the weblog of Alan Knox

Adolf Schlatter on the church…

Posted by on Apr 4, 2007 in books, definition, fellowship, members, ordinances/sacraments | 21 comments

Adolf Schlatter was an anomaly in late nineteenth and early twentieth century German theological scholarship. Though holding a teaching position at Tübingen, a university well-known for approaching the Bible through higher criticism, Schlatter maintained conservative (evangelical?) beliefs. I have wanted to buy his two volume set The History of the Christ and The Theology of the Apostles for some time. I was finally able to buy them, and I flipped through The Theology of the Apostles looking for Schlatter’s view of the church. There is certainly much more to read, but I found this paragraph very interesting:

Moreover, the public confession of Jesus’ lordship produced in them a union that oriented everyone’s conduct toward the same goal, and the Spirit’s presence invested the community with a thoroughly spiritual dimension. Baptism did not result in a multitude of autonomous congregations but the one church, because baptism called its recipients to the Christ. Likewise, the table around which the community gathered was not the table of a teacher or baptizer or bishop but Christ’s table. By receiving their share in Christ, they simultaneously entered into communion with all other believers. The concept of the church thus took on a universal dimension from the start that remained undiminished, just as the individual local Jewish congregation had always been considered to be part of the one Israel.

According to Schlatter, the universality and the unity of the church was more than an ideal. The church was universal and united because of its shared confession, conduct, goal, baptism, table, and portion in Christ, not to mention the common presence of the Spirit of God.

As I look at that list – a list of items that, according to Schlatter, once brought the church together – I recognize that many, perhaps all, are now used to divide the church instead of unite the church. While the confession (“Jesus is Lord”) was originally intended to separate believers from nonbelievers, we now use expanded confessional statements to separate one group of believers from another group of believers. While the one baptism originally represented death to self and new birth in Christ, baptism is now used to divide the body of Christ into different factions. Similarly, the Lord’s table and even conduct are often used to separate churches instead of uniting them.

Do we recognize that who we are as the church has little (if anything) to do with the things we say or even the things we do? I would suggest (along with Schlatter) that who we are as the church is instead associated with us having received a “share in Christ”. But, that also means that who other people are does not depend on the words they say or the things they do. Instead, those who have received Christ have “simultaneously entered into communion with all other believers” – not because of their actions or a prayer or a confession, but because they now belong to Christ and they now belong to the Father’s family. Certainly, there may be a need for discipleship and teaching people to live as a part of the Father’s family, but we do not have the right nor the authority to dismiss someone from the Father’s family nor to choose to disassociate with someone who Christ has claimed as His own.

Can we know with certainty that someone belongs to Christ? No. But, then again, no one can know with certainty about us either. With the “confession of Jesus’ lordship” (“Jesus is Lord”) someone claims acceptance into the family of God and the presence of the Spirit. As a family, we are then required (yes, I do mean required) to accept that person, to disciple that person, to bear with that person, to love that person, to serve that person, to teach that person, to forgive that person even if (especially if!) that person disagrees with us. We come together in community, but that community is not based on us and our beliefs and our confessions. That community is based solely on our individual and mutual relationships with God through Jesus Christ enabled by the Holy Spirit.

When we separate from someone that we consider a brother or sister in Christ, we are usurping the authority of God. And, when we refuse to hold brothers and sisters accountable to their confession “Jesus is Lord”, then we are ignoring our mutual responsibilities as part of God’s family.


21 Comments

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  1. 4-4-2007

    Alan-
    Visiting from Kat. Thanks for this post on Schlatter and for your thoughts. I especially liked your lines about community. Our communities are not the referent for our communities, but they are based on and grounded in our individual and mutual relations with Christ.

    Similarily, many today seem to believe that their belief is the basis for their belief, when it needs to be Father, Son and Spirit and the Script that shows us what belief is all about.

  2. 4-4-2007

    Alan, that paragraph quote is incredible. When did that ideal get lost?

    How does your thinking resonate at SEBTS?

  3. 4-4-2007

    Alan-
    How it must grieve the Spirit of God when Christ’s Body looks more like a patchwork quilt than a seamless robe. But then, Paul had to expose that wrong thinking to the Corinthians who were saying, “I am of Paul…”

    On the cross, Christ’s arms were out-stretched to invite all to Him. As His Church, we can’t seem to agree on how to shake hands with one another.

    Recently, Tony Sisk at The Rambling Prophet used the term “stiff-arming God” to talk about how believers shove God out of the way, instead of letting Him govern their lives. How sad when Christ’s own Church stiff-arms Him. Sadder still, when we justify our actions by saying “Jesus is Lord.”
    Kat

  4. 4-4-2007

    Alan-
    How it must grieve the Spirit of God when Christ’s Body looks more like a patchwork quilt than a seamless robe. But then, Paul had to expose that wrong thinking to the Corinthians who were saying, “I am of Paul…”

    On the cross, Christ’s arms were out-stretched to invite all to Him. As His Church, we can’t seem to agree on how to shake hands with one another.

    Recently, Tony Sisk at The Rambling Prophet used the term “stiff-arming God” to talk about how believers shove God out of the way, instead of letting Him govern their lives. How sad when Christ’s own Church stiff-arms Him. Sadder still, when we justify our actions by saying “Jesus is Lord.”
    Kat

  5. 4-4-2007

    Alan-
    Bob Hyatt’s bob.blog today has a post on John MacArthur’s new book on the Emergent movement. A comment by Geoff Surratt has stuck with me in regard to dis-unity in the Body of Christ:

    “Standing deep within my own camp and hurling rocks at your camp almost never leads to better understanding and productive dialog regardless of the name on my flag (emerging, attractional, missional, multi-site, conservative, liberal or a host of others) While we’ll probably never all get along, we could at least spend some time in each other’s tents before we launch missles.”

    What’s your take on that approach?

    Kat

  6. 4-4-2007

    Alan-
    Bob Hyatt’s bob.blog today has a post on John MacArthur’s new book on the Emergent movement. A comment by Geoff Surratt has stuck with me in regard to dis-unity in the Body of Christ:

    “Standing deep within my own camp and hurling rocks at your camp almost never leads to better understanding and productive dialog regardless of the name on my flag (emerging, attractional, missional, multi-site, conservative, liberal or a host of others) While we’ll probably never all get along, we could at least spend some time in each other’s tents before we launch missles.”

    What’s your take on that approach?

    Kat

  7. 4-4-2007

    Alan-
    Bob Hyatt’s bob.blog today has a post on John MacArthur’s new book on the Emergent movement. A comment by Geoff Surratt has stuck with me in regard to dis-unity in the Body of Christ:

    “Standing deep within my own camp and hurling rocks at your camp almost never leads to better understanding and productive dialog regardless of the name on my flag (emerging, attractional, missional, multi-site, conservative, liberal or a host of others) While we’ll probably never all get along, we could at least spend some time in each other’s tents before we launch missles.”

    What’s your take on that approach?

    Kat

  8. 4-4-2007

    Alan-
    Bob Hyatt’s bob.blog today has a post on John MacArthur’s new book on the Emergent movement. A comment by Geoff Surratt has stuck with me in regard to dis-unity in the Body of Christ:

    “Standing deep within my own camp and hurling rocks at your camp almost never leads to better understanding and productive dialog regardless of the name on my flag (emerging, attractional, missional, multi-site, conservative, liberal or a host of others) While we’ll probably never all get along, we could at least spend some time in each other’s tents before we launch missles.”

    What’s your take on that approach?

    Kat

  9. 4-4-2007

    Alan-
    Bob Hyatt’s bob.blog today has a post on John MacArthur’s new book on the Emergent movement. A comment by Geoff Surratt has stuck with me in regard to dis-unity in the Body of Christ:

    “Standing deep within my own camp and hurling rocks at your camp almost never leads to better understanding and productive dialog regardless of the name on my flag (emerging, attractional, missional, multi-site, conservative, liberal or a host of others) While we’ll probably never all get along, we could at least spend some time in each other’s tents before we launch missles.”

    What’s your take on that approach?

    Kat

  10. 4-4-2007

    Alan-
    Bob Hyatt’s bob.blog today has a post on John MacArthur’s new book on the Emergent movement. A comment by Geoff Surratt has stuck with me in regard to dis-unity in the Body of Christ:

    “Standing deep within my own camp and hurling rocks at your camp almost never leads to better understanding and productive dialog regardless of the name on my flag (emerging, attractional, missional, multi-site, conservative, liberal or a host of others) While we’ll probably never all get along, we could at least spend some time in each other’s tents before we launch missles.”

    What’s your take on that approach?

    Kat

  11. 4-4-2007

    Greg,

    Welcome to my blog. You said: “… many today seem to believe that their belief is the basis for their belief …” Yes. Exactly. Truth is completely outside of me. When I realize that, I may be able to live at peace with those who disagree with me.

    Bryan,

    You asked: “How does your thinking resonate at SEBTS?” Well, it depends on who you ask.

    Kat,

    Thank you for sharing that comment with us. Scot McKnight says something similar and interesting on his blog today. I’m going to link to it in a new post.

    -Alan

  12. 4-4-2007

    A few questions:
    What’s the difference/is there a difference between what this unity you’re discussing and ecumenism?
    Does unity through Christ necessitate organizational/ecclesiological cooperation?
    For instance, can I have unity with Episcopal brethren and not cooperate with them because I am opposed to the ordination of practicing homosexuals?
    Or, to what extent do we cooperate? Is it ok to ecumenical community worship services for special occasions? Regularly? Weekly? What about mercy ministries and missionary agencies?

    Ok, so it wasn’t a few questions, but I’m just trying to see how this practically plays out.

  13. 4-4-2007

    Drew,

    I know very little about the ecumenical movement, so I don’t feel that I can comment on that. As far as the Episocpal brothers, would you associate with Baptist brothers if you disagreed with the practice of ordination? Seriously, we have to deal with people.

    -Alan

  14. 4-4-2007

    I see your point, and I completely agree that we have to deal with people. What I’m trying to figure out what is actually meant by associating with someone I disagree with theologically.

    I have no problem calling them brothers, but what other ways can we cooperate with them without affirming what we believe to be errant practices? Or should we not be concerned with whether or not our actions affirm their practices?

    Where do we draw the line? Or should we draw a line at all? In promoting unity, are we implying that there shouldn’t be any denominations? Would that be such a bad thing?

    By the way, with your example of associating with Baptist brothers, I suppose I do that every day of the week…

    I suppose I’m not entirely sure where I stand on this, which is why I have so many questions. Help me understand.
    Sorry if this post is a little disorganized.

  15. 4-4-2007

    I don’t understand any biblical justification for denominations, frankly, Alan and Drew.

  16. 4-4-2007

    Drew,

    As I told you at lunch, I appreciate your questions. Asking questions is the first step, I believe. In many ways, I am simply asking questions as well. I think the answer is in your statement that “I have no problem calling them brothers”. If they are brothers, then we must live as brothers.

    Bryan,

    Denominations are here. Are they good? Are they bad? Are they distracting? I don’t know…

    My question is… if denominations are not biblical, then how do we live as brothers and sisters in spite of them?

    -Alan

  17. 4-4-2007

    This is a good post, and good thought-provoking comments as well!

    I am saddened more and more by the things that are supposed to bind us being points of divisions these days. I have, honestly, never quite really understood it.

    I just wanted to re-state what you said in your next-to-last paragraph:

    Can we know with certainty that someone belongs to Christ? No. But, then again, no one can know with certainty about us either. With the “confession of Jesus’ lordship” (“Jesus is Lord”) someone claims acceptance into the family of God and the presence of the Spirit. As a family, we are then required (yes, I do mean required) to accept that person, to disciple that person, to bear with that person, to love that person, to serve that person, to teach that person, to forgive that person even if (especially if!) that person disagrees with us. We come together in community, but that community is not based on us and our beliefs and our confessions. That community is based solely on our individual and mutual relationships with God through Jesus Christ enabled by the Holy Spirit.

    I agree with you here ….

    ~Heather

  18. 4-4-2007

    Heather,

    Yes, it is sad the things that we allow to separate us. I think the only way to change this is for those who disagree with this type of thinking to begin living as brothers and sisters with all believers.

    -Alan

  19. 4-5-2007

    Alan,

    You’re “preaching to the choir” over here. But, keep bringin’ it.

    Drew,

    I see a difference between practical unity and much that is called “ecumenism.” For one, many think of ecumencism as organizational unity, everyone under the umbrella, so to speak, of the same organizational structure and hierarchy. Also, many “ecumenical” efforts have embraced those I consider to have abandoned the true gospel for a gospel that, as Paul called it in Gal. 1.7, is “really no gospel at all.”

    A lot of your other questions are questions I deal with at quite some length on my own blog.

  20. 4-5-2007

    David, thanks for your explanation. It was helpful for me. Perhaps I’ll have to start reading your blog.

  21. 4-5-2007

    David,

    Thank you for the encouragement. I have enjoyed reading the posts on your blog describing how the churches in Extramedura have attempted to live together as brothers and sisters.

    Drew,

    If you haven’t already, I would definitely recommend reading David’s blog. I read it regularly.

    -Alan

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