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Order, administration, and God

Sometimes, God seems curiously concerned with order. This aspect of God’s character, as portrayed in Scripture, is not frequently emphasized in much contemporary theology. But the image we find in Genesis 1:1-2:4 is of a God who establishes all the bounded variation in the natural world: light and darkness, heaven and earth, sea and land, diverse plant and animal life to fill every divided space, human beings as male and female, and times and seasons, along with their signs of discernment. It is a creation bursting with difference and order simultaneously, a “harmonious dissimilitude” in which “the wisdom of God…shineth in the beautiful variety of all things” (Hooker, Laws 3.11).

Our own human ordering of things is founded as a reflection of this divine activity, more or less dimly depending on the occasion or matter. God also reaches into “the affairs of men”, to use a somewhat outdated phrase. We see this unity of divine and human ordering in the many manifestations in Scripture of what could be termed–loosely but not irreverently–cultural activity:  the laws of Israel; the building of tabernacle, temple, and royal palace; Christ’s preaching of the Gospel; and the foundation and governance of the Church. All these are the expression of an ordering God, dwelling among his people and forming them by many means of grace into the image of the heavenly, the society of the blessed, the eternal Jerusalem. These are all divine gifts and the work of human hands, ultimately finding their unity in  ‘the one mediator between God and human beings, the human Jesus Christ’ (1 Tim 2:5).

Today, despite (or perhaps because of) an Anglican heritage involving deep reflection on order, we tend to be suspicious of according too high a place to contemporary efforts at regulating community, as in the expression of ethical judgments, the establishment of guidelines and boundaries for maintaining relations between other Anglican church or our ecumenical partners, and even (truth be told, for many) the whole activity of bishops or other clergy active in administrative roles. For many, these activities are thought to be far from the heart of the Christian life, the Gospel message, or the Church’s ministry. At best, they are tolerated as a necessary evil. This thought is understandable, but also deeply mistaken.

One of the more poignant scenes in Scripture occurs at the Feeding of the 5000, especially in Mark’s account (6:34-44). Jesus, seeing the crowds, has compassion on them, “for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” And what does he do in response? He teaches them, and he feeds them. The echoes with the Exodus generation are not accidental here, and they have been depicted artistically in many places, not least the Sistine Chapel. Just as that generation received a Law for ordering their community and sustenance for the journey, so do the 5000. Jesus constitutes them as the people of God, through preaching and refreshing. In doing so, he acts as a “shepherd” in the fullest sense given that term in the Old Testament: he creates, rules, guides, and sustains the LORD’s chosen.

We fail to see the significance of governance, administration, and leadership in the Church, from the lowest and most mundane level to the highest and most sublime because we too often lack a full-orbed Scriptural vision of what it means to give meaningful and effective shape to human life. It is a reflection of the divine activity, indeed, a concrete realization of its unity in our own fragmented state, to be classed with world-sustaining, lawgiving, or temple building. It is how we, “as living stones,” are “built up into a spiritual house…a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [and] God’s own people” (1 Pet 2:5, 9). The gift of order and of administration, like every “good and perfect gift…coming down from the Father of lights” and like every gift of the church’s ministry, is given that the body of Christ may be built up and we all may come to the fullest expression of our humanity, found in “the fullness of Christ” (Jam 1:17; Eph 4:13).

We must learn to remember and treasure in our minds this vision, if we hope to reach that goal for which our life together was established. It is only then that we can sustain our efforts, when they seem dry, humdrum, or “every-day.” Only then can we approach the up-building of the Church properly, for the salvation of the world and the good of all people, to the praise and glory of him who is our Maker, our Redeemer, and our Sustainer, Jesus Christ our Lord.


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