Ecclesiology and Ethics

Bernd Wannenwetsch

in The Oxford Handbook of Theological Ethics

Published in print August 2007 | ISBN: 9780199227228
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology

 Ecclesiology and Ethics

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Theologians such as John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas found a significant following when they claimed that the Church as a body and a people has an inherent ethical and even political character. They remind us of the elementary theological truth according to which ecclesiology is ethics, and ethics is ecclesiology. This article defends this insight and its critical value over against individualized, dehistoricized, and disembodied accounts of morality and Christian ethics in particular, while at the same time attempting to add depth by exploring the dialectic which elucidates why the Church that ‘is’ a social ethic still needs to ‘have’ a social ethic. The first section examines Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a still under-acknowledged forefather of the new ecclesio-ethical emphasis. His treatment of the Church as a ‘distinct sociological type’ underlies the all-important claim that the Church is not and should not be made the fundament of Christian ethics. Rather than having or needing a foundation, Christian ethics is given an ever new beginning in worship. The section that follows argues that the Church both ‘is’ and ‘has’ a social ethic. That is, the Church cannot content itself with lively and controversial debates about moral matters, but must at the same time venture unambiguous moral proclamation. The next section examines Luther's notion of the hiddenness of the Church as a liberating alternative to the scheme of visibility or invisibility. The position developed in these sections are tested in the following section which considers the controversial issue of an ‘ethical status confessionis’: that is, are there moral issues (in addition to doctrinal issues) in which the very identity of the Church is at stake?

Keywords: Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Church; Christian ethics; social ethic; Luther

Article.  8312 words. 

Subjects: Religion ; Religious Studies ; Philosophy of Religion

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