The Two Tasks of Moltmann’s Future Church

I’ve been reading through Moltmann’s recent work, Ethics of HopeNot surprisingly, Moltmann develops his ethics through the framing of eschatology. Christian ethics must be understood with reference to Messianic Christology, which means that the resurrection of Christ determines how we understand present and future history. Indeed, present history is a present-future tense when understood in light of the resurrection and in the light of the promises of new creation. The church, or the organized version of Christianity, understands its vocation only in and through the Eschaton: the promised fulfillment of justice and righteousness in a transformed history. At the beginning of the book, Moltmann distinguishes his ethical approach from Reformed, Lutheran, and Anabaptist approaches as a transformative eschatology based on this Messianic Christology and an ecclesiology that is determined by the future, rather than by the present (only) or the past.

When Moltmann speaks of the vocation of the church, he denotes two related but distinct tasks. It’s worth quoting this section for you in full:

It [the church] witnesses through social service and prophecy, that is to say, through commitment to the victims and through criticism of the perpetrators. The connection between the two things is self-evident. The person who visits the sick and hears them complain that they have been left alone and forgotten by their families, goes to these families and appeals to their consciences. Through their congregational and organized social services the churches turn to the victims of this society and try to give them support, practically and spiritually. They surround the disabled with compassion and take in the unemployed and the homeless, and provide meals for the hungry. For this the churches are valued by many people, and in Germany are supported and furthered by the state. But they are also used by state and society in order to limit the damage caused by their systemic injustice. In order to prevent this, Christian service to the victims of this society must go hand in hand with public, prophetic criticism of the abuses resulting from the systems in force. Its service makes the church popular. This critical prophetic voice may in certain circumstances make it unpopular among many people. But what is at stake is the truth which alone can make it free–societies too–and the righteousness and justice which is meant to give life to all (184).

So, the call of the church with respect to justice and righteousness is twofold: to serve the poor and needy (which makes the church popular) and to publicly critique the structural (political, economic, etc.) injustices which create the conditions of having poor and needy people to serve.


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    This analysis seems sophomoric in excelsis as it totally neglects that
    there are frequently reasons for poverty, especially in our country, that have
    nothing to do with being treated unjustly. It also overlooks the manifold
    teachings of Scripture that the person unwilling to work should not receive
    assistance either, otherwise we “encourage them in their idleness” which is
    tantamount to enabling them in their sin. So let’s draw a quick distinction between the ‘biblically needy’ who are in need through no fault of their own, and the ‘culpably needy’ who are in need because of their own foolish choices. (And it’s obvious that we are called to show mercy even to the culpably needy as we are to ALL sinners, but that doesn’t somehow automatically equate to giving them aid and succor by way of material or financial support.) In fact, consider this thought experiment and tell me what you think. Suppose someone is capable of working but doesn’t try to because he doesn’t want to be responsible for himself or his family (if he has one). Work just isn’t his thing. Now suppose that the government supports him by giving him food stamps, housing allowances, cash, free medical care, a cell phone, energy assistance, a bus pass, and other things. Now stop imagining and just look around you because this is happening all over the place. In order to provide these benefits, the government takes money from people who are working hard and
    trying to be responsible for themselves and gives it to the idler. In this
    situation, who is being treated unjustly, the poor man or the working man? This is “systemic injustice” too. Isn’t the case here that the culpably poor man – taking advantage as he is of the working man – the oppressor, and not the victim? He takes what he has no right to and has not earned, and he takes it from the one who DOES have a right to it and who DID earn it (“The worker is worth his wages.”) And aren’t there millions of such oppressors? Your approach strikes me as neither just nor righteous, but only shallow and simplistic.