Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On the One Thing Needed to Secure the Church's Existence

As we continue the move-in process and begin to get settled here in New Haven, the posts will remain scant around here for some time more. However, I wanted to offer a very brief comment that is in no way original, but bears repeating.

In Robert Jenson's Canon and Creed, he makes the statement that "the canon without the creed will not serve to protect the church against perversion of the gospel, and neither will the creed without the canon" (p. 32). Similar claims abound, and seem only to provoke counter-claims, concerning what is the "one thing needed" (whether it be an actual single thing or some combination) to somehow ensure, insure, protect, ground, establish, guard, or otherwise solidify the existence, endurance, and faithfulness of the church (or of the individual believer). Whether it be narrative, Scripture, discipline, creeds, creed + canon, magisterium, habits, locality, retreat, family, knowledge, activism, politics, whatever -- some thing or things, construed or combined, believed or possessed or enacted, will inevitably (and, however great a challenge, reliably) secure the life and faith of the church over time.

To repeat the one well-worn response to this omnipresent argument that is worth endorsing: There is no such thing, and never will be.

Not only is something like trustworthy security, however articulated, a mere illusion, a flat impossibility from the start; it simply does not belong to the church's form of life. Signing up for discipleship to Christ rids us at the outset of any expectation of security or enactable longevity. ("Just five easy steps to a faith/church/life you can count on.") Whatever solidity or perseverance our faith or community experiences (a better word would be discovers; the best: receives) will be, without exception, a gift from God beyond our plans and capabilities. Such a gift will itself not be an achievement we can claim, much less a possession we can get our hands around. And it will not be something like ground beneath our feet or a fence around our faith or a roof above our heads. Rather, it will be like birds which do not store away, but are fed, like flowers which do not labor or spin, but rise up beautiful and extravagant out of the soil.

There is, finally -- to conclude with an odd but, I think, representative euphemism -- nothing for the church to hang its hat on except God. All else is either a servant, a signpost, or a mirage thereof.

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