Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Unity uber alles

Stella Maris makes a point I've thought about often and even written down in a few places - it's not enough just to say that Jesus wants unity among Christians, and so anyone who leaves a heretical "church" is a traitor. Jesus was not primarily concerned with quarterly growth statistics, or numbers of bums on pews to the exclusion of anything else.

The usual biblical quote used to subdue dissidents is John 17:20-22:
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:
The argument hangs on the misreading of one little conjunction: "as". It can mean different things: the online dictionary gives the primary definition as
To the same degree or quantity that. Often used as a correlative after so or as: You are as sweet as sugar. The situation is not so bad as you suggest.
2. In the same manner or way that: Think as I think.

But it can also mean
4. For the reason that; because: I went to bed early, as I was exhausted.
I think that this secondary definition has crept into the first, resulting in a blurring of what Jesus was really saying. It's now read as "Father, you and I are one. Therefore, the church should be one, too."

That's not wrong, as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough, as is clear to anyone who reads the entire 5 chapters of John that cover the Last Supper. Jesus gives very lengthy descriptions of just how He and the Father are connected before he moves on to include his followers in the picture. What Jesus is saying is more like "This incomprehensible unity between Me and my Father now moves outward; let them share the same oneness that We do - let them be united in the same way that We are united, reflecting the same pattern on a smaller scale."

So then we have to consider, just how are the Father and the Son one? Jesus has already given us that information:
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."
Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.

All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.
It's not just that the Father and the Son are "united" - they are ONE, and there can be no division between them. When you've seen one, you've seen the other.

It's not the first time this has happened: C.S. Lewis wrote an essay focussing on how Jesus' forgiveness of the sinful woman (Luke 7:47) has been totally misread as a dismissal of sexual sin if accompanied by strong emotion, purely by misreading the word "for". The quote is "Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much:" Lewis points out that "for" can be interpreted two ways: "I know he's at home, for his coat is hanging in the closet" means that the coat is the "witness" of the fact. But if you take the line from the beginning of 'Fellowship of the Ring', "Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it," "for" indicates that the second clause is the cause of the first - everyone has died, so the knowledge has been lost. Instead of "You can tell how heavy was the burden of sin I lifted from her, by how much she loves me" this little trick with "for" has turned Jesus' sentence into "I forgive her her sin, because she was so much in love." This is only plausible because it fits in with modern wishful thinking: Jesus is the kind who won't hold a sin against you, if the sin is really, really important to you. And what could be more important than sex? If Jesus had been speaking about Matthew the tax-collector, nobody would take this seriously, but as Lewis said elsewhere, every age has its own atmosphere, and in our voluptuous age, this is a message that people want to believe.

Back to the Stella Maris blog:
First of all, it has to be said that the vision of unity that some hold to within the Anglican Communion is a fantasy. When Jesus prayed for His followers to be united (John's Gospel) He asked that they be one as He and the Father are one. In no sense is this reflected in the Anglican Communion. Now, I know what some will say. They will say that there are problems in the Roman Catholic Church and there are even bigger problems between different Orthodox Churches. Yes, that is true, but what we see in the Anglican Communion are problems of a different order.
SM points out the bizarre situation of having bishops who are simultaneously non-bishops as an example of this sort of non-Christian disorder, but it permeates the very structure of Anglicanism today. It isn't just a matter of personnel, it is a matter of belief. There is no parallel between the unity of God and Jesus, and the "unity" of Anglicanism. Jesus is clear that everything he does comes from and reflects the Father. Whatever commands God gave were good and right; when it was Jesus' turn, he raised those commands to a higher level. Abstaining from pork and shellfish were good...but this is better - abstain from impure thoughts and impulses. It's not conflicting, it's raising it by another degree. Jesus never conflicts with God, but modern Anglicanism doesn't care if its bright new ideas conflict with God, Jesus, the history of Christianity or even with natural law. Its idea of "unity" is a tangle of conflicting, contradictory ideas and players perpetually struggling against each other, yet all chained together and in submission to a central authority that collects the money and makes the rules. This is more like Milton's Pandaemonium than Jesus' Prayer at the Last Supper.


Blogger Daniel Muller said...

And unity is only one of the four notes of the Church. Even nowadays 25% is not generally considered a passing grade.

2:57 pm  

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