Bonds of peace

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

Most readers of this magazine are subscribers through their experience of ‘fellowship in adversity.’ The need to come together with others, in a shared need for support and direction, was the very reasons this magazine came into being. Now this fellowship is beginning to separate – I do not say ‘divide’ which is far too harsh and final a description. In this month of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity all of us need to pay special attention to ‘maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.’

Let us begin with some facts: firstly, we are not God and we do not know his mind. Much is hidden from us. This means we should not limit the work and purpose of the Lord by our own doubt and prejudice. We now see ‘through a glass darkly’. There are some around who would claim to see the situation in a crystal clear light – they must realize that they cannot see the whole working of God’s grace. We walk by faith not by sight and each of us must work our own way forward in fear and trembling. It is inevitable that simple ‘slogans’, ‘definite analysis’ and ridiculous predictions about the future are bound to wound someone somewhere. Much humility is called for.

Secondly, we must be content to live with this uncertainty. The temptation is to thrash around and justify our own decision making by mocking or making a caricature of another person’s position. The oft-repeated phrase ‘respecting the integrity of others’ means keeping the mouth shut and the fingers off the ‘send’ button. There is much anxiety, with its consequent freneticism, about – great self-discipline is needed to watch and wait, rather than come out of a corner fighting.

Thirdly, we need to renew a commitment to the ‘ecumenical principle’ – we must celebrate what we share and work together for the Lord as far as we are able. The problem at this present time is the focus on differences, and true as these are, they do not eradicate the responsibility we share to witness for Christ in the world. In the further wounding of the Body of Christ through our unhappy divisions, only the powers of death and hell can increase. We must always look for Christ in our brothers and sisters even if we are divided by some issues of faith and order. We are still, despite everything, members of the Body of Christ by baptism into his death and resurrection. This is the starting point for our lives together, not the issues that divide us.

The fact of God’s love and the Kingdom of the King of Love is where we must put our hearts and minds. We must live in hope. The possibilities of God are beyond our imagining and new beginnings will break though into our life. God is faithful even if we are struggling. The unity for which we all yearn is already present in him. It is the unity of Love. Let us seek renewal in our knowledge of this love which passes understanding. It is to remain in this love that he made us and called us, and that is why we seek unity only in the way in which he wills it.