David Bosch outlines five important characteristics of the church’s relationship to the world in his landmark book “Transforming Mission.”  This stuff is so fantastic (and I think important) that I am just going to copy what he wrote here.  Also, if you haven’t read this book. Get it and spend the next three years slowing reading through it. It’s that good.

  1. The church cannot be viewed as the ground of mission, it cannot be considered the goal of mission either – certainly not the only goal. The church should continually be aware of its provisional character.
  2. The church is not the kingdom of God. The church is “on earth the seed and the beginning of that kingdom” and “the sign and instrument of the reign of God that is to come. The church can be a credible sacrament of salvation for the world only with it displays to humanity a glimmer of God’s imminent reign – a kingdom of reconciliation, peace and new life. In the here and now, that reign comes whensoever Christ overcomes the power of evil.  This happens most visibly in the church but also happens in society, since Christ is Lord of the whole world as well.
  3. The church’s missionary involvement suggest more than calling individuals into the church as a waiting room for the hereafter…there is a convergence between liberating individuals and peoples in history and proclaiming the final coming of God’s reign.  In this perspective, the church is the “people of God in world occurrence” (Barth) and the community for the world.
  4. The church is to be viewed as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, as a movement of the Spirit towards the world en route to the future. When we view the church as a community of the Holy Spirit we identify it preeminently as missionary community, since the Spirit is the go-between God.
  5. If the church attempts to sever itself from involvement in the world and if its structures are such that they thwart any possibility of rendering a relevant service to the world, such structures have to be recognized as heretical. The church’s offices, orders, and institutions should be organized in such a manner that they serve society and do not separate the believer from the historical.  Its life and work are intimately bound up with God’s cosmic-historical plan for the salvation of the world.  We are called, therefore, to be “kingdom people” and not “church people.” Because of its integral relatedness to the world, the church may never function as a fearful border guard, but always as one who brings good tidings.

I think this stuff #5 on the church and its connection to history is extremely important.  Karl Barth in volume 4.3.2 in his Church Dogmatics spends a lot of time talking about the “gospel in world occurrence” and its really, really good stuff.  Heady, but good.  I think we tend to separate world history from the church and that’s a grave mistake.  We talk about salvation history, often in opposition to, world history.  I believe the scriptures are talking about salvation history as world history.  God is working in and through history to bring it to completion and it’s through Christ that God is accomplishing this.  I think far too often we accidental forget that God is not working alongside or in opposition to history, but in history.