As I have been traveling, I often find that as a guest I am invited to introduce myself or give a “testimony” as to why I am here and what I am doing. In the last week, I’ve addressed a group of clergy, the diocesan ordinands, a group of students at a seminary, and some clergy wives. I don’t always say the same thing but here are the thoughts I draw from.
I say something about the importance of unity. Jesus prays for unity in John 17 and I am interested in finding out what that unity looks like when there are followers of Jesus around the world. Unity is important, I say, because Jesus connects it to our mission and witness – “that they all may be one…so that the world may believe.”
Unity is also important, I say, because it is eschatologically important. At the end, we will all be united (whether we like it or not…). The more we live like that now, the more we pre-figure the eschaton, which is exactly what Christians are called to do.
Unity has ecclesiological significance as well. The church is called to be a counter-cultural witness to the world – Romans 12:2 is one obvious example but there are many others. To live united in a world that so prizes division is a counter-cultural witness.
(I should say, by the way, that all these “big” theological words I am throwing around here are well understood by the people I am talking to.)
I often talk about the body of Christ and how we are part of a body that spans the world. I talk about how that body is called to particular kinds of action, namely those actions which the actual body of Christ endured – weakness, suffering, sacrifice, humility. This is Paul’s message in I Corinthians, I say, pointing to I Cor. 1:18 – “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Maybe, I say, we can find our way towards the unity of the worldwide body if we start embracing some of these values.
The key thing about all this, I’ve realized, is that it is all rooted in the Bible. Christians in Africa know their Bible. Many are virtual concordances. I can say, “What verse is this?” and quote about three words and they can name chapter and verse. If what you say cannot be linked to the Bible, then no one is going to listen to you. I want to show that we are reading the same Bible – I am just choosing to emphasize different portions than some of them are.
The other neat thing about all this is that this “stump speech” flows from work I’ve done in the classroom and library at Yale. My time visiting in the world church creates questions which I then pursue at school which creates new material to share with people on later trips. If that’s not a virtuous circle, I don’t know what is.