Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Church in Hebrews 6

The second half of my essay focussed on what Hebrews has to teach regarding Church life and practice.

As already seen above, Hebrews is an interplay between expository and hortatory material. In this section we will focus more particularly on the exhortatory, though this is dependent upon the expository material. In a similar way, this second half of the essay is built upon the first half. The nature of the church as eschatological Israel is the paradigm within which the letter’s picture of Church life is found and from which it flows.

1. Perseverance as a corporate responsibility

The main exhortation of the letter is a call to persevere in fidelity to the word received from the Son, though this is expressed in a variety of ways.[1] This perseverance is envisaged as a corporate responsibility. Not only are most of the commands and exhortations given in the plural (for example, 10:19-25),[2] but in several passages the members of the Christian family are entrusted with responsibility for one another’s endurance (13:7, 17; 3:13-14; 10:24-25; 12:15-16). Firstly, in maintaining a proper response to the word members of the Church should imitate and submit to leaders (13:7, 17). Whatever we may postulate about the form this leadership took, we can assert that Hebrews envisages some kind of recognised leadership within the Church as an aid to the perseverance of the whole community in the faith.[3] Secondly however, the responsibilities of leaders to keep watch (13:17) are not to be set over against the more dominant theme of the responsibility of all in this regard. Rather, living as God’s people involves daily mutual exhortation.[4] The author would know nothing of the Christian life as a solo project. It seems therefore that ‘doing/being the Church’ is the response the author is seeking.[5] We may state this more generally that ‘Church’ is in some sense the appropriate gospel response.

[1] See e.g. 2:1-3; 3:6, 12-15; 4:11, 14-16; 6:11-12; 10:19-25, 35-39; 12:1-3, 12-16, 25, 28.

[2] See for e.g. 2:1-3; 4:11, 14-16; 10:19-25; 12:1.

[3] Some argue from the simplistic language used to describe leaders that the Church was institutionally simple at the time the epistle was written. E.g. Ellingworth, Hebrews, 68. Giles, Church, 158-159. This is almost an argument from silence (i.e. the lack of the words for presbyters and deacons found in e.g. the pastoral epistles) and lacks any real conclusive power.

[4] 3:13

[5] Terminology derived from James Halstead, personal communication.

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