The Body of Christ: A Foretaste of the New Creation
There is a somewhat famous adage that stretches back many decades, but in my experience was made most popular by the preacher Timothy Keller: “The church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners.” While I appreciate the sentiment behind this expression (as it teaches to others that they are welcome in the church whether they are “perfect” or not), I believe it misses, or perhaps oversimplifies, what the church is meant to be.
When we speak of the church as a hospital, we are loading that with a few expectations. What do you do at a hospital after you’ve gotten the proper treatment? You leave the hospital, in theory, with the hope you’ll never have to go back! An analogy like this runs into the issue of viewing the church as primarily a place rather than a transcendent, living reality. When we ask what the church is meant to be, perhaps the most important thing to remind ourselves is what it is that Jesus is proclaiming: the coming of the Kingdom of God.
Christians are awaiting the complete consummation of that Kingdom on Earth. When the entirety of creation will live in perfect communion with each other and with their creator. But until then, the church is given a very specific duty: to reveal what that renewed creation will look like. The church is not a place and it is not static. The church is a living, breathing organism that is comprised of all its members.
If the church is merely a place we go, we reduce it to another social club. It becomes something we do rather than something we are. And its effect on our lives is reduced tremendously from what it is meant to be. The way church interacts with itself is meant to be a foretaste of the new creation. The way we love should reveal the new creation. The way we forgive should reveal the new creation. The way we feed, and clothe, and visit those in prison should reveal the new creation.
There is a question that we are sometimes confronted with about the difficulties of some of Jesus’s teachings: “What if everyone did it?” What if everyone turned the other cheek? What if everyone gave away what they didn’t need to take care of the poor? What if everyone trusted in God’s providence without worry? Christians should be able to point to the church as the answer to that question. The church is what happens when all of those ideals are fulfilled. But that doesn’t work if we think of the church as a place. It only works when we believe that the church is something in motion, something with life. The body of Christ.