Cranmer on Certitude and “the Flame”

“I have never found certitude easy. Beliefs grow slowly in my mind, changing shape as they gain a fresh insight, or shed what seems to be an error. It is not a process that leads naturally to a conclusion. This can be an advantage in the ordinary intercourse of life. One is better able to understand other people if one’s ideas have not yet hardened, and can be stretched without loss of integrity to accommodate theirs.

The difficulty is to know when the limits of understanding are reached. There always seems to be one more step that can be taken without danger in fellowship. Harmony is a great good, but there are others greater, for those whose sake it must be, in the last resort, renounced. I could, I hope, find the courage to die for them; but my mind still gropes in vain. It is an agonizing task to define the principles for which a man must condemn his living body to the flame.” — Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, en route to being burned at the stake.

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Westminster, Theology, and Liturgy

Another thought about Westminster Seminary (my alma mater) whose publication “Westminster Today” arrived in the mail recently, which I just read.

What wonderful, rich theology, for example in the article by Vern Poythress on the relationship between biblical and systematic theology, a topic which is perpetually addressed at the seminary with near exhaustive detail.

Indeed, one can read tens of thousands of pages about this relationship, and hear scores of hours about it in lectures.

However, eight years after Westminster, I find myself asking with even more conviction than I did eight years ago, “What about liturgical theology?” What about the ancient maxim, lex orandi lex credendi, which can be rendered as “Our worship determines our theology”?

On the other hand, I don’t really expect Westminster to embrace this idea. It simply isn’t a Reformed conviction, and Reformed theology “is what it is.”

But it is very clear to me that, whatever the deep riches present at Westminster and in the grand tradition it represents — and there are many — it does not believe that theology begins in worship and is rooted there.

Perhaps if it did there would be a chapel on campus in which the sacraments are celebrated.

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WTS Christology not actually Reformed

Bruce McCormack, professor of systematic theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, has commented on the text which (one subgroup of) the faculty of Westminster wrote to justify its opposition to the Christological analogy Pete Enns relies upon in his book Inspiration and Incarnation.

McCormack succinctly does a geneaology of Reformed christology, culminating in John Owen and visible in the Westminster Standards, tracing it back to Chalcedon. The upshot is that the Reformed tradition, in opposition to some patristic readings as well as most Orthodox readings, locates the personhood of Christ in the hypostatic union, and not simply as derivative from the pre-existing Logos. Interestingly, the main motivation for this on the part of the Reformed tradition was to preserve the real humanity of Christ in all its fullness, resisting the idea that Christ’s humanity is just an instrument of the Logos.

Here as elsewhere, the Reformed theological tradition rocks. What is sad, though, is that WTS, as a part of its condemnation of Pete’s book, is departing from this.

What is even sadder is that they probably did not even realize what it was doing, so low is its interest level in the patristic thought and the ancient context of Chalcedon. McCormack reminds us that doing theology is impossible apart from doing history.

Hmmmm … isn’t that also what Pete is saying (among other things) in his book?

Bad things happen when we (ie, evangelicals or conservative Reformed types) let our doctrine of Scripture drive the rest of our theology, which seems to me to be what is going on at WTS. The need nostalgically to defend (a relatively recent conception of) the Bible drives all else.

For the text of the McCormack piece, go here.

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Sex & Reality: “One Flesh Union”

In the past I have written about Lauren Winner’s Real Sex, and I want to do so again, as part of a larger conversation.

Bouquet and I have a pair of good friends who are in their early-to-mid twenties and who are in a dating relationship which is getting “pretty serious.”

They recently approached Bouquet wanting to discuss the issue of sexuality, in particular asking the question, “Based on Christianity, is it really the case that ‘sex outside of marriage’ is wrong?'”

Great question, and one that I am always asking myself, and so I want to blog about it.

I want to start with a line from CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity, specifically from Book III entitled “Christian Behavior,” and chapter 5 of that book called “Sexual Morality:” “[t]he … Christian rule is “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or abstinence.”

First off, notice that Lewis is saying that marriage and not “a wedding ceremony” is a prerequisite for sex, on the Christian view. This is an important point because nowhere in the Bible is there a clear precedent for, or a clear teaching on, a wedding ceremony. Instead, what there is clear teaching on in Scripture is something called “one flesh union.” This is what is portrayed in Genesis (Gen 2:24) and in the sexual theology of St. Paul which always has the creation narrative(s) — or as Lauren Winner puts it in her book, the original order of God’s good creation which we see in the creation stories — in view (see I Cor 6:16 for Paul’s direct quotation of Gen 2:24).

In other words, even if the the Bible does not seem to have a lot to say explicitly about wedding ceremonies, it does clearly teach that sex goes with marriage. And so the question becomes, “What is marriage?” And the answer to that question is seen as elsewhere in the two verses cited above: marriage is one flesh union.

Now what is interesting about that is the word “flesh.” For, as Winner alludes to in her book, both the Greek and the Hebrew words (sarx and bassar, respectively) for “flesh” point in two directions are the same time. The word can mean “body,” and / or it can mean something like “the holistic life of the self” or the “one’s own life in its totality.” For the former meaning see I Cor 15:39 or II Cor 7:5, and for the latter see, again, I Cor 6:16. (There is a third meaning of the word which is less important for our purposes, though it is related to this second meaning: it can refer simply to the human person or to humanity as a whole, as in Jn 17:2 and Acts 2:17, and a fourth meaning can be “the sin nature” as we see in Gal 5.)

So when the Bible portrays the man Adam and the woman as “one flesh” it is referring both to both meanings. To quote Lauren Winner:

“One-fleshness … captures an all-encompassing over-arching oneness — when they marry, husband and wife enter an institution that points them toward familial, domestic, emotional, and spiritual [one might also add: financial, psychological, and social] unity. But the one flesh of which Adam speaks [in his “love poem” in Gen 1:23] is also overtly sexual, suggesting sexual intercourse, the only physical state other than pregnancy when it is hard to tell where one person’s body stops and the other’s starts.”

What is marriage? It is a relationship of holistic unity with another person, and this includes at its center the bodily unity of sex. Because this holistic unity involves so much, because there is so much at stake — physical health, emotional health, economic health, social health, psychological health — it requires commitment.

The kind of lasting commitment one finds in biblical portrayals and descriptions of covenants. And it is here, in the need for commitment, where the actual marriage ceremony becomes a serious matter, and one which wise people will consider very seriously.

To summarize, does the Bible teach that one must get married before having sex? I am not sure if it does or not, but I know that it does teach that one must be married before having sex (although it requires this not as some abstract law, but rather as a way to protect the health or shalom of the person), and a wise person will recognize that the best way to start being married is actually to get married.

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Hope for (the Anglican) Communion: conclusion

Conclusion: Hope for Mutual Subjection in Christ around our Deepest Divisions

I repeat the question with which I opened this essay: How can one discern if homosexual practice on the part of a Christian disciple or believer can be faithful to God apart from deep, empathetic, listening-and-responding communion and relational interaction with fellow members of the body of Christ, including with those who are homosexual? This question, which, in analogy to the 16th century Protestant Reformation, might be thought of as the material cause or issue of the current Anglican crisis, is potentially more explosive and divisive than the issues in the recent past concerning women above.

Is the ontological nature of Episcopal Church personal, or individualistic? Which answer better provides a healing alternative to the violent practice of nation-state politics currently destroying our world? Which answer better explains why and how the church should exercise the ministry of bishops? Which answer makes more sense of what we are doing in the Eucharist?

The Windsor process, including its report and its proposed covenant(s), is of course not perfect. However, rooted in the koinonia of the personal and communal God whose image or icon humanity and the church are, it provides not just the practical time and space and procedure for a deep and listening participation in each others’ lives, but it grounds such a life in ultimate ontological reality (mediated through scripture and ancient tradition) as well. And it does this, in concert with other texts discussed in this paper, in a way which has implications which are potentially healing to both the human family of nations and the universal Church of the Triune God. In so doing it shows that preserving and deepening the unity of the church demands that we name and live into our true personhood in listening, mutually submissive covenant with each other.

Works Cited

The Anglican Consultative Council. The Church of the Triune God: The Cypress Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican – Orthodox Theological Dialogue (London: the Anglican Communion Office, 2006).

The Anglican Consultative Council. Report of the Second Meeting of the Covenant Design Group (London: the Anglican Communion Office, 2008).

The Anglican Consultative Council. The Virginia Report: The Report of the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission (London: the Anglican Communion Office, 1997).

The Anglican Consultative Council. The Windsor Report (London: the Anglican Communion Office, 2004).

Cavanaugh, William. Theopolitical Imagination (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2002).

Chauvet. Louis-Marie. The Sacraments (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1997).

Hays, Richard. The Moral Vision of the New Testament. (New York: Harper Collins, 1996).

MacIntyre, Alisdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame: Notre Dame P., 2007).

MacIntyre, Alisdair. A Short History of Ethics (New York: MacMillan, 1966).

Marion, Jean-Luc. God Without Being (Chicago, U. Chicago P., 1991).

Pickstock, Catherine. After Writing: on the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998).

Radner, Ephraim. Hope Among the Fragments. (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2004).

Radner, Ephraim. “A Presentation to the House of Bishops on the Proposed Anglican Covenant” (online at www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_83881_ENG_HTM.htm).

Turner, Philip. “A Comment on the St. Andrew’s Draft of the Anglican Covenant” (online at http://covenant-communion.com/?p=708).

Yannaras, Christos. On the Absence and Unknowability of God (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2007).

Zizioulas, John. Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and Communion (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1985).

Go to the Introduction, Part I, or Part II of this essay.

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Hope for (the Anglican) Communion: part 2 of 2

II. Three Sub-plots in this Emerging Narrative

Sub-plot #1: the Nature of Personhood. First, let us consider the nature of this theology of personal communion that undergirds the Windsor process as well as the iterations of the proposed covenant. In book Being as Communion John Zizioulas has offered a massively influential argument which undermines some of the most deeply held assumptions that we have (especially in the West) about the nature of ultimate reality, or about ontology, that which is ultimately real, real in the case of God (of one believes in God) and real in the case of the world (or what theology thinks of as creation). We in the West tend to assume (and, interestingly for the purposes of mission, this assumption holds both in the Christian community as well as in the larger secular culture) that what God really is, and what the world really is, more than anything else, is being. And our understanding of being, in turn, is pervasively suffused by the thought of a thinker who lived 2500 years ago and whose name was Aristotle, who defined being as substance. What is relevant for our discussion is that substance is something which is fixed, static, or (to use one of Catherine Pickstock’s words and ideas) “stockpileable.”

The Zizioulian turn is to show how, implicit in the theology proper of the church fathers, is a rejection this fixed, static nature of being (including the being of God) in favor of something more dynamic, more fluid, more free, more relational. This “something” for Zizioulias is communion or koinonia, a primary Leitmotif not just in the thought of the church fathers, but in the New Testament documents themselves.

Why identify communion, however, as that which best describes ultimate ontology? Zizioulas’ answer is that it is because God is a person who freely begets the Son and who freely brings about the Holy Spirit, and who thus enjoys a personal relationship with the Spirit and the Son. In short, God is a loving community of persons, and what “connects” these three persons is not static, undifferentiated being-as-substance, but rather free love, in which each person participates in the others, mutually indwelling (with) them in (voluntary, loving) interdependence.

Communion becomes an ontological concept in patristic thought. Nothing in existence is conceivable in itself, as an individual, such as the tode ti of Aristotle, since even God exists thanks to an event of communion. In this manner the ancient world heard for the first time that it is communion which makes things “be:” nothing exists without it, not even God.”

So what we see in the patristic understanding of the life of the Holy Trinity might be thought of as “personhood kata holos,” or “personhood according to the whole,” or perhaps “catholic personhood.” Each person of the trinity reaches into the others. In the life of God, there is so such thing as a solitary individual, not to mention the thought, even, of unilateral action. Everything touches all, and everything is “decided” by all. The whole truth or reality is “known” by the whole community. This communion is what we mean by “personhood kata holos,” and this communion is what we find in the very life of the Triune God. (Note, importantly, how this theology of personhood is providing rigorous theological grounding for the concept of communion we have seen articulated in The Virginia Report.)

What Zizioulas goes on to show, and what the Windsor Report and other major Anglican documents we are looking at in this paper develop, is that if this personal communion characterizes God, then it also characterizes his church.

One such official Anglican document is The Cypress Statement. Building on the contrast we saw earlier in our discussion of The Virginia Report between communion and competitive individualism, this text states that

… the person exists not in possession of its own nature in opposition to others, but in giving itself wholly into the life of others. Thus the person is not part of some whole, but the place where the wholeness of nature is real and concrete.”

This explicit articulation of the “personhood kata holos,” or “catholic personhood” finds its analogue in the church: “St. John makes it clear that the fellowship or communion (koinonia) of life in the Church reflects the communion that is the divine life itself.” To bring human beings into this living relationship between the divine persons is “the ultimate purpose of the church…. This is what the Greek fathers and the Orthodox tradition have called theosis.” This analogy is made more explicit:

The Church is both a local and a universal reality. As the one God is a communion of three persons, so the universal church is one communion in Christ of many churches. She is not a federation of many parts. The relationship between the local church and the universal Church is determined by the revelation of the life of the Holy Trinity.”

I cannot avoid calling attention to paragraph 26 in the statement, which analogizes from the personal causality of the Father in the Trinity to the necessarily personal arche in the church: “all forms of primacy in the Church … being personal … cannot but be relational.” For those such as bishops and primates and archbishops who exercise authority, this is an important reminder. In this in many other ways, the theology of personhood kata holos pervades the entire text of The Church of the Triune God.

Sub-plot #2: the Decline of the Modern Nation-state. In our late modern age, characterized by what Alistair MacIntryre calls “emotivism,” humanity seems less able than ever to inhabit a peaceful politeuma or commonwealth.

It is, by now at any rate, clear that following the age of Luther and Machiavelli, we should expect the rise of a kind of moral-cum-political theory in which the individual is the ultimate social unit, power the ultimate concern, God an increasingly irrelevant but still unexpungeable being, and a prepolitical, presocial timeless human nature the background of changing social forms. The expectation is fully gratified by Hobbes.”

It is no coincidence that, as MacIntyre points out, the rise of the modern-nation state requires that the ultimate social unit, in direct opposition to the social thought of the Fathers, be that of the solitary individual. This is the case because, in order for the state to be thought of (and worshipped?) as savior, all mediating groups which bind people together must, in principle, be disbanded, leaving the isolated individual in the position of a direct one-to-one relationship with the state. This is why, modern political thought presupposes the primacy of the individual, (and the concomitant privatization of the church) as for example in Rouseau’s social contract which is a vehicle to overcome violence between individuals.

Regardless of one’s view as to the extent to which the “founding fathers” of the US Constitution are complicit in this strategy to privatize the church and to individualize persons into discrete units, it seems impossible to deny that, 200 years after the founders, we live in a nation-state (the USA) in which religion / church is indeed privatized and hence power is relegated to the state. And the state, currently involved in a violent, grand effort to extend its modern project into the Middle East, takes full advantage of this situation. And we feel it in our bones: is it any wonder, to invoke a bit of anecdotal evidence, that so few people seriously sing the national anthem at sporting events? American patriotism is on hard times, and rightly so.

And that is why this writer cannot help but view our ecclesial opportunity in the Anglican Communion to bind ourselves together in covenant recognition of our true mutually indwelling personhood as a kairos moment not just for the church but for the world, and especially for the West, racked as it is by nation-state power politics and sophistic, manipulative rhetoric.

Sub-plot #3: Ecclesiology. How does this fecund idea of personhood kata holos inform our understanding of the embodied church? First let us consider the ministry of episkope. The apparent presence of divergent understandings of the episcopate between, for example, African provinces and North American provinces makes this question particularly weighty.
My point is that this communion ecclesiology informs the nature of the episcopate, especially since the bishop is seen as an icon of the whole church of God. It does seem to me that “both sides” have something to learn from the theological reality of communion. I quote The Virginia Report:

A ministry of oversight (episkope) of interdependence, accountability and discernment is essential at all levels of the Church’s mission and ministry, and for the sake of the Church’s wellbeing, must be exercised at every level in a way that is personal, collegial and communal. A bishop’s authority is never isolated from the community; both the community of the Church and the community and unity of all humankind.”

And again:

The episcopal ministry is no authoritarian ministry above and separate from the community, but is a ministry, based in the grace of God, always exercised in relation to the community and always subject to the word of God.”

The first quotation above stands as a warning to those in the North America who conceive of the bishop along the same lines as an elected official in the “democratic republic” of the USA. The term “representative” is often used, as if the “job” of the bishop were to simply “vote” in accordance with the will of the majority of his or her constituents. Such conception, however, cannot be sustained in light of our understanding of communion as personhood kata holos. A renewed understanding of episkopos in this light will greatly aid those in North America to see the bishop as one in whose person we all have a stake and a vital connection, and vice-versa.

The second quotation above, however, issues an admonishment to any Christian, including Anglicans in Africa, who conceives of the arche of the bishop, the ministry of oversight, in a top-down fashion. What personhood kata holos shows us is that the bishop’s relationship to his people can be no more hierarchical than the Father’ relationship to the Son. Mutuality and interdependence must be seen as real, and practiced as such.

Second, let us consider the nature of the Eucharist. One could easily mine the official Anglican Communion documents referred to in this paper and, just as we have done above in the case of the bishop, draw out many implications of communion theology to the Eucharist. However, I would like to think more ecumenically than that in this treatment of the Eucharist.
The Eucharistic theology of Catholic theologian Louis-Marie Chauvet is one contemporary instance of several which see the Eucharist as constitutive of human deification, albeit in ways which prefigure ultimate deification (e.g., Thomas’ beatific vision), thus radically calling into question what can be thought of as “traditional ontology,” which, again, after Aristotle, can be thought of as “being-as-substance.” Chauvet argues sociologically that the Eucharist can be viewed as an example of symbolic gift exchange, in which a “circuit” of community members share in gift exchange which is not simply bilateral, and in which gift givers actually give themselves to their fellow circuit members. In this community of (self) gifting, the upshot is that a superabundant economy of peace is created and sustained which truly binds people together in the fullness of human communion. In other words, Chauvet, in a very post-Heideggarian move, sees ontology as symbol, or even symbolic gift exchange. When the Body of Christ performs this action in Eucharistic synaxis, deification occurs, and the members of the Body participate not just in one another but in the very life of the Triune God.

Chauvet’s approach to the Eucharist presupposes not only post-Heideggarian metaphysics, however. It also relies on the “scansion shift” of the three-fold body of Christ documented among others by Henri de Lubac. No other development in the history of modern theology opens the door to ecumenical relations more than this recovery of the patristic understanding of the three-fold body, for it gets behind the high medieval doctrine of transubstantiation in a way that even Rome must be open to. To assert that the ancient corpus verum, the members of Christ gathered around the bread and the wine, is what is transubstantiated is precisely what The Cypress Statement affirms when it speaks of deification in the context of the Eucharist.

Such a reinterpretation of transubstantiation resonates deeply with this theology of personhood kata holos, for it sees that which is ultimately real as dynamic, free, and (above all) relational between persons. In addition to critiquing radical individualism as seen in the competition between church entities such as Anglican provinces, it also reveals the inherent individualism behind the medieval Eucharistic theologies in the wake of the three-fold body scansion shift.

Go back to Part I or the Introduction to this series.

Proceed to the Conclusion of this series.

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Hope for (the Anglican) Communion: part 1 of 2

I. Summary of the Windsor Report (and Underlying Documents) and the Covenant

First, however, it would be helpful to summarize and interpret the Windsor Report (containing four sections: A – D) itself as well as the proposed covenant. The Windsor Report makes it abundantly clear that it is not dealing primarily with issues of human sexuality or sexual ethics. Rather, it is dealing with the nature of communion, as clarified by a certain crisis (note that crisis or controversy is the primary way in which theology gets clarified in the history of the church) which has in turn been precipitated by unilateral actions concerning human sexuality on the part of certain ecclesial entities.

Therefore, when one turns to “Section A: The Purposes and Benefits of Communion” one can appreciate why the authors, after summarizing the rich biblical foundation for communion (the proleptic embodiment of the coming Kingdom of God in redemptive history) and the practical consequences of healthy communion (common pattern of liturgical life; mutual independence and responsibility in the body of Christ; solidarity in social issues of justice such genocide and racial enslavement), chose to spill so much ink in writing about the nature of communion, including how recent controversies in the global Anglican family of churches (the ordination of women to the presbyterate; the consecration of women to the episcopate) have impacted that communion. The upshot of this is that, in contrast to the groundswell of collective will regarding the above mentioned issues related to women – in which action was “taken in cooperation with the Instruments of Unity” – the actions recently taken by the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster (to authorize a public rite of blessing for same sex unions) and by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (“to consent to … the consecration of … the person elected as Bishop of New Hampshire, a divorced man openly acknowledged to be living in a sexually active and committed same sex relationship” ) were undertaken unilaterally, with apparent disregard for the Primates’ advance warning that such an action (in the case of the consent to the consecration of Gene Robinson) “might ‘tear the fabric of our communion at the deepest level.’” The primates, as the Report points out, had repeatedly reaffirmed Lambeth 1998 1.10, which rejects “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” and states that it “cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”

It is because of this unilateral action, the report argues, that the Anglican Communion now finds itself in a condition of critical illness. And as so often happens in the case of illness in the human body, some attempts to bring healing have actually exacerbated the symptoms, especially the move on the part of some African bishops and primates to send “flying bishops” to North America to perform canonical Episcopal actions, including the consecration of additional bishops. Such transgression of Episcopal boundaries, the report points out, are a clear violation not only of resolutions from Lambeth 1988 and 1998, but also of “some of the longest-standing regulations of the early undivided church (Canon 8 of Nicea).”

Even if, however, the actions taken by New Westminster and The Episcopal Church have displayed symptoms of critical illness in the Anglican Communion, the report does stress that there have been and remain “deeper symptoms” of illness as well. The report identifies six “key strands in the story” which have lead to the current impasse: theological development, ecclesiastical procedures, adiaphora, subsidiarity, trust, and authority. In every case except for the last two, the report specifically states that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of New Westminster have fallen short of their responsibility to the larger communion.

Section B of the report (“Fundamental Principles”) is a description of both the nature of the communion we share as well as the actual, concrete bonds, or one might say, cords, that bind us as Anglicans together.

Before turning to the concrete bonds which tie us in unity, however, consider the nature of the communion which the report suggests, which can be seen in three key ideas put forward in the report: “mutual interdependence,” “putting the needs of the global fellowship before [one’s] own,” and “corporate, ecclesial personhood, [existing] in and for [the] fellow churches.”

What is the origin of these ideas? We have already seen that in the first paragraphs of the report in Section A this idea of communion is rooted in the redemptive work of the Triune God as described in the New Testament in such places as Ephesians. However, it is the Virginia Report, which is referred to thirteen times in the main body of the Windsor Report, which provides the underlying communion theology for the latter.
It seems to me that the authors of The Virginia Report do three things which are hugely significant for the purposes of this discussion: they ground communion; they contrast communion, and they eschatologize communion.

First, they ground communion in the life of the Trinity:

The Commission has centered its study on the understanding of the Trinitarian faith. It believes that the unity of the Anglican Communion derives from the unity given in the triune God, whose inner personal and relational nature is communion. This is our center. This mystery of God’s life calls us to communion in visible form.”

Second, they contrast communion with “the competitive individualism” (which they also rightly point out is “no longer accepted without question” even in the secular world) in the “political, scientific, economic, and psychological spheres.” So whatever communion is for the Anglican Communion, it is not something that occurs between competitive individuals. As we will see later in John Zizioulas’ theology of personhood, communion is in fact antithetical to our normal conception of the solitary individual as such, since the persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit so indwell and mutually penetrate one another that they cannot be thought of as individuals at all. Instead, patristic theology sees communion as rooted in the ontology of person, which is something quite different than that of the individual. All “injustice, racism, separation and denial of freedom” as well as individual and corporate alienation – all of which are rooted in the competition of the individual – are radically challenged and ultimately overcome by the communion we have with each other in Christ, his body and blood, his “passion, death, and resurrection.”

Third, they eschatologize communion. The communion of the Trinity is the telos of mankind as imaged in the church. Paradoxically it is present now and still-to-be realized in God’s future. The report in this context quotes Maximus the Confessor: “The things of the past are shadow; those of the present icon; the truth is to be found in the things of the future.” Two implications flow from this: first, that the church is called to embody the purpose of God’s future in today’s world ; second, that communion is something that we can only partially realize in the present, though it is the future goal to which we wholly devote ourselves.

In its articulation of the actual ties that bind us together, the two concrete cords discussed in The Windsor Report are Scripture (together with its interpretation, by the church of course) and the episcopate. Why does the Windsor Report exert so much energy in discussing the role of Scripture?

The answer to this question has to do with that final “key strand in the story,” mentioned above, which has attenuated the unity of the Anglican communion: authority. And it is not too speculative to suggest that the implicit contrast, or foil, in view in this discussion of authority is the Roman papal see. For, in Anglicanism (as has been made clear in diverse ways in the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries ), authority resides in Scripture.

Here, however, another implicit contrast comes into play: the Protestant, or we might say “Reformed” or “evangelical” understanding of how Scripture is authoritative in the Christian Church. This conception tends statically to spatialize Scripture into a “quasi-legal” rule book of propositions to be appealed to in the case of controversy.

The report’s (and purportedly, the Anglican Communion’s) understanding of how authority works is neither papal nor protestant in the way just described. Rather, Scripture plays a vital role in the authority of God in Jesus Christ in the mission and life of the church as it seeks to bring about the inbreaking Kingdom of God in and for the world. This, the report claims, is how the earliest Christians thought of it, and this makes sense when it is remembered that, while the earliest Christians did not have the New Testament canon as we think of it, they did nevertheless gather in Eucharistic synaxis to be formed by the word of God (as the preaching of the Gospel) into the body of Christ for the sake of the world. To put it another way, it seems helpful to imagine (with a historically informed imagination, of course) how the earliest Christian communities made decisions in the era prior to the canonization of what we call the New Testament . Our use of Scripture must be consistent with theirs.

The point of this rendition of how Scripture is authoritative, however, is to locate authority not just “in the Scriptures” (as if texts can be without interpretation in any meaningful sense) but rather in the (whole) church’s interpretation of the Scriptures. Consistent with The Virginia Report’s articulation of communion above, the interpretation of the entire Church resides in each local (including provincial) church.

The second concrete cord that binds the Anglican communion together is the episcopate. After rehearsing the history the emergence of the shared historic episcopate in the Anglican Communion (reaching its settling point in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral), the report states that “… a bishop is more than simply the local chief pastor. Bishops represent the universal to the local to the universal and vice-versa.” Again, note how this understanding resonates with The Virginia Report’s concept of communion summarized above.

Because of this unique nature of the bishop, who, building on what we just said, embodies the catholicity of the Church in his person, “successive Lambeth conferences have urged the primates to shoulder the burden of enhanced responsibility for the unity of the Communion….” Interestingly, this move is grounded by the report not just in Ignatius, Irenaeus, and Cyprian as well as in “the great sees of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome, and Jerusalem,” but also in St. Paul, who wrote “with authority to various churches … he had not himself founded.”

An additional bond discussed in the report (in addition to Scripture and the Episcopate) which binds the Anglican Communion together is the way the Communion has answered the question, “How can we, being a diverse community, practice reception, or the making and receiving of innovations within the tradition?” The answer has been for the church to perform the following steps mediated through the Instruments of Communion:
• theological debate and discussion
• formal action
• increased consultation to see whether the formal action settles down and makes itself at home.

It is each autocephalous church which performs this process, in relative “autonomy” to each other province (ie, autocephalous church) but within a wider obligation to others, and in subordination to the whole. (Autocephalous churches can make their own independent decisions only at their own level, and so we can see how autocephaly is linked to subsidiarity.) This “wider obligation” and “subordination to the whole” takes effect particularly in potentially divisive matters about which the whole Communion has yet to make up its mind. Even “internal decisions [must be] fully compatible with the interests, standards, unity and good order or the wider community of which the [autocephalous] body forms a part.” This is particularly true in the church’s necessary task of inculturating the Gospel into different societies in mission.

The underlying principle of this entire articulation of the process of reception is stated in the ancient dictum, “What touches all must be decided by all,” an idea which, again, presupposes the idea of communion articulated in The Virginia Report (see above).

Section C of the Windsor Report (“Our Future Life Together”) makes specific recommendations for the Communion about how to mend the strained communion / relationships which have ensued due to the unilateral actions named above. For the purposes of this paper I will include only one such recommendation: that of a “communion law’ which would be inserted into each local ecclesial entity’s body of canon law. This action would “enable and implement the covenant proposal below, strengthening the bonds of unity and articulating what has to-date been assumed.” Such an communion law is needed, the report argues, because “informal agreement or unenforceable guidance is not enough.”

This is strong and important language to say the least. What is being proposed here is that each province in the Communion adopt and incorporate into its official documents (constitutions, canons, prayer books) a “law” which will commit it to submit to a covenant to be adopted by the Instruments of Communion.

Before summarizing and interpreting the (as of the current date) final version of the covenant, we note that The Windsor Report envisions that the covenant would “deal with:” acknowledgement of common Anglican identity; the relationships of communion; the commitments of communion; the excercize of “autonomy” in communion; the management of communion affairs.

The St. Andrews Draft of the proposed covenant is divided into three parts: faith, mission, and (maintenance of) communion. Each part contains both affirmations and commitments.

The scope of this paper does not lend itself to listing every faith-affirmation and every commitment adumbrated in the covenant. Instead, I would like to work with Phil Turner’s three “stances” which he has outlined in his paper “A Comment on the St. Andrews’ Draft of the Anglican Covenant:” the confessionalist stance, the pluralist stance, and the conciliar stance. Using these categories, I will “get down to brass tacks” and identify notable items in the covenant which bear on the current crisis or impasse.

The affirmations under the “Faith” section (Section One) include nothing which all stances could not agree on, all of the listed affirmations being traditional beliefs in the Anglican tradition that are commonly listed in historic Anglican documents and formularies (including common belief in the communion of the church, the worship of the triune God, reliance upon the Holy Spirit, the unique revelation of the faith in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing all things necessary for salvation, the catholic creeds as that which set forth this faith, the significant witness of the historic formularies of the Church of England, the two sacraments of baptism and the Supper of the Lord, the historic episcopate, shared patterns of common worship and liturgy, and participation in the apostolic mission of God).

In the “Commitments” section of “Faith,” there is nothing that could not be affirmed by all three stances, except for possibly section 1.2.3 which binds each church to act “in accordance with existing canonical disciplines….” Specifically it seems to me that this provision would prevent pluralists from practicing open communion, or adopting a non-Trinitarian liturgy, since both of these are already stipulated in existing canons.

In the declarations of Section Two (dealing with mission) my only note is to acknowledge Phil Turner’s observation that language of “reconciling mission” (2.2.1) demands content about how “reconciliation is fundamental to God’s relation to the world.” While I appreciate this point, it does seem to me that the covenant does this very thing when, in the second paragraph of the preliminary remarks, it links itself to the Windsor Report, which speaks of God’s reconciling ministry in such places as paragraph 55: “God’s sovereign, saving, redeeming and reconciling rule over all creation.”

Among the affirmations of Section Three on (Maintenance of Communion), it seems to me that the affirmation of most importance for the purposes of this paper is that of the central role of bishops as “visible signs of unity, representing the universal Church to the local, and the local Church to the universal,” language which, as we have seen above features prominently in the Windsor Report. Why is this statement so important?

First, it implies that it would be contradictory for the bishops, say, of a particular province, not to participate in council with the bishops of the larger church. That is, for a bishop to be a bishop, he must be meeting with bishops from the larger church in an official Episcopal capacity. If this is not happening, then he is not “representing the local to the universal,” and thus he is not (fully) a bishop in the church. Second, the language here of “universal church” clearly implies ecumenical concerns. In other words, separated bishops would damage and rupture not just the Anglican Communion, but the catholic church in its full ecumenical sense.

As for Section Three’s common commitments (by its own admission, the Draft’s “most contentious” section ) on the maintenance of communion, my thoughts are as follows. First, what is said about the “constitutional autonomy of all the Churches of the Anglican Communion” presupposes all that the Windsor Report stated about subsidiarity (see this discussion above). Second, it is important to note (in light of those who complain about too much power being given to bishops and especially to primates) that the St. Andrews Draft modifies the previous draft (Nassau) to widen the circle of coordination beyond the Primates to all Instruments of Communion (including the Anglican Consultative Council). Third, the “procedural elements” outlined in 3.2.5 are implemented when “actions … either proposed or enacted … which … are … deemed to threaten the unity of the Communion” are identified and proceeded against by any appropriate ecclesial entity.

Fourth, a word about the “teeth” of the covenant. The document assumes that when an ecclesial entity (ie, a province) is understood to have “relinquished the force and meaning of the purposes of the covenant,” that this is tantamount to a suspension of communion. I do think it would be helpful, following the suggestion of Philip Turner, to include language something like “suspension of participation in the councils of communion,” or perhaps “… participation in the Instruments of Communion.” Nevertheless, what this covenant does succeed in doing, and this is what really matters, is to provide a way “of common belief and practice … sustained by the practice of mutual subjection expressed by forbearance and restraint over time within a conciliar polity.” This procedure, it seems to me, does flow validly from the theology of personal communion which undergirds the entire Windsor process.

Go back to the Introduction of this essay.

Proceed to Part II of this essay.

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Hope for (the Anglican) Communion: Introduction

In four parts, I am going to post the paper I wrote for Philip Turner, in an independent study course at ETSS called “Authority and Communion in Global Anglicanism.” Here is the introduction:

This life is revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you may have communion with us; and truly our communion is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (I John 1:2-3)

How can one discern if homosexual practice on the part of a Christian disciple or believer can be faithful to God apart from deep, empathetic, listening-and-responding communion and relational interaction with fellow members of the body of Christ, including with those who are homosexual? The answer of this paper is simply that one cannot. This is what the theology of embodied, personal communion which underlies the Windsor process, including the proposed covenant, articulates, and this is a major reason why this process, including its covenant, should be supported.

This paper is an argument that the proposed covenant is an attempt more fully to embody personal communion in the global Anglican family of churches, and that, in the main, to reject this (or some similar) attempt is implicitly to opt in favor of (an inherently violent) competition between individuals.

After developing and showing some ecclesial implications of the concept of person in contrast to that of the individual, I will proceed to demonstrate the importance of this global Anglican moment in light of the global situation confronting the human race. Finally, I will end with two ecclesiological examples of embodied personal communion: the Eucharist and the Episcopate.

My argument is not simply that to reject the proposed covenant is to reject this theology of embodied personal communion; however it is not far from that, either. I grant that it is theoretically possible to be in full agreement with every aspect and every implication of the communion theology articulated in this paper (rooted in the Windsor Report, The Virginia Report, and The Cypress Statement) and still oppose this covenant. However I do think that many people who resist this development are failing to see what the real issues are, in at least three areas: the nature of personhood, the demise of the modern nation-state, and the nature of the church (as exemplified in the Eucharist and the Episcopate). These three “subplots” undergird this debate, and clarifying these issues as well as showing how they relate to the Windsor process and the proposed covenant should go a long way to at least clarifying the debate.

Proceed to Part I of this Essay.

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Windsor Report on the Authority of Scripture

I would like to comment on the Windsor Report’s articulation of the authority of Scripture, and invite folks to comment on it.

What I find interesting about the report’s articulation of how biblical authority works out in practice is:

1. the polemical context. In light of fracturing communion caused by unilateral actions on the part of ECUSA and the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster on matters potentially of great concern to member churches, the Windsor Report is reaffirming the traditional (and the report itself rehearses this tradition) Anglican basis of authority in Scripture.

2. the implied alternatives. Not only is this conception of authority different from that of the papal see, it is also different from what tends to be the case (including historically) in protestant traditions which consider themselves to be confessional or evangelical, which tend statically to spatialize Scripture, according to the report. In contrast to this latter alternative, Scripture plays a vital role in the authority of God in Jesus Christ in the mission and life of the church as it seeks to bring about the inbreaking Kingdom of God in and for the world. This, the report claims, is how the earliest Christians thought of it, and this makes sense, when it is remembered that, while the earliest Christians did not have the New Testament canon as we think of it, they did nevertheless gather in Eucharistic synaxis to be formed by the word of God (as the preaching of the Gospel) into the body of Christ, for the sake of the world. To put it another way, it seems helpful to imagine (with a historically informed imagination, of course) how the earliest Christian communities made decisions in the era prior to the canonization of what we call the New Testament.

3. the purpose of this discussion of how authority works. This point of this entire rendition of how Scripture is authoritative, however, is to locate authority not just “in the Scriptures” (as if texts can be without interpretation in any meaningful sense) but rather in the church’s interpretation of the Scriptures. That is, the entire church interprets the Scriptures authoritatively together.

I also like the report’s articulation of the dual purpose of the NT: to fulfill the story of Israel, and to found the mission and life of the church.

And now I will paste the relevant sections of the Windsor Report itself (don’t be surprised if it sounds like NTW: he is one of the primary authors!):

The bonds of communion
52. These broader considerations lead to reflection in more detail on the specific bonds which hold the Anglican Communion together. Communion, after all, does not simply happen. Even at the human level, it is not left to chance and tacit goodwill. There are several aspects of our common life which, as well as fulfilling the primary purpose of enabling the Church to fulfil its gospel mission in and for the world, serve to draw us together and hold us in fellowship.

The authority of scripture
53. Central among these is scripture. Within Anglicanism, scripture has always been recognised as the Church’s supreme authority, and as such ought to be seen as a focus and means of unity. The emphasis on scripture grew not least from the insistence of the early Anglican reformers on the importance of the Bible and the Fathers over against what they saw as illegitimate mediaeval developments; it was part of their appeal to ancient undivided Christian faith and life. The seventeenth and eighteenth century divines hammered out their foundations of “scripture, tradition and reason”; in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we have seen the ‘Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral’, in which scripture takes first place.35 The Bible has always been at the centre of Anglican belief and life, embodied and exemplified by the fact that the reading and singing of scripture has always been at the centre of Anglican worship.
54. However, the common phrase “the authority of scripture” can be misleading; the confusions that result may relate to some of the divisions just noted. Scripture itself, after all, regularly speaks of God as the supreme authority. When Jesus speaks of “all authority in heaven and earth” (Matthew 28.18), he declares that this authority is given, not to the books that his followers will write, but to himself. Jesus, the living Word, is the one to whom the written Word bears witness as God’s ultimate and personal self-expression. The New Testament is full of similar ascriptions of authority to the Father, to Jesus Christ, and to the Holy Spirit. Thus the phrase “the authority of scripture”, if it is to be based on what scripture itself says, must be regarded as a shorthand, and a potentially misleading one at that, for the longer and more complex notion of “the authority of the triune God, exercised through scripture”. The question of how this exercised through’ works in practice is vital to understanding the kind of authority which scripture possesses and hence to the nature and exercise of actual authority within the Church. It may be, historically, that the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ has characteristically emerged in contexts of protest (when one part of the Church appeals to scripture against something being done by another part). When we attempt to apply it more widely, to an entire understanding of the Church’s mission and common life, it quickly becomes apparent that its implications need to be thought out more fully.
55. For Jesus and the early Christians, ‘authority’ was not conceived as a static source of information or the giving of orders (as the word ‘authority’ has sometimes implied), but in terms of the dynamic inbreaking of God’s kingdom, that is, God’s sovereign, saving, redeeming and reconciling rule over all creation. This saving rule of God, long promised and awaited in Israel, broke in upon the world in and through Jesus and his death and resurrection, to be then implemented through the work of the Spirit until the final act of grace which will create the promised new heavens and new earth. If the notion of scriptural authority is itself to be rooted in scripture, and to be consonant with the central truths confessed by Christians from the earliest days, it must be seen that the purpose of scripture is not simply to supply true information, nor just to prescribe in matters of belief and conduct, nor merely to act as a court of appeal, but to be part of the dynamic life of the Spirit through which God the Father is making the victory which was won by Jesus’ death and resurrection operative within the world and in and through human beings. Scripture is thus part of the means by which God directs the Church in its mission, energises it for that task,
and shapes and unites it so that it may be both equipped for this work and itself part of the message.
56. How then does scripture function in this way? This is not the place for a detailed consideration of the respective authority of the Old and New Testaments, important though that discussion is. The early Christians understood themselves to be both beneficiaries and agents of the saving sovereignty of God, the ‘kingdom’ which had been accomplished in Jesus Christ. The ‘authority’ of the
apostles – a concept worked out with great pain and paradox by Paul in 2 Corinthians – was their God-given and Spirit-driven vocation as witnesses of the resurrection, through whose announcement of the good news God was powerfully at work to call men and women to salvation (Romans 1.16-17) and thus to create the Church as the sign and foretaste of new creation (Ephesians 1-3). It is within this context of apostolic witness, drawing its ‘authority’ from the victory of Jesus Christ and the power of the Spirit (Matthew 28.18-20; 2 Corinthians 3.1-4.6, 13.3-4), that the writings we call the New Testament came to be written, precisely to be vehicles of the Spirit’s work in energising the Church in its mission and shaping it in the holiness of new creation. Thus, as scholarship has emphasised, the writers of the canonical gospels (despite all the obvious differences between them, and the multiple sources upon which they drew) were conscious of telling the story of Jesus in such a way as to demonstrate its fulfilment of the story of Israel and its foundational character for the mission and life of the Church. From the first, the New Testament was intended as, and perceived to be, not a repository of various suggestions for developing one’s private spirituality, but as the collection of books through which the Spirit who was working so powerfully through the apostles would develop and continue that work in the churches. This is why, from very early in
the Church, the apostolic writings were read during worship, as part of both the Church’s praise to God for his mighty acts and of the Church’s drawing fresh strength from God for mission and holiness. This, rather than a quasi-legal shorthand phrase “authority of scripture” finds its deepest meaning.”

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Anglicanism and Presbtyerianism: 3 Watershed Issues

I have come to see that there are three watershed issues when it comes to discerning which is a more biblical and faithful way of doing and being church, the Reformed, Presbyterian way or the Anglican way. I have blogged on one of these already, and will post on the other two soon.

Maybe these are not “watershed issues” for everyone struggling with such matters, but they have been such in my experience.

1. Is the church the incarnate body of Christ on earth, or not?

2. Is the liturgy in service of Scripture, or Scripture in service of the liturgy?

3. What is the nature of the church’s connection to the apostles? Is it primarily in terms of doctrinal content (in conformity with Scripture) or is it more of a living, organic, even embodied connection to the past?

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Watershed Issue #1: Church as Incarnation

In navigating the waters between Presbyterianism and Anglicanism, I have come to see that one watershed divide between the liturgical churches of the “great tradition” and more Reformational churches is the issue of whether the church is the continued incarnation of Christ on the earth.

I have come to land on the side of the issue that does affirm that this claim is an true characteristic of the church, that the church is incarnational in this way.

I offer below two patristic quotations (thanks to Doug Harrison) which testify to ancient precedent in seeing the church in this way. The first is from St. Augustine:

“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 hear the Apostle, who speaking of the sacrament says: “We being many are one body, one bread.” Understand and rejoice. Unity, devotion, and 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, your were, so to say, in the mill. At baptism you
were wetted with water. Then the Holy Spirit came into like the fire which bakes the dough. Be then what you see and receive what you are. — St. Augustine, Sermon 272 (quoted in Henri de Lubac Catholicism, p 37 – 38).

The second is from chapter 9 of the Didache (which I recently saw dated at 100CE!):

Now about the Eucharist: This is how you are to give thanks: First in connection with the cup. “We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your child. To you be glory
forever.” Then in connection with the piece [of consecrated bread], “We thank you our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have revealed through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever. “As this piece was scattered over the hills and then was brought together and made one, so let your Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For yours is the power and the glory through Jesus Christ forever.”

What’s more, I have learned in my studies of Anglican ecclesiology that seeing the church as the incarnation of Christ on earth actually presupposes much of what the ancient fathers & mothers of the church have to say about deification (or what Anglicans sometimes refer to as holiness).

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Persons (not Individuals) in the Church of the Triune God

In writing a paper for my independent study course with Phil Turner on “Communion and Authority in Global Anglicanism,” I finally got my hands on The Church of the Triune God: The Cypress Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican – Orthodox Diologue 2006.

What amazes me is how dependent this text is upon the “communion theology” of John Zizioulas, as articulated in his Being as Communion.

Specifically, this document references the NT’s use of Isaiah’s “servant of God” and Daniel’s “Son of Man” (see Being and Communion for language which heavily overlaps

… oops. I ran out of time. Stay tuned!

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