Monday, June 2, 2014

Unity, Not Uniformity

In her sermon on Sunday, my colleague Jo Barrett focused on Jesus' prayer that we all might be one as he and the Father are one. Although she did not say it, it seemed clear to me, sitting in a pew, that she understood that the unity of the Trinity is a unity of love. I think the language of the Nicene Creed, drawing as it does on categories from Greek philosophy, is not at all helpful today if it ever was. What meaning does "one in being" or "consubstantial" have for us? Apart from love these terms sound very hollow.
If the unity of the Trinity is not a matter of uniformity, then the unity of the disciples of Jesus need not be a matter of uniformity. Just as it is orthodox teaching that the Father is not the Son, so it might be considered orthodox to say that Baptists are not Roman Catholics and to mean that both are recognizable as members of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church which is the Body of Christ in the world. 
Several years ago when I was teaching at a Roman Catholic high school I spent some time thinking about what gift the various denominations of Christians  offered to the Church and the world. I am thankful for the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, for the Baptist's clear teaching about the necessity of a mature commitment to Christ, and for other gifts that have enriched my life as an Anglican.
In her serm0n Jo used her own experience of being awakened by the dawn chorus of birds as a image for the offerings of praise that the different churches in our community make. Reflecting on that image now I remember being part of a chorus several years ago. Another member told the director that she didn't think we sounded right. The director asked her to stand next to him as the chorus repeated what we had just sung. When we stopped singing she said that the music sounded right from that perspective. Perhaps we can't hear how the offerings of all the different denominations become one. Perhaps only God can hear that.

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