Pannenberg rocks my face off! I finally finished Wolfhart Pannenberg’s “The Church” today. The last chapter was worth the wait. It’s easily the best of the book. Here are some of the notes I took from it:
“There is a theologically superficial enthusiasm that makes involvement in social ethics a substitute for the substance of an uncertain faith. Such a position creates mistrust and hampers and delays progress toward Christian unity.” 151
“the most important contribution that Christians can make to human unity would certainly be to regain their own unity. The path to this goal lies through mutual recognition of one another in faith, and this must find its expression in the achievement of sacramental fellowship.” 151
“To be sure, the church is not an end in itself. It already manifests the future fellowship of the Kingdom of God, which is to include all mankind, a renewed mankind that has passed through the judgment of God. For the community of mankind can be realized only through overcoming the evil in its midst by means of God’s judgment on that evil.” 151
“Human effort cannot bring it about, but to work toward it is a natural consequence of the sacramental nature of the church as an effective sign of this future destiny of mankind. A part of its nature as a sign is that the church cannot be understood as a goal in itself, but has as its goal the future kingdom of God over all mankind. The content of that hope for God’s kingdom is the unity of mankind, that is, human fellowship in peace and justice. As an effective sign of this hope, the church therefore, if it is true to its God-given origin and essence, is to promote peace and justice throughout the world.” 151
Pannenberg is really good in accentuating the reality that human effort cannot bring about the kingdom of God. But, he seems to be able to do it in a way that never takes the heat of the church in terms of our fighting and squabbling and the price the church pays for that ridiculousness. He never lets the church off the hook, but never draws the kingdom out of the hands of God. He takes seriously the threat which disunity poses for the church. “The church can be an effective sign of the future unity of humanity only if the church itself is one…its own fragmentation reflects the divided state of the world. Thus the unity of the church is not merely a desirable goal for Christians, but one without whose realization the church cannot still exist.” 152
He’s not pushing for one church in the sense that all of the multiplicity of Christian churches should be joined into one. He’s saying that an ecumenical oneness is the way to Christian unity. He wants to see the whole church unified through the Eucharist, not through some hierarchy. One of the chief strengths of this approach is that it will make up for the indiscernible weaknesses of every Christian church.
“If a Christian knows how provisional his or her own insights and way of life are, then that Christian will be able to bring to the encounter with person who live on the basis of non-Christian traditions an awareness that their lives may be related to the same divine mystery to which his own Christian faith is related.” 153
“Christians should be fully aware that according to the message of the New Testament it is not we but the Christ who is coming again who will decide whose life and conduct are faithful to the norm of the kingdom of God which he proclaimed…in all this the old Christian virtue of humility, of knowing the distance between our own knowledge and way of life and the fullness of experience of unity in faith among Christians and to greater understanding with those who come from non-Christian religious traditions.” 154-55
He cuts to the heart of why interdependence is such an important issue today. “the overemphasis on the private sphere creates a feeling of meaninglessness, and the contrast between a person’s assumed freedom from social responsibility and the actual harm done to others through the use of such freedom compels society to restrict it. Only the development of a sense of community of mutual respect and concern can lead us beyond such dilemmas. The increase of interdependence in our human life together bring with it increasing pressures, and the more unbearable these pressures become, the more necessary it is to find solutions in the sense of the formation of a community that can deal with these problems.” 156-57
He goes of about politics for the last section. Maybe I’ll write it up another time.