Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Necessary Primacy of Theology Proper in the Missiology-Ecclesiology Discussion

In the discussion regarding the relationship between missiology and ecclesiology, I am going to go off the rails and say that theology proper is the only primary theological element. Everything else is part of the web and in direct and constant relation to theology proper; further, everything else is in dynamic and flexible relationship with all the other elements. The connections vary in strength, intensity, and prominence.

Those who say Trinity is first are on the right track, but that is not all. In theology proper, we have trinity, attributes, missio Dei, Creator, Paterology, Christology, and Pneumatology. All these are subsets of theology proper. Radiating out from that, with direct connections to the core, is everything else.

On any given day and in any given circumstance, the individual elements relate to one another, sometimes as influence, but always with reciprocation. This means, for example, that missiology does not come before or after ecclesiology, but that these are in a reciprocal relationship, where each influences the other. Depending on the specific need, one or the other has more influence. The question is what exactly does this have to do with our practice?

Learning and worship are primary, but they are incomplete in and of themselves. If they are only internal to the community of faith or to the individual person, they are incomplete; they are not true learning and true worship. Worship, by its very nature, always leaks out in holy living in the context of community. Learning always leaks out in proclamation and purity. If this is the case, then the sometimes critique of the centrality of worship and learning in the “non-missional” church is actually a critique of incomplete learning and worship.

What needs to be created-innovated are opportunities for and means of complete worship and complete learning—both of which need to be considered outside of the constraints of our current forms. What we need to consider, then, is how we actually live in the world (keeping in mind the restraints of holy living) and determine which forms the four functions –worship, learning, fellowship, and mission—might take.

Worship and learning never exist by themselves in a healthy community; fellowship and mission will always accompany them. The vertical worship of God is completed by fellowship with our brothers and sisters (and, at a different level of intimacy, with those who do not trust Christ). Vertical learning is completed by horizontal mission, proclaiming the good news within and beyond the community of faith. If, in our practice, we only have one dimension—whether vertical or horizontal—we do not have Christianity; we have something else, which is a pale imitation at best.

Written in conversation with From the Ground Up: New Testament Foundations for the 21st-Century Church, by J. Scott Horrell


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