A Realized Ecclesiology

Several weeks ago, some friends and I were discussing the lack of financial committment on the part of younger members in their church.  Simply put, writing big checks to a church doesn’t appeal to the typical person in my generation.  One explanation of this which I offered is that we may have too human a view of the Church.

In my last post, I talked about repenting from a humanistic view of worship. But worship isn’t isolated theologically from other doctrines.  Specifically, I think that at the root of one’s view of a worship service, is ecclesiology – how one understands the nature of the Church.   For me and many in my generation, though, ecclessiology has up until now not been a priority.

Let me explain: We in the missional church and emerging church movements tend to like realized eschatology.  That’s a fancy term meaning this: The Kingdom of God, salvation, all that good stuff, is not only far off in the future, waiting for us in heaven or postponed until Jesus comes back.  Instead, the Kingdom of God on earth is already happening – beginning in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and continually building until the Kingdom fully comes on earth as in heaven.  This tastes good to us because we care about justice, service, and a holistic gospel.  It also tastes good because it means we get to talk about “the Kingdom” instead of “the Church”.  And why do we like talking Kingdom-language rather than Church-language? 

Because we don’t like the institution.  A lot of us have been hurt, chewed up and spit out, even abused by “the Church.”  We have a real hard time seeing the institutional Church (whether local or denominational) as the divine Body of Christ because we’re all too aware of human flaws. The Church is full of sinners who end up sinning against other sinners.  So why on earth would we give our money (or time, or any other form of committment) to it?  If we have a realized eschatology, it makes more sense to give money to feed the orphans on another continent than to give to pay a pastor’s salary or pay for a space to worship in. After all – the Kingdom is what matters, so let’s pay attention to Kingdom-work in the world, like feeding the poor.  Amen. I concur. Kind-of.

Here’s the problem in that line of theological logic: we’re separating eschatology from ecclesiology.  If the reign of God is breaking into the world, making foretastes of life in the new creation available even now, wouldn’t that mean that the Church also participates in that realized eschatology?  In other words, if God’s Kingdom is truly manifest in the humanitarian work going on in Haiti right now, then why would God’s Kingdom be any less truly manifest in the authentic worship of a local congregation?  Humanitarian organizations can be just as broken as churches.  The same sinful people are at work in both.  But if both are movements towards God’s desires for the world, then why would either be considered more divine or real than the other?  

What if the Church really is the Body of Christ?  We like to talk about this for the sake of mission – “Let’s get out there are really be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.”  But if the Church really is the Body of Christ, then the gathering of the community for worship and all that supports that worship participates in Christ just as much as mission in Jesus’ name.  The songs we sing really are songs of praise to God.  The reading of scripture and the sermon really are places where God speaks to us.  Communion really is a time when Christ meets us and when the community is united as the Body of Christ.  And the offering really is an offering to God.   

How would our understanding of worship change if we really believed that?  What about stewardship?  Would this lead to greater or lesser activity in mission?  Can we really believe the Church is the Body of Christ despite the failures of individual Christians?

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4 comments
  1. Dan Thayer said:

    Chris,

    I like this a lot. A great book that addresses the weaknesses of our ecclesiology is Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology. Here is a bit:

    “The essential nature of mission is for the church to be the body of Christ. We can be available to other persons only as embodied beings, and the church as totus Christus is the embodied Christ made available to the world…
    “The church’s primary mission, then, is to be itself, which is to be ‘Christ’ for the world…
    “[A]s Christ makes himself available to the church in the sacraments, the church in turn makes itself available to the world as the ’embodied Christ.’…In its eucharistic worship the church is reformed to ‘go forth into the world to love and serve the Lord.’ The world does not know of any other Christ except the Christ that is embodied in the church. Thus to be the church is the greatest mission to the world.”

    I cannot recommend Chan’s book enough. It will blow your mind.

  2. Brian Diebold said:

    I also think that there is something intrinsic to being a community in Christ. Throughout Scripture, God always calls a people.
    I think that redemption necessarily involves, and takes place through, being a people. The hurts and disappointments, to me, are the growing pains of redemption as the beloved community.

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