Ecclesiology & Ecumenical Hope...

2I just finished reading an incredible book for one of my classes (Theology & Purpose of the Church). The book is An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical & Global Perspectives by Veli-Matti Karkkainen, from Fuller Seminary.

Wow! What a breath of fresh air, even as a very academic piece. Although the coverage of many of the ecclesiologies seemed far too brief for my curiosity, the holistic image of the World Church Karkkainen paints is both vivid and inspiring.

Coming from a church background where terms like “tolerance” and “transcendence” are traditionally treated as heresies, the Ecumenical view of church unity is so attractive to me.

Most Sunday morning sermons I hear are peppered with references to both the idiocy of secular society and the silly foibles of other denominations and church bodies. The general sense is a kind of detached, spiritual egotism, reliant on both extreme personal comfort and intense social critique to sustain itself. Why am I still attending this church? I ask myself this question weekly, but something from Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s position (a feminist theologian mentioned in Karkkainen) seems to answer part of that question:

  • The question is often asked of me: “Why don’t you leave the church if you don’t agree with the church’s opinion and teaching?” In the past years, I have encountered this challenge again and again from right-wing Catholics and feminists alike. However, to seriously entertain this question already concedes the power of naming to the reactionary forces insofar as it recognizes their ownership of biblical religions.

Fiorenza’s defiance of reactionary forces inside and outside of her ecclesiology is not the only explanation for why I remain. I also stay because I see the Body of Christ at work there in spite of all my grievances, and after engaging Karkkainen’s work, I feel renewed confidence in the messy, chaotic beauty of the Kingdom of God. An Introduction to Ecclesiology is a testament to the power of unity through understanding, and I am struck by his gracious approach, all the more because of my current environment which revels in disproving or denouncing.

In wrestling with ideas of a “World Church,” Karkkainen writes of an ecclesiology “that would take the church and its sacraments out of its narrow Christian ghetto and place them boldly in the midst of creation and the world.” Statements like this always have potential for straying too close to Christian Utopianism and I find myself trying to find similar need for balance in my own life and personal theology. However, it cannot be said that Karkkainen is na├»ve in his idealism. On the contrary, the entire book is both a tribute to an Ecumenical dream, and a daunting reminder of the hurdles faced by endeavors toward universality.

As I continue in my theological education I often find myself discouraged by the too-frequent missteps of the historical Church, into the present and future. I’m certain I will return to An Introduction to Ecclesiology again and again to reignite the vision of Christian unity that has burned in my heart for so many years.

Popular Posts