If you were a 1st Century Jew or Roman or Greek perhaps the most incomprehensible claim of the Christians was the belief that God’s kingdom, the Eschaton, was already at work in the here and now. That claim is on the horizontal plane of time: the future is now. At times a vertical move was made: the heavenly is now earthly, and we see this in Ephesians/Colossians and in Hebrews. But the two can be reasonably synthesized into “tasting the future now.” In jargon, we are speaking of eschatology being inaugurated.
Eschatology is at the core of early Christian faith. It impacts everything, including especially what we think about the church.
What do you think of Levering’s three marks of the church?
Matthew Levering, in his new book, Jesus and the Demise of Death, explores a Christian theology of the future and has a most helpful chapter on the eschatological marks of the church. Let me sketch the “marks” of the church. In church history most have seen four marks: one, holy, apostolic and universal/catholic church (Creed). The Reformation led to some rethinking: gospel preaching, sacraments, church discipline all through the revelation in the Word of God. Mark Dever says there are nine marks: preaching, biblical theology, gospel, conversion, evangelism, membership, discipline, discipleship and leadership.
Levering, a Roman Catholic, is outside this discussion and finds three apostolic marks of the church — but he swallows up each into an eschatological vision. The church, in the here and now, anticipates in life now the future kingdom of God. That is, the church has an eschatological ontology. Here are his three marks: apostolic teaching, eucharistic worship, and all possessions are God’s gift to be shared with others according to need. Most of the Reformation and evangelical delineations of “marks” end up being “apostolic teaching” and sacrament while I’ve not seen anyone work sharing possessions as a mark of the church.
Levering’s chp gets off by posing his view against four heavyweights who think Constantine got things messed up: Hurtado, NT Wright, JH Yoder and Richard Horsley. Each believes the eschatological vision was diminished in the church while Levering thinks in those three marks we are tasting the future — they, too, are an eschatological ontology.
Levering sketches Acts, John, Paul — and sees each of the three marks, which he gets more or less from Acts and especially from Acts 2:42-47. Then he examines Aquinas: faith is an eschatological posture, the eucharist is an eschatological posture, and almsgiving and sharing possessions are as well.
The church is an eschatological reality. It is a kingdom reality now present in the world. We live now into the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus. His passage into the kingdom is ours.