Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Ground of Being

I remember reading Paul Tillich back in the sixties- it was part of the thing we did in the crowd I ran- renegades from Church but somehow captivated by questions of meaning.  Paul Tillich talked about the Ground of Being- it sounded cool, and reminded conservative Christian critics of Buddhist thought, and, in fact, he received laudations from Buddhists.  In a way Tillich pointed to something of the mystical depths of experience to which we all aspire, because we know that there is Something, deeper and more foundational in life than ourselves or even our experience or our thoughts.
Then comes along Jesus Christ into the foray and He says "I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life"- here He is a living breathing man,  who gets hungry, agonizes in the Garden in prayer, was born, and so forth.  How could He be the Truth?  Well, we are told that, while He was human He was also, in an inexplicable way, fully God, and in the process of His Life, the Trinitarian Nature of that God was revealed, as Father and Son and Holy Spirit, at His baptism, when He altered forever the waters of the Cosmos, and at His transfiguration, when He revealed forever His Divinity in Humanity.
Then we fast forward to the Apostle Paul who says that the Church is the ground and pillar of the Truth, and there we have it. How does it all fit together?  Well, the Church, we learn, is the on-going expression of the God-Man in the earth; It is the continuation of the Incarnation. Who Jesus Christ was on earth- God in the Flesh, continues in ministry through His Church.  It is by being United to His Church then, that we people are united to the Ground of Being, for it is in His Very Human Body, that mankind was carried up into the Holy Trinity.
There is a distinction, I think, to be made concerning the Church.  In the Church we are united to Christ Himself, but not according to His Essence, but according to His Energies.  This means, that while the Church is the Sacrament of God's grace, and is to be honored, and submitted to, it is not to be worshipped, and while it is the Means of Grace, it is the Lord Jesus Christ whom we preach, and not the Church, which is His Body on earth.  "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to Myself."  It is written, in Scripture.
The Scriptures are wonderful, but they are or no value unless they are used by us to point us to the Word that is Beyond the Sacred Page, that is to say, Jesus.  Yes, the Scriptures are also wonderful, but they are not given to us in order to re-invent the Church; rather, they are given to us that we might be guided to the Church, as the Body of Christ, and submit to Her.  The Bereaens were more 'noble' because they looked at the Scriptures in the light of the teaching of the Apostles, and straight away, submitted to the Apostles and their Church.  Since Christ promised a Church that would persist in history and also prayed for there be a unity in the Church that was both Human and Divine, visible and invisible, grounded in His Human and Divine Lire, as the Savior, so also His Body, is something to be found and not re-invented, submitted to and not re-constituted. 
The Church is built on the foundation of all the Apostles, Christ being the chief cornerstone.  Have you ever noticed that the unique views of Christ held by the Apostles have persisted down through the ages?  In the West Peter seemed to pre-dominate, with his powerful gift of evangelism, and ruling authority. In the East St. John seems to have predominated with his Mystical Grasp of Communion with God.  In the Protestant West, on the other hand, Paul and his Epistles seems to have dominated, also co-extensive with Arian Christianity. Likewise, the failings of the Apostles, as found in Scripture, seem to express themselves in the life of the historical Church.  Peter reverted to a centralizing legalism in the Judaizing controversies, that occasioned the Church Council in Jerusalem and as recorded in Acts 15, and such a reversion exists in the West in the fact that the Bishop of Rome claimed too much authority to himself, and made himself to the corrections of the other Apostles.  The Protestants took Paul too far, and fell into the failing that St. Peter warned us was implicit in the writings of Paul- pressing the legal metaphor for justification too far, sundering faith from works, and sanctification from saviing faith.  Even in the mission fields of doubting Thomas,  the Nestorians failed to discern that Jesus Christ was one person with two natures, Human and Divine, and were stumbled thereby.
Lord have mercy.  The Church is built on the foundation of the Apostles. that is a present tense; it is not a past tense. The Foundation of the Apostles persists, and we need all the Apostles testimony to avoid the falls that came with each of their individual failings.

No comments:

Post a Comment