In all the deconstructing and rethinking of church practices that seems to be going on today (a good thing in and of itself), it seems that sometimes we get to the point of thinking about whether God really needs the church to fulfill his purposes for this planet. To put it slightly more theologically: How does the church as the people of God fit into a missional theology?
Gerhard Lohfink wrote a book awhile ago called Does God Need the Church? Here's a quote that answers very much in the affirmative, that the church is central to the mission of God:
the world. There must be a place, visible, tangible, where the
salvation of the world can begin: that is, where the world becomes what
it is supposed to be according to God’s plan. Beginning at that place,
the new thing can spread abroad, but not through persuasion, not
through indoctrination, not through violence. Everyone must have the
opportunity to come and see. All must have the chance to behold and
test this new thing. Then, if they want to, they can allow themselves
to be drawn into the history of salvation that God is creating. Only in
that way can their freedom be preserved. What drives them to the new
thing cannot be force, not even moral pressure, but only the
fascination of a world that is changed" (p.27 – emphasis mine).
I saw this quote on Dave Fitch's response to Frank Viola over the missiology/ecclesiology issue, and I was prompted to remember a blog post from over two years ago, where I discussed the questions Simon Chan asked in the first chapter of his Liturgical Theology:
he asks the question of whether the church is to be primarily
understood as the instrument through which God will accomplish his
purpose in creation, or rather the expression of that purpose itself.
Is the church here to work for the fulfillment of God's purpose in
creation, or is the church itself the fulfillment of God's purpose in
creation? If the church in the instrument of God's purpose, then we
understand it primarily in functional terms; what it does. But if we
understand the church as itself the expression of God's purpose, we
look at the church in ontological terms; what it is…
But what if the church is both the expression of AND the
instrument of God's purpose in creation?
Which seems to be what Dave Fitch is saying when he argues that ecclesiology IS missiology and vice versa.
In the end, I think that any paradigm that seeks to place missiology "ahead of" or "prior to" ecclesiology (ala Hirsch) is problematic, because the church always ends up being provisional and/or optional.
To put it bluntly: Yes, God needs the church.