I'm re-reading my loose leaf paperback of Walter Brueggemann, Texts Under Negotiation. The Bible and Postmodern Imagination. It's 20 years old, I've read it twice before, the glue has dried and it's now bound with a rubber band. The past week I've spoken with a number of folk for whom the church is a problem, or an irrelevance, or a menace. When the church becomes obsessed with ethical arguments about sexuality, or fails to speak with any authoritative, joined up and consistent voice about the genocide in Gaza, or appears so timid and morale poor in the face of its own declining clout in a culture that's moved on without a backward look, then it;s time for Christians to ask the question: 'What on earth is the church for?' Ecclesiology draws its coherence from an adequate Christology - of all communities with a voice in our culture, the church should at least be clear about who Jesus is, why Jesus matters, and the difference Jesus makes when as living presence of God a community embodies the redeeming, reconciling , renewing and pervasively subverting presence of the resurrected Lord.
At least, that's what I think, and I'm heartened when I read a book I first read 20 years ago to find that underlined passages retain their power to encourage such thinking, strengthen such hoping, and give impetus to those desires and prayers that long for the church to be the church Jesus calls it to be, and stop trying to be the church Christians say it should be, or others expect it to be. So here is Walter's ecclesiologically clued up comment, as relevant now as then:
The church as an alternative community in the world is not a "voluntary association", an accident of human preference. The church as a wedge of newness, as a foretaste of what is coming, as a home for the odd ones, is the work of God's originary mercy. For all its distortedness, the church peculiarly hosts God's power of life.
The church in a quite special way is the place where large dreams are entertained, songs are sung, boundaries are crossed, hurt is noticed, and the weak are honored. The church has no monopoly on these matters. Its oddity, however, is that it takes this agenda as its peculiar and primary business. In all sorts of unnoticed places, it is the church that raises the human questions."
I wish I could have said this about the church, knowing it to be evident and true, to the three people sitting next to us at the Sand Dollar on the Aberdeen front, delightfully and courteously questioning why I was a minister; and to the couple I spoke with at the interval at Pitmedden Garden the other night about the horrors of Gaza; and to my friend for whom the church, not the Gospel, is a scandal.
As it is, Brueggemann's hopeful imagination enables me to look at the church, and persist in believing that what he says is true.