The topic of conversation in our small group last week was community. To no surprise, the focus of our discussion became the community of the Spirit, the church. To the question of “what is the church?” I attempted to argue that the church is formed by the gospel and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that we live together in such a way as to anticipate in the present the (eschatological) reconciliation of the world to God. So then, there is a clear distinction here between the church and other communities. The church is not simply “community”, although it most certainly includes this (it is a certain type of community, a community of the Spirit under the headship of Christ Jesus who makes us brothers and sisters). Further, there really is a difference between the church and the world. Thus, we can’t just simply say that the church is “living life”. The world lives life. What distinguishes the church is the living of a different sort of life, one shaped by Jesus (and the community that surrounds him) and thus a life of faith, hope, and love.
Anyways, as usual, I came across a quotation in Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Systematic Theology vl. 2 that talks about the nature of the church in a much better way than I had previously attempted.
“At issue is the kingdom of God among us. Because the kingdom of God has the concrete form of fellowship with God and others, the gospel as the message of reconciliation to God must everywhere lead to the founding of congregations that have among themselves a fellowship that provisionally and symbolically represents the world-embracing fellowship of the kingdom of God that is the goal of reconciliation. The fellowship of the church that the gospel establishes is thus a sign and a provisional form of the humanity that is reconciled in the kingdom of God — the humanity that is the goal of the event of reconciliation in the expiatory death of Jesus Christ. The gospel thus takes precedence over the church…Though the gospel is proclaimed in the church and by its office bearers, it is not a product of the church; rather, the gospel is the source of the church’s existence…The proclamation of the gospel, then, is not merely one thing among others in the church’s life. It is the basis of the church’s life. The church is a creature of the Word,” (462-463).