Some more comments have been added to the Interlude post, but I'm prepared to put my answer out there and hopefully it addresses them somewhat while also providing my basic responses to the original question. I don't have much more time to work on it, but would rather put out an unpolished version and then discuss and clarify than hold off indefinitely until that never-to-come day when it is perfectly put.
So, if you are just joining us, the question Trev asked was as follows. There could be (and has been) some debate over the presumptions in the question itself, but my goal is to address the main thrust of it.
"One of the biggest criticisms against the church is its claim to have an objective source for morality (God). Yet, we see an organization that seems to follow suit with whatever the rest of the world is doing. The church is constantly evolving and re-examining its moral compass....just like everyone else. So what's the difference? What is Jesus doing within the church that isn't happening elsewhere in society? Is society following the church's example, or is the church following society's example?"
And: "What IS the church?"
The church confesses God in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
Its people know they are works in progress. Where they forget this they stand to be corrected. They confess again that it is a reconciling.
Are they different than society? Of course they are. This isn't the group that gathers around the feeling that Lando is their favourite Star Wars character. It is the people that gathers around the belief that God in Christ is reconciling the world to himself. Wherever they are different it is there: In the content of what they are gathered by and for.
But the question was really about their moral difference. If they have an "objective source for morality" from God why aren't they better across the board than the rest of society? Why should anyone care about them if they are not morally better?
I think CS Lewis was right about this in Mere Christianity. In my view if you are going to look for the moral difference Christ makes you don't get far comparing the behaviour of Christian Jon to that of atheist Matthew. Matthew may have been quite simple born morally superior to Jon: Light years ahead in grace and humility. The question is what difference there is between Christian Jon and un-Christian Jon. This is a comparison one can make, although not perfectly of course. Most Christians can and will speak of the difference Christ has made in their lives.
But I suspect this is exactly the attitude Trev wishes to confront. When church people shift the focus from "God in Christ reconciling the world" to "God in me made better than you". And what we need to continue doing, morally speaking, is ask ourselves what difference Christ has yet to make in our lives.
Is the church different? Morally? Many times probably yes. But not in the sense that they are all made better than everyone else immediately upon entry into the building or the religion. That's just not how it works. God in Christ is still reconciling, not just the church, but the world. The church confesses this and strives for it. That's how it is different.
The church is not different than society because it has an objective static moral code that requires no effort in interpretation or application. Yes you have church folk who make it out to be that way, but if that's the cardboard cut out you want to use to cover the whole church you just aren't trying very hard. The church itself has correctives for such folk.
However, neither is the church the same as society because it has a "moral compass" that is "constantly evolving" and "following suit" with society at every step of the way. Sometimes it does, and some pockets of it are more societally-driven than others, and sometimes that is to varying degrees appropriate. Sometimes, too, societally-driven change is actually inappropriate, according to the church's discernment. Sometimes there is a bit of both.
One example of a time it was good to go with (part of) society was and is in the case of the abolition of slavery in the U.S., although it is not that simple as to say that eradicating slavery was the work of society against the church. It was society in part along with the church in part against society in part and the church in part. Would it have changed without the seeds of Judeo-Christian equality in the society itself?
An example of something the society may arguably be "ahead" on might be the role of women. But even here, would it be where it is without the seeds of Judeo-Christian equality (however slowly they've been born out to their full redemption as of yet)? And can we really call something like societal feminism "ahead" when it also entails the full-scale slaughter of innocent yet-to-be-born children?
An obvious example of an inappropriate going-along-with-society was the church in Germany which supported the National Socialists. But there was also the confessing church in Germany, and another huge part of the church and a huge part of the society around Germany, that begged to differ with that party's values. Would Hitler have been able to do what he did without some perverted biblical interpretations of anti-semitist nationalism? Perhaps not, but I imagine he'd have found some other justification. And there are hugely reasonable grounds for opposing him in Christian theology itself.
To say that the church's "moral compass" is no different than society's is, to me, missing something. Just because it has to think along the way, interpret, wrestle, adapt, and apply, doesn't make it different. It makes it human. But it believes Jesus is the Son of God, the Word made flesh, and it believes the Spirit guides us into truth as we wrestle with the Scriptures together. So I'd say the moral compass is a bit different.
It is indeed constantly "re-examining" its moral compass, Jesus Christ, as testified to in Scripture and in church history and in church-present by the communal work of interpretation and application as led by the Spirit. This is exactly what it is doing and trying to do. But where it is different is that the moral compass is Jesus Christ. And I find it ironic that it gets accused on one hand of just going with whatever conveniently allows it to sleep with society at night, and on the other of not going along with it quickly enough. It is also ironic that it is accused of being flighty, when the one thing that sets it apart is precisely the root from which it grows.
Even in those cases where society seems ahead, the church will have a different motive or goal or slant or style of moral change depending on the degree to which Christ is speaking into the situation through society and then back into society through the church gathered around Him.
We believe God in Christ is reconciling the world to himself. Not human ideas about God, but God revealed in Christ. And he is reconciling; not done yet; active and relevant. And the goal is reconciliation of the world, not just the select, escapist, pietistically superior, rapturable few.
And the goal is full-scale reconciliation to God, not simply some moral improvement in itself. And reconciliation to God of course entails healing of relationships with others, with creation, and also the hope of new creation in Christ yet to come.
I think the church has moral stances that are going to be unpopular. Within it are also approaches to morality that could use refining. But if it can be criticized at any point it is by Christ himself. It is to be criticized wherever it is not more like Christ.
But there are a couple ways to go about that criticism. There are the Pharisees who demand a certain holiness and offer no help or togetherness in getting there. These are the old Pharisees everyone rails against: The legalists so obsessed with personal piety and the rapture. But there are also the new Pharisees who have left the church because it doesn't live up.
But there is a new (old) way of being the church, and that is to love it as Christ loves it, and loves us, with grace, with a commitment to what we should be, with a conviction that we get there by forgiveness and reconciliation and not of ourselves. This is my conviction: That if the church is to be different it is here. Ambassadors of reconciliation.
We can't well do that from our moral haunches and pedestals, but we can do it be continuing to gather at the communion table, not in false peace, but in the commitment to speak TRUTH in LOVE to one another, to listen in return, to have a spirit of forgiveness, and to be the people who in word and deed continue to gather together and then work and speak in the world as if God is, inded, in Christ reconciling the world to himself.