City on a Hill
Bride of Christ
Body of Christ
Household of God
Elect Lady (no joke, see 2 John 1)
Those metaphors, however, in good metaphorical fashion don't disclose the totality of what the work of the church really is. Because of the "open-endedness" of those word pictures, different views and agendas for the church have contended for supremacy throughout the history of Christianity. Sometimes the upper hand was gained by the desert monastics who called people to express their commitment by literally "letting goods and kindred go." Other times, during the Crusades for instance, some pockets of the church saw themselves as the army of God whose work was to expand their membership through the extreme rhetoric (and practice) of "convert or die." More recently the work of the church has been divided into saving souls, which was the banner waved by theological conservatives, and social justice, which was the banner waved by theological liberals.
Fortunately those poles are, in some quarters, coming toward the middle. The "Emerging Church" movement has done a great deal to further this combined focus. And Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, says in his book Generous Justice, "If you are trying to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and call to justice are inescapable" (18).
So what is the work of the church?
I find three actions to be inescapable as I survey the Scriptures:
I find "mission" to be a good catch-phrase to bring evangelism and ministry together. Mission is the work of the church, in all sorts of ways, to announce and demonstrate the gospel - that Jesus is the world's true Lord. Mission, therefore, is ultimately about reflecting the love of God into the world.
Mission is sustained by worship. Worship is the adoration of God for who he is, what he's done, what's doing, and what he will do. You can only reflect the love of God into the world if you are encountering that love through worship of the one offering that love. And that consists, primarily, in shared times of singing, Scripture reading, praying, confessing, preaching, and sharing sacraments and goods with one another.
Worship is sustained by a community that is bound together in covenant membership. Leaders are appointed, selected, or elected (depending on your denomination's polity), and people from all races and tax brackets come together in mutual relationships of support and sacrifice.
These actions aren't new or trendy - they're rooted in the practices of ancient Israel and taken up by the followers of Jesus after his resurrection (see Psalm 96).
So the work of the church is to join together in covenantal commitment for the worship of God and mission to the world. In those ways, the church is who she's supposed to be: the City on a Hill, the Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, the Household of God...and yes, the Elect Lady!
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Spatial Relationships, Belonging, & the Church
The Household of God