Saturday, March 11, 2017

What is the church? (1) and (2)

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?

4 comments:

Brian Kelly said...

"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."

I had thought it's been that way for a long time already, ever since those new-fangled horseless carriages arrived.
And now this internet thingy gets people chipping in from goodness knows where!
Of course, the collapse of liturgy in the evangelical world means that denominational identity is weaker now than it has ever been as people move from church to church where the defining style is music and preaching styles, not set prayers or rituals. I can think of ordained lifelong Anglicans who now find their church homes in the independent charismatic world.
The big problem for declining institutions is whether bishops and expensive diocesan structures can still count on support from the parishes. I think we'll see some dioceses closing down in the next five years.

Father Ron said...

" 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." - Dr. Peter Carrell -

Just so, Peter.

I must admit that my own parish - St. Michael and All Angels, Christchurch - being Anglo-Catholic by tradition has an eclectic congregation. We tend to attract catholic-minded Anglicans from all over the City. This is because, at the heart of our worship is the sacramental life of the Church as established by Christ, Himself - Baptism and Eucharist.

As you infer in your conversation, above; Holy Communion (Eucharist, the Mass) is - at the invitation of Jesus - our attempt to re-member the Body of Christ. This is the exact opposite of attempts to dis-member the body of christ that occurs in deliberate acts of schism.

Of course, as Anglicans, we all recognise the culpability of that unique bearer of the title "Fidei Defensor" - Henry VIII - in separating the English from the Church of Rome, did not help the cause of Unity that was famously broached at the 'Great Schism' of the 11th Century between East and West. However, we Anglo-Catholics still claim our partnership in the Body of Christ with all 'Catholics' in our continuance through the shared historic episcopate of the English Church - despite its temporary disenfranchisement that occurred at the English Reformation. (The Oxford Movement did much to reinstate the reputation of the English 'connection').

My firm belief is that, in the Daily Mass, there is a distinct desire and hope of a continuing fellowship with the whole Body of Christ in the intentional Re-membrance of Jesus, crucified risen and glorified, that affords to all who Do This in response to Christ's command the assurance of that degree of Unity that Jesus prayed for, and into which He still calls us: "We are One Bread, One Body, because we all partake of the One Bread"

Anonymous said...

Bishops are necessary. As Robert Jenson was noting on the other thread, ordination is for unity. As life is transfigured at every scale, unities in Christ compass wider circles than congregations. They too need shepherds. The rest is just detail.

So Brian is right- "The big problem for declining institutions is whether bishops and expensive diocesan structures can still count on support from the parishes." Thinking of dioceses as superfluous epiphenomena derived from parishes-- especially large, wealthy ones-- has often cut them off from other local Christians as well as from the places for which they collectively intercede to God. "I think we'll see some dioceses closing down in the next five years." Or thinning to a bishop and assistant in a rented office.

Here in the US, the latest thing is the church plant that simultaneously opens one large venue for the founding pastor and several smaller ones under the care of his assistants. Thus streaming technology and video projection has led some evangelicals here to reinvent the C2 diocese. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Bowman Walton

Jean said...

Hi Peter

I liked your first post on unity and communion and believe you are right re the breaking down of boundaries between church traditiions.

Re congregationalism it is a trend and I can understand it on many levels. For examples parents choosing a particular church to benefit their children''s spiritual growth. I have always chosen a local chuch because I like the community link, however, I also enjoy visiting other places of worship for a change of scene.

I have a passion for ecumenicalism. I see the Church as one and the Church as all those who believe in and follow Jesus. However, I do not see structures as having to change to acheive this, just attitudes. I find a worth in structures such as Diocese's for the Anglican Church. They play a necessary communication, accountability and educational role, a bit like glue between different parishes. I am unsure of the US Bowman but my understanding in Kiwiland has never seen Diocese's as being wealthy - a mistrust between Diocese and Parish's in some cases perhaps but not generally well founded. Mega-churches, well the opportunity for mis-appropriation in these coontext's are high.

I still remember a Drug Arm event where everyone was introducing themselves as I am so and so fro such and such church until a person I had come to respect said instead said my name is ... And I am a follower of Jesus. I never forgot it so now I tell people I am a Christian who goes to an Anglican Church.

I suppose it's the same as do you follow Paul or Appllos or ... Are you Anglican or Pentecostal or Open Bretheren.... What then are they, they are the means by or to which you come to worship God. They are a vehicle but God is the Lord of all.

😃