Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Rowan Williams on church unity - part 1

I've found Williams book, Why Study The Past, a fascinating read. Particularly, given what is happening in the Anglican world this year and the author's role all the events, it has been interesting to 'get into' his mind about what church is. The ++ has studied two determinative episodes in the church history - the early church pre-Christendom, and the Reformation - to understand how ecclesiastical history is written. Williams thesis is that church history is written in such a way that constructs church identity. Williams sees this as having implications on church unity. And throughout the small book, originally a series of lectures given in 2005, Williams has the state of the Anglican Communion in mind. So here is the first of three posts on what Williams says about church unity.

"The challenge posed by the Reformation era is whether it is possible to conceive the question about unity and communion in the Church as bound to a witness to the priority of god's act rather than to issues around visible structures. This does not relegate the latter to some sort of non-theological status, nor does it sidestep the importance of Scripture or sacramental events; but it does shift the center of gravity. If we believe that unity is given by God in baptism, and that any other starting point compromises the unique place of divine initiative, some other questions rearrange themselves. Baptism itself makes no sense except in the context of a robust trinitarian theology - it is the gift of a charismatic identity in Christ, the possibility, of entering into Christ's prayer, which is, Scripture tells us,the flowering of an eternal relation with the eternal source, and is enabled in us only by the inbreathing of God. In other words, baptism already encodes the theology elaborated by the doctrinal disputes of the early Church. And the sacrament of the Eucharist as the regular renewal of this charismatic identity is again primarily a witness to divine invitation into the place where Christ stands, into Christ's relation with the Father, opened to us by the paschal event, by his cross and resurrection. A very great deal can be said about the essence of the Church simply in reference to what is understood about baptism and eucharist; to grasp these human actions as necessarily and centrally witnesses to what human beings cannot do, as gifts of new identity and relation, is to see why it is possible to define the unity of the Church first in relation to this pattern of corporate activity."

There is more to come...

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