Rethinking Essential Ecclesiology: Whatness

Once again, Alan Knox has stirred my thinking.  His post, The who, what, and why, has joined a discussion started (I think) by JR Miller (A Positive Vision for Church). Alan ends his post with a question: “Do you think its important that the church understand the ‘who’, ‘what’, and ‘why’ of the church? Are these more important than ‘how’, ‘when’, and ‘where’?” As he stated in the body of his post, I had already chimed in on the issue with a yes on JR’s post, so I will not revisit my agreement on the issue.  I think that who, what, and why are important; the remaining question is why I think this and what it means for my ecclesiological perspective.

Assuming who, what, why, when, where, and how refer to properties of Church, I consider who, what, and why to be essential properties and when, where, and how to be accidental properties.  Essential properties refer to the very nature of a thing, making it what it is.  Accidental properties are non-essential (for example, the redness of an apple).  A thing remains what it is even when the accidental properties change.

Over the next couple weeks, I will be working through three essential properties (whatness, whoness, and whyness) by unpacking them within an ecclesiological perspective developed for my Th.M. thesis:

The content of the faith.  We know the story of God. The story of which we speak is the story of God, stretching back to the very beginning and forward to the consummation of the Kingdom.  We hear the story authoritatively in Scripture and derivatively in tradition.  We participate in the story by following Jesus and we tell the story through words and actions.

The nature of the church.  We are the people of God.  We are peopled through our connection with the Triune God, not by our affinity.  Community is essential to our being and our essential communal nature shapes our structures and practices.

The purpose of the church.  We expand the kingdom of God.  This kingdom is the spiritual and physical rule of God and it includes obedient subjects, a kingly blessing, and a kingly realm.  The kingdom was proclaimed by Jesus during his earthly ministry and he called his followers to enter the kingdom.  The Kingdom of God has come near but has not yet fully come.  Jesus proclaimed its proleptic presence, but it will only be consummated in the eschaton.  For now, Christians expand the Kingdom through regular life together, centered on Jesus, and for the sake of the world.  Together we proclaim the Kingdom’s King until he comes.[1]

The fit may be a bit forced for this round, but this is only the first step in rethinking and refining my ecclesiological perspective.

Can the whatness of Church be described within the “know the story” category?

Quiddity: the essential nature or ultimate form of something; what makes something to be the type of thing that it is. [2]

I take the whatness (quiddity) of Church to be the new humanity (I wrote a bit about this on Laura’s Writings).  I shall not argue the case here; those who would like additional reading on the issue would do well to consult Images of the Church in the New Testament, by Paul S. Minear.

Four key ideas rise to the surface in the know the story category.

  • authoritative Scripture
  • derivative tradition
  • obedient following
  • clear telling

What happens when we run these through the definition of quiddity?

Essential Nature

Humanity, by creational intent

  • is able to receive God’s linguistic revelation of himself.
  • shares derivative creativity and authority and thereby creates new expressions of God’s linguistic self-revelation.
  • is a contingent people, dependent upon God.
  • bears God’s kingly image before creation.

Ultimate Form

Humanity, by God’s teleological intent

  • is shaped for a loving, family relationship with God.
  • is responsible for doing God’s work in the world.
  • is shaped for genuine partnership with God, never forgetting it is the junior partner.
  • reveals God through word and behavior.

I contend that God’s original intent for humanity is his intent for the church and that this intent describes our whatness.

Can we say that the whatness of Church is humanity?

Coming Soon:

  • Whoness
  • Whyness

[1] Springer, Laura K. An Articulation and Evaluation of an Emerging Church Ecclesiology. La Mirada, CA: Biola University, 2008. Unpublished thesis. p.4 n. 5.
[2] “quiddity,” Merriam-Webster 7.0 for Windows Mobile, (c) 2004-2007.

About Laura

My name is Laura and I am on a journey, pondering the implications of God's glorious design of humanity and integrating every aspects of this design into a description of whole life health.
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2 Responses to Rethinking Essential Ecclesiology: Whatness

  1. J.R. Miller says:

    Hi, glad you could make use of the “Who, What, Where, When, and Why” from my post on the “Positive Vision of church” 🙂 Blessings on the coming posts!

  2. Laura says:

    Thanks. You provided some good thought fodder.

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