Forgive Us, As We Forgive: A Reformed Position on the Visible Holiness of the Church
Sanderson-Doughty, Sarah Grace
RELIGION FORGIVE US, AS WE FORGIVE: A REFORMED POSITION ON THE VISIBLE HOLINESS OF THE CHURCH SARAH GRACE SANDERSON-DOUGHTY Dissertation under the direction of Professor Paul DeHart This project in constructive theology responds to a perceived weakness in Reformed ecclesiology, that being a deficient account of visible ecclesial holiness and a tendency to clericalism that runs contrary to the Reformed understandings of ordination. In this dissertation, I first seek to establish the plausibility of the problem I perceive by attending to two significant moments of controversy and division in American Presbyterian history. I then examine four substantial Reformed theological sources (Karl Barth, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Jean Calvin, and Augustine of Hippo) to gain further insight into the problem of conceptualizing visible holiness and a default to clericalism and to draw out resources for a resolution to this problem. From Barth I detect the difficulty of ascribing any visibility to holiness. From Schleiermacher and Calvin I draw out the Reformed emphasis on the preaching of the word and the weight thereby placed on preachers. I find in Augustine’s Donatist opponents a distinctly clerically centered construal of ecclesial holiness. I also identify a picture of the church that emerges in each thinker: humility, mutuality, progression, and forgiving love. And in each source I identify the insistence that God alone is the source of sanctification and the foundational character of forgiveness to ecclesial life. I ultimately argue that the practice of forgiveness needs to be identified as the third mark of the church. Word and sacrament, the traditional, Protestant marks of the church, are too tightly linked to the clerical office in Reformed order. The practice of forgiveness is part and parcel of Christian discipleship, as each baptized believer is to forgive as we have been forgiven; this is a mark of holiness because it is an operation of the Holy Spirit (eg. John 20:22-23). This is a leveling practice as all within the fellowship stand in need of and responsible for the extension of forgiveness. Concrete implications for ecclesial life are briefly explored in the concluding chapter.