John H Yoder Ecclesial model practices for the world

John Howard Yoder (1994: 365ff.) distinguishes three fundamental ways in which the worship of the church can relate to ethics and politics: a sacramen-talist account (typical for Roman Catholicism), a symbolist approach (as represented by Zwingli), and a sacramental logic (as Luther developed it).

These possibilities mirror the positions formulated during the controversies in sacramental theology in the Reformation period. The symbolist logic assumes the concrete material practice of worship to be a mere pointer toward the higher reality of the unification between human soul and Christ, which happens in heaven. Hence it typically lends itself to an idealist view of ethics, which interprets the worship practice in terms of an "imperative" to put into practice what is ideally signified there. Accordingly, the community of believers is primarily in view as the addressee of a moral appeal.

The Catholic alternative of sacramentalism assumes, on the contrary, that the liturgical ritual will constitute the new reality by virtue of its right exercise alone (ex opere operato); the participation and reception of the community is not seen as an essential feature for this reality to come into being. Hence the inclination to a "realist position" that does not need to employ a political ethics. In contrast to these alternatives, sacramental logic, as Yoder sees it, takes the reality of the communio in personal terms as the thing itself. The ethical or political reality is not envisioned as being detached from the material conditions and social fabric of the worshipping community. Rather, the eucharistic communion "is" a social ethics; it forms a political society.

Operating within this (albeit unacknowledged) Lutheran framework, Yoder wants to go a step further and address the question which the Augustinian tradition has largely left unanswered: How does the church as primal political entity impact on other political societies and the state? How can the renewal of politics be fertilized through the renewal of the political self-awareness of the church? Yet the best way to approach these questions seems to be via another question: Which language and metaphorical imagination is best equipped to express this relation most adequately?

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