This is a “model” which was much emphasised by Swiss theologian Karl Barth who believed that the Church should be formed by the Word in order to proclaim the Word.
Barth argued for a certain distance between the Church and the Bible: if Scripture is domesticated by the Church, fenced in and limited, it will never be able to testify against the Church, instruct and discipline the Church. The Word must form the Church, not the other way round. We can’t ignore or brush over the tricky parts, we can’t discriminate against the stuff that just isn’t cool – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16.
And when the Church is formed by Scripture it realises its own emptiness and that its purpose is to point away from itself and point towards Jesus; and then it is able to fulfil that. Barth says: “the Church is the great crater left by the impact of God’s revealing word” – love it!
So, through the impact the Word has on the Church, the Church has an impact on the World. It is to proclaim, boldly and with great gusto, Christ’s lordship and the coming of His Kingdom. Hans Kung says that the Church itself is not the Kingdom, nor is it responsible for the Kingdom, but it is “its announcer, its voice, its herald. God alone can bring His reign; the Church is devoted entirely to its service”. But how is it to herald? Hoe does it make its voice heard? Rudolf Bultmann might provide an answer when he says: “Just as the Word of God becomes his Word only in event, so the Church is really the Church only when it too becomes an event”. Now I’m not entirely on board with Bultmann’s thoughts on the Word being event etc. but I do think the Church is Church when it is acting as such. There are many fashionable phrases in the Christian world at the moment: being church, doing church, missional church. What they are all really trying to convey is that we have to act, there must be event.
We can shout all we like with fancy words of conviction and condemnation, or community and justice, but if we are only talking about these things no one will pay any attention. People are sick and tired of a hypocritical church. We need to be paying closer attention to Acts 2:42-45: “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need”.
However, there must be caution because a Church which is acting and proclaiming can quickly become introverted and reclusive. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “To flee into invisibility is to deny the call. Any community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him” (No Rusty Swords) Heralding is about being seen. And inviting others to herald with us.