Excerpt from “The Identity and Function of the Church in Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology,” my paper on Newbigin’s ecclesiology.
One might think of ecclesiology as an identity-function grid upon which specific expressions of church are practiced. The identity axis describes the unchanging essence of the church’s being. The function axis describes the overarching purpose of her existence. The essence of identity and function remain throughout time and across culture.
The ground of the church’s identity is the sovereign will of the triune God. Everything the church is flows from God’s decision to glorify himself by creating, redeeming, and glorifying a people for himself. Our very life is from him. Humanity receives its identity from the triune God. The church—the new humanity in Jesus—receives her identity from the triune God. The decision of God is therefore the ground upon which the church’s identity proceeds.
The telos of the church’s identity is Jesus Christ, the One who has ultimate authority. Ultimate authority is defined as authority that is trusted, rather than proved. Every belief system trusts an ultimate authority beyond which no proof is needed. Christians trust Jesus as the ultimate authority. Since Jesus is the ultimate authority, the only answer to the question of authority is the story of the work of the triune God in Jesus, told in the Scriptures and proclaimed through the ages.
The church’s function is grounded in her participation in the missio Dei, proclaiming the kingdom of the Father, embodying the presence of the Son, and following the sovereign grace of the Spirit. Her work in time and eternity, in witness and worship, flows from this participation.
The telos of the church’s function is a holistic praxis-theology determined by the ultimate authority of Jesus. Praxis-theology does justice to the nature of God and involves humans as whole persons in community and in history. In the biblical view, the human person is a single reality, consisting of soul and body; humans exist in the real world as real, whole persons. The goal is praxis-theology because humans exist as material-immaterial persons in community. The life of the body and the life of the mind are one. Humanity is whole at the individual and corporate levels. The life of the church ought to reflect this God-given wholeness.
BIBLIOGRAPHY (for the whole paper)
Goheen, Michael W. “”As the Father Has Sent Me, I Am Sending You”: J. E. Lesslie Newbigin’s Missionary Ecclesiology.” Doctoral Dissertation, Universiteit Utrecht, 2000.
Newbigin, Lesslie. The Household of God; Lectures on the Nature of the Church. London,: SCM Press, 1953.
________. Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1986.
________. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1989.
________. The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995.