Sunday, February 05, 2006

Help Me Write

5th Sunday after the Epiphany
4 Hilary

So I have a question: what do evangelicals think "the church" is? Seriously, for the essay I'm writing. I'd like to ask my evangelical readers to tell me about what they think (or what they've been taught) that the church is, and what it means. We know the biblical metaphors: assembly, people of God, Body of Christ, et cetra. But what kind of things is one supposed to do with that?

I'm going to write my first long essay on "the church as mystical communion." Here's the catch: I want to write about it for evangelical Christians. I think we've typically had a very thin ecclesiology, and I think this way of seeing our common life can have a healthful and healing effect. So I'm working on seeing how the idea is grounded in Scripture, and how it teaches us to live in a different way. (That's why I've been reading all this stuff on character formation.)

I'm reading and writing on this because I think we need it. So I have a few questions you might think about. You're welcome to leave it as a comment, or to e-mail me if you're more comfortable. I'd greatly appreciate your contribution.
  1. What in your experience has been the most common metaphor used to describe the church?
  2. What have been the implications of your "native ecclesiology"? That is, is the church supposed to do something for you? Do you do something for it? Are you the church? How does the outside world relate to that?
  3. Have you accepted or rejected what you were taught about the church?
  4. What do you really think the church is? What do you hope that it is?
Thanks, everybody.


Expax said...

Do I still qualify as an evangelical? I am not sure. What do you think. Plus evangelicals are so different anyhow. You might find something over at the Evangelical Theological Society. Check out there journal over at

Expax said...

So I am going to write from my former experience as a Pentecostal. Pentecostals generally will always clal themselves as Evangelicals. Evangelicals sometimes will not call Pentecostals evangelicals.

The Pentecostals would generally something on the line of "A community of believers living in the power of God (or the Spirit)" or "charismatic fellowships". Often times they will describe themselves as a grassroots movement within the body of Christ.

Generally the services and the church in generally are designed to provide an encounter (mystical) with God. Often great importance is place uponed felt or sense of the presence of God. When it comes down to it any activity in the church is to help communicate and move the individual towards this experience of God. The idea to experience God is something that is not just for fun but believed to be a direct intervention to the present in which God will transform the individual and/or the community.

Another metaphor Pentecostals tend to use for the church is that of "Worshippers." This is really just another way to describe those who live in and dwell in the "presence of the triune God."

Hollenweger described that the Pentecostal church places these emphasis upon its ecclesiology:
1. the orality of liturgy
2. narrative of its theology & witness
3. prophetic emphasis such as inclusions of dreams & visions in both personal & public forms of worship. These often function as a kind of icon for the church.
4. emphasis upon the mind/body relationship, particularly in application to the healing by prayer.

Though truth be told there has been little written in the Pentecostal field to describe its developing ecclessiology.

Paul D. Lee said in regards to Pentecostal ecclessiology that it "is not so much a thematized theology as a lived reality..." so it "will certainly not be met with a theologically satisfactory answer."

But what of the model for Pentecostal ecclessiology? They tend to have a sanctuary where sermons are preached from a pulpit. The preacher is generally viewed as to be empowered by the Spirit and as so it is not just the person whom is speaking but God through the person. The sanctuary is viewed like wise as a place that is "sanctified" and assists in ushering in the manifestation of God to willing receipients. The community is emphasized in this setting to help focus in on the coming Christ through the mutural sharing of the charismata which points towards the coming Christ. A community living in witness in the presence of signs & wonders to the world.

Michael Harper, a former Anglican priest now turned Orthodox, characterized the follwing about the Pentecostal/Charismatic church life:
1. The important role of the Spirit in giving life & power to the church to reach the world.
2. God active (visible & invsible) participation in worship
3. Priest of all believers: the laity to reach the world in the power of the Spirit.
4. The church as a gathered community as a sign to the world
5. The experience of charismata, as some sort of quasisacramental activity.
6. The restoration of the apostolicty of the whole church. Much emphasis here upon the apostolocity as shown by signs.
7. In missions to allow the Spirit to be operating in the persons culture, particularly third world, as the means of outreach; instead of the empire conversion tactics of other protestants.


I still embrace the idea of the power of the Spirit being at work. I still believe in the priesthood of all believers. I still believe in the importance of bring Christ to work in people and let them work out what it means for their culture. I reject the sacramental understanding of spirit baptism as being some sort of post-crisis conversion experience. But there are still alot of things I have shifted away from alot of things too.

In truth I don't really know what the church is much anymore. All I know is that we seem to be sojourners striving to reach Christ whom transforms us into being his (living) image.

Anonymous said...

I can't answer this because I'm no longer an evangelical.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what has been said. But, where my differences may contrast others may be in the area of regular "attendance." I get tired of sacred gatherings getting treated as a service or something. It bothers me greatly.

Kyle said...

Thanks, Ben. Mike, do let me know if inspiration strikes.

Charles and Antony, if you would particularly like to answer the first 2 questions from the standpoint of your backgrounds, I'd be interested.

Ben Myers said...

"I think we've typically had a very thin ecclesiology" -- or, in many cases, we evangelicals have no ecclesiology at all!

Kyle said...

Well, obviously, but I was trying to be polite. ;-)

Anonymous said...

A very brief answer:

1. What in your experience has been the most common metaphor used to describe the church?

The two metaphors I have heard the most all my life are "the bride of Christ" and "the body of Christ."

2. What have been the implications of your "native ecclesiology"? That is, is the church supposed to do something for you?

Yes, it was supposed to get you saved, get you to heaven, recharge your "spiritual batteries" a couple of times a week after you've been out there in the dirty, sinful world...oh, and nore recently the church was supposed to do something about my "felt needs."

Do you do something for it?

Yep. Sign up for every program until you are tired and burned out. Get with the "vision" (which is usually some version of "what gimmics can we use to make this thing as big as we can get it?")
Are you the church?
Yes. Still believe this one, but in a slightly different way.

How does the outside world relate to that?
In my experience, sad to say, the "outside world" has had very little to do with any of this in real terms.

You asked me to answer from the standpoint of my background, and I did. Obviously I think somewhat differently than my "background" these days. I think much more jaded cynicism has leaked into this response than I would have liked to portray. I'm sorry about that, and I guess, that was a part of my reluctance to respond in the first place.

Peace to all

Kyle said...

Ben F., my boy, I've read a few books. I know what an evangelical is, even if they don't, necessarily. ;-) If somebody wants to call themselves an evangelical, I'm pretty happy to take that at face value. I'm not really interested in people trying to tell me that other folks are or are not evangelicals.

Thanks for your contribution on Pentecostal ecclesiology. They might have some particular giftings toward the model I've got in mind, with a strong idea of believers actually contributing to one another's sanctification and growth.

Ouch, Antony. Point taken. :0) I think that's another contribution for the "Big Machine in the Religious-Industrial Complex" ecclesiology.