Walking the King’s Highway by Arthur Middleton
The world to come
There seems little awareness of the struggle in which we are involved, or the underlying secular ways of thinking and behaving that are invading ecclesial life. The problem is that theology today has lost a sense of “the life of the world to come” as a factor of the entire theological enterprise, shaping and permeating the entire Christian faith as its dynamic inspiration and motivation. The early Church judged and evaluated everything in this world in relation to that life still to come. Its ultimate content and term of reference was not the world, but the Kingdom of God. Far from being anti-world, it was pro-Kingdom – which had come by being inaugurated and given in Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension. It is present in the Church: the ecclesia of those who, having died with Christ in Baptism, can now walk in newness of life and partake of the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit, eating and drinking at Christ’s table in His Kingdom.
A positive experience
This was not a world denying, non-involvement in the world; but a positive experience, a certain way of looking at the world and experiencing it, an experience centred on the Church’s self-fulfilment in the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day permeating the whole faith and life of the early Church. Herein lies the clue to understanding the initial Christian attitude towards the world, time, nature, and society. Within such a Kingdom-centred perspective one can approach the world with a Christian “yes”, but also with an equally emphatic Christian “no” – rather than sacrifice the Kingdom-centred perspective to secular values, and to a diversity in which anything goes in the fusion of secular notions that in Christian history would be termed heresy.
All heresy is an answer, more or less false, to the question “What think ye of Christ, whose Son is He?” The correlation of all parts of the Creed is such that every form of heresy may be traced to some misbelief about the Incarnate Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Standard of Faith completed in the Nicene Creed comprises those truths which all hang together in such a unity that one link of the chain cannot be taken away without injury to the whole chain, Heretics are those who break the “one faith” by making a selection of some parts of it for acceptance and belief and of others for rejection and disbelief.
The loss of “the life of the world to come” as a factor in the theological enterprise leads to a world-centred ideology: one that diminishes the need for supernatural grace. It reduces ministry to management rather than the saving of souls, and doctrine to social and political issues. St Gregory Nazianzen urges us to walk in “the King’s highway”, which is a particular orientation of Christian living that is always conscious of the life of the world to come. This calls for special emphasis in today’s Church. Our rule for the renewal of the Church will be the rule for the renewal of ourselves, and its starting point must be the overcoming of our difficulty when attempting to assimilate ourselves to Him who is our point of reference, and departure, and in whom we live.
The crisis of church life is based in the final analysis not on the difficulties of adaptation with regard to life today, but on the difficulties with regard to Him in whom our faith has its roots – and from whose being it draws its heights and its depths, its way and its future: Jesus Christ and his message of the Kingdom of God. Too often we try to adapt Him to ourselves.