Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Nature and Mission of the Church III

Nature and Mission of the Church III
The Life of Communion in and for the World


The Nature and Mission of the Church: A Stage on the Way to a Common Statement

Faith and Order Paper 198 | © 2005 World Council of Churches, Geneva | ISBN 2-8254-1463-8

Tomorrow, Wednesday, 25 October, I get to facilitate the discussion of this chapter at our monthly Faith, Order & Witness meeting; I decided blogging my notes would serve the two-fold purpose of a review before I present and a blog. This won't be particularly organized, but I expect it'll blog out okay. Anticipating later editions of this document, I'll mostly refer to paragraphs rather than to pages.

Many topics! This section begins with

• Location and
• Relation

It ends with location and relationship, too!

¶ 67 the first paragraph of this section III talks about God giving, bestowing gifts and graces that animate the church! I love the word animate! In addition, it uses the phrase "means of grace," which is such a part of the Reformation tradition but rarely referred to within other church bodies. Proclamation; participation.

¶ 68 faith and teaching = action; activity

¶ 74 baptism as "basic bond" I'll add that baptism is a boundary defining the church's perimeter and parameters as well as excluding and forming a barrier in some ways against those who are not of the church in some sense. In and for the world becomes in the church, too – the Church and the churches become bounded containers for people and sacraments.

¶ 75, 76, 77 describe baptism well in few words

¶ 77 references social, economic, cultural (etc.) institutions that preserve human life. I'll include the church as a life-preserving and sustaining institution, too, as well as living organism. Again, baptismal relations and locations: events measurable in time and space, but located and interrelated with Christians in all ages and engaged with the world in all times and places.

The gray wash section this series uses to indicate area of disagreement or at least non-convergence speaks of the development of the terms ordinance and sacrament. Here I'll mention the churches that theologize about "means of grace" and "effective sign of grace" typically use the term sacrament while the plain ole "sign of grace" churches typically use ordinance.

¶ 78 The interrelatedness (of course!) of baptism and eucharist...interesting they're not discussing other ordinances some church bodies also officially consider sacraments.

¶ 81 I like this! About our participating actively in the ongoing restoration of creation in a way consistent with God's reconciling presence in the world. However, throughout this document I'd far prefer more references to creation than simply to human beings/humanity and the world. here's never simply a single focus to human interpretation of God's ongoing sacramental activity in the world, reminding me of Darrell Guder’s saying God does not limit Godself to the means of grace. Of course, my rejoinder to that is nonetheless, God does bind Godself to the means of grace! I'll add the church needs to continue acting sacramentally in and for the world and for all creation. But readers of my blog(s) know where I stand on that!

The gray wash spanning parts of pages 47 through 49 mentions the literal conflicts between churches and church bodies that consider Eucharistic sharing either a means to unity or the ultimate sign of unity. This sorrowful situation reminds me of Walter Brueggemann's saying (or am I imagining this from ideas he inspired?) doctrine and theology are human constructs to a great extent; our response needs to be obedience, which in many cases we unequivocally can perform.

¶ 82 Service = Ministry

¶ 83 Mutual accountability – sounds like A Formula of Agreement's mutual admonition and affirmation (are those the words? Not going to check it out at this hour).

¶ 85 All Christians everywhere have an equal obligation to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor in word and action.

¶ 86 Refers to ordination and ordained specifically as ordination to Ministry of Word and Sacrament

¶ 87 Threefold ministry of bishop, presbyter and deacon again reminds me that some church bodies – such as the ELCA – have deacons who are not part of the historic diaconate and also that differing church traditions handle this concept in differing ways, with those whose polity formally is connectionally presbyterial formally ordaining deacons and elders as well as Ministers of Word and Sacrament. I'm feeling relatively unlettered in this regard, but I can reference both today's PC(USA) and congregations in the UCC of Evangelical and Reformed heritage that have retained this practice, despite assuming the UCC's more covenantal, semi-connectional polity.

¶ 89 apostolicity: a Pauline-style list of how this has been done regarding "succession in ministry"

Gray wash on page 52 details convergence and divergence (my words) regarding (post-baptismally, I assume) ordained ministry and mentions "the ways in which ordination is considered constitutive of the Church" (!!!) as an issue to be further explored.

¶ 90 many definitions of church; here we have "Body of Christ" and "eschatological people of God," both built up by the HS...

¶ 91 Episkop√© | oversight – sort of umbrella term;

moving from

• informal, organic and less structured to
• formal, institutional and more structured

¶ 92 Collegial expressions as well as personal embodiment of episkop√©

page 54, gray wash: stuff about the episcopal concept of formal apostolic succession; this reminds me so of being in the Lutheran Church in America (LCA, one of the antecedent denoms of the current ELCA) when they first started calling the chief synod officer "Bishop" rather than "President"—a great hue and cry arose from the pews, mainly from American Lutherans of Scandinavian heritage who had memories of a state church in which the bishops had inordinate clout. In addition, from my limited understanding, some bishops in Sweden long had been consecrated within the historic apostolic episcopal succession that includes Rome and Canterbury. I like the way this section mentions "hitherto unrecognized parallels" between episcopal and non-episcopal polities in exercise of oversight.

Clearly, too, whether it's the PC(USA)'s Executive Presbyter, the ELCA's Bishop or the UCC's Conference Minister, in all those cases we're essentially looking at and talking about what the church long has considered a bishop or overseer, as well as a person who officially functions as pastor to the pastors, though none of those remotely has the clout or authority of a Roman or Anglican bishop. Besides, I've heard a rumor that there's hardly a more powerful ecclesiastical entity anywhere than a Methodist bishop!

¶ 96 "Web of belonging, of mutual accountability and support"

Section G is about conciliarity and primacy…

¶ 99 ...at every level conciliarity is essential; the church, whether dispersed or gather, is conciliar under the HS – "local eucharistic community"

I love the reference here to "...the all in each place" linked to the "all in every place."

¶ 102 Primacy: Alexandria; Rome; Antioch; Jerusalem; Constantinople

¶ 103 questions of jurisdiction and even competitiveness about the Bishop of Rome

Section H is about authority

¶ 105 Jesus Christ: ministry with authority placed at the service of human beings (make that at the service of creation)

¶ 106 "Authority is relational and interdependent" There's a relation between authority and commission.

I love the oblique, not-spelled out reference to Acts 1, which I'm happy to spell out, "Will you at this time refer the Kingdom to Israel?" "Wait here in Jerusalem until you are clothed with power from on high; and you shall be my witnesses...everywhere!"

As I said at this blog's beginning, this section III of the book starts with

• location and
• relation

and it ends with

• location and
• relation.

I like that a lot!

A couple more personal observations from me:

• Once again, this ecumenical discussion remains among the mainline, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, which at least in our local FOW committee includes church bodies such as the typically more conservative LC-MS and Church of the Nazarene. However, among church bodies formed from the many 19th Century Restoration Movements, only the Disciples of Christ ordinarily participates in ecumenical dialogue and in fact has become a mighty ecumenical force.

• It is striking that for the most part this document uses the term "Eucharist" for the Lord's Supper with "Holy Communion" now and then. Eucharist indeed has become the ecumenical term, just as it was the early church's. But I'm also aware some of our more conservative brethren and sistern won't say eucharist.

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