My previous post was ostensibly about the end of the world; in fact, it was about the way that Christ relates to his Church and his world. I want to outline three models of the relationship between Christ, the Church and the world, which I will characterise as the Roman, the Liberal and the Reformed. In using those labels, I don't mean that the positions I describe are consistently or exclusively held by people who would own those labels. The labels and the analysis generally are based on (my possibly very limited understanding of) Barth, but I find them to hold true. Let me know what you think.
On the Roman view, Christ is practically identified with the Church. This shows clearly in the Roman doctrine of revelation. God reveals himself, for the Roman Catholic, in Scripture and the Church's tradition. These apparent two sources are in fact not equal, for only the Church has the ability to correctly interpret Scripture. The result is that in fact God's revelation is identified with the Church's teaching. In the doctrine of salvation we see the same pattern. A person is saved by believing the Church and submitting to the sacraments of the Church. The Church is the source of salvation through which all God's grace is mediated. Where is Christ? He is in the Church. This shows most obviously in Roman sacramental theology regarding the Mass: the priest is literally able to make Christ physically present in a way which cannot happen outside the Church. There is more or less no distinction between the work of Christ and the work of the Church.
What about the liberal view? Well, revelation for the liberal protestant tends to mean simply a spiritualised reading of the general history of the world. 'Human development' and 'cultural advances' were the main source of 'revelation' for the liberals of the 19th century, and it is still the case that liberals look primarily to humanity for revelation. Liberals do not major on the doctrine of salvation, but if they have anything to say it tends towards universalism and the general salvation of all through their own effort or moral rectitude or spirituality. Where is Christ? In the world, in a sense - he is ubiquitous, because he is mythical. That is not to say Christ is not real, but he is real in the sense of a general truth rather than a particular person. There is no distinction between the work of Christ and the playing out of world history.
The Reformed view places revelation firmly in the person of Christ, as witnessed by the prophets and apostles in Scripture. In contrast to the Roman view, this Scripture is not under the control of the Church, but stands over against the Church. And as opposed to the liberals, this Christ is not merely the product of human culture but is the intervention of God in history, indeed the incarnate God himself. In terms of salvation, the Reformed view is that Christ alone saves, through faith in him. The Church does not mediate grace as the Roman view would have it. Grace comes 'direct', from the Lord. The Reformed view introduces a distinction between the work of Christ and the work of the Church: it must, because it recognises that the Church can go wrong and need to be called back to the Word of God. Where is Christ on this view? He is in Heaven. But he is witnessed to by his word in Scripture.
Obviously, I think the Reformed view, as I have called it, is correct. What does that make the Church? Well, if I had to define it in a sentence I would say this:
The Church is a community gathered around a signpost which points to redemption.
What I am trying to do is empty out the Church of any virtue of its own, and also of any claim to possess any virtue of Christ's. Christ is with, and in, the Church, by his word and Spirit, but we must not identify Christ and the Church, or the work of Christ and the Church. Christ does not belong to the Church in the same way that the Church belongs to Christ.
Reading back through this, it's a little less clear than I'd like. I'll follow up with further clarification, but in the meantime please do jump in and offer any thoughts you may have.