"Is Christ here with us in the world?"
This is the question that so many people are asking. Those who are in the church, who are left wanting, ask this question. When the secular world sees the scandals of unjust religious leaders, they ask this question. When people experience the death and decay of our broken and sinful world, they ask this question. "Is Christ here with us in the world?"
I feel that our answer should be yes. Through the church, I believe that people ought to experience the very presence of Christ. In David Fitch's Faithful Presence, Fitch proposes that the church ought to be on mission by living "incarnationally." For a church to exist "incarnationally," it is to be in the midst of a community, making the presence of Christ known in tangible ways. In a sense, the church is an extension of the incarnation.
If the church is an extension of the incarnation, what should the Church effect? What should the world experience when it comes in contact with the church?
If we look at the ministry of Jesus, we can say that the Church should cause individuals to experience:
Some sacramental traditions will be more apt to accept this view of the Church. Those who perceive the Eucharist as the real pressence of Christ will be more likely to accept this "incarnational" view, due to the fact that they are used to and comfortable with the concept of Christ being here with us today.
As the Church, let us do "incarnational mission," drawing the world into a real encounter with the presence of God. Let us show the world that the gospel is not a matter of mental ascent, but a participation with the Grace of God.
"What is the Church?"
Before the pandemic, church pews were lined with people who cannot answer this question. At that time, in an era of comfort and complacency, answers like "it's good for you" and "my friends go there" were commonplace among evangelicals. Now, however, in the wake of online church streaming, social distancing, and church registration, many find themselves revisiting the initial question. They begin asking the question: "What's the point?" And many begin sleeping in on Sundays.
As we begin to see the light at the end of the pandemic-tunnel, it is incredibly vital that we arrive to a richer understanding of what the Church is. What we all can agree on is that the Church cannot afford to be seen simply as a place where once a week I sing songs and hear a sermon. If that is what Church is, then sleep in.
I do not assume to have the perfect answer regarding what the Church is. My view is influenced by a variety of sources, however, including Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Creeds, and works such as Andy Crouch's Culture Making. In sitting with these sources, I have arrived to the conclusion that the church is: An eschatological kingdom of people living in participation with the Holy Trinity.
Let me explain:
By "Eschatological," I am referring to the Church's role in the future fulfillment of creation. Orthodox Christianity affirms that one day Christ will return, and in his coming creation will be restored (Rev 21). The Church's role in this, then, is to make the reality of the future coming kingdom tangibly present today. The Church is to stand for and promote the laws of Christ's coming kingdom, summed up best in the call to love God and love your neighbor.
By "Kingdom," I am referring to our unity under one head and shared law. As Christians, we affirm that Christ is our true King, and that we desire him to rule in this world. By loving God and loving our neighbor, we allow Christ to rule in our lives, and effectively in the world. The notion of God's eternal kingdom should also evoke an ecumenical sensitivity in all Christians, in which the closure of denominational and traditional divides should be sought, so that Christians, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, can profess a shared and unified faith.
By "People," I mean anyone who comes to the table with a repentant heart. The Church should strive to be inclusive in every respect without being compromising on truth. This means, yes, love the sinner and hate the sin. This also means that the Church needs to nurture its communal side. Evangelicalism in particular, it's focus on an individual profession of faith and individual evangelism, often loses this side. Rather than focusing solely on me and my own faith, I should be committed to the faith of my community so that it as a whole may be sanctified. It also means living as if you are a part of the "communion of saints" mentioned in the creeds.
By "Living in participation with the Holy Trinity," I am talking about making God's presence tangible in a world that often feels so cold and broken. I am talking about the sacraments. In the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing the Sick, we have a means of grace through which the presence of God can be partaken in. Most evangelicals reject any notion of the sacraments, but regardless of whether or not they want to admit it, their practice often highlights a distant sacramental sensitivity. Evangelicals still have Communion. Evangelicals still baptize. Evangelicals still say that their congregants should confess their sins. Evangelicals still hold weddings and bless marriages. When someone is sick, evangelicals often show up with a warm meal. The sensitivity to making God's presence known is there in evangelicalism, and must be nurtured if the evangelical church is to survive.
In the definition that I offer, I believe that this invites Christians to view the Church as something larger than themselves and their specific parish. I pray that, if you find yourself asking this question, that my thoughts may help you in your ecclesial journey.