How Ecclesiology is the Doctrine That Integrates All Others

by Rick Holland June 19, 2017

Growth in theological thought involves an interesting and unexpected dynamic—the more you understand a doctrine, the more you see its simplicity and complexity.  

This has proven true for me in every taxonomy of systematic theology, but nowhere more so than in my understanding of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). I have several shelves full of books about the church. And I’m sure that when others come recommended, I’ll get them as well. It seems like I am always working my way through a book on the church. And I love it.

The complexities of the doctrine of the church are countless. Membership, body life, discipleship, polity, equipping, leadership development, baptism, the Lord’s Table, discipline and restoration, preaching and teaching… considering the multiple dimensions of church life is like walking through one of those warehouse hardware stores. There is something interesting on every aisle and every visit highlights something you need (and want). With each ecclesiological passage I study and book I read I want to implement more and more biblical elements for the health of our church. Like a human body, the church is fearfully and wonderfully made, with intricate complexity.

At the same time the doctrine of the church is also simple. The local church is a group of people who share a common confession about Jesus of Nazareth, His gospel of salvation, and His indomitable Lordship. Even young children can be taught the simplicity of spiritual friendships that bind believers together as the bride of Christ.

But there is something else about the doctrine of the church, beyond her simplicity and complexity. The longer I am a pastor, the more convinced I become that ecclesiology is the integrating connective doctrine for all systematic and practical theology. Paul hinted at such when he told Timothy that the church is the “pillar and support/buttress of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:15). In other words, it falls to the church to support, protect, proclaim, and display God’s truth. The church is to be a bookcase for what God wrote and a trophy case for what God does.

I am in the dissertation phase my Ph.D studies at Midwestern Seminary. The courses I have taken, the instructors who have taught me, and the trajectory that has been set for me aim all my theological considerations at the health and maturity of the church. Ecclesiology truly is the doctrine that clarifies, protects, and integrates all other theological categories. What a joy and motivation to study with others who aspire to minister for the church!