The Problem of the Church in the Third Millenium

“At the end of the twentieth century and at the threshold of the third millennium, we here in Europe are experiencing very basic changes in the shape of the church. The old state churches are losing their members by the hundreds of thousands. Still their strategy is to adapt to pluralism in order to integrate as many of the remaining members as possible. The question of what the church in the first half of the next century should look like is an important one. Practical theology as theological theory between practice and practice will have an important task to develop and present helpful instructions from a legitimate basis for a qualitatively improved ecclesiastical practice. For this it needs the support of all the theological disciplines. And it needs to operate on the basis of clear biblical and ecclesiological principles. It cannot be spelled out here what this would look like in detail in the different practical theological disciplines. But I am sure: there is a great task ahead – and it is worth the efforts of many.” – Helge Stadelmann, ‘The need for ecclesiological prolegomena in the pursuit of practical theology’

Stadelmann’s 3 principals for a prolegomena to ecclesiology


Stadelmanns’ article in Trinity Journal is worth a read, he’s a consciously conservative Evangelical in his evaluations of the current state of the Church and in his answers for its present needs, yet he is able to site several non-conservative, non-evangelical answers that depart from his conclusions.


In short Stadelmann suggests that a healthy prolegomena will need to have these three dimensions;

“First, practical theology as theory between practice and practice has to investigate the status quo, the given reality of the church in its environment on the level of the community as well as on the level of its individuals. Historical analysis, the empirical methods of the social sciences, and thoughtful theological penetration of the existing situation will make it possible to get a precise picture of the current condition of the church and its people. While above we have stated that historical tradition, social sciences, etc., can never be the norm for practical theology, we now unhesitatingly acknowledge that historical and empirical research can be most valuable as tools to analyze how a given reality is structured, how it functions, or how it came about.

Second, practical theology needs to develop a deep and detailed understanding of the character, structure, and apostolically regulated practice of the NT church and its members. Here it is dependent on much additional work to be done by evangelical exegetes and systematic theologians…

Third, practical theology stands before the task of applying the insights gained from the study of the apostolic church to the empirical situation of the church of today in order to start the process of a cautious and wise transformation of the latter in the direction of the former. Practical theology is not an advocate of the status quo, nor of mere tradition, nor of human utopia. As theory between practice of lower quality and practice of higher quality it is an advocate of reformational processes which derive their norm from the Word of God in general, and from NT ecclesiology in particular.”

Prolegomena of ecclesiology as ‘dynamic equivalent translation’


For Stadelman, a healthy prolegomena will involve the practical theologian in the work of ‘ecclesial translation’. What does this mean you ask?


“The NT model of the church has to be translated – not just copied – into the different existing contexts. But a legitimate “translation” cannot be something different from the original “text”; according to the principle of dynamic equivalency it must represent the original in the present context in a way that clearly reflects what was said and meant in God´s originally given design. The result of this “translation” process with its transformational effects upon the status quo would be “dynamic equivalence churches” that reflect the apostolic church in our different cultures and situations.”


What do you think about Stadelmann’s concerns that he believes a prolegomena to ecclesiology should wrestle with? I was intrigued by his selection of dynamic equivalence as a linguistic metaphor for how the NT Church should be translated into the context of the Church in the Third millennium, do you think that is a helpful metaphor? What other metaphors would you try and use?