The following is from an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury to Muslims at Islamic University in Islamabad. Excellent. I urge you to read the whole thing. Originally from the Anglican Communion News Service.
Imagine someone watching, over a period of about one year, the things that happen in a Christian church. They would be aware that one day of the week had special significance. Particularly if they were observing what happens in a historically Christian country, they would notice that Sunday is seen as important for meeting and praying. They would see that Christians met to sing and speak to a God whom they describe as the maker of all things and the judge of all things, and that they knelt or bowed in the presence of this God, thanking him and acknowledging their failures and wickedness. They would see that extracts from a holy book were read in public and that instruction was given by leaders of the congregation in how to understand this book. They would perhaps notice that most of the prayers ended with words referring to someone called Jesus Christ, and describing him as ‘Lord’. They would see that at different seasons Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus and also commemorated his death and his miraculous return from death. Sometimes they would hear prayers and blessings mentioning ‘the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’. And finally, they would see that new members were brought into the community by a ceremony of pouring water on them or immersing them in water, and that the most regular action performed by communities of different kinds was the blessing and sharing of bread and wine. They would notice, perhaps with bewilderment or even shock, that this sharing of bread and wine was described as sharing the body and blood of Jesus.
In what I wish to say, I am trying to think what questions might arise for someone looking at Christians from the outside in the way I have just imagined. These may or may not be the questions you have. But perhaps the attempt to answer these questions will help bring other questions more clearly into focus.
Let me begin with the most obvious features of Christian prayer. We pray ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’. And the best-known of all Christian prayers begins with the words ‘Our Father in heaven’. These belong together. Probably the most important Christian belief is that we are given the right to speak to God in exactly the same way that Jesus did, because the life, the power, the Spirit, that filled Jesus is given to us also.
We believe that Jesus, Son of Mary, is fully a human being. But we believe more than that. Because of the divine authority that he shows in his power to teach and to forgive, as our gospels describe it, we say also that the whole of his human life is the direct effect of God’s action working in him at every moment. Some of our teachers have said that his human life is like iron that has been heated in the fire until it has the same power to burn as the fire does.
We call him the Son of God. But we do not mean by this that God has physically begotten him, or that he is made to be another God alongside the one God. We say rather that the one God is first the source of everything, the life from which everything flows out. Then we say that the one God is also in that flowing-out. The life that comes from him is not something different from him. It reflects all that he is. It shows his glory and beauty and communicates them. Once again, our teachers say that God has a perfect and eternal ‘image’ of his glory, sometimes called his wisdom, sometimes called his ‘word’, sometimes called his ‘son’, though this is never to be understood in a physical and literal way. And we say that the one God, who is both source and outward-flowing life, who is both ‘Father’ and ‘Son’, is also active as the power that draws everything back to God, leading and guiding human beings towards the wisdom and goodness of God. This is the power we call ‘Holy Spirit’.