And a bit more of vintage Hauerwas from War and the American Difference
The political novelty that God brings into the world is a community of those who serve instead of ruling, who suffer instead of inflicting suffering, whose fellowship crosses social lines instead of reinforcing them. The new Christian community in which walls are broken down not by human idealism or by democratic legalism but by the work of Christ is not only a vehicle of the gospel or a fruit of the gospel; it is the good news. It is not merely the agent of mission or the constituency of a mission agency. It is the mission. (167)
The church is the gospel, the church is mission. By this he means to break down any abstraction whereby there is a gap between what we say we believe and how we actually live. The Christian community ‘performs’ the gospel as well as believing it; it ‘performs’ mission as well as subscribing to the idea of mission and witness.
I have huge sympathy with this. The Christian faith not simply a good idea, but a transformed identity; a transformed life; a transformed purpose.; a life shaped by a new story – that of belonging to the risen Lord, Jesus the Messiah of Israel.
So deep is the Enlightenment disjunction between ‘faith’ and ‘knowing’ that the former is privatised and individualised and separated from public life. Hauerwas will have none of this. The gospel is public truth; the church is publicly to embody that gospel.
But this is also of course deeply uncomfortable. If the church ‘is’ the gospel; if the church ‘is’ mission – then how many churches would we gladly and unhesitatingly send our friends to ‘see and taste that God is good’? And if not, why not?
And a PS
While I see his point, for me that language here is too close to identifying the church with the kingdom of God / with the gospel. While there is real danger of abstraction (look at what we believe, not what sort of community we are!), I would still want to create some distance between the church and the gospel. The gospel is the ‘gospel of God’ – it is the good news of his saving action in his Son. The church is formed by the Spirit in response to that divine initiative.,
To equate church and gospel is to conflate Christ and church. This, it seems to me, comes close to the classic Protestant objection to Roman Catholic ecclesiology whereby ‘Christ and his church are one’ with all the problems associated with such an identification. By problems I mean where the Church (and its Pope) has unquestioned authority; where salvation can become sacramentalised (to put it crudely, once you are ‘in’ you are OK); and where the kingdom of God tends to be limited to the structures of the institution and so on.
To be sure, the sort of upside-down kingdom community Hauerwas talks of in the quote above is a long way from this, but do you think, as I do, that the language of church = gospel opens the door towards an unhealthily exalted ecclesiology? Or am I too pessimistic about the possibility of a transformed community of the Spirit?!