Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Church in Hebrews 8: Conclusion

The Conclusion to my essay on the doctrine of the Church in Hebrews.


The epistle to the Hebrews contains a Christological and eschatological ecclesiology.

1. A Christological Ecclesiology

The Church is by virtue of Christ’s ministry. It is because he fulfils and perfects the shadows of old covenant life that the Church can be considered as the new Israel, in possession of Jeremiah’s new covenant and inheritors of all that was promised to Abraham. The patterns of Church life envisaged in Hebrews flow from this Christology as a response of faith, hope and love. Because Christ is the high priest who has entered the heavenly places, the Church draws near to God and holds fast to the hope of a heavenly city she already possesses in some sense. Life gathered to Christ the priest of the true tent is ‘tabernacle life’ – involving holistic worship and priestly offerings. Therefore, among other things, what Hebrews demonstrates is that Ecclesiology should be rooted in Christology.[1]

2. An Eschatological Ecclesiology.

Because the work of Christ is heavenly-focused, the Church is an eschatological entity.[2] It is the ‘now’ of a ‘not yet’ future, though a future secured in Christ. In this sense the traditional ‘tenses of salvation’ apply to the Church.[3] As with the kingdom, we may say that the Church is inaugurated, progressive and to be consummated.[4] It is this eschatological tension that drives the exhortation within the book for endurance. There is a future hope to be lost if it is not held fast to in the now. This shapes Church life as focused on endurance and mutual exhortation. The Church lives in the ‘today’ of Psalm 95. We may add that, since the Church itself is a part of the inaugurated eschatological vision of 12:22-24, if the Christian life is to be eschatological it must also be a corporate life. There can be no living in hope without ‘Church’. This eschatological perspective also ascribes considerable honour and importance to the Church. As the exposition of Psalm 8 in 2:5-10 suggests, because she is the climax of Israel’s history, the Church is likewise the climax of God’s dealings with and plans for humanity within his creation.[5]

[1] I am grateful to Rev. Tim Davies for first highlighting the necessary link between Christology and Ecclesiology. Tim Davies, personal communication.

[2] Giles speaks of “the common Jewish apocalyptic idea that what lies in the future already lies above.” Giles, Church, 156.

[3] That is, past, present and future.

[4] The notion of the kingdom as progressive and inaugurated can be found in Gary North, Millenialism and Social Theory (Tyler, Tex.: ICE, 1990), 222.

[5] Psalm 8 is about God’s intentions for humanity as a whole. This is then applied to Christ, who is the one crowned with honour and glory, and to whom the world to come is subjected. His work however is to bring many sons (the Church) to the same glory. This is perhaps the most ‘whole world’ focussed moment in the epistle, and yet it is surrounded by passages discussed in this essay as showing the link between the Church and Israel. Similarly, Psalm 8 itself is about Yahweh, Israel’s Lord (Psalm 8:1, 9) and is said to be a song of David.

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