Immediately before being led away to face his ‘trial,’ and subsequent crucifixion, Jesus prays for all who stand in the apostolic tradition. That is to say that all who believe as a result of the apostle’s ministry (i.e you and me and, all who have believed through the ages)
His prayer is simple and straightforward. According to John’s gospel he prayed that ‘they all may be one,’ (John 17, 21).
Last week I went to the cinema with my girls to watch a film called Divergent – it’s implicitly, and deeply, theological. The film tests the proposition that peace can only be maintained through organising people into factions with, the faction being each individual’s primary source of identity. Individuals on coming of age are tested to see which faction they suit. They then leave their biological family to join the faction. Each faction is responsible for contributing something towards the common good. The system is designed so that each group can peacefully coexist because, each individual works alongside kinsfolk who have the same interests and attributes. So far so good. The system sort of works. But,
testing identifies various individuals as being ‘divergent’ that is to say that they cut across factions. Divergents are considered dangerous.
Jesus I suggest was divergent – and so are you and I (potentially). The difference is that jesus refused point blank to be factionalised, we don’t. Jesus because he was divergent was fully human. We because we are either placed into factions, or elect to join factions to protect ourselves (artificially) from those who make us feel uncomfortable become considerably less than the sum of our parts. The result of factional behaviour may be to ensure that we become overly loyal to our factions. Our loyalty to a faction necessitates that we behave in such a way as to ensure that we are held in high regard by our peers and superiors. We forget that our primary source of identity is simply our humanity.
Christian theology has two words to describe factional behaviour: idolatry and sin. And, it is factional behaviour that put Jesus on the cross. Pilate, from the Roman faction recognised that the only way to appease the pharisaic faction was to cede to their demands. The paradox, or miracle, is that through the cross the place where he draws all people to himself, Jesus obliterated once and for all the requirement to belong to, and boost our identity, through factions.
The ongoing tragedy is that the Church (i.e. the C of E) refuses to accept this – to welcome divergence.
Just think about how the church wants its ministers to self identify – traditional catholic, modern catholic, mid church, open evangelical, conservative evangelical. Now think about the groups, factions, set up to support churches aligning themselves in such ways. Forward in Faith, Affirming Catholicism, The Evangelical Alliance, Reform and so on. Within individual churches we find even more sub sets.
Writing in last weeks Church Times the playwright Richard Everett reflected, ‘I sometimes think that the Church should disband fellowship groups in exchange for exploring the art of friendship.’
An overstatement? Perhaps.
But, I do think that if we recognised that part of the work of the cross was to draw all people to Christ we ought to consider the primary locale for our identity, and seek to befriend each other. This might mean becoming increasingly divergent, leaving our factions behind and, focusing on becoming one. Divergence honours Christ, which in turn opens up the potential for a truly Pentecostal experience.
Are you prepared to be divergent?