March 16, 2012

The Wrong Model

How is one to address the issue of unity in the Anglican Communion, much less the church, without reference to Jesus Christ? Christ himself prayed, in the High Priestly Prayer in John 17, that those who would believe in him would be one "just as" he and the Father are one. This is an intrinsic part of the priestly office which Christ embodies perfectly: the bringing together of the community of the faithful.

But what is the nature of the "oneness" of God, the unity of the Father and Son? The unity of God is that of ontological relationship, not based on an agreement or covenant document. It is eternal and everlasting, and has no relational consequences or means of disengagement, because it is the relationships that constitute the essence of Who God Is.

How does this apply to church unity? The churches of the Anglican Communion have, up until now, enjoyed the connectedness implicit in our ontological relationship, along lines of descent from England, Scotland, and to a very large part, The Episcopal Church. This is what it means when we say, in the Preamble of our Constitution, that The Episcopal Church is a "constituent member" of the Communion -- that is, we are an essential part of what constitutes that Communion, and built it up over the years.

The Proposed  Anglican Covenant that is on the table, on the contrary, offers a bare-bones outline of some high points of Anglican theological and missiological thinking, while omitting other important points. It provides a vague conflict-management system that has consultation as its primary tool, and implicit threats of minimized relationships or participation as its primary means of discipline. To suggest that this bears any resemblance whatever to the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus seems a rather large stretch.

We need a model for the church based on Christ's prayer, and the mode of the Divine Who Is a Trinity in Unity.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

"The unity of God is that of ontological relationship, not based on an agreement or covenant document."

The prayer of John 17 is not simply "the unity of God" in se, but the unity of the Son, under the conditions of a world estranged from GOd, with the Father.

IMHO John's gospel makes it pretty clear that one cannot separate the ontology from, call it what you will, the willful and loving obedience, filial covenant response of Jesus, morality,etc., all of which do speak of agreement in affection, thought, will and action. So I take the citation above one to be challenged. This is not to say Yes or No to the particular covenant, but to take issue with the portion cited above whcih drives a wedge between ontology and morality. In my own life, to be candid, I am crawling back FWIW from speaking of "participation in God", choosing instead to speak of covenant partnership with God in part, in part, because I now judge spiritual dangers to come with giving priority to the ontological over the moral-spiritual-affective union. Reading John's gospel is exactly what has made me do this.

Again,I am not speaking about the covenant so much, but about what i think is an incautious statement, that suggests a division not known in the NT nor esp in John.

But thanks for giving something truly theological to think about today, Tobias
JOHN 2007

Anonymous said...

PS from John 2007

"We need a model for the church based on Christ's prayer, and the mode of the Divine Who Is a Trinity in Unity."

I also often wonder BTW about appeals to the immanent Trinity, esp so called social models of the Trinity for the basis of this or that ethic, instead of appeals to the economic Trinity viz., the trinity played out in history in a creation with a particular structure and shape, and the history of Jesus with its material content. I heard one theologican speak of such proposals as a naive Trinitarian idealism but never got around to learn more about his claim. When we concentrate on the 1 in 3 and 3 in 1, however, I think we are probably headed down the wrong path.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks John. We may be at some cross-purpose here in that by "relationship" I intended much of what you are describing, including the filial obedience part. Where we disagree is in describing that as a covenant. It wouldn't occur to me to describe the relations of the persons of the Trinity in terms of Covenant -- which does seem to me to be "social" rather than "economic." I'm taking my lead on this from the Eastern Orthodox authors who were so peeved about filioque because it upset the delicate balance of the original Nicene definition. I am in fact not seeking to seperate the ontology from the relationship, but to insist that the "one in being" is intrinsically connected with the relationships of filiation (and procession -- though John does not exactly or precisely get into Pneumatology in a Nicene manner!)

So I do not think we are as much at odds as may appear. And I certainly grasp your distinction about "participation" versus "partnership." That, it seems to me is where covenant comes in -- between God and us as adopted children -- not children by God's descent but by our elevation (to get into the Athanasian Creed's language). This is why I dislike casual liberal use of "children of God" in a too broad sense. This is something we become, not who we are by birth. There is only one only-begotten...

Robert Brenchley said...

Churches need to get the idea that you can all eat at the same table, and be members of the same family, without slavish agreement with each other.