Questions

The most common objection to the suggestion that the church itself embodies a politics is that such a politics is sectarian. Such an objection depends on a relatively novel sociological use of the term "sect." In theological parlance, a sect was a group that put itself outside the authority of the church. The difference between the Waldensians and the Franciscans lay not in their attitudes toward "culture" or the "world," but in their relationships to church authority. In the twentieth century, however, "sect" came to indicate a group whose practices put it at odds with the dominant culture and political elites of the nation-state. The underlying assumption is that it is not the church but the nation-state that is "catholic"; the church, insofar as it is a political actor, is a particular association of civil society that is encompassed by the larger universal political sphere of the nation-state. Theologically speaking, this is a grave error. As even O'Donovan recognizes, the church was catholic even in the catacombs (O'Donovan 1996: 216). Salvation history is not a subset of world history, but simply is the history - not yet complete or legible - of human action in a grace-soaked world. As widely as O'Donovan's Christendom differs from Hauerwas' resident aliens, both agree that political theology cannot be done without an account of the directly political nature of the church and its role in salvation history.

If salvation is not of the church but of the world, however, there can be no question of a withdrawal of the church from the world. The church catholic is to live like the Jews of the diaspora, "to seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile" (Jer. 29: 7), even if that city is Babylon (Yoder 1997: 1-5). Without seeking to rule, the church has more to contribute precisely because it is the bearer of God's politics, and because it is catholic, transnational, transcending the parochial borders of the nation-state.

Nevertheless, some difficult issues need attention if a directly political eccle-siology is to be developed. Though "the church" is a crucial theological locus, it is by no means always clear in practice where the boundaries of the church lie. "Church" and "world" are often more prescriptive rather than descriptive terms; in practice, the church is full of the world. This is as it should be; the dialectical drama of sin and salvation implies a dialogical relationship between the church and its others, which include the world and God. Indeed, the Holy Spirit blows where it will, and the activity of the Spirit is not limited to the church. The church is therefore a relational body, and not a closed system. The church is not a polis; ekklesia names something closer to a universal "culture" that is assembled from out of the particular cultures of the world (Healy 2000: 159-75).

The church is not only crossed by nonchurch elements; it also contains antiChrist elements. The church is a corpus permixtum, full of both saints and sinners. As Nicholas Healy reminds us, ecclesiology must maintain both poles of Paul's dictum in Gal. 6: 14, "far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." On the one hand, we must not boast of the church, as if the church were already the answer to all the world's social ills; on the other hand, we must glory in Christ, and regard the church as a key actor in the unfolding of the drama of salvation which Christ's cross has won (Healy 2000: 1-24). The eschatological "not yet" means that the history of the drama so far needs to be told hopefully but penitentially, with room for marginal voices and conflicts. The story is not told in an epic manner, as if the church were made to rule. As the embodiment of God's politics, the church nevertheless muddles through. God is in charge of all of history. The church's job is to try to discern in each concrete circumstance how best to embody the politics of the cross in a suffering world.

References

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