Simon Chan, in his book Liturgical Theology, says that the Holy Spirit was not merely given to empower the church to continue in Christ’s mission after he was gone. He says that the on the day of Pentecost, new stuff happened, that the church was transformed from being simply the people of God to being the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the actual presence of Christ on earth. Because of this, we cannot proclaim the gospel truly without telling the story of the church (as well as the story of Christ’s death and resurrection).
Herein lies the main weakness in Protestant and evangelical theology: it terminates the gospel story at the resurrection and ascension, so that the church is seen solely as the agent to retell or restate a story that ended with Christ’s resurrection. Protestantism has no sense of the continuation of the gospel into ecclesiology and pneumatology. When it comes to understanding the church, sociology takes over.
Against such a view, we need to see ecclesiology as an intrinsic part of the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not an administrative arrangement for the sake of securing some practical results.
The church is an essential part of the gospel story, one that goes beyond simple pragmatics. One implication of this is that we can never dismiss the church simply because she isn’t doing "her job". If the church is only a pragmatic solution to the problem of getting the word out about the gospel, then we can just throw it away when it isn’t working. But if the church really is the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, then we cannot lightly discard it, even when it seems ineffective or obtuse. Throwing the church aside for the sake of getting a job done won’t ultimately work because the church is part of the story of the gospel, and if we try to preach a gospel without talking about Christ’s Body and the Spirit’s Temple, we end up with a gospel that merely records individual transactions and prints "Go To Heaven When You Die" tickets. We preach a docetic gospel if we forget the church. I wonder if what the missional church movement needs is a solid ecclesiology if it is going to make a long-lasting impact.
Maybe Augustine said it best: "The church is a whore, but she is my mother."
Nathan Bubna says
Awesome. I whole-heartedly agree. This really helps to embody and clarify things that i’ve been feeling and thinking on this subject for some time now. This also has huge implications for ecumenism and the unity of believers. Despite all our fragmentation and politics organizationally, we are one. Now, how can we act like that?
God has been laying this on my heart for years. I would love to be able to see the churches of Portland act as the Church of Portland and view themselves as such. Not that i want organizational or administrative unification. I just want our actions to the city and our self-understanding to reflect this truth. I just don’t know how to chase this vision…
Benjamin Sternke says
It’s a tricky thing, uniting churches. Here in Fort Wayne we’ve seen some good strides in that direction, but are by no means at a place where I would say there is a corporate sense of “we’re all in this together” among churches. I guess we keep praying Jesus’ prayer from John 17 and keep acting in such a way that we facilitate unity instead of hinder it.
Existential Punk says
Thanks for this as there is some great stuff to chew on here. It makes me think about Brian McLaren says we are part of God’s story. So, if that is the case, and i believe it is, then God’s story is continuing on with each and every one of us and therefore, cannot be static. God is about being holistic and inclusive. Again, thanks. i am so glad i found your blog as it is so enriching! Merry Christmas! Adele
Zachary Kaufman says
I love talking about church. I agree with what Chan has to say. One thing I’ve unpacked in my mind and that I’ve learned from doing it the wrong way is how we discuss the church today. I have to be careful. If Jesus refers to the church as his bride, than He’s bound to make a very angry Groom when She’s insulted. I think we’ve all met people to declare to be “fed up” with church and go about pointing out Her faults. I’ve been one of them. Yet, if someone was to insult my bride, they’d be in for something huge.
If we are the church, then we’ve got to be content with growth and change.
When we, people, were growing up we were made fun of, our bodies growing, our voices changing, and our minds deepening – it was a scary process. However, the result, was unavoidable and easier when guided and cherished and nurtured. We’ve got to LOVE the church, like she deserves to be loved, even when she makes mistakes.
Those are good questions at the end. I haven’t found a good balance between giving the Church a healthy critique and dousing it with shaming commentary.
I’ve found recently that the more I focus on what *I’m* supposed to be doing (being kind, not right), the less I worry about what the Church is doing wrong. It would help if the Church wasn’t always trying to save face, instead of simply welcoming in humility the criticisms leveled at her. Sometimes true ‘love’ is tough love. I hate that. :o) Btw, what is ‘docetic’?
Benjamin Sternke says
Docetic refers to the early heresy that Jesus only seemed to be human, but that his body was actually an illusion (docetism comes from the Greek word for “to seem” – read more about it here). It was more palatable for Greeks who believed the physical world was evil and transitory. They couldn’t imagine that a truly divine being would actually inhabit a body. So to preach a “docetic” gospel would be to preach a disembodied gospel, one that is a high-minded ideal but never actually takes on flesh – without the church in all her “embodiedness” the gospel is just a nice idea.
Quote-But if the church really is the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, then we cannot lightly discard it, even when it seems ineffective or obtuse.
Is it me or does it often appear as if those not yet redeemed into the church sometimes see more clearly the ‘self-righteous, filled-with-hot-air’ posturing of the church, i.e. Ted Haggard story, almost to the extent of an ‘Emperor Has No Clothes’ kind of sight? I’ve been reading a book on church history and as I read, it appears that the 1st century church had simpler and purer motives to live as an embodied witness (not to mention the threat of martyrdom). As time went on, things became more complicated and I acknowledge that a great deal of energy went towards refuting heresies. Yet for all the time/energy/money that has passed through the hands of those in church stewardship, the church living as an embodied witness ‘appears’ more institutionalized than organic. As I reflected on your post I wondered, ‘Is the Gospel first the story of God redeeming his own, Israel?’ I would answer, ‘Yes, but what Jesus accomplished is for not only for the Jew, but also Gentles.’ What may be difficult for the ‘The Body of Christ’ is acknowledging ‘The Emperor (Empire?) Has No Clothes,’ and shift towards relying more on the Spirit to guide us towards what needs put on and what needs thrown away.
Thanks for this ongoing interaction with Simon Chan’s Book. He’s very close by to Malaysia in Singapore! 🙂