The Bible opens with “In the beginning” when “God created the heavens and the earth.” John’s Gospel states: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The relationship between the Word and the world is clearly articulated thus: “All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made” (Jh 1:3). The Word is God’s agent in the creation of the universe, a thought not dissimilar to that of Paul in Col 1:15. The Word is clearly distinct from the creation in kind, not merely in degree.
Other religions had gods walk the earth incognito, or had proclaimed the divinisation of some hero or sage. Christianity alone took a historical person and said: “Here, in this human personality, with all the limitations and suffering of our human condition, was the eternal God, the Cause and Origin of all that is.” Christ is placed in the context of the creator-creature relationship so that we can regard him as being absolutely unique and intrinsically unsurpassable. The Logos is distinct from creation. A different verb is used for the creation (“to become”) and the Logos (“to be”).
The implications of such a statement were not lost on G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy: “Right in the middle of all these things stands up an enormous exception…. It is nothing less than the loud assertion that this mysterious maker of the world has visited his world in person. It declares that really and even recently, or right in the middle of historic times, there did walk into the world this original invisible being; about whom the thinkers make theories and the mythologists hand down myths; the Man Who Made the World.”
In the 4th century, Arius argued that there was a time when the Logos was not, that the Second Person of the Godhead was a created being. In the decision of the Council of Nicea, the church universal affirmed the Incarnation. In A.D. 318 in his brilliant, historic and still relevant treatise, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (On the Incarnation of theWord of God), the nineteen year old Egyptian deacon Athanasius emphasized that the love of God was manifested in the Incarnate Logos’ supreme act of descent, love of God was manifested in the Incarnate Logos’ supreme kenosis. Only God could bring salvation. He argued correctly that if the Son is a creature, He would need redemption Himself. Only God could bring salvation. At one time it looked as if the doctrine of the Incarnation would be jettisoned in the interest of maintaining peace within Christendom. “The world is against you,” they shouted at Athanasius. He retorted flashing his black eyes: “If the world is against Athanasius, then Athanasius is against the world.” Five times he was banished from the empire for holding firm to this doctrine of the Incarnation.
Similarly the only absolutely unique element in Christianity – the only thing that distinguishes it wholly from all other religion – is the belief that the Creator became man in one figure of history. This creates a family of humans with the dignity of man as high as the divine. We are not moving towards a cultural rainbow that reflects the diversity of the world’s existing cultures. Some scholars go as far as defining “world Christianity” as “Christianity in the non-Western world.” There is also an increased use of the term “Christianities,” as in the recent History of Christianity. In this context, it is critical to emphasize also the pilgrim principle, or universal side, of world Christianity. Are we global citizens with tribal souls? That perhaps is globalised market. We are global Christians with unique cultural locations.
As we open up to each other, we form a bridge into unfamiliar traditions, banishing the fear that often accompanies change and dislocation. In other words, when we broaden our lens on the world, we better understand ourselves. For Christians these ideas are not recent inventions of our globalised world context. Sixteen hundred years ago, Augustine wrote in City of God: “This heavenly city, then, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained, but recognizing that, however various these are, they all tend to one and the same end of earthly peace.”
Christian life is a vocation, a call in the world, to recreate oneself and the world around. Put simply, Christians believe that any work that serves the neighbour and the Community also serves God. Virtually any work can become an extension of God’s work in the world.