Barth on Liturgy and the Apostolic Succession

This post was published on Friday 2 November 2007.

I’m currently reading a lot of Barth. Expect more quotations to come!

It is a strange thing that when there are revisions of books of order and hymn-books in the Evangelical churches every possible authority is usually consulted as standard but not dogmatic science. The results usually correspond.

Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1, 81

Perhaps we could add modern worship songs to the list; one of my constant frustrations in churches is the use of songs with poor - sometimes misleading - theology.

Here is a typically long sentence by Barth, but he makes (I think) an excellent point. I heard it made similarly a couple of days ago: the apostolic succession means those who succeed the previous generation in faith and doctrine, not physically by the laying-on of hands. This is similar to Paul’s argument in Romans 4 about the descendents of Abraham being by faith, not flesh.

The protest of Protestantism in this question of [Apostolic] succession is directed solely and simply against the fact that the Tu es Petrus, etc., is mechanically transferred over Peter’s head to every succeeding bishop as a second, third and hundredth Peter, as if the succession and tradition of the Peter of Mt. 16 to whom flesh and blood had not revealed such things, could be related to any succession but a spiritual one, or as if, being spiritual, it could be tied to the secular circumstance of a list of bishops of this kind.

Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1, 103

Although ‘the Rock’ is Peter himself, he is only called ‘the Rock’ after he makes a confession about who Jesus is. So, Peter is properly ‘the Rock’ on which the church will be built only as one who rightly confesses who Jesus is. Those who truly succeed Peter in the church are therefore those who rightly confess who Jesus is.

Of course, such people do include many (hopefully most!) bishops. But it is important to stress that those bishops only have ecclesiastical authority derived from Peter if they too make the confession: ‘Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.’