Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Response to Chapter 10 of "Faith Seeking Understanding", by Daniel L. Migliore

In this chapter, Daniel Migliore asserts that our attitude toward understanding the doctrine of the church, ecclesiology, interferes with our ability to honestly and to fully examine the role of the church in modern culture. According to Migliore, many people associate church doctrine solely with administration or organization. He calls the reader to recognize that understanding the nature of the church and its mission in the world today is central to the Christian faith. God is communal in nature and seeks to be in relationship with humankind. This God / human relationship is expressed in the church and through the church, making the nature and doctrine of the church central to our understanding of and relationship with God. Migliore then goes about explaining how western cultural biases have created problems for the church and distorted our understanding of the role of the church.

I agree with Migliore’s entire argument. Western culture is the culture of “I.” At the 2010, United Methodist Church Memphis Conference Len Sweet pointed out that we have “iPhones, iPods, and iPads. We cannot even spell wii without using two i’s.” I would add that we have personal shoppers, personal assistants, personal trainers, and a personal Lord and Savior. American culture celebrates the individual therefore, we tend to place our individual interest above all others, even in church. This attitude is compounded by our compartmentalized lives. We have our business associates, our friends, and our church friends. Luckily, these three groups usually only come together at our funerals or on our Face Book page.

Modern culture’s emphasis on individualism creates even greater problems for the church because those outside the church recognize that what the church says and how church members live varies greatly. In this reality, the language of the church is only cosmetic; it only covers the surface of modern Christian life. Deep down we mimic the culture, making hypocrites of ourselves.

According to Migliore, the church also suffers from an inclination toward bureaucratic organization. This is particularly troublesome because bureaucratic systems are cumbersome and hierarchical. Bureaucracies marginalize individuals and establish rigid rules of conduct and order. People and relationships become unimportant. It is easy to see this is not the relational and reconciling truth God has willed for His church.

Migliore next examines the various images of the church found in the New Testament. These images reveal the church to be the people of God, a servant people making up the body of Christ within a community of the Spirit. Each of these images portray are church as community and emphasize the importance of relationships. The New Testament church is also deeply connected to, and rooted in, the lives of the poor and marginalized.

The New Testament images of the church are then compared to current models of the church, as defined by Avery Dulles. Using Dulles’ five models of church, Migliore honestly and painfully examines the current state of the church. Dulles’ five modern church models are the church as institution, as mystical communion, as sacrament, as herald, and as servant. I agree with Migliore that while ach model has much to offer, none completely fulfill the New Testament’s image of the church. More importantly, no single model completely aligns the church with God’s call on the church.

Migliore concludes by calling for Christians to “let the church be the church” and he is right. I feel we have imposed our culture and attitudes upon the church rather than allowing the church to shape and inform our culture. At the same time, the church must be culturally relevant in order to effectively deliver Christ’s message to the world.

Understanding the doctrine of the church and both the Biblical and modern models of the church are essential to pastoral care. The church needs to be a safe and loving place, apart from the culture and institutions of the world but still existing within that context. In this way, the church engages in the same balancing act of life that individuals engage in. Modeling love, hope, and reconciliation in the midst of modern culture is how God’s message is delivered, through the church, to each generation. The church itself becomes an instrument of God’s grace and expressing that grace is pastoral care.

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