Saturday, 12 September 2009

Stibbs on Church

The church is a somewhat vexed issues in parts of Anglicanism. Some say others claim too much for church - the others might reply that the 'some' have no doctrine of church at all! I have a sneaking suspicion that much of our thinking is far more influenced by the 1830s then any other period of Anglican history, but that's for another day.

It was in light of this that I was recently directed to an essay on the church by Alan Stibbs in his recently published 'Such a Great Salvation'. Stibbs was an evangelical in the mid twentieth century - not a strong period of history for evangelicals in the Anglican church.

The essay 'New Testament Teaching Concerning the Church', biblically grounds our language of church in two places. First, and most importantly, church is the 'universal and eternal company of all believers, past, present and future' (231-2). It is those who have been brought into a living and loving relationship with God through Christ by the Spirit. Significantly, 'it does not exist in the natural visible order of this world but only in the unseen spiritual order, the order of the world to come' (233). Matthew 16:18 is Stibbs starting text here, although he quickly moves into Paul's letters to expound what this church is theologically. Secondly, church is the local congregation - 2-3 gathered in Christ's name and Christ gathered with them (Matthew 18:17).

Stibbs concern is to show that this local gathering is the church; not just a part of it. In a very helpful illustration he draws our attention to the moon. When we see a crescent in the sky 'one says not "there is part of the moon" but, "there is the moon". For the part that is visible is genuine moon; and, what is more, it is actually, though to us invisibly, united with all the rest of the moon'. (234). This is not to say that the visible church is the pure church - he is all too aware that visible meetings are mixed meetings. Not all who are part of visible churches are part of God's eternal church. He is also at pains to point out that these two loci of church preclude a third, worldwide visible church - a church militant as Griffith-Thomas called it (see Principles of Theology on article 19). It was also of interest to note that date of Stibbs' publication - 1950. Stibbs is not rehashing the work of DB Knox (which was aired mainly in the 70s and 80s), he is articulating the New Testament Teaching Concerning the Church.

1 comment:

Dave K said...

Thanks for this Dave. Loved the moon illustration - very helpful.