A community of people who have no right to be in relationship with one another
This is fast becoming my definition of the Church, or at least one of its core elements.
I’ve come to this conclusion due to my reading of the letter to the Ephesians, wherein the author (I’m happy to call him ‘Paul’) describes how Jesus of Nazareth—in his life, ministry, death and resurrection—has “…destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”, bringing Jew and Gentile together into one family of faith.
Using Paul’s words,
[Jesus’] purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
The concept is profound.
Through God’s work in Jesus, formerly warring parties have been united. Once they were enemies, now they are family. But, even more than this, the kind of reconciliation described here forms, for Paul, the basis of the hope towards which God is working: the reconciliation of all things. The Church is God’s ‘Exhibit A’, the example God is showcasing now as the foretaste of what is to come (Ephesians 3: 10).
What this means, I think (if I am making any sense of Paul’s words), is that the Church is the place where people who do not belong together—who should not even be in the same room as one another—are brought together in deep unity through the reconciling work of God in Jesus. The Church is, or at least should be, the one place on earth where all of the symbols of exclusion that keep us divided us as humans are overcome. It should be the place where wealth and status and race and gender and all of the other tribal markers that we use to divide are brought to nil through common faith, and where humans relate to each other simply as humans (created in the image of God). It is the place where such markers of exclusion are to be rebuked and scorned, rather than celebrated.*
This, it seems to me, is the essential core of what it actually means to be Christian: humans who, in reconciling with the Creator, are reconciled with one another and with the rest of Creation (and this last bit obviously has some other profound implications which I won’t go into here).
The Church should—nay, must!—be a symbol of the potential of true human community.
The challenge is rather simple, then, it would seem: do our churches reflect this?
* I feel the need to point out that I’m not arguing here for the loss of all that constitutes ‘difference’. Difference can be a wonderful thing to celebrate, and I firmly believe that the church should be a symbol of ‘diversity in unity’ rather than uniformity. What I’m talking about here is the sort of tribalism which uses difference as a means of exclusion.