When Catholics debate evangelicals, the most common question they have is, Do evangelicals have a doctrine of the church? If so, what is it? Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University and a senior adviser for CHRISTIANITY TODAY, found himself answering just those questions last year before a group of Catholic theologians, including representatives from the Vatican. His talk at this meeting of Evangelicals and Catholics Together addressed what many consider an oxymoron—evangelical ecclesiology. Here is a radically condensed version of that talk, which shows that evangelicals have good answers to these questions.
On July 29, 1928, a young evangelical pastor began his sermon on Paul's teaching on the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians with these words: "There is a word that, when a Catholic hears it, kindles all his feeling of love and bliss; that stirs all the depths of his religious sensibility, from dread and awe of the Last Judgment to the sweetness of God's presence; and that certainly awakens in him the feeling of home; the feeling that only a child has in relation to its mother, made up of gratitude, reverence, and devoted love . …
"And there is a word that to Protestants has the sound of something infinitely commonplace, more or less indifferent and superfluous, that does not make their heart beat faster; something with which a sense of boredom is so often associated. … And yet our fate is sealed, if we are unable again to attach a new, or perhaps a very old, meaning to it. Woe to us if that word does not become important to us soon again. … Yes, the word to which I am referring is Church."
So spoke Dietrich Bonhoeffer to a small German congregation in Barcelona. These ...1