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Yes, it’s finally October. Let me recap September:
- September 1: Classes started
- September 8-12:Drove with another student from Nashotah, WI to Albany, NY for a retreat, was interviewed by the Commission on Ministry, and recommended to the Standing Committee for Candidacy for the Priesthood (Praise God!)
- September 15-18: Another student and I (with the help, of course, or our entire campus community) hosted 20 seminarians from 10 other seminaries in the U.S. on our campus for a conference.
- September 20-22: Traveled to Fort Worth, TX for the ordination of my friend Mark to the priesthood, and got to see other friends and my godson.
- September 25-30: One of my bishops was on campus to lead our annual fall retreat.
- September 29: Took my GRE.
And now, it’s October. And although there are a ton of things going on this month right here on campus, I am not directly involved in any of them. Thank. God. It’s. October.
That said, I will be posting another entry this evening, and then I will be making my first church visit TOMORROW MORNING, which I am very excited about.
Thank you to those who are still reading. I look forward to hear what you have to say after tomorrow!
School has taken up a great amount of my time over the past few weeks (as it should!), and so sadly I haven’t been able to continue to post. I am helping to host a conference on our campus this week with students visiting from various seminaries around the country. After this weekend, I will hope to post a few updates and finish this section on Ecclesiology. Once I’ve finished, hopefully on September 25, I will visit my first church!!! I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you are too.
But until Sunday, this brief hiatus will continue. Thank you to those who have still checked in, and I hope to feed you with more rambling sooner than later.
Picking up from last time…
The outward order of the Church therefore is no indifferent matter; it is, on the contrary, of supreme importance since it is found to be related to the Church’s inner meaning and to the Gospel of God itself. For the good news that God has visited and redeemed His people includes the redeemed man’s knowledge of death and resurrection through his place in the one visible society and through the death to self that every member and group has died. And in telling of this one visible society the Church’s outward order tells indeed of the Gospel (Ramsey, 43).
Why is this so important? Why does it matter what we consider church? Why can’t the unity of the Church be summed up in the things we have in common (e.g., the belief in one God, the faith in Jesus Christ)? Why should we find a deeper, more complex (and more fulfilling!!) unity than this?
Paul’s letters to the local church in Corinth sheds light on these questions.
Corinth was an extremely active society, grammatically, anyway. The constant appeals to “we have,” “we know,” “we are” neglect the richness of the thoughts, “God has given,” ”God possesses us” and “we are not, in ourselves and of ourselves; but Christ in us is wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification.” The people at Corinth see themselves in “an individualistic way instead of merging themselves and their gifts in the one Body and so learning to die and live” (Ramsey, 44).
How does Paul respond? By proclaiming the Gospel, and by asserting the truth about the structure of the Church. Their pride Paul confronts with the scandal of the cross. Without the cross, the Corinthians are nothing, but Christ in them is “wisdom and righteousness and sanctification.” This Gospel–of selflessness and obedience–is not only found by their connection with the Christ event of the past, but by present expression in the one Body.
By their place in the one Body they are to learn to be humble and dependent and to die to self. Let them consider the Body and exist only as members of the Body, and they will learn of Christ’s Cross whereby men are lost as separate ”selfhoods” and found as members of Christ and of one another (Ramsey, 44-45).
Paul didn’t waste any time or space: “Paul…to the Church of God which is in Corinth…called to be saints…with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:1-2). They are not alone in the Christian race: “What? was it from you that the word of God went forth: or did it come to you alone?” (1 Corinthians 14:36). They are not only alone, they depend on those, most especially the Apostles, who preceded them.
And who can forget 1 Corinthians 12, which expresses this principle of dependence fully?
The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you: or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary…Now you are the body of Christ, and severally members of it.
“So Corinth learns the Gospel anew by learning the Church” (Ramsey, 45). What the church, but its unity between members, unity with history, unity with the Christ, and unity with the Divine Trinity itself, is to express the Gospel, and the message of selflessness which this world has a very difficult time embracing. The individual Christian and the exalted and spiritual group of Christians both learn of the Body and of the Cross together.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
This string of adjectives, as proclaimed in the Nicene Creed, is usually quickly said, and sometimes feels as though a part of the many things we use to fill up the clause concerning the Holy Spirit. But it is so much more than that.
In my experience, the four adjectives are usually only talked about as three. Or, I should say, only three are normally referred to or talked about. “Holy” is always interesting - how is the church ”holy” and what is the “holiness” of the church to consist of. We can debate for quite a while about what “Catholic” means. And “Apostolic” can be tagged with a few different nuances, some worthy and others not. But in many conversations, we might forget that we also believe in One holy catholic and apostolic church.
I’ve certainly hinted at unity, if not already written about it explicitly. This post is focusing specifically on the unity of the Church–what it means to believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church–and what this means for Sunday morning worship.
Where does this unity spring from? Is it enough to say that Anglicans and Lutherans each believe in the Trinity? This is significant, but it’s only scratching the surface. The unity of the Church rests much deeper than confessions or articles of belief.
As I’ve mentioned before, the word for “church” in the New Testament is ecclesia, the same Greek word used to translate qahal in the Old Testament, a word referring to the congregation of the people of Israel, the chosen race, called out by God himself. By attributing this word to themselves, the Christians of the New Testament claim that “they are themselves the ecclesia of God. To them belong the promises and privileges of the Israel of God, and their unity is a unity of race” (Ramsey, 40).
In the New Testament, ecclesia refers to both the Body of Christ and to the local congregation. The distinction is important:
The very word ecclesia forbids us to think of any merely local community; the ecclesia in a place is the one race as existing in that place, e.g., the ecclesia of Corinth is the one called-out-race of God that exists in Corinth, as in many other places (Ramsey, 40).
P. T. Forsyth puts it this way:
The total Church was not made up by adding the local churches together, but the local church was a church through representing then and there the total Church…it was one Church in many manifestations; it was not many churches in one convention…The great Church is not the agglutination of local churches, but their prius;…the local church was not a church, but the Church…the totality of all Christians flowing to a certain spot, and emerging there (Lectures on the Church and Sacraments, 40).
The local church–the parish we attend on a Sunday morning–is meant to be a window into the one Church which we proclaim in the Nicene Creed. By its worship, practice, and affiliations, the parish is to inform those within and without the Church as to what that Church is.
But we didn’t just pick up the name ecclesia. It’s even deeper than that. Church has at its core “fellowship.” This fellowship can refer to a number of things, but the New Testament makes it clear that the unity which we are discussing, “this wide and deep and many-sided unity is made possible only by a real contact with the historical events” (Ramsey, 41).
That which we have seen and heard, we declare to you also, that you may also have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3)
“Fellowship is essentially fellowship with the historical events” (Ramsey, 41). Jesus’ passion and death (as written about before) created the fellowship, and that fellowship has the honor of sharing in these events. How does this come true, or how is this made real, in practice? From personal experience, and as Ramsey knew, the celebration of the Eucharist is a sharing in the body and the blood of Christ, and a means by which Christians are “one bread one body” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), not only because they eat and drink together, but because we are brought near and even participating in the Christ’s actual death in the flesh (1 Corinthians 11:26; Ramsey, 42).
But wait, there’s more. The Church’s unity does not only depend on its historic continuity with the life of Israel and the death of the Messiah. The New Testament articulates the unity of the church in the terms of the unity of God himself.
One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:5-6)
Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one (John 17:11).
…that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us (John 17:20).
Karl Barth went as far as to say that “the oneness of God triumphs over the whole questionableness of the Church’s history” (Romans, 396). Ramsey then says, “Unity is God’s alone, and in Him alone can anything on earth be said to be united” (42). Again I point to places where this has been taken out of the ideal and made actual in the life of worship. During the prayer of consecration of the elements (Prayer B), we pray to God saying “Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice.” In other Eucharistic prayers we pray that “we and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.”
We thereby pray to be united, not only to one another in receiving, but to God himself, through the merits of Jesus Christ!
This unity, and the whole of the Church’s inward meaning, must be expressed by the Church’s outward shape and structure. Many will say that the outward structure of the Church is not important, but that worshiping in spirit and in truth, or that praising Jesus, is what matters. Yes, God is wherever two or three are gathered in his name. Yes, true worshipers worship in spirit and in truth (it’s practically the subtitle of this blog right now!). But Ramsey will go on to say that “The structure, historic and apostolic, does matter.” I’ll go on to look at this statement in the next post.
For now, perhaps because this is one of the soap boxes upon which I like to stand, will say that no parish, no Sunday morning worship service, can stand alone. Calling a parish “independent” may only feed the individualism which has no place in the church (I am, of course, sure that this is not always the case). A parish out on its own, even though it may contend for the Gospel, for truth, and for Jesus Christ himself, cannot fulfill the ultimate purpose of the Church, because the Church is not an independent organization made of individual subsidiaries having been bought out by the larger corporation. The life of a parish should flow out of its union with the organism, Christ’s Body, which preceded it.
Don’t get me wrong – I am sure that many of these parishes do great things–spiritual, edifying things, for those who attend and for the community which surrounds it. Usually a number of non-denominational churches will fall under this categorization, and I have attended many which do great work by God’s grace. They are still blessed by God. I’m saying that the potential for the message of the “one holy catholic and apostolic church” spread by such a parish, distant and not connected to others, is dampened, because the oneness which it is proclaiming in its praxis is the same as being satisfied that we each believe in the Trinity, or that baptism is practiced in some form (no matter how important it is). The physical and spiritual unity of the Church of Christ, of the Body of Christ, is signified and enacted in an individual parish’s communion with other parishes, and with each parishes’ mutual union with God.
In other words, the Trinity cannot only be acknowledged–it must be known, and known intimately. The Trinity, the relationship that is God, must be experienced and must consume the life of the Church holistically, in each and every one of its members, so that the message of reconciliation between God and humanity may be proclaimed loud and clear by the Church’s life, lived out in its members and parishes.
“I did it my way!” is the theme song on the road to hell.
A good friend of mine said this during a sermon. It was a moving sermon and it stuck with me. I’ve used it as an example in my own preaching. Now, I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra–some great music. And this quote might seem harsh. But at a basic level, the point isn’t ill-founded. The history of sin begins with two people wanting to do something their own way. Sin originated as a rebellion against God. God told Adam and Eve to not do something. No matter how they or we have rationalized the account of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the fact remains: humanity (Heb. adam) rebelled against God. We preferred our own understanding, our own reasoning, to that of God.
Humanity began to die that day.
But as the light dimmed, while we were yet sinners, Christ died. While we were dying, Christ died for us, and he died so that we might live. But it isn’t life as we know it. It doesn’t come through a pill, an exercise, even through a creed or catechism. Our life comes through death.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore if anyone i in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:14-17)
To know the true abundant life which God offers through Christ–to know life, we must know death. We die the death that Christ died, though we do not experience physical death now. But we die to self: we die to the idols that we have created for ourselves, we die to our greed for instant gratification, and we die to those things that prevent us from living in the light of Christ. Life begins with an act of faith and initiation that verily means “death.”
Men are now found to be identified with Christ’s death in such a way that they think of themselves no longer as separate and self-sufficient units, but as centered in Christ who died and rose again (Ramsey, 29).
Christianity is never solitary. The Church is the body of Christ, drawing attention not to a collection of people, but to Christ himself in his own being and life. “As the body is one and has many members…so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). Calvin said, “He calls Christ the church.” The fact of the incarnation is only fully known if we know the Church, and if we know that the life of the Church is a part of Christ’s own life.
Believing in Christ is believing in One whose body is a part of himself and whose people are his own humanity, and “to be joined to Christ is to be joined to Christ-in-His-Body” (Ramsey, 32). Jesus ask Paul, “Why are you persecuting me?” not “Why are you persecuting my followers?” Christians are Jesus’ risen humanity in whom he suffers.
The journey of the Christian life–from conversion and justification and sanctification to the consummation–cannot happen alone. Anyone who is justified is an individual, but the one who justifies (Christ) “is one with His people as His body.” That person is released from self in justification, and is brought into dependence upon brothers and sisters in Christ.
Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we may be no longer children…but may grow up in all things into him, which is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in due measure of each several part, makes the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love (Ephesians 4:13-16).
Ramsey, following Paul, says plainly: “From the Church therefore the Christian never escapes; it is a part of his own existence since it is a part of the Christ Himself. And without the Church the Christian does not grow, wince the Christ is fulfilled in the totality of all His members” (Ramsey, 33).
What does this have to do with Sunday morning? Well, with Ramsey, I think that we should recognize that individualism has no place in the Church. We die as individuals, but in this death we find ourselves in Christ. Through membership in the Body of Christ, “the single Christian is discovered in new ways and becomes aware that God loves him, in all his singleness, as if God had no one else to love” (Ramsey, 34). BUT: the individual is merged, and accepts a conscious union with Christ. “The individual Christian exists only because the Body exists already. The self is known in its reality as a self when it ceases to be solitary and learns its utter dependence, and the ‘individuality’ of Christians…springs from their death and resurrection in the Body that is one” (Ramsey, 33).
So for now, I’ll leave it at this: Church is not supposed to be about me. I’ve heard a lot of people say that “Church just isn’t working for me,” or “Church isn’t doing it for me,” or something like that. Well, frankly, going to church on a Sunday morning isn’t meant to be about me. We need to be careful, of course: we should find a place that meets our needs. If a worshiping community is detrimental to your faith, get out of there. I’m getting ahead of myself, though…this will be discussed in further detail in a later post (and I’m eager to get on the road back to Wisconsin).
The Church is made up of those who have died to self, and have been risen to live in Christ, and by living in Christ, we live for and with and in each other. And we gather together as those who are called out in Christ to be one with him, and in him we are one with one another. And we gather together for a real and tangible purpose…
But for that I’ll wait to write. For now, I’m on my way to Wisconsin. Your prayers would be appreciated! Stay tuned!
It seems not only that Christ creates the Church by dying and rising again, but that within Him and especially within His death and resurrection the Church is actually present (Ramsey, 17).
Jesus Christ, in His solitary obedience, is the Church (Ramsey, 18).
Ramsey’s second chapter is titled “One Died for All.” I remember that this chapter was the hardest one for me to get though–not necessarily because it was complicated, but because it was a time in the semester where I was over-tired and under-slept. With that in mind, it’s a joy to reread it. The two quotes above come from the second half of the chapter. Ramsey’s point is to deepen our understanding of what he discussed in the first chapter: that the Church was not founded by Jesus’ apostles, but by Jesus himself, and that the purpose of the Church is to be discovered in His death and resurrection.
We must search for the fact of the Church not beyond Calvary and Easter but within them (Ramsey, 17).
Ramsey spends the first half of the chapter discussing the place of the “church” or the “assembly” in the Old Testament.
The songs of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) have been interpreted in various ways: the nation or an individual; a past event or a future one. Two things, though, are quite clear:
- God’s purpose for humanity is in some way coupled with the suffering of a servant.
- There was no instance in Hebrew literature, between the exile and the Lord’s day, of any identification of the sufferer with the Messiah (Ramsey, 14).
(If anyone knows if this second point has since been improved upon, please share).
It was in Jesus Christ, in the fullness of time, that these songs of anguish and suffering were identified with the figure of the Messiah. The very parts of Scripture that his contemporaries had failed to interpret, Jesus the Messiah interpreted and executed, so that the theme of the Suffering Servant was brought right into the center of the themes, more familiar to his contemporaries, of Son of David, Son of Man, Son of God.
Jesus’ apostles and disciples after him would proclaim this boldly (Acts 3:13, 26; 4:27-30; 8:32; 1 Peter 2:21-24). Jesus died “in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” (Mark 14:21; Luke 22: 37; Mark 15:34).
Christ’s Passion was a fulfillment not only of certain passages of the Old Testament, but of the Passion which Israel suffered:
Christ’s death was the act of divine power that broke the forces of evil and set up God’s Kingdom among men (Ramsey, 16).
God’s plan for Israel was that it would be the nation through which the entire world would be blessed. Israel never lived up to that calling. But Israel the nation was then summed up in Jesus the individual. It was still God’s purpose to unite humanity through a people; and this people does not mean a loose collection of believers in Jesus, but a new nation to which the characteristic descriptions of the old Israel–the Vine, the Temple, the Bride–are transferred, and which has the same sense of the solidarity of one race, brought to birth by a creative act of God (Ramsey, 16).
In this new nation, of course, its people are drawn from any and every nation, from Jew and Gentile, men and women. And death is no longer a stumbling block, but the center of its existence, worship, and unity. What we call “the Church” is a new Israel. The Church is the unity of all those who, by following Jesus’ solitary obedience, continually choose to die to self and be raised by God to new life, life lived to and for God and His purposes.
Here then is a complete setting forth of the meaning of the Church; the eternal love of Father and Son is uttered in the Christ’s self-negation unto death, to the end that men may make it their own and be made one. The unity, in a word, means death. The death to the self qua self, first in Christ and then in the disciples, is the ground and essence of the Church (Ramsey, 22).
The death of Christ contains the Church: he was baptized into our humanity, and he refused the rights of self before God. But what makes possible the life of the Church is the resurrection: The Cross was to Jesus not a defeat needing the resurrection to reverse it, but rather a victory so decisive that resurrection follows quickly to seal it. We cannot separate the exalting on the Cross from the exalting to heaven.
As He is baptized into man’s death, so men shall be baptized into His; and, as he loses His life to find it in the Father, so men may by a veritable death find a life whose center is Christ and in the brethren. One died for all, therefore all died. To say this is to describe the Church of God (Ramsey, 23).
Thoughts? Ramsey titled this chapter One Died For All. The following chapter completes the quote, Therefore All Died. The next post will then take a deeper look into what the “therefore” implies. What does it really mean to die to self? And what does that do to the form and life of the Church?