The church is often confused with a building. The church is a gathering of people who have chosen to journey in faith. They strive to be the body of Christ, serving the least, the lost, and the left out and working together to build the kingdom of God.
All of this is a way to be a follower of the way of Jesus Christ. Following Jesus means doing what Jesus did. Jesus confronted and challenged the world with new possibilities of love and justice. Jesus did this by repeatedly breaking the social norms of his time, such as: eating with tax collectors and sinners, healing leapers, talking to the Samaritan woman, inviting the lame and outcast back into right relationship with the rest of the God’s community. With this theological foundation it follows that Jesus is calling for society to be radically transformed.
This community of faith knows that it is the church where this transformation should be enacted. The church is called to loving action, situating itself on the side of the poor, the oppressed, and the oppressor, protesting against any injustices. The church is called by God to be an extension of the incarnation by revealing God through the proclamation of Jesus in our society. In this revealing, God, through Jesus, is proclaimed, and the church becomes a counter-force in the world.
When this community of faith truly does proclaim Jesus and does become a counter-force for love and justice, social transformation takes place though countless hours of hard work. Thus, the church takes the role of herald and servant, proclaiming and living by example.
The role of the individual is important because the community of faith consists of many individuals in local communities. In thinking about the individual in the life of this community of faith, I remember an embodied example of something my parents taught me as a child. I was instructed to clasp my hands with my fingers pointing inwards, to make a church steeple with my index fingers, and then a church door with my thumbs. One saying that is attached with this action is: The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is the people. The church is the people and the people from our tradition!
As this community of faith moves forward in the world, it respects its past. Individuals take traditions from the past (thousands of years of history) and give them new light through personal encounter with contemporary encounters with society. As with most things, the real work of this community of faith happens on a person-to-person level.
Thus, the body of Christ that I am suggesting is one where individuals actively participate in their own community, take reasonability for their members, and respect each other’s individuality. This involves a practice or a discipline that enables a new community of faith an identity encouraging mutuality and active participation. This practice means that all are included at the round table of the church and that each person’s opinion counts. As persons fully participate in the life of the faith community, many voices of differing experiences are heard, and this community becomes a haven for all. It is not a haven where the Christian can come and turn off her or his brain and not deal with society but a haven which illustrates how society can and ought to be. In this vision, the church is best described as a catalyst.
If the church is to illustrate–embody how society should be, and be catalyst then the next natural step of this identity of the church is that the church should be the moral critic of society. The church as moral critic influences the state to be the moral proxy in our secular democratic capitalist market system. In doing so, the church becomes a place where community is central and following the way of Jesus Christ is the way of life.
As the church lives out the sacramental embodiment of what it means to be the body of Christ, the way of life of loving inclusive justice and compassion spreads to those coworkers, friends, and family members who are not part of the community of faith.