Friday, March 02, 2007

Communion and the Mirage of Consensus

There is one professor here at seminary who just retired and, don't tell him this, but at first I wasn't sure I'd like him. We were in a discussion group together and I felt like he felt he knew everything. This usually bothers me because, well, I should be the one who knows everything.

Then I had a class with him, and I was amazed at how comfortable he was asking questions and getting us to think rather than spouting formulaic answers and stealing thought away from us. As a matter of fact as the week wore on I found myself trying to nail him down to a view because he was frustrating me the way he would hold out on us. I kept expecting him to burst into a three hour soliloque and give us his "swan song" but he never did. By respecting us as people and not condescending us, even in this his last class as a professor, he instilled in us the empowerment to think and, ironically, the desire to learn from him.

So this morning I got a chance to talk to the guy and so I asked him something I realized had been bothering me. I dont'remember exactly how it went but basically I asked him: After all these years as a theologian and a teacher, don't you ever get frustrated that you haven't ARRIVED at a concise answer, or achieved a consensus for us all to agree on and follow? Doesn't it frustrate you that the next generation will basically try to deconstruct everything you've taught and take it from there?

Amazingly to me, his answer was no. He said he was one of these guys who started out thinking he just had to nail down the 12 point statement of faith and teach it to his understudies. But over time had to wrestle with the reality that we are always going to be learning and we will always be united as believers by something other than our KNOWING.

It is the Spirit who will teach. It is the Spirit who will unify. We are to shepherd. Our communion is not based on our agreement on this or that fine point of speculative theology, but on the reality of Jesus Christ having come to save us and the Spirit being present to guide us. This is how it will be until that ultimate end where we are united finally and beautifully as children of the Father.

I could have had communion with the guy then and there. Not because we have some sort of theological consensus (even though that is still a worthy goal) but because we have the same merciful God.

It makes me think of the churches we all dream of (or at least I do) where we all seem to be on the same page and we all dig the same things and so on. How powerful our unity would be if only we had more consensus. But it makes me wonder if the glory of communion, and thus the glory of the church, is that Christ brings together people around the body and the blood WHO WOULD NOT OTHERWISE HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH ONE ANOTHER.

This in turn reminds me of a quote from Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon:

The only way for the world to know that it is being redeemed is for the church to point to the Redeemer by being a redeemed people. The way for the world to know that it needs redeeming, that it is broken and fallen, is for the church to enable the world to strike hard against something which is an alternative to what the world offers.

The unity is in Christ and, often enough, in nothing else. Something tells me that, as frustrating as this might be at times, this is a good thing.


Tony Tanti said...

Hear hear, or is it hear here or here here? I never know.

Anyway, great entry Jon. As much as I struggle against a constant desire to be a cynic and to question everything I am struck more and more lately by our need as the church to be unified.

If in nothing else then let us be unified in the respect we pay each other.

matthew a. wilkinson said...

"If in nothing else then let us be unified in the respect we pay each other."

Yeah. I agree.

Too often the quest for unity means we bring everything down to it's lowest common denominator. I don't know how to get around this; but I know it's one of the many things that turns me off of the church.

This guy sounded like a great teacher.