THE Archbishop of Canterbury recently surmised that that the Church of England was perhaps more engaged in service of the communities in its parishes (notably through foodbanks) than it had been at any time since the Second World War. There is no doubt that loving their neighbours animates many Christians, and also that wider society is entirely content about such an expression of Christian faith.
In this gently written and yet challenging book, Christopher Landau shows how the Gospels and the teaching of St Paul focus emphatically on mutual love between the followers of Jesus as fundamental to unity and mission. Landau argues (with plentiful scriptural illustration) that it is the quality of relationships among believers which is foundational to discipleship. He cites John 13.35 as a core text, and notes something rarely mentioned, namely, that at the footwashing at the Last Supper, Jesus washed the feet of Judas.
This is not to dispute the value of love and service of neighbours beyond the Christian community, but emphasises that mutual love within the household of faith is of the very essence of the gospel.
Landau’s contention is that Christians nowadays love disagreement too much, and harm the Body of Christ by doing so. This conviction was formed during his days as a BBC journalist before his ordination. He was surprised by the willingness of Christians to take to the airwaves to argue fiercely with one another about whatever was the controversial issue of the day without realising the damage that they were doing to the Church’s unity and mission (and, no doubt, to their own discipleship).
Landau thinks that the contemporary tendency of Christians to claim that they are simply “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4.15) may have made it “one of the most misquoted and misappropriated phrases in the Bible”. He shows how Paul keeps truth and love in balance, recognising that mutual seeking after truth, held in love for the other, enables the Body of Christ to grow in maturity.
This is a book directly aimed at Christians in conflict, and offers, at its conclusion, a practical way of pursuing its themes — a resource, The Unity Course (theunitycourse.co.uk), for small groups. Those in the Church of England seeking a structural “differentiation” or “settlement” over same-sex blessings would do well to take Landau’s reflections seriously, as would those keen on reform in this area and liable to unchurch those of more traditional perspectives. Perhaps this book would have been more valuable a decade ago, but it can never be too late for the voice of scripture to recall us to our roots. Landau challenges us all to read the sacred texts afresh.
I found myself irritated at one point that the author was not squarely facing issues related to human sexuality which have caused the most profound disagreement in the Anglican Communion in recent times. Instead, Landau uses an imagined controversy over church seating and the removal of pews to illustrate what he is saying. It seems very trivial, although I do know of places where such matters have riven the Body of Christ apart.
Gradually, I realised the author’s wisdom in using an issue that is self-evidently not one over which Christians should choose to separate. I do hope that this welcome book has a wide readership, and that The Unity Course bears fruit. We need it.
The Rt Revd Graham James is a former Bishop of Norwich and now an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Truro.
Loving Disagreement: The problem is the solution
Equipping the Church £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.69