My favourite theological motif is derived from the story of the Loving Father (also known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son). It is in fact a story about the world, which is synonymous with the family of God. The story is about a Father with two sons. One son wanders off in search of his own joy in life (but ends up realizing that true joy only lies in his father’s household). The other stays at home and faithfully works for his father (but ends up developing a non-loving attitude toward his sibling). The father is very interested in both the return of his “lost” son, as well as the proper attitude of this other son.
This is a picture of God and his relationship with the world. Some people of the world have wandered off in search for joy. Many return to God. Others are safe in the church but sometimes end up having a dim view of those who are not yet there.
It reminds me of something I read from David Fitch over at Reclaiming the Mission. He made a statement about in March 2010 that has stuck in my head. Here it is:
“There is no dividing line between the church & the world. The church may precede the world today, yet it is only living today what the world itself is ultimately called to in the future. The church in essence bleeds into the world ever calling it to its true destiny. As a foretaste of the renewal of all creation, the church cannot be discontinuous with creation. It cannot be discontinuous with the world because the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ. Neither can it merely blend into the world for then all Mission & renewal is lost. Its presence will be in, among & for the world even as it will be distinct from the world. This is what it means to take on the incarnational nature of Christ. It is this very incarnational nature that requires the church to be a discerning community which at times both refuses conformity with the world while at other times joining in (with what God is already at work doing).”
This resonates a lot with me because it is where I see the church’s role in the world right now. We can’t transform something if we are not involved in it. Note that the very concept of transformation implies that there is not a wholesale accommodation to the world, just a participation in what God is doing to enact that transformation.
I just have a nagging question: What is the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God? David points out that the church is a “foretaste of the renewal of all creation.” But if it is a “foretaste,” it can’t be the final product. In the following sentence we read, “the church is in the process of becoming that very world renewed in Christ.” Is it the church that is becoming the world renewed in Christ or is the renewed world the kingdom spoken of in Revelation 11:15 – “The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will rule as king forever and ever.”
I guess what it comes down to is this: Is it ok for me to work at building the church or should I instead work at building the kingdom? Or is to do one to do the other as well?