cjbanning: (Palm Sunday)
"I ask not only on behalf of these [whom I have sent into the world, as you have sent me into the world], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Divine Parent, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
So prays Jesus in the Gospel According to St. John (17:20-23). For Anglicans, the unity of the Church--our prayer "that we all may be one"--does not in any way negate the beauty of the diversity to be found within Chrisitianity; rather "this Church does not seek to absorb other Communions, but rather, co-operating with them on the basis of a common Faith and Order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visibile manifestation of Christ to the world" (resolution of the House of Bishops, meeting in Chicago in 1886). And yet it is so easy to, often without realizing it, re-draw the lines which fracture the Church's essential unity. I was reminded of this recently when reading The Death of America's God by Stanley Hauerwas. He writes:
The great irony is that the almost pathological fervency with which the religious right in America tries to sustain faith as a necessary condition for democracy is the surest formula for insuring that the faith that is sustained is not the Christian faith.
The thing is, there is no such thing as "the Christian faith," solitary and unified. This is, I think, somewhat related to the Protestant heresy of the "perspicuity of the Scriptures," which implies that the Bible has one true meaning and that any seeming deviations from it (whatever it might be) are in fact distortions, and of course all those "nondenominational" Christians who claim that theirs is just plain Christianity and all the denominations distortions. But in truth there is no undistorted Christian message, because there are no undistorted Christians: we are all limited in our understanding. What there are is Christian faiths, plural, as diverse communities try to discern the will of God, the sense of the Scriptures, and the movement of the Spirit, and come to different conclusions. Some of these conclusions are better than others, and I think Anglicanism's (and post/liberal Anglo-Catholicism's in particular) conclusions are the best of the set; I'm no relativist. But what none of us gets to say is that any of these faiths, from Christadelphian to Calvinist, Unitarian to Episcopalian, Latter-Day Saint to Roman Catholic, Jehovah's Witness to Christian Scientist, falls short of being authentically Christian even in their error, that we're not all (or at least most of us, and who is and who isn't isn't up for us to decide) following Jesus as Lord in our own way and as best as we are able.
It is impossible to avoid the fact that American Christianity is far less than it should have been just to the extent that the church has failed to make clear that America's god is not the God that Christians worship.
Now, the only way I can see of reading that sentence is as saying that American Christians aren't "real" Christians (or else they'd worship the God that "real" Christians worship and not America's god), and I feel it's deeply problematic to try to throw ANY of our siblings-in-Christ out of the Body like that, no matter who they are or what they believe.

Now, of course Hauerwas isn't advocating violence or even intolerance towards those he has considered "really" non-Christian. But still, I know the pain of being told one isn't really Christian because of what one does or doesn't believe, and I can't accept that as an appropriate or loving response to anyone. It's absolutely possible to respond with loving correction to those whom one believes to have fallen into theological or practical error without having to deny such a deep and integral part of a person's self-identity.
cjbanning: (Default)
 What is the function of the historic episcopate in the 21st century?

One assumes that the historic episcopate holds a function and purpose beyond the simple passing of apostolic authority from one generation to the next. (Or, to put it another way, that this apostolic authority needs to be actually constitutive of something.) To reply that its function lies in the preservation of doctrine seems problematic insofar as there presently seems to be as much diversity of opinion within the historic episcopate (which after all contains both John Shelby Spong and Benedict XVI) as there is outside it.

My intuition is that the historic episcopate acts as an extraordinary (there's a pun in there somewhere) sign to the world of the unity and catholicity of the Church of Christ. But how and why this is so I find myself, for the moment, unable to fully articulate. 

cjbanning: (Trinity)
It's the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. For some reason I cannot even name, the unity of the Church is a cause close to my heart. Adapting the prayer of Jesus in John 18:20-23, I offer a prayer:
Parent God: We pray, as did your child, Jesus Christ, on the night before the Crucifixion, that we may be one, as Jesus and you are one. As you are in Christ and Christ in you, may we also be in you, so that the world may experience your love. The glory that you have given Christ is given to us, so that we may be one, as you are one, Christ in us and you in Christ, that we may become completely one, so that the world may know that Christ loves us even as you loved Christ. Amen.
Yesterday, Benedict XVI (not my favorite person in the world) said:
[Unity] comes from [God], from the Trinitarian Mystery, from the unity of the [Parent] with [Christ] in the dialogue of love which is the Holy Spirit and our ecumenical effort should be open to divine action, it must be a daily invocation of God's help. The Church is [God's] and not ours.
Amen! Father Nathan preaches:
If a person is predisposed to see their own particular fellowship as the one true Church, of course, and to see all of the others as counterfeits or frauds of one kind or another, as less than themselves, as lacking in certain crucial qualities, than what is the point of meeting together? What progress can be made at all until that mental wall is smashed and torn down?

Rather than retreating into that softminded security of what is known and comfortable, you and I are called by the Holy Spirit to remain open, to see from God’s point of view, to be ready for the new thing that God will do in our midst.
I think one of Anglicanism's many advantages is that it is very difficult to think of the Episcopal Church, Anglican Communion, or Church of England as representing the one true Church, or even the only authentic voice to the mission of that Church. We're very aware we're only a single branch of the greater Church, which is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
cjbanning: (Default)
I've just come across this response to the 2009 General Convention (of the Episcopal Church, if that doesn't go without saying) from someone who is (as far as I can tell from his blog) a progressive leader in the emergent church movement:
When did we come so far off the rails that the words “convention,” “legislative,” and “committees” become constitutive of our promulgation of the gospel? My favorite tweet came a couple days ago from a clergywoman (“rev” was part of her Twitter handle!) that simply read, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGH!!!!”

[. . .]

I implore [my Episcopal friends] to look beyond the gay issue. The bigger issue is that they employ a medieval form of church polity strange hybrid of medieval (bishops, dioceses, sextons) and modern (legislation, amendments, committees) polities, which will inevitably fail in this postmodern, wiki-world.
Since Circle of Hope, the church (if I'm even allowed to call it that) I attend on Sunday evenings and am associated with in a myriad of other ways, has a lot in common with the emergent church movement (including what I perceive as its fundamental conservatism), this sort of opinion isn't unfamiliar with it. And at the end of the day, I think it's just a sign of two radically different ecclesiologies held by different portions of the Body of Christ. (Unsurprisingly, I think one is right and one is wrong, and even less surprisingly, I think the one I hold is the right one.)

Admittedly I give myself a huge amount of lattitude in interpreting the Creeds (and I am an Episcopalian because I don't feel I could give myself that much lattitude while remaining intellectually honest within the context of the Roman church), but the Creeds are central to my understanding of who I am as a Christian and what my relationship to and within the mystical Body of Christ is and should be. The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

In a time when it might seem that everything in our denomination is up for grabs (and I'm not sure that it shouldn't be!), one of the real defining fundamentals of Episcopal practice is what is known as the Chicago-Lambeth quadrilateral. Rather than re-invent the wheel, I'll pass on that Wikipedia tells us it is
a four-point articulation of Anglican identity, often cited as encapsulating the fundamentals of the Communion's doctrine and as a reference-point for ecumenical discussion with other Christian denominations. The four points are:
1. The Holy Scriptures, as containing all things necessary to salvation;
2. The Creeds (specifically, the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds), as the sufficient statement of Christian faith;
3. The Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion;
4. The historic episcopate, locally adapted.
The Church is an institution. Furthermore, it is an institution which, while currently fragmented, strives for unity and catholicity--and every Episcopalian (like every Roman Catholic) prays for the eventual restoration of unity to the Church even as we recognize the deeper, more fundamental unity and catholicity of the Body of Christ can never be broken. While "the Church may have fallen into schism within itself and its several provinces or groups of provinces be out of communion with each other, each may yet be a branch of the one Church of Christ, provided that it continues to hold the faith of the original undivided Church and to maintain the Apostolic Succession of its bishops" (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, as quoted in Wikipedia). Questioning the institutionality of the Church would be, to me, something akin to questioning whether the Second Person of the Trinity is eternally begotten from the First (not that questioning anything should ever be out of bounds!). Most fundamentally, I eschew the individualist impulse of Protestantism which places the piety of the single believer above the sacramental life of the community.

For me, that comes with the whole hierarchy of bishops, priests, deacons, and lay members as a traditional organization which has not yet outlived its usefulness. The episcopate is necessary for apostolic succession (obviously). The diaconate is Biblical. And I affirm the value of the ordained presbyterate (of all races, genders, and sexualities) to act as the representative of Christ (in persona Christi) in the ex opere operato celebration of the sacraments ("magic Jesus hands," etc.).

This does not mean there is not plenty of space to do and be "a new thing" while continuing the work of the historic, institutional Church--especially as our understanding of just what it is the Church is called to do improves over time. An Episcopal parish (or any other liturgical-ish mainline congregation) can and should bear a lot of the hallmarks of an emergent church, very possibly operating out of a store front or a movie theatre, while all the time retaining the value and strength which comes from having as a resource the cathedral which houses the See of a member of the historic episcopate (or non-historic episcopate, for the Methodists relevant Protestant denominations). And of course it doesn't mean that I think the Episcopal Church--or any other church--can survive without an involved, active, and dynamic laity which takes leadership roles. (The founder of the religious order which ran my high school was, after all, the patron saint of lay ministers.) But I don't think there's anyone in any of the liturgical traditions who actually thinks that, and all the confusing voting is precisely in place to facilitate that as best it can. It's deliberately built into the very structure of the church polity in an attempt to distinguish TEC from the Church of England, where power flows (or at least flowed) from the top (the Sovereign) down.

So I think it's much too soon to conclude that TEC's "strange hybrid of medieval and modern polities [. . .] will inevitably fail in this postmodern, wiki-world." I think instead it has room within it to become an even stranger hybrid, to incorporate within itself postmodern strategies of engagement without having to throw out the medieval or the modern. (It's already incorporating those strategies in many cases.) That's what it means to be a broad church, a via media. The end result may look--no, will look--radically different than TEC does today, just as TEC looks pretty darn different than it did a hundred years, or than the C of E did three hundred years ago, or than the RCC did a thousand years ago. But it'll still contain within itself those things which are fundamental to itself as an institution.

Or to put it another way, the cathedrals aren't going anywhere.

No, we're not Congregationalists, and at some point, a beaurocracy becomes necessary. But we're not Congregationalists precisely because we don't think being the Church is something that any congregation (or even any denomination!) is capable of being on its own, or should even try doing its small part outside of communion with the whole. Beaurocracy and hierarchy are an inevitable effect of our creedal attempts to, as part of our catholic tradition, actualize the unity and catholicity and apostolicity of the Body, while being respectful of the diversity of beliefs and practices which exist within our Communion.
cjbanning: (The Bishop)
Reading this article about how a vote on gay clergy promises to create upheavals in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), has got me thinking about issues of church unity, about the many divisions which render the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Since I'm an Anglo-Catholic sort of guy, who accepts the patristic practices of the invocation and intercession of Saints in all its high church glory,* I wrote a prayer to Mary:
Most Blessed Mary, Virgin Mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and Mother of His Church which He founded upon the Rock of Saint Peter, we ask of you your intercession before God, that God may eliminate from us all hatred or intolerance which prevents us from coming before God as one Church, sisters and brothers in Christ, united in our constant striving towards justice, peace, and love.

Queen of Heaven, may God grant that all of us, of all races, religions, and creeds; of all genders and sexualities; those in communion with Rome, or Canterbury, or any see of the historical episcopate, and those who are simply members of the priesthood of all believers, may work together towards the building of God's Kingdom, each answering God's call as we hear it, judging not lest we ourselves be judged, one people but many human persons beautiful in our differences, so that we may truly call ourselves the Church Catholic.

Queen of Apostles, may your acceptance of the Divine Will act as an example to us as we seek to live out in this age, as have the Saints of old in ages past, the apostolic commission given to us by Jesus Christ, that His Church may be a light to the entire world.

Queen of Martyrs, your example, before Saint Joseph your betrothed, in Egypt, and before the cross, emboldens us to accept the suffering we may face as consequence for righteousness, to trust that it will be sanctified by the Holy Spirit and made a holy offering before God, and that God will lead us out of the darkness.

We praise you, Holy Mother Mary, as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church established by your Son, led by His Spirit, and devoted in its being to the glory of His Father in Heaven. Amen.
*The Catholic Encyclopedia tells me this isn't necessarily in contravention of the 22nd Article of Religion (none of which are binding to ECUSA members anyway):
Indeed the High Church Anglicans contend that it is not the invocation of saints that is here rejected, but only the "Romish doctrine", i.e. the excesses prevailing at the time and afterwards condemned by the Council of Trent. "In principle there is no question herein between us and any other portion of the Catholic Church. . . . Let not that most ancient custom, common to the Universal Church, as well Greek as Latin, of addressing Angels and Saints in the way we have said, be condemned as impious, or as vain and foolish" [Forbes, Bishop of Brechin (Anglican), "Of the Thirty-nine Articles", p. 422].
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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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