ecclesiology and the bible

A big problem in terms of biblical based ecclesiology is context.

There are many verses and passages that we can rhyme off in regards to church in the Bible [more specifically in the New Testament, which is where we generally look], but in doing that we tend to prioritize certain texts based on our interpretations of and experiences with what we already believe to be the intended shape of the church. We assume that x [the church] in the 1st century = x in the 21st century. But the reality is that much of what is written about the church in the New Testament assumes a house-church structure. There is, then, the danger of broadly assuming that what was written about a specific house-church context is normative in terms of a biblical church structure today.

For example, think about a verse that refers to ‘fellowship’ – is this referring to an hour and a half block of time each Sunday in a large church setting followed by tea and a chat, or does it involve intimate day-by-day relations, a deep involvement in the life of another?

Andrew Clarke spoke to us about a Pauline Theology of Church and Church leadership in class yesterday. He outlined what Paul had to say about overseers, elders and deacons, pointing out the fact that Paul emphasizes good character over skills in terms of church leadership. Sure, there certainly were elements of pastoral care and teaching involved, but what seems more important is good character, the ability to manage a household and be hospitable. Why? Because, if we place these texts within the context of a house-church model, the reality is that the church literally gathered inside a home – in an atmosphere of intimacy and connectedness, on display and fully involved in the day-to-day life of the other people gathered together.

You could almost flip that in its head in many churches today, where credentials are often given a much higher priority than character. The more removed an ‘overseer’ is from the church, the less character matters. One need not be hospitable or in good standing in their own home in an atmosphere of disconnectedness from the community which larger churches often create.

All this to say, it seems to be quite difficult to extract an ecclesiology for the 21st century from the Bible.

I come back to the definition of the church that I hastily came up with before class, but stand by [for the moment, anyway].

The church exists wherever two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ in order to hear, interpret, practice and participate in the story of God’s redemptive action in, to, and for the world.

This seems to be able to shape a house-church structure or to a larger architectural context. We have here the reading / teaching of Holy Scripture and the sacraments, traditional and essential marks of the church. There is space to interpret, discuss, listen – to discern what it is that this church is meant to do within the realm of any particular community. It involves other practices such as hospitality, prayer, silence, friendship. And there is obviously a missional element, a sense of an outward movement of the Kingdom from local to global.

JT asked in my last post what I might want to do to implement what I am learning in the future. The most concise answer I can give is “no idea.” And I’m not going to be able to figure it out on my own either. I have some burgers on the grill in terms of ideas, and hope that I will be open to the ‘whatever’ and ‘wherever’.

On that note, time to get ready for a class wherein we will discuss 120 pages of Barth on ‘Man and Woman’ in one hour. Giddy up.

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