Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Looking at Ecclesiology

Written by: on October 27, 2013

In the book, Christian Theology:  An Introduction, Alister McGrath does a great job in presenting the material in a simple and rewarding manner.   At first glance I was a bit overwhelmed by all the material in the book.  However, McGrath extends a gracious “do not be afraid”- he assures the reader that we must not be frightened by the amount of material that this volume includes; you do not need to master it all.[1]  I appreciate the fact that the book is organized thematically.   This allows me the opportunity to find the material appropriate to my needs at this time. One area that continues to be of high interest to me is the doctrine of the church.  As McGrath states, the doctrine of the church, usually referred to as ecclesiology is of major importance to anyone engaged in any kind of pastoral ministry. [2]    The questions McGrath poses about the church challenges me to be thoughtful about what kind of body is the church. McGrath states that the church has always stressed its historical and theological continuity with the people of Israel.[3]  The New Testament defines the church as the people of God, thus stressing the continuity between Israel and the Christian church.  McGrath states that the election of the church as the people of God does not entail the rejection of Israel, but rather the extension of God’s kingdom.[4] So, how does this understanding of what the church is affect what the church is meant to do?”[5]     It is my understanding that the church is a community of faith that is empowered by the Holy Spirit to live as witnesses and agents of God’s love and justice in the world.  The church is a source of immeasurable spiritual strength. The church is unlike any other institution on earth.  The church, unlike other institutions, is the very visible presence of God in the world.    It is that community which gathers to celebrate the saving work of God in the person of Jesus Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.    In God’s saving action through Christ, we are transformed. “Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him…”[6]  This transformation is not limited to the human race but is cosmic in scope: “He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.” Through Christ, God has reconciled all things to God-self, whether on earth or in the heavens: “…all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”[7] Because God has reconciled all things to God-self through Jesus Christ, salvation cannot be thought of as solely a personal matter.  The saving action of God in Jesus Christ also calls for salvation of all people and creation. This includes the structures and powers that exist around us.  They must also come under the Lordship of Christ.  The church is called to confront these structures and powers that oppress and bring death to this world.  But the church is also called to lead them to the salvation that transforms them from structures and powers of darkness and death to those of love and life.  Because salvation is a present reality, the church is called to bear witness to that reality in today’s world. In addition to the church celebrating the saving work of God, the church also celebrates in worship.   It is in its worship that the church, as a community of faith, comes before God in adoration (for God loved us first, in spite of our sin) and confession (acknowledging that we are sinners and only through Christ can we be forgiven).    As Augustine puts it, the church is not meant to be a “pure body,” a society of saints, but a “mixed body” (corpus permixtum) of saints and sinners.[8] The church is unique in it that we are called to be incarnational.   We, are to be that community whose doings makes God’s presence and the values of the Kingdom (love, grace, justice) real in the midst of this world.  By living incarnational lives, we become God’s instruments of self-revelation.  In being incarnational (the doing of God’s will), we celebrate what God has done for us by doing for others.  This is not to say that the church, in its celebration of God’s saving action in Christ, does not take seriously the suffering in this world.  Wherever poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, ageism, adultism (and other” isms”), greed and war is found, the church must be present.  For this is where Christ would be.  I would dare say that even in such suffering, the church can celebrate.   Because through Jesus Christ, the church can bring healing, hope, transformation and reconciliation. The church is the body of Christ.   I love Jesus’ prayer in John 17.  Jesus prays for those who walk with him as well as those “who will believe in me through their message.”[9]  What a wonderful and powerful thing it is to think that Jesus prayed for us, for those who confessed Christ as Lord and Savior.   But did you notice that Jesus did not pray for particular faith traditions.  He did not pray for God to protect the Baptist, for God to watch over the Presbyterians, for God to walk with the Vineyards.  Jesus asked God to protect and look after all who believe in him.  And Jesus goes on to say “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”   Can you imagine what would happen if we follow Christ’s prayer in our daily lives as followers of Christ?  How would the world look? How would treat our brothers and sisters of other faith traditions?  Where is God calling us, you and I, the church to work together?  “…it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.”[10]    When the church has a good and solid understanding of who we are in relation to God, the church will begin to understand that we cannot do anything alone.   What we do in life affects the lives of many other people.   Because the church is made up of communities of faith, the “living out” of one’s faith in Christ is never solely a personal matter but one that affects and is the concern of the whole community and for the world.

[1] Alister E.McGrath, Christian Theology:  An Introduction.  (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2011), xxv.
[2] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology:  An Introduction.  (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2011),  p. 37.
[3] Ibid, p. 375
[4] Ibid., p. 390
[5] Ibid., p. 375
[6] The Message (2 Corinthians 5:17)
[7] The Message (Colossians 1:20)
[8] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 2011),  p. 379
[9] New International Version (John 17:20)
[10] The Message (Romans 12:3)

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Miriam Mendez

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