Our ecclesiology class last semester was given the task of responding personally to the Lambeth Commission on Communion’s Windsor Report. I won’t reproduce mine in its entirety, but I invite you to read it here if you wish to better understand my take on the document as a whole. Instead, I wanted to highlight the last few paragraphs of the paper, wherein I made what I know to be a dangerous proposition. Basically I told the Church to keep its mouth shut for a while. I know that probably comes a shock to many of you, both liberal and conservative, and I recognize that there are many flaws in that statement…yet I would ask that you consider the underlying situation that gives rise to such a recommendation, as well as the history of the Christian Church over the past century in particular. Here is what I wrote:
What Williams highlights is that the Body of Christ is like a family. We don’t have a say in who Jesus calls to follow him, any more than the Twelve had a say in who their fellows would be—Jesus called them without a search committee. And since we don’t pick our family, and because we can’t make ourselves not a family, we have to, at some level, endure the disagreements between us as Christians as the marks and wounds of the Body of Christ in the present. The most pronounced of these wounds may be those that come from division within the Body, i.e. schism and denominationalism, yet they are not the only wounds. Disagreement and vitriol over ethical, moral and political issues also cause wounds, because these are all places where people feel deeply and where a difference in language or worldview—even a slight one—becomes very pronounced. Yet:
“If I conclude that my Christian brothers or sisters are deeply and damagingly mistaken in their decisions, I [must] accept for myself the brokenness in the Body that this entails. These are my wounds, just as those who disagree with me are wounded by what they consider to be my failure or even betrayal. So long as we still have a language in common and the ‘grammar of obedience’ in common, we have, I believe, to turn away from the temptation to seek the purity and assurance of a community speaking with only one voice and to embrace the reality of living in a communion that is fallible and divided.”
The recognition that we live in a broken church, amid a broken world with broken people is one that carries with it the death of illusions, but also a sort of freedom. The freedom is in recognizing that the members of the Body do not all have to speak with one voice until our Lord returns, save on dramatic issues where one would desire such univocality in support of the good and resistance of the evil. (Yet, as the situation of the German churches in WWII shows, this may not be the case.)
In spite of this recognition of division—or perhaps because of it—we must recognize the limits of the Church’s corporate voice. Whether it is the urge to speak on contentious issues on which the church has no clear tradition, or speaking in such a way as to reverse tradition on a contentious issue, we must be willing to be dissenters, and not prematurely force change or agreement. On issues where there is the potentiality to fracture the Body on an international scale, one must seek council and be completely honest, and in the end we must be willing to accept the Chuch’s silence as an icon of fragmentation within the Body. In the end, no single portion of the Body can take on itself the authority to alter received tradition on issues where no consensus has been reached. Nor should the Church seek to create division by speaking too often about too little to no end but to bruise consciences and feelings. Part of what it means to accept the lack of purity within the Church is being willing to wait on the movement of the Spirit rather than seeking ways to force God’s hand.