The Misunderstanding Of The Church by Emil Brunner

Firstly, I am not sure whether the book is worth the $35 price tag for 120 pages!! Emil Brunner was a swiss theologian who went toe to toe with Karl Barth over Natural Theology (Barth rejecting Natural Theology and Brunner defending it). I have not read a whole lot of Brunner and I have just received his first volume of his ‘Systematics’ which I will get around to reading.

Brunner’s thesis in this book is that the current church and the New Testament Ecclesia are not the same thing. He argues that the current church has transformed away from what the Ecclesia was in the New Testament and has become an Institution – something which is alien to the concept of Ecclesia.

So what is his definition of the Ecclesia? It is a communion of persons and nothing else. It is the body of christ, but not an institution. The word institution crops up a lot in this book – Brunner is adamant that the institutional church is something never intended by Jesus, and it has caused problems, such as the sacraments becoming the mode of salvation instead of a sign of the the salvation already received in Christ; and the separation of clergy and laity which Brunner sees as a travesty and the major problem of the Institutional church.

Brunner argues that the Ecclesia was a group of spirit filled people who lived a holistic lifestyle – no separation of normal life and spiritual life. The Ecclesia took the idea of service and of fellowship and of growing in the Lord very seriously, but also the commands to love your neighbor and to bless your enemy.

It is clear that for Brunner the power, presence and effect of the Holy Spirit and adherence to the LIVING word of God, in a communion of people is paramount to the Ecclesia. A group of people who truly know and have the Holy Spirit and live in such a way. Brunner says what we need is the Holy Ghost who is promised to faith in Jesus Christ and who, where He is powerfully operative, brings about that freedom in obligation and that sense of obligation in freedom, that responsibility in fellowship, which far removed from all collectivism as it is from all individualism. What we need is first and foremost this understanding of things which would set us free from a false ecclesiasticism for the purpose of communion with our brethren. We need thus a real communio sanctorum: it is the only answer to communism falsely so called. In other words the call to serve, to give your life for others, to live in the communion of the body of Christ is freedom, not obligation and the obligation to obey Christ and to live in such a way is freedom.


You get the sense that Brunner longs for a church freed from the shackles of ritual and instead consists of spirit filled, word loving people who are in real community with each other.

Brunner’s vision is not a bad thing for people within the Institutional church to get hold of. Brunner does not call for the end of Institutional church but I think his hope for the book is that people would read it and grasp onto a true understanding of BEING the body of Christ together.

That would not be a bad thing for the church.


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