‘A messianic pilgrim people of God’

UMC Bishop Timothy Whitaker wrote at United Theological Seminary’s Church Renewal blog about what he believes is most needed for renewal in the UMC: A biblical understanding of the church.

What does that mean? Here is how the bishop puts it:

What is this biblical understanding of the church that is needed today? There are several images of the church in the New Testament and in the tradition of Christendom. I think there is warrant for choosing as the most comprehensive image (which is inclusive of both Testaments and perhaps most of the other images of the church in the New Testament), “the messianic pilgrim people of God” (for more on this, see George Lindbeck, “The Church”, in Keeping the Faith by Geoffrey Wainwright, ed., Fortress Press and Pickwick Publications, 1988, Pp. 179-208).

The understanding of the church as the messianic pilgrim people of God does not view the church as the religion of the culture, or even as a religion, but as a distinctive people in all of the nations of the world. Such an understanding views the church as a missionary community that witnesses to the world by word and deed. Because it sees the church as a people on a pilgrimage through history, it enables the church to be liberated from its captivity to a settled place in society and to adapt to change. It is centered in Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Messiah of Israel declared by God to be the Lord of the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ is known as the climax of the story of Israel which continues in the form of the church for all the families, tribes, and nations of the world. It is not individualistic, but it is a corporate understanding of the church in which all members are joined together in the on-going story of the people of the Messiah. It learns from the experiences of this people in the past, beginning with Israel in the Old Testament, but it is also oriented toward the future God intends for all creation.