Why should we think theologically about the church? How does this tie to the question of ecclesiology? What function does theology have within the church? It is often thought that theology, ‘speaking of God’, is somehow separate from the church. However, Dr Justin Stratis suggested theology was one of the primary functions of the church quoting Barth; ‘Dogmatics is a theological discipline. But theology is a function of the church’
The Holy Spirit was left with the church and has been present through all church history, guiding the church to speak and act in accordance with the Father’s will. Theology is the sifting, and critical reflection, on the words and deeds of the church to identify this presence and works of the Spirit, identifying where God, rather than man has been at work. Theology cannot take place without the church as it is in and through the church that God exposes his character and plan to the world that needs him.
So what is the connection between systematic theology and the church? It is explored through the notion of God’s mission in the world outworked through the church, those things he does for and through us. This mission, as posited by St Augustine, is reflective of the way God exists, a reflection of the Triune way of life, the ‘processions’ of God . What He does is utterly tied to how He exists.
So, the purpose of theology is to explore and express this relationship, to see how ‘procession’ defines ‘mission’, and thus it asks questions which impact on ecclesiology. As ecclesiology asks questions of the nature of sacraments, laity, clergy, sacred spaces within the church, the questions that must always be borne in mind are ‘what is God, through his mission, doing in creation, and why?’ and ‘how does understanding and participating in these activities with God inform and guide us towards deeper relationship with Him who is the sustainer of all?’
Exploring our notions of church directly engages us in notions of God, as the nature of church should reflect the nature of God. It is in these explorations of church and mission that we engage theologically, as we speak of church, we cannot do anything but speak of God.
The Lumen Gentium is a great example of this exploration . It is one of the primary documents of the Second Vatican Council, outlining in some detail the ecclesiology and polity of the Catholic Church.
Of the many thoughts contained within this document there was one that stood out above the others. In chapter 1 part 8 the church is described as ‘a visible assembly and a spiritual community’ bringing forth the notion that church is both visible and invisible, both temporal and timeless, comprised of the saints today, yesterday and tomorrow. It can be compared to the ocean or an iceberg, what is visible at the surface hides a deeper and more powerful truth, that what we see is herald, an image, of that which is unseen. This chapter is entitled The Mystery of the Church, and as Greek word...