Jeremy Troxler, the instructor for my fourth period class: “God’s Transforming Agent,” is the Director for Duke Divinity’s Thriving Rural Communities and an Ordained Elder in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. I confess that I have known Jeremy for a number of years, but that does not taint my judgment (but only helps to argue the point) when I say that he is a Guardian of the Vision. He has the ability to cast the vision in a way that I have never been able – kindly! Though he has a different presentation than do I of God’s Vision for the church and what it means to express the Cruciform, we share in heart the relentless Vision of what it means to be a “Christian” and what it means to be the “Church.” Over the last few lectures, he has cast the Vision – the definition – of what exactly it means to be the church in and among humanity as a whole.
The church (“ekklesia theou” – Assembly of God) is a sign of the kingdom of God. A sign points to a reality beyond itself. It has no meaning besides what it signifies. The church is a foretaste – a down payment; a first installment – of the Kingdom of God. It is a tool of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus said that His church is the “salt of the earth.” It has been instituted as a preserver; it is purposed to give flavor; to cleanse wounds; to heal; it has the power to melt ice; it causes thirst; it corrodes; and it is very valuable. Jesus also said that His church is the “light of the world.” The church is empowered to illuminate; to cause growth; to guide; it is to draw others near; and it is to transform space (with the contrast of darkness).
The Apostle Paul illustrated the church as the Body of Christ (Rom. 12:1; 1Cor. 12:12-27; Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:24). Each of its members (people) is a significant and important part of the whole. Yet also, the Body of Christ signifies a cooperation of life where Christ is the head of the Body and worship is the heart of the Body, with Partnership (“koinonia”), nurturing (spiritual formation), service (in oppression, suffering or need in the world), and witness (our expression of Christ) are the extremities.
I think (if I may so add) that this definition of “church” has been recently recaptured by Jeremy and others. The church is not an ends in itself, but a means that, as Jeremy expressed, “is like John the Baptizer pointing at Jesus; we, as the church, are pointing to Christ.” Contrary to past experiences the church is not called to be boring, lifeless, and tasteless; not a place of white-washed sepulchers full of dead men’s bones, but a community of light illuminating the Good News of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The church is equipped with many members, necessarily differing in appearance, shape, color, and use, etc., but each as equally important as another. The church is a sign that the Kingdom of God is Jesus Christ Himself; without whom, the church would only be a lifeless corpse.