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Volf on the body of Christ, ctd.

So, given what we’ve seen from Volf, how does he ultimately describe the church as the body of Christ? In a rather trinitarian way:

Christ cannot be identical with the church. An element of juxtaposition obtains between Christ and the church that precisely as such is constitutive for their unity. Only as the bride can the church be the body of Christ, and not vice versa. To be sure, one should not understand the genitive Christos (“of Christ”) exclusively in the possessive since (“the body that belongs to Christ”), but rather must also interpret it in and explicative sense (“the body that is Christ”). Otherwise the church and Christ would be merely juxtaposed and their specific oneness suppressed (see 1 Cor. 6:15; 12:1-13). The identification of Christ and the church however — “your bodies [are] members of Christ” — derives from the union between Christ and Christians, a union that cannot be conceived in physical categories, however articulated, but rather in personal categories, and a union for which the enduring distinction between the two is of decisive importance. Thus the identification of Christ and the church stands for the particular kind of personal communion between Christ and Christians, a communion perhaps best described as “personal interiority”; Christ dwells in every Christian and is internal to that person as a person. Rather than being thereby suspended, the specifically Christian juxtaposition of Christ and Christians is actually first constituted through the Holy Spirit. If this is correct, then Paul’s statement that “all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28) does not mean that this “one” is “Christ himself”; they are “one” insofar as they are “in Christ” or insofar as “Christ” dwells “within” them.

Thus, for Volf, to call the church the body of Christ is to speak of the personal indwelling of Christ, by the Spirit in all Christians, thus binding them together relationally as a communion of persons. The language of the body is thus one of divine indwelling and relational giving. We are the body of Christ in that Christ, in the Spirit dwells in us and gives us to one another in the same mode of descending, self-giving love that Christ himself embodys as the ikon of the Trinity in the world.


  1. Hill wrote:

    I still don’t understand the position you are critiquing.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  2. Rod wrote:

    Where is this quote from?

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  3. Dennis wrote:

    I’m really not grasping his position and I don’t think he quite has it. First off, in Galatians 3:27, it says we are one with Him through Baptism (see my post in “Organic Body of Christ”).

    Secondly, we are His body as He acts through us on earth. Christ is in heaven and his will here on earth is executed through His Body. He is the head and tells the body what to do and we act accordingly.

    It’s in our unity with Him that we attain salvation. His Body opens up the doors to heaven that have been closed since Eden (Matthew 16: 18-19). Outside of His Body, there is no salvation (which is the foundation of “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus”) .

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 8:49 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Volf argues, thoroughly, against both the perspectives of Ratzinger and Zizioulas in his book. If you read the book you can see this filled out in full.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Its from After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity, p. 145-46.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 8:59 am | Permalink
  6. I agree with Hill. Why are you fighting this battle, and why is Volf so useful. Is Volf an authority just because he’s against those dirty “Catholics” and the backward “Orthodox.”

    I’m an evangelical, but I don’t even resonate with Volf on most of this stuff. I don’t feel like you are making an theological argument or even handed exploration of this issue. I’m new to reading this blog, but I’m not “new”, so let me know what the issues.

    I feel like this is a conversation where I load the dishwasher wrong, my wife yells at me, and then only later I figure out its because I reminded her of her father.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    I’m not fighting a battle. I’m just reading different things about the image of the church as the body of Christ and posting on it as I do so. There’s no great big conspiracy here.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 9:42 am | Permalink
  8. erin wrote:

    that’s what you want us to think

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Damn! The minions are catching on.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  10. Brad A. wrote:

    It’s been a couple of years since I read this book, and I’m just glancing over my notes, but I do remember being bothered by a few things, and not being all that impressed by the book as a whole. Some of what Volf does in this book, I think, is quite good – I appreciate that he argues for the legitimacy of a certain free church model using the language and some of the categories of the ecclesiological literature at large. But I’m not sure he completely gets the Catholic perspective (I’m largely ignorant on the Eastern one), and I wonder about the implications of some of his claims.

    I don’t really diverge from Volf on this Trinitarian orientation on being the Body of Christ, or on the particular question of the oneness of Christ and his church (I’m much more sympathetic to a distinction between the two), but Volf has problems elsewhere in this book. He understands Catholic ecclesiology to a degree – only really looking at Ratzinger – but he assumes a conflct between local and universal churches that is not presumed by Catholic ecclesiology. Thus, when he argues that one problem with Ratzinger is that Ratzinger permits no “rights of persons” and “rights over against the others,” (around p. 72) i.e,. individuals or local churches against others or against the universal. For Volf, this necessarily means hierarchy. But neither Ratzinger nor Catholic ecclesiology as a whole – as I remember it – presume the conflict that Volf presupposes (which comes out looking like a presumption of original violence in the redeemed community – p.4). This doesn’t mean they’re correct, but it does mean Volf hasn’t quite understood them. Moreover, Ratzinger’s view doesn’t constitute the whole of Catholic ecclesiology (even now), though I’m sure Volf knows that. I’d be interested to know what Volf thinks of Joseph Komonchak.

    I also question to what degree local churches can actually be considered “self-complete” (p. 154) without need for communion from other churches, or without any non-hierarchical notion of a universal church. In my opinion, he runs into a problem when he argues that “ecclesiality does not depend on the holiness its members can exhibit, but rather exclusively on the presence of Christ sanctifying them.” He asserts that “the basic condition of ecclesiality accordingly coincides with the basic condition of salvific grace, which consists in the faith of the heart and the confession of the mouth (Rom 10:10)”; the church is constituted through confession (p. 150). He then states, “Other churches, however, can intervene in the affairs of a local church only if the ecclesiality of this church is threatened. This is the case when the integral confession of faith is distorted in a church through the loss of the substance of faith or through permanent resistance in practice to Christ’s rule (status confessionis).” Don’t these quotations together basically amount to a claim that (1) confession and holiness are somehow separated, and (2) issues of ethics, justice, etc., are matters immune from critique by other churches or the universal church? I realize he’s talking about formal hierarchy, but I wonder if that’s simply playing by the same rules as the systems he’s critiquing, instead of redefining “subordination” in terms of “submission” to each other.

    Sorry for the rant, but while I like a lot of this book, I wouldn’t give it the glowing reviews it’s been receiving here.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    Glad to have some comments from someone who’s actually read the work in question.

    I’m not interested in doing a full-throated defense of Volf’s book, as I have problems with aspects of it as well. I should say, though that its pretty clear in his definition of ecclesiality that all churches must, by definition be open to all other churches, so I don’t think that he’s really proposing isolationism, only that local churches are “complete” in the sense that the fullness of God’s gifts are present in each local assembly.

    Also, as to the matter of holiness I think the main point is simply that the church does not secure its existence by its own moral performance. I just take that as saying that the sins of Christians and the church as a whole does not determine its existence, as the church’s reality is the gift of the Triune God.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:05 am | Permalink
  12. Brad A. wrote:

    Fair enough, Halden. I felt the need simply because of the characterizations of it in the past two or three threads.

    My concern on the question of holiness is that while your statement here – “the church does not secure its existence by its own moral performance” – makes sense and I think is probably a fair reading of Volf, we must be able to claim the converse, i.e., that ecclesiality can be threatened by the lack of holiness. Volf seems not to allow for this possibility in that section of the book.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I agree with that. I don’t Volf’s book on hand today, but I seem to remember him talking about ecclesiality being something that could be threatened, though I don’t really remember exactly how he teased that out.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:26 am | Permalink
  14. Aric Clark wrote:

    Though I confess as a good protestant that it is possible for any person to have communion with Christ in some fashion through private prayer in the interior of their own heart… I am suspicious of any definition of the Body of Christ that sounds like “Me & Jesus”. There is a reason in the Eucharist that we say people will come from North and South, East and West, and even reference apostles, prophets, martyrs, and saints of all times and places… meaning everyone. The feast is incomplete if one lamb is missing. The body is not whole if one member is severed. The church cannot be a matter of Jesus residing in people’s hearts. It needs to be something more extrinsic, more interdependent than that.

    In Phillipians when Paul chides them to “have the Mind of Christ” he does not say to do so in order to be a church. He presumes they are a church, and that having each member pursue christ-likeness within the church will be beneficial to the whole, not constitutive of the whole.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  15. Brad A. wrote:

    My third paragraph above addresses it. If ecclesiality can indeed be threatened “when the integral confession of faith is distorted in a church through the loss of the substance of faith or through permanent resistance in practice to Christ’s rule,” but at the same time, “ecclesiality does not depend on the holiness its members can exhibit,” then it would appear that “unholiness” =/= “resistance in practice to Christ’s rule,” as Volf defines them. I think that’s my problem with that part of his argument.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    I see. But wouldn’t it be easier to understand his language of “the holiness of its members” as simply referring to the sins of believers within the church? I mean, if in a church, lets say, one of the members works for the military as an interrogator and the church either doesn’t know or doesn’t believe this is wrong, does that make it not a church? Maybe a really bad church, but I’d still see it as a church.

    To hit it from another angle, what about the precedent of Israel, which I know you’re keen on? It seems to me that throughout the OT Israel commits about any form of unholiness one can imagine, and yet its identity as Israel is never dissolved and done away with (though of course individuals and groups do seem to remove themselves from it). It seems like that has some relevance here as well.

    Just some thoughts. This is pretty tangential to the thread.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink
  17. Matt wrote:

    There has been frequent comparison in these discussions between the body and head metaphor and the man and wife union metaphor. It seems germane to the conversation that the language employed in the prophets of unfaithful Israel is (at least to my knowledge) always that she is simply a bad wife, a whore, not that she has somehow forfeited her wife-liness itself (wife-iality? wifehood? wifedom?). I think it’s by intention that communion between God and his people is pictured in the way marriages at the time operated – a reality created as gift from outside the volitional consent and behavior of the two parties joined together.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  18. Kampen wrote:

    I don’t think Halden has a particular agenda, or position he’s pushing, or one he’s critiquing. It’s a discussion; it’s theology. And frankly, I actually think it’s kind of reflective of JHYoder’s non-methodological constantinianism influence on Halden…

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 11:57 am | Permalink
  19. Rod wrote:

    Okay, thanks Halden.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink
  20. Brad A. wrote:

    I would love to take up the Israel question (he says, salivating), but it is tangential and I don’t want to get things off-track. My reading of Israel suggests that, indeed, the covenant community ceases to be as such once it abandons covenant. Only by Yahweh’s grace and direct intervention, over and above covenant, is the situation redeemed.

    Of course, this can be said of the church as well. But I think “ecclesiality” is much more than whether a church is a church not. Rather, it’s the degree to which it is embodying its election, the reign/kingdom of God, etc.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink
  21. Brad A. wrote:

    The problem you have, Matt, is that if you take Hosea as an example (a prime example of your point here), one of the children is to be named, “not my people.” I think that goes a bit beyond a bad wife.

    Tuesday, February 9, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

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