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Eristological Analysis of One Church
It is possible to interpret this character of divine oneness in a way that stands against all political context, and hence that would rob the Church of her essential political character. A "miracle," after all, can be viewed as so unique as to constitute utter dislocation with respect to the normal pattern dislocation that exists in a kind of complete historical incommensurability with common communal life. This, I take it, is the conclusion of the late Paul Fletcher's valuable reflections. But it is, I think, a mistaken conclusion, and one that, in embracing such dislocation, severs the Church from the actualities and hence moral responsibilities of her own decision making. These are responsibilities, after all, that are demanded just because God's "being in the midst" of the world stands as the contour of God's oneness and hence of the Church's too by analogy.
The oneness of the Church takes place in the world in which God's own oneness is given in Christ's sacrifice, and this sacrifice is determined by its recipients and by the rich, if often disconcerting, details of their existence in time. Such oneness is not given, however, only as the end point of a political process. The eristic character of ecclesiological oneness stands as a certain kind of dialectic, although one that has a term that is continually reposited, in the same way that the Jesus' death, "once and for all," is temporally reasserted in various ways.
The oneness of God is furthermore given into the Church herself, ordering the Church's life and fueling her energies, not only as the representation of such sacrifice's purpose, but as the image of its actual contextualized form: the Church's mission necessarily is microcosmic in relation to the "coming into the world" of God in Christ. The Church's oneness is an image of just this. Eristology, then, is given as the discipline of the Church's worldly existence, tracing her vocation and passage within the divisions of her members and neighbors and within their own attempts at forging reordered and peaceable existences (however oftentimes violently). In this passage, which takes up in its wake the political efforts of those people whom the Church has herself betrayed, the sovereign work of God's oneness is displayed, and the unity of the Church is granted. That is why this volume must deal with the politics of Christian division and unity, and why this must include, rather than oppose and reject, the politics of Christianity's victims. To trace this inclusion, as I will do in a small compass in this book, is to realize also that the politics of the Christian Church's division and unity must finally include, and not reject, the politics of the modern and now predominantly liberal state, as well, whose embattled condition is given in its own eristic life with the Church and the Church's purported enemies. Indeed, as I shall argue, the Christian Church is intimately linked to the liberal state precisely because of the historical character of her eristological nature. Divine oneness is given in this and because of this.
Eristology as a theological discipline has to do, after all, with the character of contention as a social phenomenon and its resolution on the basis of such contention, as given in the historically engaging reality of divine redemption. The political aspect of ecclesiology, both in its internal forms and in its more broadly social interactions, cannot be subsidiary to a proper—that is to say, substantively definitive—understanding of the Church. The Church finds her place in the midst of the political search for peace, viewed physically and in terms of common decision making and its fruit. Hence, one might propose that one approach to eristology would be a complete "political history of the Church," something that has never been written. This would not be, however, a history of political concepts, in their theological meaning, influence, and deployment, useful though the latter is. "Political theology," in this sense, has proven fruitful, although also hotly contested as to its proper meanings and methods. Rather, an eristological ecclesiology would take up the Church's political history in a way that seeks to identify and specify the actual practices of decision making within various defining orders of Christian communal experience and on this basis to expose the character of oneness, in its historical forms, as it engages in enacted hostilities shaping these practices and decisions. And in doing so, we would see just this dialectical relationship between the "miracle" itself and the political processes of ecclesial life that unveils more fully the visage of God.