Church Order as Superabundance

J.C. Hoekendijk makes some interesting comments about the nature of church office and order. For Hoekendijk it is absolutely central that church order not be understood as constitutive of the church. Rather, the only thing that is constitutive of the church is the office of Christ, made present by the Spirit, manifest in mutual agape. Thus, according the biblical witness he claims that “it is of the essence that the offices, which we see functioning in great diversity [in the New Testament], be relativizes as a matter of principle.” Rather, “the church lives through the Spirit; it structures itself through the manifold spiritual gifts; it is ‘complete’ in Christ, where the Spirit and love rule, and it is definitely not in need of any further church order.”

Does this leave one with a negative and denigrating view of church order? Not necessarily, in Hoekendijk’s view. “Is this to say now that the offices are superfluous? We could put it that way, but then we would put it in the language of those who seek the minimum of existence, want to be content with that, and apprehensively and suspiciously shrug their shoulders at every extra gift. What they consider superfluous is called superabundant in the terminology of the gospel. It is the extra that God cannot help but give over and above that which is necessary.”

7 comments on this post.
  1. Chris TerryNelson:

    Barth comes to much the same conclusion in IV.2 when he deals with the Order of the Community. Thanks for all these Hoekendijk quotes. No one dismantles Christendom quite like he does!

  2. Nate Kerr:

    It is important to note that Barth makes this point in IV.2 in the course of articulating an understanding “liturgy” as an event of and within the concrete historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. If it is not this, that is, if liturgy is not about the concrete “ordering” of the Christian community to the living Christ, and rather becomes about the ordering instead of a discrete earthly-historical and ecclesiastical polity, then liturgy cannot but in the end, it seems to me, turn out to be a matter of sacramental instrumentality and functionality, of historical perdurance and survival. But this would be falsely to historicize Jesus in diachronic relation to the church (as, say, its “founder”), rather than to speak of church and liturgy as the historical event of our participation in the kenotic historicity of Jesus himself. Furthermore, in making this point about liturgy and church order, Barth — suprisingly, no doubt, to many — draws the conclusion that this is the only way by which properly to conceive of the church as “an order of fellowship derived from the Lord’s Supper” [708]).

    Also, this point that Hoekendijk makes about the Spirit’s superabundance with respect to that which is “complete” (in terms of a plermoatic fullness) in Christ correlates almost exactly with the twin logics of “singularity” and “excess” that I associate with Christ and the Spirit in chapter 5 of my book. I have only recently, thanks to the fine work of John Flett at Princeton Seminary and now to Halden, discovered Hoekendijk to be making precisely the point that I was trying to make in the final chapter of my book as well: “mission makes the church.” Reflection upon Hoekendijk’s insights will undboutedly figure into my future work.

  3. Halden:

    Yes, since reading your book Hoekendijk has been my primary pursuit. I find him to nicely fill out the answers to many of the “How do we do this?” sort of questions that were asked in those blog discussions.

    Sadly, Hoekendijk has only one full-length book and a few scattered articles in English. Nevertheless there’s still a lot there.

  4. erin:

    Hi Halden, thanks for you assurance re: Lewis – it is well taken. This is a great thought and I would like to discover more Hoekendijk – it speaks to a number of ways I have been challenged to think about church structure, thanks.

  5. kim fabricius:

    Let me earth this discussion (which of course I applaud) with a rant (for which, if it doesn’t resonate, forgive me).

    “Superabundance”? Here in the UK that should be “underabundance”, as ecclesiastical restructuring (if not changes to ecclesial offices as such) is driven by economic scarcity, not by the gospel hyper-, and shaped by management theory, not by ecclesiology. The mantra is “Mission, Not Maintenance!”, but either it is more honoured in the breach than the observance, or as often as not it is the world that sets the missionary agenda, as the criterion of the Great Commission becomes a gospel that is “meaningful” and “relevant”, suited to the “needs” of the 21st century. Thus the Church, plc. – or, better, the Church, “pcl” (abbreviating, with Stringfellow, “principality”).

    And to make the dry bones of local churches live? In my own United Reformed Church, a national initiative called “Vision4Life” (cool, huh? – and you haven’t even seen the logo!), a programme (oops, sorry, “process” – “programme” no doubt didn’t cut it with the focus groups, not dynamic enough; similarly, the word “education” has been replaced by “training” – the idea that there might be a “knowledge of faith” puts people off, too directive) – as I was saying, a “process” to “transform” our churches over three years – A Bible Year, a Prayer Year, and an Evangelism Year. And after each year, each church successfully taking part gets a certificate signed by our General Secretary. (Just kidding on the last sentence, but you take my point).

    But to borrow a quotation from Marilynne Robinson: “To borrow a question from Jean Genet, what would happen if someone started laughing?” And if they couldn’t stop – now that would be “superabundance”.

  6. bruce hamill:

    It resonates Kim! Part of me wants to laugh, part of me is still caught up in the ethos of the tragic and anally retentive. I guess, since I am in two parts that means that the second part is still winning.

  7. Erin:

    That’s just the kind of thing I was thinking of, Kim, thanks.