The Church

If this were a book on Christian ethics, there would be much food for reflection concerning Church and State, community, authority and the common good. These topics are of great interest to ethicists and moral philosophers. However, they are beyond the scope of the present volume. I will simply refer, in the notes, to two useful studies of the issues that arise. But reflection on the doctrine of the Church as such, the doctrine known as 'ecclesiology', while grist to the mill for theologians, is, as I say, largely neglected by contemporary philosophers of religion. This fact is lamented by Philip Quinn in an article in Faith and Philosophy on 'Kantian Philosophical Ecclesiology',3 the title of which shows that earlier philosophers, such as

Kant, did have something to offer on the subject of the Church. Kant's Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason attempted to spell out the pure religion of reason that underlies all the doctrines of Christianity, including that of the Church. This means, primarily, showing the moral import of each doctrine. For Kant, a church is an ethical commonwealth under laws of virtue regarded as divine commands. I quote Quinn's summary:

Considered merely as an ideal, such an ethical commonwealth may be thought of as the church invisible. An actual social union of humans that harmonizes with this ideal is a visible church, and 'the true (visible) church is that which exhibits the (moral) kingdom of God on earth so far as it can be brought to pass by men'.5

Quinn criticizes Kant's ecclesiology for its monolithic structure. He objects that 'practical reason is just not up to the task Kant assigns it in his ecclesiology'.6 But, he suggests, if we proceed in a more piecemeal manner, we can agree that ecclesiastical arrangements and traditions can and should be reformed and checked in the light ofbasic moral beliefs. Indeed, he sees just such critiques taking place in the ecclesiology of Vatican II.

Quinn's article is something of a tour deforce. Readers less sceptical than Kant himself about the purely religious aspects of church life and practice, while agreeing that these are certainly open to moral criticism, will surely deem it necessary for philosophical theology to explore other central aspects of the Church's role, not least as a worshipping community.

Even more radical than Kant's critique of the visible church was Kierkegaard's, as is shown in another article in Faith and Philosophy, by Bruce H. Kirmmse.7 Indeed, Kirmmse's conclusion is that 'in the end it is doubtful whether he [Kierkegaard] viewed any form of earthly congregation as compatible with what he believed to be ''the Christianity of the New Testament'''. So we are unlikely to get much positive help from Kierkegaard on the topic of ecclesiology.

Much the most substantial and positive treatment of ecclesiology by a contemporary philosopher of religion is to be found in Keith Ward's book, Religion andCommunity9 This, like Ward's earlier volumes discussed in previous chapters, is a comparative study, this time of the forms of social life fostered in five religions — Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity — with some remarks on the secular state thrown in. Where Christianity is concerned, Ward devotes a major section of his book to an account of the Church as a spiritual community at once critical of the 'world' and at the same time world-transforming through its special vocation to embody and proclaim the power of God's love in the world. Ward explores four aspects of this understanding of the Church, with chapters entitled 'The Church as a Teaching Community', 'The Church as a Charismatic community', 'The Church as a Sacramental Community' and 'The Church as a Moral Community'. In the first of these, the Church is seen as responding to God's inspiration in the search for truth and understanding. In the second, it is seen as the vehicle of transformation through the Spirit's agency. In the third, it is seen as the medium through which the material world is transfigured by the creative Spirit. And in the fourth, it is seen as a community of inspired moral thought and practice, whereby the obstacles to human justice, love and personal flourishing are challenged, and in part overcome. As befits its context in a comparative study, Ward's picture of the Church is of a developing, cooperative, non-exclusive instrument of the divine love. What we do not get is a picture of the Church as a worshipping community.

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