Glynn Cardy Reflects on the model of the church as a ship

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Archbishop Helder Camara once wrote:

"Pilgrim: when your ship, long moored in harbour, gives you the illusion of being a house; when your ship begins to put down roots in the stagnant water by the quay: put out to sea! Save your boat's journeying soul, and your own pilgrim soul, cost what it may."

There are some churches that resemble houses, and some that resemble ships. One well-known hymn, Christ is Made the Sure Foundation, suggests the church is like a house and Christ the cornerstone. With sure biblical foundations the church will be rock-solid, able to withstand the storms of change and doubt. If one considers the church to be more like a ship than a house, however, then the Bible ceases to be a brick to fortify your structure but is spiritual food for the journey. The traditions of the church cease to be rules to keep but helpful hints to guide. God too changes.

Read it all.

Filed under: * TheologyEcclesiology

Posted August 28, 2007 at 12:09 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. justinmartyr wrote:

Any analogies carried too far look just as ridiculous. I’m guessing that Jesus shouldn’t be a Door, because then we would have to explain the handle; or his rough bark exterior and fading leaves, if he is the Vine.

This commentary smacks of the silly over-extended analogies found in medieval poetry and theology.

August 28, 12:22 pm | [comment link]
2. VaAnglican wrote:

I think the ship analogy is a grand one.  The Episcopal Church is much akin to a ship—a ship that is not just leaking but which is taking on water faster than it can be pumped out; a ship that has no suitable or prudent mariners at the helm; a ship whose officers have deliberately jettisoned the navigational charts and compass which which they were entrusted; a ship that is adrift, without any bearings or any ability to moor; a ship that has no ability to control its sails, and so will blow in whichever direction the wind blows, with regard for its safety or that of its cargo and crew.  It is a ship that while technically “sailing,” is in fact moving without purpose or destination, save to destruction.  And yet those at the help seem oblivious to it all, equating movement with progress and unaware totally of the titanic disaster looming below decks, where years of poor training have left the crew unable to shore up the bulkheads and stem the flow of the water pouring in. 

Yes, the ship is indeed an apt analogy for a church, and most especially the Episcopal Church.

August 28, 12:40 pm | [comment link]
3. VaAnglican wrote:

That should read “without regard for its safety . . .”

August 28, 12:42 pm | [comment link]
4. Oldman wrote:

“God to changes.” Never!
My sig says “Oldman” which is true.  The good Vicar’s analogy is, for at least some, nice-sounding and perhaps comforting.  In my life I have lived in houses with a solid foundations and sailed on ships that seemed to be going in the right direction, but I soon found out differently.

As a boy, I started in a solid house, then while in college I set sail, but soon found that the winds that filled the sails were not always soft zephyrs.  More often than not they were produced by angry storms. 

The same with houses.  Having lived in an Islamic country where most houses were built on stones of a mistaken faith, I found an Anglican house that helped me and my faith survive.

God’s house does not set sail, but stands solidly because the Master Carpenter built it.  There is no way to improve it by erecting mast after mast and sailing waters using charts made by humans.

I pity those in our church who want to set sail and discover new truths, but the ones I pity the most are their children and their grandchildren who are taught to search for the Truth in every port on the world’s seas.

I pray to my Lord, that they will someday move into a house that is strong, because it was built by the Master Carpenter.  Every board, every nail has a purpose.

My word of advice to my children and grandchildren is not to live in a house that was made by man, but one built by the Master Carpenter.

August 28, 1:49 pm | [comment link]
5. Oldman wrote:

Re #4: Should read “God too changes.”

August 28, 1:51 pm | [comment link]
6. Ed the Roman wrote:

Evil of me, but I shall point out that the most common ship metaphor for the Church is the “Barque of Peter.”

August 28, 2:28 pm | [comment link]
7. Oldman wrote:

#6 Good point. You point out a reason to avoid analogies.  As you say, there are always exceptions.  As an old friend use to say, “It’s not always wise to call a spade a shovel.”  Too many ways to use both words.

August 28, 2:49 pm | [comment link]
8. VaAnglican wrote:

#6: You’re correct: the church (and church building) is often analogized to a ship.  The word nave comes from the Latin navis.  It’s generally thought that the association sprung from the appearance of the center part of a church, which if turned upside down with its pitched roof appeared like the keel of a ship of sail.  The church protects its inhabitants from peril, as does a ship.  Despite it disparate members, it moves in the same direction, toward the same destination (“their desired haven”—Ps 107)  And so forth.  That’s not what this commentator meant, of course, when using the quotation from Camera (aka the “Red Bishop,” for his Marxist leanings: he laid the groundwork for what was to be liberation theology).  But the analogy itself is ancient and a fine one.

August 28, 3:03 pm | [comment link]
9. SteveCox wrote:

Welcome to the Barque of Peter.  Here’s your bucket.  Start bailing…

August 28, 8:59 pm | [comment link]
10. D. C. Toedt wrote:

VaAnglican [#2, #8], the ship analogy nicely dovetails with the notion that the Bible is like a set of ancient navigational charts and sailing directions. Every (competent) mariner knows that the map is not the territory. If you slavishly follow the chart, without periodically looking around at the actual conditions, you’re liable to run up on an uncharted obstacle such as a sandbar or reef. The obstacle might be uncharted because the cartographers couldn’t detect it, or simply missed it, or because the obstacle wasn’t there when they made their charts.

August 28, 10:41 pm | [comment link]
11. justinmartyr wrote:

“If you slavishly follow the chart, without periodically looking around at the actual conditions, you’re liable to run up on an uncharted obstacle such as a sandbar or reef.”

...Or slavishly follow a series of captains that have time after time run the ship into the rocks. Thank goodness the shipbuilder and cartographer can be trusted—the only one we can trust (slavishly).

August 28, 10:49 pm | [comment link]
12. Ed the Roman wrote:

Well, D.C. and justinmartyr, you’ve made an interesting analogical case that no scriptural prohibition can safely be discarded but that circumstances may reveal new prohibitions that are required.

You probably should have phrased this by suggesting that ancient cartographers imagined hazards that weren’t there, or have washed away, but since we don’t actually have the Instument that the sacred writers had, we aren’t necessarily able to judge that.  I don’t have a spiritual leadline, that’s for sure.

While the Shipwright and Cartographer are trustworthy, they don’t speak out loud anymore.  Unless you are relying on “Who hears you, hears Me.”  Which you may not want to.

August 30, 5:09 pm | [comment link]
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