Slowly goes the buffalo.
I (John) am currently writing a series of posts on the Church, singleness, marriage, and the family. Over the last month or so we’ve had a brief overview of the whole thing, shared stories, examined the nuclear family and consumerism, and last time we discusse the most important institution on earth (the Church) and Christ’s mediation of all things (including marriage and the family).
The entire time we have been focusing on two central points:
- The Church has wrongly viewed itself as a voluntary association whose ultimate allegiance is at times to the nuclear family, headed by a married couple.
- Our ultimate allegiance is to God, in Christ, through the fellowship of the Church, by the Spirit of God.
As you may remember, my last post was a turn from discussing the first point, to looking at the second.We discussed Bonhoeffer’s theology of mediation and how it relates to the family. When Christ calls a man (or woman!) to discipleship he (or she!) is asked to see their world through a new avenue, Christ and his kingdom reign. When we do so, things like family, marriage, singleness change. They change in understanding (what is a family according to Jesus) as well as importance (is marriage the end all of life, in God’s kingdom?). Christ now mediates our reality, and everything is disturbed because of that. Suddenly, as we live in Christ, we participate with God and his community: the Trinity and its Bride, the Church.
I think the Trinity is abolutely central to Christian Theology. In some ways it is a mysterious doctrine, yet it reveals so much about the existence of God, the world, and the Church. Only from the outward creation of the Trinity does the Church come to be. We find our identity in that creative love, and are formed as family. In that understamding of the the Church as the family of God, we understand our purpose and responsibility in the world…
Existence - It is out of the work of Trinity, the True Community of Persons, that the Church, a true community of persons in relationship to Christ, comes to exist. Theologians Paul Louis Metzger and Brad Harper put it well, “the church is the creation and covenantal companion of the God who exists as Father, Son, and Spirit.” The Church came to existence on the day of Pentecost as the apostles of Jesus Christ, received his presence through the Holy Spirit, establishing their communion with God the Father at his call. It is out of the communion of the Triune God, that the community of the Church finds its identity, purpose, and activity in the world.
Identity – The Church’s is a community birthed from the “creative expression” of “inner-Trinitarian love and spreading goodness through the Word and the Spirit.” While the individual believer must come to faith in God and receive the Spirit, the church is the covenant community of salvation through Christ, the temple of the Spirit, and brothers and sisters in Christ under God the Father. It is only here that we have true identity, a name, as a people. We cannot find that name in human kinship, but only in the Church.
Purpose – The communal being of the church-family informs its purpose: created by the Triune and comissional love of God, the Church fulfills its purpose as it participates in this love. Living in the world and “bearing witness to God’s kingdom in its midst”, through missional love in cooperation with the Son and Spirit, the Church is “a new humanity and community…” living for itself and the world. The family of God expresses itself as it loves with the Son and Spirit at the front of us. When worldly realities restrict us from these purposes, we are forgetting our true identity as a family.
Activity – The activities of the church-community flow from its purpose of participation with God’s missional love. These activities follow the activities of the Church’s Triune God. Where the Son and Spirit go, we, the Church, go. Being a missional Church of love then “entail[s] being a missional people bearing God’s personal name, in whose communal midst this personal God dwells…participating in Christ’s incarnate presence as his body and bride in the community at large…being the temple of the Holy Spirit, welcoming others into our fellowship as a sanctuary for saints and a hospital for sinners.” The activity we involve ourselves in then cannot be selfish, oriented around our own desires, but must folow the Son and Spirit out into the world. It pushes past bounds of marriage or family (not breaking them, but expanding them in healthy ways), focusing us outward to the world that God is already working in.
The Church is then not a place where families come to worship God together, but a family that worships God by going where he goes! As we love one another as brothers and sisters, and as we expand that love outward to those outside the family, we act in our true identity as the Bride of Christ. In the next post we will contrast this understanding of the Church as the basis of our true identity, with those conceptions of church and marriage that rely on social contract and desire-fulfillment.