Ideal unity and actual division the continuing problem

As we have suggested, Christianity early displayed one of the most striking features of its history, the contrast between the dream of complete unity, the unity of the kind of self-giving love seen in Christ, and division. No other religion has so high an ideal of an inclusive community of love. Yet, as we are to see again and again in the course of our story, no other religion has had as many divisions and as many bitter controversies between its adherents.

This contrast between dream and actuality was probably inevitable. It arose from the very essence of the Christian Gospel and was witness to the accuracy of the Christian insight into the nature of man and God's purpose. As the Christian faith sees it, man owes his nature to God's purpose and God's creative act, and God's purpose is to create man in his own image. If, as the Christian Gospel declares, God is love, the kind of love which is revealed in Jesus Christ and which is utterly self-giving, the Christian ideal must be the full realization of this love in individuals. Since to find its full expression this love must be both towards God and among individuals in their inter-relations, this love will give rise to a collective life of mankind which, if God's purpose is completely carried out, will be wholly controlled by love, love which arises from response to God's love. This is what is meant by the model prayer given by Jesus to his disciples: "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It is clearly implied in the commission to make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded the inner group of his disciples. That love should be expressed first of all in the redeemed worshipping community of the disciples, and that community of faith and love is to seek to win the world. This is but a paraphrase of the well-known words of the Gospel that all who believe in Christ "may be one, even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." This ideal has haunted the Church from the beginning.

The Gospel also frankly faces the sombre reality of man's sin, of the perversion of the free will with which God has endowed man, with its rebellion against God, its seeking to usurp the place of God, its self-centredness, and its basic corruption of man's nature. That sin, provoked by the unmerited love of God in Christ, is seen most dramatically and tragically in nailing Jesus Christ to the cross. By God's act in Christ, so the Gospel goes on to declare, his incarnation, his cross, and his resurrection. God has wrought the redemption of men and through His Holy Spirit is beginning to display its working in transformed lives gathered into a new community. But the individuals who compose that community are, as Paul so clearly saw, only in process of "being saved." They and the community which is the Church have not yet been entirely freed from sin, nor have they fully attained to the "high calling of God in Christ Jesus." The Church, as discerning Christians have long said, is still in via and not yet in patria: it is on the road, but has not yet reached its true home and goal and, presumably, will not do so within history, until that final culmination of history which is also the culmination of both God's judgement and His redeeming love.

Because of the compelling attraction of the ideal, compelling because it appeals to the nature with which man has been endowed by God, Christians are always lured by the dream of the complete unity of the Church and of its effective witness to mankind. By various roads they have endeavoured to attain it — usually by seeking to devise one organizational structure which will embrace all Christians, by verbal statements which will accurately and briefly put into words the Christian Gospel and to which all Christians will be induced to agree, by disciplinary measures to constrain all Christians to full conformity with the conduct to which the Gospel calls men, or by one form of worship. Yet so hampered have Christians been by the sin from which they have been only partially freed that each of these efforts has given rise to fresh divisions. The Lord's Supper, or Eucharist, which with its "table of the Lord" should be a symbol and bond of unity, by the very act of being made such a symbol has also become a symbol of division.

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