The Church: Being in Becoming (a Sunday pre-game)


church-philly-bw-cross-market-eastFor my Gospel, Culture, and Church course this past week, we had to read the opening chapter of this book on the Church as mission, rather than seeing the Church as something that does mission. We also had to read some mind-blowing pages from Hans Kung’s epic work The Church. It got me thinking a lot about what precisely the “church” is and how it is that thing. I just wanted to share some disjointed thoughts today.

Throughout the readings, the (perhaps over-used) term “Being in Becoming” kept coming to mind. (For my more philosophically-trained friends, forgive me if I’m simplifying this term too much; My main exposure to this has been cursory, in the context of the Trinitarian theology of Karl Barth and how he describes God).

In others words, the Church’s very Being is in its efforts to more faithfully “Become” what it is. It is not and cannot become a static entity into which we invite people. As we are caught up in the missional plan of the missional God, it propels forward into places where the old notions of Christendom and privilege are not relevant and are shown to be the anemic frameworks they are.

As we see the various dialectics within which the Church will always have to fight to stay, we see that it is within the Church’s active struggle of Becoming the Church that it is, in fact, being the Church.

The idea of “missionality” is all over the place in contemporary western Christian thinking. Too much. Everything has that term “missional” tacked onto it. It is, in effect, the corporate buzzword of today’s American Church.

But it’s not so simple. It takes a damned fight to find the core of what it means to be faithfully missional in today’s world. Being in social work, everyday I stare at the cultural and societal chaos caused by power and privilege run amok/. The result of various individuals and institution believing they were fulfilling a societal mission–both secular and religious–when they were really just imposing their own assumptions of cultural, societal, and even theological privilege on those receiving this missinoality.

This can happen even spiritually and–more provocatively–theologically. “Christendom”–viewing the Church in terms of societal and cultural privilege and power–can get into our ecclesial water and affect us subtly and deeply, even affecting how we come to doctrinal and theological conclusions! Seeing the Church as a societal institution that needs to seek (and impose) power and become the most societally (and politically) privileged entity in the country can actually leads us to theological error.

When it comes to this idea of “mission”, Christendom has led the contemporary church to see mission as a part of what the Church does, rather than retaining the truth that mission is precisely what the Church is!

We are God’s missionary solution to address all that’s broken in the world. Further, he has not simply given us this mission and said Good luck. Rather he is the God who Himself is on mission, and he invites us to join him in that mission as his own arms and hands and feet in this mission.

I’m starting to think that it’s by moving mission back to its proper centrality, and then properly wrestling with it, that the Church will actually be the Church. It is dangerous, hard, and terrifying work, but it’s by the Church struggling to Become the Church that it actually is the Church.

Have a good weekend and a happy Lord’s Day.

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6 thoughts on “The Church: Being in Becoming (a Sunday pre-game)

  1. This was a very interesting and helpful blog. While I’m always happy to see Karl Barth making an appearance on the internet, I hope you don’t mind a short paragraph outlining a philosophically minor objection to Barth’s framework that, nonetheless, makes a significant subjective-theological difference.

    The idea that the Church is the Becoming-Church is founded on a slightly inadequate philosophy which still retains some remnants of what is known in the history of philosophy. While it is true that from a position outside of faith the Church can truly be seen as the Becoming-Church, from the perspective of faith, this is simply not the case. As faith in the future Becoming of the Church grows, which is to say – faith in the coming kingdom, so grows the individual’s certainty that one IS in Christ, rather than that one WILL BE. There is an abundance of new testament teaching to the effect that our salvation, redemption, justification, sanctification, etc, etc are completed already, and I think that this fits better with a view of the Church as Becoming-What-Already-Is. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Act and Being” is a completely full account of this small but significant difference. I can’t remember his exact and beautiful phrasing, but here’s a paraphrased quote.

    In faith that man sees that his own being, that is the being of revelation is independent of faith.

    The idea is that our action of faith (mission is an extension of this act) is not the existence of the our faith’s goal, or its foundation, but rather that only in the action of faith can we see that our faith is built entirely on the completed work of Christ. So the Church is not the Becoming-Church, but the Becoming-the-Church-Which-God-Has-Already-Established.

    I hope this isn’t too wordy, this is my favourite subject so I’m very glad you brought it up.

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      • What you write does sound a lot like what my understanding if Barth is. I thought Barth’s “Being in Becoming” could also be stated “Being what you are (and have been established by Christ to be), is found in striving more and more to Become (and live in light of) the Kingdom in which you live”.

        I recently sat with Dogmatics IV for my series in this blog on Discernment, and he really hits hard the secure, already-accomplished and established Kingdom identity of the believer. (if you search up top on this site for “Karl Barth”, I even posted the beautiful quotes from those pages). I find it hard to reconcile what I have studied of his thought and how you characterize it above.

        So, with all that being said, what do you think?

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        • I admit that I haven’t read all of the Dogmatics. If you have then well done for succeeding where many have tried and failed. If that’s what he says in IV then I’ll have to make that my next reading project. I hope that it is because I like Barth but I struggle to reconcile some of his ideas with the world-altering nature of biblical faith.

          I remembered the Bonhoeffer quote:
          “In faith man sees that the being of revelation, that is his own Being in the Church of Christ, is independent of faith.”

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  2. Pingback: What the heck is Preaching, even? | the long way home | Prodigal Paul

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