Radical Preaching

Can preaching again have something to say?
This blog marks the attempt to bring the theological vision of Radical Orthodoxy into the worship and preaching of the local church.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Testimony to Ecumenism

On the Feast Day of William Temple

Today’s lectionary reading in the daily cycle brings us this passage from the Gospel of Matthew:

Matthew 13:18-23 (NRSV)

18 "Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

One of the great oddities of contemporary American Christianity is its insistence on division as a means of holiness. It lacks either the creativity or comprehension of a faith that is vibrant enough to engage the world that surrounds it as an exile in the model of Jeremiah and diaspora Judaism. As a result, it attempts to manipulate the state into a means of spreading Christian dogma through legal means, consider it an Evangelical version of Franco’s Spain. Domination of the other seems to be one of its primary goals and it considers this goal as a means of converting the unbelievers.

Unlike this approach, Jesus offers us the parable of the sower and the seed. The seed is sown, God waters it, and it will grow depending on where it lands. This landing should probably not be understood in predestination terms (a la Calvin), rather it should be understood as the place we are when we hear it. The point is that the seed cannot be coerced into growing. The models of the Inquisition and of Franco are contrary to the gospel Jesus gives us.

Rather, in light of the testimony of William Temple, let us examine the beauty of the Elizabethan compromise. While this claim was certainly a political move, it also codified the via media. The idea that “all may, some should, none must" is at the heart of the Anglican via media. It presupposes the dignity of the human person and grants the freedom to make decisions free of coercion. It understands that the seed cannot be forced to grow; rather, the seed is best left sown and allowed to grow as it may. If it snatched away, it must be resown. If it is shallow, it will soon wither. If it is entangled in the cares of the world or the lure of wealth, it will not thrive. If it lands in good soil, it will blossom.

William Temple was renowned for his ecumenism. Ecumenism requires that Christians of varied traditions allow others to interpret specific passages and dogmas differently, yet understands that the resurrection of our Lord is at the center of Christian identity. It understands that we are the Body of Christ and dependant upon each other in order to truly reflect our Lord to the watching world. To use Milbank as an interlocutor, it understands that an ontology of peace allows for difference that creates harmony rather than chaos. We do not need homogeneity, we need to be the Body of Christ without schism or division in order to reflect the unity of our God. Holiness is certainly part of who God is, but separation need not be monastic or exclusionary. As Jesus sat with those that the holy called sinners, he reflected the Kingdom come.

On the feast day of William Temple, one of the doctors of the Anglican Church, let us celebrate the Church catholic. Let us hope for a day when we see more similarity with our brothers and sisters in the faith rather than our differences. As we work together for that day, let us be encouraged by the life and thought of William Temple and allow the seed to bear fruit a hundredfold.


Blogger Thunder Jones said...

Rowan Williams wrote a really great piece on Thomas Hooker that touches some of the same points I made in this essay.

Read it here:


October 27, 2005 1:05 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I read about William Temple this morning. What a blessing it would be if we all learned to listen to each other, especially in moments of strife and contention.

Grace and Peace,

October 27, 2005 6:22 PM  
Blogger David said...

As a former Anglican myself, I thank God for my experiences there. I came to Anglicanism through Evangelicalism. It was from within Anglicanism that I first introduced and fell in love with the liturgy (specifically the Eucharist). I was introduced to Church History (specifically the Church Fathers & Desert Fathers) there. It was from within Anglicanism that I first received my calling to ministry.

Saying that I must say the following though. King Henry VII divisions with Rome centered on the sacrament of marriage. King Henry demanded re-marriage, which violated his earlier sacrament. When the Church refused, he split the Church of England from Rome. Yes, it was "political" b/c the Church of England retained all the sacraments (more or less). The Anglican Reformation serves a bridge between Catholicism and Protestantism.

One must look at reality though and state that Anglicanism does not represent any type of unity. For example, consider the issue of the Eucharist for Anglicans. It can be either the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ OR it can just be bread and wine. This cannot be, it's either one or the other. This is one of many ways via media creates confusion and disunity on an essential dogmatic matter of faith.

Consider also the issue of women & gay ordination and a number of other unacceptable social positions that violate Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. It literally torn the Anglican Communion apart from a practical standpoint. I know this for a fact b/c I lived through this myself and still have friends within Anglicanism. I also have many friends (priests and laymen) who left it for Eastern Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

October 28, 2005 8:03 AM  
Blogger Scott said...


I read an article in First Things several years ago, and I can't remember the title or the author. It discussed how the problems being played out in the Anglican church today began in the late 1950s and 1960s when Episcopals began to move away from their polity and moved into the language of a rights based conception of the world. He saw the problem beginning when the ECUSA refused to discipline bishops who disavowed the Trinity, and other core Christian beliefs.

I serve a denomination where there is some degree of theological difference (although I am clearly in the minority) although not on the question of homosexuality. The thing that irks me throughout it is the lack of conversation that takes place. When talking ceases, only caricature and rhetorical violence remain. I think it is a very difficult road to walk- maintaining in a meaningful way the faith handed over by the saints while at the same time being charitable. This is something we evangelical Protestants can learn well from our Catholic brothers and sisters. I am always amazed at the ability of Catholicism to bring together unimaginable differences in worship and polity. Thanks David for your post.

Grace and Peace,

October 28, 2005 8:18 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home