What is the church? How should the church respond? And why is it that too many Christians seem to be indistinguishable from their political counterparts in describing a way forward?
We are equally at war with one another. We are armed with the same capacity for vulgarity and name-calling. The only thing that often differs is a thin veneer of churchy language.
There are undoubtedly a number of explanations for this state of affairs: It is easy to become caught up in the same anxiety, anger and fear that roils our world. It is comforting to wrap the language of partisans around us and find strength in numbers. In difficult times, the emotional satisfaction that lies in nuking our neighbor can lend a sense of moral superiority to yet another day of complex calculations. It is easy to lose a sense of vocation to the proclaiming the foolishness of the cross in a complex world. And the desire to be relevant is among life’s greatest seductions.
It is also easy to lose track of just what the church is and what our responsibilities are as members of the body of Christ. It’s there I would like to focus briefly:
As Douglas Farrow notes, one can think of the church in terms of its past or one can think in terms of its future. Both have their contribution to make. The past reminds us of God’s faithfulness. The church’s future holds out a goal ahead of us and the promise of fulfillment that lies in God’s hands alone, not ours.
And — depending upon the nature of any moment in life — we may be tempted to think of the church entirely in terms of its past or its future.
But the rigorous demand of the faith is to live as Christ’s church in the present: To live in ways that demonstrate the promise of God’s work in and through the church. To build healing relationships with one another that witness to the power of God’s love, the capacity of God for forgiveness, and the strength of God’s grace to restore.
We cannot respond to that demand if we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by hopelessness or if we respond to the challenges of the present in fear. We cannot respond effectively to that demand, if we look to others or wait passively for someone yet to come. We cannot respond to that demand faithfully if we depend upon our political leaders for protection, for shelter, or for alliances.
The church is both the instrument of God’s redemptive work in the world and the redemptive destiny of humankind.
Diminutive, small-minded, and timid visions of it will not suffice. We are not called to strawberry festivals and handwringing. We are not called to communities cut off from the world and closed to those around us. We are not called to be the party of the left or the right. We are not the “United Nations-lite” with stained glass language.
We are called to be the courageous, truthful, risk-taking, loving, forgiving, extravagant expression of the work that was begun, that will be brought to completion, and that is now expressed in the body of Jesus the Christ.
So – if we are to respond in a life-giving fashion – we need to embrace that summons in its own peculiar vocabulary. We will need to think of the church as the instrument of God’s choosing and we will need to live in solid commitment to the shared life that is God’s gift to us. Let’s stop depending upon society and our political leaders to do our work or make us safe. Let’s stop feeding the beasts of division and hubris.
Let us be the church.