Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Philosophy and Ecclesiology

Tonight, during my philosophy class, my professor stated that one problem with today's culture is that things are often defined by what they do and not by their essence: particulars are used to define things, not universals.

This got me to thinking ... if this is a Christian complaint about the culture, then why do most Christian ecclesiology books commit the same fallacy when defining the church? Why is the church so often defined by function instead of by essence?

Is it that people do not understand the essence of the church? Is it that looking at essence would result in a different ecclesiology? What do y'all think?

5 comments:

Evelyne Disseau said...

"one problem with today's culture is that things are often defined by what they do and not by their essence: particulars are used to define things, not universals."
Je réfléchissais justement à ce sujet ces jours-ci. Je crois que ce que tu dis à la suite est très juste à propos de l'Eglise et c'est valable pour bien des choses...
La mamma

Steve Sensenig said...

I definitely think there's an uneasiness with re-examining ecclesiology. The fear (and I've found it's a legitimate fear) that re-examining it will cause us to question the way things have "always" been done causes many to just accept the party line and not give it much more thought.

We also have a tendency in our culture to assume that those teaching must, by nature of their position, have some greater understanding that we're lacking. In reality, they are possibly only regurgitating what they were taught.

I remember one particular incident in college where a professor's explanation of a certain theological point didn't really convince me, but I made the conscious decision to just accept that there's no way he could be wrong. So, for another 10+ years, I held to that same theological position without allowing myself to question it.

When I finally was challenged by someone to prove it, I found I was unable to do so, and finally did the re-examination that was so long overdue. My theological position on that particular issue changed.

If more people had the freedom to really truly examine their ecclesiology, I think they might find some interesting changes taking place.

Cindy D. said...

Mae:l,

Many people today are guilty of hypocrisy, some Christians included unfortunately.

You only need to read Ephesians to understand what the church is:

Eph. 1:22-23 - "And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."

And again in Eph. 5:23 - "For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior."

So, clearly, the church is Christ's body.
In Eph. 3:6 - we learn that Gentiles and Israel are "members together of one body".

In Eph. 4:4 - we read that "there is one body".

And in Eph. 5:30 - we learn that "we are members of his body", that is, Christ's body (understood from verse 29).

For fun, one can venture out of Ephesians to the rest of the feast that is Scripture (for an appetizer):

1 Cor. 10:17 - ... "we, who are many, are one body" ...

1 Cor, 12:12-13 - ... "So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body" ...

1 Cor. 12:27 - "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."

1 Tim. 3:15 - ... "in God's household, which is the church of the living God" ...

Heb. 3:6 - ... "God's house. And we are his house" ...

Heb. 12:23 - "to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven" ...

Why is the church so often defined by function instead of by essence?
Perhaps because we can physically see function, whereas we cannot physically see essence. (There is no mark on people which confirms that they are indeed a member of God's household, Christ's body, the church.) After all, we in the West are enamored with our false concept of truth: seeing is believing.

Is it that people do not understand the essence of the church?
Maybe it is a result of ignorance. Some have never studied Scripture to know what the church is. Unlike the Bereans in Acts, they were taught either that the church is a building (usually with a steeple) where people meet on Sunday to worship God, or that the church is a group of believers who observe certain ordinances (or something along those lines), but when they went home, they did not study Scripture themselves to see if what they were taught was true.

Is it that looking at essence would result in a different ecclesiology? I don't know enough about ecclesiology to answer that.

What I do know is that when God has provided a definition of something in Scripture, I'll prefer it over man's definition anytime.

Cindy

Alan Knox said...

"Why is the church so often defined by function instead of by essence?"

As Cindy pointed out, we cannot see "essence", but we can see function. In Scripture, we see that essence is demonstrated by function (Matt 7:17). However, we also see that function does not necessarily equal essence (Matt 7:21-23).

So, we should expect certain activities for those who in essence are part of the church. But, when we shift to expressing the church in terms of function or activities, then I think we've crossed a line that Scripture does not cross.

-Alan

Maël said...

Translation of 1st comment:

"one problem with today's culture is that things are often defined by what they do and not by their essence: particulars are used to define things, not universals."
I was just recently thinking about this subject.
I think that what you are saying following this statement, is very true concerning the church, but also concerning many other things...

Join my blog network
on Facebook