Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ecclesiology: Should We Walk By Faith Or By Sight?

Andrew Sandlin will shortly be releasing a new book titled, "Un-Inventing the Church: Toward a Modest Ecclesiology." Since I'm not an avid book reader, I'm usually not very excited about new books. This is an exception. I made a comment on his blog about the upcoming book, and I will expand on it in this post. I wrote:

The relationship of Christ to church - as head to body - is foundational to the NT. In my view, one of ecclesiology’s foundational problems is wrangling with the question of the authority with respect to pastor, pastor-teacher, elder, priest, presbyter, bishop, cardinal, pope, etc, in how they relate to the church. Are they members of the body just like everybody else, with special ministerial duties, or are they members of the head, with magisterial duties? Are they servants or are they overlords? A combination of the two?

Answering this question is a must if we are to "do church" according to God's will. Both ideas have been with us throughout church history, and are with us today. If church leaders are members of the body, then they have the same standing before Christ that everybody else does. They have gifts that are employed for the purpose of helping God's sheep. They are imperfect and make mistakes. They need humility just like everybody else. They themselves can be the recipients of exhortation, admonition, rebuke and correction from those who are not leaders.

If church leaders are members of the head, that is Christ, then because Christ is perfect, there will be aspects of church leadership - what they believe, what they say, what they decide, what they instruct - that will be infallible, perfect, binding, final and beyond either criticism or appeal.

I stand on the former view. Church leaders have duties that are ministerial, not magisterial. They are servants, not overlords. This is also very important for the argument that the church holds the keys to the kingdom. Does the church use the keys to open the door for those God would have go in, or does it use the keys to open to only those who it says can go in? Does it get to decide who is in the kingdom?

With regard to "church discipline" in Matthew 18, Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." Many use this argument to say that whatever the church decides, Christ has already decided in heaven. They're right. But some would believe that because of their view of authority within the church, that the church is correct. But Jesus never said the church would always be correct. If the church excommunicates somebody, it could very well be that the individual is not in sin, but the church is, and that Jesus already decided for that individual not to remain a part of a sinning church. The blind man in John 9 would be an example. So would Martin Luther.

I think one reason for the view of magisterial duties for leaders is that some people simply cannot fathom the idea that the church's head is in heaven and cannot be seen. He rules His people through His word; He is in control and we walk according to faith. But they need to see the authority in the flesh, so they embody it in an institutional concept of the church.

Should we walk by faith, knowing that Christ rules actively, or should we walk by sight by requiring a human ecclesial political structure?

1 comment:

  1. I reckon that the "church", the bride of Christ encompassing all whom Jesus has called to Himself, is distinguishable from the "church" as a temporal human institution organized to promote Christian community. The former has no offices, only functions of members manifesting the gifts of the Spirit in perfect freedom. The latter has offices that pertain only to the particular institutions and their institutional requirements.