You, We, Me

You, We, Me June 11, 2012

What is the church? When someone uses the word “church” what comes to mind?

Here are some typical answers: the church is a brick and mortar building; the church is a particular denomination or non-denomination; the church is about the pastors and priests and musicians and leaders; the church is the mission of the church; the church is where the “marks” of the church appear — one, holy, catholic, apostolic or Word and Sacrament or Preaching; or the church can be glimpsed through some analogies or models — like institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald or servant. Put on your thinking caps friends, what comes to mind when you think of the word “church”? (Dysfunctionality is not one of them for this conversation — we are not thinking of its problems but what it is.)

This question — what is the church? — is what drives the second chp of Graham Buxton’s book, Dancing in the Dark. He opts for examining this question by exploring the biblical metaphors — people of God, body of Christ, temple. His framework is Trinitarian, and because so many don’t ask the Trinity question and instead explore what the church does instead of what it is, this chp is well worth the read of any pastor or anyone thinking about this question these days. 

The church is the people of God. For some this smacks of arrogance; for those who read the Bible it is not arrogance: instead it is the claim of being part of God’s gracious covenant work in this world. Yes, it is exclusive because it makes the claim that God is at work in Jesus Christ and in the people of Jesus Christ. But there is a rich diversity of peoples in the people of God. The covenant with Israel is fulfilled in the covenant with the church; he says this is not succession so much as the Israel’s embrace in the church as the one true people of God. This raises the issue of supersessionism: Is the church the replacement of Israel so that now Israel has no status with God? Or is the church the fulfillment of Israel so that the remnant of Israel believes in Jesus as King and the Gentiles do too? Does this mean two peoples of God — Israel and the church — or one people of God under the one King?

The church is the body of Christ. Here we gain a sense of unity. There is one body. This happens through the death and resurrection, through adoption, and through incorporation into one family.

This is Buxton’s major thesis: “Drawn into community with the triune God, participating in his life as a gift of grace, Christians are those who at the same time have been drawn into community with each other” (56). The priority of the perichoretic dance of the Trinity leads to perceiving the church as the people that participates in that dance.

The church is the temple of the Spirit. Temple unified, embodied the presence of God and it was there that God indwellt both heaven and earth. The creative energy at work here is the Spirit of God. Communal life in the Spirit is a lived transcendence — a kenotic community.

All of this leads to seeing the church as koinonia, as community or “participation” in a common life with God and others. It is about You (God), about We (the people of God, which means others), and Me (I as a person participate in God’s life through the life present in the church).

We are in relationship with God, with one another, and with the world God has made.

He suggests (only suggests) a Trinitarian model, which is not exclusive but exploratory: The Father embraces this community, the Son establishes it and the Spirit enlivens it. Each person of the Trinity is present in each, however.

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  • Reading this, I wanted to know more about Graham Buxton. There’s not much about him on the web, but in some author notes I found this little gem quoted by Buxton.

    … Earth’s crammed with heaven,
    And every common bush afire with God:
    But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
    The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries … (Elizabeth Browning)

    I hadn’t seen it before, but it’s delightful. I had to post to my blog –

  • RJS

    This is a fantastic post. The church is the people of God; the body of Christ and the temple of the Spirit are composed of the people of God.

    When I think of church this is what I think of – diverse groups of people (young, old, educated, not so educated …) who come together to be the family of God. The church is the body of Christ for each other and for the world.

  • MD

    DEF: “Followers of Jesus, upholding one another in the ways of the Kingdom of Heaven.” Ownership by all. Mutuality. Any organization that is created must be seen only as a structure to help the people be the church.

  • Cal

    Here’s a little poem for it:

    The Church is the Kingdom
    With many knights a-shinin’
    Filled with a great banquest
    rich and poor souls dinin’

    Yet here am I, a peasant in rags
    Standing in a hall o’ glory
    The King sees me, opens wide His arms
    Embraces me, wounds still gory

    The Kingdom is not superficial, nice and neat
    With plastic, smiling, fakery abound
    It is a hospital for the broke and healin’
    Where the breath of God, make dead men sound.

  • Rodney Reeves

    For those who prefer to distance themselves from the apostle, every time I read a description of the Church (like this one), I realize how much we owe our thinking to St. Paul.

  • Scott Gay

    There is an increased awareness today of the reality of change and process. From the development of this universe and Earth, development of technologies, even of freedom, equality. It should be emphasized that of central importance to church is “becoming”. For Christians the human spirit reaches its highest possible point in Christ. In Christ may be seen that for which the whole universe has come into existence. The full range of the Spirit of Christ was not contained in Israel. In the fullness of time all things in heaven and earth will be summed up in Him. I like Terence Fretheim’s title “Creation Untamed……..Theological Exploration for the Church Catholic” It gives the imagination the correct impression- this is a lot wilder ride than any man-made one……exhilarating….and the church catholic is right on. Spiritually becoming like Christ in heaven and earth. Staying as you are is just not an option.

  • Joey Elliott

    The church:

    “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 3:14-15

  • Adam Hildebrandt

    I have com to really like the view that the Church is the Kingdom of God here on Earth. It seems to demand so much more of us, than what I’ve experienced in some church communities. How we act and live here and now should reflect how we anticipate to act and live in heaven.

  • Thanks for this post about Graham Buxton’s book, Scot. I’ve appreciated the periochoretic understanding in that God and we are always in motion, relating and within relationships. The church – as it should be – seeks the kingdom and embodies the love of God in and for one another and their neighbors. Hearing of our too human failures to be the church when I was ministering to hospice patients could be discouraging. We need to persevere, even though we have been wounded or betrayed, seeking to be the 1 Cor. 12-13 in love & service to each other, so that we may be filled with the shared Spirit-powered courage to bear Christ into our worlds, individually and together.