I went for Indian food the other night with Brad, Jen, and Patrick. We've all been spending time together every day since the end of term. I don't think we realized how much fun we are, but there you go. We talked a bit about pluralism and sectarianism in Christian political engagement (okay, so maybe we're boring) and talked a bit about how we might offer the particular truth of Christianity in the public square.
I continue to learn that people are weird about religion everywhere, not just in the States.
Jen: I visited the Metropolitan Temple in Belfast with my friend, and she got really upset with me when I wouldn't pray the same prayer as the rest of the congregation. We were all supposed to say that we're "guilty sinners, deserving of hell."
Kyle: I ain't guilty. I'm baptized, bitches.
I am at this moment (well, not right this very moment) working on the outline for my first essay. I hope to chat with my tutor about it this afternoon and get to drafting by the end of the week.
"He was the first man to use the term 'catholic,' but he never used it in any letter as referring to anything more than the body of born-again believers who were in Christ by the Holy Spirit."Somehow, I don't see Ignatius using that kind of language. Or anybody else until sometime in the last couple centuries.
"At no time does he suggest that such a term applies to anything Roman or connected with Rome, nor does he ever connect it with anyone who thinks that water baptism is a part of salvation."Oooo, snap. That's a point, but do you think they read the letter in which he addresses the Roman church as "the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who formed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour; the Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of credit, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love"? Compared to the other letters, it sounds like they were his favorites, at any rate.
"Polycarp was born in Smyrna and later became Bishop there. He was a disciple of the Apostle John and also a friend of Ignatius. He was a very dedicated student of the Pauline Epistles and the Gospel of John."So far, so good.
"He had very little to say about sacraments or ritual."Well, we have one letter from Polycarp. It essentially reiterates Paul's ethical teachings. So in fairness, Polycarp just had very little to say.
"He maintained that each church was independent of any outside human authority."What the hell? When? Where? Maybe they have a letter that I don't. Besides all that, the Church's authority wasn't a human authority, kitten, you just have to go back and read Ignatius to know that "where the Bishop is, there is the Catholic Church..."
"He never referred to the ministers as priests..."Oh, yes he did. How about: "Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi:" from the introduction,
"...let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always 'providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man;' abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin."Okay, maybe except for when he talked about priests, he didn't refer to ministers as priests. Oh, and he only mentions "ministers" once, and he called them deacons.
"...and and he never taught that water baptism had anything to do with salvation."Like I said: one letter.
"Tertullian was born of heathen parents in Carthage, Africa. He studied law and lived an exceedingly sinful life until he recieved the Lord Jesus at the age of thirty. He became an intense, hard-hitting defender of the fundamentals of the Christian faith against the traditions of Romanism."That's just precious. Okay, so this might be just a little bit anachronistic. Maybe just a little? Speaking of which, this one is my favorite, because he's wearing an Anglican clerical collar, for some reason, which is a bit of kit that finds its origin in around the 19th century.
"He joined the Montanists, a group of pre-millenial, Bible believing Christians"Ahahahahaha
"and spent the rest of his life writing and preaching primitive Christianity as opposed to Romanism with its ecclesiastical traditions and ceremonies contrary to the scriptures."Oh, the pain, the pain! Hahahaha
"Patrick was born in Scotland. His father was a Roman Centurion and also a deacon in a local New Testament church. Patrick was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave, but he escaped."He was probably kidnapped by Papists.
"After his conversion to Christ, he studied on the mainland in Gaul and then returned to the heathen tribes in Ireland as a missionary. He began scores of churches and baptized (immersed) thousands of converts."Wait, sorry, how did he baptize them?
"He is largely responsible for the large number of Bible-believing Christians in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England."Okay, now that's just silly. First, I'm not sure how many "bible-believing Christians" there are in those places, and second, I'm not sure if Patrick would want credit for them...
"Patrick, his father and his grandfather were proud of the fact that they were not controlled by the Roman church, and that they were responsible only to God."Hell, what were they, Anglicans?
"Patrick was later canonized by the Roman church as a political move to control the Irish churches. He was thereafter known as Saint Patrick."Those bastards! I wondered why they did that! Could that explain why +John Henry Newman is continuing down the canonization process?
"The Body of Christ, you are told, and you answer 'Amen'. Be members then of the Body of Christ that your Amen may be true. Why is this mystery accomplished with bread? We shall say nothing of our own about it, rather let us here the Apostle, who speaking of this sacrament says: 'We being many are one body, one bread.' Understand then rejoice. United, devotion, charity! One bread: and what is this one bread? One body made up of many. Consider that the bread is not made of one grain alone, but of many. During the time of exorcism, you were, so to say, in the mill. At baptism you were wetted with water. Then the Holy Spirit came into you like the fire which bakes the dough. Be then what you see and receive what you are."Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 272.
"Show me the icons that you venerate, that I may be able to understand your faith."
John of Damascus, Doctor of the Church
It is not enough to make the devotional life our main concern, and allow an occasional lecture or preachment on social matters to be added as a make-weight. The social life must be brought right into the heart of our devotion, and our devotion right into the heart of our social life. There is only one spiritual life, and that is the sacramental life -- sacramental in its fullest, its widest, and its deepest sense, which means the consecration of the whole man and all his human relationships to God. There must be free and open passage between the sanctuary and the street. We must destroy within ourselves our present feeling that we descend to a lower level when we leave the song of the angels and the archangels and begin to study economic conditions, questions of wages, hours and housing. It is hard, very hard, but it must be done. It must be done not only for the sake of the street, but for the sake of the sanctuary, too. If the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament obscures the Omnipresence of God in the world, then the Sacrament is idolatrous, and our worship is actual sin, for all sin at its roots is the denial of the Omnipresence of God. I have been to Mass in churches where I felt it was sinful, sinful because there was no passion for social righteousness behind it. When ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make long prayers I will not hear you; your hands ate full of blood . . . Cease to do evil, learn to do well. Seek judgement. Relieve the oppressed. Judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
Rev. G. A. Studdert-Kennedy, at the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress, London.
I recall you in the last place to the Christ of the Blessed Sacrament. I beg you, brethren, not to yield one inch to those who would for any reason or specious excuse deprive you of your Tabernacles. I beg you, do not yield, but remember when you struggle, or, as Father Frere told us today, when you fight for the Church -- do remember that the Church is the body of Christ, and you fight in the presence of Christ. Do not forget that. I want you to make your stand for the Tabernacle, not for your own sakes but for the sake of truth first, and in the second place for the sake of reunion hereafter. But for the truth, because the one great thing that England needs to learn is that Christ is found in and amid matter -- Spirit through matter -- God in flesh, God in the Sacrament. But I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums.
Now mark that -- this is the Gospel truth. If you are prepared to say that the Anglo-Catholic is at perfect liberty to rake in all the money he can get no matter what the wages are that are paid, no matter what the conditions are under which people work; if you say that the Anglo-Catholic has a right to hold his peace while his fellow citizens are living in hovels below the levels of the streets, this I say to you, that you do not yet know the Lord Jesus in his Sacrament. You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary -- but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen tonight your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly -- it is madness -- to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.
There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.
Rt. Rev. Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar, at the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress, London.
Folks, we were baptized into the Body of Christ. It is in and through our mystical, sacramental, and nitty-gritty daily communion with Christ, and our brothers and sisters in that Communion, that God transforms us, re-makes us, and gives us new life. Jesus and his Church cannot be separated; his plan for our salvation – the remaking and redemption of our lives – is enacted through the life we share together. You step out of that, you refuse that, you short-circuit what God’s trying to do in you – and the people God wants to be with you. There is no salvation outside the Church.And of course, we chatted about it a bit more in the comments. I want to try to put that together a bit better, and offer a bit from Hauerwas that might make it a little more clear.
"... let me raise a question related to salvation outside the Church. First, if Christ has saved and is saving, then we need to temper our statments about the limitations of how and when Christ might do that for any individual. Therefore, we can't know that Christ hasn't saved someone outside "the Church."I think I agree with that. I should also note that I never mean to equate "salvation" and what some people call "justification."
Which raises the related issue: how do we understand "the Church?" We have wrestled over the issue of the Visible vs. the invisible Church. We have spoken of the Church Militant, the Church Expectant, and the Church Triumphant. Where in those taxonomies do we want to say Christ cannot work or is not working? Yes, certainly, those living experience the presence of Christ primarily through the Body, present in the world through the Church. On the other hand, lack of that Body didn't stop Jesus from reaching Paul. We believe profoundly that Christ saves in and through the Church; but I wouldn't want to exclude Christ doing something in addition."
By "salvation" I mean the holistic process by which God is gathering up all the fallen bits of creation and placing them under the headship of Christ. Goin' to heaven, goin' to hell, I don't really do much business with all that.God does not have some kind "Plan B" for redemption that isn't the Church. It is the eschatological community. It is
My understanding of the Scriptures and Tradition is that the primary locus of God's redemptive activity is the Church. Does God do some other things? Probably, but I think the point of it is to bring people to the fullness of salvation in the fellowship of his Church.
No church = less good.
"the people of God who are constituted by God's saving act in Jesus, through whom the "end" is brought to the here and now, and the healing and completion that marks "the end" starts raining into our lives here and now as we live together as the Church." The other thing just seems to roll of the tongue more smoothly, don't you think?And a reminder from Stanley Hauerwas:
"... salvation is not individualistic - it's not something one person receives for himself or herself alone. Salvation is the reign of God. It is a political alternative to the way the world is constituted. That's a very important part of the story that has been lost to accounts of salvation that are centered in the individual. But without an understanding that salvation is the reign of God, the need for the church to mediate salvation makes no sense at all.As always, just a few thoughts...
"Christianity: It's Not a Religion: It's an Adventure" (1991), in The Hauerwas Reader
"A sacrament is a means of grace, a means through which the Holy Spirit indwells our lives in order to renew us and transform us. And the Spirit's indwelling of our lives occurs through our indwelling of the gospel story. As we indwell the story so we are indwelt through the story and so we are changed; this story becomes our story, the defining truth of our lives."John E. Colwell, Promise and Presence: An Exploration of Sacramental Theology (Paternoster: Milton Keynes, 2005), 158.
"The participants' absorption into the story is made possible through their absorption of the story in and through its ritual enactment. They are not simply witnesses of the story, but characters within it. They do not simply recall the forgiveness of sins but ask and receive forgiveness; they do not they do not repeat the praise of others but give praise themeslves; they do not merely remember the night ion which Jesus was betrayed but, mindful of their own daily betrayal, gather with the apostles at that night's table, themselves called by the one who in that darkness called his disciples t eat with him. Above all, they don ot merely remember the giving of the brad and the passing of the cup, but receiving the bread nad passing the cup amongst themselves, they too share in that night's food."Nicholas Wolterstorff, "Sacrament as Action, not Presence," in The Sacramental Word: Incarnation, Sacrament and Poetry, edited by David Brown and Ann Loades (London: SPCK, 1996), 124.
"…We, who formerly gave loose to fornication, now strive only after purity; we, who took delight in arts of magic, now dedicate ourselves to the good and unbegotten God; we, who loved the path to riches and possessions above any other, now produce what we have in common, and give to every one who needs; we, who hated and destroyed one another, and would not make use even of the same fire with those of another tribe, because of their different customs; now, since the coming of Christ, live together, and pray for our enemies, and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly, that all who have lived in accordance with the good precepts of Christ, may come to a good hope of obtaining from God, the Ruler of all things, the same reward as ourselves" (14).Early Christian writers often appealed to the post-exorcism, post-baptismal ethics of Christian converts as evidence of both the religion's goodness and the power of their god.
"…the Church is the body called to be the community of the last times, that is to say, to realize in its life the promised and inaugurated reconciliation of all things. It therefore becomes an echo of the life of the Trinity when it is enabled by the Spirit to order its life to where that reconciliation takes place in time, that is to say, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus."Colin E. Gunton, "The Church on Earth: The Roots of Community," in On Being the Church: Essays on the Christian Community, eds. Collin E. Gunton and Daniel W. Hardy (T&T Clark: Edinburgh, 1989), 79.
"The renewal of the contemporary Church that is appropriate will not focus on strategies, ecstatic experiences or signs of apparent power, but will rather issue from a more focused indwelling of the gospel story through the common life, worship and sacraments of the Church, and from the consequent presence of the Spirit, shaping the community of the Church in coherence with the gospel it proclaims."John E. Colwell, Living the Christian Story: The Distinctiveness of Christian Ethics, (Clark: London, 2002), 165.
"... cynicism has become the primary virtue of U.S. public life. Cynicism ensures that there's absolutely nothing worth dedicating one's life to in a way that totally encompasses it. One always wants to be able to disassociate oneself from one's engagements at any given moment."If this is true (and I don't think the point is a controversial one), does the truth of the Gospel offer freedom from this? It surely will come as no shock to you, but I believe deeply that it is the fact of the Church itself that enables us to appropriate and live into the truth of the Gospel and be healed from our cynicism. More on that as I write it...
Stanley Hauerwas, "Christianity: It's Not a Religion: It's an Adventure" (1991), in The Hauerwas Reader.
"Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality, antiquity, and consent."This is the famous rule of catholicity. It's a pretty nice idea, but even a cursory glance at church history makes the notion that something was believed "everywhere, always and by all" mere wishful thinking.
One of the criticisms of your book [Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony] is that it is socially irresponsible to suggest that the Church quit trying to influence the government.I don't post this because of any particular opinion I have about the war in Iraq, but because Willimon puts forth the very interesting notion that the Church should have it's own agenda and be it's own frame of reference regardless of the nation-states around it.
Willimon: Politicians love words like "responsibility." But once you accept something like the Gulf War in the name of political responsibility, then everything else goes down easy. We are the Church, and maybe the most "responsible" thing we could have done in the war with Iraq is to have said, "Here is a country ruled by a despot. We'd better make that a major area of evangelism this year, so we are going to send 1,000 missionaries to Iraq." That would have screwed up things beautifully. The government would have said, "How are we going to bomb Iraq with all those damn missionaries running loose?" And we would have said, "That's your problem. But if you hit one of our missionaries, there's going to be hell to pay." That is political responsibility from the viewpoint of the Church.
Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Where Resident Aliens Live: Exercises for Christian Practice (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 114-15.
I think if we stick with the strict Catholic interpretation of purgatory we might be left wanting. If we have a transformational view of holistic salvation, it's a logical conclusion. To me, both you guys, it's not about "payment for sins" at all. That, as George pointed out, was taken care of, but we're still in the process of being fully remade in the image of God. To me, "purgatory" is just about entering the other dimension (on God's end of it because of Jesus) but it's about where in the proverbial "hallway" we enter at. Picture a long hallway that gets wider toward the end - depending on our level of transformation, we enter further down the hallway. This is about what we're metaphysically ready to handle, not about what we're worthy for (key distinction). So, we keep on cooperating and being transformed until it's completely done. He said He wouldn't stop till it was done. Then, we'll be ready for the fullness of God's presence. I don't look at this as a dogmatic doctrine, but as helpful to understand the ongoing journey.And from the introduction of Walls' article,
It is here that "an indiscreet theological question" must be faced. If salvation essentially involves transformation - and, at that same time, we cannot be united with God unless we are holy - what becomes of those who plead the atonement of Christ for salvation but die before they have been thoroughly transformed? These people will have accepted the truth about God and themselves through repentance and faith, but their character will not have been made perfect. Their sanctification has begun but it remains incomplete. Such people do not seem to be ready for a heaven of perfect love and fellowship with God, but neither should they be consigned to hell.So that's the playing field, that's what we're going on about. It's not a matter of reading the bible as if it were some kind of code book that's trying to impart to us the secret gnosis regarding what's going to happen when we die. Rather, it's about looking at the bigger picture of what God's doing in us.
Purgatory makes sense to me. "Love's redeeming work" surely won't be finished like the final touches on an assembly line, but rather with the loving hands of a master artisan.I'd like to offer this bit from Flannery O'Connor which sheds some disturbing light on the nature of the transformation:
And frankly, I think I deserve the extra attention.
"A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from th earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives ... and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. ... They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away."from "Revelation," in The Complete Stories
I suggest to you that this inversion of wisdom and foolishness and power and weakness means that we can stop trying to be “wise,” or to win “signs” from God. We can cease trying so desperately to be spiritual, and trying not to be thick. Power is found in joining ourselves to the salvation that Christ has accomplished. It is not spiritual victories or warm fuzzies or a feeling of “excitement for the Lord” that makes us safe in Christ. Christ alone makes us safe in Christ. We already find ourselves in the temple of the Living God, encountering the thin place where the boundaries between heaven and earth disappear. We are called to join ourselves to the rhythm of the liturgy, welcoming into our lives the ongoing presence of the salvation that was worked out in another place two thousand years ago.
We are freed from our searches for wisdom, those fool-proof, fail-safe, forty day or ten step plans that promise to make life with Jesus finally “work” for us. No more measuring spiritual growth: “getting results” will not bring us home from exile. Rather, we must open our eyes and see that we have already been carried home. It is our inability to make discipleship work and our willingness to be with him in all of our self-recriminations that we can begin to understand ourselves as recipients of grace. We must understand this, as people who join Christ in making up the temple of God: our need and destitution do not drive God away, but necessitate God’s presence. It is safe for us to be fools. It is safe for us to be failures. We have just remembered a long story of promise, failure, apostasy and hope. The truth is that God’s faithfulness is always so much more than our strengths and weaknesses. Whatever we lack, our gracious Master has supplied. He has given us his own life to eat and drink, that by our participation in him, we die and are raised up anew.
Our faithful response to God’s initiative is a work of deconstruction and positive construction. It is deconstructive, because it demands that we confront our assumptions about Jesus and ourselves. Nothing we have learned needs to be thrown away, but rather judged in light of the Gospel.What foundationalists/modernists hear:
We are sitting prayerfully with the scriptures and re-learning our history, asking Jesus to show us how to be faithful, and releasing our former “churchy” goals as the idols they are.
We aren’t seeking, necessarily, to be “relevant to the culture,” nor are we searching for a better “worship experience.” We are letting go of the search for the big fix, the next spiritual fad that will somehow make Christianity “work for us” or make it easier.
dear diary. i'm so glad that postmodernism appeared to tell me the truth about how sexual ethics and mores are all socially constructed, and that Christian metanarratives are thinly veiled attempts at controlling me. i'm going to go fornicate like a wild animal now. Later
"I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed. It seems to be a fact that you have to suffer as much from the Church as for it but if you believe in the divinity of Christ, you have to cherish the world at the same time that you struggle to endure it."
- Flannery O'Connor, in "Habit of Being"
The authority of Scripture within the Church... cannot be reduced in some legalistic manner in terms of supposedly inerrant propositional truths or supposedly absolute rules; the authority of Scripture within the Church consists rather in its recollection of God's mediated speaking through this text and its prayerful expectation of God's future mediated speaking through this text.I think Colwell's got a good point, because I don't find that the Scriptures want, on the whole, to be considered in the catagory of "propositional truths" and "absolute rules." Are they in there? Certainly. But the Bible does not seek to be "timeless truths for living," but rather the foundational text for the Communities of the Resurrection, the firstfruits of the recreation and redemption of the entire world.
John E. Colwell, Promise and Presence: An Exploration of Sacramental Theology, 103.
These texts are foundational to the life of the church, not on the legalistic and biblicistic grounds that they possess an inherant, absolute authority to which we are bound to submit, but on the grounds that in them we encounter the particular life upon which the communal life of the church is founded; the life that is the light not only of the church but also of the world. For that reason and in that sense, preaching, worship and sacraments must conform to these texts.I think Watson's bit, meanwhile, stops short of where it needs to go. I do think that we are indeed bound to submit to the apostolic proclamation of Jesus as recieved in the canon of Scripture. I don't know just where I sit on my theology of the canon or of Scripture altogether, but by virtue of whatever God and the Church did by which we have the Bible, we are called to build our lives according to the broader biblical narrative of salvation in Christ.
Frances Watson, Text and Truth: Redefining Biblical Theology, 1. Cited in Colwell.
One of the characteristics of the Bible is precisely the absence of a sense of systematization and the presence, on the contrary, of things held in dynamic tension. The Bible is a repository of many ways of interpreting the same events and reflecting upon the same problems. In itself it urges us to avoid excessive simplification and narrowness of spirit.This is why an overemphasis on "doctrine" and "systematic theology" freaks me out. If you need a chart to explain your theology, it's probably wrong. When we start going around and systematizing what the Bible is not interested in systematizing, we run a serious risk of replacing the authority of the Scripture with our own systems.
- The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission, 1994
Most theological students associate John Wenham with Greek grammar. Not me. I was in an undergraduate audience which he addressed in 1970. He urged Bible-loving Christians to consider theological study and a ministry of teaching and writing. His model was that of the stream from which Christians drink. The stream is polluted by bad theology. Our task is to feed in good theology. ‘Trickle-down’ theories are risky, but I think this one works. I had been heading for parish ministry; from that day on I knew God was calling me to an academic, though still very much church-related, vocation.While we're on the topic of Bishop Tom's writings, check out this other article, "Farewell to the Rapture." HT: (TitusOneNine)
As so often, I attacked this vocation the wrong way. When I began theology, I assumed that all writers not published by the . . . Press, or perhaps the . . . of . . . Trust, were suspect. If I read the right books I would find the ‘answers’. Fortunately, after two years of soaking myself in the Bible itself, I was so gripped with the excitement of exegesis, and the new horizons it opened up that I didn’t worry so much about ‘sound’ answers. I continue to respect the Reformers, and men like Charles Simeon, of 200 years ago, John Stott, Jim Packer and Michael Green, at whose feet I was privileged to sit, and whose work in a variety of ways created space for me to do things differently. Where I disagree with them it is because I have done what they told me to: to read Scripture and emerge with a more biblical theology. The evangelical tradition at its best encourages critique from within. It sends us back to the Scripture which stands over against all traditions, our own included.
The American obsession with the second coming of Jesus — especially with distorted interpretations of it — continues unabated. Seen from my side of the Atlantic, the phenomenal success of the Left Behind books appears puzzling, even bizarre. Few in the U.K. hold the belief on which the popular series of novels is based: that there will be a literal “rapture” in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been “left behind.” This pseudo-theological version of Home Alone has reportedly frightened many children into some kind of (distorted) faith.On that note, I'd like to reaffirm that just because somebody doesn't believe some aspect of the Christian faith in the same way you do, doesn't mean s/he doesn't believe it at all.
The Ascension of Jesus and the Second Coming are nevertheless vital Christian doctrines, and I don’t deny that I believe some future event will result in the personal presence of Jesus within God’s new creation. This is taught throughout the New Testament outside the Gospels. But this event won’t in any way resemble the Left Behind account.
"Now note well those who hold heretical opinions about the grace of Jesus Christ which came to us; note how contrary they are to the mind of God. They have no concern for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the oppressed, none for the prisoner or the one released, none for the hungry or thirsty."The bishop does not offer an explicit rationale for connecting one to the other; indeed, this could appear to be an outright character assassination. I would rather suggest that this denunciation is grounded in the nature of the Docetic/Gnostic heresies: if material, physical existence is considered evil or unimportant, then Christian life and mission are essentially a matter of waiting out our present imprisonment in anticipation that God will free us from it. Therefore, there is no reason to build a positive, redemptive and redeemed common life here and now, and no impetus to alleviate the suffering of others. That would not be a Christian faith. Christian faith is a matter of believing in who Jesus is and what he has done and what he is doing and joining him in that. The Kingdom agenda is one of restoration and healing for the entire world that starts here and now in the Church.
"They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they refuse to acknowledge that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which the Father by his goodness raised up."Whaaaat? The Docetists refuse the Holy Communion because since Jesus had no actual flesh and blood, it cannot be a participation in his flesh and blood. The really interesting thing here is that as early as c. AD 110, the head pastor of one of the first Christian churches took for granted that bread and wine, broken and blessed, was indeed the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
"Continue to gather together, each and every one of you, collectively and individually by name, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who physically was a descendant of David, who is Son of man and Son of god, in order that you may obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ."Leaving aside the matter of Ignatius' enthusiasm for the monarchical episcopate, I want to make some observations about what we do and don't see in these words regarding the Eucharist.
"Those who are carnal cannot do spiritual things, nor can those who are spiritual do carnal things, just as faith cannot do the things of unfaithfulness, nor unfaithfulness the things of faith. Moreover, even those things which you do carnally are, in fact, spiritual, for you do everything in Jesus Christ." Ig. Eph. 8.2.Update: I just read the letter to the Smyrneans. I like the way our boy brings this home (2):
"For he suffered all these things for our sakes, in order that we might be saved; and he truly suffered just as he truly raised himself - not, as certain unbelievers say, that he suffered in appearance only (it is they who exist in appearance only!). Indeed their fate will be determined by what they think: they will become disembodied and demonic."
In short, the Body of Christ was there yesterday morning, bright and early to receive the gift of the ashes…and She was breathtaking. Sure, the service was music-free and the priest was one screwdriver short of a toolbox and the squirrelly kids were pretty much out of control. But we were all there because we all needed a little Grace. And Grace was there to be gotten, to be eaten, gobbled up with relish and reverence and humility and whatever awe we could muster up before returning to our workaday lives of computers and construction and customer service…reminding us that from dust we came and to dust we shall return.You might also want to check out Chris Erdman: "True Community May Appear in Surprising Places."
And reminding us that dust is not the end. We have a Hope, and He is alive and kickin’ in the bodies and minds and hearts of all those who roused themselves before 8 AM, drawn like little magnets to the pole of Our Lady of the Assumption, and in all who share in the Communion of the Saints. It is a beautiful thing, sharing in a Communion big enough to contain all the strange folk I saw (and didn’t see) on Wednesday morning. A beautiful, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Long may She bask in the Grace of Our Lord, and long may She share that Grace with all who long for its nourishing bread.
In my experience, qualities like availability and vulnerability, accountability and mutuality are necessary for true community—that sense of welcome and belonging, of openness and integration into a common way of life, gently and sometimes subtly bound together by a shared sense of identity and mission. But these are not guarantees that I’ll experience that indescribable quality I know as true when I feel it.(HT: One House)
Community is a fallen “power”—a structure of creation. And is experienced in all the brokenness of human life lived on this side of what is called “the Fall” in theological shorthand. But it is also in the process of being transformed by God’s new creation. And there are signs of grace in this world—often in surprising places. And maybe that’s the elusive quality of true community—it simply cannot be controlled, engineered, packaged. It appears as Christ does, incognito. And we recognize it (and miss it) in the same way we recognize and miss Christ among us.
Okay folks. I know you well enough. Let's just be honest. You don't want to hear about great food or what a great time I had with my wife. You want relics, churches, POD sightings, cassocks, shrines, Roman intrigue, fiddlebacks, Latin Masses, and other provocative subjects.and also "Roman Liturgical Items"
...Recently, someone at a conference was regaling his listeners about a recent episcopal consecration in the Pacific Northwest, and saying how wonderful it was to see every ethnicity and every gender possibility and every “identity” represented so extravagantly at the service. I raised my hand and asked, “How many theological traditionalists were present?” The speaker paused, and then said – before he had time to suppress it – “Well, uh… none.”That's all I've got for now.
"I have been deeply grieved for Valens, who once was a presbyter among you, because he so fails to understand the office that was entrusted to him. ... I am deeply grieved for him and for his wife; may the Lord grant them true repentance. You, therefore, for your part must be reasonable in this matter, and do not regard such people as enemies, but, as sick and straying members, restore them, in order that you may save your body in its entirety. For by doing this you build up one another."I am always struck by the simple, organic ecclesiology present in some of these writings. Polycarp does not give the church permission to throw up their hands and walk away, but makes very clear that the errant member is still very much a part of them. We can't help but in some way to bear the sins and errors(as well as the joys!) of those with whom we are joined in the Christian community.
There is no such thing as sola scriptura. That's right, not even for those who trumpet it all the time, it doesn't exist. In my experience, what really exists instead is always some version of "only scripture as I or my group interprets it." And that is unavoidable. You see there is no meaning or teaching without interpretation no matter who you are. As if the scripture existed in some interpretation free pure vacuum. Of course it does not. So the minute you begin interpretation, and then codify that interpretation as doctrine, then you have a sacred tradition. In fact, everyone has a sacred tradition in addition to scripture. At least the Catholics are honest about it from the get go.
As a young boy, I was taught to “search the scriptures,” like the Bereans did [context: Acts 17:9-11]. I remember being told in VBS: Be a Berean! ... I was taught to distrust the “traditions of men.” Christ was the true authority, and anything “man” would say must accord with the teachings of Christ. I actually took these teachings to heart, though some may doubt my sincerity. I still deeply desire to be a Berean. I don’t simply trust the traditions which are handed down to me, but desire to put everything to the test. I am doing my best to live out these truth-seeking virtues instilled in me as a youth. Though it is easy and safe to accept the traditions and beliefs that are handed down to me, for me, I have to place everything on the table.
Why, then, is my desire to “question authority” viewed harshly by many of the very people that desire to instill in me the discipline of “searching the scriptures” to see if the things I am taught are true? Am I only allowed to “search the scriptures” so long as I come down on the “right side” of the issue at hand?
"The Church is not 'over' the Holy Scriptures, but 'under' them, in the sense that the process of canonization was not one whereby the Church conferred authority on the books but one whereby the Church acknowledged them to possess authority. And why? The books were recognized as giving the witness of the Apostles to the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of the Lord and the interpretation by the Apostles of these events. To that apostolic authority the Church must ever bow."If we're going to talk about the authority of Scripture, we have to consider just what Scripture has in mind to do, and what it actually does. We cannot decide, "this is the kind of authority I'd like" and project that onto the Canon, whether we imagine it to be "basic instructions before leaving earth" or a collection of interesting religious propostions. It really is neither of those things.
- The Lambeth Conference 1958, II.5, London: SPCK)
In discerning the canon of Scripture, the church was also discerning and defining her own identity. Henceforth Scripture was to function as a mirror in which the church could continually rediscover her identity and assess, century after century, the way in which she constantly responds to the Gospel and equips herself to be an apt vehicle of its transmission. This confers on the canonical writings a salvific and theological value completely different from that attaching to other ancient texts. The latter may throw much light on the origins of the faith. But they can never substitute for the authority of the writings held to be canonical and thus fundamental for the understanding of the Christian faith.I appreciate this because it reflects a solid understanding of the Church as being shaped by the apostolic witness for a particular purpose - to embody in itself the message of the Gospel, and to thereby transmit it.
- The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission, 1994.
Acquiring literary competency with Scripture should make us suspicious of our interpretations. The “hermeneutic of suspicion” has become a byword in contemporary biblical scholarship, the chief object of suspicion being the text itself, viewed as a social product. But if we are reading from a confessional perspective – that is, as members of a community that regularly confesses its sins as well as its faith – then it is well to begin by suspecting our own interpretations. Most of them have probably not been reconsidered in a long time – years in our own lives, generations in the church. Whenever we pick up the Bible, read it, put it down, and say, “That’s just what I thought,” we are probably in trouble. The technical term for that kind of reading is “proof-texting.” Using the text to confirm our presuppositions is sinful; it is an act of resistance against God’s fresh speaking to us, an effective denial that the bible is the world of the living God. The only alternative to proof-texting is reading with a few to what the NT calls metanoia, “repentance” – literally, “change of mind.”Ellen F. Davis, “Teaching the Bible Confessionally in the Church, in The Art of Reading Scripture, edited by Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
As this broken bread was scattered over the hills and then, when gathered, became one mass, so may Thy Church be gathered from the ends of the earth into They Kingdom. (9.4)And yes, you might take note that we have a record of prayers of consecration over the braead and wine (apparently in the context of a communal meal) as well as a post-communion prayer circa 100. I find it interesting that there's not a particular sacramental theology, but the prayers give thanks for Jesus and connect the bread and wine to the unity of the Church and God's provision in creation. There is further instruction on the sheltering of itinerant prophets, and warning against those who "trade in Christ" (12.5).
"On the Lord's own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: 'In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations'" (Didache 14).Ben Finger is also blogging the Didache.