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Cullmann: Edification, the Body of Christ, and Christ Himself

Posted by on Jan 4, 2011 in books, edification, gathering | 2 comments

In my previous post “Cullmann on ‘The Aim of the Service,'” I quoted Oscar Cullmann’s book Early Christian Worship (London: SCM Press, 1953). In that book, Cullmann concludes that there are many, many different activities that happened when the church met together. He also concludes that the “aim” (purpose) of that gathering is edification (or “building up”).

Cullmann points out that the only limitation that Paul places on the wealth of activities that might happen when the church meets is the filter of edification.

Now, a few pages later, I come across another section of Cullmann’s book in which he discusses the work of edification in the church gathering. Cullmann connect edification with the formation of the body of Christ and the presence of Christ himself when the church meets:

First, what is the specifically Christian aim of the gathering for worship? The occasions serve for the ‘building up’ of the community as the Body of Christ, the spiritual body of the risen Lord. The Church as the body of this Christ must take shape in the gatherings of the community. The Church is built up in virtue of its coming together. But because the Church, which is thus built up, is the spiritual body of the risen Christ himself, we can also say that Christ is shown forth in the gathering of the community: where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, there is Christ in the midst of them, indeed, in such a way that he takes form in the gathering itself. Everything which furthers a ‘building up’, so understood, and only this, belongs to the Christian service of worship. This aim purifies the Christian service of those elements which serve only to satisfy profane, egocentric human needs, but at the same time excludes all excessive enthusiasm which would empty the service in its attempt to purify. The purpose of building up the Church as the body of Christ is served by all the different parts we have identified in the early Christian gatherings: breaking of bread, reading, proclamation, confession, prayer, doxology, blessing, hymns in liturgical and free form; prophecies, speaking with tongues and interpretation of tongues subjected to examination. (pages 33-34)

What do you think of Cullmann’s discussion?


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  1. 1-4-2011


    Whilst the author keeps to the main thrust of mutual edification I think he is spot on, but if he means what I think he does with comments such as, “The Church is built up in virtue of its coming together”,I hear echoes of what most traditionalists are saying.

    It seems to me that the “building up” is determined by the reason why people are congregated, and, importantly, the diversity of mutual ministry taking place, not by simply being in attendance.

  2. 1-5-2011

    Aussie John,

    In the further context (and I know that I didn’t supply this), I do not think that Cullmann is saying that the church is built up simply because people are gathering together. He is assuming certain things (primarily that people are actively seeking to build up one another) when the church comes together.