I’ve been pondering the balance between understanding the
church as a signpost and the church as an outpost.
Sparked by reviewing a book (Ingle-Gillis The Trinity and Ecumenical Church Thought)
which drew contrast between understanding the church as the seat of Holy Spirit’s
activity and the sign of his work as a visible place in which God mediates
salvific realities into the created order with an understanding of the church
as iconic, standing in the world as the proclamation of God’s perfect
redemption, a sign of the work of the Spirit in liberating humanity. [The book
is engaging here with T F Torrance, C Gunton and J Zizioulas].
In the past I’ve warmed to the idea of church as a signpost,
a proclamation which points people to the kingdom
of God but this downplays the way
God works in space and time. Our part in God’s mission is not only to point
people towards a reconciled relationship with God in Christ, which will be seen
fully in eternity but is primarily, as the people of God, to be the body of
Christ on earth.
At a popular level this leads to an over emphasis on the
kingdom of God, whereby we encourage the congregation to seek God’s kingdom and
work it at home, in their workplaces and in wider society and to see the church
as the means whereby we enjoy relationship with God and with others and are
re-energised and resourced in this work.
Perhaps what we need is a fresh interest in church as a
concrete community of God’s people, the visible presence of God’s salvation joining
humanity to Christ; the basic building block of the Spirit’s activity in the
world. Perhaps we should give more attention to building outposts than to erecting