July 30, 2006

Growth in a Godward Direction

From a sermon on Ephesians 4
The Letter to the Ephesians tells us what it means to grow up — to be no longer a child blown about by every wind of doctrine, but being firm in the truth that God has provided us in the person of Christ. The wonderful thing about growing in unity in Christ is that it isn’t about uniformity: the various members of the church are completely united but individually gifted: as they grow they diversify!

This is what lies behind Paul’s baptismal language — beginning with unity, passing through universality, and ending with diversity: there is one body and one Spirit, one call, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father — of all — who is above all and through all and in all. But to each — to each — he gave grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift: and each individual’s gift is different yet works together for the unity of the body.

There is a biological reality to this movement from one to all to each: every human being starts as one single cell, a fertilized egg. As it divides into additional cells they specialize under the direction of that amazing DNA molecule that is identical in all the cells but directs each in its own way — this one becomes a nerve, another a blood cell, another skin, another bone. If all of the cells were the same, we would not and could not be what we are: we would be like the Blob — a giant amoeba that can only digest. But instead the body grows with differentiation — different cells equally part of the one body, all directed by the same DNA, but each doing different things for the good of the whole body, knit together in every ligament and joint, each part working together as one. Maturity requires differentiation as much as it requires unity.

So part of maturity means being an individual — as a psychologist would say, being individuated — not being tossed about by what other people say or think or feel, but having one's own identity. To be mature is to have one’s own sense of self, and the ability to exercise one’s own gifts but not to keep them for oneself alone, but to use them to the benefit of the good of the larger body, and its growth towards the end that God intends. Rabbi Hillel, who was the teacher of Saint Paul’s teacher Gamaliel, once said something along these lines: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Each individual will have the maturity to stand for him or herself — but not to stand for him or herself alone, but in unity with all — and this happens in the now that is given to us anew each day. Perhaps Paul learned this lesson from his spiritual grandfather Rabbi Hillel.

For what is important in all of this is the direction of the growth: it is not growth away from God or from others, but growth into Christ, and for the good of the whole church.

There is obviously a lesson for us in all of this as we deal with our differences in the Anglican Communion — for differences there are. The church grows through diversity, united in Christ, preaching one Lord, but with each of its many members in the body making their unique contribution to its well-being. To use the biological language once again, ontogeny recapitulates ecclesiology: the process of differentiation and growth from one through all to each is what makes us who we are as individuals and as the church.

So let us learn to celebrate our differences as part of God's gift, rather than seeing them only as wounds in the body; perhaps they are not wounds at all, but the marks of difference that empower mission in ways we might not be able to serve if we were all alike.

Tobias S Haller BSG


Greg Jones said...


Greg here. I'm with you in your reading of Scripture. I am. But it occurs to me that a way forward to maintaining a maximum degree of fellowship in this communion is to indeed follow the model of the human body. Now, I don't know much biology, but from what I remember from the 8th grade, the brain consists of brain cells arranged in ever changing neural networks, and the body contains a number of different networks and systems -- we've got blood, nervous, lymphic and other systems. Why not join in the Anglican Communion Network request for an alternative Anglican province in North America? Not a 'replacement' jurisdiction, but simply an 'alternative' jurisdiction. It seems history is replete with examples of different Christian jurisdictions occupying the same geographical space. Armed Service and Prison ministries being an example from within ECUSA. In Europe of course there's at least two Anglican jurisdictions. In Roman Catholicism there is the diocesan structure, and also monastic structures which include parishes -- right? It seems that for the sake of unity, and for the sake of biblical faithfulness, we must make room and changes in practice for the sake of unity. It seems that if you and I and others are content to be in a province which teaches an evolving Christian ethic, we must also be content to acknowledge an evolving Christian ecclesiology. We oughtn't be rigid ecclesiologically while we are fluid ethically.

It seems to me that moderate people -- whether liberal or conservative in their interpretations of Scripture -- ought to be able to find a third way forward. And that way oughtn't include coercion, legal violence, name calling etc. I am well aware that both sides are guilty of these. But, I think overlapping networks make sense, would likely keep the peace, and would allow us to do as we say: to move forward in the name of Christ.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Hello Father Greg, and thanks for the comment. Actually I'm on record as reluctantly acknowledging the idea of parallel jurisdictions as a possible way out of the impasse -- reluctantly because I acknowledge that it is far from ideal. Last May I wrote the following in a comment on Mark Harris' blog Preludium, and I don't think I've seen any reason to change my stand -- on the contrary events since then seem to confirm my conclusion:
As to parallel jurisdictions, I have in fact argued that this might be a possible solution, as much as I also recognize that it is less than ideal. I think that +Rowan is alluding to as much; and I am simply putting the cards on the table that if and when it comes to a vote of the ACC, or to attendance at Lambeth, if TEC is still at the table when all is said and done, a certain portion of the "Global South" will choose to walk away, taking with them, on my estimate, no more than 10% of the Episcopal Church -- including many of those who have already departed.

As I say, I may be mistaken about this. I still hope some accommodation can be reached to prevent a schism, including some temporary form of "marriage of convenience for the sake of the children." But that will require some moderation from extremists such as +Akinola, who appear perfectly content to, and have already said to Canterbury -- "we have no need of you." (It's ironic that TEC gets accused of saying this when Nigeria actually has!)

So I do see the virtues in your proposal, but some of the most vocal among the "Global South" and their domestic allies are actually asking for a replacement province, not a parallel jurisdiction.

Finally, I would have to disagree in part about your comment regarding ethics. I don't think the ethical system which informs my thinking is "fluid" or "evolving" -- as it is based on the teaching of Jesus. The conclusions of this biblical ethical system may be new, but the system itself is unchanged. What has changed is the information at our disposal concerning certain realities about which the "traditional" sources of authority in reaching ethical decisions were uninformed through no fault of their own. "New occasions teach new duties" but the Gospel remains the same!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Correction: I made the quoted post back in March, not May, of this year.