Because the meaning of biblical metaphors for the church are not always commonly shared, conversations about ecclesiology ― the doctrine of the nature and purpose of the church ― might be better served by relying on “foundational” statements, the Rev. Jerry Andrews told the second Moderator’s Colloquium on Ecclesiology here Dec. 9.
While acknowledging that all language is metaphorical, Andrews, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in San Diego, queried: “Is there speech in Scripture ― whether divine or human ― which avoids metaphor in order to be more straightforward, probably more foundational, in the description of the church? Yes, I think so.”
The foundational statement “on which all ecclesiology … the one on which the authors of the New Testament metaphors consciously built,” Andrews asserted, is “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.”
That statement, in variant forms, occurs repeatedly in the Old Testament: Ex. 6:7, Gen. 17:7, Lev. 26:12, Jer. 30:22, Ezekiel 36:28, Andrews noted. “It is always on the lips of the Almighty, always declarative,” he noted, “always the critical moment into whatever conversation (or silence) it is spoken. It appears to be foundational.”
Andrews outlined four implications of this “I will be your God and you will be my people” foundational statement:
- Election: “divine speech creates reality … prior to all the relational metaphors and historical narratives there is the creation of the people of God by the Word of God.”
- Revelation: “divine speech reveals reality. It reveals God…. This is the doctrine of revelation.”
- Creation: “In both electing the people of God and in the self revelation of God, the people of God are created and the Creator is revealed…. The missing third line might be ‘So there.’”
- Covenant-making: “What is established is a relationship, better said, a covenant within a relationship … it names two covenantal partners and brings them both into a stated relationsip.”
This type of intense personal relationship was news to those who heard it, Andrews said, because all of the pagan gods at the time the Scriptures were written “were all stand alone and certainly stand apart from humanity… What makes the people ‘people,’” he added, “is that they are the people of God. There is no other reason for their existence offered.”
The conclusion, Andrews insisted, is obvious: “Would someone dare to argue this is not love?” he asked. “It is as intimate and public as it can be. If we had only this, could we not foretell branches and vine, flock and shepherd, body and head, certainly bride and groom?”
Contemporary ecclesiology is “diminished” by its inattention to this intensely personal relationship, which Andrews called “the central genius of the biblical record…. We think of the church more in terms of its end that in light of its beginning.”
We talk endlessly about the Kingdom that is coming, Andrews said, “but name the theologically respectable book or rigorous article that lately inspired you about the King who is coming. Shalom is surely on its way … but has anyone argued lately for the necessary arrival of the Prince of Peace?”
Andrews said, “I wonder if I alone lament the absence of the personal God in our ecclesiological talk.” That’s why, he said, the foundational statement ― “I will be your God and you will be my people” ― is so important. “The statement announces that our ecclesiology is to be personal. The metaphors explain in what ways it is personal.
“It is not primarily for the event or the idea, or for the feast or even the wedding,” Andrews said, “but for the Groom that wise virgins still oil their lamps.”