Two pieces published on Patheos on January 3 illustrate the struggle over ecclesiology within Christianity. The first is a report on and excerpt from Tony Jones’ new book: The Earth is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church. Jones is one of the leaders of the emerging church movement and in this book he looks closely at eight of the most important congregations in the movement and relates those congregations to the theology of Juergen Moltmann. In an excerpt published on Patheos, Jones explores how the image of “friendship” takes on Christological significance for these congregations as well as helping them to rethink the role of clergy leadership and develop egalitarian structures. Jones is not Episcopalian; the Emerging Church movement grew out of Evangelicalism but it has a strong interest in liturgy and has made inroads within the Episcopal Church as well.
The same day, Frederick Schmidt published an essay entitled, “Jesus is not our elected representative.” Money quote:
The church is a hierarchy—in composition, character, and mission. Jesus is not our elected representative. He is King of King and Lord of Lords.
I read these two pieces while reflecting on the debate at Episcopal Cafe on renewing the Episcopal Church. An earlier post by Jim Naughton led to debate over the centrality of the Eucharist to our worship, whether clergy were needed, and so on. You can follow that discussion here. There’s comment at the Friends of Jake blog as well
I’m coming to the position that all of the discussion about structural reform in the Episcopal Church may need to begin with a thoughtful discussion about ecclesiology and mission in the context of a post-Christian world. In a situation with scarce resources, it’s easy for important debates to devolve into competition over one’s share of the pie. That’s what I often sense is taking place in the Episcopal Church–whether it’s the debate over restructuring General Convention, the thread on the Cafe about the roles of clergy and laity, or debates within congregations over budget shortfalls.
Naughton’s question, “What is up for grabs?” is the important question. Can we do ministry and mission on the local level with our diocesan and national structure siphoning off significant financial resources? Can we maintain buildings that were constructed fifty or a hundred years ago, are not energy efficient, poorly-suited for twenty-first century ministry, and require expensive maintenance? What might an Episcopal Church look like that was freed up from its structures (historical, institutional, and bricks and mortar) to offer beautiful worship, thoughtful formation, and hospitality to a world full of people seeking meaning in life?
It certainly is an interesting time to be an Episcopal priest. Thanks be to God!