Thursday, April 07, 2011

Why You Should Care About "Ecclesiology"

...even though you aren't a nerd.
Why are there so many different Christian churches? Is there a "right one"?
Ecclesiology (the study of the Church) is my favorite sub-discipline of Christian theology. For me, it's not so much a series of questions about congregational government or who as proper sacraments, or even if I'm in the "right" church, but about exploring what it means to be God's people together, and to learn what it looks like for us to live with God together and participate in his ongoing transformation of real human lives. I'm excited about ecclesiology because of a strong conviction that the way we live together can really hurt or really help us move forward with God.

I also realize that it's a topic attractive to religion "nerds." It has taken me a few years to realize that the question, "Is there a 'one true church'?" is an intrinsically meticulous (read: nerdy) question that doesn't occur to a lot of people. I think it really should occur to people who take their religion seriously, but I suspect many folks just want to be part of a church where they like the people and understand themselves to be helped along in their relationship with God as they understand it.

If you're not a religion nerd, but you are a Christian, here's why you should care: Jesus made a lot of promises to his apostles: to lead them into the fullness of truth, to give them authority and power to help people towards God, and to make of us a battalion that can crash the gates of Hell John 16:13; Matthew 16:13-19). I suggest that the more our individual and corporate lives line up with his purposes - the more faithful we are in our common lives - the more we will benefit from those promises.

Over the next several posts, I'll introduce some of the basic discussions Christians have about what makes a church, as opposed to a group of people hanging out and being religious.

Question: Are you a nerd like me? Did you ever wonder about whether there's a "one, true Church" and if you're part of it? Do you wonder still?


Anonymous said...

Kyle, I think we know the answer to the nerd question.

And yes, I think about "right" and "wrong" churches all the time. As someone in the process of working out her own Christian beliefs (with the aid of Christ and other Christians, of course), I think about what makes a congregation "right" or what makes a paticular gathering "wrong." I also think about salvation a lot, but that's a different ball of wax.

Bob said...

Yes, I think about what it means to "believe in one Holy, catholic, and apostolic church". It bugs me daily. But most of all it bugs me as I drive past 8 churches to go to one that smacks of a small group of people "playing church".

Kyle said...

Thanks, friends.

Sarah, one of the reasons it can be such a difficult question for so many people different ideas about why it matters - might we find out we are "fake" Christians, or accidental apostates? Might we merely find that Christian living is actually harder than it could be, because of our hypothetical error? Or if we decide we're in the right church, how do we articulate that to others? Should we? Do we have to?

Bob, God bless you. What do you think the difference might be between living the the Church and "playing church"? When I think about my own experiences, I remember minutely religious people using big words to describe a really small lifestyle. For example, "I'm missional, because I don't think it's bad to drink beer. I also talk about politics a lot." :0)

Bob said...


Good question. I love the "minutely religious using big words for a small lifestyle."

I think the difference should be apparent when the church assembles and it's really hard to describe--something you feel rather than hear. But, if a church were really living as church they should have some really tough questions coming out of their lives. To live as a Christian is counter-cultural. As such, you should frequently run into "difficulties" in all areas of your life that are hard to coalesce with day-to-day relationships. Times where the culture tells you one thing and your faith tells you another--and most often these aren't black and white questions but are every shade of gray. People in this situation would be holding tenets of Scripture in their hands and be in a struggle to understand how they apply. They are thirsty.

It goes way beyond trite, Sunday-school answers.

Chris Larimer said...

This is important for us to think about as the local ordinary of Rome reasserts his claim that the one true church is only to be found by taking a missionary position with him. (Guess who gets to be on top?)

PS for the Latin geeks, the word verification is apparently mocking me. It was patientur!

Anonymous said...

It may not be quite so nerdy a question as you suggest (though I do take your point). As someone with a long-time love/hate relationship with the idea of Christianity (I am currently an unbaptized "seeker", though I don't especially care for that term), the idea of "which church?" seems non-trivial. It seems clear that a Christian should be a member of some Christian community, and that a Christian needs to be baptized by someone with the authority/qualifications to do so, but which and whom? [rhetorical]Where is the line between adiaphora (or personal taste) and the necessary foundations of the faith? Is any Christian community better than none at all?[/rhetorical]

Difficult questions, and perhaps not only for an outsider. I will read your upcoming posts with interest.

No One In Particular

PS: If you need a somewhat less-anonymous identification, I can provide one.

Sheila said...

I never thought of it as a nerdy question, as it was a big question in the faith community I grew up in, which was connected to the academy and university I grew up in. Maybe we were all nerds, but I don't think so!

Or course the word "ecclesiology" itself could smack of nerdiness, I suppose, and I didn't hear it nearly as much as I heard the word "eklesia" referred to. (Now that I think of it, maybe it was a nerdy church, since I'm sure I knew the Greek word and the definition "called out" by seventh grade....Hmm.)

Anyway, I'm glad I found your blog and look forward to reading this series.