I’m currently reading Stanley Hauerwas’ and William Willimon’s work, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. The book was published 23 years ago, so one might argue it’s a bit outdated. But it basically looks at how the church is to engage in culture, especially the church in America engaging in American culture.
In the second chapter of this book, Hauerwas and Willimon reflect on some thoughts of Anabaptist-Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder. Yoder is most known for his defence of Christian pacifism. In one particular work, Yoder distinguishes between 3 perspectives on church: 1) the activist church, 2) the conversionist church and 3) the confessing church. Yoder argues favourably for the confessing church.
Hauerwas and Willimon do not agree with every detail of Yoder’s in respect to the confessing church, but they go on to share their own perspective of what the confessing church should be like. And I was quite gripped by their thoughts in regards to what is church:
The confessing church, like the conversionist church, also calls people to conversion, but it depicts that conversion as a long process of being baptismally engrafted into a new people, an alternative polis, a countercultural social structure called church. It seeks to influence the world by being the church, that is, by being something the world is not and can never be, lacking the gift of faith and vision, which is ours in Christ. The confessing church seeks the visible church, a place, clearly visible to the world, in which people are faithful to their promises, love their enemies, tell the truth, honor the poor, suffer for righteousness and thereby testify to the amazing community-creating power of God.
The confessing church has no interest in withdrawing from the world, but it is not surprised when its witness evokes hostility from the world. The confessing church moves from the activist church’s acceptance of the culture with a few qualifications, to rejection of the culture with a few exceptions. The confessing church can participate in secular movements against war, against hunger, and against other forms of inhumanity, but it sees this as part of its necessary proclamatory action. The church knows that its most credible form of witness (and the most “effective” thing it can do for the world) is the actual creation of a living, breathing, visible community of faith. (p46)
I’m sure we could nuance a few things here, as well as elaborate on a few others. But this has given some hearty things to chew on.
In all, I think Hauerwas and Willimon are getting at the ‘bigger’ picture of the church engaging in culture, the socio-political context. Not down into some of the nitty-gritty details. But, overall, I think it is a beautiful sketch of what it means to be the church, the ekklesia, the people of God in our world.
Please share your own feedback if you have any.