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TH 302 Lecture 12

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Theology 301, Lecture 12


The Doctrine of the Church


When we discuss the Church theologically, we are talking about Ecclesiology (from the Greek word Ekklesia, which means 'gathering'). As we begin the discussion, it might be well to keep in mind the passage from the Gospel according to Matthew:


13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, F112 the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, F113 and on this rock F114 I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."


As in the Gospel above, the act of 'being Church' begins with a witness, a proclamation of the Truth of who Jesus Christ is. The Church, in other words, begins with a confession.


"Confession" here is meant in two ways.  The first is the confession of faith - that Christ is Lord, and that he is risen (remember Paul's teaching: without the resurrection, we have nothing).  This is one sense of confession, the act of saying "We believe this..."  But there is another sense of "confess" - as in, to confess sins and ask forgiveness from God and from each other


To be the church is to be a part of the one church.  This means, first of all, that there is no "second class" status in the church, and there can, in an ultimate sense, no enemies within the church.  This is what we confess (as in, saying what we believe) when we confess (as in, ask forgiveness).  To be church, we muct look to the plank in our own eyes first rather than obsessing over the speck in our neighbor's eye.  We must be honest, repeatedly, of the ways we have failed each other and failed God, and ask forgiveness for these failings, and be forgiven for these failings.  Then, forgiven, we reach out to each other in fellowship, and the church is there among us.


We do not make the Church - rather, we are called to be the Church. The Church is not and never can be of our making. The Church is the Body of Christ on Earth. As Guthrie puts it, "to believe in and follow Christ is to join the community of followers he draws around himself" (355).  That means, basically, we do not get Christ alone.  We are given Christ only when we gather with others.


Technically, there are ways of talking about the Church that reflect the many realities we must admit when discussing it. Biblically and from our experience, we can argue that there may be those among us in the Church that are somehow not of the Church - this demonstrates the disjucture between what we might call the Church Visible and the Church Invisible.The visible is the one we see, with all its flaws. The invisible is the 'true' Church, constituted of all the Saints throughout all time. We will not get a glimpse of the Invisible Church until the 'end times' (see below), when the Church is finally 'triumphant'. Now the trick is, since we don't make the Church, wedon't get to decide who is a member of the 'invisible Church'. This matter is entirely known to God and completely unknown to us.


In the present time, the Church struggles in the world against evil 'principalities and powers,' and for this reason another term for the visible Church is the 'Church Militant.' In the end time, the visible Church will be known instead as the 'Church Triumphant,' once the presence of evil in the universe has been transformed.


What is the central activity of the Church?


Eucharist? Preaching? Baptism? Mission? Service?


We might make the argument that each of these are important to the life of the Church, but we must admit that often we can see evidence in a given church that one of these aspects is central.For example, a Quaker congregation might place a heavy emphasis on service, while a Catholic congregation might emphasize Eucharist. In each case, the centrality of one aspect orients all the others. The trick is knowing wht, in your theological view, is most central, and to be able to give an accounitng of what consequences follow from that preference.







The Doctrine of the End Times


The technical name for this is 'Eschatology' - the end times are known technically as the 'Eschaton.' This Greek term is often used closely with another Greek word, 'Telos,' which means 'goal' or 'end.' To speak technically about the 'goal for which something was created' is to speak of that something's 'teleology.' As Christians, we deny the notion that life is random and meaningless. As such, we assert that God has a teleological reason for creating each of us - we have a purpose and a goal, both individually and as a species.


As Christians, however, we often get preoccupied with these notions of the end, so much so that we lose sight of our responsibilities in the here and now. We might finally come to know our teleologies in the eschaton, but the life lived here in the world is what we are called to focus upon.


To focus upon the end times is to forget that, biblically, the 'Day of the Lord' (the 'Day of YHWH') is always anticipated not with joy and hope but with absolute fear: rivers will run with blood, the stars will be blotted out, etc. These are 'apocalyptic' images - though the word 'apocalypse' itself finds its root in the Greek word for 'unveiling'. The time of the apocalypse is when all truths will be revealed, but it is simultaneously depicted as a fearsome moment, not one to be longed for.


If we read Paul closely, we see that he anticipated the immanent, immediate return of Christ. This, however, did not happen. In many ways our theologies and indeed our Church life is our means of dealing with this delay, the 'Delay of the Parousia' (here 'parousia' is a technical term for 'Christ's return'). There are many poor ways to look at our relation to the Parousia: many evangelicals believe that we must influence events to hasten Christ's return, whereas many liberals are of the notion that the Parousia will be delayed forever, that Christ's return is merely a 'myth.' Between these extremems hovers the historical Christian view - Chrsit will actually return, but we know not the day nor the hour.


The end times will, finally, herald a 'new beginning.' As Isaih and many other biblical writers point out, our Christian hope is that God will bring a 'new Heaven and a new Earth,' ordering the remaining chaos of the universe.


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