Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Language of Disunity

The Christian year sees us at that wonderful crossover time of Pentecost and Trinity before the long green months. In Pentecost, we see the undoing of Babel; in the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we see the perfect unity of God in three persons. These two Sundays, vital in the Church seasons, are about the uniting of what cannot seem to be united.

I alluded, in a recent sermon, to the undeniable fact that if we approach God through Our Lord Jesus Christ, then we must necessarily approach other seekers of God through Our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, if we are not drawing closer to such folk, then it is clear that we are not in The Way. I have previously drawn an analogy of our movement to the meeting of parallel lines at "infinity". The Father truly draws us, like a moth to a flame, though of course some choose their own course and are drawn to the neon lights of the world. If we are truly being empowered to follow God through the Holy Spirit, then that power must be unifying, not divisive.

Of course, I've touched this subject before, and many who have talked with me about it, express their heavy-hearted view that unity cannot come this side of the Day of Days. They are right. Whilst humanity still walks in the way of the fallen, and bears the burden of the knowledge of sin and its inevitability, the Human Will will flag and pull us off course. We must trust in the guidance of the Holy Ghost. 

Humanity doesn't have the greatest record for expressing unity. Certainly there are many words which we can use to separate, divide and differentiate, rather than integrate, multiply and gather. In Church circles, we have such words as: irregular, invalid, heretical, anathema which run counter to communion, catholic, valid and canonical. Yet, if we use the word "communion" it's largely accompanied by the words "out of"; the word "valid" is accompanied by "orders" and the obligatory "?"; the word "Catholic" gets associated with "whosoever will be saved : before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly." One cannot think of words of unity without thinking of how words of disunity are used.

Of course this is inevitable. God has called the Church out of the world. He has called it to be different from the world, distinctive from the world, visible to the world. We are presented with the Great Dichotomy, in or out, sacred or profane, truth or falsehood, destiny or doom. The Gnostic heresy (oops! there's a word of disunity) presents us with a very clear false dichotomy - Flesh is evil, Spirit is good. That runs counter to the doctrines of Creation and Incarnation and yet it is still bubbling under in our culture, even if that culture seems to be more materialist.

The way we are able to talk about even being involves dichotomy. We can only distinguish things if they are different. We have to be able to separate in order to say anything meaningful at all. Thus, discrimination is a vital part of our understanding of anything. We should not be ashamed by this in any way, and yet we are! While there are many incidents of sexism and unfair discrimination between men and women (usually against women), it is the very act of trying to be "inclusive" to minority groups that is causing yet more unfair discrimination. Should a "former" man transexual be allowed to use the ladies' restroom? That might sound petty, but the ladies' restroom is often a place of safety and sanctuary for those feeling a bit vulnerable. Those who believe in same-sex Holy Matrimony are calling anathema to those that do not and seeking legal ways of enforcing that anathema. The root of this is a failure to accept a simple, natural and healthy dichotomy that men are men and women are women and there is no middle ground save a few biological cases of intersex - there aren't as many as people think!

Disunity is not the same as discrimination. Discrimination allows us to tell things apart. Disunity keeps things apart. If we look at the Body of Christ, we can tell all kinds of Christians of different persuasions. These persuasions are based on interpretations of the Christian Faith. One can discriminate between these interpretations such as between Roman Catholic and Old Roman Catholic by looking at history, but then that discrimination can turn into a disunity by one declaring the other invalid.

Some interpretations of Christianity are indeed invalid. If you have to change the Biblical text physically to support your interpretation as the Jehovah's Witnesses have done, then this is not Christianity. It is another religion which has just as much human right to exist as any other, just as much human right to be free from persecution, just as much human right to be respected, just as much human right to thrive and grow, but it is not Christian. If Christianity is indeed true (and I believe so strongly that it is) then that interpretation is indeed finite in its lifespan.

We Anglican Catholics have our interpretation of Christianity and are committed to seeking the Truth. We do not believe in unity at any price, but rather unity where there is real unity. In order to unite there has to be discrimination and discernment. As our statement on Church Unity says:
As criteria for engaging in formal dialogue with other Churches aimed at achieving full communion or ultimately organic unity, we would see their possession of historic continuity in Catholic Faith and Apostolic Order, including doctrine and discipline faithfully reflecting the canons and decrees of the seven Ecumenical Councils, with recognizably common Scriptures, Creeds, Sacraments and Ministry, as the starting point, not the conclusion, of such endeavors. These are the minimum requirements for the recovery of authentic Christian unity, and we have no authority to alter or reduce them. To those who embrace them we will gladly extend the right hand of fellowship.

This statement may upset some, even many, but if we're pursuing the Truth what can we do? Truth naturally divides from Falsehood, so Our Lord comes not to bring us unity but a sword to divide Truth from Falsehood. Unity with God means being cut off from that which is not God. We must allow that disunity for the simple sake of just existing, and having our existence begun, continued and ended in God.

The world contains much Evil - much not-God. It is this that needs to be shown up even if it exists in our own hearts. If we are to exist as units with a degree of freedom that God wants us to possess, then we have to know Evil as much as it makes us ill in doing so. Yet it is the distinction between Good and Evil that is blurred in our own, fallible minds and without God shining light on us and drawing us, we will not be able to discern the difference. Unity with the world is not an option, as there is Evil in the world, not as a whole, but as an infection. Unity with God is the salvation and it comes with division, but only of the right kind. Thank God for His terrible swift sword!

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