Monday, December 08, 2008

Celebrating the Ecclesiastical Pigpen

Reformed Christians tend to be very skeptical when it comes to putting too much stock in human faithfulness (that pesky Total Depravity thing inevitably rains on our parade). In a word, we like it when God does stuff for us. Appropriately, then, Michael Horton writes:

Taking the catholicity of the church entirely out of our hands, election proscribes all overrealized eschat-ologies, whether they identify the pure church with a universal institution [read Rome] or with the sum total of the regenerate [read M√ľnster]. Only in the eschaton will the visible church be identical with the catholic church. The union of Christ and his body—the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church—is the eschatological communion of the elect, chosen “in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph. 1:4).
Horton argues that Calvin, following the Augustinian heritage generally, seen the Father’s election as the locus of the church’s catholicity.

It is this church that is indefectible. It must always have its visible expression in every era, but this visibility is always ambiguous because the church is a mixed assembly and even the elect are simultaneously justified and sinful.... The covenant of grace is the visible, already/not yet, semirealized form of the glorified communion of the elect in the eschaton.
A properly-realized eschatology necessarily leads to a willingness to settle for faith over sight (a principle betrayed by the Radicals and by Rome, for the former choose sight over faith by their emphasis on the visible piety of church members, while the latter replaces faith with sight by its insistence upon an historical continuity of succession in order to lay claim to ecclesial legitimacy).

The objection on the part of the Catholic or Orthodox believer will undoubtedly be that a so-called mark of the church such as catholicity that is invisible to the human eye is no real mark at all, for “invisible marks” are not only oxymoronic but are also useless for actually helping anyone locate the real church amid a myriad of pretenders. The real question for all of us, then, is how pristine an ecclesiology we have the right to demand, or, how messy an ecclesiology we are willing to tolerate.