Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ecclesiology and Soteriology

When thinking about the church in a genuinely theological fashion (a.k.a., doing ecclesiology), one must think of the connections between our understanding of the church and our understanding of other important doctrinal topics (or loci).

One particular connection that has been historically significant is that between soteriology and ecclesiology. This connection is brought into sharp relief by a favorite quote of mine. Some of my friends will have to forgive me this indulgence, for this is a quote to which I often refer but has not yet made its way onto drulogion. I offer it to all readers, whether it is new to you or not, as a point of discussion:

"The Reformation, inwardly considered, was just the ultimate triumph of Augustine's doctrine of grace over Augustine's doctrine of the Church" (B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Augustine, pp. 321-22).

There is much that could be said to unpack this quote as a historical thesis. For instance, one would need to address the tensions within Augustine developmentally, i.e., his sacerdotal ecclesiology was an early commitment which was only intensified during the Donatist controversy, whereas his predestinarian soteriology was a later development emerging out of his anti-Pelagian polemics. Or it could also be noted the sense in which the sacramental soteriology of the medieval period could be considered as the triumph of Augustine's doctrine of church over the his doctrine of grace, and not merely the two existing side-by-side. It would also need to be acknowledged that the Reformers were not merely applying Augustine's soteriology critically to other doctrines, but were in fact radicalizing his soteriology along a trajectory which made its critical function possible and necessary. Finally, the reason why such a radical Augustinianism requires a rejection of a sacerdotal ecclesiology must be explained (e.g., if salvation rests in God alone, then the church cannot be the dispenser of grace).

But all these historical points of exposition and discussion, interesting though they are in their own right, lead to the much more important systematic insight: the intimate connection between soteriology and ecclesiology. One's understanding of grace and one's understanding of the church necessarily impinge on one another. This connection took a certain form in the reformation period. But whatever one's commitments, the connection is unavoidable. Perhaps today's ecclesiological discussions (polity, missiology, worship, ordination, membership, etc.) need to attend to our soteriological assumptions. Who knows, this may illumine our differences and in the end light the path forward.

Any thoughts?
What do you think of this quote historically?
What do you think of it theologically?
How do your soteriological and ecclesiological commitments connect?
How should the logic of the connection run: from soteriology to ecclesiology, or vice versa?
What other ecclesiological connections ought to be made?


Angie Van De Merwe said...

God is "in Christ" reconcilling the world. As believers, we are representatives to the world of God's grace (identification then commitment to world), which is individually focused. This is the understanding of Protestant Christianity, while understanding "a people of God", a communatarian approach, is an understanding of God's sovereignty in salvation and appropriating the "means of grace", in identifying with the community of faith.
Which comes first:
Salvation (an understanding of God's grace) or ecclesiology (an understanding of God's "call")? I don't think it much matters, as long as the individual comes to understand the significance of both. We cannot have salvation apart from God or the Church.

I think the problem for postmodernity is defining the Church. What is "the Church"? Isn't it anyone doing the work of God in "taking on the causes" of Christ in bringing about justice with grace?

WTM said...


Is this in the collected works somewhere?

JohnLDrury said...

I'm not sure if its in the collected works, but if it was it woudl be in vo. 4 or 5. But here's the info on the original publication:

Main Author: Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge, 1851-1921.
Title: Calvin and Augustine / by Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield ; edited by Samuel G. Craig; with a foreword by J. Marcellus Kik.
Format: Book
Publisher: Philadelphia, Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1956.
Subject(s): Calvin, Jean, 1509-1564 --Theology.
Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo --Theology.
Location: *Main Stacks (circulating)
Call Number: BX9418 .W32 1956
Status: Not Charged
Notes: Copies 1-2

WTM said...

I looked through the collected works today and I didn't see it, which is too bad since those are the best source for BB still relatively easy to get a hold of.