Much of the anxiety about the identity of the church in relation to the world, both within the church and outside of it, stems from a misperception of the people in the church as a group of people who are "in" or "forgiven" or "holy" in contrast to the world which is "out" or "unforgiven" or "unholy". As I've been reading Karl Barth I've been seeing how exactly this is not quite right.
Certainly, the church considers itself a people set apart by God for a certain kind of communion and mission, but it is not set aside in virtue of some static possession or settled condition, but as a people who are on a certain way, given a certain direction, and who receive it again and again and again. Humanity has been reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. This is accomplished. It is history. But as the history which enfolds our history, it concerns our experiences and our life-living as a decidedly ongoing history.
So, since both the world and the church are definitively and decidedly reconciled with God in Jesus Christ already, the best way to describe the church in relation to the world on its way to the final revelation of this is that the Church is a people who are confessedly being reconciled with God--and thus with themselves and each other and the world. It is finished, but they are not. They are on the way. You see this playing out in Barth's description of God's sanctifying activity in the lives of His followers:
One can be righteous before God, the child of God and heir of eternal life, only by the pardon which one can grasp in faith alone and not in any work, and which is that of the grace of the God active and revealed in Jesus Christ-a grace which consists in the unmerited forgiveness of sins.It thus follows that there is no one--even the doer of good (or the best) works, even the most saintly--who does not stand in lifelong need of the forgiveness of sins and therefore of that pardon, and is not referred wholly and utterly to the faith which grasps that pardon. . . .It follows further that because we in the sequence of one's works, each of one's works, as well as one's self, stands in need, as the work of a sinner, of justification, and therefore of forgiveness, and therefore of the unmerited recognition of God. . . .Finally, since it is only in faith and not by direct perception or appropriation that we can seize our righteousness and that of our works (as the forgiveness of our sins, even of those which we commit in the best of our works), the final word concerning our right and wrong, and that of our works, is reserved for the universal and definitive revelation of the judgment of God-a revelation which we now await but in which we do not yet participate.
Quoting Church Dogmatics IV/2, 587 (gender neutral language mine)