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Survey of Theology 7. The Doctrine of the Church

PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format) and .doc files (Microsoft Word format) of the overheads used in this presentation are available from the Survey of Theology Page or the Download page.

 

Topics

(These topics are largely from Chapter 15 in: Christian Theology. An Introduction. Third Edition. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 2001

 

1. Introduction

 

2. Early Developments

2.1. The Doctrine of the Church in the First Centuries

2.2. The Effect of Constantine's Conversion

2.3. The Decline of the Ancient Christian Centers in Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria

2.4. The Rise in the Esteem of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope

 

3. The Donatist Controversy

3.1. The Donatist Schism and The Donatist View of the Church

3.2. The Augustinian View of the Church

 

4. Reformation Views on the Church

4.1. The Need for a Protestant Eccelesiology

4.2. Calvin's View of the Church

4.2.1. The Visible Versus The Invisible Church

4.2.2. The Need for a Church

4.3. The View of the Church by the Radical Reformers

 

5. The Presence of Christ in the Church

5.1. How is Christ Present in the Church?

5.2. Christ is Present in the Church Sacramentally

5.3. Christ is Present in the Church in the Proclamation of the Word

5.4. Christ is Present in the Church in the Spirit

 

6. Models and Images of the Church

6.1. Introduction

6.2. The Church is a Communion or Fellowship

6.3. The Church is the People of God

6.4. The Church is God's Servant to the World

 

7. The "Notes" or "Marks" of the Church

7.1. The Creedal Statement About the Church

7.2. The Church is One

7.3. The Church is Holy

7.4. The Church is Catholic

7.5. The Church is Apostolic

 

Primary References

 

 

1. Introduction

The doctrine of the church = ecclesiology (Greek ekklesia, "church")

 

Ecclesiology attempts to answer the questions:

  • What is the church?

  • How can we recognize it?

  • What is its purpose?

  • Who are its members?

 

 

2. Early Developments

2.1. The Doctrine of the Church in the First Centuries

During the first few centuries of the church:

  • Ecclesiology was not a major theological focus

  • The church was politically barely tolerated; at times persecuted

  • The general consensus on the church can be summarized as:

    • a spiritual society which replaced Israel as the People of God

    • the repository of true teachings

    • purpose: enable believers to grow in faith and holiness

    • members are all one in Christ

 

 

2.2. The Effect of Constantine's Conversion

Constantine's conversion and the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the empire caused leaders to think about the relationship between church and state:

  • Hippolytus of  Rome: the Empire a satanic imitation of the church

  • Eusebius: Empire also a divinely ordained institution

 

Freed of persecution, early centers of Christianity grew and became rivals:

  • Alexandria in Egypt

  • Antioch in Syria

  • Constantinople ("New Rome")

  • Jerusalem

  • Rome

 

 

2.3. The Decline of the Ancient Christian Centers in Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria

In the Seventh and Eighth centuries, the armies of Islam conquered Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. These cities ceased to be important Christian centers.

 

 

2.4. The Rise in the Esteem of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope

By the end of the fourth century: Rome had acquired a position of special esteem

  • "pope" (Latin papa, "father")

    • initially used  for any bishop

    • gradually used only for Bishop of Rome

    • After 1073: used exclusively for Bishop of Rome

  • Debate among the theologians of the time and through to today: was the Pope's esteem based on Rome as the capital of the empire, or on the "primacy of Peter," (Matt 16:18) martyred at Rome?

    • Eastern Orthodoxy: esteem based on the esteem of the Christian center at Rome and Rome's position as the capital of the empire

    • Roman Catholicism: esteem has theological basis. The Pope is Jesus' ordained successor to Peter

 

 

3. The Donatist Controversy

3.1. The Donatist Schism and The Donatist View of the Church

Roman emperor Diocletian (284-313) issued the Edict of February 303:

  • Christian books ordered to be burned

  • Christian churches to be demolished

The persecution ended with the conversion of Emperor Constantine and the Edict of Milan, 313

 

Church leaders who had turned over books to be burned were known as traditores = "those who handed over" [their books]

 

Felix of Aptunga was a traditor who later consecrated Caecilian as Bishop of Carthage, North Africa in 311

 

Donatists in North Africa (leader was African Donatus) argued:

  • Caecilian's consecration invalid because it was by a traditor

  • the sacramental system of the Catholic church was henceforth corrupted. All baptisms, ordinations by Caecilian and his priests were tainted and invalid

  • Church leaders must be pure and cannot include traditores, even if they repent. The Church must be a society of saints.

 

Donatists formed a separate church. Sociological issues complicated the theology:

  • most Donatists: native Africans

  • most Catholics: Roman colonists

 

 

3.2. The Augustinian View of the Church

By 388, when Augustine returned to North Africa from Rome, the Donatist Church was larger than the Catholic Church

 

In answering the Donatist, Augustine presented a radically different vision of the church:

"Augustinian" View of the Church:

  • the Church is not a society of saints, but a "mixed body" of saints and sinners. He based this view on:

    • Parable of the Net which catches many fish,

    • and Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matt 13:24-31).

      • separation of  good and evil will be at the end of time

      • no human being can make that separation

 

 

4. Reformation Views on the Church

4.1. The Need for a Protestant Eccelesiology

In 1541 the Colloquy of Ratisbon failed.

  • This had been the last attempt to find a compromise between Catholics and Protestants

  • Its failure meant the split from Catholic Church was no longer a "holding pattern"

  • A Protestant ecclesiology became necessary to justify the splitting of the church

 

 

4.2. Calvin's View of the Church

4.2.1. The Visible Versus The Invisible Church

Calvin made a distinction between the visible and the invisible church:

  • Visible Church: the visible community of Christian believers. Includes elect and the reprobate

  • Invisible Church: the fellowship of saints and the company of the elect

    • known only to God

    • will become the only Church at the end of time

 

Believers should honor the Visible Church on account of the Invisible Church within it

 

To the question: "Which of the various Visible Churches contains the Invisible Church?" Calvin answered:

  • where the gospel is rightly preached

  • where the sacraments are rightly administered

 

 

4.2.2. The Need for a Church

Why is there any need for a Church? Calvin justified the need for an institutional church by noting the parallel:

  • God redeemed human beings through the historical event of the incarnation

  • God sanctifies human beings through the institution of the church

 

"You cannot have God as your father unless you have the church for your mother."

- Cyprian of Carthage

 

"For those to whom God is Father, the church shall also be their mother."

"There is no other way to life, unless this mother conceives us in her womb, nourishes us at her breast, and keeps us under her care and guidance."

- Calvin

 

 

4.3. The View of the Church by the Radical Reformers

The Anabaptists taught that the apostolic church had been compromised by its links to the state ever since Constantine

  • Sebastian Franck: "I am thus quite certain that for fourteen hundred years now there has existed no gathered Church nor any sacrament."

  • Present church on earth was an institutional parody

 

In addition, they went back to the views of the Donatist on the church, teaching that the Church was "an assembly of the righteous" (Menno Simons), not Augustine's mixed society. To secure this righteousness:

  • The church must be separate from society, in conflict with the world

  • Discipline was needed to maintain purity of members of the church

 

The need for discipline led to the "Ban:"

Schleitheim Confession, 1527:

"The ban shall be used in the case of all those who have given themselves to the Lord. . . yet who lapse on occasion, and inadvertently fall into error and sin. Such people shall be admonished twice in secret, and on the third occasion, they shall be disciplined publicly, or banned according to the command of Christ (Matthew 18)."

 

In practice, "the ban" was often used harshly, leading to "shunning," where the entire family of an accused sinner was isolated from the church community.

 

 

5. The Presence of Christ in the Church

5.1. How is Christ Present in the Church?

 

"wherever Christ is, there is also the catholic church"

- Ignatius Antioch

 

How is Christ present in the church?

  • 1. sacramentally

  • 2. through the word

  • 3. through the Holy Spirit

 

 

5.2. Christ is Present in the Church Sacramentally

A sacramental view of the world is based on the idea that the material world can be a "door" to the sacred and transcendent

 

Vatican II Lumen Gentium ("A Light to the Gentiles"):

"the church, in Christ, is a kind of sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all human beings."

 

Church is the "primordial sacrament," God's use of the material world to reveal the spiritual world

Church is the elongetur Christi -- prolongation of Christ in space and time (Hans Urs von Balthasar)

Church makes Christ present in historical, visible, and embodied form (Karl Rahner)

 

Implication of this view: institutional structures are not of defining importance: the Church must be free to use new structures to achieve its sacramental mission.

 

 

5.3. Christ is Present in the Church in the Proclamation of the Word

Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann taught that the Church is a kerygmatic community (Greek kerygma = "herald"). That is, the church should be thought of as an "event" that comes into being when the word is proclaimed and heard.

 

 

5.4. Christ is Present in the Church in the Spirit

The gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was the beginning of the church

Christ is Lord over the church, and exercises his sovereignty by the presence of the Holy Spirit

 

The Orthodox theologian John Zizioulas:

  • Jesus Christ instituted the church

  • the Holy Spirit constitutes the church

 

 

6. Models and Images of the Church

6.1. Introduction

Models and images of the Church include:

 

We have already talked about the first two models and images:

 

 

6.2. The Church is a Communion or Fellowship

Church is a communion or fellowship involving the sharing of a common life

  • vertical: between God and believers

  • horizontal: between individual believers

 

 

6.3. The Church is the People of God

The Church is the new people of God, continuous with Israel

 

"The idea of the people of God is the oldest and most fundamental concept underlying the self-interpretation of the ekklesia. Images such as those of the body of Christ, the temple and so on, are secondary by comparison."

- Hans Küng

 

". . . emphasis is on walking by faith and not by sight, going out in answer to a call and not knowing where it will lead, sojourning in the land of promise, living in tents, being strangers and exiles in the earth, pressing on only in light of the promise of God, and looking to Jesus as the pioneer."

- Thomas & Wondra, Introduction to Theology. Third Edition, Morehouse, 2002

 

 

6.4. The Church is God's Servant to the World

Church exists to be God's instrument in divine mission to the world

  • The Church is a servant to the world

  • The Church exists for the sake of the world

  • The Church thus has a responsibility to the world, a responsibility to help the world to be as God intended it to be

  • Slogan: "The church does not have a mission; it is mission"

 

 

7. The "Notes" or "Marks" of the Church

7.1. The Creedal Statement About the Church

Every Sunday we declare in the Creed:

 

"I believe in:

  • one

  • holy

  • catholic, and

  • apostolic

church"

 

 

7.2. The Church is One

Cyprian of Carthage 251: the church is the "seamless rob of Christ" which should not be divided

 

How can we today speak of "one" church, when it is so divided institutionally?

 

Approaches:

  • 1. Imperialist or Sectarian approach: there is only one true church; rest are fraudulent

  • 2. Platonic approach: there is an empirical historical church (divided) and an "ideal church" (unified)

  • 3. Eschatological approach: disunity will be abolished on the last day

  • 4. Biological approach: church development like the branches of a tree. Like a tree, still retains an organic unity

  • 5. Theological approach: unity is the belief in the saving work of Christ. Diversity results in adapting this message to the world's diversity

 

Some quotes:

 

"The gospel in Anglicanism is, then, one facet in a vast mosaic. In its essentials, it corresponds to the gospel as it has been proclaimed and believed all over the world. Yet it is also characterized by its particularity as an experience of God's saving work in particular cultures, and is shaped by in insights and limitations of persons who were themselves seeking to live the gospel within a particular context."

- Louis Weil

 

 

"The unity of the church is a spiritual unity. It is one and the same God who gathers the scattered from all places and all ages and makes them into one people of God. It is one and same Christ who through his word and Spirit unites all together in the same bond of fellowship of the same body of Christ. . . the Church is one, and therefore should be one"

- Hans Küng

 

 

7.3. The Church is Holy

History has clearly documented the sinfulness of the Church and its members

 

How is the church then "holy"? Approaches:

  • 1. Sectarian approach: Church must exclude all unholy and impure members. This was the approach of the Donatist and Anabaptism. 

  • 2. Church holy, members sinful. (But what is the meaning of church disembodied of its members?)

  • 3. Eschatological approach: the Church is as sinful as its members, but will be purified in the last day

 

Some quotes on the eschatological approach:

 

 Whenever I have described the church as being without spot or wrinkle, I have not intended to imply that it was like this already, but that it should prepare itself to be like this, at the time when it too will appear in glory"

- Augustine

 

"That the church will be. . . without spot or wrinkle. . . will only be true in our eternal home, not on the way there. We would deceive ourselves if we were to say that we have no sin, as 1 John 1:8 reminds us."

- Thomas Aquinas

 

A fourth approach: 

  • 4. Church is Holy in the sense of being "set apart for God"

    • Old Testament idea of holiness: something or someone set aside for God

    • People can be considered holy when

      • dedicated to God

      • distinguished from the world on the basis of their calling

    • Holiness of the church is thus a theological ("set apart") holiness rather than moral holiness

 

 

7.4. The Church is Catholic

catholic: etymology:

  • Greek phrase kath' holou ("referring to the whole")

  • Latin word catholicus "universal or general")

 

Aquinas: the Church is universal and general in the following senses:

  • geographically: it encompasses the whole world

  • anthropologically: it is for all people. No one is rejected, whether master or slave, male or female

  • chronologically: it will last to the end of time

 

Note the description of the Church as catholic carries no connotation of Roman Catholicism, just as speaking of someone as having "orthodox" views carries no connotation of Eastern Orthodoxy.

 

 

7.5. The Church is Apostolic

apostolic: means:

  • originating with the apostles, or

  • having a direct link to the apostles

 

Three aspects of the "apostolic" (H. B. Swete, Cambridge Regius Professor of Divinity, 1890-1915):

  • 1. planted in the world by the apostles

  • 2. adheres to the teaching of the apostles

  • 3. carries on the succession of apostolic ministry

 

 

Primary References

"The Doctrine of the Church," Chapter 15 in: Christian Theology. An Introduction. Third Edition. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 2001

"Church" Chapter 17 in: Introduction to Theology. Third Edition. Owen C. Thomas, Ellen K. Wondra. Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, 2002

 

 

 

Survey of Theology

 

1. The Doctrine of God

2. The Doctrine of the Trinity

3. The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus, Part 1. Classic Christology

4. The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus, Part 2. Modern Views and Concerns

5. The Doctrine of Salvation in Christ

6. The Doctrines of Human Nature, Sin, and Grace

7. The Doctrine of the Church

8. The Doctrine of the Sacraments

9. Christianity and the World Religions

10. Last Things: The Christian Hope