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The Fullness of Christ: J.H. Yoder – Part VI

Posted by Radical Resurgence | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 26-01-2012


8.    Context and Content in  N.T. Preaching.

Having sought in vain for a particular concept of preaching to serve as a criterion for church and ministry, let us keep the word as a general label for the varieties of verbal ministry in N.T. times.

Only by guess and surmise do we construct a notion of what the early church services were like….. Apostles, elders, and teachers must all have preached in divers other ways, but without any hint that one kind of speech has priority.   Yet there is one genuine distinction. C.H. Dodd has demonstrated that when speaking  to non-Christians the early church did have a most specific message.  Here the “proclamation” spoke of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, followed by a summons to repent and believe.

It is clearly possible to distinguish from this those teaching processes in the church which presuppose the listener’s faith……it did make a difference to the N.T. preacher whether his listener was in the church or outside of it, a difference not only in tactics but in content.

Thus we have come upon a new dimension of definition, and a much more solid one – “proclamation” defined not by a specific office but by a specific listener, namely the unbeliever.   But this is clearly not what the Reformation meant, for the whole concern of Reformation theology  was to justify restructuring the organised church without shaking its foundations.  The Reformation retained infant baptism and state-coerced church membership, thus the distinction between believers and unbelievers, members and non-members could not become visible.  The true church had to be defined independent of its membership.  “The church is where the word is properly preached and the sacraments properly administered” is a criterion applying to the pastor and the synod, not the congregation or the Christian.

9.     Magisterium and Magistracy.

George H. Williams has given currency to the term “magisterial” to define the official Reformation. It points to two different characteristics of the medieval and Reformation pattern: that the ministry was managed by the State (the magistracy) and that it was basically  a theological teaching function whose standards were set in the universities (the magisterium).  The inter-working of these two dimensions in the institution providing for one trained  supported minister per parish continues to be the pattern by which it seems other approaches must be judged, even though its initial political backing by government has been abandoned by most societies.

No pattern of social leadership has been more fixed in the history of the race than that of the professional religionist, no pattern of ministry has been less flexible in Christian history  than the placing of one priest or parson per parish.

We must therefore ask what, within the diversity of apostolic teaching and practice, are the constants, made all the more significant by their solidity in the context of change.  Among these constants within flexibility would need to be included:

–          what we have called “multiplicity” in its various dimensions.

–          Plurality: several persons with the same function, spiritually in the eldership.

–          Diversity: many different identifiable roles.

–          Universality:  no one is not a minister.

–          The constant need for the elder-bishop-pastor function of government in the local congregation.

–          The constant need for the strategic teacher function maintaining the community’s link with its past.

At the same time we must seek responsibly for principles of movement within the stability.  If we reject both change for its own sake and inflexibility there must then be responsible tools of change.

–          The accredited prophet whose discomfitting urgings are not written off as unbalanced.

–          The itinerant agent of relationship to the rest of the church, bearer of new and old ideas and questions.

–          The servant of the Word, finding in Scripture hitherto unseen guidance.

The above outline has intentionally centered on one-sided exposition of a thesis.  The reason for this is simple; the current debate has not been marked by the presence of the option represented here, and therefore there are no current answers to it either….

“Having gifts that differ, according to that grace which was given us, let us use them according to the proportion of faith”

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