While listening to a sermon on Colossians 1:24-29 yesterday, I had some thoughts about the nature of the Church. In particular, I am thinking of four ways of looking at the Church which, as it turns out, are very tightly interwoven. I call these somatic ecclesiology, apostolic ecclesiology, evangelistic ecclesiology, and eucharistic ecclesiology. Somatic ecclesiology is based on the idea of the Church as the "Body of Christ," which is one of the most common descriptions in Scripture. Apostolic ecclesiology is based on the idea of the Church as that structure which has the apostles and prophets as its foundation (Eph. 2:19-22; see also 1 Cor. 12:28). Evangelistic ecclesiology views the Church essentially as the proclaimer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Finally, eucharistic ecclesiology views the Church as the assembly which comes together in faith to celebrate the Eucharist.
These aspects are, as I have said, tighly interwoven. Somatic ecclesiology seems to receive the greatest emphasis in Scripture, but the question of what it means to be the Body of Christ is nearly as great as the question of what it means to be the Church, and the other views of the Church provide some insight into this. Christ came to earth to preach the Gospel, to be the Gospel, and to give his body and blood as a sacrifice, and the Church as evangelistic and eucharistic continues these ministries as the body of Christ on earth.
Apostolic ecclesiology is, of course, highly emphasized in those churches that believe in the importance of historical continuity of organization - i.e., what is commonly called apostlic succession. However, as is clear from the verses cited, the basic idea of apostolic ecclesiology - that the true Church, whatever that may be, is founded on the apostles and prophets - is an idea that anyone who takes the Scripture seriously must accept, regardless of their views on the more specific question of apostolic succession as understood by, for instance, Roman Catholicism. But what was founded upon the apostles and prophets? It was the body of Christ, which continued the ministry of Christ in its evangelistic and eucharistic aspects.
Evangelisitc ecclesiology is, unsurprisingly, the emphasis of the Evangelical church. The Church is most truly the Church when it fulfills its mission as the proclaimer of the Gospel. This is what the apostles did, and what they taught others to do (after all, the word "apostle" means "ambassador" or "emissary"). It is what Christ did, and it is his work which the Church as his body continues.
Eucharistic ecclesiology is particularly interesting and is something Protestants don't typically think much about. However, it is generally regarded as the view of the Church most emphasized by the early Fathers. The Church on this view is most fully constituted when it comes together to celebrate the Eucharist. This view is, again, intimately related to the others. When, in the Eucharist, we once again receive into ourselves the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine, we are once again received into the body of Christ in the form of the Church. The apostles taught the celebration of the Eucharist in the Church. Finally, although the Eucharist is generally (and correctly) regarded as a service for Christians, and in some times and places (incorrectly, in my view) those who were not members of the Church in good standing were even physically excluded from the building during the celebration of the Eucharist, the celebration of the Eucharist has an evangelistic function: regarding the institution of this sacrament, Paul says, "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor. 11:26).Posted by Kenny at July 16, 2007 12:31 PM
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