Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pneumatology and Ecclesiology

It's true that the Church as "the Body of Christ" is, in some ways, a continuation of the Incarnation. It's also true that salvation is only possible through union with the Incarnate King of Heaven and Earth, Jesus.

Some churches argue from these two premises that, because the Church is the Incarnation and one must be united to the Incarnation to be saved, therefore one must be united to the Church to be saved. This really is a collapsing of soteriology into ecclesiology, and some acknowledge this unapologetically. But it's pretty much wrong.

But if we said it differently it could be pretty much right.

It's true that Christ's Body is really present as the Church as much as Christ's Body is really present as eucharistic bread. But the Gospel of Luke teaches that Christ's Body is really present as Jesus of Nazareth by the work of the Spirit (Luke i, 35). The Incarnation was (and is) the work of the Spirit. Likewise, it's the work of the Spirit that presents Jesus as the Christ. (Though we all still know it's not the Incarnation itself that saves, simply by being Incarnate, but the work accomplished by the Incarnation that saves.)

Further, the Spirit not only brought about the Flesh of our Lord, but it is also the Spirit who baptized our Lord (or more accurately, the Father baptized the Son with the Spirit), making him a fit candidate for the mission to the Cross (John i, 32-34). It was the Spirit who sent him there, who carried him along all the way until death. And it was the Spirit who raised him up on the third day (Romans viii, 11). And finally, we are united to the Son, and thus reconciled to the Father, but that unity is one accomplished by the Spirit (Romans 8, 12-17).

We say all this to say, the importance of Calvin's Cyprianism notwithstanding, Christian ecclesiology must proceed from pneumatology, for the Church proceeds from the Spirit and not vice versa.