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Kirche oder Gemeinde? Ein zweidimensionales Modell

Das Deutsche ist eine der wenigen Sprachen, in denen es gleich zwei Worte für die ekklesia, die Versammlung der Kinder Gottes, gibt: „Kirche“ und „Gemeinde.“ So alt wie dieses Doppelvokabular ist auch die Frage, welche der beiden denn nun die richtigere Bezeichnung für den Leib Christi, vor allem in seiner lokalen Ausprägung, sei.

Erschwerend kommt in der Diskussion oft hinzu, dass beide Terme heute oft wie technische Fachbegriffe benutzt werden–und dann auch noch in unterschiedlicher Art und Weise. Für Mitglieder einer Freikirche unterscheiden sich über diese Terminologie oft zwei unterschiedliche ekklesiologische Modelle, die Volkskirche und die freikirchliche Gemeinde. Für Menschen aus eher traditionellen Kirchen geht es bei den gleichen Begriffen meist mehr um verschiedene Organisationsebenen: Hier ist mit der Kirche eher die globale Organisation, mit Gemeinde ihre örtliche Niederlassung gemeint.

Meiner Meinung nach hilft es bereits sehr viel, wenn man beide Begriffe von ihrer Grundbedeutung her begreift. Das deutsche Wort Kirche kommt ursprünglich vom griechischen κυριακη, was so viel wie „dem Herrn (κυριος) gehörend“ bedeutet. (Möge jede unserer Gemeinden immer in diesem Sinn Kirche sein!) Gemeinde betont, wie unschwer zu erkennen ist, die gemeinschaftliche Dimension der Familie Jesu Christi an einem Ort. Man könnte also sagen, dass die beiden Begriffe unterschiedliche Ausrichtungen von Kirche/Gemeinde beschreiben: während Kirche etwas über die Gottesbeziehung der lokalen Versammlung sagt, beschreibt Gemeinde deren Beziehungen untereinander.

Nun könnte natürlich umgehend eine erneute Diskussion darüber beginnen, ob in der Kirche/Gemeinde der vertikale oder der horizontale Beziehungsaspekt eine stärkere Rolle spielen sollte. Hier kann sich jede der beiden Richtungen mit guten und sehr geistlich klingenden Argumenten hervortun. Diese werden jedoch alle nichtig, wenn man Kirche/Gemeinde als centered set, d.h. als auf ein gemeinsames Zentrum namens Jesus Christus ausgerichtet, versteht. Plötzlich wird dann nämlich deutlich, dass diese beiden Grundaspekte des Leibes Christi keineswegs orthogonal zu einander verlaufen.Im Gegenteil: Die Annäherung an das Zentrum Jesus Christus bringt auch die Mitglieder dieser Gemeinschaft enger zusammen.

 

Eigentlich hätte das jedem von Anfang klar sein sollen: Die Gemeinschaft der Gemeinde, die das Neue Testament mit dem Wort κοινωνια beschreibt, ist ja nun einmal nicht einfach eine wie auch immer bedingte Zusammengehörigkeit von Menschen, wie man sie auch in jedem Kleintierzuchtverein finden könnte. Nein, hier wird ja eine enge Gemeinschaft beschrieben, wie sie nur durch die Verbundenheit mit Jesus Christus überhaupt entstehen kann. Als Anfang und Grund dieser Gemeinschaft bringt nur er Menschen aus völlig verschiedenen Hintergründen zusammen in eine neue Familie.

Mit anderen Worten: Gemeinde kann gar nicht Gemeinde sein, wenn sie nicht auch gleichzeitig Kirche (dem Herrn gehörig) ist. Und Kirche kann gar nicht existieren, ohne sich auch gleichzeitig in ihrer Ausprägung als Gemeinde bemerkbar zu machen. Oder, um es mit Paulus zu sagen (Epheser 4,15): Wahrhaftige Liebe untereinander (Gemeinde) ist nur dort möglich, wo wir „in allen Stücken zu dem hin wachsen, der das Haupt ist, Christus.“

Beyond traditional non-traditionalism

Reading through a couple of chapters in Jim Belcher’s Deep Church, the question of how to deal with tradition came up. Belcher rightly reminds his reader that the issue of tradition starts with the very definition of „tradition.“ Low-church theology, starting from the 16th century, put an emphasis on breaking with tradition. „No creed but Jesus“ became a battle cry to abandon the high church’s vast amount of tradition. In the same vain, reformist movements have continued ever since.

However, in their low-church point-of-view, tradition came to be regarded mainly as the elements of the immediate past. Discarding the ways of their direct predecessors, theologians presented new, „tradition-free“ views – which, ironically, became traditions later rejected by others in turn. Non-traditionalism became the hallmark of a new individualism, of generational emancipation. Each generations rejection of their parents‘ views was presented almost as a sign of maturity.

Of course, not only the bad things were discarded. Many babies were thrown out with the bath water as new views „replaced“ the old ways, without anybody realizing that little was actually accomplished beyond a repetition of the same circle. Rejection followed tradition followed rejection followed tradition .

What is needed to break the circle is a new(?) or at least a revised view of tradition. More in vein with high-church theology, tradition has to be seen as a contiguous flow continuing throughout church history-which is, after all, the continuing history of the community of the Spirit. At the center of this flow, a consistent core can be found. You might call it „the Gospel“, a „Rule of Faith“, or, as Belcher does, the „Great Tradition.“ This core is what makes Christian theologies of all times „Christian“ and what defines the center of a centered-set theology.

Even though it remains the task of each generation to continue the flow and to re-examine, critique and contextualize the tradition inherited from their fathers, the core is not something to be reinvented ever again. Here, the challenge to the theologian is to call upon the „Great Tradition“, to extract the core and to live up to it.

Five criteria for Pentecostal Theology

Reflecting on what criteria Pentecostal theological thinking would need to fulfill in order to be acceptable (or even accessible?) to a postmodern mindset, all the while staying Pentecostal, the following list is what I came up with so far. I’d love to hear your comments…

  1. It must be postfoundational. From a postmodern point of view, this should be number one. This is where postmodernism rightly recognizes the failure of the Enlightenment project. We need to get away from seeking assurance in some mythical objective foundation. Which does not mean there’s no foundation to be found at all. After all, there’s a reason why I’m signing all my emails with the famous credo ut intellegam (I believe, therefore I am). My faith, and therefore my being related to Christ through his Spirit should be the basis on which I am building.
  2. It must be Christ-centered. I have previously written on Christocentrism as the organizing motif of Pentecostal theology. And I simply think there can’t be any „Christian“ theology without Christ at the center. At the same time, the definition of a clear center facilitates the move from a foundationalist „bounded-set“ system into a more open „centered-set“ theology, where truth is defined by its relation to the center, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, such a Christocentric model fends off the dangers of radical postmodernism with its completely relativistic „relational-set“ structures, where truth is simply defined by the consensus of the community, no matter where it can be found.
  3. It must be mediated by the Spirit. This seems to be the sine qua non from the Pentecostal side with its major emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. And, indeed, the inclusion of the Holy Spirit as the authority on Truth (with a capital T) mitigates the effect of the subjective elements introduced by Postmodernism. By community we mean the community of Spirit-indwelled believers; by tradition the tradition of that very community, shaped by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Even the Bible we read as the inscripturated work of that Holy Spirit in the community of believers.
  4. It must be supported by the Scriptures. Having said the above, the Bible has to remain the foremost source of truth mediated by the Holy Spirit. It is more than the starting-point of the tradition of a Spirit-indwelled community. By accepting it as the „word of God“, we attach to it an authority beyond other sources – all the while remaining conscious of our own limitations in reading and interpreting it.
  5. It must be driven by the community. Postmodernism correctly criticizes the role of the individual „self“ in the foundational model. When access to truth becomes more fluid, the community has an important role in mediation. Note that this mediating ability (1) derives from the Spirit who is the source of this particular community, and (2) applies beyond the present also to past members of this same community, which should make us value tradition much more. The Spirit (i.e. the authority on Truth) and the community (a place for construtivist discovery of the truth) form two poles of a continuum, between which the believers find their conception of theological truth.

A model that carefully relates Bible, community, reason, tradition, experience and gives a prominent place to the Holy Spirit behind all of them should be capable of balancing a large part of the postmodern subjectivity while avoiding the pitfalls of foundationalism.

The Shack — or: how the story of a meeting with God becomes a theology book

The ShackWhen I first opened William Paul Young’s The Shack, I was fully aware of the controversy and discussions surrounding this new Christian best-seller. I had read some strong arguments for and against its depiction of God (and a lot of nit-picking, too). So I determined from the beginning not to read a theology book, but accept its form as a novel in order to avoid getting caught up in theological details and miss the main message (a concept that somehow sounds familiar from another major Christian work, if you know what I mean :-)). However, I quickly found out that this is impossible: The Shack is a theology book — just in disguise.

  1. The Shack is narrative theology at its best! I haven’t read a lot of books that manage to engage the postmodern mind with a multitude of profound theological themes the way The Shack does. As the plot turns and twists, the book and it’s main character (God) continue to surprise me in ways I would never have expected. Old theological truths come to light again — but not only in the mind. The book engages me as a person as I’m surprised, I laugh and cry with Mack. It makes me ask questions and reflect about God and his relationship to the world (and to me in particular) in a way a systematic theology could never do. In its story form, it successfully avoids becoming an intellectual exercise only and, at the end, leaves me amazed and deeply moved by God’s continuing presence. This is what theology is supposed to be like!
  2. The Shack is not abstract systematic theology. It is just when I try to dissect the text in my mind in a classic modernist way, when I try to deduce all of its individual theological statements about the nature of God, that I might possibly disagree with the author’s position. I’m quick to write "might", though, because really, I don’t. Two reasons: (a) First of all, this totally misses the point of the book. This is not a collection of propositional statements about God. Rather, it is an attempt to convey the experience of meeting God in the midst of tragedy. (b) Second, The Shack is way too well written for such an exercise to even work. Trying to analyze the author’s theological position just shows how much care and reflection went into the crafting of the story. Take his depiction of the trinity, for example. Not only can I not find it faulty, but I have seldom found such a complete explanation of the trinity that is understandable (within our obvious limits) at that.
  3. The Shack in its own framework redeems itself. Let’s assume for a moment you disagree. You haven’t gotten beyond the shock of God the father being portrayed as an African-American woman and the Spirit making a mess in the garden. You think this is bad theology, heresy and maybe even blasphemy. Then, maybe, you have overlooked a couple of important points: (a) It’s a novel. (b) It’s a novel! (c) Even within the novel, the narrative framework with its surprise ending leaves enough room to doubt the reality (much more the correctness) of Mack’s experience. (d) Assuming Mack’s account of his "week-end" is correct (within the novel), it still contains so many moments where the various persons of the trinity explain that their nature is much more complex than what Mack sees; that it is beyond human understanding; and that God deliberately "limits himself" in some ways (even disguising himself) to meet Mack on a level that he is able to at least relate with. Now, if you take all of this into account and you still want to throw out the book for being bad theology, I wonder whether we read the same work at all.

So, in short: I love it. The paperback edition I bought has Eugene Peterson saying on the front cover that "this book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good." And, even though in our short-lived world, I’m not too sure about the "generation" thing, if you replace "this book" by "this genre", I think he just may be right.

Conclusion: Read it. Enjoy it. And get your own impression — which is why I deliberately won’t give you any links to the discussions I read. Hopefully: Be blessed by the experience.

 

Ecclesia semper [reformanda]: A plea for the church

One of the basic tenets of the Protestant Reformation, particularly of Martin Luther is ecclesia semper reformanda, the position that the church always has to keep reforming itself. In many areas where tradition and institutionalization have done their work, this has become a dire need. I greatly appreciate the many good questions raised by a lot of my postmodern friends, writers, and the emerging church. We cannot close our eyes to the need to be the Church of Christ in a way that communicates our faith appropriately in our times. The church does need to be reformed — always!

Yet, in reading books, blogs, facebook comments and status lines, I keep noticing a trend that disturbs me: I find that many people who ask all the right questions and strive to live and be the church in a meaningful way have adopted a stance toward the church at large that basically says this: Everything’s wrong! Fortunately, we are here now to set things right and make the Church what it is supposed to be.

Dear Friends: You cannot make the Church what it is supposed to be. It already is. It is and always has been the Church of Christ. The beloved bride, which he has cherished, protected and carried through the centuries. The ecclesia semper reformanda is first of all ecclesia semper [lat. always the church]– and nothing has ever changed about that. You are not about to invent the wheel, nor the church. Christ has founded this church many centuries ago and he said the gates of hell would not prevail against it — much less the currents of time, tradition and philosophy.

You are asking the right questions. You are criticizing habits, traditions and ways of life in the Church of Christ that are not right in our times. You are pointing out areas where the wrong priorities have been set. You are rebuking people who have led the church without regard for its environment. But the methods you criticize may have been a blessing in their time — and Christ has used them to save and bless people. The priorities may have been correct for their context — and Christ was present within that context, too. The people you look down at have done great things for God. 

You are correct in seeking reformation for the church. But, please, don’t do it by despising the precious church that is and has always been the Church of Christ. 

Should Evangelicals Embrace or Resist Postmodernism?

Should Evangelicals Embrace or Resist Postmodernism?I can’t believe that people still see this as an either/or question. After all, postmodernism is here, which doesn’t really make it an option if you want to reach the world. Which is not to say we should uncritically adopt any postmodern claim, but, at the end, there’s no way around at least engaging postmodernism on its terms.

A look at emergent ecclesiology

After the Emerging Church tried to "reinvent" the church (McLaren), theologians take a critical look at the new emergent ecclesiology (if there really is such a thing). The Knox Centre’s freshly installed Kevin Ward did exaclty that in his recent inaugural lecture entitled, "IT MIGHT BE EMERGING: BUT IS IT CHURCH?." The bulk of the paper does pose the question as to what exactly constitutes a church according to orthodox belief (more specifically, the Nicene Creed) and comparing the answer to emergent positions. While the whole paper (put online by Jason Goroncy) is worth a read, here’s his conclusion.

When is a church a church? I would probably in the end agree with Miroslav Volf’s conclusion, that “where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, not only is Christ present among them, but a Christian church is there as well, perhaps a bad church, a church that may well transgress against love and truth, but a church nonetheless.” Many in the emerging movement prefer to talk about the emerging conversation than emerging church. My plea would be for those within the movement to include in the conversation all of those who with them are members of the “one holy catholic apostolic church”, so they might come to more adequately share those marks. And to those sure they are members of that church, but suspicious as to whether these new comers qualify, to reach out in conversation with them and so help us all to more fully demonstrate the transforming presence of the risen Christ in our life together.

 

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me …

http://www.time.com/time/…1847053,00.html

Time.com has an interesting article on the relation between prosperity gospel and the economic crisis. Although their title blows it way out of proportions by suggesting that God might be to blame for the whole mess, the article is an interesting read with sources like the UC Riverside’s John Walton and Rochester’s Anthea Butler. HT to Willem Ouweneel.

Out of the inbox mess

Now, I know it’s been quite some time since my last post. Part of this is due to the massive amount of work that’s been coming my way during the last months. No, I’m not succumbing to burnout, but I did need to reorganize and even drop a number of things from my agenda.

On the way, I discovered a number of helpful things such as a new focus on my God-given gifts, as well as some work-related theory to make my life easier (with methodologies such as Getting Things Done by David Allen or Simplify by Siewert/Küstenmacher). Also, in trying to implement whatever fit me from these theories, I came about a great piece of software to help me organize my central information store, Microsoft Outlook.

So, although I do not blog about technical things very often any more, I’d like to introduce you to ClearContext: This amazing outlook addon helped me get rid of the sometimes thousands of emails in my inbox in an organized manner. Here’s what I like about it:

  • Topics help me assign specific emails to one of the many projects I am working on. I used to do this with different "project" folders (and ClearContext seamlessly integrated with my existing classifications), but here’s what’s new: Once I assign a topic to an email, ClearContext automatically assigns the same topic to any new messages in the conversation. With a single click,  I can file an individual message, my response to it or even the entire thread. Also, what I like is that ClearContext does not use Outlook’s categories for this, so those remain free for GTD’s idea of contexts (like @work, @home).
  • Which brings me to threaded views. ClearContext does an amazing job of giving me access to all related items (emails, todos, appointments) for every message. I pull up some email related to a project (or get a new one that’s automatically classified) and have all the relevant information accessible right away.
  • Prioritization helps me find out what’s important: ClearContext does a great job of recognizing which contacts are more important to me than others. Color coding helps distinguish important emails from less important ones.
  • In order to get things done, ClearContext allows me to directly create todos and appointments from incoming emails. It also has a lot of useful features to deal with follow-up — way beyond Outlook’s flags.
  • With the dashboard, I can plan my day: It shows me all relevant emails, appointments and tasks at a glance — no need for Outlook Today any more.
  • Since ClearContext does a good job at using native Outlook features to organize the information, everythings syncs very nicely with my Pocket PC.

 Just a number of days with ClearContext and I can’t imagine living without it any more. And, having cleaned up my heavily congested inbox, I somehow feel like the guys in LOTR when they finally emerge from the abysses of Moria — clean air, finally.

Über Christoph

Christoph Fischer (* 1978) ist seit mehr als 15 Jahren im hauptamtlichen pastoralen Dienst, zuletzt bei der Volksmission Freudenstadt. Ab August 2018 wechselt Christoph in den Pfarrdienst der Evangelischen Landeskirche in Württemberg.

Christoph ist verheiratet mit Rebecca. Gemeinsam haben sie drei Töchter, Ann-Céline (* 2005), Emma (* 2007) und Pia (*2012).