Unity is a subject of eternal interest to the philosopher. Unity is the most comprehensive characteristic of being … the quest for the ultimate unity which integrates and thus unifies everything is the question reaching for God … For us, too, the way in which we must test any concept of God is by asking whether it can account for the unity of all reality. If an idea of God fails that test, it does not comprehend the power dominating everything and is, therefore, not a true concept of God. (60)This quote provides an initial touchstone for Pannenberg’s understanding of ontology, noting its fundamental unifying function. In addition to his stress on unity, in this early essay Pannenberg makes clear that his ontology is eschatological, since "this priority of the eschatological future ... demands a reversal also in our ontological conceptions." Here he is following thinkers like Johannes Weiss, who "discovered that ... the Kingdom of God will be established not by men but by God alone." (52, 54). For Pannenberg a key development that follows from this reversal is “the simple observation that God’s being and existence cannot be conceived apart from his rule" (55; this conclusion was also reached in concert with another student and with the examination of other relevant texts). When coupled with “the eschatological understanding of the Kingdom of God” introduced by Weiss, this connection between God’s being and rule entails the judgment that “it is necessary to say that, in a restricted but important sense, God does not yet exist. Since his rule and his being are inseparable, God’s being is still in the process of coming to be" (52, 56).
What can we know of the actions and the works of God? In all this questioning we are threatened by a great misunderstanding. We may think of knowledge of the Last Things as the supreme achievement of human intelligence; or we may think of silence before God as the final leap of human piety – as, for example, when we read the mystical sayings of Angelus Silesius as so many psychological recipes; or we may suppose that a supreme human experience will be ours, if we take up our position at the eschatological ‘Moment’ – which is, however, no moment; or we may perhaps imagine the ‘wisdom of death’ (Overbeck) to be the most up-to-date wisdom of life. But this is the triumph of Pharisaism appearing in a new and far more terrible form; for it is the Pharisaism of humility taking the place of the Pharisaism of self-righteousness. There is no limit to the possibilities of the righteousness of men: it may run not only to self-glorification, but also to self-annihilation, as it does in Buddhism and mysticism and pietism. The latter is a more terrible misunderstanding than the former, because it lies so near to the righteousness of God, and it too is excluded – at the last moment.
There is…no special reason to credit “science” as the father or godfather of reason. As in the case of the doctors mentioned earlier [ed. note: e.g., Nazi physicians, etc.], a commitment to experiment and find evidence is no guarantee of immunity to superstition and worse. Sir Isaac Newton was prey to the most idiotic opinions about alchemy. Joseph Priestly, the courageous Unitarian and skeptic who discovered oxygen, was a believer in the phlogiston theory. Alfred Russel Wallace, one of Darwin’s greatest collaborators and progenitors, was a dedicated attender of spiritualist sessions where “ectoplasm” was produced by frauds to the applause of morons. Even today, there are important men of science—admittedly a minority—who maintain that their findings are compatible with belief in a creator. They may not be able to derive the one from the other, or even to claim to do so, but they testify the the extreme stubbornness with which intelligent people will cling to unsupported opinions.
The protestant is inclined to apply to ecclesiological matters the text in which the apostle Paul compares the old covenant to the earthly Jerusalem and the new to the heavenly Jerusalem. The protestant’s predilection is for the heavenly Jerusalem. The church is a reality so inward and so secret that it cannot but be invisible; God alone knows who properly belongs to it. The people of God, as a people, is certainly a visible and earthly reality; but the life that it now lives in the flesh, the protestant again would say with St. Paul, it lives by faith in the Son of God; as people of God, it exists only by virtue of faith. God does not establish its foundation sin this world; nothing can guarantee its quality; it is the church only as it turns on the axis of faith. That is why for the protestant the church cannot be an institution, an objective concrete reality which abides in itself. It appears rather, hic et nunc, in the very act which makes it emerge as a reality of faith, when believers assemble to heed in faith the word of God, or when they confess their faith before the world.
Luther set the tone of protestant tendencies in ecclesiology when he discontinued the use of the word church. He chose to recognize only the word Gemeinde, that is, the community of believers, the group of viatores, of pilgrims who pass through this world with their eyes fixed on the distant horizon which has been disclosed to their faith by the promise implied in God’s word. There can be no question of any establishment in this world which would denote a yielding to the temptation to anticipate the last times, the ultimate aeon. In order to remain dependent on the promise and the promise alone, the Christian must resist the temptation to set up in the present age an organized institution in which the human will would have, at its free disposal and exercise, that which can depend only on the sovereign liberty of God.
A friend of mine is pastor of a congregation in northern Germany. The church building is two hundred years old, but there is really nothing unique or extraordinary about it. Yet one thing makes the church special in my eyes. There is a wide square in front of the church that was a marketplace in former times. The square is laid out with cobblestones, some darker and others lighter, which of itself is nothing extraordinary. But when you stand in the middle of the square, you notice something unexpected. The light brown cobblestones form a pattern on the background of the darker cobblestones. Starting at the church door, the lighter stones spread out into the square like sunrays. Walking from the middle of the square toward the entrance into the church, you feel as if you are being guided by the sunrays made from stone. Inside the church, the pattern continues, leading to the center of the church: the pulpit and the table of the Lord's Supper. After the service, when you walk out of the church, the same cobblestones that led you into the church now lead you out of the church into the market square. Those two-hundred-year-old, worn-out cobblestones that have gathered the congregation around Word and sacrament now send the people out into the world. -- Margit Ernst-Habib, "A Conversation with Twentieth-Century Confessions," Conversations with the Confessions: Dialogue in the Reformed Tradition (Joseph D. Small, ed.; Louisville, KY: Geneva Press, 2005), 69.Would that churches today thought through their architecture in this sort of theological mode, rather than worrying about things like where to put the speakers and projection screen, hang the projector and lights, expand the parking (note well that this particular architectural move would be impossible in our own time and place because we have become thoroughly enslaved to the automobile, John Knox's grave has actually been paved over for parking!), put the vending machine or miniature coffee shop, etc. And that's even before we start in on the missionary orientation , not trying to replicate a distinctly Christian culture but feeding on word and sacrament and then going out into the larger world thus fortified to share the gospel.
Spring 2012 Call for Papers: Machismo Church: The History and Future of Masculine Christianity
The PTR would like to invite you to submit an article, exegesis paper, reflection, or book review for publication in the spring 2012 issue on the topic of Machismo Church. Consider the following: The gendered Trinity, patrimony and patriarchy, missiology and consquest, sexuality and the mystical tradition, the male-ness of Jesus, identity politics and ecclesiology, complementarianism and egalitarianims, the attributes of God, and and gender and theo-politics. To address questions like these, we want you — the seminary student aspiring toward pastoral and theological ministry, the PhD candidate in religion, theology, or society, the up and coming professor or the well-established theological educator. Articles, reflections, and book reviews must be submitted no later than March 30, 2012.