By now you’ve probably all seen Rachel Held Evans’ two posts on why she left/returned to the church. The conversation over there has been fantastic. One of my favourite reactions/interactions is Hannah’s over at Sometimes a Light. Of Hannah’s 15 reasons to stay, these three are my favourite:
I believe that there is no such thing as Church (with a capital “C”) without church (with a lower case “c”)–as messy and as difficult as that may be.
I believe that 2000 years of church history holds a bit more weight than my personal experience.
I need the church to regularly remind me about the things that I don’t like in the Scripture. Things like God’s anger and my sinfulness–things that if left to myself, I would conveniently ignore or rationalize.
In the midst of all this talk about reasons for staying and leaving, I have also been diligently plowing through Barth’s introduction to his doctrine of reconciliation (section 57 in CD IV/1) for a paper I’m writing for my class on Forgiveness and Reconciliation.
In this section, Barth is discussing how Jesus is Emmanuel, God with Us, and what that means for the Christian message. Jesus, in becoming human, is God with Us. He does not stand apart from us, aloof, or overly spiritual, away from the mess of humanity. He became human. He entered the mess. In becoming Emmanuel, God has covenanted and bound himself to humanity. God is faithful to his promise of covenant, even when humanity is not faithful. And God became human in Jesus precisely because “he cannot tolerate that this covenant should be broken, because He wills to uphold and fulfill it even though it is broken.” (CD IV/1 pg.36)
Jesus came into the mess. That is incarnation. And I think sometimes we forget this. I think we end up spiritualizing the church, in an almost gnostic sense, that it has to be this thing apart from the human mess. But Jesus is the head of the Body. And Jesus was human. He lived in the mess. He covenanted and fulfilled the covenant so that humanity in its very humanity could be reconciled to God. Indeed, Barth says that God’s redemption “does not mean the extinguishing of our humanity, but its establishment.” (CD IV/1, pg.14).
The question then becomes what is the church? Barth’s answer in this particular section is that the church is the witness. Our task as witnesses is to speak “the word of reconciliation” which is proclaiming the reconciliation that has taken place through the atoning life of Jesus, and making it known to the world “which is still in the grip of the most profound and tragic self-deception.” (CD IV/1 pg.77)
In response to ‘God With Us’ we become ‘We With God’ and this is at the heart of the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love. ‘We With God’ means “to admit that God is right, to be thankful for it, to accept the promise and the command which it contains , to exist as the community, and responsibly in the community…” (CD IV/1 pg.15)
Even amidst all the funky stuff that the church does, it is still a witness. Even if we don’t like how it’s done, or the human stupidity that comes with it, the church is still witnessing to the gospel and it is still ‘We With God.’
And so, I don’t think we can separate the church (little c or big c) from the event that Jesus is “God With Us”. We can’t say, “I’m down with Jesus but I’m not down with the church.” And I don’t know that we can say, “I am Christian” while denying the Body of believers who are the Body of Christ. I don’t know that we can separate ourselves from the church, as if we are somehow better, or more spiritual than it is. To do so is to respond to God’s event of ‘God With Us’ with ingratitude instead of gratitude. To do so is to deny the reality of the Incarnation.