Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ecclesiastical Docetism

I recently heard it reported that a Bible College lecturer had said, "It is more important as a Christian to be a member of a non-Christian organisation than it is to be a member of a church." This has to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard a Bible college lecturer say. Certainly it IS essential to be involved in groups beyond the church. But MORE important than being IN the church? The church is the Bride of Christ, and the Body of Christ. How can people be so theologically cavalier as to suggest that it is an optional extra for Christians to be a part of the church? Being post-church is being post-Christ since the church is his Body. And don't give me any bull about being "in" the church but not "going" to church. The idea that the church can exist out there in in some kind of amorphous way without any concrete, local, and specific gathering around word, sacrament, and order is ridiculously gnostic. Of course, there are always exceptional circumstances that mean that a person may not be able to participate in A church and yet still be part of THE church. That is not my concern here. Rather it is people who cock their noses at EVERY local church and go their own way thinking that they can be disciples of Jesus Christ and in THE church without any concrete lived expression of community with other believers in A church. Some people at the extreme end of the missional church movement have told me that when they sit and talk to me in the uni cafe they are "having church" (read "having fellowship") and that is all the church they need. I categorically reject this idea. The Christian church is an embodied community gathered around word and sacrament with the Risen Christ at its very centre. It has a "thereness" to it - like the Incarnation itself - it can be pointed to so that we can say "there is the church." To borrow Edward Schilleebeckx's words the church is the sacrament of the kingdom. It is human, yes very human, and this is why the ecclesiastical Docetists don't have any time for it. Just like the Christological Docetists who only wanted a divine and not a human Christ and ended up with no Christ at all, so the ecclesiastical Docetists want some kind of ideal church and have let go of the fallen human community of believers only to be left with - what? No church at all.


Steve Wright said...

Robert Jenson writes,

"For Paul a person's embodiment is his or her availability to other persons... That the church is the body of Christ, in Paul's and our sense, means that she is the object in the world as which the risen Christ is an object for the world, an available something as which Christ is there to be addressed and grasped. Where am I to aim my intention, to intend the risen Christ? The first answer must be: to the assembled church, and if I am in the assembly, to the gathering that surrounds me. Thus the primal posture of Christian prayer is not involution with closed eyes but an open posture, with eyes intent upon those speaking for the gathering." ST II: 213.

While Jenson risks collapsing the risen Christ into the church, I do like the priority he gives to seeing the Church as the body of Christ.

The Church is human, yes, but praise God for his grace, he meets there with us!

Ross said...

To an extent, for reasons I won't go into here, I sympathise with some Christians who get disillusioned with church. To be more specific, they may have had bad experiences of church people, and decide that they can somehow meet their Christian fellowship and community needs through other means. On the other hand, this also concerns me. It brings to mind the analogy of coals taken out of the fire not staying hot.

Unknown said...

Someone seems a bit fed up of the latest christian fads :) On the other hand, I do feel that the Bible College lecturer does have a little bit of a point - Christians do sometimes become a "holy bundle" and forget that there's alot of good stuff going on in non-Christian organisations as well. Not to approve of distancing yourself from the church, but becoming part of a secular organisation may actually be useful to help someone see the world "outside".

Sing Chee

Glen O'Brien said...

Of course it IS important for a Christian to be involved in secular organisations. But this was not his point. He stated that if one had to choose it was BETTER not to belong to a church. OK it was probably hyperbole and designed to get just this sort of discussion happening but still as a proposition taken at face value I strongly disagree with it.

Steve Wright said...

The following Balthasar quote reminded me of this discussion (and the previous post). Credit to Halden at Inhabitatio Dei for pointing this one out.

"We cannot wrench Christ loose from the Church, nor can we dismantle the Church to get to Christ. If we really want to hear something intelligible, we are obliged to listen to the entire polyphony of revelation. We cannot make Christ shine through the Church by destroying it or replacing it with forms of community of our own designing. The only way is for Church people to model themselves as closely as possible on the reality of the Church — which is Christ’s body and thus his bodily presence. On the other hand, it is utter folly to try to “grasp” Christ” he always slipped through the hands of those who wanted to seize him. He himself, in his entire reality, is only a transparency: “He who has seen me has seen the Father”; “He who confesses the Son has the Father also”; “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” We learn his secret by allowing him to return to his origin. And the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and Son, since he is neither Father nor Son but their reciprocal love, introduces us into this mystery. Even eternal Truth is itself symphonic."

Han Urs von Balthasar, Truth is Symphonic: Aspects of Christian Pluralism (San Francisco: Ignatius Press: 1987), 11-12.


Share |