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A minor


Saturday, July 19, 2003

Braaten Quote 1

Here's a long quote from Carl Braaten, Mother Church (Fortress, 1998), pp 56-7, under the heading, "The Eschatological Horizon on the Church in History," in the chapter, "The Kingdom of God and the Church" [emphases mine]:

The church needs servants and signs of the union Christians have with Christ and the unity they hope to have with all humanity. The episcopal and Petrine offices, for example, can be affirmed by Lutherans under certain conditions [a note here points to his chapter, "The Episcopate and the Petrine Offices as Expressions of Unity," in Spirit, Unity, and the Church, by Wolfhart Pannenberg, Avery Dulles, Carl Braaten (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1970), 89ff]. Lutherans can even highly appreciate them for the services they have traditionally rendered in calling attention to the importance of apostolic succession, in caring for the unity of the church, and in symbolizing the catholicity of the vision. These offices remind the church of its historicality; it must not let its eschatological vision make it a fugitive from history. The church is called by the gospel to the front line of world history, to bring light to the nations, and, always, to seek better social embodiment of the coming kingdom. The church needs the kinds of offices that are a force for unity among believers, that send them forward into world mission, that tie their memories to the holy events on which the church is founded, and that signal a wonderful future in which all the separated believers on this wretched planet will enjoy a rendezvous in the kingdom of God. If the episcopacy and the Petrine office have been betrayed into captivity, causing them to no longer function in these many respects, then the thing to do is to liberate them. I think that is all that Luther wanted. He did not want to forget about those in captivity but to free them for effective service under the gospel. The matter, in this regard, is not different for all the other structures of the church. The process of reform and renewal is continually needed to reorient them away from their authoritarian features and, instead, reorient them toward the image of the servant and an evangelical concept of leadership. "Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all (Mark 10: 43b-44)."

The unity of the church can only be forged anew by putting the concern for the truth of the gospel ahead of the institutional structure of the church. A reunited church of the future, which would subordinate concern for a true preaching of the gospel to a form of organizational unity, could easily become the temple of Baal or the throne of the antichrist. The unity of the church cannot be guaranteed by the ecclesiastical office but only through sharing in the movement of faith that was inaugurated by the history of Jesus Christ. The norm of truth that counts in the church is the scriptural witness to God's revelation in the person of Jesus Christ.

If the kingdom of God is the starting point for the church's self-definition, the church will not withdraw behind a wall of privatized religion, sealing itself off from the social and political realms of life. The question about the political relevance of the kingdom and the mission of the church in the social realm is very much disputed today in many churches. There has been a tendency for the church to involve itself in the public sphere at the upper levels, lobbying for special privileges and immunities. This alliance of the church with the upper crust of society, or at least with the relatively advantaged middle class, is having bad repercussions on the church's mission to minorities and subcultures. The church tends to be part of the established order, joining the fight for the status quo against the struggle for a new order. Where should the church stand in the polarization that sometimes occurs between tradition and innovation? Again, the perspective of the kingdom offers a guideline.
I have more Braaten quotes to post over the next few days, so stay tuned.

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