It became apparent in comments on two of my previous posts that one of our difficulties in carrying on reasonable discussion lies in the different meanings given to words we are wont to use quite a bit. These are church and communion. In both cases the words are used in an ideal and a real sense — and this creates some of the difficulties I outlined in an earlier essay on that subject.
Thus people can speak of the church as the Body of Christ, of which all the baptized are members; but we can also speak of the various churches and even the “national or particular churches” — to say nothing of our parish churches! I can speak of the communion-in-Christ that belongs, indelibly, to every Christian; while at the same time acknowledging that theological or doctrinal divisions can lead to ruptures in the day-to-day communion of one Christian body with another.
I was being quite consciously (and perhaps uncharacteristically) idealistic when, in that previous post, I noted that communion in Christ (based on baptism) is inviolable. That does not mean that I do not recognize the existence of the breaches between believers. What it does mean is that I hold it as an article of faith that our divisions are secondary to our unity. Our ecclesiastical unity is recoverable precisely because our divisions, however deeply felt, are superficial wounds: no part of the body is completely cut off, however tenuous the connection with the whole. It is not just that one part of the body ought not say to any other, “I have no need of you,” but that one part of the body really can not make that judgment. (1 Cor 12:21) However disagreeable we may become, we are stuck with each other. Divorce is not allowed.
Just as the lapsed or even the apostate are not rebaptized upon their return to the life of faith, so to, I firmly believe, our divisions can be healed without recourse to a fundamental re-invention. What we are called upon to do, in the spirit of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, is to focus upon the elements of our identity that we recognize in each other, and celebrate them as a basis for unity even if we continue to disagree about secondary concerns.
Obviously there are doctrinal differences among Anglicans of different traditions, and even greater differences between Anglicans in general and Roman Catholics or Presbyterians or Methodists in general. These differences are real, and I by no means wish to minimize them more than is necessary. What I do want to do is put them in their proper perspective and focus upon the articles of faith that we share and affirm — among which is the principal of the dignity of baptism as incorporation in the mystical body of Christ, the Church.
I would like to suggest a term for this Church of shreds and patches, which, like it or not is the Church of which we all are members. In the spirit of the Church Militant, the Church Expectant, and the Church Triumphant, I would like to suggest we recognize that we are the Church Dissonant. And, through God’s grace, may we work to decrease the dissonance and promote harmony.
Tobias Haller BSG