Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Semi-Eschatological Porter

In his chapter on apostolicity in People and Place, Michael S. Horton argues that the church's mission is defined by its marks. Concerning the former, Horton echoes the Reformed confessions in stating that the mission of the church can be essentially likened to a porter's opening and shutting doors. The doors in question are those of God's kingdom, and the means of their opening and shutting are the preaching of the Word of God, the administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline.

"The triumphant indicative ('all authority in heaven and earth is given to me') is the basis for the imperative ('go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing... and teaching,' Matt. 28:18-20)."
The way church discipline is exercised is by means of the keys of the kingdom being entrusted to its ordained officers. By commissioning his disciples with this authority, Horton argues, Jesus "explicitly announced a union of the sign (ministerial binding and loosing 'on earth') and the thing signified (magisterial binding and loosing 'in heaven')." This means that though churchly authority is ministerial and not magisterial, it is more than mere witness.

Now the question could arise about how, given the fractured nature of Protestantism, a particular church's binding and loosing can be taken seriously. I mean, with no visible church but only visible churches, who's to say whose earthly binding and loosing is in fact reflective of the heavenly reality?

Horton answers this question with an appeal to eschatology, one which I find quite interesting. After speaking of the "binding and loosing" nature of all preaching, absolution, baptism, and Communion, he writes:
"On all of these occasions, the age to come is breaking into this present age: both the last judgment and the final vindication of God's elect occur in a semirealized manner, ministerially rather than magisterially. The church's acts are not final--they do not coincide univocally with the eschatological realities, but they are signs and seals. Christ's performative speech is mediated through appointed officers."
Some questions to further discussion: (1) Does Rome's magisterial view of ecclesiastical authority betray an overrealized and romanticized eschatology? (2) Can Protestantism's insistence that there is no necessary coincidence between earthly and heavenly binding and loosing bear the weight of the Scriptural evidence, e.g. Matt. 16:19? and (3) By their respective self-authenticating definitions of the church as either the assembly that gathers around the bishop (Catholicism) or the assembly that gathers around the Word and sacraments (Protestantism), has either side effectively rigged the game?