Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§120-172)


Given my interest of all things ecclesial, as fate (or Providence, take your pick) would have it, I find myself posting on our closing section of Schleiermacher’s “The Christian Faith.” Sections 120-172 largely devote themselves to features (i.e. characteristics) of the Church in its relationship to Christ and to the world.

The world as it relates to Schleiermacher’s notion of redemption, is found in the institution of the Church (§113). Schleiermacher states that Church is, in itself, founded on three principles: its origin (by God’s election of individuals in faith), its distinction from the world (through its features), and its consummation with Christ (the prophetic doctrines, cf. §157-63). Regarding distinction, sanctification is ultimately an inward impulse among believers. Because individuals are affirmed in a common spirit (the Holy Spirit) they are driven inward toward each other, forming what Schleiermacher notates as the “inner fellowship.” The “outer fellowship” is comprised of concerned individuals who have yet to receive the transformative event of regeneration (the beginning of a new life in Christ, as told in Col. 3). While Schleiermacher dismisses this nutshell version of Church as “novel and merely confusing,” he nonetheless admits the inward nature of sanctification (stated above) as one of the constituting factors regarding the Church.

Schleiermacher’s role of the Holy Spirit is a unifying force for the Church, but I have been to many churches in my life and only few I could confidently claim to be spiritually led. (And surprisingly enough, those few would balk to use a word like ‘church’ to describe themselves.) Additionally, as a good Methodist, I can’t help but comment on Schleiermacher’s assessment of Sanctification as an inward impulse of the Spirit. While I agree with the basic conception of Sanctification as the continual regeneration through faith in the individual (presenting the image of Christlike-ness), it is the inward impulse (supplementarily: the inner/outer fellowship) with which I see as problematic. Sanctification, if it is to be the continual spurring on of the individual to be one with Christ, does not drive oneself inward, but instead should drive forward and outward the actions of Christ from within the individual! Sanctification is not an inward impulse, but is naturally one that forces the individual in faith towards his neighbor (not to himself).

In a similar vein, I would like to discuss Schleiermacher’s conception of the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. At first, Schleiermacher affirms the inward impulse in sanctification as parallel to the Eucharist, for the taking of the elements is a confirmation of the already gathered fellowship. Schleiermacher notes that the supplementary action of the Church’s participation in the Eucharist is joined with the original action of Christ’s sacrifice (the cross) in relation to redemption. Thus the Church, in its partaking of the Eucharist, participates in a similar sacrifice (albeit symbolical). Again the purely symbolical nature of the Eucharist is lost to me; just as with sanctification, the partaking of the Eucharist is ultimately an outward action towards one’s neighbor.

Schleiermacher closes “The Christian Faith” with an affirmation of the Divine Trinity as essential to doctrine. Trinitarian theology is based on the being of God assumed in the being and work of Christ; if it cannot stand, then the whole of Christianity falls with it. In regards to what I have said above regarding the outward nature of Sanctification, not mentioned by Schleiermacher, is (as I see it) expressed well in his affirmation of the Trinity. For, if the “being of God assumed in the being of Christ” is essential to doctrine, and doctrine is essential to the Church, then the kenotic movement of godliness to humanity is referenced in the Church’s kenotic movement from itself to the world.


5 Responses to “Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§120-172)”

  1. Jeremy Says:

    Hey Wes,

    Thanks for closing out the discussion on The Christian Faith. Given my disinterest in all things ecclesial, I’ll admit this was not my favorite section. I appreciate your critique of Schleiermacher’s doctrine of sanctification. Reflecting back on Kant and Schleiermacher, if I had to choose, I’d go with Kant. At least Kant recognizes the importance of ethical action in service of the neighbor. With Schleiermacher, I fear we get an encouragement for navel-gazing and inaction.

    Following the Gospel of Mark, I’ve always thought that resurrection points to the importance of following Christ out on the streets. What matters is not introspection but action in the community.

    Looking back on his dogmatics, I can’t help but feel that this was a missed opportunity. The impressiveness and ingenuity of his system cannot be questioned. What I find problematical is the foundation of his system, namely the individual’s personal piety and feeling of absolute dependence. It reminded me too much of my evangelical background and the utmost importance placed on the individual believer’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ. All the talk about the personal relationship does not sit well with me. As much as Schleiermacher would likely say that the individual’s feeling of absolute dependence will lead to communal action, my experience leads me to believe otherwise. Too often people who go inward never come up for air.

  2. Wesley Hargrove Says:


    I knew you would respond along such lines. I prefer Kant’s religion more to Schleiermacher’s on the same grounds. My hope, however, is that if we are to become agents of the Kingdom of God then our whole life-existence is to be radically subjected to its efforts. This would be my outward actions, just as much as my inward actions. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I would prefer Kant’s ethical religion to a “navel-gazing” pietistic religion (as you so aptly put it), the radical transformation of the Kingdom has to be just as so spiritually as it is external.

  3. Jeremy Says:

    Sure, I agree with the entire life-transformation. I just want the external to be prioritized. If someone feels holy while performing good actions then good for him. I would suggest, however, the direction of change will go from outward to inward. Namely, spiritual transformation will only come about by external actions. The whole notion that if one fixes the inside then the outside will inevitably change is an illusion.

    I also feel like if someone wants to be content and happy come talk to me in psychotherapy. I’d like to think religion is more than just some form of psychotherapy.

  4. Wes Hargrove Says:

    We’re in agreement regarding the religion is more than psychotherapy bit. However, Jesus seemed to be emphatic (especially in the Sermon on the Mount) regarding the inward virtues (adultery is lust of the heart, vice versa, etc…) I’m not sure we can prioritize one over the other. Can’t it just be both/and?

  5. Jeremy Says:

    That’s a great question. I think we have tended to misunderstand those verses. We’ve turned them into saying that what really counts it heart (i.e. motives), and that the external following of the law is less important. Or, rather, if the law neglects the virtues of the heart then we it is of no use. Only the Jews are ignorant enough to observe Sabbath, what’s important is the Sabbath in our heart. I would suggest that Jesus is actually being even more legalistic, trying to build a hedge around the commandment, as opposed to obsessing over people’s internal motives. Ultimately, you’re led to some Law/Gospel paradigm that undergirds an implicit anti-Judaism. Jesus emphasizes the things of the heart so that people won’t even flirt with the real danger, namely, adultery (not lust), murder (not hate). I suppose it can be an either/or. But going back to Pascal, I think he is on to something when he says that if you want to be a Christian do what Christians do. Don’t try and get there internally, just start emulating the praxis of Christians.

    Kotsko wrote a really helpful piece over at AUFS about intentionality in the Sermon on the Mount that influenced how I read these particular verses:

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