So where does the church fit into all this? And, in particular, how does it relate to the kingdom community?
I believe the church of the future must be a diaconal or (reflecting a common meaning of ‘diaconal’ in the New Testament) a ‘servant’ church. But servant of who or of what? The diaconal church is the servant of the kingdom community. It is called to make manifest the gifts of life, liberation, love and learning in its, worship, life and work. Its mission is to help transform every collective – from the family to the nation state and beyond – into kingdom communities. That is some undertaking!
The diaconal church is a radically different kind of church from the one we’ve inherited in the West and whose traditional structures and styles of leadership still hold sway – the Christendom church. The Christendom church was born nearly seventeen hundred years ago when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as the state religion. Ever since then it has taken on a variety of forms – all shaped by its ‘established’ and imperial status. Even the churches of the Reformation and later centuries have come, in time, to clone many features of the institution they initially rejected.
We cannot blame Christians desperately wanting to get their message across to others who, after years of persecution, jumped at the chance of having the state as a powerful ally. In their shoes, we would undoubtedly have done the same.
The Christendom church gave birth to saints as well as sinners. Under its auspices many Christians showed the way to a profound spirituality and many strove to make societies more humane and compassionate. However, as a dominant and dominating institution within Christendom, the church inevitably succumbed to the evils of power. Christian faith too easily became a means of control and manipulation for the benefit of the privileged and the wealthy – not exactly a model of the Magnificat! The idea of the church as the servant of the kingdom was obliterated.
To liberate the church to fulfil its mission in today’s word, that of kingdom community building, our first task is to envision what the diaconal church would look like in practice and then to find ways of breaking the mould of Christendom so that such a vision can become a reality.