Reader's Guide to Schleiermacher's Christian Faith

Summary and Commentary from Frank Cross

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George Cross, The Theology of Schleiermacher



Section 2. The Nature of the World in Relation to Redemption. Doctrine of the Church (113-63)

The redemptive energy of Christ originally lay simply in himself. In the exercise of it he created a new spiritual organism through which it is historically propagated in the world. All the redemptive energy of Christ is accordingly comprehended within this new body, which is the communion of believers in him. Now, the consciousness of redemption involves a consciousness of participation in the communion of the regenerate, for this communion has not first to be established by an act of the regenerate, but in regeneration they already find themselves within it, and they trace the workings of grace through which they become participators in the redemption, to its activity.

This activity was exerted upon them prior to their consciousness of redemption, their felt need of redemption being an effect of it. Consequently, there is no absolute leap out of one sphere into the other, else conversion would be an unhistorical occurrence, effected by some incomprehensible influence operating outside the universe of causes and effects. But just as there already existed prior to the advent of Christ, through the work of prevenient grace, a circle of individuals prepared to receive the redemption as it was to be ministered by the personal work of Christ himself, so now also there is in the world an outer circle of individuals upon whom the activity of the inner circle which consists of the communion of believers is exerted; and since in regeneration there is a consciousness of being already within that communion outside of which no redeeming activity is exerted, these people must have been already before regeneration within the outer circle of that communion. The world, then, as the field in which the church's work is to be done, stands in an antithetical relation to the church, but on the other hand is destined to pass over into it. Here we find the explanation of the Christian's conscious sympathetic relation to all things human. For while the world, notwithstanding its original perfection, is for men, apart from the redemption, the locus of sin and evil, through the advent of Christ a new element has entered into it, namely, Christ's own self-imparting perfection and blessedness. Through him, then, the world becomes to us the locus of perfection and blessing.

We perceive, then, that the law of self-organization, as it appears in the naturalization of the super natural in Christ, finds its parallel in the communion founded by him. For the incarnation of Christ in relation to human nature in general corresponds to the regeneration of the individual in relation to the whole nature of the individual; so also to sanctification, as the progressive appropriation by Christ of individual functions, corresponds the work of the Christian communion as an organic body which progressively organizes itself and appropriates to itself the mass (i.e., the world) which lies over against it. Three stages in this process may be defined: (1) the origin of the church, or the manner in which the church is builded out of the world; (2) the present existence of the church in antithesis to the world; (3) the removal of this antithesis in the perfection of the church. Though the second is alone present immediately to experience, and therefore constitutes the kernel of this whole section, it will be better to discuss these stages in the historical order.

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