We Believe: Ecclesiology

Bruxy concluded We Believe with a discussion of ecclesiology:

Protestants and Anabaptists?

I appreciate that he identified that Anabaptists were not considered Protestant for a long term. We were sort of merged in later, especially after Anabaptists became more heavily influenced by Protestants more recently. As with Anglicans, it will depend who you ask whether it is ok to call them Protestants. Personally, I don’t think of Anabaptists as Protestants, but I’m not really offended when somebody does put them together either.

On the main point, I, like Bruxy and most Anabaptists, am closer to the Catholic position than the Protestant in terms of the importance of the Church. The Bible is an incredibly valuable tool, but God has put all of her eggs in the one basket of the Church. This doesn’t mean the Church institution(s), but the fellowship of believers, which is where Anabaptists would typically diverge from Catholics. There might be a season when somebody needs to remove themselves from fellowship – if they haven’t had healthy fellowship and need healing time, for example – but ultimately we are made to be in relationship with each other.

Types of Unity

Again, I agree with Bruxy’s main point here. It isn’t particularly helpful to try to force institutional unity, which would probably never happen anyway. Much worse is to not even try to work together by claiming some theoretical but meaningless unity. Relational unity is the goal: not necessarily all in the same institution but treating each other as family, which means dialoguing with each other and working together in practical ways.

I would like to see more institutional unity than Bruxy cares about. Maybe growing up in the United Church is part of that impulse. In the early 20th Century, the UCC was founded as the merger between Methodists, Congregationalists, United Evangelical Brethren, and about 2/3rds of Presbyterians. It is that history of Presbyterians dividing over whether to join – mainly because the Methodists didn’t want as strict of doctrinal statements as many Presbyterians did – that Bruxy was hinting at for whether it is really worthwhile. I still say yes. We can say many things about the UCC, many of them not good, but I do think they’ve benefited from this aspect of their history, especially considering those denominations which merged are not really that similar in polity or some doctrine but they navigated through it for the sake of that unity. Furthermore, the UCC’s founding was initially very practical, a way of sharing resources to better minister to a large nation. We don’t have as drastic of needs to share today, but I still think there is value to eliminating redundant overhead in our institutions, freeing up more people and resources for more hands-on ministry.

Communion

We concluded with taking communion at each site. Communion didn’t use to mean all that much to me personally. It was a nice reminder ritual. I had some particularly powerful experiences, but in general it was easy for me to fit in nicely with Anabaptist theology on that point. I’m not sure exactly when that changed, probably in seminary taking it almost every week in Chapel with some liturgical elements around it. I really began to appreciate it and I might actually be more willing to claim Calvin’s position now: in some way – although we don’t know how – Jesus is particularly present in the Eucharist. In any case, the focus here was the Eucharist as a way of uniting the body of Christ no matter what other differences we have. I’m definitely a believer in this and think that this alone is enough reason to make a point of joining in the Eucharist more often than we do.

Drive Home

In the Drive Home, Bruxy hits on some other things:

First, he talks about confusing church labels like missional and emergent and seeker-driven vs discipleship-driven. Despite my site using the word “emerging” in its name (inspired by Phyllis Tickle), most of the time I do try to stay out of these label-driven discussions just because they mean so many different things to different people. Other labels are a bit more clear, although still not nearly unanimous in definition, like Anabaptist.

Next, somebody asked Bruxy how we approach people who call themselves Christians, using Westboro as an example. Bruxy explains that one way to know that people are not family is when they themselves have already divided from us, saying that only their institution or their doctrine or their ritual makes for a true Christian. That is a dismantling of the Gospel and so we lovingly call them out but we admit that they are not our Church family. Yes, one of the few scenarios where we divide the Church is when they have already divided; one of the only times where we are exclusive is toward those who are exclusive.

Third, he talks about a disagreement with our Catholic brothers and sisters over the role of Peter and apostolic succession. The basis is the biblical text where Jesus says to Peter that upon this rock Jesus will build the Church. Catholics will read that as saying Peter will be the rock and therefore we should continue to be led by Peter’s successors. Protestants would read it to say that the “rock” which Jesus is building the Church on is the truth of Jesus’ identity which Peter just proclaimed, not Peter as a person. Part of the argument for that is the use of different words, naming Peter as petros, which is more like a pebble, while saying that the Church would be built on the petra, a larger rock. Furthermore, building the Church on Peter would be laying the foundation once and it never says anything about apostolic succession as a mandate going forward. I’d take the Protestant perspective, although I do think there’s significant value in apostolic succession in how it helps ground us in history.

From the same passage, Bruxy talks about the “gates of Hades” that won’t prevail against the Church. It is not talking about Satan or Hell attacking us and us rebuffing those attacks. Hades means death, not Hell or demons or Satan, and gates don’t attack, which seems like an obvious point that I’d never considered. We are promised that death cannot hold us back.

What about “whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven”? Some go to spiritual warfare, but that’s not in the context. Others (e.g. Catholics) will go to the authority of the Church institution. Bruxy argues that it could mean that it is because we are following God’s lead, when we do things we do it because of that leading. Being an Open Theist, I might take a bit of a 3D eschatology approach where what we do – good and bad – affects the future, rather than God simply overriding whatever the Church has done whenever its time for the parousia.

 

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.