(from my old blog…)
I’m going to be doing some thinking about worship and mission (and ultimately ecclesiology) based around a few books I’m reading. These discussions will probably veer into heavier theological territory, just to give some fair warning. That said, I am a firm believer in committed Christians engaging thoughtfully and critically with difficult theological questions. So dive in, please. Ask questions if you need some clarification, and post your thoughts.
In the first chapter of Simon Chan’s Liturgical Theology, he asks the question of whether the church is to be primarily understood as the instrument through which God will accomplish his purpose in creation, or rather the expression of that purpose itself. Is the church here to work for the fulfillment of God’s purpose in creation, or is the church itself the fulfillment of God’s purpose in creation? If the church in the instrument of God’s purpose, then we understand it primarily in functional terms; what it does. But if we understand the church as itself the expression of God’s purpose, we look at the church in ontological terms; what it is.
It’s an important question, it would seem, and Chan comes down on the side of seeing the church as the expression, not the instrument of God’s purpose in creation. That begs a second question from me: how are we to understand all the talk about missional church? Mission implies action implies function. Is the church functional or ontological?
Now, I can’t say for sure yet because I haven’t read the rest of the book, but I am wondering if this is perhaps one of those false dichotomies: an either/or where there should be a both/and. What if the church is both the expression of AND the instrument of God’s purpose in creation?
I spend a lot of time pondering these two distinctions, and ultimately come up empty-handed…back to square one, so to speak.
Often I have a rather cynical view of the structure of the Church, and yet I understand the need for organization and hierarchy within it. I think that very ‘organizational’ aspect tends to add more sway to the ‘functionality’ side of things, whether that be our function as a community of believers, or as a means for blessing in the larger community. It can appear that (evangelicals especially) are only about fixing and building up themselves and their churches/ministries, giving only lip-service to social justice/poverty needs in the larger community….and doing that only with a motivation to get folks ‘saved’. At least that’s how my unbelieving friends have explained it to me.
I suspect as well that it’s a both/and. It serves to reason that if a group of folks with a similar vision (hopefully mission to be co-laborers with God to set things to rights), would both represent the way a Kingdom of the Beloved Son might work within the Church, AND bring that Kingdom to the world at large thru acts of compassion, love, etc. I’ve been struck lately at the tension between energy given to personal holiness and energy to societal needs. I see quite a bit of either/or there too within the Church. Again, perhaps it should be a synergy…one feeds off the other. A ‘faith without works’ kind of thing.
Interesting journey we’re travelling, eh?
Nathan Bubna says
I certainly see no logical reason for this to be an either/or. In fact, i find it difficult to accept a purely or even primarily ontological view on the simple, pragmatic grounds that i do not know how to stop doing actions and just “be”. So long as it is in time and space, the Church functions here and interacts with the rest of the world, like it or not, for good or for bad, through apathy or through love. We cannot separate or set aside loving our neighbor from loving God, for God loves our neighbor. To perceive the church primarily in ontological terms is–in my view–nothing but a purposeful and detrimental narrowing of one’s understanding.
J.R. Woodward says
First, some words from St. Peter:
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
It seems to me that Peter has some thoughtful advice on this matter. If I am reading him right, he seems to say that who we are comes from God through His promises,(being) and that if we are to become all God has made us,we “make every effort to add to our faith” various elementd (seems to involve a little doing), and this will keep us effective and productive in our knowledge of Jesus. Opps, did I say effective and productive? It seems as if these words have become dirty words lately. I’m sure it must just be the translation.
Now what I find interesting, is that Peter comes back around to saying, if you are not becoming what God intended, you have in a sense, forgotten who and whose you are. (being)
It seems as if Peter is inviting us to live cyclically: Being – doing – being- doing – being – doing.
The other option: Being unproductive and ineffective with our knowledge of Jesus our Lord. No thanks.
Of course, I’m sure there are many other passages of scripture, broad ideas, and thoughts we must entertain, but this is my two cents worth.
J.R. Woodward says
In shorter words, I like the way N.T. Wright puts it:
Worship: Love on its knees.
Mission: Love on its feet.
Nathan Kipfer says
Actually the first thing I thought as I was reading the post was, “Why can’t it be both?” I’d explain, but it would probably be an extremely long ordeal. Consequently, there’s my thought, whatever it’s worth!
Benjamin Sternke says
Thanks for the comments, all. I’ll let you know where Chan is going with this ontological vs. functional thing once I read further into the book.
cindyH, the tension between, as you said, “personal holiness” and “societal needs” is another one of those dichotomies I think is false. I firmly believe that the two, when combined together, will catalyze and fuel one another in explosive new ways. I’ve talked with a few people lately who are starting to explore what it looks like to combine them.
<<<"personal holiness" and "societal needs" is another one of those dichotomies I think is false>>>
Agreed. I’d love to know others who are experimenting with this catalytic combination…I know it’s possible, and in fact think it’s probably the way it should be. A dynamic tension that keeps each perspective in balance along the way.