Friday, 20 November 2009

Trinitarian Church Dynamics

From "The Other Six Days - Paul Stevens"

A fully trinitarian approach is needed, since the identity and ministry of the laos are shaped by the God whose people we are. God has called out “a laos for himself” (Acts 15:14) or as the King James Version puts it, “a people for his name.” If the identity of the laos comes from the Trinity, the vocation of the laos also comes from the triune God. In this way both the being and the doing, both the identity and the vocation, of the laos will be considered.

Trinitarian Ministry

The ministry of the laos is not generated exclusively by the people, whether from duty or gratitude. All ministry is God’s ministry. God’s ministry continues through his people. This ministry begins not when we join the church to help do God’s work but when we join God (John 1:12) and have “fellowship . . . with the Father and with his Son” (1 John 1:3). Laos ministry is participation in the ingoing ministry of God (Father, Son and Spirit) and simultaneously participation in the outgoing (sending) ministry of God. “As you sent me into the world,” said Jesus, “I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). On the first (the ingoing), God is “lover, the beloved and the love itself,” as Jürgen Moltmann puts it (p. 32). On the second, God is sender, sent and the sending.


To this rich understanding of peoplehood and ministry each of the three persons of the Godhead contributes. The Father creates, providentially sustains and forms a covenantal framework for all existence. The Son incarnates, transfigures and redeems. The Spirit empowers and fills with God’s own presence. But each shares-coinheres interpenetrates, cooperates-in the others so that it is theologically inappropriate to stereotype the ministry of any one. But that is exactly what happens.

Christians tend to “play favorites” when it comes to describing peoplehood and ministry. For order, providence and sustaining the structures of society we appeal to the Father. The Son is associated with redemption and winning the lost. The Holy Spirit is the focus of those seeking renewal, empowering charisms and direct religious experience. Churches and denominations tend to form around one of the three: Father denominations emphasize reverent worship and stewardship. Son denominations stress discipleship and evangelism, thus furthering the work of the kingdom of God. Spirit denominations promote spiritual gifts and graces.

A rich and full doctrine of the Trinity avoids such stereotyping. God is more than the sum of the Three. God is not God apart from the way the Father, Son and Holy Spirit give and receive from each other what they essentially are. “One God”-the primary confession of Islam-is ironically the Christian’s deepest praise. We affirm that God is more One because God is Three. The laos too does not have a “mashed potato” unity, as is sometimes alleged, but a rich social unity in which each member becomes more himself or herself through experiencing an out-of-oneself (ek-static) community life. Unity is not the means to the end-a practical necessity to get the church’s work done. Unity is the end, the goal, the ministry itself (John 17:22; Ephes. 1:10; Ephes. 4:13). To be laos then is not merely to be a bouquet of Christians or a cluster of saints. To be laos means to be simultaneously communal and personal. In the long history of trinitarian reflection, this supreme idea of the personal and interpersonal within God forms the true basis for the identity and vocation of the God-imaging people.

Implications for Laypeople

The implications of this for peoplehood are substantial. Being laos means that members of Christ coinhere, interanimate and pour life into one another without coalescence or merger. The Greek church fathers spoke of this as pericho4re4sis, mutual indwelling within God as a model for mutuality in the people of God. It means belonging communally without being communistic or being a collective. Moreover, and pertinent to the clergy-lay dilemma, being a perichoretic people means being a community without hierarchy. The community of Father, Son and Spirit finds its earthly reflection “not in the autocracy of a single ruler but in the democratic community of free people, not in the lordship of man over the woman but in their equal mutuality, not in an ecclesiastical hierarchy but in a fellowship church” (Moltmann, p. viii). Such a community can have leadership and diversity without hierarchy; it can be a community without superiors and subordinates; it can be a church without laity or clergy-in the usual sense of these terms. Three conclusions may be drawn from this.

First, there is no such thing as an individual layperson. If, as I have proposed above, we live out the Christian life interdependently, the individual Christian is an oxymoron. Consistent with the Old Testament, the saints in Paul’s letters are really a unit. The saints are the church, which is the body of Christ. Believers are held together in what can be conceived as a corporate, inclusive personality. It is biblically inconceivable for a person to be a believer in Christ and not be a member of this community. John Wesley once observed that the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion. The believer’s identity is corporate as well as individual. In Christ we can say, “I am us!” Whereas the basic unit of the church is the individual member, for Paul the basic uniqueness of the individual arises from his or her membership in the church.

Second, there is no hierarchy of ministries. In his seminal work on the theology of the laity Hendrik Kraemer says, “All members of the ecclesia have in principle the same calling, responsibility and dignity, have their part in the apostolic and ministerial nature and calling of the church” (p. 160). Incarnating our loving submission to Christ’s lordship in every arena of life precludes saying that certain tasks are in themselves holy and others are sacred. Laos theology is concerned not only about the work of the ministry but also about the ministry of work. William Tyndale, the English Reformer, was considered heretical and executed for teaching, among other things, that “there is no work better than another to please God; to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a souter [cobbler], or an apostle, all are one, as touching the deed, to please God” (p. 98).

Third, supported Christian ministry is not the vocation of vocations but merely one way of responding to the single call that comes to all (Ephes. 4:1). Most expositions about ministry are magnetically attracted to the supreme place of the ordained professional as the minister-par-excellence. It is small wonder that laypersons aspiring to ministry attempt to become amateur clergypersons or paraclergy. There is some reason for this. Work in the church is strategic because the church is the prototype community and the outcropping of the kingdom of God, but work in the church is important only in view of what its members will be and do in society. Church leadership must be evaluated not in terms of its priestly character but by whether the saints are equipped for the work of the ministry seven days a week (Ephes. 4:11-12).


Glen said...

I totally agree with Wycliffe. But I disagree with Moltmann that there is no functional hierarchy in the trinity. Therefore structures are not bad things.

It doesn't mean that word ministers are obeyed because they are full-time paid clergy. But they are to be obeyed (Heb 13:8) - because they are word ministers - whether they work full-time as tent-makers or are supported full-time as evangelists.

So *yes* to priesthood of all believers.

*No* to a lack of hierarchy.

I think

yemsee said...

Well spotted Glen!

it's a great definition of church community coming from Trinity

but yes indeed - unity does not come from democracy - but from total submission to loving authority

therefore there is no real room for Biblical elders in this theology

The problem with the episkopos/laikos separation is not in the fact that there was a desire for separating community
but in a misunderstanding of authority

The Father is one who does not Lord-over the Son, but lays down His life for the Son, who is utterly transparent with the Son, and whom the Son affirms is worthy to be submitted to utterly and completely

So within a family or church - are the elders, those that are affirmed to be in authority not because of necessity - but out of recognition that they are worthy to be listened to - on the basis of their godliness and familial rule already in place - followed by the voluntary submission of the congregation

Disunity arises when again they think that the authorities are 'not good' and suspicion and discord arises

非凡 said...

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Nicolai said...

I'm not sure that this is what he means by hierarchies. Cause even in democracies there are roles of leadership, and thus order. Yet, democracies (in theory) in general assume that all humans are of equal value, which is not the case in the "autocracy of a single ruler", as it used to be in the medieval times. "If you're of noble birth, you're worth more. If you're a man, you're better than a woman", this kind of stuff. Yet we know that God shows no partiality and no favouritism at all. (btw... Why? Can that be linked back to the Trinity? Any takers?) So, such that kind of hierarchy does not exist, yet there is a functional hierarchy.
Haven't read Moltmann myself, so I can only work with what's quoted here. -> ' " [...]not in an ecclesiastical hierarchy but in a fellowship church” (Moltmann, p. viii). Such a community can have leadership and diversity without hierarchy'

So the author understands Moltman's view of no hierarchy to result in leadership, which is what you guys mean by hierarchy, right?

Btw, is that from "the Crucified God" book?