Years ago when I first read Alan Lewis’s magisterial Between Cross and Resurrection I remember thinking that the section on ecclesiology was kind of thin. Re-reading it now I can’t imagine being more wrong. The book is so breathtakingly alive with insight into the nature and mission of the church in the world; indeed I’m somewhat flabbergasted with how I missed it before.
“Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” The story of cross and grave, as we have been attempting to hear and think it and to ask about its living out, tells of a contradiction between God and the world, a conflict in which evil triumphs over good, death extinguishes life, and the creatures annihilate their Maker. But the contradiction is not absolute, not is the conflict finally resolved in favor of negation. For there flourishes even more grace beyond the great magnitude of evil, a divine fertility beyond the barrenness of the demonic; and and out of the mutual opposition of the world and its Creator, there sounds a final and decisive Yes to the creatures, powerful, living and redemptive, which promises them freedom and fullness within the expansive embrace of God’s own history and life. To this triumphal Easter Yes, which never cancels bud does transcend God’s judgmental No to the world on the cross and the world’s destructive No to God in the grave, ecclesiology must clearly correspond.
So then, just as the mutual hostility between the world and God which reigns on Easter Saturday is not the final state of their relations, but yields to affirmation, renewal, and redemption for precisely those who secured the death of the living God, likewise the protest of the church, God’s chosen, living people, against the sinful, corrupt, and frequently demonic world, cannot be the final word of the Christian community to those around it. Prophetic judgment upon the world and holy separation from it must actively promote and witness to the experiential impact on the world of the greater abundance yet of God’s resurrecting grace beyond the increase of its own hostility, foolishness, and brokenness. Whatever opposition the holy church properly directs to the unrighteousness and injustice of its alien, surrounding culture, that resistance itself expresses obedience to the church’s calling to be truly catholic, immersed in solidarity and presence in the seemingly godless and godforsaken world. And equally that catholic presence is not a supine, quiescent, inert companionship which does nothing creatively for the world in which Christians are quietly embedded. The church’s critical posture toward the world is not ultimately negative, nor is its hidden presence in the world quite passive. Rather, we must reaffirm that the Easter Saturday church, Christ’s buried body, is in essence and identity for the world, and that that identity is realized not just attitudinally or spiritually, but by way of active engagements with and infiltrations of the world. Such actions are not designed to supplant or masquerade as God’s own redemptive work; but certainly, through the Spirit of Christ, they are to provide a humble yet energetic and credible instrumentality for that divine transforming of the world which shall constitute the final kingdom. In that renewal of heaven and earth, the dynamic, eschatological favor of God’s grace toward the world which rejected, crucified, and buried God’s own Son, the church as Christ’s buried but resurrected body cannot but be involved, as servant and participant. (p. 384-85)