Reformed vs. Missional Ecclesiology: Contrasting or Compatible Definitions of Church?
Cf. the Lutheran Augsburg Confession: “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered” (Art. VII), or the statement of John Calvin: “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists” (Institutes 4.1.9). Later Reformed tradition included a third mark: the proper exercise of church discipline, though this could be seen as simply an extension of the second. The administration of the ordinances generally separates a church from a parachurch organization.This begs the question, Is the EFCA movement out of sync with its theological leadership (at least those tasked with producing this membership guide)?
I don't ask this sarcastically, but as a long-time dialogue partner in the "missional" conversation, which if you are familiar with it will recognize its substantial departure from the classic Reformed ecclesiology quoted above. Though many of my conversation partners would likely advocate a missional ecclesiology at odds with that of Luther and Calvin, I would advocate a hybrid of the two.
What Luther gets right:
- Ecclesia (Gk. word often translated "church") means "gathering" or "assembly", not (as some have surmised) "called out ones" (as I've explained here).
- The orthodox (true, accurate, original) Gospel is fundamental to the Church's existence and mission. Hence its faithful and fervent proclamation and defense is one of the most essential aspects of the Church's mission.
- The sacred ordinances have always marked the Church as a distinctive community following the Way of Jesus Christ the King.
What Calvin gets right (in addition to points of agreement with Luther):
- Emphasis on declaration/proclamation (not just instruction) of God's word as absolutely true and authoritative for the Church and the believer—i.e., the mark of fidelity to the gospel.
- Acknowledgement that the True Church is comprised of believers (those who hear God's word "purely").
What they miss:
- The distinctive mark of Christian, brotherly love (John 13:35).
- The Great Commission of Jesus to His Church (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
- Other associations of the Church with the "People of God" theological ethic of the Bible, which is far, far more comprehensive than its corporate worship gatherings!
Without doubt, they address these issues elsewhere in their writings. However, a true summary definition of the Church ought to make a clear reference to the above characteristics of an authentically Christian Church. No?
Bottom line: IMO, our ecclesiology and missiology should be much more integrated than the original Protestant Reformers articulated.
Agree? Disagree? Related thoughts?