Torrance on the church and its mission

We now continue our review of Communion with the Triune God where Dick Eugenio examines TF Torrance's trinitarian understanding of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). Last time we looked at TF's understanding of the role of the Spirit in salvation. Now we'll look at his view of the Spirit's work related to the church and its mission. For the other posts in this series, click on a number: 12345678911.

TF often noted that the goal of salvation is participation in the life and love of the Trinity. The Spirit's distinctive role is to facilitate this participation (Gk. koinonia, also meaning sharing, fellowship and communion). The Spirit does this work by coming into us, then opening us out to God, thus enabling us to commune with the triune God. TF elaborates:
As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwell in one another, so God is in us by the indwelling of the Spirit and by participation of the Spirit we are in God, and thus our being in the Father is not ours but is the Spirit's who is in us and dwells in us (Communion..., Kindle edition, location 4227).
Caterbury Cathedral (1890-1900), Wikimedia Commons, public domain.


As is true of the Nicene Creed, Torrance's doctrine of the church (ecclesiology) flows from his understanding of the Spirit. Indeed, the church is the fruit of the Spirit, not a mere human institution. According to TF, "the church is founded in Jesus Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and is rooted in the Holy Trinity" (loc 4255). Eugenio comments:
[According to TF] the the communion of the Holy Spirit where our union and communion with Jesus Christ is actualized in the actual structure of our human, personal, and social being. The relationship between Jesus Christ and his Body [the church], however, should not be understood only analogically or metaphorically. Rather, precisely because reconciliation is achieved by Jesus Christ through his own incarnate constitution as true God and true human in one person, the church is internally and ontologically related to Jesus Christ, made possible by Christ's incarnational and atoning union with us and our consequent union with him through the Holy Spirit (loc 428). 
The church, then, is "a community of people whose selves have been displaced by Christ, so that he is their true selves...'not I but Christ,' St. Paul said" (loc 4280). That the church is the Body of Christ has several implications. First it tells us that Jesus, himself, is the law of the church's life (and the Spirit mediates that life to the church). Second it tells us that the church (and its agenda) must never displace Jesus and his agenda. Third, the headship of Christ points to the essential catholicity (universality) of the church as the whole Body of Christ. Fourth, Jesus is and remains the model for how ministry and mission are to be accomplished by the church.


In step with TF's ecclesiology is his Trinitarian, Christ-centered missiology, which emphasizes the koinonia of the church, by the Spirit, in Christ. TF elaborates:
It is only through a vertical participation in Christ that the Church is horizontally a communion of love, a fellowship of reconciliation, a community of the redeemed. Both these belong together in the fullness of Christ. It is only as we share in Christ Himself, that we share in the life of the Church, but it is only as we share with all saints in their relation to Christ that we participate deeply in the love and knowledge of God. Participation is a conjoint participation, a participation-in-communion, but the communion is above all a communion-in-participation in Christ (loc 4319).
The church, by the indwelling Spirit, is thus a "communion-constituting community." Its membership, which already is experiencing the reconciliation of humanity with God in the person of Jesus, is called to participate with Jesus, by the Spirit, in making the good news of this reconciliation known to others--inviting and enabling them to become part of the community of faith. As TF noted, the Holy Spirit is...
...poured out immediately only upon the Church, and yet through the Church it was destined for all men, for the church is sent out on a mission to all nations...that they too might receive the promise of the Spirit and be incorporated into the One Body (loc 4359). 
As the church participates in this God-given mission to be the Spirit-filled and led "reconciling community," it participates in what Jesus is doing, by the Spirit, to restore alienated humanity to fellowship (communion) with the triune God. The church does its part in this mission through its ministries of proclamation and reconciliation, by which the church not only proclaims reconciliation, but lives it by being a community of reconciliation. In this way, the nature and mission of the church are inseparably linked. If the church fails to be active in mission, the Spirit is quenched. TF noted how this sad situation occurs when the church becomes more concerned with itself than with the lost sheep outside the community of faith.

In concluding his discussion of TF's view of the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation, Eugenio notes that "the Spirit, through the church, reaches out to the world in the ministry of reconciliation, embracing every race and tongue, and incorporating everyone into the family of God" (loc 4383).

And to that we add a short prayer: "Fall fresh on us, Holy Spirit of mission."