Sunday, January 7, 2007

The Ideal Church? (2)

What if the New Testament church is not to be viewed as the ideal to be restored, but the immature foundation in whom God would continue to work through history? What are the implications if this is true?

It seems to me that our view of church history would no longer be merely informative and educational. Rather, it would now have some normative effect. I have always been taught that the writings and development of historical Christianity can be understood as interesting academic exercises. But those developments and writings are not to be considered as having any normative value.

You see, the hermeneutics of my heritage begin with the assumption of restorationism's validity. If we see historical developments in Christianity that are inconsistent with our restoration hermeneutics, we conclude that those developments are departures from God's way. But we never question our starting point. Is restorationism, in fact, valid?

Could the New Testament be the record of the laying of a sure foundation upon which the Christian movement was built? And then the record of history tells of the continued development of that movement? Perhaps, but at least difficulties arise in my mind related to this possibility:
  • History tells the story not of a unified voice within the Christian movement, but of vastly divergent voices. So it would seem that an effort to understand the life, practice, and teaching of Christianity in the light of church history would just as much an interpretive process as is restoration hermeneutics. Some traditions which place a higher normative value on the historical record attempt to determine either majority or consensus historical views as a way to find God's voice amidst the divergent historical voices. Unfortunately, I am not convinced that discerning a majority or consensus voice is a task that can be often accomplished. In fact, I wonder if it can be done at all.
  • Furthermore, God has never limited himself to working only through majority or consensus. How do we know if the minimal voices of history are God's voice instead of the dominant ones?
  • Finally, if history is to be viewed as God's continued work and thus carrying normative value, how are we to view reform movements within history. As a part of history, it would seem that they may be God's prophetic voices at that time in history calling his people back to faithfulness. However, their messages were often contrary to historical developments. This would seem to equate to God's prophetic voice rebuking God's historical voice! We can't have that, now can we?
Give me your feedback. Are my points valid? Am I missing something? How do you reconcile these things in your mind? I'll eagerly await your comments.


Anglican said...

Actually, history does give us a rather unified voice. Not unified in totality of course, but unified to a great deal, and it can be determined with a great deal of accuracy. For proof of this one need only look to the example of the Catholic churches (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican) as compared with Bible churches (Community Churches, Baptist, C of C, Penticostal Churches, etc.) One will find that there is much much more uniformity within the Catholic churches (doctrine, practice, liturgy, etc) than within the Bible Churches. Why is this? Because the Catholic churches look to the unified voice of the historical church (or Sacred Tradition) to help them understand the Scriptures. Bible churches on the other hand claim only to follow Scripture, but the differences between them are too numerous to count (not only in doctrine, but practice, etc.) I have always found this to be a curious point. The Bible churches who follow the unified Scriptures are very diverse, and the Catholic churches who use Scripture and Tradition are much much more unified. So unified in fact that most people cannot tell the difference between them - they simply all look Catholic. Church History does tell the story of a unified voice, yes, there are differences, but not many comparably. Understanding this normative voice with the history of the Church is an interpreive process, but everything is, certainly understanding Scripture is an interpretive process of the highest order.

Of course, at the end of the day what matters most is one's relationship to Christ and the rest of the Trinity.

God has probably not limited himself to working within the consensus, this is true, but this is no grounds to reject the consensus, or even begin a new thing. Even though, of course, many do it all the time and I trust they are fine in God's eyes.

On the idea of God's prophetic voice rebuking the errors of the Church through reformations of various kinds: God's leading by the Holy Spirit has never implied perfection of any kind. The Apostles were guided by the Spirit and made errors and sometimes believed in error (Peter rejecting Christ, etc.) So it is with Church history. God's Spirit is there working in the church, but the church would sometimes become corrupt. God can correct this through the raising up of prophets as He so chooses. There is no conflict in God's leading.

This is my understanding of the subject.

Dana said...

I think my head hurts a little - but in a very good way! This is SO a conversation I would like to have with you in person. I think you found our next class topic (after we survey the rest of the Bible). Well, if everyone else agrees.