The William Stringfellow Project: A Private and Public Faith, Part 2

In Chapter 2 of A Private and Public Faith--The Specter of Protestantism--Stringfellow examines the relationship between the priesthood and the laity. For Stringfellow the central work of the church is the witness of the laity in the world. The priesthood exists to prepare, send, and support the laity in this task.

Stringfellow was missional. He writes:
No person--for that matter, no creature, no idea, no institution, no nation, no issue, no action--is beyond the reach and intercession of some member of the Body of Christ. It is in this way, indeed, that is, by the width and depth of the implication of Christians in the life of the world, that the unequivocal fact of grace is communicated, that the universality of Christ is represented, and that the ubiquity of the Word of God in the world is exposed.

For lay folk in the Church this means that there is no forbidden work. There is no corner of human existence, however degraded or neglected, into which they may not venture; no person, however, beleaguered or possessed, whom they may not befriend and represent; no cause, however vain or stupid, in which they may not witness; no risk, however costly or imprudent, which they may not undertake.

This intimacy with the world as it is, this particular freedom, this awful innocence toward the world which a Christian is given, makes the Christian look like a sucker. The Christian looks like that to others because she is engaged in the wholesale expenditure of her life. The Christian looks like that because she is without caution or prudence in preserving her own life. She looks like that because she is not threatened by the power of death either over her own life or over the rest of the world. She looks like that because she is free to give her life--to die--imminently, today, for the sake of any one or anything at all, even for those or that which seems unworthy of her death, thereby celebrating the One who died for all though none be worthy, not even one.

A Christian is not distinguished by his political views, or moral decisions, or habitual conduct, or personal piety, or, least of all, by his churchly activities. A Christian is distinguished by his radical esteem for the Incarnation--to use the traditional jargon--by his reverence for the life of God in the whole of Creation, even and, in a sense, especially, Creation in the travail of sin.

The characteristic place to find the Christian is among her enemies.

The first place to look for Christ is in Hell.
Thus the laity function as priests--intercessors--in the world. And beyond these priestly duties, Stringfellow also assigns the laity the prophetic task:
The prophet is characteristically not priest and preacher, but layperson. His task is to represent and expose the Word of God in the world, and particularly in the posture of the Word which stands over against the world's existence and the world's disregard of and arrogance toward the Word of God. And sometimes his task is to declare and convey the Word of God as it stands over against the worldliness of the Church.
Stringfellow goes on to also assign to the laity the task of apologetics:
Apologetics--the defense and explication of the Gospel against the world's hostility to the Word of God--accompanies the ordinary involvement of the laity in daily work and politics and business and culture. No Christian can get by for very long in any kind of secular work or profession or activity without encountering the misconceptions which the world has about the Gospel, and without being exposed to the enmity which the world bears toward the Gospel. To be silent in the face of such perversion of the faith or of such aggression against the faith is to become an accomplice...Each layperson must be her own apologist, responsible for her stewardship of the Gospel in her daily life and work.

...The Christian social witness is achieved only insofar as Christians are deeply implicated in the real life of society--in unions and political clubs and citizen groups and the like...Witness becomes possible only when the Christian is on the actual scene where the conflict is taking place, the decision is being made, the legislation is being enacted.
And finally, the laity also carry the burden of evangelism:
Evangelism consists of loving another human being in a way that represents the care of God...
On to Part 3 of 4

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One thought on “The William Stringfellow Project: A Private and Public Faith, Part 2”

  1. Thanks Richard,

    That first long quote is extraordinary. I am greatly inspired by it. I also appreciate your 'regendering' of the text.

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