Admiral of Morality: Witness to Faith

Monday, September 17, 2007

Witness to Faith

If you can ever visit the King's College Chapel, part of King's College, Cambridge University, don't give up the chance. It is one of the most stunning, beautiful chapels in the world. It was completed in 1547 and its altarpiece is The Adoration of the Magi, Rubens's masterpiece. Believe it or not, for many years the only thing standing between this amazing painting and the visitor, was a frayed, red velvet cord.

The Archbishop of Canterbury presented a lecture at the Chapel last week as part of the annual conference for the Christian-Muslim Forum. The Archbishop is a Founding Patron of the Forum, and under his guidance many people of good will from both faiths, from all walks of life and all religious orders, have come together to discuss their faiths and to bridge differences. Read more about the forum at Ekklesia, amongst other places.

We should all keep in mind this week as he meets with our House of Bishops, that the Archbishop is a man of spiritual integrity, who has consistently presented the core of the Christian faith in clear, unmistakable language. Here is part of what he said at King's Chapel last week:

The convincing witness to faith is one for whom safety and success are immaterial, and one for whom therefore the exercise of violent force against another of different conviction is ruled out. And the nature of an authentically religious community is made visible in its admission of dependence on God – which means both that it does not fight for position and power and that it will not see itself as existing just by the license of human society. It proclaims both its right to exist on the basis of the call of God and its refusal to enforce that right by the routine methods of human conflict.

All this is, for the Christian believer, rooted in the gospel narrative and in the reflections of the first Christians. Jesus himself in his trial before Pilate says that his royal authority does not derive from anything except the eternal truth which he himself embodies as the incarnate Word of God; only if his authority depended on some other source would his servants fight (Jn 18.36-7). Earthly authority needs to reinforce itself in conflict and dominance; if the community of Jesus’ followers reinforced itself in such a way, it would be admitting that its claims were derived from this human order. The realm, the basileia, of God, to which Jesus’ acts and words point is not a region within human society any more than it is a region within human geography; it is that condition of human relationships, public and private, where the purpose of God is determinative for men and women and so becomes visible in our history – a condition that can be partially realised in the life of the community around Jesus but waits for its full embodiment in a future only God knows. And for the first and second generations of believers, the community in which relation with the Risen Jesus transforms all relationships into the exchange of the gifts given by Jesus’ Spirit has come to be seen as the historical foretaste of this future, as it is here and now the embodiment of Jesus’ own identity – the Body of Christ – to the extent it shows this new quality of relation.

The Church is, in this perspective, the trustee of a vision that is radical and universal, the vision of a social order that is without fear, oppression , the violence of exclusion and the search for scapegoats because it is one where each recognizes their dependence on all and each is seen as having an irreplaceable gift for all. The Church cannot begin to claim that it consistently lives by this; its failure is all too visible, century by century. But its credibility does not hang on its unbroken success; only on its continued willingness to be judged by what it announces and points to, the non-competitive, non-violent order of God’s realm, centred upon Jesus and accessible through commitment to him. Within the volatile and plural context of a society that has no single frame of moral or religious reference, it makes two fundamental contributions to the common imagination and moral climate. The first is that it declares that, in virtue of everyone’s primordial relation to God (made in God’s image), the dignity of every person is non-negotiable: each has a unique gift to give, each is owed respect and patience and the freedom to contribute what is given them.
(If you'd like to read the rest of the lecture, click here.)

These are important points always, but especially when we as a parish, a diocese, a church, and a Communion, are trying to discern how best to reconcile and heal differences. Discernment takes time.

No doubt some this week, who tend to look for immediacy and even work to short-circuit discernment, will be looking to highlight rumors and "leaks" out of New Orleans.

You won't find any of that here. If you want real news out of New Orleans, stay tuned to Episcopal Life Online. Our Church has excellent writers and staff working hard to get news out to our Church and Communion.

Or head over to The Episcopal Cafe. Jim Naughton and friends will be keeping an eye out for any concrete news. During the meeting, "Information is likely to be scarce and anxiety high," Jim writes. "In such situations, the significance of whatever little information is available is frequently blown out of proportion, so reader beware."

Good advice, don't you think?

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