Ecclesiology for a Global Church: A People Called and Sent (Theology in Global Perspectives)
Publisher: Orbis Books, 2008
Paperback: 312 Pages
Karl Rahner once famously wrote that, with the Second Vatican Council, Catholic Christianity was shifting from a church that functioned globally as little more than a cultural export firm to a genuinely world church. In the decades since Rahner made that observation, this shift has born fruit in ways that even he could not imagine. Christianity has witnessed a startling growth in the churches of the global South even as it struggles for survival in the so called “older churches.”
This volume explores a theology of the church that is built upon traditional affirmations about the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, but considers these anew in the light of contemporary theological developments, particularly from emerging theologies and new ecclesial realities in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
The volume begins first with a survey of the rich diversity of biblical conceptions of community. The biblical narratives, including those found in the Hebrew Scriptures, raise issues of communal belonging, identity, leadership and mission that are still being grappled with in the church today. From these biblical foundations we turn to a fresh consideration of the four marks or notes of the church.
Given the impact of globalization in our world today, it is appropriate to begin with the church’s catholicity which, within a global church, must now be considered in the light of the church’s call to dialogical mission in the world. In a postmodern world, catholicity can no longer mean merely a geographic expansion of the Christian faith; it now represents an embrace of the essential reality of the church as a unity-in-diversity that achieves its catholicity in a series of overlapping cultural, social and religious dialogues with other Christians, members of the great world religious traditions, and the dizzying plurality of cultures that may be encountered in the world today.
Consequently the church’s oneness manifests itself, not as a stifling uniformity but as a spiritual communion that embraces a differentiated ecclesial unity. This communion is always an ordered communion, that is, it is ordered by a variety of gifts and ministries that contribute to the building up of the church in view of the church’s mission. The church’s holiness is interpreted within the framework of Christian discipleship. This leads to a move away from a pre-conciliar, hierarchical gradation of the possible calls to holiness. As disciples of Jesus, all are called to holiness, each in a distinctive way. Yet this does not preclude Christians giving a particular public witness to the gospel values to which all are called by vocations to professed religious life and marriage.
Finally, the church’s apostolicity is preserved through a sense of communal memory. The church is bound, in various ways and in varying degrees, by the narratives and practices that have constituted the church’s identity over time and space. This sense of ecclesial memory is important as it allows us to highlight not only what has been handed down but the ways in which each Christian community, receiving the gospel in its own cultural and historical context, makes that faith its own and adds to the corporate memory of the church. The Christian community, bound by a common memory, calls forth ministers whose principal task it is to preserve the integrity of the church’s apostolic memory and to be servants of the church’s catholicity in the exercise of episkopē or apostolic oversight.
This volume offers an introduction to ecclesiology suitable for upper level undergraduate and graduate courses that wishes to be faithful to the received Catholic tradition while introducing the reader to contemporary reflections on the church that have emerged out of ecumenical dialogues and the unique contributions of theological voices from the global south.