Thursday, December 20, 2007

Liturgical Theology


I'm reading an excellent and helpful book entitled Liturgical Theology (LT). LT is by Simon Chan, professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College, Singapore. Being a leader in the Assembly of God, Chan is a surprising proponent of the historic worship of the Church. However, his work in this book is clear, convincing and accessible. I highly, highly recommend reading it.

Chapter one is entitled The Ontology of the Church. IMO, this chapter is worth the price of the book. Here Chan asks, "Is the Church to be seen as an instrument to accomplish God's purpose in creation, or is it the expression of God's ultimate purpose itself?" How Chan answers this sets the trajectory for the rest of the book. His answer is B -- the Church is the expression of God's ultimate purpose itself. From this he goes on to argue that the Church has an ontology -- it has its own being. It is the body of Christ. Body of Christ is not just a metaphor for sociological relationships within the the Church, body of Christ is a description of the Church's nature. Through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Church is brought into union with the risen and ascended Christ who is perpetually offering himself -- and the Church with him -- to the Father. The Church is folded into the life of the Triune God.

Modern evangelicals (here Chan includes charismatics and Pentecostals), have an instrumental view of the Church. The Church does not have an ontology, only individual Christians have an ontology. The Church is no more than an instrumental arrangement to achieve other ends -- typically converting people and growing disciples. For Chan, although conversion and discipleship are indispensable realities, this approach to Church is inadequate. It misreads both the New Testament and the tradition of the Church.

In subsequent chapters, Chan will build the case for liturgy of the Church on this foundational insight.

5 comments:

+ Alan said...

Sounds like good stuff. I think I'd argue that even with most Christians, even those in liturgical traditions, there isn't much of an individual ontological view of being a Christian.

I don't believe most Christians are taught to understand what and who they are on an ontological level. Most of us have a very "external" idea of what it means to be a Christian: I believe this or that; I do this or that; I worship God and do what He says so I can then go to heaven when I die. These are very typical notions. I'd say it's not so typical to understand our own spiritual essence as mingled with that of God.

Alice C. Linsley said...

St Paul's writings are a solid basis for understanding ourselves as the Body of Christ. This ontological understanding is more evident in Eastern thought than in Western.

Peter said...

Definitely. Chan's work is clearly indebted to the east -- Schmemann is quoted extensively in his book. I suspect his Pentecostal background makes him especially sensitive to the "epicletic" instincts of the East.

Tony Lombardo said...

Peter,
So would I be correct in assuming that on Chan's view the Church would have existed regardless of the Fall? Isn't the Church the central aspect of God's redemption of the world, and thus, would not come into being sans Fall? Just thinking out loud here...

thebenedictine said...

I've found Chan's later chapters on the Sunday liturgy and active participation by the body of Christ in worship to be refreshing to myself. I should revisit my copy of this for the earlier chapters 'cause it's been a while