Thursday, July 06, 2006

++Rowan on Christian Identity and Mission

I've been reading Rowan Williams' Why Study The Past?: The Quest For The Historical Church, and despite the unfortunate title, I'm enjoying it immensely. It's an excellent look at the two most important periods in the construction of Anglican self-identity, the Patristic era and the Reformation, tracing them under the categories of continuity and difference in the church through those periods. ++Rowan offers a treatment of both his thoughts on the subversive nature of doctrine, and how the church imagines it's relationship to culture in the periods on both sides of Constantine's Edict of Milan in the Patristic Period. He then points out how the idea that God is absolutely free to do his work among his people, and the reasons for institutional continuity of the Church in the English Reformation, made the English church so distinctive.

If any of these themes sound familiar to those following our intra-Anglican strife, this is no coincidence, and If you'd like a peek into the mind that wrote the recent 'Challenge and hope' for the Anglican Communion, this is a good place to start. As he does in 'Challenge and Hope' ++Rowan treats all angles with his characteristic charitability, while offering a constructive vision for the church grounded in our common historical identity.

But the passage (p. 56) that struck me most was this one:

"So, if it is not clear why we should be bothered about our fidelity to the formulations of Nicaea or Chalcedon, this analysis of the first Christian centuries may revive our sense that, whatever the conceptual toughness or oddity of the language used in these creeds and definitions, this was the least that could properly be said on the basis of the ekklesia as such, the sort of thing which, if not said, would alter drastically the Church's claim to be free to appeal beyond the powers of this world and to deny the ascription of unqualified holiness to any system of earthly government. To develop a point made elsewhere, if the language of the creeds is difficult for us, this may be less a function of its intrinsic conceptual problems and more a comment on the weakened urgency felt about our Christian identity and mission."

This resounded mightily with my experience. In much of our church there is a lack of conscious and differentiated self-identity between people in pews and people in the coffee shop on Sunday morning, along with a general disinterest in classical doctrine among most Christians, seminarians, and clergy. But I had never thought of the two as connected.

But it makes sense. If being a Christian doesn't necessarily mean being all that different from those around you, there is no motivation to discover that difference. But if being a Christian does mean being different, we are led to the texts of Christian differentiation: Nicaea and Chalcedon. Through these texts, along with the witness of Scripture, we discover exactly what we have to offer the world, and we are motivated into Christian explication and mission.



Anonymous HowardRGiles+ said...

++Rowan calls it "...our Christian identity and mission."

I want to call it our Christian ethos, which has been compromised by attempts to be culturaly relevant. Our cultural relevance has been lost by not being fully baptized into the Holy Tradition, but rather into the post-reformation 'tradition,' which has been either adopted or neglected according to local custom.

I think that ++Rowan's "identity and mission" could be fed by a catholic and apostolic reverance for Holy Tradition.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006 12:53:00 PM  

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