“[In thinking of the church as polis] there is the danger of intensifying the Christian community’s concern for its own interior identity
overagainst [sic] the world. This danger is especially present where the theme of the church as a counter-model
to the larger society is emphasized. For in order to remain structurally ‘counter’ to the world, yet still ‘model’ itself to the world, the Christian community is forced to engender or to idenify the world on its own homologous terms, as a ‘cultivated outsider’ (to use Wannenwetsch’s phrase). More problematically still, this concentricity requires such intense focus upon the ‘internal activities’ of the church that its engagement with the world cannot help but be conceived in a subsidiary and conjunctive way, As Yoder puts it, each of the five key practices that he identifies as constitutive of the church-as-polis
the internal activities of the gathered Christian congregation and
the ways the church interaces with the world.’ It is this ‘and’ that I find problematic, for what this ‘and’ suggests, and Romand Coles has put it, is that ‘there is a people called and gathered prior
to encountering others.’ But is this not to construe encounter
with ‘the world’ as somehow less constitutive of the people of God than the church’s own internal and primordial identity as a counter-polis
— Nathan R. Kerr, Christ, History and Apocalyptic: The Politics of the Christian Mission
(Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008), p.171.
Some might claim that the rejection of “church-as-polis
” ecclesial model for
the acceptance of the “church-as-mission”
model sets up a false dichotomy, but Kerr’s rejection of the church-as-polis
steers clear of this false dichotomy because of what he often *rather inelegantly* calls an inappropriate ontologization
of the church. In short, when the church is conceived of as an ulterior state or alternative political body, the first step is an inward turn for the calculation of resources and regularization. This sets up a counter culture and results in a competive notion of selfhood and body over against the political bodies of the world. Then, after a “game plan” (doctrine, apologetics, mission tactics, etc.) is established and the “natural resources” (i,e. Holy Spirit, liturgy, sacraments, etc.) are contained and stockpiled a move outward — a mission movement — becomes conceivable. As a result, the competitive notion of church as a kingdom seperate from and alien to
the world bleeds over into the church’s missionary activity and results in a need for inculturation along with and as part of mission.
But what’s more, I want to argue, is that all of this assumes an unhealthy “containment” and control over the Spirit by the church. The dialectic of church-for-the-world
and the church-as-the-world
is winnowed down when the activity of the Spirit can be catalogued into absolute ethical ideals, thick ceremonial dispensations that are uncompromising in form, and improper models of “progressive sanctification.” All that remains is the church-for-the-world
— a church with relative authority over
the Spirit and thus relative autonomy from
God. In fact, absolute ethical ideals and thick ceremonial dispensations are in large part endebted to some improper form of progressive sanctification. Thinking of the church-as-polis
lends itself to a model of progressive sanctification that understands progress in the church’s (and individual Christian’s) life and relationship to God as the incurring the benefit of relative autonomy from God *now* by pointing to relative authority *given* by God in the past life and forms of the Church culture.
This results in greater and greater levels of control
over the work and voice of Spirit rather than greater and greater guidance
by the Spirit in light of the overwhelming ”contingencies and pluralities” of every given world situation (as Kerr might say).
Containment and control over the Spirit results when the church lays hold of the Spirit to form stability, generally with foundationalistic assumptions. In doing so, the church turns inward to solidify indentity, hinging on the idea that the church has the Spirit, to which its members must conform. But this conforming is really an indoctrination into a cultural phenomenon; an eye to development and new command by and from the Spirit is a secondary rather than a constutive move, if it is a move at all. As a result, and in keeping with Kerr, what it means to be a practicing Christian is regulated first before mission, or (at best)mission becomes a component of what it means to exist as a christian in the church-city. In short, when we go a step further in this logic Kerr is pursuing and look at the status of the Spirit in the church-as-polis and church-as-mission models, the claim that one must choose between the two is clearly acknowledged as anything but a false dichotomy. At the very least a formative choice must be made between two due to the fact that they present opposing understandings of (1) The ‘ontology’ of the Spirit in its work and (2) The ‘ontology’ of the church and individual christian as a part of the work of the Spirit.
One last note: What the church-as-polis
model does for ethics is quite similiar. Once again, through a particular way of relating to the Spirit, it is assumed that the church as the “body of Christ” can maintain relative levels of autonomoy in the now by relying on the ethical ideals composed under the guidance of the Spirit in the past
. The Spirit recapitulates a past command verbatim. This, I would argue, is not only a form of quenching the Spirit by relying on a previously composed “historical form” of the church and its work, but also petrifies the command of the Spirit in the past enabling us to”control” it in the present.