We Are One

 

We finished our last installment with the reality that what God says becomes so! Now I want to consider what Jesus the Son of God says in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John to his disciples- be one, as I and the Father are one.  And presumably, in the saying it is so, but as is true of the Church throughout, what is true is here as often so in spite of ourselves.   Be one- and yet the Church presents itself as anything but, for we see all around us denominations, and rifts of various kinds within ours!

     Let us start with what we ordinarily know of Church, namely our own congregation. There the sacraments and the Word and the people of God, as well as our community in which we are called to minister, all these are found.  That is the Church, to be sure. But in addition, or maybe in tension, the Church is one, because all who call Jesus ‘Lord’ do so by the power of the Holy Spirit.  And of course we all share the same Scriptures, and for the most part the same name of God, as well as the table and the font. So the rest of the Church is in the most important ways, like us. But in other ways not, and what is far away by geography or practice or demographic, may not feel like it is one, in spite of who we are pronounced to be.

     We are in the Church always growing into, and praying further to become, what we already are, by God’s grace. Think of how in Romans 6- buried with Christ so as to be raised with him is our identity- but then Paul exhorts us to strive to conduct ourselves in a way consistent with that bestowed identity.  Live into yourselves- there is some of that in all of our lives, but more intensely so in our lives of faith, until that last day when we are transformed fully into that which we were originally created to be. Be one- it is so, and is by grace becoming so, ultimately to be perfectly so.

     We will have more to say about our own tradition in later episodes, but notice that we are not starting with all that. Of primary importance is what CS Lewis called ‘mere Christianity,’ what we all share, what is basic.

    So my point is simple- who we are as Church is shared with other Churches. Ecumenism, the worldwide nature of the Church, and the effort to find more unity: this is not a secondary side interest, an optional matter, but central to who we ar. And this is especially so for us, since Anglicanism has never claimed that we were the one true Church. We have been more likely to claim, as did Archbishop Michael Ramsey, that knowing that we are a fragment, and so motivated toward unity, is in fact one of our charisms. 

    Be One, says Jesus- this is as much a part of our commission as Matthew 28- go out into all the world.  And this has concrete implications.  Our mother Church, the Roman Catholics, is one who are intent on being friends with. African American Pentecostal and Baptist churches in our city- with them we are one, and so we need to appreciate their gifts and listen to their experience, not because of this or that political commitment (though such are not wrong), but because of who we are as Church! We drive forward with ecumenical conversations, in our time with the Lutherans and Methodists and Moravians, not because we are agreeable people (sometimes we aren’t), but we have been spoken into oneness. And we are the global Anglican Communion, we are called to what the last Anglican Congress called ‘mutual responsibility and interdependence in the body of Christ,’ because supposing that we are different and independent religious associations was always a misunderstanding.  Interdependence will require things of us that may be hard- which sounds like living in a family, really, for that is what it is. Diversity is not a popular theme, but one way to describe what happens when Jesus says ‘be one.’

    Indulge me as I close with one of the earliest Christian Eucharistic prayer- I guess from Syria and maybe the late first century- oneness begins with the one who speaks it, then it is literally baked it, it is suffered by the Christian together, and as such it is a sign of the coming kingdom of God….. 

Dios Dice! (Dominus dixit)

Let us review.  The first guidepost says: beware of theology which treats talk of God as a description of our own religious experience. And the second warned that God’s cause and our own, especially political, don’t readily line up.  But this leaves a question: how can we know of, and speak about God, since He is God, Whose thoughts and ways aren’t ours?

This third guidepost is called ‘Dios dice’, Spanish for “God speaks.’  I am alluding to the words from the Latin translation of the Psalms, Dominus dixit, the Lord spoke, a text with famous music by handel.  God speaks! Dios dice! That is what I want you to remember.  God is all powerful and quite capable of accommodating himself so that he can speak for himself and make himself understood by us. To be sure, there will on our side always be more to learn, since we are humans. Still God speaks!  And where we can be sure that he has reliably spoken and speaks still is in the bible.  There we do find information, about Him and about the world, but primarily he addresses us- God speaks, to you and to me!

Now at this point you may be anxious, because you have come from a certain kind of conservative evangelical background, and you are worried that you will be regressing into fundamentalism.  But that is not a justified concern. For fundamentalism is a specific kind of theory about how the bible refers in relation to scientific theories about the world.  And you do not need to agree with such a theory in order to believe that God can speak and has spoken to us. He is able! Fundamentalism also tends to reject the idea that the Bible included editing,  a process of passing the text on, and of course copying in the ancient world that had no printing presses. The God who chooses to use the prophets and apostles is quite capable of using handing on, and a process of collecting and editing that material.  We believe that he has been in the entire process in order to – speak!  For example, the four gospels are four faithful memories of the Lord, with specific memories added, and retold with emphases to convey who he was. They are stereoscopic, so as to see him better.  And through it all- God speaks, and to you!

Of course, God being God, His speaking is different from ours. A philosopher named Austin wrote in the last century about what he called ‘performative utterances.’ By this he meant words that do things. When the priest ‘I now pronounce you…’, you’re married, ready or not!  Something happened. This is a hint of what God speaking means. For when he speaks, the world comes into being. And when he speaks, Jerusalem falls.   And when he shall speak the heaven and the earth will pass away.  Jesus the Son said on Easter evening that his word given to the apostles will affect the forgiveness of sins!  That word and its power are not from us. God speaks into being what he speaks of.  His word is supremely performative. 

We are creatures only, but we have been given ears and minds to hear- that is part of what it means to say that we are in the image of God.  To be sure, because we are cracked, we also misunderstand, argue, and forget. So there will be struggle over the interpretation of God’s speech from our side.  But the Reformers in the 16th century importantly stressed that on the things that matter most, the bible’s plot line, who God is, and his gift of grace, the bible is clear and we can see what it is getting at. We may be obtuse, but on the biggest things, God speaks and we can hear.  That is what you and I are doing in morning prayer or our own devotions and Sunday morning- speak to me Lord, hablame Senor, your servant is listening, and may what you say to me be so in me.

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It is often hard to make sense of things Christian. The bible, church history, denominations, the cross-currents of culture. This series is meant, in each episode, to give you a single, clear guidepost,  in order to ‘discern the signs of the times.’