The body [of Christ] is an organic unity which cannot be divided without damage to the whole. Life flows from the stem to the branches, from the head to the members. Christ is the vine, he is the body. We are incorporated in him. A branch cut off withers and dies. A member cut off ceases to exist. To belong to Christ is to belong to his Church. In the perspective of the New Testament, a Christian living in isolation is unthinkable-- a contradiction in terms.
Again, the life of the body implies diversity in unity. This is Paul's dominant thought in both Rom., ch. 12, and I Cor., chs. 12 to 14. There are many gifts and corresponding functions. God is the giver. Therefore, no one can pride himself on his gifts nor disregard the gifts of others. And fullness of life is attained only when all members of the body are healthy and contribute to the life of the whole.
We are here given some precious instructions as to the life and structure of the church. There is a diversity of ministries, that is, of "services." If there is a hierarchy of functions, it can only be according to the measure of the Spirit that God bestows. Those who are leaders should consider themselves as those who serve, in all humility and love. (See Rom. 12:3-11; I Cor. 12:4-31; Luke 22: 26.) And of all gifts, the greatest-- without which all others are of no avail--is love. This ios the recurring note in all the apostolic letters, as in the sayings of Jesus himself. (See I Cor. ch. 13; Phil. 2:1-8; I John, chs. 3:14-18, 4:7-12; John 13:34.)
The very insistence in these letters on "mutual subjection," on forbearance, each counting others better than himself and seeking their interest rather than his own (Eph. 5:21; Phil. 2:3-4), shows that failure to fulfill the law of love has been one of the stumbling blocks of Christian communities from the very beginning. But it was also considered as the decisive test of their discipleship. The danger in taking pride in one's own gifts while disregarding those of others was always looming on the horizon, as is shown by the chaotic assemblies at Corinth. Paul firmly reminds the churches that "God is not the God of confusion but of peace" (I Cor. 14:33; see also the entire chapter). Every gift must be used for the building up of the church.
Furthermore, the unity of the church is seen at the same time both as something given and as a goal to be attained. Unity belongs to the very essence of the church! "There is one body and one Spirit,... one hope... one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all." (Eph. 4:4-6). The passage is probably referring to the unity of Jews and Gentiles, but the truth it states remains the same for the church throughout the world. It is not in our power to make the church one, for the unity is God-given. We can only manifest this unity in word and deed.
-- Suzanne de Dietrich, The Witnessing Community, 1958.
These words were written fifty years ago in the context of the strengthening Ecumenical movement throughout the world. As I read them, I think of so many of our leaders who would profit from contemplating the truth expressed here.
How committed, truly, can the Episcopal Church, or certainly the Anglican Communion, be toward the goal of unifying the visible, human-wrought fractures within the body of Christ, to the spirit of ecumenism, if we cannot even speak to each other without wanting to cull, to exclude, to build a fence around our little corner of heaven?
On August 23 this year, Christians worldwide will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the World Council of Churches. Anglicans proudly played a prominent role alongside so many others in founding this noble body, and yet if we look at the crises facing the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in 2008, how can we hold up our heads without shame?
If you listen to the debate between the two sides of the current schism in San Joaquin or elsewhere, all one is likely to hear is a prettified version of "You started it!" "Did not!" "Did TOO!" What's next? Catcalls and Bronx cheers? Of course, to be fair, when the United States has been led all too willingly for nigh the last decade by people who engage in the same kind of playground idiocy, but on a global scale resulting in the death or exile of millions, I guess we shouldn't be too surprised. But it is time to put away childish things-- more than time, indeed-- and attempt to really live the message of the Gospel, not just random bits of scripture plucked from the margins of the message of Christ, ignoring the centrality of this truth:
THAT MESSAGE WAS AND IS AND ALWAYS SHALL BE, LOVE.
There certainly is no love in the hearts of most involved in this scandal. If there was, we certainly wouldn't be in the mess in which we find ourselves. There may be love at the base of all this dissension, but it's love of self and love of station and love of victimhood and love of privilege.
Call me naive-- I care not. But if the actions of Christians are not rooted in love, then they are not rooted in Christ, and ought not to be countenanced.
When I was in school, I had an English teacher who claimed to be the most confirmed of Christians, and she had the opportunity through the curriculum of the public schools to teach the Old Testament as literature. Unfortunately, as she force-fed us sermons by right-wing evangelists and hounded the Jewish kid in the third row, most of us noticed how very small her love of her fellow-man seemed to be. Her face set into a perpetual scowl, she regaled us with stories of death and destruction, of a vengeful God smiting in righteous anger. She saw nothing wrong with a God who would send a couple of bears to eat up a bunch of kids for making fun of the bald pate of a prophet. I'm sure this lady thought she was saving our souls from eternal damnation-- but her mien did more to turn some classmates from the message of Christ than she ever even knew. I will acknowledge having loads of fun asking her exactly on what day man was created and who Abel married and other sorts of smart-ass adolescent mockery which really was not very nice. But there was certainly no love in her faith.
And it's the same now. We are called to be one body. We are called to labor for the love of Christ, to name the grace that has touched and transformed us like a bolt of lightning. The words are simple, but the action and the fulfillment strain us to the utmost. It would help if we would try.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, both sides of the disagreement over slavery found ample Biblical support for their positions. In the 20th century, the Pauline epistles were used -- and are still used, if the current controversy in Wales or in our own Diocese of Springfield, Illinois is any example--to both support and condemn the ordination of women. The heart of these disputes lies in the fact that the Biblical canon is seen as both the inspired Word of God and is acknowledged as having been assembled by very human men several centuries after Christ. None of the Gospels is coterminous with Christ's ministry. Epistles by Paul made the cut even if the authorship was dubious, while other epistles, such as those by Clement, fell by the wayside, however important they had been in the early life of the Church. We have to acknowledge that Scripture is a part of our tradition, and look at what the overarching message of Christ is through his example and his presence in our hearts.
Of course we all struggle with this love of those who oppose us or argue with us or condemn us. But at the very least, can't we recognize this fault in ourselves and try to overcome it? And I certainly need to do this as much as anyone else. Lord, make me an instrument of your love. Amen.