Hymn 489

In a paradox that never ceases to challenge and puzzle both believers and unbelievers, it is when we are free from the passion to be taken seriously, to be protected or indeed to be obeyed that we are most likely to be heard. The convincing witness to faith is one for whom safety and success are immaterial, and one for whom therefore the exercise of violent force against another of different conviction is ruled out.

- Rowan Williams

Greg Jones, reflecting on the recent speech by the Archbishop of Wales writes in his essay "Force is not of God," I was struck by the words of the great hymn 'The Great Creator of the Worlds' (no. 489). The lyrics come from the Epistle to Diognetus, which I find it to be a fantastic and moving proclamation of the Gospel. The fifth verse of the hymn got me to thinking of the situation in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. The verse goes: "He came as Savior to his own, the way of love he trod; he came to win us by good will, for force is not of God."

The Primate of the Church of Wales, Barry Morgan, has recently stated that he is very much in favor of the Windsor process and an Anglican Covenant -- as am I -- but not in the way they are being steered by a faction of Primates looking to take the Anglican Communion in a confessional or magisterial direction. As with the lyrics of hymn 489, if "force is not of God," then we do not want force to be of the Church. I would hope that we do not adopt a form of Anglican Covenant which would have force as an attribute. We do not need to reaffirm bonds and boundaries of affection by an attribute which is not of God.

Read it here. Greg includes the text to the Epistle to Diognetus which ends

Was He sent, think you, as any man might suppose, to establish a sovereignty, to inspire fear and terror? Not so. But in gentleness [and] meekness has He sent Him, as a king might send his son who is a king. He sent Him, as sending God; He sent Him, as [a man] unto men; He sent Him, as Saviour, as using persuasion, not force: for force is no attribute of God.
Rowan Williams would agree.

Comments (2)

More than just short and to the point, Greg Jones's meditation on Rowan Williams and the Epistle to Diognetus is like honey.

It reminds me of my own first year in the Episcopal Church (my second year in seminary after a year at the seminary of another denomination).

I started seminary as the kind of intellectually fesity Evangelical who is quite confident of his theological opinions and doesn't trust others' beliefs or good faith. A year's study of early Christian teachers and liturgy had added Eucharistic piety and an Eastern church coating to what I'd believed before, but I held this reclothed faith in just the same way as I'd held the old.

I'm now grateful to know Evangelicals and Orthodox who are nothing like I was in 1969, but, at the time - no starry-eyed convert to the Episcopal Church - I was quick to tell people that our Episcopal church was a mixed bag, theologically sloppy and way too tolerant, but still, for me, a more or less workable compromise.

From that stance, going to daily prayers in General Seminary's Chapel of the Good Shepherd haunted me. Every day I watched and wondered at two faculty members processing in and saying their prayers with us all. From what I heard in their classes I knew that their faith made no sense to me at all. I thought one of them a blase agnostic and the other a theological lightweight. But every day they were there at prayer; what on earth could it mean to them? An empty form? Still as weeks became months, I found myself moved to be there with them, singing psalms, praying together, hearing scripture, sharing silence. It didn't make sense, but what we were doing together still felt true.

To my delight looking back, I see that the prayers of these faithful people, BECAUSE they made me no sense to me,and also BECAUSE we were praying together launched a lifelong gratitude for our church and the pleasure of sharing it with a breadth of other Anglicans.

The messiness of our church gives us each other and, like the Holy Spirit in the Veni Creator, softens and gently bends our hard certainties.

Our faith is shaped and deepened, not by force of argument, but the gentleness of those we later recognize as our prophets and teachers. As Jesus insists in the parable of the Good Samaritan, it's people's generosity and patient care that makes us neighbors, friends, and finally brings us into communion.

Donald Schell

Thanks Donald

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