Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Can there be an ecclesiology not dependent on theological uniformity?

One of the distinctives of the Community of Christ specifically, Christian primitivism in general, and today's postmodern, pluralist culture everywhere, is an aversion to "creeds." We don't like tests of faith or fellowship, especially ones centered on words and "confessions." Words are so slippery, and yet so meaningful - to force agreement on something seems to mitigate its meaning in significant ways.

But what that does mean is that there is a tremendous amount of diversity of opinion and theology. There is some strengths in diversity - I'm thinking hybrid-vigor here. But there is also a danger: how big does the umbrella get before it becomes untenable, or worse, meaningless? That's not the question I'm asking here, exactly, though.

Ecclesiology is "what the church is." It is thinking about what the church is in relation to other theological concepts or doctrines, and also asking the metaphysical question - if "the church" isn't the brick-and-mortar building on the corner, then what is it? But it is also thinking about how the church organizes itself (as an expression of God's revelation and incarnation in the world), and how it goes about being and doing.

Ecclesiology is easier - after a fashion - in homogenous groups: cultural, political, geographic, financial, and theological. (This is not a value judgment.) People work with the same underlying assumptions, have the same expectations, are willing to dedicate the same resources, share a sense of solidarity and unity, and so on.

But what does an "ecclesiology" of diversity look like? What does it mean to be "the church" when there are so many different people in it - and not just differences like race and dress, but deep, critical, theological differences like Christology and revelation, scripture and salvation, sin and grace and the kingdom of God?

The Community of Christ isn't unique in its embrace of a great deal of diversity - it is part of the Christian endeavor to recognize the worth of all persons. And we might not be unique in being a denomination actively struggling to create a unified ecclesiology not dependent on theological uniformity. It seems the struggle of honest Christianity in an honestly postmodern world. The question remains: what does that look like?

And a related question: will anyone be happy with what it does look like?

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  • The movement I am part of, the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, was born with very modernist ideals but also the slogan "No Creed But Christ."

    Easier said than done.

    The problem with ecclesiology is that no one can seem to agree on how the church should be organized, and what the bond of unity (in Christ) should be in practice.

    For months now I've been mulling over doing a post on Pauline church polity as seen in the New Testament, and how it really never caught on. Within a generation of Pentecost churches already had an episcopal system, and within two centuries that system was pretty much universal.

    By Blogger Adam Gonnerman, at 9:23 AM  

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