Theology Matters: What About Globalization?

“It’s a small world, after all.” That’s what Disney proclaimed way back in 1964 when the attraction made its debut at the World’s Fair. It was a time in which technological advances, media, and transportation were connecting the world in a way like never before. And yet, who could have imagined then, in 1964, the way in which the next fifty years would make the world even smaller? The personal computer, the Internet, the iPhone, Facebook—all of these have made our planet more connected, more of a “global village” than it has ever been.

Globalization is defined at Wikipedia as “the process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture.” How are Christians to think about this reality of our increasingly “small, small world,” with all its challenges and opportunities?

I would first say that there is much to commend about the world’s connectedness; that our growth in faith necessitates our being challenged and enriched by connecting with people from other places and other ways of thinking.

We all begin as children by believing that the world is about us. As we grow, our parents help us understand that we are not the center of the universe, but that we exist for relationship with God and others. But we still assume our experiences of childhood, our struggles and values, are common to all humanity. Even our faith in God, at first, is self-centered; our initial interest in God is usually about our own “personal salvation project” as Thomas Merton once said, not really about loving him or loving our neighbor.

But God is patiently committed to growing us up, and that means our encountering others, knowing others, relating to others, and finding in the lives of others the larger picture of who God is and what he is doing in our world. Writing as an Episcopalian, an Anglican Christian, this is an especially important in our understanding of the faith. We say in the creed that we believe in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” Part of this has to do with our dependence on those who have faithfully gone before us down through the Church’s history. Part of this has to do with the oneness we acknowledge among brother and sister believers around the world.

The Episcopal Church finds its place in a worldwide body called the Anglican Communion: 38 provinces (or national churches) spread through more than 165 countries, made up of more than 85 million members, most of whom reside in the two-thirds world. While every culture invariably has blind-spots, it is a gift to be part of this larger, worldwide family in which we can share faith and fellowship with Christians living in very different situations than our own. American Christians can benefit from hearing how the Gospel is being shared in Asia, how poverty affects the churches of Africa, how Christians respond to trying circumstances in the Middle East. Oftentimes the insights and experiences of Anglicans living in diverse cultural and political contexts can be a challenge to Americans’ perspectives and priorities. But it is a challenge we need.

In fact, in the Bible we hear that the Church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be diverse and is supposed to be global. That is the vision of the Kingdom of God in its consummation, recorded in the book of Revelation: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10) Throughout the Scriptures we see that the Body of Christ is to be a fellowship of unity in diversity: Jews and Gentiles together, many members, many gifts, together in their love and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. (See 1 Corinthians 12:12,f.)

And this idea of “unity in diversity” may present a particular challenge for the Christian when it comes to globalization. For folks who do not have a well-defined faith in God, “the interchange of world views, products, ideas, and other aspects of culture” may be a way of relativizing religious beliefs or value claims, that no one world view has a corner on the truth. Christianity, however, is based on an astoundingly unique message: that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, that he died for the sins of the world, that forgiveness and life are offered in his name. For some proponents of globalization, this might be seen as cultural or religious imperialism. For the Christian, however, it is simply acknowledgement of Jesus’ unique claims about himself: that he has come to offer light and life to all, and that in him is all the fullness of God.

The Rev. David Stangebye Houk is the rector of St. John's in Dallas 

What Do We Mean by "The Real Presence?"

     A spectrum of teachings exists in the Church regarding the presence of Christ when we gather together and break bread and share the cup. These range from a view that Jesus is spiritually present in the gathering as we do this in his memory, to a view that Jesus is made spiritually present in the believer who eats the elements in faith, to a view that Jesus is spiritually present in the elements themselves, or that Christ is substantially present in the bread and wine. In our Episcopal context, we assent to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. In this article I hope to share several witnesses that speak to the meaning of the Real Presence.

The Witness of Scripture

     The New Testament indicates that the first Christians believed that Christ is present when we come together to break bread and share the common cup in Eucharist, following the example and command he gave to his disciples. St. Paul’s witness to this in his letter to the Church in Corinth:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Cor. 10:16-17)

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Cor. 11:23-27)

These writings are complimented by the witness in the Gospel of John, relating Jesus’s teaching the day after the feeding of the five-thousand:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:51).

Though we partake in Christ’s Body and Blood in Eucharist, he remains bodily present in heaven, as exemplified in this passage from Acts:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you - even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. (Acts 3:19-21)

Our understanding of the Real Presence, then must hold to these and other related Scriptural references.

A Look at the Catechism

     Along with Baptism, Holy Eucharist is described by the Catechism[1] as one of the two great sacraments of the Gospel. As a sacrament, the Holy Eucharist consists of an outward and visible sign that conveys an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.[2] In the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, God has paired ordinary worldly substances that humans need to sustain life with spiritual significance.

     In Baptism, the outward action is that a person is washed by water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The grace received is that they are brought into union with Christ in his death and resurrection, born into God’s family the Church, forgiven of their sins, and beginning new life in the Holy Spirit.[3]

     In Eucharist, the outward action is that bread and wine is given and received according to Christ’s command (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 quoted above). The spiritual grace received is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, which is received by faith. The presence of Christ in the sacrament of Eucharist is a Holy Mystery. Jesus has ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the father until his coming again, and yet we receive his Body and Blood in this sacrament though the power of the Holy Spirit.

Are the Elements of Bread and Wine Changed?

     A tension exists within the Anglican / Episcopal Church regarding the place of Christ in the Eucharist. Does the Body and Blood of Christ lie hidden under the appearance of the blessed bread and wine? Or do we receive his Body and Blood in the acts or partaking in the bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus?

     Perhaps this tension is best captured in the traditional words of distribution:

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.[4]

The first sentence of each comes from our Catholic roots, grounded in the idea that the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The second has origins in the Reformation, following which focus on the bread and wine as signs that represent the grace once offered on the cross and received by faith.

     This ambiguity is preserved in Rite II, where the priest prays that the bread and wine would be sanctified “by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him.”[5] (Book of Common Prayer, 1979. p. 363)

     Great care has been maintained in our Prayer Book to assert that the Body and Blood of Christ is made present as we partake in the bread and the wine without making definitive claims as to how this happens. It is an act of grace that we receive through the power of the Holy Spirit by faith, a Holy Mystery in our life in Christ Jesus. This idea is summarized in a 1991 statement of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, “The elements are not mere signs; Christ’s body and blood become really present and are really given. But they are really present and given in order that, receiving them, believers may be united in communion with Christ the Lord.”

[1] The Catechism provides an outline of the faith of the Episcopal Church and can be found in the Book of Common Prayer, 1979, beginning on page 845.

[2] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Page 857.

[3] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Page 857.

[4] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Page 338.

[5] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Page 363. This phrase is from Prayer A. In Prayer B a more concise phrase is used, “the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.” Prayers C and D refer the bread and wine to be “the Body and Blood” of Jesus without qualification. The prayer after communion in Rite II captures the Sacramental language of the Real Presence by referring to the “Sacrament of his Body and Blood” (Page 365) or the “spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood.” (Page 366).

The Rev. Bob Corley is Rector of St. Mark's in Irving

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