I am travelling tomorrow, Sunday, in such a way that I need to post tomorrow's reflection in today's post. I am hoping that some ecclesiastical authority will mercifully endorse this as a rightly ordered fulfilment of my intention to post each day through Lent :)
Background: The first part of this weekend I am tutoring a Diploma of Christian Studies course on "Doing Theology Being Church" a.k.a "ecclesiology." So I have been doing some reading on (the) church. Here are a couple of thoughts ...
Saturday 11 March 2017: What is the church? (1)
It is fascinating to find - reading quite widely across Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Free Church ecclesiologies - that answers to this question involve continuing, unresolved debates: visible v. invisible church; local v. universal church; charismatic v. hierarchical church. I guess that is because the church is a complex phenomenon, literally encompassing the world, experienced in particular locations and connecting heaven and earth. Pieces of the complexity are held in tension!
Yet, just possibly, there is some emerging unity that a critical conception of the church in the 21st century is "communion" (as in, the church is a communion, the church comes from the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, communion = eucharist makes the church (and the church makes the eucharist = communion).
If Catholic (e.g. de Lubac, McPartlan), Eastern Orthodox (e.g. Zizioulas), Anglican (e.g. Avis) and other theologians are emphasising the church as communion, are we not slightly nearer the day when we reach ecumenical unity?
After all, once one starts to think about the church as communion, one has to think how this communion can be in communion with that communion ... and all in communion with the One Trinitarian Communion.
Sunday 12 March 2017: What is the church? (2)
Speaking of church unity: it is fascinating to be reminded that every ecclesiologist worth her or his salt is an ecumenicist. It is simply impossible to set out to answer the question "what is the church?" without also discussing the unity of the church (since there is only one church of God) and thus the conditions under which we would find disparate churches becoming one church.
Things get tricky, of course, because "what is the church?" pretty quickly encounters the question of bishops (necessary or not?) and where common accord is found on their necessity then divisions arise over how bishops are unified (recognising the primacy of Rome or not?).
So, despite my confidence about "communion" as the theological highway to unity, there is a long way to go to bridge our divisions.
And, interestingly, my reading has thrown up an observation that the church around the world is becoming increasingly congregational (local church) in its outlook through this period of church history. If this is so, then it certainly is evidenced in the Anglican church of these islands: our parishes seem less and less to be composed of people living within the parish boundaries and more and more a gathering up of people who like to belong to this particular local church and cheerfully travel past several other churches to join in services and meetings.
An outlook from a previous time, closer to Christendom as model for the church, would bewail this congregationalism as a weakening of the institution of the church. But the sense of observations I have been reading is that this new congregationalism may be precisely the strengthening of the church which it requires in a post-Christendom, post-institutional age. Strong local churches maintain, transmit and proclaim the faith of Christ, driven perhaps more by charismatic impulse than synod-led programmes and Decades of X.
Yet the age-old challenge of ecclesiology remains: how do local churches commune with other local churches, how does the sum of our local parts make visible the body of Christ on earth as one body?