Israel and the Church: reclaiming the continuities

Generally speaking, most ecclesiological thinking has tended to overemphasize the discontinuity between ancient Israel and the church.  There are many reasons for this, some of which explicitly and intentionally emphasize the discontinuities, and some of which do so in an implicit way.  This overstress on the differences between Israel and church can lead to a static understanding of the church, which misses out on the dynamic, historical nature of the people of God, and thereby leaves us less sensitive to questions of renewal and reform.  I would suggest that thinking more intentionally about the continuities between the church and Israel can help to recover a more biblical understanding of the people of God.

My perspective on this question has been greatly influenced by George Lindbeck’s argument for an “Israel-like” view of the church.  I’m not going to summarize his work here (though maybe I should do that another time), but if you are interested in what he has to say, I would recommend reading the following two essays: “The Story-Shaped Church: Critical Exegesis and Theological Interpretation,” in Scriptural Authority and Narrative Interpretation (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 161–78; and “The Church,” in The Church in a Postliberal Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 145-165.

First of all, why is it that Christian thinking about the church has overemphasized the discontinuities between Israel and church?  I would suggest four significant reasons, though their are probably more.
  • An idealized, platonic understanding of the church.  This is particularly true of ecclesiologies which place great stress on the “invisible church” (that is, the elect, known only to God) as the “real” church.  If the “real” church is invisible, then the historical, visible church can be undermined as “unreal” or unimportant.
  • A triumphalistic view of the church as holder of the keys to salvation.  If the church’s role in mediating salvation is stressed too much, such that the church itself is seen as possessing the fullness of the means of salvation (rather than serving as God’s instrument), then it becomes easy to play off the “triumphant” church against the unfaithfulness of Israel in the Old Testament.
  • Divisions among Christians leading to different groups claiming to be the “true” church.  The triumphalist tendency in the Christian church has only be exacerbated by divisions.  In a situation of division, ecclesiology has often become about proving that your church is complete and lacking in nothing, in comparison with other churches.  Again, this can easily lead to a presumption that we are above the failures of Israel.
  • Some forms of supersessionism and dispensationalism.  Obviously, supersessionism in all forms is going to stress the discontinuities between Israel and church, since supersessionists argue that the church as replaced Israel as God’s people.  The most extreme form would be dispensationalism, which, in arguing that Christians and Jews live under different “dispensations” of God, are able to justify strong discontinuities between the Israel and church.

So, what then, am I proposing regarding the continuities and discontinuities between Israel and church, scripturally speaking?  Clearly, from a Christian perspective, things have changed for the people of God post-resurrection.  But how much has changed, and what hasn’t changed?

First, what are the discontinuities between Israel and church?

  • Pentecost marks the beginning of a greater fullness of the Spirit, poured out upon all (Joel 2:28-32 / Acts 2).
  • Jesus Christ offers a more complete revelation of God than was available to the OT people of God (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 1:1-4)
  • The church is given a universal mandate to evangelize the world (Matthew 28:16-20)
  • The sacrificial worship and priesthood of OT Israel are replaced by Jesus’ work on the cross (Hebrews 10)
  • The church is not intended to be a nation with a theocratic civil government, but a dispersed community of exiles, spread among every nation (1 Peter 1:1-2)

What are the continuities that I believe should be re-emphasized?

  • The church is still a historical and visible community of persons.
    • It is not an “idea”; the church is a real, living human community, with a history of ups and downs, successes and failures, faithfulness and apostasy (Acts 5; Revelation 2-3)
    • The church is still a communal entity. Though salvation is personal it is not individualistic.
    • The people of God can still be seen as a people on a journey – a pilgrim people headed towards the new creation (1 Peter 2:11)
  • The church is still subject to judgment under the lordship of Christ. This judgment is not only a future event, but is reflected in the church’s historical life, here and now. Judgment begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).  NT Christians viewed OT history as their history, and took warning against unfaithfulness (1 Cor. 10).
  • The church is still a holy and priestly people, witnessing in word and deed to the world about the faithfulness of God (1 Peter 2:9-10).
  • The people of God still need a Saviour. The church is not, in itself, the fulfilment of Israel; Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Israel; he is also the fulfillment of the church; we find fullness in him, not in ourselves (Eph. 1:3-10)

If we take these continuities to heart, several implications will follow.  These are thoughts which I try to keep in mind as I think theologically about the church.

  • Though the church enjoys a greater fullness of the Holy Spirit, we are still fallible and capable of unfaithfulness, as was ancient Israel (1 Corinthians).
  • Because the church is historical, it always exists in a particular time and place, as a particular community embedded as a bodily presence in a particular culture.  Being rooted in a specific time and place, then, is an essential aspect of the church’s identity.
  • Though Christ has taken our judgment upon himself, he still disciplines his people as their Lord, just as the people of Israel were disciplined.  That is to say, all forms of “triumphalism” should be rejected.  Being “in Christ” and having the Spirit’s presence does not imply automatic blessing – it may also mean judgment, rebuke, and discipline (1 Cor. 11:32).
  • Finally, we should expect to see periods of decline and renewal in church history, and we should attune ourselves to these dynamics.  This is part of our journey as the living, breathing, embodied, historical and visible people of God.

“ekklesiophobia,” and Balthasar on the church’s particularity

Over at Reclaiming the Mission, David Fitch is blogging about “ekklesiophobia,” (he calls is “ekklesaphobia” but I prefer ekklesiophobia”) an issue he sees among people who are involved in the North American missional movement (a movement in which Fitch is involved).  The ekklesiophobia he’s describing is an unhealthy fear of any practices that are traditionally associated with being “church.”

He began his first post in the series in this way:

It happens on facebook when I give the slightest indication the church is God’s instrument in the world. It happens frequently when I am speaking and assert that God has empowered the church to extend Christ’s presence in the world. It happens when I coach church planters that are missionally oriented and ask them when they gather for worship. It happens when I engage my missional friends on one of the variants of the formula “missiology precedes ecclesiology.” It happens each time I meet someone who has been abused by the traditional church. Each time there is a out-sized reaction against organizing people into practices traditionally associated with being the church (this is especially true of the public worship gathering, or the ordination of clergy).

Read the rest here, and part two here.  More to come.

I’m glad to see someone flagging this as an issue.  The missional movement is making great contributions to the contemporary church in North America, and has started some important conversations which are spilling over its borders and engaging those who minister in more traditional denominational churches and structures.   But I’ve detected something like an ekklesiophobia in my own interactions with some of the misisonal literature (though I admit I’m not totally up to speed on it).   I sometimes worry that the church’s community life, manifested in things like weekly corporate worship, sacraments, and church fellowship, are treated as if they are barriers to mission (at worst), or (at best) simply a pragmatic means to the end of being the church “in the world” – something to be tolerated as a rejeuvenating exercise when such rejeuvenation is needed, but not a discipline to be attended to as part of the church’s essential vocation.

Of course, these critiques are based on the fact that corporate worship and fellowship can become barriers to mission, if the church becomes a kind of social club which is completely turned in upon itself and closed off from the world.   However, if this problem is met by an approach that avoids such “churchly” activity, it will create other problems – namely a vaccuum of Christian formation.   It is the church’s internal life that provides the basis for such formation, and therefore the church’s internal life is essential to the church’s being and well being.

All of this makes me think of the following quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar:

 The Church must be open to the world, yes: but it must be the Church that is open to the world.  The body of Christ must be this absolutely unique and pure organism if it is to become all things to all men.  That is why the Church has an interior realm, a hortus conclusus, fons signatus (a walled garden, a sealed spring), so that there is something that can open and pour itself out (from Truth is Symphonic, 100).

The church’s mission in the world cannot be played off against its internal life of regular worship, sacraments, catechesis, fellowship, and so on.  Being the church requires those practices.  The church needs to be in the world,  but as Balthasar says, it is the church that must be in the world.   Therefore, the church’s particularity, its apostolic strangeness, embodied in ecclesial practices, is an essential aspect of its mission.

John Wesley and the Mission of God, part 5: Social Holiness

In the preface to Hymns and Sacred Poems, published in 1739, John Wesley wrote,

“Holy Solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers.  The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.

Wesley was particularly concerned about any spirituality influenced by the Mystics, who elevated individual contemplation to the highest ideal – a move that, Wesley suggested, undermined the importance of loving neighbour in both both word and deed.

But we must be careful to note that, for Wesley, “social holiness” did not simply mean “social justice.”  Social holiness begins in Christian community, and therefore has everything to do with the internal life of the church.  The fellowship of believers is the place where social holiness is cultivated and exercised, but it also spills over the boundaries of the church and reaches out to those who are outside of the fellowship.

In 1749, in answer to the objection that the Methodist Societies were divisive and disrupted Christian fellowship in the established parishes, Wesley wrote:

But the fellowship you speak of never existed. Therefore it cannot be destroyed.  Which of those true Christians ever had any such fellowship with these?  Who watched over them in love? Who marked their growth in grace? Who advised and exhorted them from time to time?  Who prayed with them and for them as they had need? This, and this alone is Christian fellowship.  But alas! Where is it to be found?…The real truth is just the reverse of this: we introduce Christian fellowship where it was utterly destroyed.  And the fruits of it have been peace, joy, love, and zeal for every good word and work. (A Plain Account of the People Called Methodists, §I.11)

Because salvation for Wesley was not simply about “souls” going to heaven, but about loving God and neighbour, he realized that the holiness was a reality which needed to be lived out in community.  And not only is Christian fellowship the necessary consequence of a holy life, but true Christian koinonia is also the means whereby the Spirit forms the mind of Christ in us.

Wesley was fully aware the the life of the church is messy, and sometimes painful.  But even through the difficulties of church conflict, the Christian community remains the place where Christians are formed after the mind of Christ, and learn to walk as he walked.  This, of course, includes Christian discipline, as a necessary part of Christian fellowship, and a necessary part of the church’s life as a covenant community.

Therefore the mission of God requires the church as the people of God, as a living, embodied reality.  The church is not an afterthought to mission, and Christian community is not an obstacle to mission, but the vehicle through which mission takes place.   Though Wesley felt he needed to create new structures and new forms of community to produce true Christian fellowship, he did not suggest (as many, who are understandably disillusioned with the church do today) that we can live out our faith in the world without being a part of the fellowship of believers.  This fellowship is the foundation of social holiness, and “zeal for every good word and work” is one of the fruits that grows from this root.

John Wesley and the Mission of God, part 4: Christian Perfection

John Wesley’s most distinctive theological theme was his emphasis on Christian perfection.  His ideas were controversial, and volumes upon volumes of books have been published to try to explain, defend, or dismiss Wesley’s position.

In a brief post like this I can’t really get into the details of the debates, but I can put forward my own interpretation of what I think Wesley was trying to say about holiness, and how it ought to shape a theology of the mission of God.

First, we need to make some clarifications about the word “perfection.”  In our culture we assume that perfection implies the complete absence of flaws of any kind.  Since we know that nobody is perfect (in this sense), it seems ridiculous to say speak of Christian perfection.

Wesley did not use the term “perfection” in a way that implied “flawlessness.”  In other words, he did not believe anyone could reach a state of sinless perfection in this life.  He did not teach that we should strive for absolute perfection, but for Christian perfection, a perfection which is fitting for a redeemed but flawed and frail human creature.  This kind of perfection is not static, but dynamic, personal, relational, and made possible by divine grace alone.  It is  a relative perfection, a perfecting perfection which always admits greater degrees.

Wesley was at his best when he defined Christian perfection as “perfect love”:

But what is perfection?  The word has various senses: here it means perfect love. It is love excluding sin; love filling the heart, taking up the whole capacity of the soul.  It is love ‘rejoicing evermore, praying without ceasing, in everything giving thanks’ (Sermon 43, “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” §I.9).

In other words, Wesley believed it was really possible for Christians to love God with heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love our neighbours as ourselves.   What this meant in a practical sense was that he believed we could be so filled with the love of God that we would not knowingly sin.  Even someone whose life was characterized by Christian perfection would continue to sin, and would continue to need the atoning blood of Christ at every moment.  But, Wesley believed, a Christian could be so overwhelmed by God’s love that their intentions would always be for the good.

These ideas are still controversial, and much more could be said.   I’ve said a bit more about this in a previous post, which you can find here.

An idea which was so central for Wesley and which continues to be a central aspect of Wesleyan theology today must have missional implications.  I would like to highlight three.

The first connects with my last post about the therapeutic nature of salvation.  Salvation is not simply about gaining a ticket to heaven, but about the healing of the sickness which has corrupted us.  Part of the church’s role in God’s mission is to be a community which cultivates the healing grace of God – that is, a community which moves its members towards Christian perfection.  Even if we disagree with Wesley on the degree to which this is possible in this life, we can still affirm that the Christian life ought to head in the direction of perfection.  Or perhaps it would be less of a stumbling block to say that the Christian life should head in the direction of maturity, or a kind of completeness that is fitting for sinners saved by grace.

Secondly, the church ought therefore, to demonstrate the salvation of God, not only in word, but in the manner of its life together.  The church is called to grow up into the fullness of Christ, personally and corporately.  Wesley was particularly fond of the Gospel of John and the epistles of John, and took quite seriously Jesus words in John 13:35 – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”  The character of the church’s life together is part of our witness to the world.  Again, we think of Jesus’ great high priestly prayer in John 17 – “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”  Our unity, our love for one another, is intricately connected to God’s mission.  He established the church to be a living demonstration – a sign, instrument, and foretaste of the kingdom of God – so that the world might know him.  Sadly, Christians often do a very poor job of this.

Again, this theme highlights the fact that the Church’s community life, including its various edifying and sanctifying practices, are themselves part of God’s mission.  Community life and mission should not be played off against one another.

Notes on Being “Missional” and the Church’s Particularity

Lately I’ve been thinking about the meaning of being “missional” as it relates to the church’s peculiarity as a community.  Often I hear people portraying the church’s communal life as the enemy of missional living, as if these were polar opposites.   On the other hand, the older evangelical “seeker-sensitive” paradigm was premised on the idea of removing any barriers to “belonging” by avoiding any kind of in-house Christian language.   Both of these trajectories are problematic.

The church is a particular, visible, historically continuous people, and so its mission must include the incorporation of persons into the visible, historical fellowship. It is not simply about “adapting” the gospel (as an idea or principle) in new contexts, though there must be some cultural adaptation as the church moves through time and space. The primary direction is not that of adapting an idea to the culture, but about adopting people into the community of faith, which is the bearer of the apostolic gospel.

Mission therefore is not simply about proclamation, but also about catechesis. Becoming a Christian is about learning a new language and a new way of life. The particularities of Christian practice and the inherited language of the faith cannot be stripped away in the name of cultural relevance.  If, in the effort to be seeker-sensitive, we always seek  to use language and practices that a non-believer would understand,  what kind of formation are the Christians in our own communities receiving?  However, we can assume that speaking in ways that are culturally relevant will be more important in the early days of a person’s “incorporation” into the church.

The church’s corporate life (worship, teaching, fellowship, mutual service) cannot be separated and played off against its missionary character. Sometimes discussions about being “missional” tend to devalue the “internal” life of the church, and emphasize the sending out of the church almost exclusively. The result is that the particularity of the church’s corporate life is watered down.

The church is missional precisely as a distinct people. The church exists for the world precisely as a distinct people. The two are not opposed. A Christian life is an ecclesial life, and this is a distinct, peculiar way of life, embodied in the historical people of God. In other words, the church is a community in mission (see Phil Needham’s book).

The church is both a means and an end (Newbigin, The Household of God). It is not merely a pragmatic instrument, as if the real goal is evangelization (or social transformation or some other goal) and the church is simply the tool for achieving this. Because it is also a foretaste of the coming kingdom, it is an end in its own right.

In short, the gospel is not simply an idea, but a story which must be embodied by a people. This requires that the people of God have a strong community life, complete with a unique language, and unique practices which are not easily disentangled from the gospel itself.  In other words, to take up Barth’s categories, the Spirit’s work includes not only the sending of the Christian community, but also its gathering and upbuilding.

Christian Life as Ecclesial Life

I want to finish this three part discussion of Salvation and the Christian life by drawing attention to the ecclesial nature of the Christian life.  This also brings us full circle, as we return to the question of theology and ethics.

From a Christian perspective, there are no autonomous subjects.  All of us exist in a relation of dependence upon God.  Yet the idea that we are autonomous selves is often found within the Church, as well as in our hyper-individualistic society.  For example, we often treat the topic of Christian life in a highly privatized and individualistic manner.

For those who are evangelicals: think of how much stress is put on the importance of our “personal relationship with Jesus” in the evangelical tradition.  How about “personal devotions?”  We spend a lot of time talking about (and feeling guilty about) “personal devotions.”  I’m not saying that private prayer and meditation on scripture are unimportant; surely they are.  But compare the amount of stress put on “personal devotions” with the attention that is given to other issues.   I mean, of all the challenges facing the church today, of all the things for us to focus our time and energy on, the one thing that evangelicals are racked with guilt over is “personal devotions”?  And when this is done in the context of a consistent focus on our “personal relationship” with Christ, the Church can seem redundant.

We are still dealing with the question of the chrisotogically determined direction of salvation and its implications for the Christian life.  The Christian life is ecclesial because God’s election of Jesus Christ includes the election of the Church to be his witnesses.  There is no “private” salvation; there is no “individualistic” election to salvation.  God’s work in Christ is not intended to sporadically save independent and autonomous Christians who will live solitary lives of saintliness.  Rather, it is about God forming a people who will give witness to his redemption by their words and deeds.   This may seem like a reduntant point but it needs to be said: the Christian life is an ecclesial life.  We are definitely not autonomous subjects; we are members of a body, who can only function in the context of that body.  In attempting to answer the question, “how now shall we live?” the emphasis is on the word we.

But this is not simply to say that Christians are to value “community” and “relationships” in the abstract.  Again we must look to Jesus Christ as the concrete and particular revelation of the truly human life.  We are dealing with the particular God revealed in Christ; this should lead to a very particular Church – a particular kind of community, not “community” in general or as a value in and of itself.  The particular kind of community in which we live means that the Christian life is a very particular kind of life.  Perhaps it would be better to say it is a peculiar kind of life.  Just as the God of the gospel always cuts against the grain of the world’s expectations, so the life of the Christian community ought to be counter-cultural.   The Church is called to embody the always surprising grace of God in its communal life together, and it should therefore be the context in which a different way of life is enacted and sustained.

Therefore as we think about the question of “ethics” within the context of the Christian life, we must reject the enlightenment suspicion of “tradition-dependent” ethics. Christian ethics is explicitly tradition-dependent, because the Christian lives and moves and thinks in the context of the Church and attempts to do so with the Church.  The Christian believes that the commands of God are directed to the Church, not to autonomous individuals.  Ethics, therefore, is always ecclesial.

The task of Christian ethics, then, is not so much about abstracting “timeless principles” that can be applied to any situation, as it is about seeking to inhabit an understanding of God and the world that is shaped by the Church as the people of God, attempting to be a living enactment of the story of the gospel.   In the end, Christian ethics is about what is real, and what is real is Jesus Christ and the gospel.  If the gospel is the true story of God’s history with humanity, then Christian ethics can be described, as Hauerwas puts it, as living as if Jesus and Trinity matter; living as if the gospel is reality.

There is no such thing as “ethics for anybody.” We all stand in a tradition, and cannot exist as  “autonomous individuals.”  Ethics, then, must be received and nurtured in the context of the Christian community.

This too is part of the direction of our salvation.   We are saved for communion with God and with our fellow human creatures.   We find this in the new humanity which Christ has inaugurated.  We participate in it now as an anticipation of its full realization in the new Kingdom.

Typology of Views on Charismatic Movements, Part 7: Charisms as Justification for Separation

One final perspective on charisms which needs to be discussed here is found in Oscar Cullmann’s 1986 book Unity Through Diversity.  Cullmann’s fundamental thesis in this work is that “every Christian confession has a permanent spiritual gift, a charisma, which is should preserve, nurture, purify, and deepen, and which should not be given up for the sake of homogenization” (Unity Through Diversity, 9).  Cullmann is concerned that the frustration of some with an apparent lack of progress towards unity is based on a “false goal” and a false hope of homogenization, which has no basis in the New Testament (14). The goal of unity should rather be a “union of all Christian churches within which each would preserve its valuable elements, including its structure” (15).

In making this argument, Cullmann claims to be drawing upon Paul’s understanding of the Church, which is “entirely based upon this fundamental truth of the variety of charisms” (18).  Basing his argument on the Pauline texts that deal with the charismatic gifts, he argues that unity can exist through diversity, rather than in spite of diversity.  The function of the Spirit in Pauline community is to create diversity, and yet “this does not cause fragmentation, since every member is oriented to the goal of the unity of the whole body” (17).  While he acknowledges that the Pauline image of the body and its parts was not originally intended to apply to churches, he argues that it is consistent with the meaning of Paul’s charismatic theology, and that Paul does, in other places, ascribe various “gifts” to different churches.

I expected to hear more from Cullmann on this point, but his sole support is a reference Romans 1:11 as an example of Paul ascribing a “particular mission to each of the different churches.” He goes on to argue that Paul views the one church to be present in each local church, a point which he believes underscores the idea of a “union of churches” where all are given equal ecclesial status (17).

Cullmann insists that he is not suggesting that things should simple remain as they are between the churches.  He suggests that relations between the churches should proceed on the basis of attempting to speak frankly to one another about the charism or charisms that we see in each other’s traditions (19).  He also notes that there are often “peculiarities” or “distortions” of the charismatic gifts that need to be weeded out by careful self-examination (16).  For example, Cullmann identifies essential charisms of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions as “concentration on the Bible” and “freedom,” but notes that these are often found in their corresponding distorted form biblicism and anarchy (20).

What clearly sets Cullmann apart in his proposals is that he speaks of a charism as being at the root of “every confession,” and that he argues that separation and autonomy might be necessary in order for these charisms to be safeguarded. The sinful element in these historic divisions is not the fact that churches are separate, but the fact that the separations have been hostile, rather than peaceful.

But in order to preserve certain charisms in their pure form, it was perhaps also necessary hat completely autonomous churches came into being (the Orthodox and the churches that derived from the Reformation). This would not necessarily and as such have led to a hostile separation which would have excluded every kind of fellowship (koinonia), the “right hand of fellowship” could have been extended here too, despite the aspect of continuing separation, as at the apostolic council (cf. Gal. 2:9; Acts 15:1-31) (31).

What Cullmann is arguing for, then, is a unity in continued separation, in which churches would remain autonomous but share in fellowship through a council or other structure of some kind.

The main thing is the achievement of a koinonia that is a true unity through diversity.  However it is developed as a conciliar organization, it should, without itself being the church as the body of Christ, guarantee unity through the fact that it brings to expression and awareness that in each of the individual churches that belong to it, and with its particular charisms, confessional structure, faith and life, the ONE universal church is present (64).

I’ll finish off this series (finally!) with some concluding thoughts on the typology in my next post.

Typology of Views of Charismatic Movements, part 6: Institutional over Charismatic

As I said in my introduction to this series, it is hard to find anyone today who actually tries to make a theological argument for the priority of the institutional over the charismatic in the Church.

Historically, the obvious example of prioritizing the institutional over the chairsmatic is modern Catholicism, before Vatican II.   The Roman Catholic Church was conceived as a perfect society, meaning that the Church was a complete social system, and its various elements were instituted by God, so that it would lack nothing in its historical existence until the return of Christ.  The priesthood, all the sacraments, the hierarchy, even monasticism and the religious life, were said to be derived directly from Jesus Christ himself.  These institutions were therefore invested with divine authority, such that, any “charismatic” who arose outside the established order would be seen as problematic. As Johann Adam Möhler summarized this view, “God created the hiearchy and in this way provided amply for everything that was required until the end of time.”

Of course the problem with this perspective was that, for one, it was not historically accurate.  It embraces what Avery Dulles describes as a “regressive method” of theology, whereby the latest teachings of the Church are adopted “as if they have been present from the beginning” (Models of the Church, 32), since any change would be seen as an “innovation,” and would undermine the view that all had been provided for in the Church’s institutions (including the magisterium).  Clearly, the Church’s institutions have developed over time, and many innovations have been made along the way.  Among these innovations, we must include some which I would call “charismatic movements”: monasticism of various kinds, the mendicant orders, apostolic societies, and so on.  These are among Catholicism’s most treasured institutions, but in the modern “perfect society” scheme of ecclesiology, it would have been difficult to explain their origins, apart from rooting them somehow in the divine institution of Jesus Christ.

These ideas are pretty far removed from the life of the Church today, even for Roman Catholics. However, the “institutional over charismatic” mindset is by no means absent.  Institutionalism is a pervasive social phenomenon, and all of our churches (even those which are highly charismatic) have to wrestle with the challenges it brings.  Therefore, the natural tendency in any church tradition is to be sceptical of leaders and movements who arise from oustide the established order.  We could say that, though it is not argued for theologically, “institutional over charismatic” is the default operating perspective of most churches.

Clericalism is perhaps the best example.  Even in evangelical churches, which profess a strong doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers,” there is a tendency to view the pastors as “professional Christians,” and to exclude lay people from fulfilling many roles which they ought to be able to fulfill.  Those who have the gifts (charisms), should be freed to exercise them, but they are sometimes excluded simply by virtue of the fact that they are not clergy.

I grew up in a denomination (The Salvation Army) where the clergy are largely responsible for the business of the church.   It strikes me as rather odd that we should expect pastors to be business-savvy, when there are likely members of their congregation who are business men and women themselves.

I’ve noticed that a lot of other evangelical traditions tend to have a “pastoral prayer” at every service.   This is where the pastor stands up and leads the congregation in a long prayer prayer.   I suppose most people see this as harmless, but I think it promotes a clericalist mindset.  Why would we want the pastor to be the only who publicly prays during worship?  It sends the message, again, that pastors are the “professional Christians.” It is interesting that in the older traditions (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.), which most evangelicals assume are more “clericalized,” the prayers are not led by the pastor, but by lay intercessors. In the SA, the officer often leads this prayer, but sometimes it is a layperson.

The problem is that we can’t go too far in the other direction.  We need institutions, including ordained ministry (in my opinion).  We need stable structures that endure over time, and provide a means for passing on the faith from one generation to the next in a way that retains the historic core of gospel teaching.  We cannot escape this need.   We must embrace the institutions of the Church, without absolutizing them, and thereby excluding any new wisdom that the Spirit might bring from unexpected places.  That means, in part, that the institutional authorities of the Church must be open to discerning and coordinating the charisms that arise among the people.

The Salvation Army as an Order? An Early Catholic Comment

I stumbled upon a biography of Henry Cardinal Manning at the Regis College Library yesterday, published in 1892, the year of his death.  The book happened to be on their booksale shelf, for $2.   Many used book collectors are wary of library discards, because of the library marks, stamps, and stickers, as well as general wear and tear.  Personally I find these things endearing.  It adds the character of an old book when you can see the names of previous owners inscribed on the inside cover.

This bears the stamp of two previous libraries.  Obviously it was most recently part of the Regis College library’s collection, but prior to that, it found a home in the library of “J. & E. Stoneham Ltd., 51 Old Broad Street, London, E.C.2.”   Doesn’t that make you wonder how this book got from London to Regis College?

Manning is a towering figure in 19th century England, a high profile Anglo-catholic who converted to Catholicism and became Archbishop of Westminster in 1865.   Those who have read a bit of Salvation Army history will know that Manning was sympathetic to the work of the Army, but also willing to challenge the Booth on some of his presuppositions.  You can read an interesting comment from Manning on his appreciation for Army and his concerns with its teaching and practice in The Contemporary Review 41 (1882): 335-342.   Roger Green quotes from this passage in his recent biography of William Booth, specifically noting Manning’s astute on the Army’s claim that it was “not a sect,” in spite of the fact that it had no ties to the larger Church.

“The head of the Salvation Army is resolved that it shall never become a sect. In this he is wise. A sect is soon stereotyped. He seems to wish that it may not be a sect, but a spirit, which, like the four winds, may blow upon all the valley of dry bones—men, women, children, sects, communions, and, as he perhaps would say, Churches, quickening and raising them all to a higher life. So long as the Salvation Army teaches the three creeds in their true sense, and does not assail the Catholic faith or Church, it is so far doing a constructive, if it be only a fragmentary work… Nevertheless, we have a conviction that the Salvation Army will either become a sect, or it will melt away. This world is not the abode of disembodied spirits.” (341-342)

Manning was picking up on an ecclesiological ambiguity in the Army: they claimed that they were not a denomination or “sect,” yet they were a free standing Christian body, whose members were not members of other “churches.”  There is more work to be done on this question, and Salvationists need to reflect on its implications, and the degree to which Manning’s prediction came to fruition.

At the end of the biography of Manning I picked up yesterday, author Arthur Wollaston Hutton is speculating on what may come after Manning has passed the reigns of English Catholicism on to his successor.  Remarking on Manning’s emphasis on ministry to the poor, he writes:

“And indeed, if his spirit should survive in his successsor, there is one field – a very widely extended one – in which the Catholic Church in this country might hereafter reap a rich harvest.  Manning’s sympathy with the philanthropic work of “General” Booth was never disguised, and he was too much of an organizer himself not to look with admiration on the order and discipline of the “Salvation Army.”  The Army has a growing affinity with Catholicism, and its members, accustomed to an autocratic rule, might very well find in some future Archbishop of Westminster the successor who will surely one day be needed, if the organization is to be held together at all.  Of course these soldiers and salvation lasses are far enough from being Catholics at present; but they have accepted fully the fundamental principle of Catholicism – obedience; and in other was they are really nearer the Church than Dean Stanley’s “three men in green, whom your Lordship will find it difficult to put down.”  The ritualists, in spite of Catholic externals, are mostly liberals wearing blinkers, in accordance with the fashion introduced by Newman, and still much affected by polite society.  But the Salvation Army men are not theological liberals, and wear no blinkers, for they do not them any more than Manning did, believing with him that the straight road before them is the way revealed, and so caring to look neither to the right hand nor to the left.  A simple, certain faith is theirs, – belief in God, in sin, a Redeemer, the Bible, judgment, salvation, heaven and hell; and this simple faith is a far more serviceable basis on which to build a permanent structure of Catholicism, than the clever literary quibbles by which men better educated are able to persuade themselves that they hold to the old faith.  There is thus a promising field for an expansion of the Catholic Church – unless Catholics themselves shirk the opportunity – which should be further facilitated by the marked revival of credulity in recent times, and the growing popularity of ritual and outward show.”  – A. W. Hutton, Cardinal Manning. London: Methuen & Co., 1892, pp. 256-258.

Given the ecclesiological gulf that existed between 19th century Catholicism and the early Salvation Army, it is amazing to see a Catholic author publicly speculating about the possibility of a “Catholic Salvation Army.”  It is also interesting to notice those things which he thinks constitute an affinity between the Army and Catholicism: autocratic structures, conservative theology, and a lack of concern for “polite society.”   It seems counter-intuitive, but Hutton feels that these are “a more serviceable basis on which to build a permanent structure of Catholicism” than the sophisticated theological output of Ango-catholics.

This says a lot about the dominant characteristics of both the Army and Catholicism at the time!  We might wonder why Hutton doesn’t raise the ecumenical issues that loom large in the Army’s ecumenical relationships today: sacraments and ministry (in terms of the validity of “ordination”).  The reason is that people of the time (including Salvationists) didn’t look upon the Army as a “church.”  So a Catholic wouldn’t have related to the Army in the same way they would have related to the Church of England, or Lutherans, or Baptists.  They might think of the Army more along the lines of a irregular and unauthorized missionary order or congregation, one which was doing some good work, but was in danger of drifting from the apostolic faith over time, if not grounded in catholic soil.

Typology of Views of Charismatic Movements, Part 4: Charismatic Complementary to Institutional

Another approach to this question of the makeup of the primitive church attempts propose that the charismatic and the institutional aspects of the Church should be taken as complementary. In relation to the discussion of the constitution of the primitive Christian communities, Leonhard Goppelt was a particularly influential representative of this perspective, arguing that both charismatic gifts and offices were constitutive of the Church from the very beginning, strengthening his case by arguing that offices were both instituted by Christ and a functional necessity for the church as a historical reality (see Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, 1977).

The teaching on charisms in the documents of Vatican II presents a similar attempt at stressing the complementarity of the institutional and charismatic, speaking of the “hierarchical and charismatic” gifts through which the Spirit directs and equips the Church (Lumen Gentium, §4). A fundamental harmony between the charismatic and hierarchical gifts is presupposed here, in which the hierarchy “submits” to the working of the Spirit by endorsing and approving of those endowed with charismatic gifts.  The chapter of Lumen Gentium which deals with the religious life makes this clear:

“Submissively following the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the hierarchy also endorses rules formulated by eminent men and women, and authentically approves later modifications.  Moreover, by its watchful and shielding authority, the hierarchy keeps close to communities established far and wide for the upbuilding of Christ’s body, so that they can grow and flourish in accord with the spirit of the founders” (Lumen Gentium §45).

Shortly after the council, Gabriel Murphy, a Roman Catholic brother, completed a study of the theology of charisms, which included a chapter summarizing the use of the term at Vatican II (Charisms and Church Renewal, 1965).  His summary of Lumen Gentium’s teaching on charisms stresses how the Church is aided by “two forms of assistance,” hierarchical and charismatic gifts, both of which come from the Spirit (123).  The two kinds of gifts cannot be essentially divided or separated, but should rather be conceived of as “overlapping” and permeating each other.

“As we have seen, there is not and cannot be an essential division or separation between these two aspects.  There is rather an overlapping or permeation of one by the other.” (125)

The charisms then, far from being a minor aspect of ecclesiology, are “a structural element in the Church,” granted to all the faithful, and bringing about renewal (142). The complementarity in this case of course implies both that those in authority accept the Spirit’s work through the charismatic movements, and that the movements themselves accept that the hierarchy is also charismatically based. Murphy argues that this is what the sixteenth century reformers rejected – the charismatic nature of the hierarchy (30-31, 125).

A variation on this position comes from Joseph Ratzinger, who rejects the institutional-charismatic discussion as completely unhelpful in attempting to understand and explain the place of reform movements in the Church (I refer to the current Pope by his former name, as the text in question was written before he became Benedict XVI).  This is based not an objection to the theology of charisms but on his rejection of the category “institution,” because the Church’s official ministry is based fundamentally on the sacrament of orders, and by its very nature transcends the sociological category of “institution.”

He writes, “this “ministry” is a “sacrament,” and hence clearly transcends the usual sociological understanding of institutions.” (“The Ecclesial Movements: A Theological Reflection on their Place in the Church,” in Movements in the Church, 1999, 25).  To speak of the Church’s ministry as an institution implies, in Ratzinger’s view, that ministry is something which the Church “can dispose of herself” and “can be determined of her own imitative,” views which are clearly inadequate in light of the ministry’s sacramental character. He continues,

“Only secondarily is the sacrament realised through a call on the part of the Church. But primarily it comes into being by God’s call, that is to say, only at the charismatic and pneumatological level.  It can only be accepted and lived by virtue of the newness of the vocation and by the freedom of the pneuma.  Since that is so, and since the Church cannot simply appoint “officials” by herself, but must await the call from God… That is why it has been clear from the beginning that this ministry cannot be produced by the institution, but can only be invoked in prayer from God” (26).

The Church itself, then, including its enduring historical and ministry, is characterized as a charismatic entity, an “irruption of something else,” which is “intrinsically iuris divini” (27). While Ratzinger does allow that there are institutional elements in the Church which exist of purely human right,he will not allow that the Church’s ministry is one of these, and thus he rejects an approach to the question of movements in the church by way of an opposition between charism and institution.

He prefers therefore to discuss “movements” in the Church under the category of the Church’s universal apostolicity. Ratzinger is arguing that apostolicity has always had two aspects, the local and the universal, with the unpredictable reform movements identified as part of the church’s universal apostolic mission.  For Ratzinger this begins with the primitive Church, which had both local ministers and itinerant preachers (charismatics according to other perspectives).   He thus roughly follows Harnack’s interpretation of early Church structure here, arguing that in the second century the local apostolic ministries came to dominate the universal, though Ratzinger believes this was a necessary development.  The “universal” apostolicity of the Church has continually been present in various movements, such as monasticism, the mendicant orders, and the clerical and apostolic movements which emerged in the post-Reformation period (33-47).

Ratzinger’s perspective is therefore similar to Rahner’s, in that he insists on the charismatic nature of the church’s ministry, but Rahner is more willing to grant the tension between what he calls the two structures of the Church, and continues to view “institution” as a helpful category, so long as it is clear that the Church’s institutions are charismatic.  Ratzinger, on the other hand, essentially fuses institution and charism into one category, blurring what I think is a helpful distinction made by Rahner.   So, while I’m sympathetic to Ratzinger’s concern that we don’t treat the Church’s ministries as mere institutions, I think Rahner’s discussion of “institutional” vs. “non-institutional” charismata answers these concerns without losing the insights that we can gain by examining the stable structures of the Church as institutions.