Liturgical Theology by Simon Chan
Part One: Foundations – Chapter 1: the Ontology of the Church
Is the Church an instrument to accomplish God’s purpose in creation?
- In this view, creation defines the Church.
- Then why don’t we have more of Genesis 1 & 2 and so much ‘background’ history?
Is the Church the expression of God’s purpose in creation?
- In this view, creation exists so that a relationship of grace can be had at all!
- “Even if humans had not sinned, Jesus Christ would still have needed to come in the fullness of time, because only through that revelation is covenantal relationship realized in the fullest measure – as communion with the triune God” (p23).
- The Church doesn’t exist to fix a broken creation, creation exists to realize the Church. Therefore, the Church is not an entity within the larger culture but is a culture.
The Church has priority over creation.
- Its existence is both in creation and in God.
- It’s a “divine-humanity” or a “theanthropic reality.”
- Its identity defines its purpose!
- “Failure to understand this fact has led to a reduction of the church’s role to a largely sociological one of a service provider catering to individual believers’ spiritual needs” (p24).
- “He who has not the Church for his mother, has not God for his father.” – St. Cyprian
- The Church’s foundation identity in God (or “ontological relationship” with God) spells out as the people of God, the Body of Christ, and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
People (Family) of God
The Church exists in continuity with the Old Testament covenant people.
- Supercessionism is an incorrect belief that the Church is a replacement of Israel rather than Israel’s expansion to include Gentiles’ in-grafting.
- The calling (or election) of Israel sets the ground for election in the Church.
- The history of the Old Testament becomes the history of every Christian.
- As God’s particular people the Church has distinguishing ‘marks’ that separate it from the world: Word and Sacrament.
- “In its evangelization, it would not plead with people to find room for faith in their lives; it would invite them to leave home socio-culturally speaking like Abraham of old, and be given new lives in a new country, in the assembly of the Messiah, the public order of the heavenly city” (p27).
Body of Christ
“The relation of the Church to Christ is not ‘like’ that of a man’s body to the man himself. It is that of Christ’s body to the Lord Himself” (p28).
- “The total Christ” or totus Christus caput et membra notes the Church’s identity both with Christ and separate from Christ: it’s both community and association.
- If the Church is just a way of organizing ourselves, then all the biblical descriptions are mere metaphors for social realities (e.g. sacraments are bare memorials of Christ’s work). But since the Church is a transcendent reality, the biblical descriptions are much deeper than “the plain meaning of scripture,” because what’s “plain” to us is totally based on our ever-changing culture.
- The Church is a communion of members incorporated into the Body of Christ, and becomes one in the act of communion.
- “You are what you eat,” or “You are yourselves what you receive.”
- We are many grains of wheat first ground and crushed (fasting & exorcism), then stuck together by water (baptism), and then baked into one bread (chrism or confirmation).
- Ecclesial communion is primarily Eucharistic – thus putting the chief focus not on hierarchy but fellowship characterized by love.
2. The Church is a living body that exists through history, and its history we call “tradition.”
- Tradition is like an argument in which the community’s fundamental agreements are advanced, developed, and refined through both internal and external questions.
- Tradition is the means by which the church understands its true identity (tradition = history = long-term collective memory = self-identity)
- “The New Testament was itself the result of more than three centuries of church life, reflections and discussions in councils. How can we accept the New Testament and reject that very process in the church that ‘canonizes’ it? Without tradition, the present day church cannot legitimately claim to be in line with the New Testament – sola Scriptura notwithstanding” (p31).
Temple of the Spirit
This image of the Church makes the previous two possible.
- The people of God doesn’t invent its own practices or ‘marks,’ the sanctifying Spirit enables them and makes them means of grace for the members.
- The Spirit links the Body to the Head.
- The Spirit allows Christ (the Way, Truth, and Life) to be fully embodied in the Church in its tradition (way), doctrine (truth), and fellowship (life).
- “The Pilgrim Church” = image of the Church always on the move, being transformed and grown by the Spirit until the end of the journey: the end of the age.
The Holy Spirit, as the third person of the Trinity, has an intimate connection to the Church.
- The Day of Pentecost is the birth of the Church as the Body of Christ and the Temple of the Spirit (but not as the people of God.)
- This was a new work of God, not merely a continuation of Jesus’ ministry.
- “The Spirit has created a community that is truly catholic, transcending all ethnic, cultural and social barriers. It is a communion in which real diversity exists side by side with real unity, a communion that could truly be called a body with many different parts” (p34).
- The Holy Spirit is not only a gift from the Father but also the giver of specific gifts.
- The Holy Spirit enables the Tradition in the Church.
- He anticipates and opens the way to the end of the age. He is the spirit of truth, pointing us to Christ in everything the Church does. He is not a static deposit but fills the work of the Church with life.
- “To speak of the Spirit in such a manner is to recognize that the church as the living Tradition embodies a living and developing dogma and, at the same, that the development of dogma does not lead the church astray but follows the trajectory set by the gospel events” (p35).
- The Gospel story doesn’t end with Christ’s resurrection, it continues into ecclesiology and pneumatology – the existence and role of the Church is part of the Gospel narrative!
- This is the context in which we can understand the Church to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
- Since the Holy Spirit brings the Church into the midst of the Gospel story, the Church is held in eschatological tension – between the “already” and the “not yet.”
- In the “already,” Christ was bodily present, and he’ll be bodily present in the “not yet.” The Spirit enables Christ’s Eucharistic presence in the meantime.
- The Spirit as the “first fruits” of the new creation is understood in the context of the Church.
- As he’s called upon (epiclesis), the Spirit actualizes the “already” through remembrance (anamnesis) and gives us foretastes of the “not yet” (prolepsis).
- Failing to uphold the eschatological tension results in skewed views on either extreme.
The Spirit’s mission in the Church is to bring the Church to its end – the parousia.
- The Church’s primary mission is to be itself – to be Christ for the world, and yet also to feed on and be disciplined by Christ.
- But, practically speaking, how does the Church become the people of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Spirit? Through its worship.