Our recent political turmoil has caused a lot of soul-searching and has led many to ask, “Does the system work?” (Whatever that may mean.) The analysis of voting patterns has examined (amongst other things) how certain positions cross party-political lines. For me, at any rate, this has been a reminder of the difficulty in applying labels to people, whether that is done by a person to himself or by one person to another.
“I’m a Labour supporter.” “I’m a Conservative.” When challenged to go deeper, problems immediately appear, and I think this is also true for us as Christians, which is why I often prefer to state what I believe on a point-by-point basis, rather than labelling myself as this or that. It is a more laborious way of communicating, to be sure, but I think it is more likely to produce fruitful, open dialogue.
As Christians we often talk about growth, about maturity. We have each deepened our understanding of topics as time has gone on, sometimes switching sides. An example might be an Anglican becoming Orthodox, or a Protestant moving from Arminianism to Calvinism. That process can be hindered by insisting on rigid labels to define ourselves. It can be made worse when people insist on particular issues as necessary in order to “belong to the club”.
Now I am not advocating that we abandon such core concepts as the Trinity or Baptism, but I do wonder sometimes whether our rhetoric is needlessly alienating at times. A classic example of this is the use of the name “Reformed” to refer to a particular kind of church, as if other churches had not also gone through a process of reformation. Nowadays, I hope most Christians would look past such things, but we know these matters never fully go away.
It seems to me that such factionalism, such desire to categorise on the basis of inclusion and exclusion springs from a fundamental desire for belonging and security (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, anyone?). Loneliness is felt not only in empty spaces, but also in crowded rooms. We seek for communion by instinct, looking desperately for connections. In the Church, Christ provides the basis for communion, but He also calls us to meet with “the other”. In the Church, one finds Jew and Gentile, East and West, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, and so forth.Our common life is not established through making us clones; it is the Spirit of Christ in each of us, calling us to love one another.
But we need a shared vision. That vision is not about socio-economics, specific forms of worship, codes of law, or the other things that so easily distract us. Our shared vision is the Great Commission: to preach the Christ to all nations, making disciples and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. “The Mission” should be our rallying cry at this time of upheaval and uncertainty. “Christ crucified!”
We have so many wounds in our society, and also in the Church itself. What did Christ say at His revelation in Nazareth? “He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” It is Christ who is the healer, Yahweh Rophecha. He has made us one in His flesh. The theology of the Incarnation is indeed soteriological, but it is also ecclesiological. God, as S. Paul said to the Athenians, made us all of one blood, the blood of Adam. We are one as the seed of Adam. But we are also one through the body and blood of Christ; we are in Him, the Seed of Abraham. Now is the time to remember that His life flows in all of us.