Getting to Know Friedrich Schleiermacher (4): The Church, Eschatology, and the Trinity

Yesterday, we looked at Schleiermacher’s theology of God, Sin, Redemption, and the person of Christ. Today, we will examine his views on the church, eschatology, and the Trinity.

The Church

The last section of his systematic theology is on the church.  This breaks down into three sections—the origin, existence, and perfection of the church.  On the churches origin, he speaks of election and the Holy Spirit.  Concerning election, Schleiermacher vacillates.  On one hand, from the vantage point of the decree (which he speaks about but doesn’t really fit his system) God is the causal agent of all things in the world and thus he causes the election of those in the church, but on the other, as the one who knows all things, he elects based on future knowledge. Schleiermacher seems confused on this matter, and this is one the stress points of his system.  Concerning the Holy Spirit, Schleiermacher denies any deity to the Holy Spirit; instead, the spirit is the common spirit of the church.  The shared experience and feeling of Christ unites the church, and thus there is this universal spirit.

On the existence and practice of the church, Schleiermacher lays out six aspects of practice that are organized with the three offices of Christ.  So the church focuses on the Word of God and preaching as a means of the prophetic office; the church performs baptism and the Lord’s Supper in conjunction with Christ’s priestly office; and the church is invited to pray in the Lord’s name and exercise the keys of the kingdom in conjunction with Christ’s royal office.  In all of these, Schleiermacher reformulates doctrine.  So for instance, communion is not an ordinance laid down by Jesus, it is man’s demonstration of need for grace and the expression of his Godward dependence.  Likewise, prayer for Schleiermacher is not to a God who is outside of space and time; rather, prayer is the inward longing for God and his kingdom to be exercised in the world.

Eschatology

Finally, on the perfection of the church, there is no true doctrine.  It is only an idea.  Since doctrines are those things which church communities experience and record, there has not yet been an experience of a perfect church, and thus what the historical theologians have described as eschatology are merely conjectures.  He renames these doctrines “articles” and offers very scant evidence for them.  Instead, with great agnosticism, he states that we cannot know for sure what the resurrection, intermediate state, and the final judgment will be like.  In the end, he qualifies the doctrine of heaven and hell, to insist that in some way, all men will be reconciled and perfected.  In this, his view of election and universalism are similar to Karl Barth, who is one of Schleiermacher’s greatest critics.

The Trinity: An Appendix

Finally, in an appendix, Schleiermacher relegates the doctrine of the Trinity.   Its position there shows Schleiermacher’s connection with church history—it would be impossible to be a Christian theologian and not talk about this central doctrine.  And yet, because of his Kantian presupposition, he decides that the Trinity is neither practical, nor knowable.  And thus should be mentioned but not greatly used.

While, all these features of Schleiermacher’s theology mentioned above and over the last few days require a great deal more consideration, it is a start.  Tomorrow, we will look at how we should evaluate this theological giant whose shadow still looms until today.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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