Karl Barth is easily one of the most important theologians of the past 100 years. He’s interesting, brilliant, poetic, unique, innovative, helpful, stretching, provocative and frustrating. He’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Here’s a quote where Barth explains how he views the importance of both preaching and sacraments and also how he thinks preaching and sacraments should be related to each other:
“[The Reformers] regarded the representative event at the centre of the Church’s life as proclamation, as an act concerned with speaking and hearing, indicative of the fact that what is at issue in the thing proclaimed too is not a material connexion but a personal encounter. In this light they had to regulate the mutual relations of preaching and sacrament in a very definite way. To be sure, they could not and would not assign to the sacrament the place which falls to preaching according to Roman Catholic dogmatics. Proclamation of the basis of the promise which has been laid once for all, and therefore proclamation in the form of symbolic action, had to be and to remain essential for them. But this proclamation presupposes that the other, namely, repetition of the biblical promises, is taking place. The former must exist for the sake of the latter, and therefore the sacrament for the sake of the preaching, not vice versa. Hence not the sacrament alone nor preaching alone, nor yet, to speak meticulously, preaching and the sacrament in double track, but preaching with the sacrament, with the visible act that confirms human speech as God’s act, is the constitutive element, the perspicuous centre of the Church’s life […] Evangelical Churches can and must be termed the churches of preaching.”
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1.70
Barth’s point is that both preaching and sacraments are vitally important to the life of the church. But it is always sacrament tied to the preaching of God’s Word. Sacrament alongside preaching. Not preaching alongside sacrament. Not preaching and sacrament on equal level. But preaching with sacrament.
But this isn’t to say sacraments aren’t important, or that they’re optional. Far from it.
Preaching is to be preeminent. And both preaching and sacrament – verbal and visual proclamation – are essential.