Thursday, November 06, 2008

Lo Ammi: Not My [Apostolic] People

In Michael Horton’s chapter on apostolicity in People and Place, the author begins by rooting a church’s true apostolicity in its faithfulness to Scripture.

Ecclesia simper reformanda… means the church is always being reformed, not reforming itself, submitting itself to the judgment of God’s Word and asking anew whether its confession and practice are in accord with Scripture. Only in this way is any church truly apostolic.
Arguing with Lesslie Newbigin that Reformed theology “affirms just as strongly as Rome that the church is visibly incorporated into Christ,” it “resists the tendency to collapse the visible into the invisible church or to regard the visible church simply as an event.” Horton then cites Newbigin:

When, on the other hand, the Church is identified simply with whatever society has continued in unbroken succession from the time of the apostles, then the flesh, not the Spirit, has been made determinative. There is in truth no “extension of the Incarnation,” for His incarnation was in order to make an offering of Himself in the flesh “once for all.” The fruit of that offering, of that casting of a corn of wheat into the earth, is the extension of His risen life to all who are made members of His body in the one Spirit—until He comes again…. The fundamental error into which Catholic doctrines of the Church are prone to fall is… the error of subordinating the eschatological to the historical.
“This,” Horton says, “is precisely what is at stake in recognizing that the church is the creation of the word.”

Rather than the church being wherever the bishop is (per Ignatius), the church is wherever the gospel is:

The gospel is the crietion for apostolicity…. Because there is one faith… there is historical continuity with the apostles…. “The faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3) is the unbroken thread running from the prophets and apostles to us today.
Again citing Newbigin, Horton argues that

The “fundamental flaw” in making a valid episcopate essential to apostolicity “is that it forgets that the substance of the covenant is pure mercy, and that God retains His sovereign freedom to have mercy upon who He will, and to call ‘No People’ His people when they that are called His people deny their calling by unbelief and sin.”
I find this to be a very interesting argument. Reformed ecclesiology is understood to be a kind of post hoc arrangement rooted in God’s sovereign prerogative to call a “new people” from the ruins of the old, not unlike his grafting into the one vine the wild olive branches who replaced the natural ones.