In his contribution to Ecumenical Theology in Worship, Doctrine, and Life , a Festschrift for Geoffrey Wainwright, Telford Work argues that ecclesiology is the proper setting for the ordo salutis . In what he admits is something of a caricature, he describes American evangelical ecclesiology in this way: “Churches are mainly holding bins for people who are already saved. Butparachurches are salvation machines, the ultimate wineskins of salvation. They savethe world by evangelizing, training disciples and ministers, renewing families, furtheringsocial action, and lobbying governments. Their work of mission, sanctification,and cultural transformation makes perfect sense in terms of salvation. Infact, under the definition of the visible Church as ‘just’ an external means of savinggrace for souls, parachurches make better churches than most churches. Andthey mediate all this saving grace without baptizing, disciplining, gathering toworship, or celebrating communion!” (184).

He thinks the ordo salutis itself bears some of the blame for the situation:

“What is . . . problematic than the ordo itself is its place in the Protestanttheological systema place determined by the Reformation’s false dilemma andhardened by the centuries-long Catholic/Protestant stalemate. The doctrine ofatonement is of course inseparable from the doctrine of Jesus Christ. But the salvationof discrete persons does not belong in categories of justification and sanctificationabstracted from social relationships. It belongs in the Church. Ecclesiologyshould be the category within which the ordo salutis is treated” (187).

After defending his position against the charge that he’s veering toward Catholicism, he argues that “biblical sacramental practices testify positivelyto the promise of a truly ecclesial account of salvation. For if the visibleChurch is really only external to personal salvation, then Jesus chose his ordinancesvery poorly! All of the signs of salvation radically require the actions of the visibleChurch. One cannot baptize oneself; communion is communal; even evangelismrequires evangelists (Rom, 10:14-15). If Jesus chose these signs in order to revealsomething of the nature of salvation, then his community must be the proper contextfor his salvation. And if evangelical soteriology and ecclesiology instead emphasizethe dispensability of these signs, then they ignore part of what it means to besaved” (191).

Preaching and sacraments are not external aids to an invisible, unsacramental, unverbal salvation. Work argues, “In the New Testament, hearing the Word in faith, beingbaptized, and participating in the body and blood of Christ are not just externalmeans or aids of the order of salvation. They are the order of salvationthe necessaryembodiments of conversion, justification, and sanctification” (191).

I don’t agree with every detail in Work’s article, but in its main thrust it is right on target, and couldn’t be more necessary.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart