The Church and the Kingdom
A New Testament Study
By Jesse B. Thomas, D. D., LL.D
THE STUDY OF ECCLESIOLOGY
ITS PLACE IN THE SCHEME OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
I. logical order. - In the development of Christian doctrine there is perceptible a natural order, in which each step seems an essential precondition to the arrival of its successor. It is well to note the place which ecclesiology normally takes in this advancing series. The theologian ordinarily treats the topics to be discussed, in the following order; viz., theology, anthropology, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology. It is interesting to observe also that the chronological order in which these topics actually emerged into prominence in history was almost exactly correspondent. First came the discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity, or theology proper, at the Council of Nicea in the fourth century. Next, the inquiry as to the constitution of the person of Christ, which involved anthropology as well as Christology, at the Council of Chalcedon in
the fifth century. Later, with Anselm in the twelfth century, the effort to formulate a theory of atonement brought the topic of soteriology to the front. Not until the seventeenth century, and the breaking asunder of Christendom in the Reformation under Luther, did the question of ecclesiology reach its radical form. For it became necessary then to determine whether it was essential to the true idea of the church that it should be a visible imperial organism, loss of membership in which entailed separation from Christ and salvation. The question of eschatology is still in nubibus in our own day. The Book of Revelation still needs most of all to be revealed. It is still the subject of the most diverse interpretations. It is last in Scripture, and remains last in yielding a definitely formulated doctrine. Recapitulating the order of topics thus disclosed, observe
1. The primary position of theology. "In the beginning God;" so runs the first verse of Scripture. For without God there is no beginning of the universe, nor of intelligent thought concerning it. Science and philosophy are daily recognizing more distinctly that they can find no starting-point except
from this postulate. Without it cosmos returns to chaos and becomes unintelligible.
This idea is also germinal. All Scripture and all history lie hid in it. Progress must be from a beginning, and ordered progress implies guidance and purpose. So the universe comes to have a meaning, and revelation issues in prophecy. To interpret either wisely, we must "look to the end of things that are to be abolished" and "judge nothing before the time." Here, again, science and philosophy are fast falling into line with the theological implications of Scripture. The scientific theory of evolution is more and more a theory of what Henry Drummond called "Advolution." The question of origin is overshadowed by that of destiny. The unsatisfied eye turns from the terminus a quo to study the more significant terminus ad quern. (Cf. Lloyd Morgan's "Interpretation of Nature" and Thomson's "Bible of Nature" - Bross Lectures for 1907.)
On the other hand, the marked growth of so-called "Humanism" and "Personal Idealism" in philosophy reveals a disposition to turn to human personality, rather than to automatic mechanism in nature, for an explanation of the world's ongoing. Will, as
a source of energy and intelligent design (Aristotle's "Final Cause"), thus returns to a place of supremacy from which materialism would exclude it (Cf. Lord Bacon on results of deeper study of nature.) So God becomes "first, last and midst"; for "of him and through him and to him are all things."
2. Christology a riper manifestation of God. Assaults on Scripture have been especially directed against the Book of Genesis and the Gospel of John - and wittingly; for in these are emphasized the beginning, in creation, and the new beginning, in the incarnation. To rob the record of either is to destroy the fruit in the seed. "In the beginning was the Logos;" but the manifestation of God was only dimly given in creation and Old Testament history. The works of creation reveal theiotes only, rather than theotes (attributes, instead of personality), as Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans (1:20). In Jesus, for the first time, the "Word became flesh," and so completely articulate. In him, for the first time, men saw the "very image of his [God's] substance" (Hebrews 1:3). In his "face" shone visibly "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 4: 6). So that he might justly
say, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9), and John might say of him, "This is the true God, and eternal life" (1 John 5:20).
But Jesus was not only, in a unique sense, the "Son of God," being "God manifest in the flesh"; he was also the "Son of man" - the revealer of humanity, in its divine ideal and its actual condition. For, in his sinless character, he demonstrated that sin is not an originally inherent necessity of our nature - he so "condemned sin in the flesh"; and in his sorrowful experiences and tender ministries he made it clear that man has somehow "fallen short of the glory of God" destined for him. He showed also how completely the world is now "out of joint," in that his very goodness entailed the greater suffering. He revealed the true misery of man as an alien in his Father's world: "God's first-born Son - first-born in grandeur and in grief." As the typical man, he had not, like foxes or birds, a "place where to lay his head"; for man must be reminded that because he is neither fox nor bird he must be restless until he rests in God. The swine are content with husks; but the prodigal, although among swine, is not of them; and the very shame
entailed by his hunger for beasts' food compels him to remember that he is a son, and so, having come to himself, to come also to his father.
Christology thus advances beyond theology proper in that the inarticulate utterances of the earlier revelation now gather themselves into an intelligible and final word; and in that word it is made clear that God's thoughts toward man are "thoughts of peace and not of evil" (Jeremiah 29: 11). For Christ is "the Word" of God and Christ is incarnate love.
But Christ is the incarnation of humanity as well as of Deity. He took our nature upon him that we might become "partakers of the divine nature." He thus reveals man to himself as well as God to man. Through him we learn what man was, what he might have become, what he has become, and what he may become through grace.
3. Soteriology the purpose of Incarnation. Bible history is the history of redemption. Creation leads providentially to recreation. The union of God and man, in the person of Christ, is in order to the reunion of God and man in the world. Reconciliation implies prior redemption; redemption
rests upon the offering of the consummate sacrifice "once for all at the end of the ages"; and that sacrifice could come only through incarnation. Thus the "eternal purpose," that "runs through the ages," fulfilled itself in the atoning work of Christ; in which the age-long mystery of the universe is solved and "all things" are "reconciled." Only in "the fulness of time" and in its normal order, could this solution come, and only "in the fulness of time" could the notion of atonement emerge into distinct recognition.
4. Ecclesiology the complement of Soteriology. Luke, in the Acts, speaks of those who are "being saved" (2:47). For salvation, as the Greek word etymologically implies, is bringing to completeness This involves the idea of a process. Salvation is, as Paul indicates in Philippians 2:12, a thing to be "wrought out" from incipient immaturity to ripened fullness. Regeneration is the outcome of redemption, accepted by faith, and is complete in itself. But it is the completeness of the new-born babe, who is still to develop into "a full-grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ." (Cf. Teleioi kai olokleroi" - James 1:4).
It is at this point that the church emerges
into prominence as the channel in and through which the Christian life is to find its expression in the individual and the community. We thus come in due order upon the subject of our study.
The earthly church, through help of which such development is to be effected, becomes a type of, and prelude to, the arrival of that "general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Hebrews 12:23), of which latter assembly eschatology treats, and which need here be only mentioned as the concluding feature of history, revelation, and doctrinal study, alike.
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