Monday, 3 January 2011

Knox-Robinson vs traditional ecclesiology

The "Knox-Robinson ecclesiology" is the doctrine of church framed by the Moore College theologians David Broughton Knox and Donald Robinson. If I can summarise it without too much distortion: a church happens when people gather around Christ, through his Word. We are simultaneously gathered physically around the Bible, and spiritually, in the heavenlies, around Christ. They base this on the Biblical-theological dynamic of God gathering his people to himself: Exodus = gathering; Exile = scattering; Christ and the New Covenant = gathering again.

The idiosyncratic thing about Knox-Robinson ecclesiology is the significance they put on the act of assembly, of gathering. Any gathering around the Bible – Bible study, Sunday church, major conference – is a “church”. But any time people are not gathering, they are not “churching” with regards this world, even though they are still gathered around Christ in the heavenlies.

This is unusual because the word “church” has traditionally used to denote three forms of the believing Christian community, which a believer identifies with and “belongs” to, whether that form of the believing community is actually meeting or not. The three forms are:

  • the particular, localised believing community which a person has committed him/herself to - “I attend St-Bertha’s-By-the-Freeway”;
  • the group of churches with a shared history and structure, to which the particular community is associated - the Berthian church, founded by the freeway evangelist Bertha;
  • the universal “catholic” church, across time and space.

The difference between this traditional use of “church” and Knox-Robinson is that in the traditional use, fellowship is sufficient for the word “church”. Actual gathering is not necessary. St Bertha’s is taken to “exist” as a fellowship of Christians committed to each other, even if they’re not meeting at the time.

In our next post, we'll look at some criticisms of the Knox-Robinson ecclesiology, and I'll put forward some of my own thoughts on it.

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