20 April 2007
An ecclesiology of communion that is Trinitarian offers a model for the Church of living together in unity though not in uniformity. This model may allow for and affirm prophetic voices from the margins so that the church might respond to the cries of a world in need. This thesis attempts to explore and describe an ecclesiology of communion that is influenced by Trinitarian theology. In this awareness of difference and tension, this model of ecclesiology is dynamic and transformational. The hope is that this ecclesiology may describe a more dynamic Church that not only exists in judgment but also exists in action to dismantle systems of oppression.
This thesis begins with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his sense that the Church is constituted socially by Christ. He states “The church is the hidden Christ among us.” In this ecclesiology, Christ is at the center, and communion is known within and between people as they encounter Christ and one another. Further, the “church is only the church when it exists for others.”
The poetic and mystical descriptions of church by Rowan Williams offer a model that the church, along with the creation itself, is gift. As God made the world and as God gave his son to the world, God also gave the church. As such, the church exists in a contingent way, it exists in judgment. As a community of the forgiven, the members of the church are made up of persons, not mere individuals. The persons of the church can be likened to the persons of the Trinity, living in unity and difference, in the mystical Godhead. Finally, in Rowan Williams description, Christ is present in the interaction between people as they encounter and welcome those who are different, that is; the other.
Lastly, to evaluate how communion exists in judgment and action this thesis takes up James Cone’s critiques of ecclesiology. For Cone, “The Christian church is that community of persons who ‘got the hint,’” and thus refused to be content with human pain and suffering. Refusing merely to speak of the church mystically or metaphysically, Cone challenges conventional (white, European) assumptions and claims about church and also challenges even the highly nuanced theology of Rowan Williams. If the church universal and local embraces such a model, it may move from individualism to community, from inward gazing to outward mission, from a focus on the in crowd to focus on all those at the margins.
Living into a model of the dynamic church, the persons of the church would hear the cry of the poor and oppressed and then act to end oppression, to see the injustices of our world, and act to counter them. As we turn to one another in our local churches, in our larger church bodies, and in our worldwide churches, we rely on the work of Christ to bring us to full unity. As we turn to one another with the ordinary, time tested practices of our tradition, we approach one another with humility, with an awareness of our own brokenness, and our own incompleteness. From the interaction between and among the members of the church there emerges a personal and communal transformation into a church that is dynamic, outward looking and responds to a world in need. In the contexts of the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church, we are perhaps at a turning point, an opportunity, or a catastrophe, depending on one’s perspective.
 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich No Rusty Swords: Letters, Lectures and Notes – 1928-1936- From the Collected Works, Volume I (Collins, London: 1965)