Tag Archives: New Testament

“…no indifferent matter…”

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.

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An Ecclesiastical Thesis

The Orthodox understanding of the Church as a living organism, the Evangelical focus on the authority of Scripture, the Roman Catholic treasuring of the sacramental life, and the Anglican stress on freedom within order, and local autonomy with episcopal oversight, are all articulated as essential for the unity of the Church.

So ends The Rev. Dr. Arnold Klukas’ introduction to Archbishop Michael Ramsey’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church.  At Nashotah House, we read this book for Parish Ministry 1 (Spring, 2010), and I find myself drawn to it again, seeking a method of articulating an holistic ecclesiology.

To understand why I go to church on a Sunday morning – why I go to church, and not sleep in or kayak or something else – I must understand what church is.  What is the nature of church?  What is the purpose of Sunday morning worship?  These questions surround the slightly more philosophical question, “What is the nature of the church?”

In spite of its many flaws, it [the church] remains Christ’s Body; and as a Body, the church’s outward order (its physical shape) expresses its inward purpose and meaning… (Klukas, xvii.)

I’ll return to this quote (and the rest of it) in a later post.  For now, it’s safe to say that the question I’m asking (or the way I’m answering it) will ultimately bring us into a circle: to understand why we go to church, we must understand the nature of the church, and the nature of the church is articulated in its coming together in community and worship.

So where do we actually begin?

He [Ramsey] says, “A fresh line of approach seems needed.  Those who cherish the Catholic [universal] Church and its historic order need to expound its meaning not in legalistic and institutionalist language, but in evangelical language as the expression of the Gospel of God” (Klukas, xvii.)

Ramsey’s conviction, and I think rightfully so, is that “the meaning of the Christian Church becomes most clear when it is studied in terms of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (Ramsey, xxiii.).  When I first read this statement, I didn’t understand it at all.  When I had finished his first and second chapter, I was only confused further.  Why go in this direction?  What is the connection?  (Can you tell that my first year was off to a good start?)

But what it boils down to, I think, is this:

The Church is the means by which Jesus continues to encounter humankind by providing the living organism by which his presence can be experienced (Klukas, xviii.).

That living organism, Paul says, is Christ’s Body.  Jesus’s Body combined a human nature and a divine nature, thereby overcoming humanity’s alienation from God.  The church, as the continuing life of his body, is to function as his continued presence in the world.  As His living Body, the Church continues to link the human with the Divine, the physical with the spiritual, and the temporal with the eternal.  The church, in putting it this way, was founded in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is in the New Testament that identifies what the church is: its nature and purpose.  By reading and paying attention to what Scripture tells us about Jesus Christ and His Body, the Church, we can begin to develop an ecclesiology which is consistent with the biblical witness (and if you know me, this is always the best place to start).

I’ll start with that this week.  The next post or two will be content-based, specifically on why we find the meaning of the church in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If this post has seemed a little jumbled or incomplete, I invite you to keep with it and read on.  I hope to post again soon.

For now:  What informs your thoughts on the church?  What place does Scripture hold in defining the church for you?  What do you think the New Testament says about the church?  I’d love your input, and it might give me more direction in subsequent posts.

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