Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
1 : the study of church architecture and adornment
2 : theological doctrine relating to the church
How could it be that the #1 definition of ‘ecclesiology’ is “the study of church architecture and adornment”? Could it be that our ecclesiological focus has become all together too temporal?
What if ecclesiology is more about God’s intention and our assured end than it is about baptism or elders or denominational distinctives? What if ecclesiology is about who we are and will be? What if that eternal, communal identity is the framework and goal of our mission here?
I contend that an ecclesiology of heaven necessarily precedes missiology.
Ecclesiology precedes missiology because humanity was not created for a utilitarian purpose (as if merely to fulfill mission). Humanity was created for God’s glory and for relationship with him. The ecclesia (he entire gathering of the people of God, NT and OT) is the new humanity. Ecclesiology is (or rather, I propose that it should be) the study and presentation of what the OT and NT reveal about the nature and purpose of the people of God, the ecclesia (modified from Sailhamer’s definition of OT Theology). Much ecclesiology (nearly all, it seems) focuses on temporal and institutional structures; it is an ecclesiology of earth, if you will. This earthly ecclesiology should (must!) be informed by missiology. Form (temporal and institutional structures) follows function (mission). But missiology should (must!) be informed by an ecclesiology of heaven. Ultimate function (bringing God glory) determines intermediate functions (mission, for example).
An ecclesiology of heaven flows from the nature of God (Father, Son, and Spirit) and his sovereign intention for the doing and being of the ecclesia. God intends the ecclesia to be his people, in a willing love relationship with him. God intends the ecclesia to do what brings him glory. This ultimate function—bringing God glory—determines the intermediate functions like mission.
There is, of course, a ton more to this discussion and there are MANY voices who need to be engaged. The comments at Ecclesiology as Missiology? pointed to some:
Brad recommends Newbigin as a pondering partner.
Ann highlights the idea that the people must be gathered (ecclesiology) before they are sent (missiology).
Andrew B pointed out the need for a more complete Wikipedia entry.
Zane Anderson and Hamo place a much needed emphasis on Christ and Christology.
Finally, Hamo suggests that “focusing on ecclesia actually tends to retard mission whereas focusing on mission tends to ignite ecclesia.” I agree with modification:
Focusing on the earthly, temporal structures of the ecclesia tends to retard mission, whereas focusing on God’s gathering a people for himself (the ecclesia) tends to ignite mission.
That, then, is today's stopping point. There is surely more to follow.
See more on ecclesiology on Who in the world are we?
“Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” http://www.esv.org/