An Interlude: Bojidar Marinov and Ecclesiastical Docetism

When Karl Barth is right, he’s right!  What a profound rebuke to what we have seen in Bojidar Marinov’s treatment of the local church:

There is an ecclesiastical Docetism which will not accept this, which paradoxically tries to overlook the visibility of the Church, explaining away its earthly and historical form as something indifferent, or angrily neglecting it, or treating it only as a necessary evil, in order to magnify an invisible fellowship of the Spirit and of spirits. This view is just as impossible as christological Docetism, not only in point of history, but also in point of substance. For the work of the Holy Spirit as the awakening power of Jesus Christ would not take place at all if the invisible did not become visible, if the Christian community did not take on and have an earthly-historical form. The individual Christian can exist only in time and space as a doer of the Word (James 1:22) and therefore in a concrete human form and basically visible to everyone. Similarly the Christian community as such cannot exist as an ideal commune or universum, but–also in time and space–only in the relationship of its individual members as they are fused together by the common action of the Word which they have heard into a definite human fellowship; in concrete form, therefore and visible to everyone. If we say with the creed credo ecclesiam, we do not proudly overlook its concrete form; just as when we confess credo resurrectionem carnis we cannot overlook the real and whole man who is a soul and yet also a body, we cannot overlook his hope as though the resurrection was not also promised to him.  Nor do we look penetratingly through this form, as though it was only something transparent and the real Church had to be sought behind it; just as we cannot overlook or look through the pleasing or less pleasing face of the neighbour whom we are commanded to love. We look at the visible aspect of the Church–this is the state of it. And as we look at what is seen–not beside it or behind but in it–we see what is not seen. Hence we cannot rid ourselves in this way of the generally visible side of the Church. We cannot take refuge from it in a kind of wonderland.  The credo ecclesiam can and necessarily will involve much distinguishing and questioning, much concern and shame. It can and necessarily will be a very critical credo.  In relation to the side of the Church which is generally visible it can and necessarily will express what does not amount to much more than a hope and a yearning. But it does take the Church quite seriously in its common visibility–which is its earthly and historical existence. It confesses faith in the invisible aspect which is the secret of the visible. Believing in the ecclesia invisibilis we will enter the sphere of labour and conflict of the ecclesia visibilis. Without doing this, without a discriminate but serious participation in the historical life of the community, its activity, its upbuilding, its mission, in a kind of purely theoretical and abstract churchliness, no one has ever seriously repeated the credo ecclesiam. Those who try to repeat it in a way which looks above the Church, only dreaming of its existence in time and space, must see to it that they are not secretly pandering to a christological Docetism as well, or, at any rate, that they are really taking seriously the true humanity of Jesus Christ. Faith in His community has this in common with faith in Him, that it, too, relates to a reality in time and space, and therefore to something which is at bottom generally visible. If, then, we believe in Him, we cannot refuse–however hesitantly or anxiously or contentiously–to believe in His community in its spatio-temporal existence, and therefore to be a member of it and personally a Christian.

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.I:653-654