Karl Barth on the Church in Excess and Defect - The Small Print

This is from the posthumously published ethics section of CD 4.4, entitled The Christian Life, 136-8. The bold sections are large print given to set the stage; the normal text is Barth's small print:
The one form of the denial and apostasy is the church in excess, the presumptuous church which exalts itself and puffs itself up.

At this point one is naturally inclined as a Protestant to think especially of the Roman church. There may be something in this. But one should keep in view that the Roman church is not just a church in excess, involved in apostasy only on this side. One should also keep in view that, even if in less striking and classical form, the church in excess, in apostasy on this side, may be very clearly seen in the non-Roman Christian world, not only on its right wing among the Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans, but also on the left wing, even down to the Baptists, though only on the margin.

[Ed: It's very interesting to me that Barth puts Lutherans with Anglicans and the Eastern Orthodox.]


The other form of apostasy is the church in defect, the church which does not take itself seriously enough because it is only half sure of its cause...

At this point Protestantism of every denomination has reason to think first of itself. It might well be, of course, that in this sphere there has been and is too much of the church in defect because the grapes that the church in excess really wants are too high up for it, because it has experienced too much weariness and too many disappointments on the various ways to Rome, which attract it also and on which it has often gone quite a stretch. However that may be, too great a sense of the church is not as a rule the evident fault of Protestantism, but a painfully small trust in the authority and power of him who has called, gathered, and sent out the church as his community is its fault, - a pitiably feeble courage when it should be resolutely facing the world with the task that has been set for it. Yet the Romans would be well advised not to rejoice too soon or too loudly on this side, as though this opposite error did not in any way concern them. It could be that the lack of trust and courage which characterizes the church in defect is the most fertile soil for the development of the church in excess, that the overblown sense of the church in the latter is simply a complementary reaction to the lack of genuine trust and courage that is more hidden here but still present. There is sin, there, within the walls as well as outside them, although again only on the margin.


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