December 8, 2010

One means one

I'm getting a tad annoyed at people talking about "organic unity" when they mean "institutional unity." When I say, in the words of the Nicene Creed every week, that I believe the church to be "one holy catholic and apostolic" I mean every word. There is one church of Christ, made up in an organic union of all baptized persons with Christ as its Head. This is the official teaching (doctrine) of the Episcopal Church, and can be found in the Catechism on page 854 of the BCP.

There is one church. All of the disagreements with this doctrine are either from those who think there is more than one church, or that they constitute the only one true church, or who have confused institutional structure with ontological substance.

This is not to say that the institutional is unimportant; but it is best put in perspective. Any institution built on a foundation other than Unity In Christ will not long stand. Whether there needs to be — or ever has been or ever will be — a single institutional church coequal with the Body of Christ; or whether that foundation is wide and broad enough to support a number of more or less independent and autonomous structures, cooperating in various ways as the Spirit empowers them: these are questions the answers to which seem to me to be glaringly obvious.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


June Butler said...

In the very earliest history of Christianity, there was the church in Jerusalem, the church in Corinth, the church in Ephesus, the church in Rome, etc., etc. etc., but all were part of the church of which Jesus Christ is the head.

The ontological unity of the church gets pushed aside in the discussions of the Anglican Covenant and many other discussions within church institutions. Thanks for making the ontological/institutional distinction clear, Tobias.

WSJM said...

Actually there is a single institutional church that believes itself to be coequal (coterminous) with the Body of Christ, although nowadays they phrase that a little more politely. But how has that been working out for them lately?

I'm sure Jesus is so pleased....

Tim said...

Oh come now, dear Tobias. A single, universal church. Where DO you get these radical ideas?

"Brothers and sisters: Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Gal. 3:26-27)

Really, now. Next you will expect the laity to think for themselves.

"Why don't you judge for yourself what is right?" (Luke 12:57)

*coughs* (please don't throw some thing at me) :)

MarkBrunson said...

Thank you!

There's nothing organic about ecclesial structure, and there's nothing "One" about enforced "belief."

mwp said...

Would any modern magisterium, Roman or Anglican, have created a canon that allowed Markan Christians to coexist with Johannine ones, or the epistles of Paul with James? The early church is often popularly conceived as taking a hard line on orthodoxy (as spiritual fascists, not allowing in all those other gospels by Thomas and Mary Magdalene and so on) but I think they had a generosity of spirit around allowing "independent and autonomous" ways of thinking that we can only marvel at and pray for the grace to recover!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the feedback.

Mimi, how true. In the first centuries even well beyond the Apostolic Era there continued to be many flourishing churches, and the church in Gaul and Carthage were centers of Christian witness, in some cases even rebuking Rome for its errors. Bill alludes to the polite assertions of that latter body, but it was never really true, and is likely at the root of some of the current problems -- as the old saying concerning the corrupting influence of power goes... (Thanks, Bill)

Tim, thank you. Your tongue may now resume its position outside your cheek! And do look after that cough.

Mark, yr welcome.

mwp, thanks for pointing to the discontinuities even in the immediately "biblical" era. It seems to me that the corruption of power set in fairly early, but as the church had never been a single institution, it gave rise to more settled warring factions. If those factions could set down their swords and their urge to forge a single institution, we might come to a better realization of our true unity.

It is particularly sad to see Anglicanism -- which seemed to "get" this idea -- begin to lose it, and fall prey to the urge for central administration and institution as the defining characteristic of "visible" unity.

John-Julian, OJN said...

Oh, sing it, Brother! Yu do so well....

Martha Blacklock said...

Yep. We are one in Christ, whether we like it or not.

Jared C. Cramer said...

I'm sure that I'm just paranoid, but I'm also aware that an essay I wrote last week argued strongly for the importance of institutional unity and used "real organic unity" as synonymous with that. Thus, I feel compelled to respond to your thoughts.

Whether or not organic means institutional I think depends on how you interpret organic. Others, including Ramsey, have used organic unity to mean institutional unity—something he argued for when people were beginning to back away from that concept. Ramsey fully believed that the church was in a theological sense on in baptism (he believed that long before BEM). However, he also believed that our theological unity needed to be realized on an institutional level if the church was to be fully what God called the church to be.

And I agree with him on that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Jared, much as I admire Michael Ramsey (and even had the pleasure of meeting him once!) it is his thesis I find unacceptable: that, as you say, our theological unity (what I am calling our real unity via baptism) needs somehow to be "realized" in an institutional form. My point is that the real does not need to be made "more real."

In addition to the robustness of a real faith in baptismal unity, it is also important to note that "what God calls the church to be" is "One as [Christ] and the Father are one" -- which is to say, not at some level of institutional agreement or hierarchical "unity" but at the deepest level of reality and ontology: as the Creed says, "consubstantial" while remaining distinct as "persons" of the Trinity.

In one sense "organic unity" is an oxymoron, since "organic" means having parts.

Finally, if institutional unity were the goal or the will of God, why does Scripture not refer to it? Ephesians gives us all the "oneness" we need because of the one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God.

Really accepting that truth will in fact help us in our efforts at the institutional stuff -- which I am not saying is irrelevant, btw. But having faith in the foundation would be, I think, more helpful in discussing the superstructure.

Institutional unity -- as opposed to institutional fellowship of a Communion of Communions (which is, I think, not only what God wants, but what is more "organic") -- is an unnecessary, and likely unachievable, goal. Our present relations with ELCA and the Moravians, and our life until recently in the Anglican Communion, represent, to me, an ideal, not a "good enough." God likes variety, and the perichoresis of the life of the various communions of the church, in communion of essence while preserving distinct "personalities."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Jared, by way of a p.s., I've not seen your essay but look forward to reading it when some parish dust settles.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful words, thank you. Organic unity suggests, maybe even demands, that we engage the Church as the sphere, atmosphere, or environment in which we "live, move, and have our being" much more than simply a container.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Responding to a note received offline: Thanks for this observation. I'm careful in my original post to avoid any suggestion of "institutional gnosticism" -- or the idea that we should or could do away with institutional realities altogether.

What I am challenging is the notion that institutional unity (of all Christians under a single earthly administration) is either necessarily "willed by God" (and hence failures in reaching it a sign of human sin); an historic reality at any time in the history of the church; or even possible beyond what appears to be the equilibrium point of the national or provincial church --- which appears to be the Orthodox / Anglican solution to ecclesiastical government, and hence has a lot to show for it. I regard the Roman solution as falling well far short in performance; few things, it seems to me, are as parochial as the Roman "Catholic" Church. By claiming to be "universal" the failure actually to be universal is shown up all the more.

I freely admit that the church is more divided than it need be -- and that this is very likely part of the human failings to which you allude. But as I say, there seems to me to be an equilibrium point between congregationalism (or even individualism!) at one extreme, and a single united hierarchical institution at the other.

I see no evidence either from tradition, scripture, or reason, that leads me to think a single institutional church government is either desired by God or possible for Humanity, though I realize I am in a minority. I think God likes diversity and variety, and that human pining after institutional unity misses the point, and in fact risks our putting something other than Christ at the center; he is the true shepherd of the many flocks that become one under his guidance, and no one else's.

There is, it seems to me, something hubristic about "realized eschatology."

JimB said...

Thank you for this concise and spot on observation. Unfortunately, hierarchs in cities of Italy and England among others insist on a kind of unity that is really uniformity. That failure to understand what we are one in and about is the cause of much evil.


Closed said...

In later of Ramsey's works, he notes that our Anglican brokenness is a gift, and so, in my estimation because the church broken-open toward the world is the church fulfilling our purpose in being for others (ekstasis). It is precisely when we get caught up with ourselves as church (institution/people curvatus in se) that things tend to get ugly. Divisions themselves can be opportunities to truly be church for the life of the world.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Jim. Christopher: that is it exactly. It seems to me we are called to that Hillelian paradox of both being for ourselves and not only for ourselves. The gracious divisions as opportunities are of the essence of organism: with various parts fitted to different particular ends, yet in service to each other and the one body, whose head is Christ.

Jared C. Cramer said...

But to acknowledge that grace can come out of the current brokenness of the Christian body (which Ramsey affirmed and with which I agree) is not to say that this brokenness is not a problem. It merely speaks to the redemptive power of God in Christ.

Acknowledging that God could redeem our brokenness never meant we should not strive for greater unity, particularly at the institutional level. The most important reason Ramsey believed in this was the problem of when one part of the church does not recognize the orders of another part of the church. This is the sort of institutional disunity which Ramsey believed to be a symbol of sin and schism. God could work through it redemptively, but it is still a problem for the church catholic.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I see the point, and while I think it tragic that one part of the church doesn't recognize the ministry (or even the "christianity" in some sense) of other parts of the church, this is not what I'm addressing. I am talking about institution as "administration" -- as in the definition of the church in the Roman model, which is "constituted and organized as a society in this world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops in communion with him." (CCL 204.2)

The Orthodox are happy to recognize the orders of other Orthodox, even those not part of the same national church, and without the superstructure of an "organization." They are happy to be the church without that "constitution and organization and governance" that for Rome is an essential, or substantial matter.

The current issue with the Anglican Covenant provides some of the impetus for my writing. We do not need an additional governing body in order to be in communion, and have mutual recognition of ministers -- and the additional governing body is not going to make it happen anyway when some will not be "in communion" with or without a higher governing body. My point is really that governing bodies are not the answer to the problem of division where real division exists -- and I agree that many such divisions are tragic and contrary to the will of God. But I don't think our human efforts at patching things up -- particularly through increasing government -- are any less fraught with sin, and are in fact dangerous and perhaps even idolatrous: as I believe the notion of Roman hegemony has shown itself to be.

The problem with the church will not be solved by that introspective tinkering with churchiness -- but by turning to Christ, who is the foundation.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

An additional message to an offline correspondent:

I am trying to make a distinction between communion and control. It is the "power and control" issue I'm objecting to, not the idea that a universal church in which all Christians recognized each other as such wouldn't be a good thing!

The problem, as I see it, is that people tend to substitute the former for the latter, precisely because they tend to institutionalize the distinctions that separate rather than universals they share.

Ideally, to use the analogy of religious communities, we have people who are called to different manifestations of the same basic principles, but each group has its own governance and boundaries: and while the Julianites share much with Benedictines, for instance, there is no need for a "higher level" institutional structure to govern both the Order of Julian of Norwich AND the monks at St Gregory's Abbey. I see religious communities as a model for the larger church, with a similar lack of a need for a "power" above -- which, if it is a human power is likely not to produce a divine end.

Jared C. Cramer said...

With you, I resist the idea that either the Anglican Covenant or a strengthened Primates' Meeting or other curial structure will increase our unity. Ramsey did as well. One of the big issues in his time was a rewrite of the canon law which governs the church—he thought it was all going to be pretty useless when it came to growing the sort of institutional unity for which he yearned.

However, I do think that one of the problems is the separation in the mind of many of administration from ministry. I certainly don't believe in the Roman understanding of institutional unity, and indeed resonate with many Orthodox understandings.

But the point remains, for me, that baptismal unity must be realized in the daily life of the Christian church, in our recognition of one another as brothers and sisters and in our recognition of the orders and sacraments of other Christian traditions.

And, in the end, a shared governance I do believe is a part of all that recognition. The Orthodox of course do have overlapping jurisdictions, but they will be the first to tell you the problems that creates for their shared life.

We must turn to Christ, of course, and then allow that turning to affect the "churchiness" of our lives together as Christians.

Closed said...

The thing is, Jared, it is precisely when we are most focused on striving for greater unity among ourselves, our churchiness, rather than proclaiming the Good News in word and deed for the life of the world that we are most likely to sow further divisions. Turning to Christ first does not then turn us to one another as focus, but turns us together toward the world. It is our corporate self-curved-in-upon-self, Luther and then Maurice's definition of sin with a history in the Theologia Germanica, that goes unnamed but is precisely what the Anglican Communion looks like right now in its quest for a unity foreign to our reforms, reforms that caused division, were sinful, and yet, not only redeemed but creative and lifegiving and I think necessary. What I love about Ramsey is that he refused, unlike many who identify as catholic, to denigrate the Reformers. And rightly so, they were some of the few catholic theologians of their age.

Closed said...

The current matters in Anglican life (and of course, they are matters affecting all Communions) while using all sorts of nice language want to make on set of Christians, lgbt kind, the expendable party for greater institutional unity being proclaimed as the catholic pov, and it is a Roman one as far as I can tell. The space available just to be will close tight as we fall into legal bickering and backstabbing and the mess we have now will look nothing in comparison. It will crush spirits and force decisions. That's the bottom line, and it will lead to divisions and realignments because we could not deal with ambiguity, difference, disagreement, conflict, and the reality that two things can be true at the same time and disagree when a paradigm is changed--and on marriage, the paradigm has changed from one focused on procreation to one focused on love or as I would prefer discipleship. Whereas if we can hang together loosely, giving one another space, space even to walk away for the time being, space to disagree, we actually have a greater chance to avoid schism more widely and witness to the world a Body able to deal with the differences God gives us as gifts.

Closed said...

Ramsey is sometimes known as a Lutheran Catholic, something the current ABC titled him as well. Lutheranism acts, in my opinion, as a corrective to our Anglican tendency to get focused on the Church unto ourselves just as Anglicans correct a Lutheran tendency to not think about church matters much at all. Being engaged with Lutherans regularly has allowed given me language to some of our problems, which at heart is a self-absorbtion, selfishiness.

As a layman, and this is one of those reasons why I have come to refrain from identifying as Anglo-catholic, I find the emphasis always on the ordained orders of internal ministry of the Body, particularly the episcopate, deeply problematic as the focus for our unity in these discussions just as I find the ecumenical model implicit in many of them to be on of Borging rather than one of Koinonia or Fellowship. The distinctives that have arisen sadly in divisions are at the same time gifts. It is as if, to repeat Maurice all over again, we are making Canterbury the center rather than Christ, doing a catholic memorialism of orders and sacraments every bit as ugly in its swoop-in deity (to quote Rahner) as the Zwinglian back there deity.

Closed said...

Sometimes it is precisely in sin that we know most fully not only God's redeeming power, but God's creative power, because it is precisely here that we recognize our need and utter lack of "health" in ourselves.

When we seek to repair these divisions on our own we compound rather than alleviate sin. I think of Peter in Prince Caspian--who had no need of Aslan to solve the problem.

Now does that mean I think our divisions desireable as divisions rather than as distinctives, by no means, but I see Borging as a greater danger, and one that cannot acknowledge sin or error once hubris takes hold--and it will, it always does. Until we move past Borging as the optimal model for our institutions and their fellowship together, I will be wary of talks of "organic unity".

MarkBrunson said...

If Ramsey believed "organic" and "institutional" were the same in reference to life in Christ, Ramsey was simply wrong. The institutional is entirely artificial. At best, it is a somewhat necessary evil.

Marshall Scott said...

Siblings, I've been working on something that will soon, I hope, be seen at length. However, the premise is that we conflate our images of "organic communion" with Paul's image of the Body of Christ. We tend to let our images of "organic communion" become too anthropomorphic, and so we end up fighting over who (in place of Christ) gets to be "head." I think we might other images of what it means to be "organic" when we think about what it might mean to be in "organic communion."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Christopher, for the as always thoughtful comments.

Mark, so true.

Marshall, I think you've hit on part of the theme about which I've blogged before. The thing about organs is that they are different -- contrary to those who speak of "units" of the church, we have organs, and as I suggested in the post linked in the last sentence, the charisms of the various traditions may well be what God really desires. True Christian unity then becomes about cooperation rather than institutional ( = governmental) unity.