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Sunday, 4 March 2012

The DNA of Christendom

Attending an ordination and induction service at an Anglican church yesterday evening, I was struck by the extent to which the DNA of Christendom is still powerfully embodied in the liturgy of the service and the self understanding of the structure of the church.

What do I mean by the DNA of Christendom? Not having an established church tied to the state, but rather the imprint of assumptions about relationships of power and structured order that church received during the Christendom period and that it has continued to carry with it even when the politico-legag settlement has been untangled. The Anglican church carries this imprint with it in its governance, appellate tribunals, canon law, ecclesiastical structure and its liturgy.

If you examine the language of the ordination liturgy it carries within it still the implicit assumption of a structured order in which priest is placed 'over' a geographically limited group of people, who have a lesser level of biblical and theological knowledge and may not even be very spiritually committed. There was no assumption of mutual learning together under the guidance of the spirit, no sense of mutual accountability and a strong sense of institutional maintenance rather than mutual commissioning for ministry among a group of fellow disciples.

The 'top down' character of the role to which a priest is being commissioned is perhaps made clear by the language of the commissioning service I attended at a Baptist church recently, where the incoming minister was commissioned to join in the ministry currently being undertaken by the congregation. Very different understanding and relationship.

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