Part I: THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE
(The purpose of part I of the ordination paper is to provide a way for the student to share his present grasp and understanding of the teaching and traditions of the Christian Church down through the ages and to relate this to his own theological perspective.)
I always try to go with the simplest answer. When Asked what The Greek word used for “church” in the New Testament, “ekklēsia” just means “assembly, congregation, council.” In other words, a church is a group of people, a community. This entails everything it means to be human—being sinners and yet a little lower than angels. The church, like humanity, is a living paradox, limited and sinful yet hopeful and the continued incarnation of Christ on earth.
I have no need of Nestorian ecclesiology, which is the error dividing the church into two distinct things or states of being: namely the heavenly and invisible and the earthly and temporal. I instead favor a unified view that it is in the church’s best interest to focus on the here and now knowing that grace flows from God and everyone makes it to “the Pearly Gates.”
For too long the church has had no purpose and has been content to rest on its old answers. It felt that if it challenged too much, it would alienate people, lose its members, and die. It has done the opposite, and this has alienated people, lost the children and grandchildren of its members, and started the downfall of the church. The institution as it is cannot stand, and it must be resurrected into something new. The church should become a new institution that is localized and flexible. The church should be controlled by its members and guided by its pastor. This model is a side by side model, not a top down nor a pastor leading and people following. If someone stumbles, the best position to be in to help is at the person’s side. A top down model is not the model Jesus used. He never brandished his power, he led by serving. It has been shown that the pastor out front will focus on the supposed destination and will not check to see if anyone is following his or her lead.
This church I have in mind is not a religious institution. "I want you to set aside the notion of the Christian religion, because it's a contradiction in terms. You won't learn anything positive about religion from Christianity, and if you look for Christianity in religion, you'll never find it. To be sure, Christianity uses the forms of religion, and, to be dismally honest, too many of its adherents act as if it were a religion; but it isn't one, and that's that. The church is not in the religion business; it is in the Gospel-proclaiming business. And the gospel is the good news that all man's fuss and feathers over his relationship with God is unnecessary because God, in the mystery of the Word who is Jesus, has gone and fixed it up Himself. So let that pass" (Capon, Between Noon and Three: Romance, Law, and the Outrage of Grace 163). Instead it is a practical institution. It does not spend time on high theological language and theories because Christ talked in everyday language and images. “When Jesus told his parables to the people, his disciples asked, ‘Why do you talk to them in riddles?’ And his answer was: ‘So they won’t catch on. Because anything they could catch on to would be the wrong thing. As Isaiah said, seeing they don't see and hearing they don't hear, neither do they understand [Matthew 13:10-17]. That’s why I talk to them like this: because I don’t want them to have little lights go on in their heads. I want to put out all the lights they’ve got, so that in the darkness they can listen to me.’” (Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox 78-79).
Above all, the church needs to be relevant and simplistic, giving a new and unexpected light to the world that is both warm and inviting as it is bright and blinding. The church should be practical and full of purpose. Its purpose should not be to prevent people from sinning or to tell people what to do. God in Jesus did not prevent sinners from sinning. He went around forgiving them right and left. If the church wants to represent him, it should not misrepresent his methods. Instead the church should focus on forgiveness and healing.
The church should not rest. It should always seek answers to questions it knows will never be solved completely. The church should know where it comes from but be “theologica reformata et simper reformanda”—reformed and always reforming. It should not seek the answers as much as the correct question for any given situation.
The church should take joy in the gift of the scriptures. It should not place claims that the Bible itself does not claim nor that our Jewish brothers and sisters make (as they have had the TaNaK longer). Thus the scriptures are not inerrant, infallible, or to be taken literally. Gifts are to be loved, celebrated, and used responsibly and with great care.
The church should not be an enclave of refugees from the world; it is the sacrament of God's presence in the world by the mystery of the incarnation. It looks just like the world but with a slant and twist that turn everything upside down. It is at once totally familiar but totally disorienting. The church should exemplify what H. Richard Niebuhr labeled “Christ Transforming Culture.”
The church should not await a “second coming of Christ.” Christ has already come again. He was born into this world (the first time) and then again at Easter (the second time). Christ comes again every time a stranger is fed, a prisoner is visited, and the least of these being cared for (Matthew 25:31-46). The Gospel of Thomas states, “His disciples said to him, ‘When will the rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come?’ He said to them, ‘What you are looking forward to has come, but you don’t know it.’” (Gospel of Thomas #34). Nor are we waiting for the kingdom of God, for Jesus said, “If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father'’) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you” (Gospel of Thomas #3). We are awaiting the completion of the kingdom of God, which God will finish, but we must seek to do God’s will and do our part.
The ideal plan for the church is best laid out in Matthew 7: 6-12 as reframed in the Message: “Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege. Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better? Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.” This view gives a whole new spin on sin and salvation and the sacraments.