Thursday, August 19, 2010

There is one gospel, only one, because there is only one Jesus Christ

The gospel is about Jesus Christ. It is both the message Christ proclaims and the message which proclaims Christ. It is one message because there is only one Christ, not two or three or more. Only one Christ has spoken to us, and only one Christ has died on the cross and risen again for our sakes. The fact of Christian disunity is at variance with the uniqueness of Christ and of his gospel. The deconstruction of disunity and reconstruction of Christian unity is urgently required as testimony to the uniqueness of Christ and the singularity of the gospel. Plaintive cries about the value of diversity in Christianity and the celebration of difference between Christians can hide a lack of understanding about the calling of those who claim to be followers of Christ, those named Christians after the one Christ: the calling is not to be divided but to be one body.

'There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.' (Ephesians 4:4-6).

With respect to the Anglican Communion, and to individual member churches of the Communion, we are a very long way from appreciating these simple facts of the Christian faith. For a long time now we have had bishops and theologians who have shied away from public commitment to the centrality and uniqueness of Christ. At all levels of the church we have had a rising chorus of affirmation of 'diversity' unchecked by any control through unequivocal commitment to one gospel and one Lord Jesus Christ. Further, we have utterly failed to work resolutely towards Anglican means of ensuring that our Communion together is based upon one gospel and one Christ. Mention the possibility of a doctrinal commission with teeth, propose a Covenant which could reinforce and renew our understanding of unity in truth with binding and loosing powers in respect of disunity, then stand back and wait, for about a second, for outrage and scorn (at worst) or doubt and objections (at best). We are in a fool's paradise if we think that we can renew our communion together while we have 'Instruments of Communion' that are not co-ordinate with each other, and the greatest energy of some of our most intelligent theologians and bishops is spent on pointing out all the reasons why we should not have a Covenant, let alone an Anglican magisterium!

Thanks to an American correspondent, this post (which is far from the final one in this series!) can conclude with this fine essay on the one gospel by Williams Porcher Du Bose:

"My own firm conviction is that the variant conceptions of the Gospel in the New Testament, so far from being different gospels, are consistent and mutually completive aspects of the one and only Gospel. In proportion as we conceive the Gospel of God in its entirety and in its immensity, in just that degree do all scriptural, as well as all truly Christian and catholic, statements of it, no matter how partial and seemingly contradictory in themselves, fall into their proper places and serve to magnify the greatness and harmony of the whole. If the Gospel is divine at all, it is the divinest fact of the universe, the final cause of creation, the end for which all else exists. Mistake any one fragment or aspect of it for the whole, and all the other fragments and aspects will be involved in confused and hopeless contention with it for the usurped position. Let the whole stand out for itself in its complete proportions, and every part falls of itself into its proper place, and is confirmed and supported in it by every other part. . . .

I have recognized the fact that even within the narrower limits of the Gospels which give us our record of the Gospel, there are not only possible but actual diverse impressions of what the Gospel is; and that not only is full justice due to each such impression, taken by itself and for its own sake, but that the very fullest justice to each is the only way of arriving at the truth of all, or at the truth of the whole of which they are the complementary and necessary parts. The one great lesson that must forerun and make ready the Christian unity of the future is this: that contraries do not necessarily contradict, nor need opposites always oppose. What we want is not to surrender or abolish our differences, but to unite and compose them. We need the truth of every variant opinion and the light from every opposite point of view. The least fragment is right in so far as it stands for a part of the truth. It is wrong only when, as so often, it elevates into a ground of division from the other fragments just that which in reality fits it to unite with and supplement them. . . .
So let us agree to disagree, if conscientiously we must, in all our manifold differences; and, bringing all our differences together, let us see if they are not wiser than we, and if they cannot and will not of themselves find agreement in a unity that is higher and vaster than we.

From the preface to The Gospel in the Gospels by William Porcher Du Bose (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1908)".


Anonymous said...

You keep banging away at this approach over and over from different directions. You are seeking something that protestantism, by its very essence, cannot offer you. It has been a problem from protestantism's very inception. Bang away at this all you like. Your approach leads logically to only one conclusion which it appears your prejudices cannot yet, and maybe never will be able to, accept.


Peter Carrell said...

Perhaps I am being naive here, Alison, but are you implying that the resolution of protestant difficulties over protestant troubles lies across the Tiber in Rome?

Howard Pilgrim said...

I will buy your central proposition, Peter, that there is now and has only ever been one gospel, because there is only one Christ, with two careful provisos:
1. One gospel does not mean one theology.
2. The one gospel does not legitimise anyone's magisterium.

Simple enough? :)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
Umm, I do not think there can be more than one theology either, if by 'theology' we mean the expression of the meaning of the gospel and its implications for the world.

And, it is not a question of one gospel legitimising anyone's magisterium, but of what magisterium will ensure the defence of one gospel against other gospels emerging.

Why not have a magisterium which is clearly defined and easily recognised? There is a magisterium at work in Anglicanism, but it is shadowy, secretive, and difficult to challenge because it operates with nods and winks.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Hmmm indeed!

1. Only one expression of the meaning of the gospel and its implications for the world? Wow! Where has this amazing theological expression been then for the last 2000 years. (Don't say "scripture", please)

2. Where was your magisterium 500 years ago, and how did it protect the one gospel from new expressions during the Reformation?

3. New point:- are you dreaming? :)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,

(1) I have a broad conception of that one expression of life in Christ!

(2) The failure of the magisterium of 500 years ago suggests it is more than timely that a new (and Anglican) model of magisterium is rolled out soon.

(3) I am thinking of the way in which we Anglicans have ways and means of ensuring that the 'right person for the job' is selected or elected in respect of adhering to a presumed respectable, centrist, not too demanding theology and ecclesiology. The specs of this 'correct theology' are never written down, but they are as real as the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Howard Pilgrim said...

The right person every time, eh?

There was an archbishop called Plumb
Whose faith was as broad as his bum,
ex cathedra he spake,
to all who would take
his opinions as gospel, ho hum.

Howard Pilgrim said...

One further thought:-

A learned theologian I hold dear,
Found an answer to our problems very near:
When all the fish in his aquarium
Set up a magisterium
The waters in their tank stayed very clear.

Peter Carrell said...

That's it, Howard! Clean out the tank of all the murky water ... :)

Howard Pilgrim said...

And then of course there is another aspect to this discussion:-

Benedict, the reigning pope in Rome,
Is inviting Anglo-Catholics to come home;
For,lacking magisteria,
All other churches are inferior,
And in the paths of error apt to roam.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
You are coming dangerously close to a declaration that you have missed your calling :)

Howard Pilgrim said...

I take it you are referring to my potential as a poet, Peter. Any calling to the papist priesthood was long ago ruled out by my not having the gift of celibacy (not that that has stopped some of them...)