My view of the church—and I would say even the church’s view of itself—has evolved since 1976 when Walking in the Resurrection was written. I am with him on the opening statements that “the church is a fellowship and not an institution…The church is an expression in the world of a new humanity, a people reconciled to God, a people in whom the restoration of God’s image keeps coming through as a transparent quality.” It exhibits the idealism of the Jesus movement going on at the time but I still like the definition. Sometimes I’m not sure how useful are such idealistic definitions because we are more realistically a fellowship of sinners than a fellowship of saints. Most normal churches are often a very poor representation of a new humanity that do not look at all like the one we claim to follow. But being too idealistic and hard on ourselves will probably not help the matter much. Practicing grace and forgiveness for ourselves and others might.

“The concept of the invisible church is a man-made doctrine which claims that ultimately only God knows the heart of each person who is a genuine believer. But as disciples of Christ this is a false perspective. The church by its very nature must be visible.” I too have preached this in my Anabaptist theology class and it was a helpful response to Christendom and still is a helpful response to western individualism. At the same time this view has nurtured ethical legalism and an ethnic superiority complex among Mennonites over the past few centuries. Again, take with a dose of grace. That too is part of walking in the resurrection.

The other critique I have is Augsburger’s view of evangelism, i.e. proselytization, as the primary work of the church. “Changing lives will change society.” Since 1976 the missional church movement has helpfully broadened and deepened the mission of the church as articulated by Darrell Guder, Chris Wright, and others. God’s mission is the restoration of all humanity and all creation and the church’s mission is to give witness to God’s work in the world. Rather than doing missions and evangelism, the church is missional in character; our mission is simply to be the church, gathered and scattered. This involves not only verbal proclamation but also structural work for social justice. Augsburger’s final chapters on “relating to government” and “God and Mammon” will hopefully get into this.

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