The vast majority of people talking about the church today take language from the Incarnation and paste it onto virtually everything regarding the life of the community. So, we talk about incarnational practices, being an incarnational people, having incarnational ministries, being an incarnational missional community, etc.
For some reason, that sort of language has never rested well with me. Perhaps I have been guilty of using it myself, but I have always made the attempt to shy away from the language-- and I have never completely understood why.
I think it is primarily because I thought it betrayed a subtle error in our ecclesiology-- namely, the mission of the church is to provide witness to the Incarnation. It seems like an over-realized ecclesiology (to borrow and mix terms) that would cause us somehow think that a community providing witness to the person of Jesus is anything like the Incarnation-- if we really stop to think about the Incarnation. Now, this is not to say that the church is not LIKE Jesus, or that the presence of the risen Christ does not dwell in the community. However, even as we understand the reality that Jesus embodies himself within the community, I have still had problems with talking about the church in these terms. Amidst all our passion for the mission of God in the local church, and our increasing awareness of the presence of God within the community-- I think we must remind ourselves that the church is not Jesus.
This afternoon, I read an excerpt from a paper written by George Hunsinger-- Karl Barth: The Church As Witness. I feel that Barth put words around the concerns I have had for some time-- and even takes my hesitancy with the language one step further:
"No "encroachment" on Christ’s lordship or on the uinqueness of the Incarnation can be allowed (IV/1, 723)...To speak of a continuation or extension of the Incarnation in the church," states Barth, "is not only out of place but blasphemous" (IV/3, 729).