Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Models Of The Church

Models of the Church

“I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not
overpower it.” – Jesus

Jesus came to build his church. All Christians affirm this
to be true. However, there are major differences concerning the nature and
purpose of the church. What kind of church did Jesus intend to build? What should
it look like? How should it be structured? Who is part of it? What is its

Catholic theologian, Avery Dulles,
provides a helpful resource in sorting through all the possible ecclesiastical
options. In his book, Models of the Church, he gives an overview of the five
main models of church: church as (1) institution, (2) mystical communion, (3) sacrament,
(4) herald, and (5) servant.[1]
He demonstrates the strengths and weakness of each model. He concludes by
integrating each model’s positive contributions to form a more comprehensive
model of church.

Church as Institution

The institutional view “defines the Church primarily in
terms of its visible structures, especially the rights and powers of its
officers” (34).[2]
Church government is not democratic or representative, but hierarchical. Power
is concentrated in the ruling class –the church officers – whose jurisdiction
is patterned after the secular state. As officers of God’s sacraments, the
clergy open and shut the valves of grace. Because the institutional model
maintains that its leadership structure is part of the original deposit of
faith handed down by Christ’s disciples, the authority of the ruling class is
understood as God-given, and should be unquestionably accepted by the faithful.

The strength of this model lies in
its visible manifestation of unity. Unlike any of the following models, all
tests of membership are clearly visible. However, the weaknesses of this model
are manifold. In the final chapter of his book Dulles states that this is the institutional
model is the only one that must not be paramount. “The institutional model, by
itself, tends to become rigid, doctrinaire, and conformist” (194). This does
not imply (as many are quick to assume) that there is absolutely no value in
institutions. [3] It simply proves
that the institution must serve other ends besides its own preservation.[4]

Church as Mystical Communion

In this view, the church consists of people of faith who are
united by their common participation in God’s Spirit through Christ. The ties
that bind are not institutional but pneumatological, communal, and personal. “The
Church, from this point of view, is not in the first instance an institution or
a visibly organized society. Rather it is a communion of men, primarily
interior but also expressed by external bonds of creed, worship, and
ecclesiastical fellowship” (55). The experience of ecclesiastical community
differs from any other community in that it has both a horizontal and
vertical dimension.

Communion in the sense of sociological group would be
simply horizontal; it would be a matter of friendly relationships between man
and man. What is distinctive to the Church… is the vertical dimension – the divine
life disclosed in the incarnate Christ and communicated to men through his
Spirit. The outward and visible bonds of a brotherly society are an element in
the reality of the Church, but they rest upon a deeper spiritual communion of
grace or charity. The communion given by the Holy Spirit finds expression in a
network of mutual interpersonal relationships of concern and assistance.

The strength of this model lies in
its emphasis on the shared life of mutual fellowship in loving community.
However, focusing on this alone can lead to disillusion, since the church is
more than a friendly family of like-minded believers. Thus, it is important to
recognize that

there is built into these ecclesiologies [churches that
make mystical communion their primary emphasis] a certain tension between the
Church as a network of friendly interpersonal relationships and the Church as a
mystical communion of grace. The term koinonia (communion) is used
ambiguously to cover both, but it is not evident that the two necessarily go
together. Is the Church more importantly a friendly fellowship among men or a
mystical communion that has its basis in God? (60-61)[5]

Obviously, friendly fellowship and
mystical communion are not antithetical to one another, but neither are they
the same. The appropriate metaphor for church relationships is not lovers
within the same home, but travelers on the same journey. “Christians commonly
experience the Church more as a companionship of fellow travelers on the same
journey than as a union of lovers dwelling in the same home” (61).

Put starkly, friendship and
fellowship are not identical. If these two expressions are muddled, then
confusion about one’s experience of ecclesiastical community will certainly
occur. A member will expect a level of intimacy with all other church members
that is not possible or sustainable. Gregory Baum warns of the dangers of unrealistic
expectations in regard to one’s experience of community.

Some people… are eagerly looking for the perfect human
community. They long for a community which fulfills all their needs and in
terms of which they are able to define themselves. This search is illusory,
especially in our own day when to be human means to participate in several
communities and to remain critical in regard to all of them. The longing desire
for the warm and understanding total community is the search for the good
mother, which is bound to end in disappointment and heartbreak. There are no
good mothers and fathers, there is only the divine mystery summoning and
freeing us to grow up. (61)

In spite of the valid insights of
the communion model, the church is more than communion. For this reason, the
communion model “can arouse an unhealthy spirit of enthusiasm; in its search
for religious experiences or warm, familial relationships, it could lead to
false expectations and impossible demands, considering the vastness of the
Church, the many goals for which it must labor, and its remoteness from its
eschatological goal” (195).

Church as Sacrament

In this model, the church is a sacrament, a sign and
transmitter of God’s grace in the world. A sacrament is “a visible sign of an
invisible grace.” As such, it is an efficacious sign, meaning that “the sign
itself produces or intensifies that of which it is a sign” (66). In other
words, it is “a true embodiment of the grace that it signifies” (223). Put most
simply, the church truly transmits grace – the favorable presence of God.

One other aspect of a sacrament
underscores and affirms the church as sacrament. Sacraments are communal
realities and not individual transactions:

As understood in the Christian tradition, sacraments are
never merely individual transactions. Nobody baptizes, absolves, or anoints
himself, and it is anomalous for the Eucharist to be celebrated in solitude.
Here again the order of grace corresponds to the order of nature. Man comes
into the world as a member of a family, a race, a people. He comes to maturity
through encounter with his fellow men. Sacraments therefore have a dialogic
structure. They take place in a mutual interaction that permits the people
together to achieve a spiritual breakthrough that they could not achieve in
isolation. A sacrament therefore is a socially constituted or communal symbol
of the presence of grace coming to fulfillment. (67)

The strength of this model is that
the church truly is a sign and instrument of grace to its members and to the
world. Sacramental theology also holds together the outer
(organizational/institutional) and inner (mystical communion) aspects of the
church. Dulles states that its weakness lies in that it “could lead to a
sterile aestheticism and to an almost narcissistic self-contemplation.” (195)

Church as Herald

The herald model “emphasizes faith and proclamation over
interpersonal relations and mystical communion” (76). “This model is
kerygmatic, for it looks upon the Church as a herald – one who receives an
official message with the commission to pass it on… It sees the task of the
Church primarily in terms of proclamation” (76). The heralding church
constantly calls its members to renewal and reformation. The pure word of God passes
judgment on a church that never quite measures up to God’s holy demands.

The strength of this model lies in
its emphasis on the message of the gospel. It is limited in that it is often
not incarnational enough. Sometimes the spoken word eclipses the true Word of
God – the Word made flesh. This is especially obvious when “it focuses too
exclusively on witness to the neglect of action. It is too pessimistic or
quietistic with regard to the possibilities of human effort to establish a
better human society in this life, and the duty of Christians to take part in
this common effort” (87-88).

Church as Servant

The servant model “asserts that the Church should consider
itself as part of the total human family, sharing the same concerns as the rest
of men” (91). The ministry of Jesus, the suffering servant of God who was
certainly “a man for others,” provides the template for this model: “just as
Christ came into the world not to be served but to serve, so the Church,
carrying on the mission of Christ, seeks to serve the world by fostering the
brotherhood of all men” (91-92). As “the Lord was the ‘man for others,’ so much
the Church be ‘the community for others’” (93).

The strength of this model lies in
its emphasis on serving others and not simply serving the church’s
self-interests. However, its weaknesses are manifold, especially when this
model is given preeminence over all other models.

First, authentic service includes
the ministry of the word and sacrament. In the New Testament, the term diakonia
“applies to all types of ministry – including the ministry of the word, of
sacraments, and of temporal help. All offices in the Church are forms of diakonia,
and thus the term, in biblical usage, cannot properly be used in opposition
to preaching or worship” (99-100).

Second, the church’s service toward
the world rarely bears much resemblance to that advocated by those who hold
this model. “It would be surprising to find in the Bible any statement that the
Church as such is called upon to perform diakonia toward the world. It
would not have entered the mind of any New Testament writer to imagine that the
Church has a mandate to transform the existing social institutions, such as slavery,
war, or the Roman rule over Palestine” (100).

Finally, an emphasis on service
alone “may tend to dissolve too much of what is distinctive to Christianity.”

Christians who are inclined to this theory have
constantly to ask themselves whether they have any clear message, whether they
stand for anything definite that they could not stand for without Christ. Is
revelation really necessary for man to accept the value of peace, justice,
brotherhood, and freedom? Could not a Feuerbachian atheist be as effectively
dedicated to these things as a Christian? Is not the whole Christian teaching
about preaching and sacraments rather a burden than a help in bringing about a
community of the spirit that cuts across the barriers among the traditional
religions? (187-188)

For this reason,

the concept of service must be carefully nuanced so as to
keep alive the distinctive mission and identity of the Church… Interpreted in
the light of the gospel, the Kingdom of God cannot be properly identified with
abstract values such as peace, justice, reconciliation, and affluence. The New
Testament personalizes the Kingdom. It identifies the Kingdom of God with the
gospel, and both of them with Jesus… Not to know Jesus and not to put one’s
faith in him is therefore a serious failure. It is not to know the Kingdom as
it really should be known… The notion of the Kingdom of God, which is rightly
used by secular theologians to point up the dimension of social responsibility,
should not be separated from the preaching of Jesus as Lord. The servant notion
of the Kingdom, therefore, goes astray if it seeks to set itself up in
opposition to the kerygmatic. (102)[6]

(source: http://www.theocentric.com/ecclesiology/leadership/models_of_the_church.html)

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