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A Doxological Ecclesiology: Part Three

May 2, 2012

Inagrace Dietterich

“Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and what came was the church.”

This often-quoted comment has usually been used to point to the failure of the church to live up to its calling.  Yet the theologian Alfred Loisy meant this in a positive way, not to identify the church with the kingdom, but to emphasize the continuity of the church with Jesus’ proclamation.   In recent posts I’ve explored what the life and ministry of the church might look like grounded in and expressed through worship. Continuing this theme, I consider here the relationship of the church with the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed, and the subversive witness of a kingdom people.   Join in the conversation now and face to face at the Center’s Convocation in Chicago, IL on July 26-28, 2012.

A Kingdom People


A Kingdom People. The Eucharistic liturgy of the Orthodox Church begins with a doxological declaration: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and unto ages of ages.” The church is to bless and acclaim the kingdom of the Triune God. As such, the church is a sacrament of the kingdom which symbolizes the communion of all human beings in a society of perfect love, justice, and peace.   Read More…

The Kingdom as God’s Liberating Reign. The kingdom of God is not a temporal sphere or a geographical territory, but represents God’s kingship, reign, rule, order, sovereignty, sway, or simply God’s activity or action. The kingdom or reign of God indicates God’s creative and loving presence that utterly reconciles, redeems, liberates, and transforms human existence and human relationships.   Read More…

The Church – Called to Embody the Reign of God. The symbolic community of God’s particular people can thus be understood as a messianic (Christ-formed) and charismatic (Spirit-filled) community called to participate in God’s mission of bringing about the consummation of the kingdom. That is, the church living “in Christ” and endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is to announce and to manifest to all peoples God’s transforming power and presence. Thus we can speak of the church as a sign, an instrument, and a foretaste of the coming kingdom.  Read More…

The Subversive Witness of A Kingdom People. The nature and quality of life of Christian community can serve as a powerful witness: an embodiment of the Gospel of the kingdom as an efficacious symbol of the presence of God’s transforming love in the world. Read More…

Conclusion. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). This biblical description of a people called, redeemed, and empowered for an important mission can provide not only the theological but also the organizational blueprint for the Christian church. Read More…

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. What does it mean to say that the church is a symbolic community?

2. How is that related to the eschatological nature of worship?  More Questions…



A Kingdom People. The Eucharistic liturgy of the Orthodox Church begins with a doxological declaration: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and unto ages of ages.” The church is to bless and acclaim the kingdom of the Triune God. As such, the church is a sacrament of the kingdom which symbolizes the communion of all human beings in a society of perfect love, justice, and peace. “There is no reason for the existence of the church except to symbolize the future of the divine kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim. This explains in what specific sense worship is in the center of life of the church: the worship of the Christian community anticipates and symbolically celebrates the praise of God’s glory that will be consummated in the eschatological renewal of all creation in the new Jerusalem.1

The church as a particular people of praise is a sacramental or symbolic community. The term “symbol” is usually understood to designate something that is not really “real.” A doxological approach to the life of the church challenges this rationalistic and materialistic perspective by asserting that symbol “is not only not opposed to ‘real,’ but embodies it as its very expression and mode of manifestation.”2 It is through symbol that reality is discovered, and more, it is through symbol that Christians participate in reality. The reality encountered in the symbolic and sacramental is an eschatological reality, which by celebrating “the possibility given to humanity to see in and through this world ‘the world to come,’”3 transforms the past and the present in light of the promise of the future.

The gift, the anticipation, the presence, the promise, the reality of the church as a sacrament of the eschaton is manifested in the eucharist. “The Eucharist is…the great mystery of our participation in the life of the Holy Trinity, the recapitulation of the entire history of salvation in Christ and the foretaste of the Kingdom to come. In the Eucharist, therefore, the church is placed in the very center of history, sanctifying…the world, by being a new creation, a new mode of life. At the same time she is placed at the end of history as a sign of the Kingdom.”4

The Kingdom as God’s Liberating Reign. The kingdom of God is not a temporal sphere or a geographical territory, but represents God’s kingship, reign, rule, order, sovereignty, sway, or simply God’s activity or action. The kingdom or reign of God indicates God’s creative and loving presence that utterly reconciles, redeems, liberates, and transforms human existence and human relationships. As such it represents the destiny of God’s entire created reality; it represents the wholeness of life in communion with God: “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

To speak of the concrete lived experience of the local church in relation to the reign of God seems presumptuous. Yet an examination of the New Testament affirms that Jesus entrusted the message of the kingdom to a community of disciples. The reign of God does not fall from the clouds; it is mediated historically by the eschatological gathering of God’s people. The church is entrusted with the good news of the rule of God inaugurated in Jesus Christ which is the salvation of the world. Its mission is to invite all humanity into the new reality found in relationship to Jesus Christ: “an invitation to participate in the blessings of the kingdom, to celebrate the hopes of the kingdom, and to engage in the tasks of the kingdom.”5

The Church – Called to Embody the Reign of God. The symbolic community of God’s particular people can thus be understood as a messianic (Christ-formed) and charismatic (Spirit-filled) community called to participate in God’s mission of bringing about the consummation of the kingdom. That is, the church living “in Christ” and endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, is to announce and to manifest to all peoples God’s transforming power and presence. Thus we can speak of the church as a sign, an instrument, and a foretaste of the coming kingdom.

            Sign: As a called community of God’s people, the church is to be “a light to the nations” which points beyond itself to the promised fulfillment of the coming reign of God.

            Instrument: As a Christ-formed messianic community, the church participates in the actualization of God’s rule in the midst of the concrete circumstances of historical reality.

            Foretaste: As a Spirit-filled charismatic community, the church manifests the first-fruits of the kingdom within its common life and shared ministry.

As a kingdom people, the community of faith is to live the kingdom way, to demonstrate and to actualize a living and faithful relationship with God by the way in which it makes decisions, allocates resources, develops leadership, offers services and programs–in short, by the way it “manages” its common life and shared ministry. As soon as the individualistic “turn to the subject” is countered with the communal “turn to community,” Christianity is conceived in terms of the relational and the social: participation in the communion and mission of the Triune God. In such a communal context the importance and the criteria for the structures which shape, direct, and empower the corporate life come to the forefront. “Structures are justified only as they serve the creative, redemptive purpose of the living God. And in our day communal forms and structures can properly emerge, be transformed, or be supplanted, only as communities of faith are conscious of living in the praise and service of the God present and active in every age and place.”6

The Subversive Witness of A Kingdom People. The nature and quality of life of Christian community can serve as a powerful witness: an embodiment of the Gospel of the kingdom as an efficacious symbol of the presence of God’s transforming love in the world. Through the “creation of a distinct community with its own deviate set of values and its coherent way of incarnating them,”7 the church becomes subversive. It offers the world an alternative to the world’s dilemmas; it models an open and loving community of creative conflict, of innovative freedom, and of authentic reconciliation. Christianity is not an individual and deeply interior or supernatural and otherworldly reality, but a very concrete and practical way of life which is learned, practiced, supported, and empowered in community. As a community whose mission is to be a sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s reign, the church offers to the world an alternative or “contrast” society “in which the freedom and reconciliation opened in principle by Christ must be lived in social concreteness.”8

As a kingdom people—a particular people of praise—the church is constituted as a mission of hope to all the peoples of the world. Thus the church does not exist from itself or for itself. As the community called, redeemed, and empowered by God, the church exists from the kingdom of God which Jesus proclaimed and embodied in his own person and ministry. And it exists for the world for which Jesus died and was raised again. The future consummation of the reign of God which the church celebrates in its worship, embraces the future of the world, indeed the future of all creation. The proclamation and anticipatory manifestation of the kingdom can generate a common horizon of meaning and destiny for the church and for the world. “The church is called to be now what the world is called to be ultimately.”9 As a sacrament of the kingdom, the church is the symbolic community where the world becomes conscious of its future destiny in God’s sovereign reign of justice, peace, freedom, and love. “Thus the Church…is therefore itself rightly described as a visible sign which points to and embodies our communion with God and with one another; as an instrument through which God effects this communion; and as a foretaste of the fullness of the communion to be consummated when Christ is all in all.  It is a ‘mystery’ or ‘sacrament.’”10

Conclusion. “ But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). This biblical description of a people called, redeemed, and empowered for an important mission can provide not only the theological but also the organizational blueprint for the Christian church. The life and work of the institutional church seeks to incarnate the virtues and practices of the kingdom of God. Rather than accepting and reinforcing the values and beliefs of modern democratic culture, in its worship the church offers an experience of “awestruck joy at the presence of God with us and among us”.11

The resolution of the crisis facing the church today, and more importantly, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the face of the injustice, alienation, despair, and violence of human society, requires a change of consciousness, a new way of looking at things, a new way of organizing—a new paradigm which retrieves and reinterprets a very old but revolutionary message. “We cannot answer the world’s problems by adopting towards them an attitude either of surrender or of escape.  We can answer the world’s problems only by changing these problems, by understanding them in a different perspective. What is required is a return on our part to that source of energy, in the deepest sense of the word, which the Church possessed when it conquered the world. What the Church brought into the world was not certain ideas applicable simply to human needs, but first of all the truth, the righteousness, the joy of the Kingdom of God.”12

The doxological approach to the life and ministry of the church briefly outlined in these three parts will not fit easily within the existing structures, processes, or expectations of most local congregations. It includes not only a shift in the experience of Sunday morning worship, but also a shift in the personal and corporate discipleship of those who would follow Jesus. Worship is to shape the whole of life and is intended for the whole of creation. Believing that the church has an essential and dynamic role to play in God’s creative and redemptive activity in the midst of the contemporary world, calls for the envisioning a new theological paradigm—a faithful and effective ecclesiology—which transcends yet encompasses and integrates the theoretical horizon and the practical manifestations. The subversive action of missional worship by shaping a people of praise—a particular people of the kingdom—provides the vision, the substance, and the motivation for such a “doxological ecclesiology.”


Questions for Reflection and Discussion

1. What does it mean to say that the church is a symbolic community?

2. How is that related to the eschatological nature of worship?

3. When you hear the phrase “kingdom of God” what comes to mind? How has this biblical theme been distorted? Why should it be recovered and reinterpreted?

4. How does missional worship manifest the vision of the church as sign of the reign of God? As foretaste? As Instrument?

5. What is the role of the church in the manifestation of God’s reign? Why is it important?

6. What can a “doxological ecclesiology” contribute to the consideration of the subversive action of missional worship?



1 Wolfhart Pannenberg, Christian Spirituality (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1983), p. 36.

2Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), p. 139.

3Ibid., p. 113.

4“The Ecumenical Nature of the Orthodox Witness,” Apostolic Faith Today, ed. H.G. Link (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1985), p. 176.

5Mortimer Arias, Announcing the Reign of God: Evangelization and the Subversive Memory of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 105.

6Paul D. Hanson, The People Called: The Growth of Community in the Bible (Harper & Row, 1986), p. 528.

7John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1977), p. 28.

8Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus and Community: The Social Dimension of Christian Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), p. 145.

9John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics As Gospel (University of Notre Dame, 1984), p. 92.

10Church as Communion: An Agreed Statement by the Second Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (London: Church House Publishing, 1991), p. 16.

11A.M. Allchin, Participation in God: A Forgotten Strand in Anglican Tradition (Wilton, Connecticut: Morehouse-Barlow, 1988), p. 4.

12Alexander Schmemann, Sobornost, vol. 7, no. 1 (1985), p. 13, quoted in Allchin, Participation in God, p. 5.


The Rev. Inagrace Dietterich, Ph.D. is the Director of Theological Research at the Center for Parish Development.

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