Marks of the Body of Christ

By Charry, Ellen T. | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Marks of the Body of Christ


Charry, Ellen T., Anglican Theological Review


Marks of the Body of Christ. Edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W Jenson. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999. xii + 167 pp. $18.00 (paper).

In a concentrated drive to invigorate comfortable churches, Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson have been publishing furiously. This volume of conference papers is one in a series they have produced. It is a set of ten articles on the "Seven Marks of the Church."

Seven marks of the Church? The number and the items come from Martin Luther's treatise "On the Councils and the Church." The marks are proclamation, baptism, Eucharist, ecclesiastical discipline, ordination, catechesis, and "possession of the sacred cross," or discipleship. Luther's alternative to the four creedal "notes of the Church," combining practices and sacraments, serves a heuristic purpose.

Some of the contributors are out of sorts. They lament the insipid churches they now find themselves marginalized from and long for a robust, sacramentally grounded, reunited ecclesia. We hear deep sighs and see anger bubble up at vapid churches awash in `feel-good-about-yourselfism' and the welcoming of ancient heresies in fresh vesture. These defenders of the liturgical traditions bemoan the loss of hearty catechesis (Jenson), gutsy pastoral discipline (David Yaego), and staunch preaching of the "word that kills and makes alive" (Gerhard Forde, p. 12). A sense of deep nostalgia and longing pervades the papers that inhabit a lost world. How can the Church do battle with a shallow culture when it has surrendered to it? Senior pastors across the nation were schooled in the 1960s under the watchword "let the world set the agenda."

Jenson bemoans the loss of moral demands of a "highly opinionated God" (p. 137) and the anomalous quandary of having to catechize the baptized in a post-Christian world. He wisely points to the catechetical power of liturgy, art, and music. However, the parts of the church that are growing are often allergic to liturgy as well as to the art and music he probably has in mind. One wonders whether purveyors of "contemporary worship" for whom the gospel is synonymous with self-soothing would even understand the point of catechesis. In a candidly self-reflective and less grouchy mode, William Abraham reflects on evangelism as making disciples and initiating them into the kingdom of God and the visible and fallen church.

Yaego complains that the very notion of public exercise of the keys "gradually became unthinkable in those western churches that most fully exposed themselves to modernity" (p. 106). The self created by modernity is allergic to authority-nothing new here. The very notion of discipline is considered repressive today. …

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