This is part of a series based on chapters four and five of my new book, The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement, in which I look at the ecclesiology of German theologian Jürgen Moltmann and put it into conversation with the ecclesial practices of the emerging church movement (ECM). Part One Part Two
“The new criterion of theology and faith is to be found in praxis…Truth must be practicable. Unless it contains initiative for the transformation of the world, it becomes a myth of the existing world.”
Jürgen Moltmann said those words in 1968, addressing the World Student Federation Conference. Personally, I think that every professional theologian should have that quote framed and put over their desks.
Moltmann’s ecclesiology is not a myth of the existing world. Instead, it is eminently practicable, which is why it’s been largely ignored by the theological academy. But for aspiring church planters, I don’t think there’s a better place to look for inspiration than Moltmann’s understanding of the church.
The church, Moltmann argues, lives in a dialectical tension. That is, the church lives at once remembering the past (crucifixion) and proclaiming the future (resurrection). Just as Jesus Christ embodied this dialectical, eschatological reality, the church as the body of Christ now embodies the same reality.
As the primary (but by no means exclusive) conveyer of God’s eschatological hope in the world, Moltmann compares the church to a disease’s host body, whose job it is to infect the world with a germ—and here the germ is the hope of liberation. The church plays a mediating role in society, reminding the world of the hope in God’s eschatological future.
The church is not the subject of Moltmann’s ecclesiology, for the church does not have a mission. Instead, the subject is always the mission of Christ—carried out by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Father—for it is in that mission that the church is engaged. The church is but one of the objects of Christ’s mission in the world, and “it discovers itself as one element in the movements of the divine sending, gathering together and experience.” In saying this, Moltmann is contradicting previous theologians who have, since the Council of Florence in 1442, subscribed to extra ecclesiam nulla salus and placed the church as the centerpiece of God’s mission and God’s salvific activity.
In other words, the church is a non-exclusive vehicle of God’s grace.
Can you begin to see the connections between Moltmann’s ecclesiology and the ecclesiology of the emerging church movement?