1. The People of God in World-Occurrence (History)
Just as there is no Church without Christians, so we must now emphasize there are no Christians apart from the Church. And, just as we become Christians when Christ calls us, so Christ’s call is also what binds us together as Church.
We shall begin our reflections on the existence of the Church in the world by considering theologically the history of the world in which it exists and into which it is sent. To begin with, although world history as such differs from salvation history (which includes the Church), Jesus Christ governs both as King. So even though world history differs in its darkness from salvation history, it is not secular history because God has not abandoned it to its own destruction.
Even though God does rule over the world providentially, world history still remains a history of confusion. It remains a dynamic human activity of colliding purposes which is evil though not absolutely so. World history is a history of confusion because in it human beings actively entangle God’s good creation with the sinister power of nothingness. God’s good creation—including man—does not cease to be good in all this. But in our confusion we do surrender God’s good creation to the destructive control of nothingness. But even so the history of God’s good creation endures. For better or worse, God sustains his good creation even through our subordination of it to nothingness. This provides glorious proof of God’s gracious superiority to us. But this is also terrifying in that what was positive continues to work but does so in a negative way. God’s grace becomes judgment, our reason becomes irrational rationalism, and creation’s fruits become toxins. God is not mocked (Galatians 6:7); if we sow nothingness, we reap death.
World history involves both God’s fatherly providence as well as our own confusion. Fortunately world history is not exhausted by this antithesis. Instead we have Jesus Christ as the work and Word of God in the world attested by the Church. By looking at the concrete event of his life, death, and resurrection, the Church can see that world history has been radically altered. In Jesus Christ we have the world reconciled to God, order restored, confusion rooted out, and the covenant fulfilled. This is the grace of God addressed to the world in Jesus Christ.
This does not mean that the twofold nature of world history—God’s providence and our confusion—has disappeared. What has been overcome is the contradiction between the two. Though this is still unknown to the world, the Church knows it even now. Nonetheless, even the Church knows the new reality of world history only in Jesus Christ and not in the world. Even the Church knows it only by faith and not by sight. The new reality is totally established in Christ but its revelation is still restricted. Still, there are signs of this new reality visible in the history of Scripture, the Jews, and the Church to the eyes of faith.
The Christian community exists visibly within the world as an organized social group comparable to other such groups. At the same time, without separation or confusion, the Christian community is the one incomparable community elected and called by God in Jesus Christ. This call, though real, is not empirically verifiable. Hence the Church is both visible and invisible. Being both, any attempt to understand the Church solely as one visible religious tradition among many is completely false because it completely ignores the invisible secret on the basis of which the Church exists outwardly. Also, because it is obedient to its Lord, even outwardly the Church will be unique among other groups in world history. Finally, though the body of which he is the Head, the Church as such is not Jesus Christ but only his unique witness on Earth by grace. But as such it lives in history with the necessary resoluteness. The Church exists because Jesus Christ has called it into existence and promises to sustain it.
2. The Community for the World
The Christian community exists for God and for the world as God is for the world. To begin with, the Church is the community of those to whom it is given to know the truth about the world. Only on the basis of this knowledge is meaningful action in and for the world possible. Yet to know this is to know how human beings are determined by God’s good creation, by the destructiveness of nothingness, and decisively by God’s reconciling grace in Jesus Christ. Second, it is given to the Church to radically commit itself to the well-being of every human being despite all distinctions between human beings. Third, Christians are those to whom it is given to be responsible for the world by witnessing to it.
The Church is for the world as the community of those to whom it is given to know the world as it is, to stand in solidarity with it, and to be responsible to it. The freedom needed to be for the world in this way is given to Christians with their call. Second, this freedom comes to them as members of the Church to empower their participation in its work. Third, this freedom for the world is given by God to members of the Church according to God’s good pleasure: some being free now and others being free tomorrow; the last being first today and today’s first being last tomorrow.
That the Church really does exist for the world is, of course, a statement of faith. This means we know that the Church is for the world in the same way we know that, in being so, it is simply following its Lord. So the Church knows that it may be free for the world because it is established, sustained, and ruled by the free power of the Word of God through which the world was created and is loved. Second, the Church knows its freedom for the world consists in its confession of Jesus Christ to the world. Third, the Church knows it is free to confess Jesus Christ with gratitude because Jesus Christ first graciously called it. Finally, the Church knows that Jesus Christ calls it to be in and for the world a provisional likeness of him and as such of the Kingdom of God first revealed in his resurrection and to be consummated in his final appearance.
Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.