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This is part of a series of posts based on the Churches Together in England publication one light: one world. If you click on the link you will find the biblical texts. This post of the same name covers the purpose of this series.
1 Corinthians 1: 2 - 3
The image of Christendom haunts our ecumenical conversations because, whilst many of us long for unity, we dread the idea of a single institutional church.
Perhaps in the second half of the last century, when the British churches were enthusiastic for unity, Christendom was a distant historical memory. Today, many movements are suspicious of unity schemes. Radical Christian movements see Christendom as an aberrant form of Christianity and seek church structures that resist it. I suppose radical Islam, at least as it is represented in the Western media, also reminds some Christians of the dangers of theocracy.
I share these suspicions. I don't see any value in a future where we are subject to a single institution. I have always understood holy obedience, not as obedience to institutional power, who justify their actions through claiming God's support, but as listening and discerning the will of God.
Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, a church which is prone to delusions of power. Paul doesn't build them up in terms of authority. Their unity is through Jesus Christ and their calling is as one community amongst many.
They are defined as church not through a single coherent church structure but with reference to their calling and the many other communities who share their calling.
The key to unity has to be in mutual recognition and solidarity, not through the imposition of a single universal church structure.