If Jürgen Moltmann Planted a Church – Part Four

If Jürgen Moltmann Planted a Church – Part Four August 31, 2011

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

Moltmann has some pretty specific suggestions about what the church should look like.

The church can best be what he is calling it to be, Moltmann argues, if it stays small, mobile, and fluid, avoiding top-heavy bureaucracies and power-hungry individuals.  The church can check itself as to whether it is fulfilling this role by always making sure that it is primarily a fellowship of the “godless and godforsaken.”  When the church becomes the territory of the elite and the powerful, it has de facto ceased being the church.

Moltmann also writes quite specifically about the sacraments:

The practice of infant baptism, Moltmann asserts, has both theological and political problems. Theologically, it is problematic because the infant is necessarily non-resistant to the practice—instead of men and women being called to a vibrant faith, traditions with infant baptism propagate themselves by initiating submissive children into the faith.  Politically, infant baptism stands as a central practice of national churches and the “Christian society” seen in many countries, so a continuation of this practice is necessarily a vote in favor of some form of “Christendom.”

Ultimately, baptism should be a practice of liberation, a call to decision for adults.

Moltmann has a similar reflection on the Lord’s Supper.  Proposing that it should always be a practice of unity and unification among Christians, he reprimands churches that have turned communion into a “controversial theological function.”  Christ, Moltmann writes, put no preconditions on the disciples’ participation at the Last Supper, thus he argues for an open table.

Further, everyone who follows the call of Christ as Lord “has the authority to break the bread and dispense the wine…Hierarchical legalism spoils the evangelical character of the Lord’s Supper just as much as dogmatic and moral legalism.”

Um, let’s just repeat that for the benefit of everyone:

Hierarchical legalism spoils the evangelical character of the Lord’s Supper just as much as dogmatic and moral legalism.

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  • I come out of Evangelical Methodist, Assemblies of God, charismatic, Southern Baptist, and general Baptist background. Essentially infant baptism today serves about the same function as Sunday morning baby dedication. Within the social context of little church and state divide the infant baptism could be seen as a very different religious ritual.

  • Kenton

    Great thoughts on both of those subjects.

  • So is it possible to have both a high sacramentology and a relational ecclesiology simultaneously–in particular, to believe in baptismal regeneration and Real Presence? Because I’m not sure how to make the tension productive, nor am I prepared to give up the Sacraments even in service of a flat Churc

  • Also many of the liturgical churches which practice infant baptism have a sacrament for “a process of liberation, a call to decision”–it’s called Confirmation. Also, in a truly flat Church, who decides what constitutes adulthood as a prerequisite for baptism?

  • Alan K

    Great series, Tony. Questions: is baptism a sacrament for Moltmann? And (not for the sake of controversy but for description) how does Moltmann understand the presence of Christ in the meal?