Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 4

In the days when the Emergent Church still had an audience, a frequent complaint directed at "modernized" systematic theologians was their tendency to dissect God. In other words, postmodern Emergents felt that systematic theology as a whole was nothing more than man's attempt to say everything there is to say and to understand all that there is to understand about God. At root was their postmodern presupposition of relativism and ambiguity. Clarity, Brian McLaren once suggested, is sometimes overrated. As a result, Emergents preferred a murky theology with no absolutes, only questions. At best, Emergents would settle for apophatic theology, unwilling to say with certain who God is.

To a certain extent, Emergents made a valid point. Many conservative theologians and believers often would speak with certainty in areas where the Bible was not so bold. This was often manifested in proof-texting and confusing tertiary issues (like eschatology, ecclesiology, and other doctrines) into primary causes. In his book Christian Theology Millard Erickson avoids this temptation when discussing church government.

The chapter is fairly straightforward. Erickson highlights four basic church government structures: Episcopal (with the Roman Catholic Church serving as the best example), Presbyterian, Congregational, and Nongovernmental. Each polity is surveyed followed by a list of advantages and disadvantages of it.

The chapter ends, however, with Erickson's attempt at constructing an ecclesiastic government for today. His opening paragraphs stand in stark contrast to the postmodern, Emergent, accusation made popular a decade ago:
Attempts to develop a structure of church government that adheres to the authority of the Bible encounter difficulty at two points. The first is the lack of didactic material. There is no prescriptive exposition of what the government of the church is to be like comparable to, say, Paul's elucidation of the doctrines of human sinfulness and justification by faith. The churches are not commanded to adopt a particular form of church order. The only didactic passages on church government are Paul's enumerations of basic qualifications for offices that already existed (1 Tim. 3:1-3; Titus 1:5-9). Although it is preferable to build on the basis of didactic or prescriptive rather than narrative or descriptive passages, in this case we have little choice.

When we turn to examine the descriptive passages, we find a second problem: there is no unitary pattern. On the one hand, there are strongly democratic elements, a fact pointed out by the advocates of the congregtional form. There also are strongly monarchical elements, particularly the apostles' appointing and ordaining officers an instructing the churches, passages highlghted by those who favor the episcopal approach. From still other passage we conclude that the elders had a strong role.

It is probably safe to say that the evidence from the New Testament is inconclusive; nowhere in the New Testament do we find a picture closely resembling any of the fully developed systems of today. It is likely that in those days church government was not very highly developed, indeed, that local congregations were rather loosely knit groups. There may well have been rather wide varieties of governmental arrangements. Each church adopted a patter that fits it individual situation. (1094)
He goes on to note that in the Greek churches in the New Testament, were more democratic whereas the Jewish churches favored an elder-led approach. Though this might be an oversimplification, the evidence is there. We could add to this that during the time of monarchs during the middle ages and beyond, episcopal polity was the norm throughout much of Christianity.

We should note, first, that Erickson is not denying that church polity is fruitless, unnecessary, and a waste of time. He is saying, however, that an honest look at the New Testament suggests some ambiguity on the issue. On this point, I agree with Erickson. At risk of disappointing my Baptist friends and flock, we should be honest and confess that Christians today place more emphasis on polity than the New Testament does. Again, this does not undermine its important, but if we want to be biblical, we must go only where the Bible takes us.

In light of this, Erickson offers three guiding principles in forming our ecclesiology: the value of order, the priesthood of all believers, the importance of each member. Based on these principles, Erickson judges that the congregational form of church government most nearly fulfills the principles that have been laid down (1096). I am in total agreement with Erickson here. However, that does not mean that the other views, most notably Presbyterian polity, is without merit. Presbyterianism fulfills the principle of order much better than congregationalism, he says.

In the end, Erickson suggests that flexibility should be practiced especially in light of the government structures of a given society. Perhaps episcopal polity works best in monarchical societies, Presbyterian polity in representative democracies, and congregationalism in democracies.

One point is missing here and that is the New Testament's clear emphasis on local autonomy. Though the apostles exercised unique authority among the church's (like James in Acts 15 and Paul in his letters), such authority was unique to them. I deny any form of apostolic succession. This provides a serious challenge to Presbyterianism with is hierarchical structure. I prefer congregationalism with the offices of pastor, elder, and deacons as the most biblical model. Within this structure, however, each church should exercise some liberty. Do they want to participate in a broader association of churches? Collapse the elder and deacon roles (common in many Baptist congregations)? etc.


Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 1 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 4  
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Prolegomena 5  

Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 1
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 4
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 5
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 6
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 7
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 8  
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 9
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 10

"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 3 
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 5 
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 6
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 7
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 8
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 10
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 11
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 12
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 13
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 14
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 15
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 16
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 17
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 18
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 19
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Theology Proper 20

"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 5 
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 6
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 7
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 8
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 9
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 10
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 11
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 12
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 13
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 14
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 15
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Creation/Providence 16

"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Anthropology 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Anthropology 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Anthropology 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Anthropology 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Anthropology 5 
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Anthropology 6

"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 5
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 6
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 7
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 8
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Hamartiology 9

"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 5
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 6
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 7
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 8
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 9
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Christology 10

"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 5
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 6
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 5
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 6
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Work of Christ 7

"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Pneumatology 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Pneumatology 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Pneumatology 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Pneumatology 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Pneumatology 5
  
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Soteriology 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Soteriology 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Soteriology 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Soteriology 4 
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Soteriology 5
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Soteriology 6
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Soteriology 7
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Soteriology 8
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Soteriology 9
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Soteriology 10
 
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 3 "Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 4 
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