “church polity” but I also think you could think more generally of “Christian ethics,” “ethical judgments the church makes” or “ethical stands that the church takes.”  


Outline of IV/2 §67.4 "The Order of the Community”: This is Barth’s numbering scheme in the section so you do not get lost.  This outline may look dry but the content is not!  It cracks and sparkles!



Pages 676-680: Introduction

Pages 679-681 Proposition (1)

Pages 681-683 Proposition (2)

Pages 683-686 he raises five questions against his opponents.

Pages 686-689 “An intermediate explanation is needed” (686). He talks about the church and the state.

1. Church law is “a law of service.” Pages 690-695

There are three ways service is “determinative”:

(1) 691-692

(2) 692-693

(3) 693-695

2. Church law is “liturgical law.” Pages 695-710.

Pages 695-698 “divine service” and “dispersion” of church

(1) Church law is “ordered by divine service” (Pages 698-706).

  • It has “four concrete elements:”
  • Pages 699-701 First, Word of God
  • Pages 701-702 Second, Baptism
  • Pages 702-704 Third, Lord’s Supper
  • Pages 704-706 Fourth, Prayer

(2) Church law “is continually to be found again in” divine service (Pages 706-709). Review and implications of the four concrete elements.

(3) Pages 709-710 Church law “has itself the task of ordering” divine service.

3. “Church law is living law.” Pages 710-718

4. “True Church law is exemplary law.” Pages 718-726.


Another alternative would be to read Barth on “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”

There is another passage: pages 668-725 of §62.2 “The Being of the Community” in IV/1 where Barth goes through Nicene Creed’s description of the church as “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” It is very important for thinking about the church in terms of systematic theology but it is a bit dry for a first introduction to Barth. Still, that would be an outstanding route to go if you would like.


If one is writing a topic on missiology or evangelism and the church, I would highly recommend section 72 in IV/3.2. 

It is my favorite.  Delightful!


Secondary sources:

I highly recommend Geoffrey Bromiley's guide if you are working through the Church Dogmatics as he was the main English translator and a Fuller Theological Seminary professor.  He gives you his summary of each section of the CD.  

You might also read the topical summaries by Barth's assistant Eberhard Busch in his book The Great Passion--such as the one on the church. 


See also my post:

Citing Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics



To see my other posts on Karl Barth, see my category: Karl Barth