Friday, June 01, 2007

Responding to the Study Guide: Question 10

Continuing to respond to the Study Guide....

(10) What does the phrase “a common mind about matters of essential concern. . .” mean to you?

This question relates to the commitment in this section “to seek with other members, through the Church’s shared councils, a common mind about matters of essential concern, consistent with the Scriptures, common standards of faith, and the canon law of our churches.” It is an attractive image, and one we could imagine when we might be one as Jesus and the Father are one.

That said, I fear that “a common mind about matters of essential concern” may be as much an eschatological hope as true unity with God in Christ. In our current difficulties we are not of a common mind about what matters are of essential concern. We can hardly expect to come to a common mind about the matters themselves.

To speak of “a common mind” seems to me to speak to a process of consensus and reception. Thus, to determine what matters are “of essential concern,” and then work toward “a common mind” would require a process of shared discussion and shared experience. Indeed, I can imagine “a common mind on matters of essential concern” would require communion, rather than being a requirement for it. If reached at all, it would only be reached in time and in lived relationships.

That would preclude, then, calling a decision reached by majority vote “a common mind.” That is, if there are grounds to publish a separate “minority report,” the mind can hardly be called “common.”

Perhaps that seems too high a standard. After all, many decisions are reached by majority vote, and we commonly consider those decisions reached by majority vote as more “valid” than those imposed by a small contingent. This is the case, for example, of actions of General Convention. At the same time, we do not assert that actions of General Convention are “the mind of the Communion,” or that all such actions deal with “matters of essential concern.” Indeed, as we value within our own midst diversity of opinion, we are quite limited and specific in describing the various actions of General Convention. In my own use, I say, “General Convention has said…” rather than, “The Episcopal Church teaches….” The second statement I reserve for those actions that affect the content of the Book of Common Prayer, and to a lesser extent of the Hymnal and of services for trial use.

We continue to be led, we believe, by God’s living and active Spirit. At the same time, we do not believe any of us is perfectly able to hear or to follow the leading of the Spirit. Differences among us arise literally in good faith, in honest efforts to follow God in Christ. If we are to reach a “common mind,” it will be by the power of the Spirit, in and through the communion we share, however imperfectly. We cannot hurry that process by our own will, any more than we can by our own will add a cubit to our height. Until so led by the Spirit, we can struggle to recognize matters of essential concern, to wrestle with them together, and to reach decisions; but in those circumstances we must recognize that our decisions are incomplete, and our “mind” rarely “common.”

1 comment:

*Christopher said...

Fr. Marshall,

Can I just say I appreciate how carefully you respond and with a deep awareness of our being "betwixt and between" as the Church militant, keeping the eschatological proviso, "now but not yet" at the heart of your reflections.