I live my life as part of a nearly one-hundred year old Baptist church in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County; this local experience is enriched by in-person and Internet interactions with persons from other Christian cultures. It is a small corner of the church, but in this small corner, church ministry reveals an increasing need to better understand the identity and function of the church.
This need for understanding is a necessary response to the individualism so prominent in American culture. But that is only part of the story. It is also a response to a superficialism that has infected at least part of the church in America–a superficialism that puts time, effort, and resources into flashy programs and what appears to be mere entertainment value, setting aside things like simplicity and breaking bread together. It is a response to the tendency to make decisions based on extra-biblical models: structures that have much more in common with business or government than with anything in the New Testament and program designs that have more to do with the entertainment or educational industries. I am not saying that these must be cast aside entirely, but they must be considered secondary to our communal identity in Christ and to the communal functions intended and commanded by him.
Given all this, I am compelled to place essential ecclesiology before my mind and ruminate upon it, taking the nourishment that flows from that rumination as fodder for considering what it might look like when essential ecclesiology is embodied in the world.
Now, being the sort of person I am, I would have no problem sitting in my cave and pondering all these things on my own. But when I subject this compulsion to christianly evaluation, I am convinced that these things must be ruminated and considered in community.
This rebirth of Who in the World Are We? is the fruit of that compulsion. In this space, I will endeavor to share short essays (a few per month) and ad hoc shorts, containing ruminations and considerations from three ecclesiological perspectives: essential, incarnational, and functional.
Essential ecclesiology deals with the deep identity of the church. Here, “essential” refers to essence, which the Random House Dictionary defines as, “the inward nature, true substance, or constitution of anything, as opposed to what is accidental, phenomenal, illusory.”
If we look at a certain local church in a specific city, with specific members, programs, and the like, we have learned about that local church, but we have not learned what that church is. To understand what church is, we must go beyond non-essential qualities to those qualities that are necessary and sufficient. The New Testament images of the church (and other biblical passages) are important biblical sources for identifying these necessary and sufficient qualities. Ruminations on these images comprise the bulk of the “who we are” in “Who in the World Are We?”
- Images of the Church in the New Testament, by Paul S. Minear
- The Church in God’s Program, by Robert L. Saucy
- “Body-Building-Bride” by Laura K. Springer
Essential ecclesiology is always fleshed out in ordinary life. This “fleshing out” comprises incarnational ecclesiology. Geography, culture, and history shape the ecclesiological expression of any particular church. The persons who comprise that church also shape this expression, as does the call of God on those persons and on that church as a whole.
Two so-called secular disciplines help us get a better understanding of incarnational ecclesiology: social science and praxis. These two disciplines are important tools because, as the church in time, we are embodied in certain geographies, cultures, and social relationships. Social science helps us understand the relationships among persons in the church and between church and culture. Praxis helps us live out our theology and then reflect on our experiences in order to enrich and correct theology and practice. Incarnational ecclesiology is the other part of the question: Who in the World Are We?
The church exists so that we and as many as possible–both as persons and as community–might be like Christ. Communal spiritual formation is the crucial temporal function working to that end. To be sure, it is subordinated to our crucial eternal function: loving God and proclaiming his glory. Our eternal function serves as the center and boundary for the temporal. Communal spiritual formation will be a recurring theme on Who in the World Are We?
A Bit About the Blog
The posts on this blog are hypotheses. As such, they are subject to critique, correction, and refinement. So, I lay my ruminations and considerations before you in the hope that together we might come to an ever-clearer understanding of the identity and function of the church in the real world.
Therefore, let us
- state our perspectives boldly
- hold those perspectives humbly, and
- leverage our critical mutuality to develop a better understanding of who we are in the world.