In reflecting further on my essay entitled “Salvation Eschatology,” I wrote the following comment to a friend:
My eschatological emphasis comes from my sense that Christian polity is an intrinsic character of Christian salvation. If so, then this ties the New Testament more clearly to the Old. We broadly think of the Old Testament as the history of God’s relationship with Israel, His chosen people, and of the New Testament as a radical break from history. In acknowledging the absolute uniqueness of the Incarnation, we treat the story of Jesus as so miraculous as to be “unbound” by any one cultural space or point in chronological time. It is not that we deny that Jesus lived 2000 years ago in Palestine. It is that those details seem peripheral to the “deeper meaning” of what He did for us. We approach the New Testament with a kind of intellectual Docetism. The result is a divorce of the New Testament experience of Christ Jesus with the history of Israel’s fall and redemption in the Old Testament. Eschatology bridges the two testaments, for eschatology turns the head on the old creation not to do away with creation altogether, but in order to favor a new creation with its own distinct polity. Heaven and Earth pass away, but the result is not nothingness, but rather a new society of faithful men called the New Jerusalem. As the New Jerusalem is a place, and the community of the elect, it has a polity of its own.
I believe that bridging the two testaments through an eschatological emphasis is critical in the end, for the intellectual divorce of the New Testament from the Old is the root cause of so many of the heresies rampant among “Christians” in our time. When we divorce the New Testament from the Old, we are inclined to say that Christian polity is not a necessity to salvation. Yes, it is quite true that the Holy Spirit is not bound by the Church (meaning the catholic faith and practice passed down to us from Pentecost and the regularized administration of the sacraments), but even when the Holy Spirit works outside of the Church we do not say as a result that polity is not necessary to salvation. When Christ Jesus heals someone, He does not tell that person to dispense with the Law of Moses. He says the opposite in fact. He says that the healed person should go to the Temple and worship there in accord with the faith and practice of Israel.
So the fact that the Holy Spirit can (and presumably does) act outside of the Church has no bearing on Christian polity being a necessity to salvation. The problem with divorcing the New Testament from the Old, and therefore saying that polity is not a necessity to salvation, is that salvation becomes much too personalized. From there, it devolves into experiential reality, feeling (what used to be called “enthusiasm”), and psychology. We know that Christian salvation is too far afield from her roots when modern theology on the topic has given way to the likes of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell.