Explorations in Ecclesiology and
Christian B. Scharen, editor
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code CT213 )
ECCLESIOLOGY is about the norms or "notes" that should properly
govern what we mean by "church", which is why "church" often
appears without a definite or an indefinite article. Church is a
way of being together "in the world" but not of it, and it has
roots in the varied conceptions found in the New Testament, and in
later elaborations arrived at in very different circumstances,
often to demarcate boundaries.
As the contributions collected here indicate, that can become a
very complicated exercise, especially once the Church or a Church
is commandeered (or puts itself forward as a candidate) for
purposes of general social control, and is even conceived as
virtually coextensive with society or the nation. Reading the
contributions through, one speculates that current interest in
ecclesiology derives from the salience of issues, such as gender,
that present themselves as crucial boundary markers; from problems
related to the uncertain boundary between core membership and
ill-defined peripheral attachment, particularly as these problems
feed into questions of establishment and the parish; and from
exercises in joint ecumenical action.
Here I was surprised to find the goal of unity taken for
granted, when, in areas of interest to me, such as the global
expansion of Pentecostalism, vitality is associated with conflict
The clash between assumed norms and empirical realities provides
the rationale of the quest for a dialogue between normative
ecclesiology and ethnography - for example, congregational studies.
Different aspects of the Christian repertoire (for example,
Charisma or Founding Fatherhood) are emphasised and acquire
resonance in different social circumstances, which means that faith
has something to gain by seeking ethnographic or sociological
understanding. Just what the gains and problems might be is
explored in two initial chapters, one jointly by James Nieman and
Roger Haight SJ, and the other by Harald Hegstad.
The next section concerns congregations and worship, and
includes an interesting analysis by Paul Fiddes and Pete Ward of
the elements in the liturgy of baptism emphasised in the practice
of a Charismatic church, St Aldate's, Oxford.
The final section relates congregations to the wider society,
and includes a discussion of "God at street level", focused on how
Dutch pastors identify themselves when coming alongside and
listening to addicts, and an inquiry into the part played by
homosexuality in disputes within the Episcopal Church in the United
States. The chapter on homosexuality is by Christopher Craig
Britain, and draws attention to the far-from-evident meaning of
words such as "liberal" and "conservative" used with such
confidence by parties to disputes, and to the special problems that
the issue of homosexuality presents to liberal Catholics. There is
an impressive introduction by the editor, Christian Scharen.
The Revd David Martin is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at
the London School of Economics, and Hon. Professor of Religious
Studies at the University of Lancaster.