On Stability

At the beginning of an essay by the late great missiologist Andrew Walls, he notes how different expressions of the Christian life have been so diverse as, probably, to have made it hard for them to recognize each other as kin: the Jerusalem Church, a Celtic saint standing in the freezing water of a stream, a Mass in the high middle ages, 19th century evangelicals gathered in Albert Hall, and a contemporary African Spirit church. This came to my mind while on retreat at a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico (for which time Steph and I are grateful). The common life of that tradition has been consistent for a millenium and a half, and they themselves value stability. But the wild range of Gospel stands in seeming contrast to this continuity, and it raises the question of the ‘one and the many’ in our faith.

Paul in Ephesians 4 gives the definitive answer (which we repeat at every baptism): ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’ Just because Christians have debated the nature of each doesn’t mean they aren’t an anchor nonetheless. A gloss on Paul’s answer might be the following. Invariably, for all their differences, Christians have book, bath, table, and flock (with pastor), and invariably they pray, proclaim,serve, and suffer. We as Anglicans have usually wanted to add clarifying notes: book- read with the creeds, chief pastor as bishop, praying both formal and not, etc. But we have had a consistent ecumenical urge, born of the fact that we know we are not complete, and so we welcome inclusive spirit of the generalization. We can see the Church across time as indeed one, shining, messy, obscured, restored, contested, all these at once though it be.

The Benedictines were wonderfully adapted as outposts for mission in medieval pagan Europe (and forebears of our own traditions). Types will come into being, and have their ending, though the gates of hell will not prevail against the whole enterprise (Matthew 16:19). And how we think of the basics of Church life matters a great deal. Still, in a time when the future prospects of the Church seem murky, I take solace in this notion that some shapes or other of Church, with the endoskeleton described above, bearing our family resemblance, are bound to appear as outposts in some new kind of middle ages and some new pagan wilderness.


Complete the Race (II Timothy 4:17)

At the end of our vacation we find ourselves in Chicago for its Marathon weekend (the fastest, I have read this morning, perhaps because it is cool and relatively level). Marathons offer many good things. You can see world-class athletes from places like Ethiopia and Kenya. There is a feel of fiesta with signs by family members, getups by some for-fun runners, and food for sale.

But as I looked out my hotel window at 7:30 a.m., I watched the race of competitors who have lost legs or their use. Wheeling vehicles by arm for 26 miles means serious fitness and determination.

Those competitors were to me, this morning, a symbol of the Church too. For each is wounded. The larger family cheers them on. Each by grace has risen up to run the race. Ahead is the goal, the prize, the welcome home. We find the companionship of Jesus the Lord, there, and along the route too.