The Community of the Word


I’m always drawn to books on ecclesiology … I think it’s because it’s become part and parcel of my life and ministry as well as my thinking process (informally in conversations and formally in my MTheol Program) – so when this gem arrived in SUFES bookstore I grabbed it.

So far I’ve only managed to read three chapters randomly – I’ll quote some highlights for me and try to say something from my side :-):

“Theology is generally a better source for agenda setting than history” (p.23)
A good intuitive and intelligent work of theology could keep us from th paralysis of analysis? Theological vision is meant to be liberating and not suffocating, forward looking rather than nostalic rehash of the past. I do believe theology (when not restricted to the academic-I-can’t-understand sense) at its best is meant for all. Personally, I’d love to see more pastors integrate it with their ongoing messy ministries so we won’t get sucked in the nitty gritty and lose sight of the bigger picture.

“The fundamental difference between the old Protestants like Calvin and Luther and the new ones like Edwards and Hodge was whether the church was a subjective, invisible quality shared by the truly converted or an objective medium of grace outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (p. 25)
This is the first time I’m introduced to see this difference in this particular way.

“the phrase evangelical ecclesiology ‘is an oxymoron, like ‘an honest thief’ or ‘airline food’.” (p. 25-26)
I giggled when I read this one!

“Protestanism in its very nature demands repudiaion of a high view of the church and its ministry as the means by which salvation proceeds … does the church communicate or mediate grace through Word and Sacrament?” (p.37)

This maybe the reason why I see myself drawn to the study of church it’s importance because a big chunk of my initial Christian walk had a very LOW view of the church and often I confess it was just me and Jesus – that’s it. When actually it was so supposed to be that’s the start and not that’s it!

“Evangelical piety is inherently suspicious of the church as a medium of salvation. … evangelical forms of devotion have so stressed the direct work of te Holy Spirit of the believer that Christians’ embodied existence seldom becomes a factor in understanding the process of salvation.” (p. 39)

I do recall and still see much emphasis on “personal devotions” often disconnected with a more “embodied” and “corporate” dimension. I think the moment of kind of “got it” (not as possession or arrival but a lightbulb moment!) I found myself free from being entangled with self-inflicted “desert moments” and open to the wider work of the Spirit where I may not expect it. For example, Holy Communion now means so much more than just a ritual but truly a place to pause and encounter Jesus afresh and in fact to be “filled with the Holy Spirit.” I used to try too hard to pray for an hour in tongues to access the work of the Spirit. Now I’m learning to surrender more.

Chap 3: PRACTICING CHURCH: Evangelical ecclesiologies at the end of modernity by Jonathan R. Wilson
“Both the best and worst of evangelical ecclesiology are rooted in the passionate evangelical commitment to mission. This engenders flexibiity that contributes significantly to the accusation that evangelicals do not have an ecclesiology. We do — but our ecclesiology is so flexible that it is difficult at times to identify an effective one.” (p. 71)
I see much of that flexibility expressed through the parachurch structures I’m in touch with especially in student ministry. Glimpses of this here and there in local churches before it becomes institutionalized or corporatized (which happens very quickly it seems). Getting to know the Roman Catholics has provided a useful mirror for self-understanding the past years … especially in the area of “flexibility.”

“… when ecclesiology has been entirely abandoned in favor of a mission. By this I mean that no critical reflection is taking place on the mission and its attainment. … the life of the church has no implicit or explicit roots in the triune God. At this point the church easily and inevitably becomes instrumental to something other than that mission give by God.” (p. 71)
I see this all over the place … lots of resolve, loads of resolutions … and yet lost our roots? Repentance is in order …

“… the evangelical church needs to maintain a missional ecclesiology with its commitment to mission, and concomitant flesxibility while also remaining faithful to our commission. The best way to describe this and equip ourselves for faithful flexibility is to add to our missional ecclesiology an improvisational dimension. When evangelical ecclesiology is improvisational it enables the church to fulfill its mission in changing circumstances.”(p.71)
as a non-classically trained (in fact unproperly trained) guitar player I can appreciate this image of “improvisation”. I think it’s great guiding metaphor for theology as well as methodology.

“… the ecclesiology of Brian McLaren is a still-developing attempt at improvisation. … To continue with the imagery drawn from jazz, McLaren’s session in the studio has developed some promising possibilities, but more rehearsal is needed. Mclaren’s ecclesiology is a work in progress. In a word, it is … well, emerging.” (p. 72)
Yup … the author has got this one right …

“The term missional is an attempt to move the discussion beyond too narrow definitions of mission as merely one among the various programs of the church, and to find ways to think about the church’s calling and practice today in the light of the fact of the multicultural global church.”(p. 116)
I’ve said it more than once … it’s a great term .. open to abuse like all terms but very helpful in just opening up my mind.

“The church that Jesus intended, … is missional by its very nature. … the purpose of the apostolic mission: to found missional communities to continue the witness that had brought them into being. … Thus, the Scriptures’ collective purpose, we contend, was the continuing formation of already missional communities for faithful and obedient witness. … Defining missional in such a way has broad implications for the entire theological task, starting with ecclesiology but not stopping there” (pp. 116-117)

Abstract or more philosophical theology perhaps has its place in the bigger picture but I see for the overall purpose and movement of the church – the missional lens has more potential in connected those often disconnected with each other structurally – e.g. seminary, local churches, parachurches, networks, etc. while at the same time providing theological resources and frameworks to integrate theology, spiritual formation and visible practices.

“We are heirs of both human reductionisms and of divinely empowered resistance to such disobedience.” One of the pressing requirements for the development of a missional ecclesiology today is the task of learning how to read and interpret our history dialectically.” (p. 120)
A challenge I see after serving as a pastor the last 8 years is from young to old – to start even appreciating history .. and then learning to interpret it. So, very often I find myself telling stories or giving short historical backgrounds before sharing a “quote” (just to model that).

“Since Western ecclesiology did not operate under the fundamental principle that the church is called, gathered, formed and sent to be God’s witnesses in the world, we did not initially form churches with that sense of missional vocation. the question of missional calling was really forced upon the emerging global church by the reality of being minority churches in completely non-Christian settings, and illumined by their own interaction with Scripture as translations into vernacular languages made this possible.” (p. 123)
It’s nice to hear this self-critique from a western theologian. I hope we in Asia won’t have to follow unnecessary dead ends and then get knocked to our senses. It will happen … but I hope we’ll harness our energies now on what it means to be called, gathered, formed and sent!

“Who is the church of Jesus Christ and what is it for?” (p. 124)
sounds like a simple question … PAUSE first then SLOWLY answer.

“Christian witness is corporate in order that it can also be individual and personal. God calls people into discipleship, formation by Jesus, in order to send it out as an apostolic community, so that each of its members can be an apostolic witness with that flame of the Spirit ignited on every head.” (p. 125)

“The ancient greeting that ended the liturgy. ‘Ite missa est’ must be understoof not merely as “Go, you are dismissed,” but rather, “Go you are sent.” “(p.126)
everytime, I give the Benediction or give words of dismissal during the Holy Communion or close in prayer , etc. I consciously and intentionally think this, feel this, and pay attention whether I will this … beign dismissed is just “bye!” but being sent not that’s totally different posture and direction!

“The purpose of God’s mission is ultimately the acknowledgement and enjoyment of the glory of God; it happens as grace extends to more and more people; the evidence of that spread is growing thanksgiving to God which displays before the world the loving character and purposes of our God. It is the church to an ever-growing understanding of who it is and what it is for.” (p.128)
So often what is marks our mission is a display of pressure (or even panic at times) .. evangelism as sales pitch has “totally stolen” the joy of many when it comes to being part of the mission. But I love the words “grace extends to more …” That’s what it’s supposed to be …

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