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 Part Three Part Four
“Friend” as Christological Office
One aspect of Moltmann’s early ecclesiology deserves special mention, both because it is a noteworthy break between Moltmann and other dominant christologies, and because it has special resonance with a key motif in the emerging church movement. In Church in the Power of the Spirit, Moltmann reflects on the three traditional offices of Christ: prophet, priest, and king. To those, Moltmann adds the office of “transfigured Christ” to emphasize the aesthetic dimension of the resurrection. That is, in the Transfiguration, we are given a vision of the resurrected Christ and of our eschatological resurrection that transcends the traditional, rational categories of prophet, priest, and king.
And then Moltmann adds a fifth office: “But the fellowship which Jesus brings men, and the fellowship of people with one another to which he calls, would be described in one-sided terms if another ‘title’ were not added, a title to describe the inner relationship between the divine and the human fellowship: the name of friend.” For Moltmann, the term “friend” signifies a relationship that is voluntary and personal, based on loyalty, not obligation, and so complements the traditional Christological titles. “Friendship unites affection with respect.” He particularly likes that friendship is entered into freely: “friendship is a human relationship which springs from freedom, exists in mutual freedom and preserves that freedom.”
Moltmann notes that the term “friend” is only used twice of Jesus in the Gospels—in the synoptic tradition, it is used as an insult by the opponents of Jesus and John the Baptist: “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” And in the Johanine tradition, Jesus refers to himself as a friend of his disciples.
The most potent aspect of Jesus’ friendship of human beings is the inherent openness in the friendship relationship. In befriending sinners and the lovable, Jesus opens the eternal relationship of the Trinity to all human beings. Moltmann concludes, “Thus, theologically, the many-faceted work of Christ, which in the doctrine of Christ’s threefold office was presented in terms of sovereignty and function, can be taken to its highest point in his friendship.”