Christian Assembly: Marks of the Church in a Pluralistic Age

Christian Assembly: Marks of the Church in a Pluralistic Age

Christian Assembly: Marks of the Church in a Pluralistic Age

Christian Assembly: Marks of the Church in a Pluralistic Age

Synopsis

What is "church"? What makes the church one? While these questions may seem innocuous, church has become conflicted territory recently, with internal factions, external pressures, and ecumenical turmoil all calling for a more positive, studier, more resilient notion of Christian community. Wengert approaches the questions as a Reformation historian. He shows how the New Testament notion of "marks" of the church was taken up by Luther and developed by Melanchthon not as descriptive tag but as a criterion for authenticity in Christian community. Lathrop, the liturgical theologian, shows concretely how those marks can stamp the worship life of a congregation as well as the evaluative work of congregations with their pastors, bishops, superintendents, and conference ministers. Only with a sturdy sense of their own identity--as a holy people, grounded in common practices and commitments--can Christian assemblies truly engage and even transform today's cultural context. This volume originated as six lectures jointly presented to the Academy of Bishops of the ELCA in 2001.

Excerpt

The book before you seeks to answer the questions, How do you know the Christian church when you encounter it? What are its marks?

The questions themselves—urgent for some people, theoretical for others, perhaps quaint or pitiful for others—are quite simple. But at the time of the Reformation, these questions became the grounds fot such profound pastoral advice and such careful ecclesial organization that the Reformation proposals and confessions continue to have fresh import for the common life of Christians in our own day. Various lists were given: “Word and sacrament” was one. The seven characteristics listed by Luther in 1539 made up another. “Bath and table, prayer and word” was another But together these lists meant to bear witness to an event: God acting in the midst of real assemblies to bring human beings to faith, clothe them in salvation, and make them together a community of witness to the triune mercy. Together these lists meant to beat witness to an idea of church utterly dependent on the confession that God justifies us by grace alone through faith. Taken seriously, the marks of the church can be revolutionary in their ecumenical significance, existentially powerful in their gracious offer to seekers, concretely helpful to pastors and congregational leaders, acutely important to theologians. As this book discusses the “marks of the church”—the way that the church can be known—it seeks to explore that continuing practical and theological import.

This book is thus an essay in Lutheran ecclesiology. But it ought not be seen as only for Lutherans. When Lutherans discuss the church . . .

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