…there can be no argument to the truth of God in Jesus Christ without
Stanley Hauerwas, With the Grain of the Universe (2002)

From the very beginning, the Christian community recognized the need for witnesses. Luke’s history of the early church, mediated by the later experiences of that community, tells us that appointing a witness was the first task of the church, before all else. In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter’s first recorded speech deals with the gap in the number of witnesses left by the betrayal and death of Judas. In the presence of the whole community of the followers of Christ (the sound and round number of 120), Peter explains his plan:

‘So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ (Acts 1:21-22)

Famously, the lot fell on Matthias. It is instructive to note the two-fold distinction that Peter makes in his job-specification here. Primarily, the new witness is testify to the resurrection of Jesus. But the qualification for that witnessing to the resurrection is direct, first-hand experience of the ministry of Jesus, from baptism to ascension. To witness to the resurrection means nothing, Peter is saying, if the witness has not experienced the teaching, healing, travelling, judging, prophesying Jesus as well. There is a rider to this qualification: the new witness (Matthias) will becomes a member of a wider body: he will become a witness “with us” to the resurrection. The body of the apostles calls a person as a witness, and it is their continuing oversight which allows the witness to remain true to that calling. What we see in the New Testament witness is essentially

…an assembly of believers, a community in which the vision of the ‘new heaven and the new earth’ is kept alive with reference to Jesus of Nazareth, confessed as ‘the Christ, God’s only beloved Son, our Lord’, and in prophetic witness and practice conformed to this kingdom of God.1

This first sense of being an apostle and a witness ended, of course, with the death of the first apostles and witnesses. If we were to apply St Peter’s selection criteria for the leadership of the church today then no one would qualify: there is no one alive who accompanied Jesus in his earthly ministry. Which is why “apostolic” and “witness” changed in the second generation of Christians (the former word, like “catholic”, first used by Ignatius of Antioch, c. ad 35–107).

Apostleship in the sense of the original and fundamental ministry of the first witnesses and messengers died out with the death of the last apostle. Apostleship in this sense of witness and mission cannot be repeated or continued. What remains is a task and a commission. The apostolic commission is not finished, but will remain to the end of time. The apostolic task is not completed; it embraces all peoples to the ends of the earth.2

Who then, can we say are the successors to the apostles? Who are the witnesses for our day? Hans Küng is clear: today’s apostles are to be found in the Church.

The whole Church, not just a few individuals, is the follower of the apostles. We do, after all, confess and apostolic Church. The whole Church is the new people of God, gathered by the apostles through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The whole Church is the temple of the Spirit, built on the foundation of the apostles. The whole Church is the body of Christ, unified by the ministry of the apostles. The authorized mission of the apostles has been handed on to the Church which the apostles summoned together; the authorized ministry of the apostles has been handed on to the Church which the apostles ministered to. The Church is the successor of the apostles in obedience, and from this obedience it derives its authority.3

This apostolic succession is not a human invention, but the operation of the Holy Spirit within the Church, permitting spiritual authority in the name of the glorified Lord who remain sovereign over the Church and the world. Apostolic succession in this sense is applied, not just to a sequence of bishops and presbyters, but

to the whole Church in all her members. It manifests itself in manifold ways throughout the centuries and in all countries in the continuous process of baptizing and being baptized, in faith and in obedience to the apostolic testimony, in the community of worship and in the Eucharist, in the transmission of the apostolic testimony in the congregations, in the missionary preaching to the world, in the fellowship and unity with the churches of the whole world.4

However, there is no revelation of the supernal that cannot be domesticated, routinized or sterilised by human intervention, and apostolic succession, if elevated to a doctrine, can decay into a sterile mechanistic model of being a witness. I recall attending an ordination service at St Paul’s Cathedral in which the then Bishop of London explained to the congregation (who filled the entire length of the church) that at the Peace everyone in the congregation was to wait for him to exchange the peace with the new deacons in the sanctuary, and then the new deacons would fan out through the church and exchange the peace with the people sitting in the pews. Then, and only then, were we allowed to give a sign of the peace to our neighbours, and in this way, we would show how God’s peace is brought into the world by those whom He has called to ordained ministry. All very well and good, but the cathedral was full and the deacons were slow and it was well into the eucharistic prayer before the official peace-carrying deacon reached our party on the very last rows of the nave. One of our number, devout and soon-to-be ordained himself, thought this ridiculous and began muttering, not-so sotto voce “Has anybody seen the Holy Spirit?” The idea that it was a transmission of touch that brought the peace to a gathered community of worshipping Christians was neatly speared by this question of liturgical rebellion.

As in St Paul’s, so in the wider world. If we are not careful, we end up with fruitless, mechanistic models of being a witness. Endless arguments about apostolic succession and who laid hands on whom. Look at the websites of the various flavours of episcopi vagrantes if you want to see “apostolic succession” in all its most depressing, train-spotting, form5. And more than that, it is, technically, superstitious; that is, it attempts to coerce the operation of the Holy Spirit through a systematic pattern of behaviour: if we just get the logistics right, then the Holy Spirit (and the accompanying spiritual authority) will follow:

… the imposition of hands is only an instrument, a sacramental sign. Just as God in the Holy Spirit can baptize also through the unworthy, the sinful, and the heretical, so can He also ordain through the unworthy, the sinful, and the heretical representatives. Even ordination does not take place in the name of the ordaining minister, nor on the grounds of his own virtue, but in the name and by the virtue of Jesus Christ who has promised and sent us His spirit. The opus operatum [the work done] is not an opus operatum ministri [work done through the ministry], but an opus operatum of Jesus Christ.6

For Küng, writing within the context of the years of the Second Vatican Council, this approach to the apostolicity of the Church, was a liberation from the deadened clericalism of the pervious dispensation. Even so, his vision of the apostolic succession and the witnessing function of the Church, still operated through the structures of the Church. The Church remained one holy, catholic and apostolic church when it preserves, “within all its members”, firstly, an agreement with the witness of the apostles:

The original and fundamental witness of the apostles is the source and norm of the Church’s existence in preaching, faith and action alike, in all times and place. This witness must constantly be heard anew in the Church and allowed to bear fruit in its whole life. Apostolic succession is therefore a question of a continual and living confrontation of the Church and all its members with this apostolic witness: apostolic succession is fulfilled when this witness is heard, respected, believed confessed and followed.7

This agreement is expressed through a continuation in the apostolic ministry, which is, fundamentally, a servant ministry:

The Church can only be certain of its apostolic mission and authority if it is a serving Church. Apostolicity is never an unchallenged possession, a secure piece of property which the Church has at its disposal. Apostolicity can never mean power through which the Church might rule. It is not a question of others submitting to the Church; the Church must itself submit by accepting the authority of the apostles and of the Church’s and the apostles’ Lord.8

Edward Schillebeeckx built on the insights of Vatican II which had so motivated Küng, in his 1981 book, Ministry: A case for change. Here Schillebeeckx is concerned to press the specifically New Testament apostolicity of the Church:

The apostolicity of the Christian community always implies the apostolic communication of the faith and therefore also the permanent importance of the foundation document in which the ‘gospel of Jesus’ is related in kerygmatic form: the New Testament read against the horizon of understanding of what is called the ‘Old Testament’.9

Schillebeeckx develops Küng’s two criteria for apostolicity into eight, orienting them towards his chosen foundational model of the New Testament experience.

First, a church, an ecclesial community, retains New Testament apostolicity if it retains an awareness that it is “carrying on the cause of Jesus”:

… a living community is a community of believers who appropriate the cause of Jesus, i.e. the coming kingdom of God as essentially bound up with the whole of the career and ultimately the very person of Jesus, and therefore seek to maintain the story of and about Jesus in its significance for the future of all humanity.10

Second, a permanent importance is accorded to the New Testament, interpreted against the Old Testament as the ‘foundation document’ of the Church. Third, the apostolicity of a community, derives, in turn, from being connected to the community of Jesus, which derives from accepting the discipleship of Jesus, which is “to be realised again and again in new historical circumstances”. Fourth, in the life of the apostolic community today, we should expect to see proclamation, liturgy and service, which are all apostolic characteristics of communities of God. Fifth, an apostolic community has a right to a minister or ministers and right to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on the basis of Jesus’s mandate “do this in remembrance of me”. Sixth, separate, physical, communities need to recognise their interdependence: they are clearly not “isolated entities but bound together in love… a great koinonia or brotherly community in which mutual criticism, grounded in the gospel, must be possible if all communities are to be maintained on apostolic lines”. Seventh, the ministry which belongs to a community of right is not a ministry of status but service, and is therefore a gift of the Holy Spirit. “Suffering solidarity with the poor and insignificant is an essential mark of the apostolicity of ministry, since it is an apostolic mark of the whole community of Jesus”. Eighth and finally, there can never be any decisive, final theoretical formulation of these marks of apostolicity. Rather, apostolicity is expressed and explored in “a mutually critical correlation (which must be both theoretical and practical) between what the New Testament churches did and what the Christian communities do now.”11

Both Schillebeeckx and Küng are Roman Catholic theologians working in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. It might be thought then that their work, insight and agenda would be particular to their tradition. And yet, on the question of the Church’s witnessing vocation there is an interesting convergence of thought between these post-Conciliar scholars and theologians who have emerged from the Reformation tradition. The most important work on the Church’s vocation to witness in recent years has come from John Howard Yoder (1927–1997), a Mennonite, pacifist and ethicist, and his pupil Stanley Hauerwas (b. 1940), originally a United Methodist, but who more recently identifies himself as an Episcopalian.

In 2001 Hauerwas was invited to give the Gifford Lectures at St Andrews University. Endowed by Adam, Lord Gifford in 1885 the lectures are intended to explore the idea that:

… the true knowledge of God, that is, of the Being, Nature, and Attributes of the Infinite, of the All, of the First and the Only Cause, that is, the One and Only Substance and Being, … is the means of man’s highest well-being, and the security of his upward progress…12

Gifford wanted a series of lectures on ‘natural theology’, that is, “knowledge of God obtainable by human reason alone without the aid of revelation”13. Specifically, lecturers are instructed that to treat natural theology as a science, that is, “without reference to or reliance upon any supposed special exceptional or so-called miraculous revelation.”14 For those familiar with his work and thought, it will be unsurprising that Hauerwas refused to play this game. For him natural theology undertaken by Christians “simply names how Christian convictions work to describe all that is as God’s good creation”15. In other words, there is no such thing as a “natural theology” which clears the ground to allow a specifically Christian understanding of the implications of “natural theology” to be explored. For Hauerwas, and this is his relevance to our discussion, Christian witness comes before every other form of discourse. Hauerwas is emphatic, and thrilling, in his insistence on this point:

If what Christians believe about God and the world could be known without witnesses, then we would have evidence that what Christians believe about God and the world is not true. All that is, all that is creation, is a witness to the One alone who is capable of moving the sun and the stars as well as our hearts. If we and the world existed by necessity, then no witnesses, no story of creation, would be required. But God did not have to create, much less redeem; yet we have it on good authority that God has created and redeemed. Creation and redemption constitute the story necessary for us to know who we are. Such knowledge comes only through the telling of this story.16

To be a Christian witness is, therefore, both to tell the story about all that there is and to recognise the need to tell the story. In fact, recognising the need is the greater part of the witness, for it is the part that runs so against the prevailing story of our time and culture (this is all that there is, and existence and human will are just brute facts that cannot and need not be explained) and at the same time runs with the grain of the universe (the fundamental nature of creation brought into being by the Christian, triune, God).

If Christian witness is such a fundamental part of both being a Christian and part of Creation then obviously the question of how such a witness is expressed also becomes important.

To be a witness does not mean that Christians are in the business of calling attention to ourselves but that we are witnesses to the One who has made our lives possible. Witness, at least the witness to which Christians are called, is, after all, about God and God’s relation to all that is.17

This is a witness about God, and therefore is a witness about truth. Which will be a difficult task in times in which competing “truth claims” are managed by relativising them into no more than personal preference, and of no more importance that other personal preferences, like favourite colour or usual coffee. Here Hauerwas, showing the influence of his Mennonite teacher, quotes Yoder:

It is within these [relativist/pluralist] skins that we need to restore whatever our claims are. Since for some even the phrase “truth claims” evokes echoes of theocratic compulsion or of pretensions to infallibility, let us use the more biblical phrases “witness” and “proclamation” as naming forms of communication which do not coerce the hearer.18

Yoder and Hauerwas have in mind Paul’s teaching in Romans:

‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? (Rom. 10:13f)

This is the missional foundation of apostolic succession, what Yoder calls the “missionary instrumentalities”: we know for we have heard, and, in turn, we are to bring others into the knowledge of the love of God in Christ Jesus.

So we need to unpick two connected themes: the form of witness and the content of Christian witness. We will come to its form in a moment, but first let us look at the message rather than the medium.

I once knew of a priest in the Church of England who, on going for an interview, was completely flummoxed by a “trick question”. Initially sympathetic, I asked what the question might be. It was simply “What is your gospel?” This was thought to be deviously tricksy by the priest in question (who didn’t get the job!). And yet the answer ought to be one that is at the forefront of the mind of any half-way competent post-Herbertian priest: “what is your gospel?”

For me, I have been massively influenced by Michael Ramsey. I was introduced to his thought by my university chaplain (an example of witnessing in the tradition). For Ramsey the abiding theme of his teaching, study and ministry was the glory of God. St Irenaeus taught that “the glory of God is man fully alive and man is fully alive when he beholds God”19, and Archbishop Ramsey spent his life understanding how this may be so. His success is seen in the book of Ramsey’s teaching, edited by Douglas Dales, called Glory descending: Michael Ramsey and his writings.

A significant scriptural passage in Ramsey’s teaching is the meditation in Hebrews 2 on the relationship between Jesus seen, suffering experienced, and glory looked for:

As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them [ie angels], but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Heb. 2:8b –9)

This passage gets to grips with the mysterious connection between creation, suffering, redemption and ultimate glory. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is concerned to convey the “newness” of the Christian good news to an audience steeped in the world of the Covenant of Abraham and Moses. He has, consciously or unconsciously found a “witnessing strategy” in which his new ideas, insights and testimony can be communicated to a people with a particular world-view, a shared discourse. John Howard Yoder has examined the techniques and tactics used by the five New Testament writers to convey their message, and six aspects common to the witnessing strategy20. First, the writer is at home in the linguistic world he wishes to address; he uses its language and faces its questions. Second, he does not fit Jesus into the pre-existing cosmology of this world: Jesus does not occupy a place like one of any number of predecessors, but rather is placed in a position of lordship over and above the pre-existing cosmology. But this is lordship of a new and unusual kind, for, third, Christ’s cosmic overlordship is achieved by, or expressed by, an emphasis on his human rejection and suffering. This means that, fourth, “salvation” (however it is defined) is not achieved for the devout believer by entering into the pre-existing cosmology, but by sharing in the self-emptying, and death and resurrection of the Son. This is assured, this cosmic victory won, by, fifth, the pre-existence of the Son and his participation with the Father in creation and providence. Finally, the writer and readers “share by faith in all that that victory means.”21

Michael Ramsey teases out these New Testament connections between the broken creation of pain and the new creation of Christ’s victory. In The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, he wrote:

The mystery of evil afflicts not only human beings but all creation too. Human suffering in the present time, the bondage of corruption in nature (Rom. 8:18-21), and the fact that we do not yet see all things made subject to human rule (Heb. 2:8) all indicate the frustration of the divine design by the fall of humanity. But by the cross and resurrection of Christ the inauguration of a new creation has begun, and this new creation will include human beings brought to sonship and glory, and nature itself renewed in union with humanity in the worship and praise of God (Rom. 8.21; Heb. 2.10). The Christian hope is therefore far more than the salvaging of individual human souls into a spiritual salvation: it is nothing less than the re-creation of the world, through the power of the resurrection of Christ.22

So we see, finally, that Christian witness is not about arguing people into belief. It is about loving people into the ambit of God’s work. As Michael Cartwright puts it:

the primary problem confronting the Christian Church in a post-modern world is not whether Christian claims about God can be debated in credible ways with alternating accounts (logos) of abstract reasoning. Rather, the challenge is about ethos of Christian witness. Can particular Christian communities produce and sustain the kind of witness to God in which their practices of discipleship can serve as credible signs of God’s reconciling work in the world?23

In other words, it ain’t not what you do, it’s the way that you do it. (For remember these are ideas emerging from Christian traditions of the Reformation: we do not have here a restatement of false “works” salvation.) Yoder goes further, asserting that Christian witness today should take the example of the first Christians to heart:

Instead of requesting free speech and room for one more stand in the Athenian marketplace of ideas for a new variant of already widely respected diaspora Judaism, their claim was that now the Hebrew story had widened out to include everybody; that, with the inbreaking of the messianic era, the Jewish hope in process of fulfilment was wide enough to receive all the nations and their riches.24

Cartwright suggests seven features or marks of this ethos of Christian witness, features which would be well-marked by any diligent post-Herbertian parish priest seeking a sustainable model for parish ministry. First, witness should begin with an acceptance of the mission that has been entrusted to us. This should not be narrowly defined. The Church’s mission is the making of new disciples of Jesus Christ, and new disciples require a new form of community. As Yoder has written:

That men and women are called together to a new social wholeness is itself the work of God, which gives meaning to history, from which both personal conversion (whereby individuals are called into this meaning), and missionary instrumentalities are derived.25

A responsibility (but not the primary responsibility) for this new social wholeness is assigned to the priest of the community. It is not wholly the priest’s responsibility, because it is not the priest’s work: to use the language of our post-Conciliar theologians, it is not an opus operatum ministri, but an opus operatum of Jesus Christ. Cartwright gives a very good example of this distinction in the story of Fr. Elias Chacour, parish priest for the Melkite Christian community in Ibillin, an Arab village of both Christian and Muslim Arabs. On Palm Sunday 1966, when he had been in post for less than six months, Chacour suddenly realised that his village, the community of the church, was riven completely by suspicion, anger and enmity. Nothing he could do seem to make a difference to the lives of his parishioners: to speak to one family risked the anger of another. On Palm Sunday, after the celebration of the Eucharist, Chacour snapped, and locked his congregation in the church. Turning to them he said:

“This morning while I celebrated this liturgy, I found someone who is able to help you. In fact, he is the only one who can work the miracle of reconciliation in this village. This person who can reconcile you is Jesus Christ, and he is here with us. We are gathered in his name, this man who rode in triumph into Jerusalem with hosannas from the people ringing in his ears.
“So on Christ’s behalf, I say this to you: The doors of the church are locked. Either you kill each other right here in your hatred and then I will celebrate your funeral gratis, or you use this opportunity to be reconciled together before I open the doors of the church. If that reconciliation happens, Christ will truly become your Lord, and I will know I am becoming your pastor and your priest. That decision is now yours.”26

Chacour makes it clear, to his listeners and his readers, that the “missionary instrumentalities” that have come into place in Ibillin Church are down to Christ, and to him alone. It is in Christ’s name that the mass was celebrated. It was Christ’s name that was proclaimed with loud hosannas. It is Christ who is able to effect the miracle of reconciliation. It is Christ who will be shown as Lord when the fractious villagers are reconciled to one another. Chacour functions, merely, “on Christ’s behalf”, to speak the invitation, and to act, literally, as the keeper of the keys, with power to bind and to loose.

If the first mark of Christian witness is mission, then the second is similar: the praise of God. After being held hostage in their church, having been confronted in the starkest possible way with the consequences of their disunity, the people of Ibillin are reconciled to one another. Then for the first time for a long time, they are able truly to praise God:

The people even then began to sing the resurrection hymn as they streamed out the open church doors:
Christ is risen from the dead!
By his death he has trampled upon death
And has given life to those
Who are in the tomb!
All afternoon I could hear singing, ululations, happy voices and laughter. I knew this was a whole new life for Ibillin.27

Being brought into the new community of God’s redemption and re-creation inevitably leads to joy without measure that overflows into the whole of the community’s life.

The third mark is to do with keeping time. Christians live under the light of the resurrection, and the truth of the resurrection is that the end of history has come in the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The new creation imagery of 2 Corinthians is important here: anyone who is found to be in Christ is “a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17) And that new creation is not yet completed: earthly tent which we inhabit will be replaced by a dwelling of God’s making, “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor 5:5) And even though we might “groan” in longing for this heavenly dwelling, we know that before we come into our heavenly dwelling comes judgement:

For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor 5:10)

We have already seen this connection made between the promise and the fulfilment in the teaching of Michael Ramsey. It is impossible to understand Christian witness to the gospel if we aren’t able to see the implications for our future selves. Palm Sunday leads to Good Friday before it comes to Easter Day.

The fourth mark is to do with remembering God’s story, and the character of that story. It is no accident that much of the Lord’s teaching to his disciples was conveyed in the form of stories: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field…” (Matthew 13) or “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock… (Matthew 7) or “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mk 4:9 || Lk 8:8 || Mat 13:9). The disciples took this narrative proclamation to heart. The first post-Ascension proclamation of the Christian good news, Peter’s address to the crowds of Jerusalem at Pentecost, takes the form of a narrative, in which the events of the day are explained by being interpolated into the wider events of God’s saving work for the people of Israel:

‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:22-24)

Fr Chacour did the same thing to the recalcitrant people of his parish. Their behaviour was a scandal to Christ, because his story included the hosannas of the crowd on Palm Sunday, and their mocking cries on Good Friday.

The fifth mark is serving God. The Son of Man came to serve not to be served, and those who wish to be grafted into the telling of his story need to remember that imperative. As Paul says:

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (Rom. 12:9-12)

And it won’t be enough to have done all these things: they will have had to be undertaken for the right reason:

… do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God. (1 Cor. 4:5)

Perhaps curiously, the next mark of Christian witness seems to head in an unexpected direction; not out into the world of suffering and need, but back into church. For Cartwright says that the sixth mark is performing liturgy. But when you think about it, you see how exactly right he is. Take the example of Palm Sunday in Ibillin. The people of the parish could not go out into their village, their wider community, singing the praises of God in how he had transformed their damaged relationships, if they had not been present at divine worship: “witness derives its meaning from the work of the people (leitourgia) as displayed in their public gatherings for worship”28.

Because Christian worship began in the Holy Land, it was associated from the earliest days with memories of Jesus’s life and ministry: it was “stational”, moving from significant place to significant place: here in Bethlehem we remembered Jesus’s birth, here in Nazareth we remember His family life, here in Capernaum we remember his teaching and his healing, here in Jerusalem we remember his passion and death. So, from the very beginning, Christian worship was intimately bound up with a remembering and a retelling and a re-presentation of God’s saving actions in Christ Jesus: “…when Christians gather for worship, what they are doing is nothing less than bearing witness to what God has done and is doing in human history.”29

The final mark of Christian witness can also be illustrated by Fr. Chacour’s experience. It is exercising authority. Although Chacour gave the invitation to reconciliation on behalf of Christ, he still gave it. It is false humility to act as if no authority at all goes with the office and work of a priest in the church of God. We have tried pretending that for some time now, believing that all that is needed is a little more niceness. Occasionally, the exercise of authority might require the binding and loosing of the keys, such as done by Chacour on that Palm Sunday.

By refusing to let the congregation leave until they had reconciled with each other, Fr Chacour bound them to confront their responsibility for living in ways that nullify their witness to the gospel. When he invited them to go forth into the world rejoicing in their newly reconciled relationship with one another, he set them free to live lives of obedience.30

Very much more often authority is exercised in other, more subtle ways. Michael Cartwright relates another story of Fr Chacour which illustrates this subtler authority. In 2000, one of the students of Fr Chacour’s school, the Mar Elias Educational Institutes, was killed by the Israeli Defence Force in the intifadah. There was no possibility that he had been involved in violence: the boy was a leader in the “Seeds of Peace,” an inter-faith group of pupils, which worked hard to find common with young people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A memorial service was held for him at Mar Elias, and wreaths would be placed at the memorial for all those who have been killed in the years of conflict: a memorial with two curved, facing stone walls. On one is carved, in Hebrew, “To the martyrs of the Palestinian people”, on the other, in Arabic, “To the martyrs of the Jewish people”.

At the moment of the wreath-laying, the Israeli education minister stepped forward to lay the wreath beneath the wall for the Jewish dead. Fr. Chacour stopped him, and directed him to lay his wreath under the memorial to the Arab dead. The Arab official followed, his wreath placed for the martyrs of the Jewish people: “What could have been a cause for taking offense was turned into an occasion for sowing seeds of reconciliation.”31

Chacour exercised a different sort of authority to that normally expected by the word, the authority of a host. This is a fundamental mark of what constitutes a Christian community, an eighth mark of Christian witness, hospitality. Chacour, in acting as host, ensured that guests at the ceremony were allowed to know what was expected of them, so that their behaviour and what they had to offer the gathering, was accepted in the right spirit. This is the authority seen in the Messianic banquet:

“But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:10f)

And it is an authority of hospitality which we are expected to take on for ourselves. The early Church took Jesus’s instruction very seriously:

“‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)

The culture of the time, Gentile and Hebrew, had the household as its basis. The Christian gospel reconstituted this household, forming the separate kinship households into a single household of God:

This expanded and transformed household was responsible for imitating God’s hospitable and gracious character. God’s household represented the welcome of the Gentiles into the inheritance together with Israel (Eph. 2:19), and relations within this new household explicitly transcended ethnic boundaries.32

One of the central Greek words for hospitality, philoxenia, shows this transcending of divisions; it has as its roots phileo, love for kinship group, and xenos, stranger: “Because philoxenia includes the word for stranger, hospitality’s orientation towards strangers is also more apparent in Greek than in English.”33 Furthermore, hospitality is not an optional extra for Christians, an expression among many other possible expressions, of the Christian faith. Rather it is at the heart of Christian self-understanding. We are shown how Jesus practised hospitality to welcome the marginal and the outcast; we are exhorted to be hospitable in turn for in doing so we show hospitality to Christ. Christ is both host and guest: “Christians offered hospitality in grateful response to God’s generosity and as an expression of welcome to Christ ‘who for your sake was a stranger’.”34

Eight marks to being a witness to the transforming and healing power of God: eight marks to show the Church’s participation in “the re-creation of the world, through the power of the resurrection of Christ.” Christian praxis should be oriented, in its entirety, towards this goal. It is in recalling this witnessing, loving, serving ministry that the post-Herbertism priest remains true to an apostolic calling, a calling which is authenticated by the living of it. There is a “cash value” in living like this. As John Howard Yoder puts it:

To know the Lamb who was slain was worthy to receive power not only enables his disciples to face martyrdom when they must; it also encourages them to go about their daily crafts and trades, to do their duties as parents and neighbours, without being driven by cosmic doubt. Even before the broken world can be made whole by the Second Coming, the witnesses to the first coming— through the very fact that they proclaim Christ above the powers, the Son above the angels— are enabled to go on proleptically in the redemption of creation. Only this evangelical Christology can be found a truly transformationist approach to culture.

We still do not see that the world has been set straight. We still have no proof that right is right. We have still not found a bridge or a way to leap from historical uncertainty to some other more solid base that would oblige people to believe or make our own believing sure. As it is, we do not see everything in subjection to him. But we do see Jesus, revealing the grace of God by tasting death for everyone.35

I am grateful to Professor Michael G. Cartwright, of the University of Indianapolis, for comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.

  1. Edward Schillebeeckx, Ministry: A case for change, (London: SCM, 1981), p. 34. []
  2. Hans Küng, The Church, (London: Burns & Oates, 1967), p. 355. []
  3. Küng, Church, pp.355-356. Emphasis in the original. []
  4. Hans Küng, Structures of the Church, (London: Burns & Oates, 1965), p. 161 []
  5. For example, the twenty-five page document detailing “The Apostolic Succession from St. Peter and St. Paul to Larry Wilson Johnson, First Bishop of the Anglican Church of Virginia, Presiding Bishop of the Orthodox Apostolic Anglican Church of Haiti, and of Australian Anglican Church of Virginia International Communion”, available online from <www.theanglicanchurch.net/apostolicsessionACOVA2004.doc >. Accessed 10 November 2007. []
  6. Küng, Structures, pp. 165-166. []
  7. Küng, Church, p. 366. []
  8. Küng, Church, p. 367. []
  9. Schillebeeckx, Ministry, p. 34. []
  10. Schillebeeckx, Ministry, p. 33. []
  11. Schillebeeckx, Ministry, pp. 36-37. []
  12. The will of Adam, Lord Gifford, 21st August 1885, available online from <www.giffordlectures.org/will.asp>. Accessed 10 November 2007. []
  13. ‘Natural theology’ in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, edited by John Bowker (Oxford: OUP, 2000). []
  14. ‘History of the Gifford Lectures’, Available online from <www.giffordlectures.org/online.asp>. Accessed 11 November 2007. []
  15. Stanley Hauerwas, With the grain of the universe: the church’s witness and natural theology: being the Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of St. Andrews in 2001, (London: SCM Press, 2002), p. 142. []
  16. Hauerwas, Grain of the Universe, p. 207. []
  17. Hauerwas, Grain of the Universe, p. 207. []
  18. John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel, (Notre Dame, In: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), p. 56. Quoted in Hauerwas, Grain of the Universe, p. 223. []
  19. Irenaeus, in Adversus haereses (Against Heresies), (c. AD. 175-185); 4.20.7. []
  20. Yoder, Priestly Kingdom, pp. 50-54. The New Testament examples that Yoder gives are John 1:1-14; Heb. 2:8-9; Colossians; Philippians 2 and Rev. 4:1-5:4. []
  21. Yoder, Priestly Kingdom, p. 53. []
  22. Michael Ramsey, The Glory of God and the Transfiguration of Christ, (1949/1967), pp. 89–90. Reprinted in Douglas Dales (ed.), Glory descending: Michael Ramsey and his writings, (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2005), p. 84. []
  23. Michael G. Cartwright, ‘Being Sent: Witnesses’, in The Blackwell companion to Christian ethics, edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells, (Oxford ; Malden, MA : Blackwell Pub., 2004), p. 483p. []
  24. Yoder, Priestly Kingdom, p. 54. []
  25. John Howard Yoder, The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecumenical and Ecclesiological , edited by Michael G. Cartwright (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), p. 74. Quoted in Cartwright, ‘Being Sent’, p. 484. []
  26. Elias Chacour, We belong to the land: the story of a Palestinian Israeli who lives for peace and reconciliation, with Mary E. Jensen, 2nd rev. ed., (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001 [1990]), pp. 30-31. Also quoted in Cartwright, ‘Being Sent’, p. 482. []
  27. Chacour, We belong, p. 32. []
  28. Cartwright, ‘Being Sent’, p. 486. []
  29. Cartwright, ‘Being Sent’, p. 486. []
  30. Cartwright, ‘Being Sent’, p. 486. []
  31. Cartwright, ‘Being Sent’, p. 492. []
  32. Christine D. Pohl, Making room: recovering hospitality as a Christian tradition, (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 42. Michael Cartwright has also explored the centrality of hospitality to Christian witness in his own context of University ministry: see Michael G. Cartwright, Giving and Receiving Hospitality: Ecumenical and Interfaith Programs at the University of Indianapolis, (Indianapolis, Indiana: University of Indianapolis Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Programs, N.D. [2003?]). Available online here. Accessed 7 February 2008. See also Michael G. Cartwright, Offering Hospitality under the Cross and Flame: United Methodists and Higher Education in Indiana. Available online here. Accessed 7 February 2008 []
  33. Pohl, Making room, p. 31. []
  34. Pohl, Making room, p. 33. The quotation is from Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 40 §31 AD 381, ‘On Holy Baptism’, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. 7. The whole of Pohl’s book is a masterful restatement of the importance of hospitality in the Christian tradition. []
  35. John Howard Yoder, Priestly Kingdom, p. 61 []