The origin and nature of the church
This thesis is not focused on a specific church denomination,37 but rather primarily on the South African protestant churches and themes pertaining to the identity and relevance thereof. However, since the protestant churches in South Africa include a variety of denominations – each with their own identity, theology and understanding of ecclesiology – it demands that the point of departure herein include, on the one hand, a review on the origination of the church.38 This is essential for determining the immutable element/s of the church, the core and fundamentals thereof, as identity and relevance are relationally involved with the nature or essence of things wherewith they are associated.39
As is explained by van Gelder (2000:14), the church most certainly is more than a physical structure. It is more than a programmed event that we attend a certain time each week. It is more than a set of policy choices that define how resources are allocated and more than one’s personal relationships with other believers. The church is more than an historical denomination, more than a particular type of organisational structure and more than a set of communally affirmed confessional beliefs. The church exists in relation to all these meanings, but it is more than anyone of them. In fact, it is more than all of them combined.
On the other hand, it is imperative to this study to establish who constitutes the church. When we encounter the church, we move into spiritual territory that occupies earthly terrain. We encounter the living God in the midst of our humanity. We encounter the Spirit of God dwelling in the midst of a people who are created and formed into an unique community. Knowledge of who make up this community is very important, as only those that represent the church could be identifiable and relevant therewith and as such, able to maintain the balance between this identity and relevance.
The diversity of the church may at times cause us to lose sight of its uniqueness as the creation of the Spirit. In a certain way we are forced to try to make sense of a complex array of denominations, each with their own theology and which all claim to be part of the Christian movement. In view hereof, we need to find an acceptable answer to the question: What is the church? This involves the need to determine who founded the church and when was it founded. Who and when also demands a why – why was it founded?
In the following chapters an attempt is made to provide substantial, although brief, answers to these questions in order to evaluate whether the modern church is identifiable with its Founder and with the early church, an exercise that is essential if relevancy is to be determined.
Who founded the church?
It is widely accepted by theologians that Jesus Christ is the founder of the church,40 the conviction being based on Christ’s words as recorded in Matthew 16:18.41 In answer to Christ’s question regarding his identity, Peter’s affirmation, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God (16:16), provided opportunity for Jesus to inform the disciples of the new community (church) that he would build. Jesus said, « I will build My Church. » The future tense of the verb indicates that the building of the church had not yet begun when Jesus spoke these words, as it was prior to his crucifixion and resurrection.
Küng (1968:73) commenting on the text in Matthew 16:18, agrees with the above stating:
The saying at Matthew 16:18, of which authenticity and interpretation have been much debated – and which in any case was not a public utterance – is the only time in the gospels when Jesus speaks of an ecclesia as a total church; and these words precisely situate the building up of a church not in the present but in the future.
This implies that we cannot speak of the church unless we speak of Christ first. The church is always the result of Christ’s conciliatory work and of his gospel. Only Christ qualifies every term and concept related to the church. It is because of this that Ecclesiology should always emanate from Christology – never vice versa. Möller (1998.4:48) says the following in this regard:
The church does not take preference over Christ. It is not a case where a number of interested people come together and form a community, and then Christ is introduced to them. It is not an institution which is established and in which it is endeavoured to bring people to Christ… In this regard we should particularly note the expression: “Of Christ”. Christ is there first and foremost, and then instituted the church for himself as his body. That is why the church is known as the body of Christ.
Moltmann (1992:66) agrees with this by stating that, Without Christ, no church. There is only a church if and as long as Jesus of Nazareth is believed and acknowledged as the Christ of God…. Thus ecclesiology can only be developed from Christology, as its consequence and its correspondence with it.
In order to understand the founding of the church, we therefore need to have a clear understanding of who Christ is. This is discussed after the following two chapters in which the when and the why relevant to the founding of the church is explained.
When was the church founded?
The called disciples were to become the ‘foundation’ whereon Christ would build the church, he himself being the cornerstone (Eph 2:19-22). Paul teaches that God has appointed in the church first apostles… (1 Cor 12:28). The appointment of the twelve, who were to become the foundation of the church, was most certainly done before Pentecost (Acts 1:15-26). Yet, they were still functioning on an individual basis and not as a body. The body, of which Christ was to be the head, could only come about after Christ’s resurrection (Eph 1:20-23).42 When he breathed on them (not individually but as a group; Jn 20:22), these Apostles (as a group) that already were believers by faith, became a living organism (the church) and on the Day of Pentecost, this living organism received power to fulfil its great mission. Verster (1980a:92) agrees with this view, saying the following:
The phrase, “ breathed on them”, is the Greek word emphusao, meaning “breath in” and only appears here in the New Testament. However, the same word appears in the LXX in Genesis 2:7. Here God breathes life in (to) the nostrils of the ‘clay body’ and it became a living soul or a functional body. Similarly, Christ breathed power of life in (to) the group – not as individuals – and as a group they became a functional body. Here the disciples as a body received life (zõe) and on the Day of Pentecost they individually received power (dunamis).43
If the church was constituted on the Day of Pentecost, it implies that the called disciples, who had already received the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them, received it a second time on the Day of Pentecost. John records Christ’s appearance to the disciples after his resurrection and writes: And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said unto them, receive ye the Holy Ghost (Jn 20:22).
In contrast to the more common conviction held by many theologians, eg (Strong, Chafer, Pentecost) namely that Christ constituted the church on the Day of Pentecost, I am of the opinion that it was at this point – when he breathed on them – that he constituted it, and on the Day of Pentecost this newly formed church was empowered by the Holy Spirit to enable them to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). Thus, the ekklesia – consisting of those whom he had chosen prior to his death and resurrection – were constituted into a living organism (the church) the day Christ breathed on them. A parallel may be drawn here with God’s breathing into man in Genesis 2:7 and man becoming a living soul. Holdcroft ( 1999:51) describes the breathing of Christ upon his disciples as the insufflation and states,
What the disciples actually received at this time is not described, but there appears to have been a specific transaction, for as Stanley Horton44 points out, “the language used in John 20:21-23 does not fit the idea that nothing happened.” The consequence of the divine breath – the capacity to declare the remission of sins (cf.v.23) – suggests the imparting of a significant new spiritual and lethal status.
In expounding on this status, Holdcroft (ibid:51-52) maintains that the insufflation conveyed spiritual and moral authority, and the Holy Spirit was to be to each one the universal principle of divine life. This life would enable them to function together as a single organism through the Church of Jesus Christ. The church is launched and the prerogative belongs to the church to establish rulings and standards by which human behaviour can be evaluated. By this event, Jesus gave recognition to the disciples’ authority (as members of his body) to declare the forgiveness of sins to those converts who fulfilled God’s terms by repenting of their sin and accepting Christ as their saviour. By virtue of this newly bestowed authority, Peter could proclaim on the Day of Pentecost, Repent and be baptised … in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38). Holdcroft (ibid:53) continues by stating:
Jesus preceded his act of breathing by declaring, “As the Father sent me, I am sending you” (Jn 20:21). The Father sent Jesus by giving him the Holy Spirit at the beginning of his public ministry. Jesus was now demonstrating to his disciples that in the same way the Father would empower them for their ministry… Pentecostalism is reinforced by interpretations that see all the elements of the church – a company of born again believers comprising the visible and invisible church – prior to the Day of Pentecost.
In summing up this paragraph, it can be said that although theological views differ as to the exact point in time at which the church was constituted – many believing that it was on the Day of Pentecost – it seems clear that the insufflation prior to Pentecost is the moment in time that Christ constituted his church and it became a living organism with legal status and authority before God.
Why was the church founded?
Van Gelder (2000:23) believes that failing to understand the purpose of the church can introduce a number of problems. For example, if the church is defined functionally – in terms of what it does – our perception may be shifted away from understanding it as a unique community of God’s people. This implies that the church then becomes a series of ministry functions such as worship, education, service and witness. Seen from another angle, defining the church organisationally – in terms of its structures – may shift our perception away from the spiritual reality of the church as a social community. The church becomes a patterned set of human behaviours to be structured and managed. These approaches reduce the church to a set of ministries administered through management skills to maintain effectiveness, or to an organisation designed to accomplish certain goals.
These functional and organisational approaches can seduce leaders into placing too much confidence in their managerial skills or in their use of organisational techniques. To avoid any infiltration of such problems into the pages of this thesis, I will approach the subject from a totally different angle. The purpose of the church must be understood within the context of God’s initial purpose with humanity. Möller (1998, 4:41) explains it as follows:
In Ephesians 1:9-11, 22-23 we see that the mystery of God’s will exists in the fact that everything and in this case specifically the faithful, should be united as one body under one head, namely Christ… As a result of the fall, man lost his sublime status and calling to live in God’s presence and for God… It is only because of the expiatory work of Christ that man could again be restored in God’s grace. Only through Christ’s work of conciliation could God’s eternal plan and purpose with man be realised. However, this does not mean that all mankind automatically shares in the communion with God through Jesus Christ. It only includes those in this iniquitous world who have reacted to God’s call and have dedicated themselves to him. Out of that emerges the concept of the church that consists of the aggregate of believers gathered from all times, all nations and all languages (Rev 5:9).
As was stated previously, Christology should always precede Ecclesiology.45 In order to meaningfully answer the question as to the purpose of the church, it is imperative to understand the purpose of Christ’s incarnation.46 The generally accepted and confessed theological reason for the incarnation of Jesus Christ and of everything he said and did was to bring about reconciliation between God and fallen humanity. This reconciliation was only realised through the suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. From this it is deduced that the coming of Christ to earth, his incarnation, identification with humanity, suffering and death on the cross, his resurrection and ascension, is God’s act to reconcile humanity to himself. Conciliation therefore is what God did through Jesus Christ for fallen man to pave the way to forgiveness of sin and unification with him. Thus human beings may inherit salvation through believing in what Christ became and did for them.
The church as the body of Christ indicates the vertical bondage to him. The church as community of the faithful implies the horizontal dimension of the mutual connectedness of believers. In Ephesians 2, Paul teaches about God’s corporate, churchly plan of salvation and about the significance of the church in this plan. In essence, Paul is saying to a group of Gentile Christians, who along with Jewish Christians are part of his universal church, that it has been God’s plan since the beginning to create a church which was not simply Jewish, but contained both Jews and Gentiles. Indeed, people from both every tribe and tongue, people and nation, would be gathered into this church and the two groups, which were once in opposition, once hopelessly and helplessly divided, would now be made into one body.
In other words, Paul is saying that the corporate dimension of God’s plan of salvation is inescapable; it is not simply that God desires to bring individual Christians into saving relationship with himself through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit; it is that God intends to bring Christians into relationship with one another, especially expressed within the context of the local church through his plan of salvation, even Christians as different as Jews and Gentiles. It is to be the glory of God to the world to demonstrate people, who are different from one another in various and dramatic ways, living together in harmony, loving one another, caring for one another, serving one another, witnessing together, building up the same kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ together. The church has to glorify God by being a witness to this effect within the world. The church then is a display of God’s glory. 47 The church, being the body of Christ, implies that Christ reveals himself on earth through the church.
The body is therefore, the vehicle whereby the Gospel of salvation is to be transported to the ends of the earth. In a previous study (Van Wyk 2002:188), I included the following paragraph in explaining the purpose of the church:
This church, which is a living organism – the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12- 14) – comprising of many members, has been given a great commission, namely to go into all the world and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people, baptising them and teaching them whatsoever Christ had taught his disciples (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15). What can be said of the physical body is equally true of the spiritual body, namely the church. As the physical body exists to reveal the character and personality of the person (head) of that specific body, so too, the spiritual body (Col 1:18) exists to reveal the character and personality of Christ to the world (Gal 2:20).
There are abundant portions of Scripture that point to God’s principal purpose in the out-calling of the church, the Body of Christ, from both Gentiles and Jews (Acts 15:14-18). This pivotal passage from Acts indicates God’s divine purpose in taking out from among the Gentiles a people for his name. The gospel has never anywhere saved all, but in every place it has called out some. The church is thus, in a certain sense, still in the process of growth, principally from among Gentiles with comparatively few Jews, according to the election of grace (Rom. 11:5). When the body of Christ is complete and has fulfilled the purpose of its existence, it will be removed, or translated from the earthly scene (Lk 21:6; 1 Cor. 15:51-53; 1 Thes. 4:15-17; 2 Thes. 2:1;).
After this out-taking of the church (also referred to as the Rapture of the church) from the earthly scene, the end-time apocalyptic judgments will fall upon both unbelieving Gentiles and Jews. However, a remnant will be saved out of this « time of Jacob’s distress » (Jer. 30:7), and the advent of Christ in glory will mark the setting up of the millennial kingdom with the nation Israel reinstated in priestly communion and blessing (Zech. 3:1-10) as the light of the world (4:1-14).48
Who is Christ?49
Burridge and Gould (2004:3) mention the fact that both London and Broadway are having revivals of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. This has Judas Iscariot as its main character, complaining that Jesus’ followers have ‘too much heaven on their minds’. The musical contains very little of Jesus teaching, but follows the last week of his life, using particularly John’s Gospel. After Judas has betrayed Jesus, he sings the showstopper song, “Jesus Christ Superstar,” in which he says that he does not understand who Jesus is or what is going on; he wonders whether Jesus himself knows who he is and what he has sacrificed. Burridge and Gould (ibid:4) then comment that in many ways, Judas echoes the voice of Tim Rice, the playwright, but also the voice of many people who ask the question, “Who is this person?” Elsewhere in the opera Mary Magdalene sings a beautiful love song, “I don’t know how to love him,” in which she says that Jesus is just a man, but in a way that suggests she’s beginning to think that maybe he is not just a man.
The questions ‘mentioned’ in this opera represent present-day questions that urgently need to be answered. Moltmann (1974:83) agrees with this statement in saying:
Christians and non-Christians have quite often produced an image of Jesus, which suits their own desires. They have idolised Jesus, and then have taken away the idolisations of believers and humanised him again. He has become the archetype of the divine authority and glory that men have longed for. He has become the teacher of a new morality to mankind. He has become the resistance fighter from Galilee. An analysis of the changing ideas of Christ and portraits of Jesus in history shows that they correspond so much to the needs of their age, place of origin and intended purpose that one cannot avoid the suspicion that they are illusory and artificial. The question then arises: Who was Jesus to himself, and what does he himself signify at the present day? Do we know Jesus, and who is he in fact for us at the present day?
The problematical nature of these questions has given rise to the current academic debate and various new ideologies that discard the orthodox Christian belief and confessions related to Christ. In view hereof the some of current ideologies are discussed below.
The current academic Jesus debate
At the risk of oversimplification, the current debate can be polarised in two ways, between those who put Jesus in a Greek philosophical background and those who put him within the background of first century Palestinian Judaism. This first view is represented by John Dominic Crossan50 and by the ‘Jesus Seminar’,51 chaired by Robert Funk.52 The second school of thought stresses Jesus’ Jewish background, with a lot of argument on the historicity of the gospels. This is the view held by most Protestant and Pentecostal theologians (eg Calvin, Barth, Möller, Horak, Du Plessis). Since the sixteenth century, and particularly the eighteenth century, the traditional teaching about Jesus (divine and human) has been subject to a number of challenges. Jesus has often been reinterpreted, and understandings of his person have been put forward, which are not as dependent as orthodox Christian teaching on the theological tradition of the early church which was crystallised in the doctrines of the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon.
Sadly though, these reinterpretations have not been confined to non-Christians or to popular movements of protest against Christianity or the church. Some well-informed theologians with influential insight into the Christian gospel and biblical teaching, have also been moved to question the traditional view. In simpler terms it could be stated that the current academic debate centres on how we are to interpret Jesus and understand Jesus today. All in all this is a vast debate, with vast numbers of books being produced and conferences convened. These are focused on questioning not only the traditional doctrines about Jesus, but also the reliability of the gospel portrait of Jesus as a supernatural figure, a miracle worker who was raised from the dead.
1.1. Introductory remarks
1.2. The research problem
3. RELATIONAL IMPORTANT AREAS
3.1 Identity, relevance and God
3.2 Identity, relevance and community
3.3 Identity, relevance and Christian
3.4 Identity, relevance and dogma
PART 1 THE CHURCH
1. Introductory remarks
2. The word church
3. The word ekklesia
3.1 The pre-Christian history of the word ekklesia
3.2 The adoption of the word ekklesia
3.3 The use of ekklesia in the New Testament
4. The origin and nature of the church
4.1 Who founded the church?
4.2 When was the church founded?
4.3 Why was the church founded?
4.4 Who is Christ?
4.5 The current academic Jesus debate .
4.6 The historical quest for Jesus .
4.7 The Jesus Seminar
4.8 The New Reformers
4.9 Jesus and the shaman concept
5. The traditional Christian view
5.1. Christ the head – the church the body
6. Some Characteristics of Christ
6.1 Christ’s rational perceived qualities
6.2 Christ’s strength
6.3 Christ’s poise
6.4 Christ’s grace
6.5 Christ’s qualities perceived by faith
7. Who constitutes the church?
7.1 The concept “born again”
7.3 The Old Testament saints and regeneration .
8. The kingdom and the church
8.1 The kingdom from above and below
8.2 The Messianic kingdom and the church
8.3 One Messiah – two comings
8.4 The political kingdom
10. The importance of Pentecost for the church
11. The body in action
PART 2 IDENTITY-RELEVANCE DILEMMA, CHANGE AND TIME
1. Introductory remarks
2. Identity – relevance dilemma
2.1 Defining “identity crisis”
2.2 Defining “irrelevance”
3. Church identity and relevance
4. The relationship between change and time
5. The changing and the unchanging
5.1 The changing
5.2 The unchangeable
PART 3 THE CAUSE OF THE PROBLEM
1. Introductory remarks .
2. An identity crisis in the early church .
3. The church – community or institution?
4. The church and heresy
5. The church and persecutions
6. The church’s response
7. The church and Constantine .
8. The church and Protestantism
PART 4 THE PRIMITIVE CHURCH AND THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY CHURCH
2. Two Characteristics of the primitive church
2.1 It was a church devoted to the apostolic doctrine
2.2 It was a regenerated church
3. Characteristics of the twenty-first century church
3.1 Conservatives, liberals and change
3.2 Conservatives, liberals and identity
3.3 Conservatives, liberals and relevance
4. Absolutes and relatives
PART 5 CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
1. Christian spirituality (Regeneration)
2. Christian spirituality, human effort and tradition
2.1 Christian spirituality and the primitive church
2.2 Christian spirituality and Constantine
2.3 Christian spirituality and Protestant theology
2.4 Christian spirituality and Pentecostal/Charismatic theology
2.5 Christian spirituality and African Initiated Churches .
PART 6 TOWARDS A VIABLE SOLUTION
1. The age-old problem of the church
2. A modern remedy
3. Humanity not seeking God
4. Concluding remarks
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT