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The Presence of Christ in the World
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Creation and Redemption:
  1. God is present in the world as its Creator, Sustainer, Lord of history who rules all things as Loving Father. Frequently in the history of Christian thought and today the point of departure for speaking of Christ's presence in the world is ecclesiological: Christ is present in the Church and through his Lordship over the Church he exercises his Lordship over the world. This position leads to the conclusions that Christ's presence is limited to the presence the Church mediates, that he acts only in the Church, that his lordship over the world operates only through the Church's mission, and that when the world and the Church are in conflict, Christ is always on the side of the Church. Of course the Church is the beloved Bride of Christ for whom he gave himself (cf. Eph 52:5 ff.) Nevertheless, and for this reason above all, judgment begins at the house of God (cf. 1 Pet 4:17).

  2. Though it is true that there is a presence of Christ in the Church which places her in special relationship to the world, an "ecclesiological monopoly" on the presence of Christ and the conclusions which follow from it are exegetically untenable. The presence of Christ in the world is a consequence of the continuity of God's action in creation and redemption. This continuity of God's acting in creation and redemption is found in the covenant he made in the Old Testament with Israel and renewed and transformed in the New Testament with all humanity. The continuity laid emphasis on the political and social implications of the saving work of Christ as well as on faith as a personal engagement. In the New Testament "the new creation" (cf. 2 Cor 5:17) is seen as the restoration and completion of the purposes of the Creator. Christ is the redeemer of the whole world, in Him God has reconciled the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19). The universal dimensions of the Lordship of the one Christ (cf. Eph 1:21f), to which Holy Scripture witnesses, speak pointedly today to a world deeply fragmented and in search of its unity.

  3. It is through the Spirit that Christ is at work in creation and redemption. As the presence in the world of the risen Lord, the Spirit affirms and manifests the resurrection and effects the new creation. Christ who is Lord of all and active in creation points to God the Father who, in the Spirit, leads and guides history where there is no unplanned development.

  4. The Father is the absolutely primary principle for he is "source, guide and goal of all that is" (Rom 11:36; cf. 1 Cor 8:6). The reason why we have been elected and predestinated in Christ is to "cause his glory to be praised" (Eph 1:12, 6). The purpose of the mystery of Christ himself is to make known to the rulers and authorities the infinite wisdom of God (Eph 3:10). After the Fall, mankind became more and more alienated from the one God. One of the fruits of the messianic era will be that every knee shall bow to God (Isa 45:23), that all the peoples will worship him (Ps 22, 30). This is what the Gospel of John means when it says: "This is my Father's glory, that you may bear fruit in plenty and so be my disciples" (Jn 15:7).

  5. In response to the revelation of this triune God, Christians affirm that the purposefulness of history is the framework in which the diverse realities of all human activities are to be understood. On this ground we can also recognize that the process of secularization, with its rejection of every clerical and theological qualification, has given all aspects of life an autonomy whose validity theology has come to recognize and this has stimulated us to seek for new ways of expressing Christ's involvement in the world. This remains true even if we do not agree with the rejection of transcendence which has often accompanied this process and even if we detect here the secularism which results from it as well as the adherence to various religions or pseudo-religions.

  6. We are agreed that there is a presence of the Spirit of Christ in the world. How and where can we recognize this effective presence ? This problem presents us with a series of questions which arise today for all churches. These questions may be formulated as follows:

    We look for his presence in the plan or purpose which God is realizing through all the complexities of history.

    We look for his presence as Lord of history in those movements of the human spirit which, with or without the assistance of the Church, are achieving the ends of his Kingdom.

    We look for his presence in those values and standards which owe their origin to the Gospel, but now have become embedded in public conscience and institutions.

  7. But in these questions we keep before us the following convictions:

    - In the Cross Christ identifies himself with men in their sin (cf. Is 53:4f, 11f.; Jn 1:29; 2 Cor 5:21) and need in order that they might be identified with him in the new victorious life of his resurrection (cf. Rom 6:4 f ; Col 3:1-4). The first identification remains true and effective even where it is not recognized. Christ is present in the poor and helpless who cry for liberation.

    - The challenge of the world to the Church and its appeal for help may be at the same time a challenge and appeal from Christ, who in this way judges his Church, demands obedience and calls it to reformation.

    - The Christian who looks back on his own life will say that Christ was active in it, leading him to repentance, conversion, and faith, even before he was aware or made any conscious response. We are therefore bound to claim that Christ is similarly active in the lives of others for whom faith lies still in the future.

  8. The Christian who recognizes the presence and activity of Christ in these forms will rejoice in them and be willing to cooperate with them. This is not to say that either the salvation of the individual or the transformation of society is complete unless the work of Christ is brought to conscious recognition through the power of the Spirit to interpret and convince. People can be liberated from the demonic dangers of absolute autonomy only by a firm recognition of the creatureliness and transience of the world they are trying to transform. To bring this world under the rule of God does not mean that in it we are to have our abiding city (cf. Heb 13:14). There is no dichotomy between the Christians' personal response to the Christ they find in the Church and their corporate response along with others, Christian and non-Christian alike, to the Christ who confronts them with the world. To participate in the divine life by grace is to participate in God's love for the world which he has created and which, with the help of responsible and responsive people, he is re-creating.

    Church and World:

  9. The Creator of the world does not want mankind to destroy itself through lack of liberty, peace and justice (cf. Ez 18:32). Rather, through the revelation of his will, he leads mankind onto the road of salvation and in Jesus Christ offers it the gift of final redemption from all ungodly ties and participation in His divine life and thus in His freedom.

    This movement towards freedom already begins with the election of the old people of the covenant, a people that he continually calls back to serve him freely.

  10. In Jesus Christ there takes place the final reconciliation and with it also the call to the whole of the world (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-21). The Church that Christ has sent into the world has to carry this message of liberation (cf. Lk 4:18f, 8:31-36; Rom 6:18-22) among the peoples of the world, and with it also the call to that freedom which is God's gift to people in grace, all with a view to the perfection in which God will ultimately construct peace and liberty (cf. Rom 8:19-21). This statement already makes it clear that the fundamental relationship between the Church and the world lies in Jesus Christ who at one and the same time is the Head of the Church and the Lord of the world (cf. Heb 1:2f, Rev 17:14; 19:15f).

  11. The Church professes that Christ himself is the carrier of the message of the rule of God and the liberation of mankind. If the Church goes out into the world, if it brings the Gospel to men and endeavors to realize more justice, more conciliation and more peace, then in doing so it is only following its Lord into domains that, unbeknown to men, already belong to him and where he is already anonymously at work.

  12. The Church was founded by Christ to share in the life which comes from the Father and it is sent to lead the world to Jesus Christ, to its full maturity for the glory and praise of the Father. It is therefore called to be the visible witness and sign of the liberating will of God, of the redemption granted in Jesus Christ, and of the kingdom of peace that is to come. The Church carries out this task by what it does and what it says, but also simply by being what it is, since it belongs to the nature of the Church to proclaim the word of judgement and grace, and to serve Christ in the poor, the oppressed and the desperate (Mt 25:31-40). More particularly, however, it comes together for the purpose of adoration and prayer, to receive ever new instruction and consolation and to celebrate the presence of Christ in the sacrament; around this center, and with the multiplicity of the gifts granted by the Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:4-11, 28-30; Rom 12:6-8; Eph 4: 11) it lives as a koinonia of those who need and help each other. We consequently believe in a special presence of Christ in the Church by which it is placed in a quite special position in relation to the world and we believe that the Church stands under the special aid of the Holy Spirit, above all in its ministry of preaching and sacraments (cf. Jn 14:16, 25f, 15:26, 16:7-14).

  13. The Church can therefore correspond to its calling if its structure and its life are fashioned by love and freedom. Accordingly the Church does not seek to win human beings for a secular program of salvation by propagandistic methods but to convert them to Christ and in this way to serve them. In its proclamation of the Gospel there is at the same time a powerful creative cultural dynamic.

  14. As a communio structured in this way the Church contradicts the structures of the various sectors of the life of modem secular society: opposing exploitation, oppression, manipulation, intellectual and political pressures of all kinds. The renewal of Christian congregations as authentic life forms will also influence the wider social and political context.

  15. In addition, the Christian commitment of alert and responsible Christians has often been organized in political parties, professional associations, trade unions and suchlike, with or without guidance from the official church authorities.

    There is today a certain crisis in these activities. The solution of specific problems facing them today requires much expertise. In addition it sometimes happens that the claim of certain parties and interest groups to represent a Christian position is an obstacle to the Christian witness to all human beings. The decision on this question in each case may differ according to country and circumstance; but for us there is no specific confessional difference here.

  16. The official church authorities, who are often regarded as representatives of their communities, have to pay careful attention to whether and in what respects they are obliged by their Lord to speak a prophetic and pastoral word to the general public. Such an obligation will arise especially when no one else speaks up against certain injustices or abuses.

  17. Along the road which the Church at any given time takes through the world in the solidarity with human beings commanded by Christ, it must not tie itself down to a program of its own but always remain open for ever new directives of the Holy Spirit promised to it. The Holy Spirit strengthens it in spite of all imperfectness and provisionality of social, even Christian, fashioning of life in fidelity to its redeemer and in obedience to the creator and upholder of the world. The Spirit is himself the pledge (cf. Eph 1:14; 2 Cor 1:22) that its hope in the consummation of the recreation of the world will not be disappointed (cf. Rom 8:11, 19-21; 2 Petr 3:13).

    The Church as the Effective Sign of Christ's Presence in the World

  18. The Church exposes its fundamental orientations and controlling loyalties by the way it lives, no matter what it says to the contrary. When the Church turns inward on itself and clings to outdated structures, it gives the impression that Christ is its exclusive possession rather than its Lord who goes before and leads. When the Church is truly a pilgrim people on the way through the world (cf. Heb 13:14; Phil 3:20; Gal 4:26; 1 Petr 2:11), it bears witness that Christ is the Lord over the world as well as the Church. Turning the Church outward to bear witness to his presence in the world is a function of Christ's converting presence with his Church. The Church is a worshiping community whose prayers are inseparable from its prophetic and diaconal service. In worship and witness the Church celebrates the central fact of Christ's unity with his people. Being united to Christ in his death and resurrection, the Church is empowered with the Spirit to walk in newness of life and so to be a converted and converting presence in Christ's world. By living as a new people persuaded of God's acceptance in Christ, the Church is a persuasive sign of God's love for all his creation and of his liberating purpose for all men.

  19. In a world undergoing a profound transformation, the Church cannot become set in immobility on the plea that it is immutable, but must above all be listening to the Word of God in which it will discern, beyond all "conservatism" and all "progressivism", the transformations required of it precisely in virtue of its fidelity to this Word.

  20. First, the localness and the catholicity of the Church are to be kept in perspective. It is only by participating in the local community that we share in the life of the universal Church, but the local community without universality (in particular the small basic communities but likewise the local Churches at regional level) runs the risk of becoming a ghetto or of being arbitrarily dominated by individuals.

  21. Second, practical changes must take account of the great variety of situations confronting the Churches and these changes presuppose both a decentralization of the Church and a larger participation on all levels, quite especially on what is commonly (and perhaps misleadingly) called the laity.

    Participation is essential because it springs from the very nature of the Christian vocation and also because a great many fields are quite inaccessible to the Church except through its lay members who live and work in them. Moreover this participation is important because the Church's effective witness depends in very large measure on expertise of the laity in diverse fields, expertise which the clergy do not have, have not had, but too often have presumed to have. However their participation in the life of the church is not merely to be seen in terms of their professional expertise. They also have the specific spiritual ministry, which they exercise through all activities including their technical competence. The church in all its members is ministerial.

  22. Third, the Church must take great care not to act too prematurely today, as it too often did in the past, to suppress disturbingly novel expressions of spiritual life and spontaneous forms of community, on the ground that they are merely expressions of the human spirit and not also expressions of the Holy Spirit.

  23. Fourth, the Church's faithful mutation is to be seen as consistent with the Church's historical character. This means that apostolic continuity, perhaps quite diversely defined, is integral to the Church's identity through change. It also means that when the Church has been obediently changeable, it has always taken into account the diverse socio-political and cultural contexts in which Christ's presence was known and confessed. Here arises the question of what belongs to the "establishment" of the Church and of what emerges from the structures which Christ intended for His Church.

  24. In incorporating these and other characteristics of change we discussed how they will bear upon the new manifestation of the unity of the Church which is now emerging. The slogan "unity in necessary things" has been accepted but we have not yet specified what is necessary. An "ecumenism of convergence" with its focus on what is necessary will not demand uniformity nor the death of pluralism.

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