We need to be honest about the state of the Church in the world and in our particular contexts. We have to be honest and then we have to live honestly in the Church as it is. We need to know our failures, our shortcomings, and out outright hypocrisy wherever it exists and however it happens. But knowing this is not enough, we have to hold it in contrast. We will only be able to identify failures once we've established the true and ideal identity of the Church. It is only after we've spoken clearly about what the Church should be that we can say anything about how we have failed to be such.
This is where faith comes in. We need to have the faith to see and to hope outside of the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves, lest we confuse the Church as it is for the Church as it should be. We need to identify ourselves not with our shortcomings but with what and who we are called to be. And yet we need to accept ourselves as we are and accept the Church as it is, not out of cynicism or a willingness to be complacent, but out of a love for the Church.
God's love is such that God loves us just as we are, knowing us fully and loving us perfectly even with all our sin. In order to mirror this love we must live it out ecclesiologically, loving the Church as it is enough to offer ourselves to it in whichever state we may find it. Do we fail to offer ourselves to the Church because it is bad an we are good? Or do we fail to do so out of sheer consumerism...waiting until we find the "right church"? Either of these options is a failure to mirror the image of God. If we force our "wish dream" (to quote Bonhoeffer) of the Church upon our community as a condition for our full love and devotion to community then, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, our vision will only be a "hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive" .
But on the flip side, if we lose our sense of wonder that the Church can be an angled mirror to reflect the image of God, and if we lose our missionary vision that through the Church the world might be changed, then we will be unable to look outside the hypocrisy we so often witness within Church life to a new kind of community where the curse of sin is defeated and placed in submission to the love and mercy of God's reign. We will forget how to see through the lens of God's dream for the world and we will be submitted to cynicism. Do we fail to offer ourselves to the Church because we've given up on believing that it can be anything other than what it was when it "burned" us? This is a failure to reflect the image of the God who has called the Church to be "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" (1 Peter 2:9).
Therefore the Church is a community that lives together in whatever state it may be found, without condition of having "measured up"; lives in faith that a new world and even a new Church is possible; and lives in hope that the Church as it is may live into the identity of the Church as it should be.
"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us." (1 Peter 2:11-12)
Good post Wesley. I agree.
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