To get straight to it: the corpus christianum on earth is a multitude, not a single political unity. This is why it can be genuinely transnational without being a multinational corporation or empire, and why it can be the principle of many commonwealths. The visible worship assemblies are actions of the corpus christianum, whereby the heavenly reality of that earthly corpus christianum becomes more iconically focused, so to speak. But as I said, a believer is not “more” in the mystical body on Sunday than on Friday.
As Steven has said, I think the idea you’re getting at is actually the corpus christianum. The important thing to note is that the c.c. as such is temporally a multitude, not a politically or para-politically incorporated institution. It underlies household, State, ministerium and worship assembly, and other civic and social forms.
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Protestantism: of course there many movements in the 16th century, but most historians of the time have little trouble in clearly identifying a Magisterial Reformation, and can do so because it enjoyed a remarkable consensus on the crucial points. “Semper reformanda” does not primarily refer to doctrinal revision- the phrase isn’t doctrina semper reformanda- but rather, means that the Christians can always do more to get their act together. It cannot serve as warrant for ever more speculative theology, or for rejection of classic truths. It’s one thing to say that evangelical doctrine is wrong, but quite another to appeal to the Reformation example as warrant for departing from its principles…
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You say “the institution which we call the Church”. Well, with the Reformers, I would say the Church is primarily the union of believers with Christ, a name for the relation of the Person to the many persons (and as Steven noted, this is straight Luther). The visible assemblies are indispensable, but derivative. The visible worship assembly is not an interposed mediator between a believer and the true Mediator. It is rather birds of a feather flocking together, fixed on the Sun of the Word, and winging on the air of the Spirit. You say you can’t square the Protestant conception with the Biblical metaphors; but you then admit that it probably does square with the evangelical doctrine of the mystical body. What you object to is the evangelical distinction between that one Body, and the many visible assemblies, because, it seems, you wish to entirely conflate them. Such a conflation leads of necessity, by the way, to ecclesiologies such as those of Rome, or Witness Lee. And missing in all your explanations of your position is the classic idea of the corpus christianum…
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On alternatives: I think that there really aren’t that many alternatives, and the clearer one is about principles and the more coherent one’s thought becomes, the more one will find himself tracking with one of the handful of possibilities. I am not speaking of airtight systems; I am speaking of basic configurations of first principle, and there really is a phenomenological typology of these. Anabaptism and Rome really do both conflate the visible assemblies and the mystical body, and thus both, predictably, destroy the corpus christianum; and so on. There is a sort of science of these things.
On conflation: I do know you want to make a distinction. It would be helpful were you to recognize that we do not at all radically separate the visible earthly assemblies and the mystical Body of Christ: they share an identical center, the Word, and they are connected in living persons. The crucial difference, I think, is that we think that the way in the which the mystical Body most basically presents itself in the world is as the corpus christianum, which is a multitude; and that c.c. staffs, as it were, the household, the visible assemblies, and the civic orders and offices. It is not itself a polis; it is rather the principle of many commonwealths.
Friday, September 17, 2010
A very fine Protestant ecclesiology
I am thoroughly enjoying this discussion, and I am thoroughly edified by Peter Escalante's explanations surrounding the Protestant definition of the word "church" here. I believe this goes a long way toward defining a Protestant ecclesiology that makes sense of the Reformation history as well as giving us a way to understand "the Protestant Church" moving forward in our own era.