Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Community of Believers

The Community of Believers: Christian and Muslim Perspectives

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 186
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Community of Believers
    Book Description:

    The Community of Believersoffers the proceedings of the 2013 Building Bridges seminar, a dialogue between leading Christian and Muslim scholars under the stewardship of Georgetown University.These essays consider such themes as the Church as mystical body of Christ versus the Church as proclamation; the roots and uses of the termummahand its development over time; Christian desires for communion, experiences of division, and approaches to unity; the history of Muslim disunity; twentieth-century Christian ecclesiology and its responses to a post-Christendom and post-Christian world; and the Arab Spring as a case study for contemplating accommodationism, conservatism, reformism, and fundamentalism as Muslim strategies to address the pressures of modernism. The volume also includes texts and commentaries used in the seminar's discussions of each topic and a concluding essay summarizing the tone, content, and style of participant exchanges throughout the seminar.

    eISBN: 978-1-62616-195-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Participants
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    This book presents the proceedings of the twelfth Building Bridges Seminar—an annual gathering of Christian and Muslim scholars founded by the Archbishop of Canterbury in January 2002. In anticipation of his retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury at the end of 2012, Rowan Williams arranged for this project, which he had chaired since 2003, to be taken under the stewardship of Georgetown University in July of that year. Since its founding, it has been the seminar’s practice to alternate between Christian-majority and Muslim-majority contexts. Thus it was under new leadership that the seminar returned for a third time to Doha...

  5. Part I: The Nature and Purpose of the Community

    • The Nature and Purpose of the Christian Community (the Church)
      (pp. 3-14)

      To answer the question of the nature and purpose of the Church would require an extensive historical and chronological examination to look at how different groups of Christians have answered it. The significant differences between these answers are addressed at this seminar by my colleague Lucy Gardner.¹ The differences are often seen as operating between denominational groups (Anglicans, Orthodox, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Free Church), but there are actually many internal differences within each single denomination.² This makes it difficult to give a single answer: “For group X, such and such is the nature and purpose of the Church.” Difficult, but...

    • The Nature and Purpose of the Community (Ummah) in the Qurʾān
      (pp. 15-28)

      In this essay I will explore the meaning ofummah(community). I will use two key Qurʾānic texts to examine its nature and purpose. I will also draw from the Qurʾānic texts that make reference to the concept ofummah,and from some Qurʾānic commentaries that address interpretation of these Qurʾānic texts. Together these sources will give a sense of how the concept ofummahis understood in Muslim tradition. Given the extensive range of Qurʾānic interpretations that make reference toummah,I will be very selective. From the early period of Qurʾānic exegesis, I will draw on the work...

    • Scripture Dialogue I: God’s People Israel and the Church
      (pp. 29-32)

      The passages from Exodus and 1 Peter have been placed together here because the account of Israel given in the former (especially at v. 6) is quoted at 1 Peter 2:9 (“a royal priesthood, a holy nation”).

      This passage occurs at an important moment in the story of the people of Israel. God has recently brought them out of slavery in Egypt, and, led by Moses, they have been brought to Mount Sinai, in the wilderness, where God will establish his covenant with them and give them laws to shape their life as his chosen people. The following chapters of...

    • Scripture Dialogue II: The Umma and Earlier Religious Communities
      (pp. 33-38)

      This key passage, by far the longest selection from the Qurʾān to have been discussed at the 2013 Building Bridges seminar, is relevant not just for Scripture Dialogue II but also for other sessions. It is given here in its entirety in the expectation that we will return to it at various points.

      This passage is understood as belonging to the earliest Medinan period, not long after Muhammad and his followers had migrated from Mecca to Medina (the Hijra). This new context brought Muhammad and the Muslim community into contact with the Jewish communities of Medina as well as with...

    • Scripture Dialogue III: The Nature and Purpose of the Church
      (pp. 39-40)

      Ephesians 4:1 marks a turning point in this letter. In chapters 1–3 Paul has expounded the redemptive action of God through Jesus Christ. Now he turns to how believers should live in the light of this good news, and his essential point is that they are called to live as “the body of Christ.” This image of the Church as Christ’s body, which occurs only in Paul’s writings, is also elaborated at Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. The image implies both unity (a body is one) and diversity (a body has many parts). The Church is thus equipped...

    • Scripture Dialogue IV: The Nature and Purpose of the Umma
      (pp. 41-42)

      See Scripture Dialogue I commentary on 2:120–45 for the general context of this verse. The first part of 2:143 is of particular interest for this session on the nature and purpose of theumma.The believing community has been appointed “a middle nation” (ummatan wasaṭan), to be “witnesses against mankind.” (Other translations prefer “over,” “before,” or “to” rather than “against”).

      Thus We have appointed you a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses against mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness against you. And We appointed theqiblahwhich ye formerly observed only that We might know...

  6. Part II: Unity and Disunity in the Life of the Community

    • Perspectives on Christian Desires for Communion and Experiences of Division (or, The History of the Church in Half a Chapter!)
      (pp. 45-64)

      The topic for this lecture is daunting: the attempt to present a simple account of human lives over a significant amount of time seems worryingly hubristic and will inevitably do violence to their complexity, particularity, and pain. There will be other Christians who would want and need to tell this brief account of Christian history very differently; moreover, this account also bears on Muslim prehistory and self-understandings that would also want to tell the tale differently. I am nevertheless encouraged in the task first by the conviction that, alongside the close reading of texts with each other, we need to...

    • Unity and Disunity in the Life of the Muslim Community
      (pp. 65-78)

      Unity of community for the earliest Muslims must have meant unifying leadership. Even when that unity would come to take on an increasingly outward form, that is when it became a “living tradition” principally through the performance of acts of communal worship; it was only under a unifying political leadership that the defining boundaries of the community could be drawn. Through his leadership—religious in its genesis, but necessarily political given the social-political consequences of the message—the Prophet was able to bring together diverse elements of Meccan, Medinan and, to some extent, wider Arabian society into a fairly cohesive...

    • Scripture Dialogue V: Unity and Disunity in the Church
      (pp. 79-80)

      These verses come from the “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus, immediately before his betrayal and crucifixion. Much of the prayer is intercession for the disciples and those who will believe in Jesus through their testimony. As in the passage from Ephesians in chapter 5, so also here the community of the believers is linked to the unity of God. What is more explicit here is the relational nature of the unity of God, which is the source and the model of the unity of the believers. “We are one,” says Jesus, the Son, to the Father (v. 22); verse 23...

    • Scripture Dialogue VI: Unity and Disunity in the Umma
      (pp. 81-84)

      This is another short passage from a section of a Medinan sūra (already cited twice in this selection of texts) particularly concerned with the life of theumma.By God’s grace, the believers have not only come to a true faith in God, saving them from the fire of punishment in the Hereafter, but have also been reconciled to each other, having previously been in a state of enmity. Such unity, however, is vulnerable and can be easily lost. The believers are to make every effort to hold fast together to the cable (elsewhere translated “rope” or “bond”) of God....

  7. Part III: Continuity and Change in the Life of the Community

    • Continuity and Change in the Life of the Community: Muslims’ Changing Attitudes to Change
      (pp. 87-96)

      Today many people in the world keep asking whether Islam and Muslims are capable of change. Is Islam’s inability to change the main source of Muslims’ frustration? What this question presupposes is that both Islam and Muslims are impervious to change. However, the statement that the only constant in history is change is true for the Muslim community as much as it is for others—even when Muslims themselves would like to believe that they are not changing.

      Yet the question is not completely unjustified, as Islamic sources and heritage appear to be ambiguous toward change. On the one hand,...

    • The Christian Church Facing Itself and Facing the World: An Ecumenical Overview of Modern Christian Ecclesiology
      (pp. 97-146)

      Perhaps the major ecclesial, theological, and, indeed, ecumenical event of the twentieth century was Vatican II (1962–1965).¹ It provides a good starting point for any discussion of modern ecclesiology in all Christian churches because, as a council, it consulted widely with other Christian churches in the formulation of its ecclesiological statements as well as in some cases with other religions.² Furthermore, the sorts of issues it raised concerning the place and role of the Church in the modern world are relevant to not only Roman Catholicism but Orthodoxy and Protestantism.³

      Vatican II was called by Pope St. John XXIII...

    • Scripture Dialogue VII: Continuity and Change in the Church
      (pp. 147-150)

      Acts (“The Acts of the Apostles”) was written by Luke as the sequel to his gospel. Starting from the ascension of Jesus, Acts tells of the growth and spread of the early Church, with particular emphasis, in its second half, on the missionary work of Paul, largely among Gentiles. The following passage, from the middle of Acts, refers to the “Council of Jerusalem,” at which a momentous decision is made about the grounds on which Gentiles could become members of the Church. Earlier in Acts (chapter 10), Luke records how God led an initially reluctant Peter to go beyond the...

    • Scripture Dialogue VIII: Continuity and Change in the Umma
      (pp. 151-152)

      See the comments on the change ofqiblain Scripture Dialogue II. It is apparent from this passage that the change ofqiblaprovoked significant public comment, some of it critical. The Qurʾānic response addresses these comments and affirms the divine purpose in the change. Here, as elsewhere in the Qurʾān, change in the life of the community is mandated by the authority of direct divine revelation. Other examples in the Qurʾān of changes in the practice of the community mandated by divine revelation include the command to fight (from around the same period as the change ofqibla—see...

  8. Part IV: Reflection

    • Conversations in Doha
      (pp. 155-164)

      While Building Bridges seminars always include a series of fine lectures, at their core is the lively and frank conversation encouraged by the intentional use of small-group discussion of a collection of preassigned texts. This essay offers a brief description of the small-group process, then shares some of the highlights of Building Bridges 2013’s conversations organized around this seminar’s three overlapping themes: the nature and purpose of the community of believers; its unity and disunity; and its experience of continuity and change.

      Building Bridges participants are assigned to one of four break-out groups. These groups remain constant throughout the seminar,...

  9. Index
    (pp. 165-171)