On the morning of 28 February, during his second day of visiting the offices of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, Archbishop Rowan Williams of the Church of England addressed a round table discussion on the unity of the Christian church (02/28/12). His comments are noteworthy, at least so far as I am concerned.
The Archbishop said, “Unity is neither a means nor an end.” He told assembled staff, visitors and governing body members of the WCC and other organizations in the Ecumenical Center that, “Unity is what God has given us in the church.”
Williams also noted that the responsibility of Christians who receive the gift of unity lies in “seeking a life in which no one is without the other.” This life, “constantly moving us forward into a further truth," compels all who live within the love of God to ask the question: “Who is not yet here?”
According to John 17:20-23 the esteemed Archbishop of Canterbury is absolutely right about unity. It is neither a “means nor an end.” Unity is “what God has given us in the church.” This is what Jesus says and clearly what he means. We do not work for unity. We work from it to oppose schism and the spirit that opposes our oneness. When we seek to preserve the unity Jesus prayed for then we seek a life in which we cannot live without the other. This is why I call my vision “missional-ecumenism.” Our unity is in the Father’s love for the Son and the love of the Trinity for the whole world. We draw near Christ and by this we draw near to one another in this God-given unity.
And Archbishop Williams is also right when he says that when we move forward, in life together, we are compelled to ask, “Who is not yet here?”
Form my own deeply conservative, and quite suspicious, ecclesial background I never understood this point at all. Unity was, for me and my peers, an optional extra so long as people agreed with me/them. In my present state unity is neither an option nor an extra. It is inherent in the Father’s sending of the Son into the world to save the world. You must be persuaded of this truth by the Holy Spirit if you are to become a real missional-ecumenist. I have been. Have you?
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This was sort of an eye opening remark for me which I immediately reacted to by saying “of course”. Is there disunity in the Trinity? Is there confusion in God’s purpose and his trajectory of history? I hear so ofen (as late as yesterday) comments about how the personal willfulness of individuals can thwart the will of God in history and the Kingdom iteself in hangs in the balance of human whim. I recently read portion of Richar Rohr’s book “Breathing Under Water” and he states in regards to the human ego, “We think we are our thinking, and we even take that thinking as utterly “true,” which removes us at least two steps from reality itself.”
My sense is that if Fr. Rohr is right our egocentric notions of the importance of ourselves as being tantamount to the sum or our ideas and the fact that we are uncompromising on them, then our notion of Kingdom has very much to do with it being “my way or the highway” and that unity itself become heretical if it threatens our opinions. Clearly God cannot be waiting for all of us to agree but rather agreement is in His nature and it is us who must grow into a likeness of Him not the other way around. I hope this makes sense
What a wonderful and thoughtful response Ed. Fr. Rohr has become a guide to me and I feel as if I know him though we’ve not yet met. We do have mutual friends and I read him with much joy and profit personally. The idea of action and contemplation speaks deeply to me
I have followed your blog for several years and been challenged in my views as a Christian on many issues that you have addressed, but have never felt compelled to leave a comment. But this post simply leaves me perplexed. You see I am a conservative Anglican, and I have recently been reading Never Silent by Thaddeus Barnum. What makes this even more interesting is that I stumbled upon the Anglican church after attending one of your seminars on revival in eastern NC. I was telling some fellow church members about my background and how I came to be a part of the Anglican church, who then gave me the book Never Silent. And there on the first page is an endorsement from you.
So why and I perplexed? I am not quite sure how you can praise the words of Archbishop Rowan Williams about unity when you know well that this has resulted accepting the Episcopal church’s theological views which include openly denouncing the authority of the Bible, and Jesus as the only way to a relationship with the Father, and acceptance of homosexual marriage. And when I attend church each week we worship in a fellow church’s building because the Episcopal church has claimed rights to our old property (which was owned well before an Episcopal Church ever existed), and now threaten to sue us for monetary damages that put our future in serious jeopardy. And yet there stands Archbishop Williams allowing this to go on for the sake of unity.
I get it…you want the church to stop bickering over the small things, but next time please use a better example.