In the latest Concordia Journal (July 2008; Volume 34, Number 3), Charles Arand wrote, “… I propose that we proceed to consider this gathering of Christian people within the framework of passive and active righteousness. We are righteous before God by faith, which alone receives the gifts of Christ. It is a passive righteousness. We are righteous within the world by virtue of our activity whereby we serve the neighbor. Here our righteousness is active. The former is the basis for the latter. We seek both but for different purposes. As we saw with Luther’s Small Catechism, what applies to the individual also applies to the church. In some ways, this distinction parallels our distinction between the una sancta and local congregations. The assembly that gathers around the throne of the lamb (coram Deo) and is hidden from the world also gathers within this world and carries out activities in plain sight of people within the world (coram mundo). So just as the individual Christian lives in two relationships, so the church also lives in two inseperable yet distinct realms. The church coram deo lives from the Word of God, and coram mundo it lives to deliver the Word of God to others” (“What are Ecclesiologically Challenged Lutherans To Do? Starting Points for a Lutheran Ecclesiology,” 162-63).
3 thoughts on “The Church Coram Deo & Coram Mundo”
I wonder what others think about the language “hidden” in relation to the gathered community of believers. I personally have always found this word and its consequent ecclesiology to be unhelpful.
Why is it necessary to speak of those “truly” “faithful” hidden in the visible boundaries of the church? If it is God who can only know these “truly faithful” then what does it profit us discussing it, even asserting it? Couldn’t this lead to doubt and upset Christian consciences, like double-predestination does? If we do not have windows into people’s souls, then are we not simply left with the visible church, and if we are then we can cease to speak of the “visible” church, and we can simply speak of the church defined by faith and baptism?
While I think Arand does a fine job of describing these two aspects of the Christian community, the “hidden” inference jumps out at me and sours my reception of his points.
It seems to me that the Church as ‘hidden’, or rather, the boundaries of the kingdom of the truly faithful as ‘hidden’ within the visible church, is a theme which can be used in two ways:
1. Negatively, discouragingly, as if to say, how few true Christians there are in the vast company of those who profess the faith, rather like Elijah in 1 Kings 19 (‘only I am left…’), and how baptism and other exterior signs are not enough on their own.
2. The reverse. Despite the poor – very poor – and compromised exterior appearance and reality of the visible mixed church of wheat and tares, be assured that God is calling his people into being here, where the means of grace are, as he has promised. This is what I take Luther to be saying again and again for instance in the Lectures on Genesis. It is meant I believe to encourage us … and as a clergyman I couldn’t rest easy if I didn’t think that he is right.
To respond more generally: isn’t the hiddenness of the Church rooted in the invisibility of its possessions and life coram Deo until the end? ‘You have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God’.
Jonathan, I think your two alternatives are spot on. I was obviously reacting more to the ‘negative’ approach. I prefer your positive interpretation.
Interestingly, Arand employed the imagery that you use in your baptism book when you speak of the church gathered around the campfire. The focus is on the fire (Christ) and not on the those gathered around the fire, even (especially?) those who are sometimes hard to see as they flit in out of the light’s boundaries. That is the kind of imagery that I would prefer to use when speaking of this aspect of the church.