Models of the Church, part 2

In part 1, I looked at the first four models that Dulles discusses: institutional and communion, sacrament and herald. He considers only one more model, the servant model, which he places over against all four of the other models on the grounds that while they are church-centered, looking first internally to the church’s self-understanding and only then externally to its relationship to the world, the servant model is outward looking, looking first to its relationship to the world and deriving therefrom its self-understanding.

Asking the same three questions as of the other models, I would say that:

– A servant ecclesiology will foster a spirituality of humility, and a diaconal or service-oriented way of being in the world. Serving the world according to the model of Christ will imply both accepting the sufferings of Christ, and working towards the coming of the kingdom.

– This model may provide the most positive appreciation of those outside the church. Non-Christians are considered not enemies, and not just potential converts, but beloveds-of-God whom we are called to love and to serve.

– On the other hand, it may have the least to say about relationships between the local congregation and the una sancta. An ecumenism of cooperation would seem to suffice here: we don’t need visible or organic union in order to work together to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.

Having proposed these five models, Dulles then proceeds to place them in conversation with several significant theological themes:

– eschatology, the last things
– the four creedal marks of the church (one, holy, catholic, apostolic)
– the present situation of the divided churches
– the distinctive ministerial class within the church
– divine revelation

I find this an odd, and oddly-ordered, set of themes. Of course, one has to draw the line somewhere if one intends to write a reasonably small book. And I see that they all have relevance. Still, why these topics, and not others? Most notably, where is theological anthropology, which seems to me as fundamental to ecclesiology as eschatology? Where is pneumatology, which is surely indispensable to an understanding of charismatic churches and movements?

I suppose I can see the chain of reasoning that leads from one of these themes to the next, in a sort of top-down approach. The eschatological church is the church in the New Jerusalem, the church either in its fullness, or having completed its task. The four marks of the creed pertain to the una sancta which partakes of the eschatological church. Discussing the unity of the una sancta must inevitably bring us down to the ground of what we see in the churches today and the divisions among them. The distinctive ministry, and the approach to revelation, both have to do with church divisions and church authority.

But it doesn’t make a coherent, comprehensive structure, and therefore I suspect it of deficiencies as an analytical framework.

The conversation between the various models and these themes is uneven, and either it is complicated by denominational differences or I am having trouble following the analyses through denominational differences.

The most difficult complicating factor, though, as Dulles points out in his chapter on comparative evaluation, is that the ecclesiological model influences and is influenced by the understanding of eschatology, revelation, ministry, and so forth. So it’s not a matter of crisply asking each model what it implies or presumes about each of the themes. The structure of the book gives the appearance of dropping this grid of five models down through a grid of five related themes, but the content is neither as rigorous nor as comprehensive as the structure might lead one to believe.

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