Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Between Ascension and Parousia

How is the life of Christ, the life which is a true foretaste of the kingdom, continued in the period between the ascension and the parousia? the answer must be somewhat as follows. It will not be by the universal application of an unchanging pattern of personal and social behavior as laid down in the faith and practice of Islam. It will not be in a series of abstract moral and political principles. It will be in the life of a community which remembers, rehearses, and lives by the story which the Bible tells and of which the central focus is the story told in the New Testament. This remembering and rehearsing will be through the continual reading of and reflection on the Bible and the continual repetition of the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist. And it will maintain its link with, its continuity with the body of men to whom Jesus said, "As the Father sent me, so I send you," through a ministry in which the personal call of Jesus, "Follow me," is continued through the generations, not in abstract moral or political principles but in the actual personal encounters in which men and women who have themselves been called, call others to follow. It is this actual body, this community which as a matter of historical fact has existed through the centuries from the first apostles, which is the prior reality, having ontological primacy over the particular styles of life and ethical codes and political principles which it may develop as it seeks to be faithful in its situation. 
Once again we have to insist that since the response to the gospel has to be made in freedom, and since all human beings are fallible, there will not be unanimity in the ways in which the Church in any time and placeseeks to "contextualize" the gospel, seeks, that is to say, so to proclaim and to embody the life of Jesus that his power both to sustain and to judge every human culture is manifest. The New Testament itself makes it clear that there have been from the very beginning sharp differences among Christians about how to relate to the surrounding culture. The passages in the epistles to the Romans and to the Corinthians referring to controversies about food offered to idols are ample evidence of this. One must expect that this will be so to the end. If Christian obedience were to be exhaustively defined in terms of following one or other "line" in respect of all these controversies, the Church would have splintered into fragments long before the end of the first century. That it did not do so is, I am sure, the central clue to answering our question about true and false contextualization. Where there is a believing community whose life is centered in the biblical story through its worshipping, teaching, and sacramental and apostolic life, there will certainly be differences of opinion on specific issues, certainly mistakes, certainly false starts. But it is part of my faith in the authenticity of the story itself that this community will not be finally betrayed. The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. But where something else is put at the center, a moral code, a set of principles, or the alleged need to meet some criterion imposed from outside the story, one is adrift in the ever changing tides of history, and the community which commits itself to these things becomes one more piece of driftwood on the current.

Lesslie Newbigin. The Gospel in a Pluralist Societ, pgs 147-8
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