29 July 2007

Finding unity in the Word

Several days ago, Matthew Dutton-Gillett+ posted a thought-provoking and moving essay over at the Episcopal Majority. It's a response to +Henry Orombi's article in First Things entitled "What is Anglicanism?"

I highly encourage you to read Matthew's essay. Here's a sample:
If we are to restore unity amidst our differences, I don't think we will find it in the Bible. After all, the expression of the Word of God par excellence for Christian people is not the Bible. It is, rather, Jesus himself – the Word made flesh. At the heart of our faith, we see Jesus as the most sublime expression of the Word of God, and we are convinced that Jesus as the Christ is not locked into a particular period of history, but is a living presence in the life of the church today and in the life of each of us who seek to be his followers. The Bible is a tool – and an indispensable one – in coming to know the Christ, as are tradition and reason. But the tools can ever only be tools – none of them can ever replace the One whom they help us to find.

St. Paul has been much maligned over the years. He is regarded by many as a misogynistic conservative. But it is closer to the truth, I think, to acknowledge that whatever else St. Paul was or might have been, at heart, he was a mystic whose own conversion to the Christian faith was rooted in an encounter with the Risen Christ that was difficult to put into words. As Paul himself says, when it happened, he couldn't tell whether or not he was in his own body, and after it was over, he had seen things that were impossible to describe. But the result of this encounter with the Risen Christ for Paul was radical transformation – the kind of transformation that made Paul, the observant Jew, able to say – quite astonishingly – that in Christ, there is "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female." This leads me to conclude that in Christ, there is also neither conservative nor liberal, Global South or Global North, straight or gay. Rather, there are only human beings made in the image of God, baptized into the Body of Christ, each seeking to be transformed through our own encounter with the Risen Christ. Our life in Christ lies exactly there: in Christ. Not in the Bible, nor even in our tradition. And Jesus reminded his followers many times that life in Christ was often an unpredictable and personally crucifying experience.

The parts of Archbishop Orombi's essay that I found most moving were the stories he told of how Ugandan tribal culture was transformed in various ways through encounter with Christ. The archbishop's recognition of this transformation should remind both his Ugandan church and ours that our transformation in Christ is never completed in this life, and thus there is likely more in both his culture and ours that still longs to be touched by the healing and life-changing power of the Risen Christ. It would be a grave error for the archbishop and his church if they were to assume that no further transformation in their lives and in the life of their church and culture were needed. But it would be an equally grave error for me, or for us in the Episcopal Church, to make that same assumption, or to assume that we are somehow advanced beyond the world's other Anglicans in that process of transformation. Jesus is not done with any of us. We are all, in our own ways, incomplete. Perhaps this is where our true unity lies.

Wouldn't it be a remarkable thing if all the Anglican bishops were to gather together at Canterbury next year fully aware of their own incompleteness, and seeking their completion in Christ and in one another? That would be by far the most powerful witness I could imagine, both to the church and to the world.
That seems right on. We won't find the answers to what vexes our church on our own. We need Jesus for that. Imagine what our Communion might be like if all the bishops behaved as if they believed what they preached.

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