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BEING THE CHURCH

+Michael Ramsey’s book, “The Gospel and the Catholic Church” caught my imagination when I was a teen and continues to inform my theology and ecclesiology to this day. I recommend it. Much of the chatter about evangelism, the nature of the church,and its mission, receive a thorough treatment by Ramsey. It may be dated, but so is the Gospel and so is the Church.

Perhaps it is too much to say that the “Evangelical Way” is about evangelism in a stark manner. “Have you been saved?” Our way, and largely has ever been, the concept that belonging to Jesus is first a corporate matter, and an individual one in that we live, move and have our being in the corporate Body of Christ. That is one of the reasons why Anglicans have such a horror of schism. We went through that and discovered just how wretched the way becomes in isolation. The schismatic church is open to the whims of its present members. Corporate schism is just personalized religion “write large.”

It is in baptism that we are saved and come into the presence of Jesus. Salvation isn’t some personal bargain between God and me, by which I surrender and get the prize of eternal life. What a selfish transaction that would be. Rather, in baptism God acts towards us, by and through the community we call the Church, the Body of Christ. It is God’s body. It is NOT our body, to create, or destroy. In the local manifestation of the Body, the parish church, we are nurtured into holiness. By “holiness” we mean “set apartness.” We are set apart not because we are good, but because we have a mission. We have been called to Israel’s old mission.

Puritans have a practical streak in them. Seeing that so many don’t seem to be “saved” after baptism, in a most unbiblical manner, they reject baptism as a salvic action and prefer to judge individuals based on their “goodness.” Scripture tells us that the status of the baptised isn’t for us to judge. Our job is to care and to restore those whose conduct and commitment hamper the work of the church and thereby harm those who “err and stray” and those with whom they associate. The way we act is never personal.

Word and Sacraments sustain our corporation, and feed us in order that we may grow into the fullness of the statue of Christ. In the church locally we learn to know Christ in worship and in each other. We learn tolerance in mutual submission, based not on opinion but on our common baptized status. We are united in order that through our mutual mission and self oblation we may efficiently show forth Christ until he returns. The Church may present no stumbling block save that of Christ, who is always the scandal. We show Christ forth by seeking to be, together, his very Presence. No single person may show forth Christ alone. It is the Body which shows the Body.

The task of the parish church is to be open to grace in its breadth and depth and height. It is not efficiency, nor program which enables this to happen. That is why outward and visible signs are not magic, but rather openings to the Divine activity. Certainly what the vestry or parson dream up is, in the long run, neither here nor there, thank God. Both have come and gone through the years, but the Church remains. Worship, and our intentional participation therein provides the avenue whereby we grow into the Trinity and are used by the Trinity.

As an aside it is vital to note that our Elizabethan ancestors saw the Word not so much in terms of preaching as in the Word heard in the public readings, the lectionary, the Propers for the Christian Year and the words of the Liturgy. Our bishops then had much trouble with parsons who ignored the Christian Year, the lectionary and the Liturgy and preached their own narrow interests. Nothing changes.

Programs and “systems” may be helpful or not. They may well be the modern equivalent of the Puritan’s”rantings:”, divisive and intolerant versions of the Faith. But they are not the Gospel and not the Church. Campaigns and projects may or may not be helpful, but they are not, in themselves, the Gospel and the Church. We may and ought to feed and heal, but always remembering that Jesus did the same and they howled “Crucify”. The road of love is never the road to success, at least until the Cross and cross-bearing become our experience. Why did Jerusalem kill the prophets? Largely because “Jerusalem” substituted an easy going amorality for God’s will and commandments. We prefer a tolerant God who treats us as individuals to whom has been given a tailor made faith. Turkish Delight!

The most effective work of education and evangelism the local church does is to make it possible for us to learn how to pray together. The second is to get us to understand that our personal salvation flows from our corporate salvation and not the other way round. +Tom Wright is good on this and I’d recommend most of his popular books on the subject. The good works God has vouchsafed for us to us to walk in are the results of grace and not their cause. The Prayer of Thanksgiving on page 339 gets it right. Oh that’s in Rite One. Sorry.

Issues, even the MDG are not the Gospel but if blessed flow from the Gospel and the Catholic Church. Political parties have programs and platforms which are all important But we are the Church in time and eternity, Our task is to be the Church, the embodiment corporately of the Living Christ. We make the church too small because we have politicized and programmed it to death.

No wonder so many young people,who can get their politics more efficiently on line, seek something and Someone beyond our Issues and denominational idolatry. I am not aware of any grace bestowed in baptism or ordination which grants us unique political wisdom. We may and should seek to apply the Gospel to our politics as citizens. We may never demand that other Christians, attempting in faith to reach conclusions with which we differ, be marginalized. But the trick is applying the Gospel to politics, ecclesial and secular through the obstacles of “denominationalism”, nationalism and state-worship, through the prejudices with which we have been shaped and molded. I am aware that the Gospel enlightens us to love in self sacrifice. I am also aware that only when the Church demonstrates that self-oblation internally may the watching world see the Presence of Christ in action. It is only when the church is international that it may be Catholic. We have no choice about our commitment to catholicism. We believe the Creeds. We do not believe in TEC except as a convenient historical accident and an efficient vehicle for the Gospel and the Catholic Faith.

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