Why Church Isn't The Same Thing As Faith


by Andrew

"Ecclesiology is also unimportant for a negative reason. Ecclesiology is an actual ill! By definition it places the human church in some kind of special zone -- somehow distinct from real life -- that appears to be worthy of study and attention. The underlying idea is that the church is in a zone that is free, or at least more free, from original sin and total depravity than the rest of the world, but the facts prove otherwise. The facts of history run counter to ecclesiology. They reveal a grim ersatz thing carrying the image of Christ but projected onto human nature and therefore intrinsically self-deceived. The gospel of grace, based on relational love that is entirely one-way, is at odds with ecclesiology. Whatever 'ecclesiology' comes in the train of grace is variable, secondary, contextual, and contingent...Emil Brunner's little-read book, The Misunderstanding of the Church (1953) is a devastating critique of the idea of church.

Brunner can find almost no evidence in the New Testament for anything like what many Christians consider to be the church. For Brunner, the New Testament describes a fluid and Holy Spirit-filled movement of people gathered together within an experience of God that involves massive individual changes of plan. There is a collective dimension to this: all the early Christians experienced the same thing. Like alien abductees, the first Christians had a shattering experience in common. This brought them together. But this experience was not an institution." - Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life.