THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE WORLD
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).
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.
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.
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"
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.
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
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.
- 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
- 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 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:
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.
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).
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.
- 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).
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.