Many theological writers refer to the six models of the Church articulated by Avery Dulles. He writes of the Church as Institution, Mystical Communion, Sacrament, Herald, Servant and Community of Disciples. The sixth one, the Church as Community of Disciples, is his preferred model which he sees as an extension of the Church as Mystical Communion and containing elements of the other four. However this list of models is a limited one and seems to leave out other models especially those connected to the miraculous and devotional elements of the Church.
In the evangelisation of the pagan peoples the model of the Church as Charismatic Wonderworker and Vanquisher of Evil was the most important in the initial stages of evangelisation. This model of the Church is still very popular with Pentecostals and Charismatics and has had great success in the last century. An example of this was the evangelisation of Ireland by St Patrick or the evangelisation of Europe after the Dark Ages by the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon missionaries.
The Rus peoples of Russia in 988 were evangelised by the model of the Church as Icon of Divine Beauty through the splendour of the Byzantine Liturgy. Another model that was popular and aided in the universal evangelisation was the Church as Universal Holy Mother. This Marian model of the Church was reinforced by Pope Paul VI in Vatican II when he proclaimed Miriam (Mary) as Mother of the Church. This model was very popular with the peoples of the medieval period and in the baroque period as well as the rapid spread of Marian movements of renewal in the last few decades that perceive the Church as an Icon of the Virgin Mother Miriam.
Based on the “Mystagogia” of Maximus the Confessor others prefer to see the Church as an Icon of the Trinity. Some Russian Orthodox theologians refer to the Church as an Icon of the Ousia (Essence) or Sophia (Wisdom) of the Trinity such as Soloviev and Bulgakov. It would seem that the more rationalistic mindset of many Western theologians avoid the more miraculous and devotional models of the church. However it is possible these more miraculous and devotional models of the Church could be seen as connected to Dulles model of the Church as Mystical Communion while including all Dulles models but not limited to them.
Pope Francis is stressing those elements of the Church drawn from the models of the church as servant, herald and community of disciples. It would seem that Pope Francis is presenting to us a model of the Church that includes elements from all models under the loose umbrella of the Church as Icon of the Holy Family and vessel of Divine Mercy. This model of the Church stresses the importance and centrality of the domestic church which is a return to its Jewish roots in the Holy Family of Nazareth. When the Church’s institutional dimension is over stressed the Church becomes a master and a totaliser of truth that exercises authority and power (like Gentile Lords) rather than being a humble servant to the domestic Church in its role as priests, prophets and kings of the New Covenant People of God. Others perceive the Church as a community of Disciples more as some kind of social justice organisation rather than the Mystical Body of the Messiah. They then downplay the missionary mandate and limit the proclamation of the Gospel to some kind of weak affirmation of the brotherhood of man with an optional fatherhood of God.
Pope Francis is calling us to be joy-filled missionary disciples of the Gospel who reach out in mercy like a spiritual field hospital. However he also stresses Eucharistic Adoration of Yeshua and devotion to Our Lady and St Joseph which evokes the model of the Church as an Icon of the Holy Family. Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the future Church of Europe being made up of little communities of light in the darkness of the secular West. Others especially among the ordinary devout Christians believe we are on the cusp of the fall of Western civilisation and cataclysmic disasters that will radically change the political and social landscapes. Some Christians since the 1970’s see the future model of the Church as some kind of social justice NGO that compromises and accepts the values and beliefs of secular society while being focused on doing “good” works. Others think a restoration of the Baroque Church is what is needed as they turn to the practices and beliefs of the pre-Vatican II Church. However I think Yeshua gives us a wonderful model of what the Church should be in the parable of the Prodigal Son combined with the iconic image of Yeshua as a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings.
The idea that there is one (or we should seek one) unified model of the church rather than many different iconic models that interconnect is as foolish as those scientists who are seeking a unified theory of everything. Life is diverse and messy and one model or six models of the church does not fit all dimensions of the mystery which is the Church. It would seem many on both the left and right today are seeking structures and models that lead to a totalising of truth to create a fanatical and bland uniformity rather than a fullness of truth expressed in the richness of diversity in unity.If we take the model of the Church as Sacrament and give it an Eastern Christian transformation into the Church as Mystery (or Mysterion) of the Kingdom which contains ever deeper inner graces with ever growing outward manifestations, within a paradigm that is primordial, incarnational, Eucharistic and eschatological, we could possibly have a kind of iconic model of the Church that includes the best of all the models. Dulles himself taught that no one model of these models encompassed the whole mystery of the Church and that each model taken in isolation has both good and bad aspects. Thus this model of the church as Mystery of the Kingdom could be the best model for the future of the Church leading us into that time when the Divine Will shall "be done on earth as it is in heaven" in fulfilment of the prayer Yeshua taught us. This future church would be a Church of Jews and Gentiles united as one but with distinct and different roles while acknowledging its roots in the chosen people of Israel and the Jewish mother church of Jerusalem.