I am reading a couple of books that are essentially exploring the nature of the church. One is Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, a self-explanatory title. I am interested not because I need people to explain to me the manifold deficiencies of that pragmatic and shallow diversion (I think history, which is extraordinarily patient, will prove it be to an aberration) but one of my former professors is one of those critiquing the movement.
The other book is Treasure in Jars of Clay by writers from the Gospel and Our Culture Network. A representative of this group is also a critic in the first book.
In this second work the GOCN people are attempting to respond to the criticism that their work has been too abstract by providing sketches of churches that are doing the type of things they envision as theologically founded. They want to show real-world examples of something other than the pragmatism of the Church Growth Movement and its scant theological interests.
(Here's where I had written some stuff which summarized the various theological or not-so-theological options I see being championed by some Christians . . . but I started thinking it sounded too negative. So I'll just move on to what I said next).
The biblical metaphors for the role of the people of God that I can think of offhand are:
1) ambassadors who represent and witness to a different Realm.
2) those who exist "to the praise of His glory."
3) the elect, chosen from before time to be undeservedly the recipients of mercy.
4) aliens and travelers who look for something not of this world.
5) salt and light that makes a difference in a corrupt world.
6) doers of good to all people, living at peace as much as is possible, and praying for the godless authorities and systems.
The ideas that are often popular today about the purpose of the church (you'll have to imagine your own because I'm just not going there . . . if you don't know what is lacking you'll have to find someone else to tell you) have enough of at least one of these or other biblical ideas to be partially true. But today's competing visions are in conflict because they try to elevate one biblical idea over another. One seizes an evangelical purpose, another an other-worldly vision, and another an intercessory posture for the sake of the world. Each one is right, but none is wholly right.
Last night when I was talking to Don Hill about thinking about our ecclesiology he said we start getting into trouble when we want to define it too much. He stated that we need to let it be a little ambiguous.
You know, I think he's right. If I try to be succinct and clear, I'll be reductionistic and I'll lose something. Let it be all these things - doing good on environmental and social issues, doing good by serving individual people, sharing the good news of a new reality, bringing glory to God through daily living, longing for a returning Lover . . . in other words entering into all of God's work. Let it be all these things and in no particular order. Let it be somewhat ambiguous to us so that we will be open to God's continuing revelation.
Let us also be rigorously theological and make sure that we acknowledge that everything centers on God and that we are merely invited because of His good pleasure to join in His Mission. Centered-on-God and open-to-God might be a good way to seek our ecclesiology.