In Stanley Hauerwas' commentary on Matthew he writes about the church in his introductory reflections on the Sermon on the Mount. He called the people of God a "society." I like this word because it pulls back the curtains on what the church is called to be, something much more than an institution that provides religious meetings once per week. It helps us to see how Jesus was and is forming a people to live in a distinctive way in the midst of local contexts to be a sign, witness and foretaste of God's redemptive life. Here are Hauerwas' words:
- This was a voluntary society: you could not be born into it. You could come into it only by repenting and freely pledging allegiance to its king. It was a society with no second-generation members.
- It was a society that, counter to all precedent, was mixed in its composition. It was mixed racially, with both Jews and Gentiles; mixed religiously, with fanatical keepers of the law and advocates of liberty from all forms; with both radical monotheists and others just in the process of disentangling their minds from idolatry; mixed economically with members both rich and poor.
- When he called his society together Jesus gave its members a new way of life to live. He gave them a new way to deal with offenders—by forgiving them. He gave them a new way to deal with violence—by sharing it. He gave them a new way to deal with problems of leadership—by drawing upon the gift of every member, even the most humble. He gave them a new way to deal with a corrupt society—by building a new order, not smashing the old. He gave them a new pattern of relationship between man and woman, between parent and child, between master and slave, in which was made concrete a radical new vision of what it means to be a human person. He gave them a new attitude toward the state and toward the "enemy nation." (Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, 67-68).