Thursday, August 24, 2017

Perfecting the Body of Christ by Baptizing the Nations: Walls the Missionary and Wright the Theologian

Church construction in South Sudan

"Go to the periphery!" says Pope Francis. We hear the same message from "the dean of global Christianity," Andrew F. Walls. The former missionary to Sierra Leone and professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh sees the Body of Christ on earth will only be completed when He is incarnated in the nations and peoples of the earth. To paraphrase Saint Augustine: Don't complain that you were not there to see the Head. We are witnessing the Body being completed. He said that 400 years after Christ was incarnated. Some 1600 years later, a lot more Body is being manifested. Here is a video of his talk on the transformation of Christianity in the 20th century; he speaks slowly, he is worth listening to.

An interview with Christianity Today.           

"The spread of the gospel is often presented as inexorable progress outward, like an inkblot, but Walls saw that time and again the real story was of ebb and flow. The loss of Christian territory happened not just on the periphery but at the heartland. Jerusalem was the first heartland until the Romans leveled it, and the Jewish church all but ceased to exist. Then came Rome, until the northern Vandals sacked it; Constantinople, until Islam overran it; northern Europe, before Enlightenment skepticism cut its heart out. At each turning point, the gospel made a great escape, crossing over into an unknown culture just before disaster struck. History suggested that Christianity lives by this pilgrim principle."

Andrew Walls

There is a resonance with this great Protestant missionary and the theology of NT Wright who complains that much of West/ North Christianity doesn't really know what to do with Easter. We won! A new creation is being established on earth! Salvation is not about a distribution of individual passes to check in on our deathbeds. It is about building the new Kingdom of Love on earth. The species is being restored to Life. He writes about this in his book, The Day the Revolution Began. Wright, like Walls, has a corporate, earth-filling, humanity-embracing vision of the meaning of Christ's Cross and Resurrection. Clearly, the new Christians of the global south see the relevance of establishing radically new relations as human beings in our local communities, tribes, and nations. Maybe Christians of the West/North are too comfortable with the present arrangement. NT Wright is not at all comfortable with what he thinks is a restricted understanding of salvation, justification ad the meaning of Christ. His understanding of the fullness of Christ, the pleroma, very much includes all the nations.

The Catholic stance toward this is a radical acceptance of the Spirit-filled Pentecostalism of the 20th century. Peter acknowledges what he sees with his own eyes: the reality of the presence of God in the household of Cornelius. But Peter must rule and unify; and, thus, the popes of the last 75 years have globally asserted the apostolic character of Church -- centered on the bishops and the Eucharist. The formal physical expression of the sacramental order of the priestly Eucharistic Church was called the Second Vatican Council. That event spurred a spasmodic reaction from Satan, and demonic forces often masquerading in clerical garb, to deface the liturgy and desecrate their lambs. But every pope of the last six decades has understood and presented that great ecclesial event as a work of the Spirit. From the bloody 20th century, the Body of Christ emerges through the sacramental order as well as gatherings of Spirit-filled Christians. In this fitting time, the Catholic Church renews her synodal apostolic universal character to draw Christians back into the priestly and Eucharistic form of worship that Christ commanded.

Two faithful Christian brothers are helping all Christians prepare for this deeper unity which will enlighten the nations and give glory to the Father.  

Eastern Orthodox believers in Uganda

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