Regrounding Ecclesiology in the Spirit

With all the pop ecclesiology floating around, I’ve begun to dig a little deeper for more biblically grounded, historically informed, theologically reflective ecclesiology. It seems like there is a new book every day that is going reform church, make it more successful, relevant, early churchish. It is remarkable how few of these books exegete biblical texts, dialogue honestly with church history, and reflect theologically. How many of them ask the really hard and helpful questions like:

  • When did the Church start and how should that affect the way we are the church?
  • How should the East/West division of the Church affect our understanding and practice of Christian unity and mission?
  • How should the Old Testament shape our practice of church?
  • What can we learn from the medieval Church besides pope-bashing?
  • What is God trying to teach the Church with the shift of the center of Global Christianity from the West to the East, from the North to the South?

The Church didn’t start with Jesus, though he did speak of the Church. It didn’t even start with the twelve disciples, though they were an integral part. The church started with the Holy Spirit, yeah Pentecost, the most understated event in the non-charismatic Evangelical world. One look at the Evangelical Church and you would think that the Church started with Jesus. To be sure, he is the Head of the Body that is the Church, but he did not bring about the new creation; that was and is the work of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is the starting place of the Church, what would it look like for churches to be planted, not by books, manuals, bootcamps, or methods but by the leading of the Holy Spirit? What if churches decided not to “launch” because they were listening to the Spirit? What if they refused to build because they were listening to the Spirit? What if they paid no pastors? What if they built schools instead of Christian Life Centers? What if they became so united that cities were renewed and disputes were resolved? What if we planted churches by actively relying on the Holy Spirit?

There are many helpful answers to the five questions above, but interestingly, one answer they all share is the Holy Spirit. The Church started and should continue with the Holy Spirit. One of the reasons for the East/West division of the church was over the filoque clause in which the Western Church subordinated the Holy Spirit. The direct result was division not unity. A biblical theology of the church reveals that the Spirit worked in creation and the people of God throughout the Old Testament to bear witness to the coming messiah and his kingdom, of which the church is a part. Most churches today ignore or moralize the OT. The medieval church demostrated that identifying the Church with land eviscerated it of its life, marginalized the Spirit, and promoted greed and politicization of the gospel. The Western church has become known for territorialism, greed, and politics. The leading denominations of the majority Church of the non-Western world are charismatic, Spirit-led churches. If we are to reground our ecclesiology in Bible, History and Theology, it would serve us well to begin with the Holy Spirit.