Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology

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9780800631338: Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology
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How does the character of Christian worship affect the shape of Christian community? How should it?
In Holy People: Lathrop has again tapped the ancient wells of Christian liturgical practice to enable the renewal of contemporary congregational life and deeper engagement with contemporary cultures.

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About the Author:

Gordon W. Lathrop is Charles A. Schieren Professor of Liturgy at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

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The following reflections on the meaning of "church" continue the work begun with an earlier volume, Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993). The method of that book, its interest in both the use of strong symbols for the sake of communal orientation in the world and the strong critique of symbols for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, is here extended to the symbol "assembly." Here, as in that book, widely shared patterns of Christian liturgy, not systems of Christian theology, provide the primary context for thought. Some readers---agreeing with the author that liturgical speech about God must be prior to a liturgically grounded discussion of the church and wishing to pursue a further dialogue with the author on these issues---may find it useful to follow the footnote references to passages in Holy Things. Other readers, wishing to see how the method used here might have been developed in close relation to the use of the Bible in Christian liturgy, may find it useful to attend especially to chapter 1 of this book. Nonetheless, readers will not need to have read the earlier work in order to approach this one. The present work may stand on its own.

This book proceeds with a simple outline. After an introductory discussion of the methodology of what is here called "liturgical ecclesiology," three parts, each three chapters long, are set out. The first, foundational part considers what is meant by "assembly" in the practice of Christian worship, how diverse Christian assemblies are related to each other, and what may be learned for the practice of such assemblies from these reflections. Then, the second part turns toward issues of church unity and the third part toward issues of church and culture in order to ask how reflections based in liturgy and liturgical assembly may be helpful in facing these questions of contemporary Christian life. The questions thus addressed are these: What is church? What is church unity? And what is the relationship between church and the cultures of the earth? After reflections that are based in the history and meaning of the central matters of liturgy, each section of the book concludes with an essay on practice. The work concludes with two recent statements on worship and unity and worship and culture, statements which were crafted by consultations for which parts of the book were originally written.

As the work proceeds, the reader will note a repeated consideration of Scripture reading and preaching, Baptism and the Eucharist. While the root meanings of these "means of grace" were given greater space in Holy Things, here they are considered in another light: as the center of assembly, as the heart and grounds of church unity, and as the original pattern for the church's encounter with culture. The author does not wish to minimize the immense difficulties involved in any of these inquiries about ecclesial identity, unity, and mission. But by attending to ecumenically shared liturgical data, the author hopes to engage in liturgical study itself in such a way as "to increase the understanding of what the church is" (Sven-Erik Brodd, in Oloph Bexell, ed., Kyrkovetenskapliga forskningslinjer, Lund: 1996, 114). Underneath and behind the work, there are prayers for the renewal of congregational life and for the visible unity and healthy mission of the churches.

The title of the book, drawn from the ancient communion invitation of the eastern liturgies, which is printed as an inscription to this volume and most fully discussed in chapter 9 below, ought always be read with its response in mind: only one is holy. The force of that response---and therefore the nearly ironic force of the title itself---is meant to be visually represented by the artwork of the cover: it is only a needy and sinful people whom the merciful and all-holy God draws into holiness. These images from the remarkable, early-sixteenth-century painted interiors of the parish churches of Lohja and Hattula, Finland, are most fully discussed in chapter 3. ---from the Preface

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