Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Focus of Unity? Inclusion?

One of the current problems afflicting Anglicanese especially as we concern ourselves with ecclesiologies and the Anglican Communion as institution is that oft repeated phrase that "the Archbishop of Canterbury is the focus of unity" and such similar turns. Let me be frank. As an Anglican, the Archbishop of Canterbury is not my focus, nor that Who binds me to all other Anglicans and more Christians besides. There is One Center, One Focus of our Unity, One Head, namely, Jesus Christ, Who is not localized but available in all times and places to all sorts and conditions of human beings whenever they call upon His Name or so gather.

There can be and is only One focus of our unity, Jesus Christ. This Reformation profession of faith is at the heart of our Anglican praying surrounding headship and representation, mediation and salvation. If and whenever one called to present and represent, that is, point we the Body to the One Christ among us, binding us, holding us, abiding with and in us, or the office that that one occupies rather becomes another Rome or Constantinople or Alexandria or Jerusalem, we have sold our inheritance for rotted pottage.

The second is like the first, inclusion is the work of God in Christ by the Spirit first and foremost, not our own. God's inclusion is likely to upset apple carts for those who don't want to be related to sorts considered unsavory wherever that lies for you and I. If we have no place for those we hold to be unsavory, Christ may have no place for us.

To be included in Christ's own life by Baptism, that is, to receive Christ's decisive once-for-all overcoming of sin, evil, and death calls us into a life of discipleship, but a life of discipleship is not a program, however, great the intellectual edifice and theological arguments for a formulaic response, but a living response to grace of which the fruits, as St Paul reminds, us are rather obvious.

Ascetical theology, thus, gives us time-and-community-tested shapes for what a faithful response looks like, not a pat-program for success or a one-size-fits-all formula that expects extraordinary things of a small group while being comfortable with the ordinary and even rather less than shining for the majority blessed. Adjustments can and will and must be made to the time-and-community-tested patterns in light of the ongoing observation of graced lives of peoples living in response to Christ as members of the One Body. We must always ask the question of one another, What is grace doing in your life? Fruits will surely tell us over time.

That is to say, any ascetical theology worth its catholicity requires observation and experience, and not just those of the majority. All the careful biblical, traditional, rational, theological, intellectual, ecclesiological, "objective" arguments and systems and programs regarding our current ascetical theological issue de jour end up making of these honorable enterprises a laughstock to our despisers when observations and experiences of real flesh with real flesh simply do not fit the edifice. Sometimes it requires the Word working in the world to turn us again to consider what He might be up to among the peoples and nations. Sometimes it is the Word at work in the world that catches our attention long enough to repent, that is, turn us again to reliance on the only Center we can or will ever properly have as Churches. We finally have to admit that theology too can disguise sheer loathing, prejudice, and ill will. And all in the Name of Jesus Christ.

To quote from F.D. Maurice:

This is the second characteristic of the Prayer Book I would speak of. It is expressed in the words of my text,—“With all that in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both theirs and ours.”

The Romanists asserted that the Church was bound together by the common adherence of its members to a visible Person and a visible Centre. How was this notion to be refuted? Can you overthrow it by calling the Bishop of Rome Antichrist? By denouncing the Church to which he belongs as the Babylonian Harlot? Or by setting up an Anglican system in opposition to this Roman system—by determining that the centre in our fellowship shall be at home instead of Italy? Or is exclusiveness best defeated by Catholicity, cruel anathemas by an universal fellowship, a mimic Ecclesiastical centre, by turning to that invisible spiritual Centre which was made manifest when Christ rose from the dead and ascended on high? Our Reformers adopted the latter form of protest as the most reasonable, and they made it in this way. They found prayers which were based on this universal principle, many of which had been narrowed and debased by the local and idolatrous principle; they removed the outgrowths, they took the substance of the petitions. So they claimed for themselves and for us a fraternity with other ages and other countries, with men whose habits and opinions were most different from their own, with those very Romanists who were slandering and excommunicating them. They claimed fraternity with men who in every place were calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, whether they were tied and bound by the chains of an evil system, or had broken those bonds asunder. They claimed fellowship with men hereafter, who on any other grounds should repudiate their Church and establish some other communion—with men of every tongue and clime, and of every system. If they will not have a Common Prayer with us, we can make our prayers large enough to include them. Nay, to take in Jews, Turks, Infidels and Heretics, all whose nature Christ has borne. For he is theirs as well as ours. He has died for them as for us, he lives for them as for us. Our privilege and glory is to proclaim him in this character; we forfeit our own right in him when we fail to assert a right in him for all mankind. The baptized Church is not set apart as a witness for exclusion, but against it. The denial of Christ as the root of all life and all society—this is the exclusive sectarian principle. And it is a principle so near to all of us, into which we are so ready at every moment to fall, that only prayer to our Heavenly Father through the one Mediator, can deliver us from it.[1]

[1] F.D. Maurice, “Sermon I,”
The Prayer Book (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1966), 6-9.


  1. In my sermon last week I noted that making Apollos or Cephas or Paul the "focus of unity" utterly misses the point. All of us, bishops and archbishops included, are "only unworthy servants." There is something not a little blasphemous about this language in re Canterbury. The classical definition of idolatry is putting that which is not God in the place of God.

  2. Great stuff, Christopher. I was especially taken by this point: "If we have no place for those we hold to be unsavory, Christ may have no place for us."