cjbanning: (The Bishop)
I'm hard at work on my post(s) about the affinity between Wittgensteinian metaethics and progressive Christian moral theology, but in the meantime I'd like to direct you to the post From Rome to Canterbury: My Journey to Anglicanism by Thomas Bradshaw over at The Empty Nave. This past Sunday--which was, of course the Feast of Pentecost--I had the pleasure and honor of witnessing Thomas make a mature public affirmation of his faith and commitment to the responsibilities of his baptism and receive the laying on hands by the Rt. Rev. Frederick Borsch. I'm proud and pleased to have been (in his words)
an inclusive, wise lay-minister and vestry member, who would later become a good friend--that pushed me to study hard and nourished my hunger of a greater theological education than what was available for me.
I should also note that some eleven hundred miles away on that same day, another dear friend of mine--Ruth Ellen of Patron of Poets, Scholars, and Nuns--was also receiving the sacrament of confirmation.

As I witnessed the confirmation of Thomas and the rest of his confirmation class, I of course remembered my own confirmation by George Councell (our diocesan bishop) in June 2008, but was also struck by the form used for the reception of candidates who have already been confirmed in another denomination:
N., we recognize you as a member of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, and we receive you into the fellowship of this Communion. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you. Amen.
I have frequently noted that one of the things I like about Anglicanism is that it is very clear as to the distinction between the Communion and the catholic Church, with the former only being a branch of the latter. Thomas was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and confirmed in the Episcopal Church; Ruth Ellen was baptized in the United Church of Christ and confirmed in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. I myself received both my baptism and my confirmation in the Episcopal Church. But we are all members of the same, one Church:
There is one Body and one Spirit, just as you were called into one Hope when you were called. There is one Savior, one faith, one baptism, one God and creator of all, who is over all, who works through all and is within all. (Ephesians 4:4-5)
Pentecost is often called "the birthday of the Church." As I've mentioned before, I find this somewhat misleading, and prefer to think of it instead as a preliminary coming of age, one of many different milestones of maturation from the teachings of the prophets to the confession of Peter to the resurrection at Easter to the ascension into heaven to the outpouring of the Spirt on Pentecost to the great ecumenical councils and beyond all the way to the eventual instantiation of the Kindom of Heaven in its fullness. One of the authorized collects for the feast of Pentecost states that on that day God "opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of [the] Holy Spirit," the other that God "taught the hearts of [God's] faithful people by sending to them the light of [the] Holy Spirit."

As an Anglo-Catholic, I believe that the Church subsists in the apostolic churches as governed by the historic episcopate, but also that the elements of truth and sanctification found outside those structures compel towards catholic unity under apostolic authority. I'm reminded of this quote from Fr. Richard P. McBrien's 101 Questions and Answers on the Church, which I previously quoted in my essay History and Christ:
[Jesus Christ] is the great sacrament of our encounter with God and God's with us. The Church, in turn, is the sacrament of our encounter with Christ and of Christ's with us. And the seven sacraments, in their turn, are sacraments of our encounter with the Church and of the Church's with us. Indeed, the other members of the Church are sacraments of encounter for us and we for them because, in the Christian scheme of things, we experience and manifest the love of God through love of neighbor.
On this past Saturday--the day before Pentecost, and the penultimate day of Easter--my family buried my paternal grandfather. One of my duties consisted of picking some of the readings to be used at his funeral mass at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church. I chose Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-3:9 as the Hebrew Scripture reading and Acts 10:34-48 as the New Testament reading. I chose the passage from Acts in part because it is traditional to read from that book in the Easter season, and part of the reason I extended it beyond the suggested reading of 10:34-43 was (beyond the fact that I needed to fiddle with it and I like long readings; my cousin-in-law, who read the Hebrew Scripture reading, which I also extended, was less than thrilled at me) because the following section seemed especially appropriate for the day before Pentecost (as the priest noted in his homily):
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
This is, of course, a story of radical inclusion. We are the Church, but the Church is God's, not ours. We don't get to set the boundaries.

cjbanning: (Trinity)
The Gospel According to St. Mark

It was then that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized in the river Jordan by John. Immediately upon coming out of the water, Jesus saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. Then a voice came from the heavens: "You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my favor rests."

Immediately the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness, and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.

Scot McKnight in 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed, 25-27:

At the center of the Shema is the God of love, and at the center of the God of love is the word “one”- and that word “one” is a dance. Let me explain briefly. When Jesus said in John’s tenth chapter that he and the Father were “one,” every Jew who heard him thought of theShema: “Here, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord isone.” Now Jesus was claiming that he and the Father were one. So somehow there were “two in one,” and, as the church gradually began to comprehend, there were actually “three in one.” The Jesus Creed derives from this “three-in-oneness of God.”

How are the three “one”? Here are Jesus’ own words: “the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” The oneness of the Father and the Son is the oneness of mutual indwelling of one another. Now, if we add to the Father and the Son the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, we arrive at something distinct to our Christian faith: the Father and the Son and the Spirit are one because they indwell one another. They interpenetrate one another so deeply that they are one. This “oneness” is often called by theologians the “dance of the Trinity.” God is almost, to quote C.S. Lewis, “if you think me not irreverent, a kind of dance.” God is, to change the image only slightly, the dance of rope in the Celtic knot.

The same theologians often call this oneness of God the
perichoresis, a Greek word referring to mutual indwelling. To say the three are one is to say the one God is a community of mutually indwelling persons where each person delightfully dances with the other in endless holy love. This perichoretic dance is the love of the persons of the Trinity for each other- the Father for the Son and the Spirit, and the Son for the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit for the Father and the Son. Theologians and philosophers remind us that this perichoretic love is the origin, the tone, and the standard for all the love in the universe. There is no other love than God’s love.

Tony Jones in “Comp Three, Question Three” (an imaginary conversation with Jürgen Moltmann)

TJ: Doug, on this same theme, you have publicly wondered if the concept of the Trinity has run its course – this, of course, is a significant part of Dr. Moltmann’s corpus.

DP: What I think is that the doctrine of the Trinity, as formulated by Augustine and his peers, solved a certain problem at a certain time. Back then, people were saddled with this Greek concept of God as a distant, removed Being who wanted nothing to do with this earth, this creation. So, when these people inherited the story of Jesus, they had a bog problem to solve: how could the distant, removed God have possibly come to Earth? The concept of that was preposterous to them!

So the doctrine of the Trinity was of great help to them in getting over that dilemma. By conceiving of God as three persons or three parts, they could say that God did come to Earth, and he also stayed in heaven…and he also still dwells here today and still dwells in heaven.
Not only is this concept of a three-part God foreign to a holistic Hebrew-Old Testament mind, it is also becoming more and more unnecessary today. We don’t have the same Hellenistic philosophy mind-set of the Early Church. The people in my community, at Solomon’s Porch, have no trouble believing that God is holistically related to the entirety of creation. That’s just not an issue for us. Quantum physics? Nano-technology? Now those are issues that beg for theological consideration. But God becoming a man? That one is no problem.

JM: But, Doug, what I want to challenge you on is the beauty of the concept of the Trinity. Yes, I agree that when it is used as a rationalistic proof for the deity of Jesus of Nazareth, the Trinity falls short of its full theological potential. But instead of thinking of it rationalistically, I’d like you to consider it aesthetically. The Trinity affords a great deal of theological creativity to you as a pastor and preacher, and to the people who write the music for worship in your community. Don’t disparage the concept just because it’s old. Now, I don’t want you to idolize it, as some do, just because it’s old, but I don’t want you to disparage it, either.

Think of the Trinity as the dynamic, eternal dance of God. Doesn’t that jibe with your church’s desire to be a place of laughter and joy, a place where the body is honored, where worship is more than just words? I read the book about your church, and I think that Solomon’s Porch would be very well served by a robust and vibrant doctrine of the Trinity. You can talk about “following God in the way of Jesus,” and I am fully supportive of that, but part of your role as a pastor is to help the people paint a picture of God that is so beautiful that they can’t help but to follow him – that they can’t imagine following anyone else. I think the idea of Trinity as perichoresis would be a great help to you in that task.

TJ: It’s true that, just last month when I talked a bit about the Trinity at Solomon’s Porch – when I introduced that concept of the perichoresis – there were many who resonated with that idea. One man, a truck driver named Frank, said that he had been introduced to that idea just the previous week in Eugene Peterson’s new spiritual theology, God Plays in a Thousand Places, and he loves the idea. He said the world is moving so fast, it’s changing so dynamically, that it seems like we should have an image of God that is dynamic and changing.

DP: Listen, I’m open to it. I just don’t want us blindly following along with this doctrine or that doctrine because that’s the way they believed “back in the day.”

JM: Then we are of one accord. But I want to encourage you to explore the richness of the Trinity, because I am quite sure that you and your church will greatly benefit from it.’




Questions for Discussion

1. What do you think of the doctrine of the Trinity as put forward by McKnight and Jones? How is it similar to or different than your understanding of the Triune God?

2. When we begin new journeys, we often have a dance, from high school proms to wedding receptions. How is the “dance” of the Trinity at the River Jordan similar to or different than this?

3. When you begin a journey, what type of “dance” do you want from your community--and who is that community?

4. How can you be a part of that “dance” for others?
cjbanning: (Trinity)
1. Godhead. The apophatic denial of God's non-existence.
2. Trinity. God is one Being in three Persons.
3. Chalcedonian Christology. Hypostatic union: Jesus Christ is two natures, one human and one divine, united into one Person.
4. Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience as complementary sources of revelation.
5. The Sacraments. The seven sacraments (baptism, Eucharist, confirmation, reconciliation, ordination, marriage, healing) are the means of sanctifying grace, rites in which God is uniquely active, visible signs of an invisible reality.
6. Ex opere operato. The seven sacraments are efficacious in and of themselves, by the very fact of the actions’ being performed, because Christ is at work in them in order to communicate the grace that each sacrament signifies.
7. Baptismal Regeneration. The salvation of baptized persons (including those baptized by blood or desire, as well as by water) is uniquely mediated through the sacrament.
8. Real Presence. Jesus Christ is really present in the Eucharist. (Radical transignification.)
9. Perseverance of Eucharistic Presence. Real Presence is not dependent on the act of drinking or eating and continues in the consecrated hosts beyond the celebration of the Eucharist.
10. Adorableness of the Eucharist. Worship may be properly rendered to the Blessed Sacrament.
11. One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of the Church of Jesus Christ.
12. Apostolic Succession. The spiritual authority placed on the apostles by Christ is passed through history via the institutional rites of the Church, i.e. the consecration of bishops. The one Church of Christ subsists in the apostolic churches as governed by the historic episcopate.
13. Ordained Presbyterate. God specially calls some people (of all genders, races, and sexualities) to undergo the sacrament of ordination; to represent Christ and the Church of Christ, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.
14. Free Will. God has willed that human persons remain under the control of their own decisions. For its part, authentic freedom is an exceptional sign of the divine image within a human being.
15. Sin. The existence of corporate evil—sexism and racism, transphobia and homophobia; poverty and hunger; totalitarianism and fascism—such that human freedom is curtailed and diminished.
16. Sola gratia. Since human freedom has been damaged by sin, only by the aid of God's grace can the Church bring the relationship between God and human beings into full flower.
17. Resistability of Grace. The free wills of human beings may cooperate with God so as to prepare and dispose themselves for the attainment of salvation; human wills can also refuse complying, if they please.
18. Universal Potential for Redemption. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are for the benefit of all humankind, not just an elect.
19. Kingdom of Heaven. Through grace, humans are called to use their free will to pray for peace, fight for justice, and build God’s Kin(g)dom on Earth.
20. Intercession of Saints. It is proper to pray to the Saints and ask for their intercessions.
cjbanning: (St. Thomas)
Is X necessary for salvation?

In some ways, there's a tension between two ways of asking this question, revolving around what we mean by "necessary" and what we mean by "salvation." The question "is X necessary for salvation?" where salvation is defined as "not going to Hell" is, essentially, an attempt to game the system: it's trying to find out what's the absolute least we have to do without "losing the game," so to speak. For those of us who find the doctrine of eternal damnation problematic to begin with, it's asking the wrong question.

(On reflection, it's not eternal damnation per se which is the problem so much as the Reformation doctrine that we inherently deserve eternal damnation as a result of our total depravity, rather than damnation being something we bring onto ourselves by actively and knowingly opposing God and separating ourselves from God. I think the latter understanding is perfectly compatible with the orthodox understanding of original sin being our tendency to choose evil as a result of our wounded--but not totally depraved--nature, and with a robust counter-Pelagianism.)

The other way of asking the question is "what am I called to do in order to become my most authentic self (as a Christian)?" (where "becoming my most authentic self" is essentially what we mean by salvation) without assuming that falling short of becoming our most authentic selves is going to result in us being poked by pitchforks forever and ever, amen. In response to that question, I don't think there's anything absurd in noting that Church tradition is fairly clear in teaching (for example) that, yes, "a pubic display in which a little cup of water is poured upon your head" (whether as a child or an adult, and of course never denying that full immersion represents a valid sacrament as well) is necessary, that baptism by water is the fullest and best enactment of the sacramental infusion of regenerative grace, a good and rightful and necessary thing.

More on Baptism

Saturday, 17 July 2010 03:17 pm
cjbanning: (Palm Sunday)
(Following up on my previous post, On Baptism.)

The Evangelical anti-sacramentalism towards baptism is a result of that movement's overemphasis on personal experience and individual salvation. At its extreme, this results in a denial of the eficancy of infant baptism, for infants do not have the development in faith to come to Christ on their own accord. (But then, who does?)

Against this, we affirm in our Anglo-Catholicism the properly sacramental understanding of the baptismal rite, one grounded in the community of the Body of Christ. Properly understood, it is not so much that an individual enters the Church so much as it is the Church who grows by one member. It is Christ who works through the sacrament, with the Church as mediator, not the baptisand--but as God has bound the sacraments to Godself, we may be fully certain than the sacramental infusion of grace shall be efficacious.

By entering into the bonds of community which mark the mystical Body of Christ, it is of course true to say that something significant happens in the life of the baptisand. It is a turning, not away from the world, but from sin and its tyranny, and most especially "the conditions which hold people in economic and political bondage" (Bloesch 24, not speaking with praise).

This will not necessarily be of the character of some prominent conversion experience on the part of the individual person (although we may be sure that the Church feels her growth by even one person deeply), as she may well be an infant. Even for those of us baptized as adults, it is often a less than profound experience, as we are focused for the moment more on the theatre of the performing of the sacrament--on our outfit, on friends and family we may not usually see in church, on getting wet--than on God. Such is the nature of any sacrament; we place our trust in God to do God's work in any case.

But just as the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is, however many bells we may ring or smells we may produce, quite ordinary (the communion elements sit there, still looking--and feeling and tasting--like bread and wine), our faith assures us that the mystical change is both deep and profound. Baptism, like the Eucharist, enacts a deep Radical Transfiguration--only it is ourselves rather than the bread and wine who are in this sacrament transformed into the Body of Christ.

On Baptism

Wednesday, 14 April 2010 09:02 pm
cjbanning: (Symposium)
For baptised Christians, our baptism is the Sacrament through which our salvation is mediated. I believe, as a high-church Anglican, that this mediation is inherent in the Sacrament itself, and does not require any action on the part of the baptisand; this is why infant baptisms are efficacious. I also believe, however, that baptismal regeneration is non-exclusive. As the RCC Catechism states, "God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but [God] is not bound by [God's] sacraments." Anyone who "seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with [their] understanding of it" (a process which does not in itself require theism) can be said to have undergone (be undergoing?) an implicit baptism of desire which "brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament." 
 
The RCC limits this to those who are explicitly "ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of [Christ's] Church." I assume they mean the Gospel and Church of Christ generally, and not right teaching in particular, but I draw upon this to make a distinction between those who avoid Baptism out of (what, from a Christian perspective, may be seen as) incomplete knowledge, and those who do so deliberately and knowingly in order to oppose God's will. Only to the latter, I believe, will the fruits of the sacrament be denied.
 
Seeking the truth and doing the will of God in accordance with one's understanding of it can, of course, only be done through the grace of God; to assert otherwise would be semi-Pelagianism. But Christ's atonement* is universal, and God's grace prevenient (cf. Ch. 5 of the 6th session of the Council of Trent).

*I'm using "atonement" in the loosest sense, without any particular theology of redemption in mind.

1st Easter

Sunday, 4 April 2010 07:44 am
cjbanning: (Palm Sunday)
Elizabeth is going back and writing her unpreached sermons for all the Sunday's she's missed ever since we both fell off the ball back in Advent. I'm not quite that ambitious, but I do want to get back into the habit, even if this sermon is only about 2/3 of the length I wanted it to be. :(

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Luke 24:1-12

1st Easter

We are a resurrection people.

Note the plural, and just as importantly the collective form: we are not resurrection persons, a "resurrection me" plus a "resurrection you" plus a "resurrection her." It is only communally, in the collective, in the unity of our identity as the Body of Christ, that we are able to fully respond to the resurrection of the Head.

The Scripture passages today speak to this truth. The Easter story is, at least superficially, of course a story about Jesus Christ, about Christ's resurrection. Yet it is a curious fact that, post-Crucifixion, the Gospels spend relatively little time on Jesus Christself. Jesus has already done the job which the Christ was sent to do. It is the Church's job now to continue the work Jesus has already put into motion.

The focus of the Gospel narratives thus shifts dramatically to the experience of the disciples. In today's Gospel passage, we receive the reaction of the women to the empty tomb, experience their confusement, their bedazzlement, and their ultimate understanding, as we relate to them and, later, to the male disciples as the stories' new protagonists.

During the Easter season, we read from the Acts of the Apostles, the only book in the Bible aside from the Gospels and Revelation to actually include Jesus as an explicitly present character. I know that come the Easter season, I always experience a moment of cognitive dissonance when I hear a lay reader read "And Jesus said. . ." from the pulpit. Isn't that the sort of thing which gets read by the priest, from the pulpit or after a Gospel procession? I forget that the Risen Christ has a story to be told, too, and--appropriately enough--the Risen Christ speaks through everyone.

Yet in the passage from Acts assigned to this Sunday, the holiest day of the Christian year, Jesus does not speak. It is St. Peter, the rock upon which the Church--one, holy, catholic, and apostolic--was established, who speaks. We've jumped ahead to a point past the Ascension, past Pentecost, as St. Peter reaffirms the commision of the Church. Once again, the important part of the Easter story isn't what Jesus is doing, but what Christ's Church is doing.

Pentecost is often called the "birthday" of the Church. The truth is that the building of Christ's Church is a process which spans all of human history and which still has not come to its fullest fruition. Pentecost is an important milestone in the history of this community--more of a coming into adulthood than a birth--but it is laughably obvious that Easter is, too. Easter transformed the Church from simply being the disciples of a man, each with her or his own individual loyalties to Jesus, called by Jesus one or two at a time, to a single community united in joint celebration.

And so we gather here today. Like the disciples who hurried back to Jerusalem after meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus, we gather together with our sisters and brothers and siblings in Christ to proclaim the Easter promise.

This is Easter: this gathering, this congregation (remember "congregation" is merely a noun form of the verb "to congregate"), this reunion of friends, this in-coming of family.

This is the paschal mystery: that having suffered a painful death on the Cross and descended into hell, Christ is risen and present with us here and now, and every day and everywhere, wherever two or more disciples are gathered in Jesus' name.

Three years ago--Easter Even 2007, to be exact--I was baptized into the Christian faith, in this church [or: in a church like this one], before this congregation [or: before a congregation like this one]. Obviously, it was a momentous occasion in my personal faith journey, but it was also a momentous occasion in the life of the Church, as the Body of Christ grew by--well, by more than just more one new member, as across the world new Christians were being welcomed into the Church through the sacrament of Baptism at Easter Vigil services, following the traditions of the early Church in the second and third centuries of the common era. Last night the process was repeated across the world.

"Through baptism on Easter," the Reformed writer Harvey Smit writes, "the new convert participated in the consummation of the Lord's passion and entered into the new life as a Christian sealed in Jesus' resurrection." Let me say that again: "participated in the consummation of the passion." Easter is not a passive day, something which happens simply because the Sunday following the full moon following the first day of spring has finally rolled around on our calendar. Easter is our active engagement and full participation in the life of the Body of the Christ. It is coming to church, reading and listening to holy scripture, receiving and being sustained by the Body and Blood of Christ. It's having a conversation with other members of our parish family in the coffee hour afterwards, and welcoming newcomers and visitors. It is reconciling oneself with God and one's neighbor. It is loving others as oneself. It is working for peace, and for justice. Outside of this context, the story of the Resurrection of Jesus becomes simply, to use the controversial words of Bishop David Edward Jenkins, "just a conjuring trick with bones."

If that were the case, we would indeed be (to use St. Paul's words from today's Epistle reading) "the most pitiable of the human race" indeed! But, St. Paul tells us, "in Christ all will come to life again": we who have been crucified with Christ share equally in Christ's resurrection.

And so, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter, St. Paul, the evangelists, and all the saints; with the matriarchs and patriarchs, angels and archangels, and the entire company of heaven, we proclaim, as one Church and with one voice: "Alleluia! Christ is risen." [Congregation, if they're paying attention: ""The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia."]

Alleluia.
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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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