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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Monday, December 01, 2003

Systematics Journal Entry #12

This week’s readings had to do with the theology of church, and the titles of the chapters in which the various authors expound on the topic are telling: Rowan Williams writes on “Incarnation and the Renewal of Community;” Daniel Migliore discusses “The New Community;” and Mary Hines presents “Community for Liberation.” The three authors begin with two things in common: all are convinced of the nature of community as both inherent and necessary to the Christian life; and all see the need for revision of the current image and practice of that community. From that point, they diverge.

Hines, as you might expect, points to the conflict between the hierarchical structure of the Roman Catholic tradition, and the theological understanding of the laity, born largely out of Vatican II reforms, that “We are the church!” She maintains that “a massive transformation of the church’s structures is needed to free them from the patriarchal, hierarchical, and clerical assumptions that prevent the church from becoming a prophetic community of equal disciples committed to the task of liberation for all people.” (p. 163-164)

Migliore is not speaking to one specific tradition. However, he is concerned with traditional denominational boundaries, in that his writing speaks to the necessity of renewing the unity of the church. Our fractured understandings have us prioritizing the attributes of the church: preferring an emphasis on the Word, for example, over the sacraments, or vice versa. Migliore holds that this all too human tendency to pick and choose, to insist that one is more important than the other, is not only divisive, but destructive to the integrity of the church as the Body of Christ. (p. 200 - 201).

I was surprised to find that Williams strayed the farthest from the current structures of church, denomination and tradition as they now stand. He does so intentionally, emphasizing the radical reconstruction of holistic, communal understanding that Jesus’ life and ministry brings, overriding every other concept and community that we construct for ourselves. “The church must first understand its distinctiveness and separateness-- not from the human race but from all communities and kinships whose limits fall short of the human race.” (p. 233)

This is the first time, I think, that I’ve been able to side with the good archbishop. I find Hines’ concerns valid, but too narrow; and Migliore’s stance seems to me to be rather a natural outgrowth of what Williams posits here.


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