“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.

Typology of Views on Charismatic Movements: Conclusion

To recap, I’ve been presenting a series of posts on charismatic movements, outlining a typology of views, as follows:

  • Charismatic more fundamental than institutional (Leonardo Boff).

While this survey shows that there is a significant body of literature on the theology of charisms and charismatic movements (and a wide divergence of viewpoints), I would argue that numerous questions remain which need to be addressed.

Significantly, for the most part, the literature on charisms has not been significantly incorporated into discussions of unity and diversity.   Of course, Cullman’s argument attempts to do this, but I would argue that he has disassociated the biblical idea of charisms from its original vocational context and applied it too liberally to all confessions, thereby inappropriately justifying continued separation across the board.  Also, it is apparent throughout his argument that his major concerns are with the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and magisterial protestant traditions, but he offers no criteria by which we should distinguish these separations as “legitimate” as compared with more recent protestant schisms.  Would he support, for example, the continual splintering of pentecostal and independent charismatic churches on the grounds of protecting their particular charism?

Further, his model suggests that there is a charismatic gift at the root of all church divisions.  While I believe there are many confessions or denominations in the Church today that began with such a misapprehension of charisms, this is certainly not the case in every situation.  It seems nonsensical to speak of the English reformation, for example, being rooted an unrecognized charism.  We might speak of Anglican charisms that developed in the subsequent history of Anglicanism, but if the separation of the Church of England from Rome was not rooted in a charism, we must question the validity of using such post-division gifts as a reason for continued structural separation.

Other uses of the idea of “gifts” as a way of discussing diversity in ecumenical documents have not delved into the biblical theology of charisms, nor asked questions about the appropriateness of applying the term to traditions / denominations / confessions.  Though the idea of “complementary gifts” has been a helpful way to build ecumenical bridges, it should not be used to construct a positive vision for ecclesial unity which justifies continued “separation.”

Where the idea of charisms has been incorporated in a more sustained way into a vision of the unity of the Church is in Catholic literature on the religious life, but little work has been done in attempting to apply the insights of this perspective to protestant reform movements. The comparison has sometimes been made, but not explored in much theological depth (See, for example, Outler’s remarks on Methodism as an “order,” in That the World may Believe, 54).

The weakness of some Catholic approaches, especially those which stress the complementarity of charism and institution, is that they are not helpful in interpreting the divisive history of renewal and reform movements in the life of the Church.  The question is of paramount importance, particularly for the many evangelical protestant denominations which began as reform, renewal, or missionary movements, with no intention of starting new “churches.”  In evangelical circles, partly because of the prevalence of free church ecclesiology, the tendency has been to emphasize the significance of the movements and downplay the importance of historical continuity.

All this is to say that I think significant work needs to be done on the topic of  “group” charisms, and how this concept  fits into the larger discussion about the limits of legitimate diversity in the Church.

Typology of Views on Charismatic Movements, Part 3b: Balthasar’s Christological Constellation

Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church presents the most intriguing accounts of charismatic movements in the Church I’ve encountered thus far.     Balthasar provides an interesting example of an attempt to create legitimate space for radical movements of the Spirit within a robustly catholic ecclesiological framework.  The particulars of his argument are strange, and difficult for a protestant to digest, but his approach is sophisticated, and deserves engagement.  I include it under the “charismatic in legitimate tension with institutional” type, along with Rahner, but as a bit of an aside, given that the form of Balthasar’s argument is so idiosyncratic.

For Balthasar, the tension between stable orthodox Church structures and movements of renewal is inherent in the very nature of the Church.  This is seen most clearly in his use of the concept of the “christological constellation.” Balthasar’s argument is that just as Christ cannot be understood apart from his relation to the Father and the Spirit, so also he cannot be understood apart from the human relationships which were central to his historical life on earth.  John the Baptist, Mary, Peter, John, James, and Paul are all essentially related to Jesus and are therefore integral to christology (The Office of Peter, 136-137).  As the historical foundation of the Church, the members of the constellation are interpreted by Balthasar as “Realsymbols” or structural principles on which the church is founded, and through whom the presence of Christ is mediated to the Church (Office of Peter, 226-227).  Each member of the constellation is described according to their relationship with Jesus: the Baptist as a herald; Mary as the all-embracing perfect response to the grace of the Lord; Peter as one who participates in the authority of Christ in a singular way; John as the beloved who in love mediates between Peter and Mary; James as the one who takes Peter’s place in Jerusalem and represents continuity between the Old and New covenants; and finally Paul, the one untimely born who nevertheless takes the lion’s share of Christ’s mission, even though there seems to be no place for him among the college of the apostles.

Because the Church did not emerge en bloc, but is founded on the prophets and apostles, the particular relationship of each of the members of the constellation is prototypical for the Church.  Specifically, after Pentecost, Balthasar argues that there is a fourfold structure of the Church which emerges: the Pauline, Jacobite, Johannine, and Petrine aspects of the Church.   He sketches the constellation like this:

These are the four ways in which the Church is embodied in the world, and every community and every individual Christian life takes shape amid the tension and dynamism that exists between these poles. The Church “expresses itself concretely in the dynamic interplay of her major missions and in the laws inherent in her structure” (Office of Peter, 314-315).

In Balthasar’s scheme, the orthodox structures of the Church are interpreted as the Petrine and Jacobite aspects, while the movements of renewal are interpreted as Pauline.  Obviously the Petrine aspect of the Church is seen in office, and the Jacobite aspect is seen in Church law and tradition.  What is specific about the Pauline aspect is precisely Paul’s uniqueness, his supernumerary relationship to the apostles, and the unpredictable way in which he was chosen for his task directly by the Lord.  Because Paul is unique, his “successors” can only be identified by remote analogies as those who have charismatic vocations, whose recognition by those in office is compelled by divine evidence (Office, 159).  The founders of religious orders are examples of such direct divine vocations, according to Balthasar.  These movements of renewal are never founded by those in office, but by unexpected the founders of renewal movements, whose lives of sanctity “fall into the garden of the Church like a meteor” (The Laity and the Life of the Counsels, 67).  Their divine vocations must be tested by those in authority, but once tested, their unique missions and “charisms” cannot be suppressed.  These saints, “struck by God’s lightning,” ignite a blaze in those who gather around them, offering the Church hope of renewal and reform (The Laity, 42).  The religious orders that have arisen unexpectedly in response to these movements are able to radiate their light into the whole Church, moving outwards in concentric circles from the point at which lightning has struck (The Laity, 88).  The Petrine office is indispensable, but it is conceived by Balthasar as one aspect of the christological constellation, and must be seen in relation to the whole.  Because the Spirit works in unpredictable ways as well as through the official structures of the Church, Peter’s task is limited to making judgments and rendering verdicts amid the tensions that arise in the life of the Church.  He represents unity, but in so doing he must make space for others.

The unity of the Church is maintained when these major missions are understood in relation to the whole constellation.  The challenge is to achieve a reintegration of the elements which are isolated, in order that the tensions inherent between them may be lived out fruitfully within the mystery of the Church as Body and Bride of Christ.  In fact, the tensions between the principal figures of the constellation “all point to the mysterium; they are its necessary expression, not shortcomings on the part of the Church that need to be corrected by “changing its structure”” (Office of Peter, 24).  The history of the church can even be described by Balthasar as “an evident contest,” between the various poles of the christological constellation (Office, 314).  This process of contesting, for Balthasar, has a legitimate and community-creating value for the Church.  The church as ecclesia semper reformanda takes shape as various poles in the constellation are put back in their place, and a proper balance between the various aspects of the Church is established (Office of Peter, 314). The tension between the members of the constellation is the “force field” which generates apostolic missions.

What I like about Balthasar’s approach is that he avoids a simple opposition between “institutional” and “charismatic” without giving too much ground in one direction or the other.  His christological constellation is an innovative way of attempting to conceive of the complex human and divine reality which is the people of God.  It provides a way for discussing the history of the Church as it relates to charismatic movements, without smoothing out the conflicts that have often ensued between the movements and the established Churches.   The conflicts themselves are not so much a “problem” but an inherent part of what it means to be the Church.  This means we don’t need to “resolve” the conflicts between movements of renewal and established structures by siding with one side or the other (as has often happened in Church history).  The Church in her total reality needs both stable orthodox structures and unpredictable movements of renewal.

In the end, however, the particulars of Balthasar’s argument are a bit too idiosyncratic to be useful across ecumenical lines. The obvious problem (for protestants) with his approach is the high place which is afforded to the four apostolic figures in the ongoing life of the Church – even to the point of speaking of their “mediation” of Christ.  To be sure, Balthasar absolutely upholds the uniqueness of Christ, and is not assigning salvific value or merit to the apostles.  However, he argues (and I will grant that it is an interesting suggestion) that Jesus, fully divine but also fully human, cannot be understood apart from the human relationships he established during his life on earth, especially his relationships with those who were very close to him.  Historically speaking, we can also see how these primary persons in Jesus’ inner circle became the nucleus of the primitive Church.  Fair enough, but it is a stretch to move from these affirmations to four foundational principles for the Church in her continuing historical life.   While Balthasar’s theory is loosely grounded in the biblical narrative, the connection to the actual scriptural witness is quite tenuous, and leaves us wondering if he’s reading Church history back into the character of the four apostles.  Has he simply used these four biblical figures as a convenient means of conceptualizing what he believes are essential aspects of the Church?  I suppose if you begin from a Roman Catholic perspective, and you already accept the special role assigned to Peter as an essential aspect of the Church for all time, then it is not too much of a stretch to discuss similar principles of ecclesial life as grounded in other apostolic figures.  If that is the case, could his approach retain some merit, independently of the somewhat novel theory of these four apostles as Realsymbols of the Church?  Can we gain anything from his approach, without buying into the mediating role that Balthasar assigns to Peter, James, John, and Paul?   What would be left?  A set of “principles” which are inherent to the life of the Church?  On what foundation could such a set of principles be identified, if not on the basis of the apostles?  On strictly historical grounds, we can see how the history of the Church, interpreted from a broadly catholic point of view, supports these affirmations.  Should the lessons of Church history regarding renewal movements provide us with a normative basis for conceiving of the Church’s nature?  I want to say yes, but I’m still sorting out the details of how the argument can be made.

Charismatic Movements in the Church

I’m introducing a new series of blog posts on the topic of “charismatic movements” in the Church.  When I speak of ” charismatic” movements,  I don’t necessarily mean pentecostal movements, but those movements of renewal and reform which rise up spontaneously in the Church, and centre around particularly gifted individuals, who operate outside existing authority structures.  Such movements have existed throughout the history of the Church, and have always had a rocky relationship with the established Church authorities.

I developed this rough timeline as a teaching tool for a course I was TAing earlier this year.  We could debate whether some of these movements are “charismatic,” but I would argue that they were all charismatic in origin, meaning that they sprung up around individuals who were perceived to be specially gifted (the basic meaning of “charism” being “gift”).   The timeline gets really selective when it comes to the modern era, because at that point I had to be selective.  I’m not claiming the timeline is exhaustive at that point, but I hope it is representative.  My main purpose in creating the timeline this way was to contrast “catholic” movements (meaning those who were eventually accepted by Church authorities as legitimate) with “non-catholic.”

I should add also that I’m not addressing the issue of “heresy” here, as some of the movements in question were definitely preaching a message which was outside the boundaries of historic Christian orthodoxy. I think most people would agree that the Bogomils and Cathars were heretical, but assessing the orthodoxy of other individual movements on the list would require more of a discussion than I want to get into.

One of the questions I’m studying for my dissertation concerns how we account for these movements theologically.  How do we know if a charismatic movement is truly of God?  What do these movements represent? A return to the primitive purity of the Church?  A form of fanaticism?  A revitalizing force?

I’ve developed a typology of positions on the question of the place of charismatic movements in the Church, and this typology will form the basis for my series of posts, each of which will discuss one or two representative theologians:

  • Charismatic opposed to institutional. Here the work of Rudolph Söhm and early 20th century scholars such as Adolf von Harnack is important.  The theory of these writers is that the church was originally charismatic, but this was stifled by emerging catholicism (institutionalism in his mind) in the 2nd century.  The emergence of stable authority structures was therefore a failure on the part of early Christianity.
  • Charismatic more fundamental than institutional. I’d summarize Leonardo Boff’s work in Church, Charism, and Power along these lines.  Charism is more fundamental than institution, because it gives rise to the institution and keeps it alive. Therefore the charismatic gifts of the Spirit should be the structuring principle of the church.
  • Charismatic in tension with institutional. Karl Rahner tries to hold the two structures in tension by arguing that there are both institutional and non-institutional charismata. A Legitimate opposition of forces in the life of the Church is inevitable and should be accepted.  Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s “christological constellation” also fits under this category.
  • Charismatic complementary to institutional. More recent ecumenical work has attempted to overcome the duality of charismatic movements and institutional structures by stressing the complementarity of the two.  Joseph Ratzinger also wrote along these lines in his discussion of lay movements in the Church, even going so far as to reject the dichotomy of charism/institution as inappropriate for ecclesiology.
  • Charismatic enlivens institutional. Others stress the role of charismatic movements as enlivening forces for the institutional church.  So Howard Snyder argues that both institutional structures and charismatic movements can be seen as normal and valid in the Church’s history.  I’ll also discuss Catholic theologies of “the religious life” (religious orders, etc.) under this category.
  • Institutional over charismatic. It’s hard to find anyone who actually argues for this theologically, but it is common on a practical level, so I’ll still attempt a post on this perspective.
  • Charismatic gifts as justification for separation. Oscar Cullmann’s book Unity Through Diversity makes the argument that different the “confessions” in the Church have their own unique charisms, which need to be preserved.  Therefore he argues that continued structural separation of the churches is justified, so that these diverse gifts can be preserved.  Many denominationalist theologies proceed on similar assumptions.

While the work I’ll be discussing is scholarly, the issue of finding a place for charismatic movements in the Church has immense practical implications, and I’ll attempt to draw these out.  This has been a perennial issue for the Church, and it remains an important problem today.  Think of the controversy surrounding “emergent” and whether it is a legitimate movement of reform or a heretical offshoot of genuine Christianity.  How are these “new expressions” of church related to the established Churches?

It is also an important question for people of evangelical heritage, because move evangelical denominations began as charismatic reform movements (not as denominations or “churches”).  Does that have implications for our understanding of the Church and the place of “denominations” as they now exist?  I think it does, and I’m hopeful that reflection on the history of charismatic movements, as well as theological reflection on the nature of the Church and where they fit, can provide some direction for our life together as we seek to give faithful witness in the post-Christendom context.