Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Unconditioned or unconditional grace?

Great lecture last night from Professor John Barclay here in Christchurch, courtesy of Theology House ("we live and breathe theology"). The topic was "Paul and the Subversive Power of the Unconditioned Gift". I will not attempt to give a precis of the whole address, which will be published in due course. But at the heart of the presentation was an idea or insight new to me. Is God's grace to us (particularly in the hands of Paul the exponent of the gospel) "unconditioned" or "unconditional" where the former means God's grace comes to us without preconditions (it matters not a whit whether one is a Jew or Gentile, a righteous Jew or unrighteous Jew, a woman or a man, a wise and wealthy Greek or a foolish and poor one) and the latter means God's grace comes to us without conditions such as expectations that we will be consequentially obedient to God.

The challenge in the argument (for me, at least, but questions afterwards suggested other hearers felt this challenge too) is that often today we speak of God's "unconditional" grace in a manner which implies we are saved without consequential expectations of righteous living ... and then we may have a disconnect as we try to explain why saved Christians should live righteous lives (all of this redolent of Bonhoeffer's great charge re "cheap grace"). Instead we should speak of God's "unconditioned" grace: we are saved without regard to any worthy characteristics making us deserving of God's gift, but saved with expectations of being obedient to God, of living a life worthy of the gospel. Unconditioned grace has definite consequences.

It was an inspiring occasion. And, to continue a theme from the previous post, of 75 present about a third were under the age of 25. Yes!! Hope not only for the church, but for theology ...

49 comments:

Howard Pilgrim said...

That may well be a helpful distinction, Peter. How would you apply it to an analysis of the situation described in this paragraph from a recent post by Mark Harris on various kinds of blessings?

"To round it all off, yesterday (Monday) Kathryn and I joined thirty people, including four couples, on a bus to Washington, where the four couples, two pairs of men and two pairs of women, were married officially and legally and decently and in order, and with great joy and celebration. We were met at the Judge's home by another thirty people and together we made a wonderful community of witness. The couples are all members of St. Peter's in Lewes and the unions have been of amazing duration, from twenty-five to thirty-five years. They have kept the faith with each other and with the church and now the society could begin to keep faith with them. Fr. Jeff was there to bless the newly married couples and I was honored to be asked to bless the rings they exchanged. It was a first rate excellent and wonderful day. There were tears of joy and moments of laughter, all the stuff of wedding days, and delight by all."
(from http://anglicanfuture.blogspot.com/2010/05/time-out-for-many-blessings.html)

Janice said...

Hi Peter,

Some time ago I was looking into the word 'caritas' and learned that gifts were indeed expected to result in appropriate responses from the one to whom the gift was given, such as demonstrating loyalty to, and support for, the one who gave the gift. This helps to explain why Paul's thanks to the Philippians for their gift to him are couched in the terms they are. That is, their gift to him does not make him their client. He can be content in all circumstances. On the other hand God's gift to us does make us God's client for there are no circumstances whereby we can save ourselves.

So I'd agree that "unconditioned" is the better word.

As for people under 25 coming to church, I'm not worried. After all, conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit and when the Spirit has done His work the converted person will eventually turn up at one church or another. Or maybe they'll turn up while the Spirit is doing His work. The latter seems to be the case with a young fellow of about 20 who's been attending our Sunday services for the last couple of months. If you feel moved to pray for him, his name is John.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Janice
I will say a prayer for John!

Peter Carrell said...

Quite simply, Howard, if the cue for the distinction between "unconditioned" and "unconditional" comes from Paul then so does an analysis of the event Mark H writes about. As I read Paul he would not countenance the term 'marriage' for an event involving a couple which failed to meet one of the basics aspects of the definition of 'marriage', that one party to it be a woman and one be a man. Whether Paul would countenance the blessing of the church upon a same sex partnership is something which can be discussed because there is an argument that Paul himself does not directly discuss the possibility. Personally I would need convincing that what Paul does say about marriage and human sexuality implies approval by God of a same sex partnership as a consequence of receiving the unconditioned gift of salvation. You are most welcome to keep trying :)

Anonymous said...

St Paul, I am sure, would be wholly in favor of friendship, loyalty and mutual support in pursuit of holy purposes.
But he would never have sexualized or eroticized such a relationship.
Imagine if Mark Harris had been a 19th century Mormon describing a polygamous marriage ceremony "with great joy and celebration". Or one of the stranger sects of today.
Outis

Howard Pilgrim said...

Outis wrote, "St Paul, I am sure, would be wholly in favor of friendship, loyalty and mutual support in pursuit of holy purposes. But he would never have sexualized or eroticized such a relationship."

This comment illustrates a key issue separating different sides in the debate about same-gendered relationships. Please explain, Outis or Peter if you agree with him, how the faithful relationship described by Mark Harris in the paragraph I quoted is "sexualized or eroticized", especially the latter. Nothing in the passage indicates any such thing - it is inferred by you but not implied by Mark.

You might say that it is a reasonable inference that the couples intend to be, or already are, sexually active together, but the point I want to make, and have tried to make previously on this blog, is that in marriage it is the relationship that is blessed, for its public qualities, not the sexual behaviour of the couple. Does our marriage service explicitly bless or forbid any particular sexual acts between men and women? Not that I have noticed! It may celebrate marriage as a context in which families are built and children raised, but even that doesn't have to totally exclude homosexual couples ... What the marriage service doesn't do is mention or bless sexual behaviour as such, for the very good reason that an intention to remain celibate, or the possibility of impotence does not destroy the essential nature of marriage as a loving commitment for life.

Peter, I have accepted your distinction between unconditioned and unconditional grace as a way to think more deeply about the demands God makes upon our lives. In particular, I intend to think more deeply about how Pauline categories of sin and grace apply to relationships blessed by God.Can you in turn, with Outis and others of like mind, allow yourselves to explore a difference between the public nature of committed relationships and the private nature of sexual behaviour as offering a way of making progress in thinking about homosexual Christians?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
I will think about whether it is possible to maintain a distinction between "the public nature of committed relationships and the private nature of sexual behaviour" in relationships called (accurately or inaccurately) 'marriages'.

My thinking will include the fact that typically a marriage can be annulled if it is not consummated, is entered into by two people expecting they will have sex with each other (and all their mates will think they will too), and impotence seems to be a problem people want to get around with some drug or herbal remedy rather than something that is typically expected as part and parcel of marriage.

Perhaps you will think of these things too.

Peter Carrell said...

PS Hi Howard
"essential nature of marriage as a loving commitment for life."

I just don't see that that is true. As a parent I have a loving commitment for life with my children; likewise as a son to parents and a brother to my siblings ... and there are some friends that, as far as I can tell some thirty plus years into friendships, I have a loving commitment to them for life. Marriage is that PLUS the thing you seem to be arguing should be - shades of Victoriana? - unmentioned and unpresumed to take place.

Are you trying to pull the wool over your own eyes?

Janice said...

What the marriage service doesn't do is mention or bless sexual behaviour as such

Because sexual behaviour in marriage is a given, Howard. I don't know about your prayer book but the APBA includes a prayer, "For the joy of loving," which is as follows:

God our Creator,
we thank you for your gift of sexual love
by which husband and wife
may delight in each other,
and share with you the joy of creating new life.
By your grace may N and N remain lovers,
rejoicing in your goodness all their days. Amen.

for the very good reason that an intention to remain celibate, or the possibility of impotence does not destroy the essential nature of marriage as a loving commitment for life.

To bring to marriage, "an intention to remain celibate" is grounds for annulment in the RC church and at one time both impotence and failure to consummate were grounds for divorce. What very rare couples may decide to do to suit themselves is no basis for making law for the vast majority who have very different interests.

in marriage it is the relationship that is blessed, for its public qualities, not the sexual behaviour of the couple.

You have got things completely back to front. In marriage it is the sexual relationship that is blessed and, one may hope, there will be nothing public about the expression of that.

It is ridiculous to try to redefine marriage so that it doesn't necessarily include sexual behaviour.

Kurt said...

I think Howard has made some very excellent points. But, ultimately, events on the ground will supersede any arguments that Howard, or I, or other supporters of gay marriage can make.

The fact of the matter is that, here in America at least, support for gay marriage is gaining ground, year by year. And while regressive forces have been able to reverse a number of state-wide gay marriage laws, it’s already clear that their fight is ultimately a losing battle. The younger generation is far more accepting of gay people than the generation blocking gay marriage. Eventually the bigots will die off, and acceptance of gay marriage will be the norm in most American states, just as the acceptance of inter-racial marriage is now normative--even in the South.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt,
I am interested in your use of the word 'bigot' in connection with opposition to 'gay marriage'.

Is opposition to 'gay marriage' solely driven by bigotry? Or, in your view, can there be a principled objection to 'gay marriage'?

The character of quite a few Californians is at stake in regard to your answer!!

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Janice. What 'Common Wroship 2000' (used over in England) says:
"The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in the delight and tenderness of sexual union
and joyful commitment to the end of their lives.
It is given as the foundation of family life
in which children are [born and] nurtured
and in which each member of the family,in good times and in bad,
may find strength, companionship and comfort,
and grow to maturity in love."
There is not much (if any)of this theology of sex in the NZPB - and the Second Form of the Marriage Liturgy is especially banal. This one, I am now convinced after stylometric analysis, was indeed written by a schoolgirl from one of the better suburbs.
Outis

Kurt said...

“Is opposition to 'gay marriage' solely driven by bigotry? Or, in your view, can there be a principled objection to 'gay marriage'?--Fr. Carrell

Humm. Let me put it this way, Father: is opposition to “inter-racial marriage” solely driven by bigotry? Or, can there be a principled objection to “inter-racial marriage”? Fifty years ago, in many American states, inter-racial marriages were forbidden by law. Many people--including many Anglicans/Episcopalians--believed that they had “principled objections” to such marriages. A half century later, of course, most Anglicans/Episcopalians accept such marriages (and are embarrassed that Churchpeople opposed them). While I cannot predict the future, my guess is that fifty years from now, most Anglicans/Episcopalians (in the West, anyway) will accept gay marriages, too.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt,
You argument proceeds on the basis of a strict equivalence between "interracial marriage" and "gay marriage" as two forms of marriage which have been or are objected to.

But I suggest that generally Christian opposition to "interracial marriage" was a matter of prejudice, albeit bolstered by reference to biblical text; and generally Christian opposition to "gay marriage" is a matter of principle informed through study of Scripture and tradition, albeit bolstered in some cases by prejudice.

I cannot accept, for instance, that all Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Californians (let alone all Baptist and Pentecostal and Orthodox Prebyterian Californians) have voted against "gay marriage" on the basis of prejudice rather than principle.

If 50 years from now no Anglicans or Episcopalians object to gay marriage, that leaves open the possibility that all other Christians do object. By then I imagine that would be about 98% of all Christians (!!): are you really arguing that they will all be objecting from bigotry and not from principle?

Anonymous said...

"Eventually the bigots will die off, and acceptance of gay marriage will be the norm ..."

Yes,depend on it, Sir, we will all die off - but the gays will still need the hetero bigots to produce the next generation of gay couples....
(BTW, look up the word 'bigot' in a reputable dictionary - then tell [soon to be ex PM?] Gordon Brown what the word really means. You might find you are a bigot yourself in your passionate attachment to your beliefs.)
Outis

Kurt said...

“But I suggest that generally Christian opposition to "interracial marriage" was a matter of prejudice, albeit bolstered by reference to biblical text; and generally Christian opposition to "gay marriage" is a matter of principle informed through study of Scripture and tradition, albeit bolstered in some cases by prejudice.--Fr. Carrell

Slavery is explicitly sanctioned by Holy Scripture. Color prejudice can be defended by Holy Scripture as a matter of “principle.” Both racism and homophobia are forms of prejudice. Fifty or one hundred years ago, racism was common in Christian churches-- including the Anglican/Episcopal Church. I believe that fifty or one hundred years from now, homophobia will be viewed as racism is viewed today--as a prejudice.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
Objections to "gay marriage" do not necessarily have anything to do with homophobia (I understand that there is a school of thought within gay thinking that objects to embracing a heterosexual concept such as "marriage"!)

As for 50 years time ... I will be struggling to be around, or at least to be non-senile, so it will be interesting working out which of us is proven correct :)

Howard Pilgrim said...

Focus a little, Peter and Janice ... I am proposing that Sexuality is a secondary and therefore possibly inessential aspect of marriage, unlike commitment to the relationship which is primary. Just to amplify,
1. This is why you have to hunt around in any modern marriage service to find explicit references to sexual union - they tend to be optional elements in the liturgy, and hardly central to the rite. Have either of your recently been to a wedding where you felt there should be much more emphasis on sex, seeing as this is what it is really all about? Peter, are your wedding homilies all about sex? Sexual fidelity is certainly present in many (but not all)forms of the vows, but that is all about not having sex with anyone else. Need I labour the point further?
2. Not all committed relationships are marriages, Peter ... but all marriages are necessarily commitments for life. Taking this further, the distinctive and essential thing about marriage, at least in western societies, is that it meets our need for primary bonding, a life-long loving partnership, as in Genesis 2 "It is not good for the man to be alone." Other familial committed relationships, especially child-parent, cluster around that primary partnership, but can get along without it if necessary. Some good families have been built around same-sex partnerships, and we are challenged as to how the Church can recognize and support such families. Mark's parish has obviously found such a way, at last.
3. If you want to keep Christian marriage for man-woman partners only, then we have to discuss what it means to bless a committed same-sex relationship, as happened in Mark's parish - four civil unions blessed by two Christian priests. However, I think Kurt is probably right in his prediction that we are being overtaken by history here as our wider Western society is transforming marriage without us, and our grandchildren, believers or not, will see this as a non-issue.
4. One other thing, seeing as you mentioned the Victorians. Discussion of this issue is thrown off track by the ubiquitous public flaunting of sexual behaviour in our culture. If I argue for gay liberation and you think I like the Hero Parade this is a category mistake, akin to proposing that Boobs on Bikes is a celebration of healthy heterosexuality. When I say that, for Christians, sexual behaviour should be a private matter, I mean just that, and I am being deliberately counter-cultural and very grateful for the influence of St Paul. I think that unconditioned grace leads us towards sexual restraint and self-discipline, whatever our sexual orientation. It also leads us towards committed relationships, and the blessing these bring into our lives as we devote ourselves to God's mission. Learning how to recognize that grace in others is what this debate is all about.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
If I told my wife I was taking a second wife (and we were all moving to Utah!!) but she was not to worry because (a) the marriage service used would be one of those ones that doesn't mention sex, and (b) it would be Pilgrim-paradigm marriage ("Sexuality is a secondary and therefore possibly inessential aspect of marriage, unlike commitment to the relationship which is primary."), so, more or less, it would be like one of my sisters coming to live with us, she would say (I would expect her to say), "Yeah, right!"

The thing is, as I check out the marriage services in NZPB, including the worst service in the book (IMHO), the second form of marriage service, they keep talking about "husband" and "wife" and that, by definition, is about two people who have sex with each other. By marrying they are saying, and we are saying through our prayers for them, that their sexual relationship will be in the context of love, permanency, faithfulness, monogamousness, etc: so yes the services say little about sex, but presume a lot about it (as Janice has eloquently said in her comment above.)

When you say, "If you want to keep Christian marriage for man-woman partners only, then we have to discuss what it means to bless a committed same-sex relationship," I can agree with you: there is something to discuss.

But when you say, "However, I think Kurt is probably right in his prediction that we are being overtaken by history here as our wider Western society is transforming marriage without us, and our grandchildren, believers or not, will see this as a non-issue." I do not agree with you! That is not to say you and Kurt will not proved to be right, but against you are these facts:
(i) just today in the Press it is reported that marriages/1000 adults are falling ... in 50 years time the only people being married might be Christians ... and the only Christians around might be conservative ones!!

(ii) however we characterise the presence of homosexuality in society, we are all agreed that it is a small minority of people, much much smaller than, say, the presence of women in society. How do you know that it is not going to be an issue in every generation, to overcome the (seemingly) natural prejudice that exists between the majority and the minority? I do not wish to justify any prejudice by making that observation; but I caution presumption about knowing what life will be like in 50 years time!

Howard Pilgrim said...

Whoa there, Peter! How did polygamy arrive in this discussion? If you delivered such an announcement to your wife, after the laughter and in-your-dreams-boy stuff, her hurt and anger would be all about your infidelity, which is to say your abandonment of commitment to a life-long exclusive partnership with her. "Why have you stopped loving me?" and "Why do you need another partner?" would come a long way before she got anywhere near, "Why do you want to have sex with someone else?", which is why an appeal to Pilgrim-marriage would do you no good.
In your case, and mine, the marriage relationship is exclusive. As I understand arrangements in certain parts of Utah, marriages are entered into with an expectation of polygamy, and first wives have a big say in who gets added into the marriage, like Sarah bringing Hagar on board. Wouldn't do it for me, but there is no question of infidelity to the marriage vows.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
I think you are missing the point, attempted in a light hearted manner. Let me try another way: sex is not possibly 'inessential' to marriage.

If two people came to me and said they wished me to marry them but they would like me to know that it would be a celibate marriage, I (am pretty certain I) would not marry them.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Thanks for the clarification, Peter. How about these scenarios then?
1. One of the couple is quadraplegic. Do you discretely enquire how the sexual aspect is going to work, or is that none of your business? If the latter, how do you know they intend to make a valid marriage? How much sexual interaction is enough for a pass mark?
2. A couple seeking marriage tells you they don't want to discuss sex, as that is a very private matter. Do you agree with them that this has nothing to do with your role?
3. The couple is elderly, and tell you quite openly that they are "past all that" and this marriage is all about a loving friendship. Do you tell them, in effect, that they are meant to at least give sex a try?

All three of these have happened to me as a priest. You already know how I responded ... it was none of my business.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
I would not assume an intention to be celibate unless told about that intention.

I would assume that two adult people, especially in this day and age of readily available information (we are not in the 19th century!!) would not need guidance or enquiry from me about how their marriage would be sexually expressed. Thus I have no particular response to make to scenarios 1 and 2.

Scenario 3 is interesting - I have not been personally confronted with the need to respond to such a declaration. But I think I would explore why such a couple felt they needed to marry ... I would keep thinking about the question, including the possibility that "rules can have exceptions" might apply here ... and I would consider flying you down from your home town to conduct the wedding :)

Howard Pilgrim said...

Glad I still have your confidence in my priestly capabilities, Peter ...:)

liturgy said...

Outis, you are wrong on a number of counts.

From NZPB:

“Creator Spirit
we thank you for your gift of sexual love,
by which husband and wife
may express their delight in each other,
find refreshment,
and share with you the joy of creating new life.
By your grace may N and N remain lovers,
rejoicing in your goodness.
Amen.

You write, “the gays will still need the hetero bigots to produce the next generation of gay couples” again totally false. Try keeping up with medical and biological technological developments. Currently a womb is necessary for about 16 weeks, and this generation will have the choice to use one or not in their reproductive lifetime. Choice of gender etc. is already very simple. Nuclear transfer is possible. Genetic engineering and choice is not Science Fiction. Energy put into whether God blesses all loving, just commitment is clearly a distraction from producing a Christian ethical framework that will help us work through today’s issues – not just yesterday’s. Outis clearly isn’t aware of lesbian couples who have children by sperm donors (and those donors don’t need to be the “hetero bigots” he himself speaks of – often they are gay men). As I indicate – that is old technology.

Finally in response to Outis’ tiresome prejudice in his conviction that the Marriage Liturgy Second Form “was indeed written by a schoolgirl from one of the better suburbs”: There is no secret that this was written by Rev. Richard Easton. He was born in 1926, studied at Oriel College (Oxford), and trained for the priesthood at Westcott House (Cambridge UK). He was ordained there in 1954. His profile fits exactly with my earlier comments and totally contrary to the uninformed prejudices to which I was responding.

Peter Carrell said...

It may be no secret, Bosco, who wrote MS2, but it is news to me!

Should we have an annotated reprint of the prayerbook, all known authors acknowledged? :)

liturgy said...

Information of this nature is available in my Alcuin/GROW Study which I presume every priest in NZ would have bought :-) [or at the very least read - it must be in your Theology House Library; it's certainly in the Public Library]

Peter Carrell said...

Yes, it is in the Theology House Library.
Yes, the Director of TH is now aware of its existence.
And, finally, yes, I am very grateful to be able to peruse it!!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear, Bosco - a total sense of humor failure on your part, I fear.

& I am well aware of contemporary "reproductive technologies" and embryo experimentation - which horrify me.
In the words of Leonard Cohen, "I've seen the future, baby, and it's murder." The commodification of life in the post-Christian world goes hand in hand with post-Christian sexual attitudes - like exalting homosexuality. I take my stand with the great Christian ethicists Oliver O'Donovan and Francis Beckwith on these issues. But for the present I recognize the eugenicists have won. sunt lacrimae rerum et mortalia mentem tangunt etc, as I often reflect.

As for murder, there's quite a lot of that already in the present 'Brave New World'. And Otis does know lesbian couples - with children from their broken marriages.
Outis

Janice said...

I am proposing that Sexuality is a secondary and therefore possibly inessential aspect of marriage, unlike commitment to the relationship which is primary.

Howard, you seem to be out of touch with reality. I presume you know that most people who marry, at least for the first time, are in their 20s and 30s. Have you forgotten how powerful the sex drive is in young people?

It used to be that marrying was what you did so as not, "to be aflame with passion" (1 Cor 7:9). That is, to be able to have sexual intercourse legitimately was the essential reason for marrying. That this is not so these days should be a cause for nothing but regret. But even so, young people these days shack up together not because of their "commitment to the relationship", and especially not because of its "public qualities", but so that they can enjoy sexual intercourse with each other conveniently.

I really am quite dumbfounded that anyone would suggest that sexuality is anything other than a primary and essential aspect of marriage. None so blind?

"Why have you stopped loving me?" and "Why do you need another partner?" would come a long way before she got anywhere near, "Why do you want to have sex with someone else?"

Howard, you appear not to understand women very well. Let me try to enlighten you. The question, "Why do you want to have sex with someone else?" would, in Peter's hypothetical situation, be included as a subtext in the question, "Why have you stopped loving me?" and would not need to be voiced. In fact, the question, "Why have you stopped loving me?" has, probably, an innumerable variety of subtexts that do not need to be voiced, the reason being that the particular subtext relevant would already have been expressed in some other way. For example, husband comes home late after promising for the nth time not to be late. Wife asks, "Why have you stopped loving me?" Or, for, say, a month running, husband falls asleep immediately on getting in to bed. Wife thinks to herself, "Why has he stopped loving me?" which question may be followed by, "Is he seeing some other woman?" Do you see?

And if the sexual aspect of the marriage relationship is secondary can you tell me why revelation of a spouse's sexual infidelity is so very painful to the other spouse? My bias; my first husband was an adulterer. I suspect that when he told me about his affairs he was expecting me to relieve him of his guilt by forgiving him, but I just felt fouled. Further, back in the 70s I knew two couples who, being terribly progressive and open-minded and all that, decided that they would have "open" marriages. Neither marriage lasted more than another year.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Janice, thank you for responding, but you seem to have missed my point, or several of them.

1. I have never been in a dream world about sexual drives or sexual behaviour, and nor have I forgotten how sexual mores have changed during the course of my lifetime. Once upon a time we got married in order to legitimise sexual activity, but that is now very rarely the motivation of those choosing to marry. Everyone recognises these facts, but do we agree about their significance?
When no-one involved in a wedding thinks it is about legitimising a sexual relationship in what sense is it true to say that such legitimisation is a central part of marriage? From God's point of view, maybe? Well then, priests who believe so should labour to convince the couple that what is really going on is different from what they thought they were seeking. Not in my book. I do tell young couples that they may have an unexpected meeting with God as they make their vows in his presence, and seen many such surprises happen, but have yet to encounter any couples who returned to tell me of how they now felt their sex life legitimated by marriage. This is just not what is going on, even if you think it should be. Marriage has come to mean something else, which may help us to understand what has really been most important about it all along.
2. I think I made a careful point in a previous comment that the marriage vows always imply sexual fidelity - each partner promises not to engage in sexual activity with anyone else. I cannot see where you get support for "open marriage" in anything I have written, especially when I refer to sexual restraint and fidelity as part of committed relationships that are lived out in response to God's unconditioned grace.
3. None of this invalidates my central point - that the heart of marriage is lifelong commitment to a loving, faithful partnership, and that sexual aspects of that relationship may be seen as secondary to its definition. All of which may seem rather pointless ... unless, like me, you are trying to understand where some obviously grace-filled same-sex relationships fit into the grand scheme of things.

Kurt said...

“Objections to "gay marriage" do not necessarily have anything to do with homophobia (I understand that there is a school of thought within gay thinking that objects to embracing a heterosexual concept such as "marriage"!)--Peter Carrell

Yes, what you write is true, Father Carrell. I personally know some gay people who oppose gay marriage (as well as opposing gay people serving in the military). However, none of them, to my knowledge, supports legislation or regulations forbidding gay people from marrying or serving in the armed forces. They do not vote to overturn legislation allowing gay marriage, and they do not support legislation banning gays from the military.

A priest may legitimately oppose the use of the chasuble, and refuse to wear one “on principle” because s/he believes it “promotes sacerdotalism.” I would be hard pressed to call such a priest “prejudiced” or “bigoted” against Anglo Catholics. However, it would be quite another matter if that priest were to actively support, lobby for, or vote for Church regulations banning the use of the chasuble for others (e.g., Sydney’s policy). High Churchmen/women then might have cause to complain of prejudice and bigotry against them.

Kurt Hill
In summer-like Brooklyn, NY (Founded in 1637)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
Yes, I see the distinction between principle and prejudice in the way you frame the issue. I would still be cautious myself proposing that (say) Californian voters working from principle voting against a state law enshrining 'gay marriage' is prejudice or bigotry. It's not much of a vote if voting one way leads to declaration that one is a bigot!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard,
I did not understand Janice as in any way implying your arguments support 'open marriage': the point was rather than arguing that sex is possibly inessential to marriage is rebutted by instances (such as 'open marriage') where people think sex is inessential to their marriage and find it is not. If the reply was 'but sexual fidelity is essential to marriage', I would ask why, if sex is not essential to marriage?

But of greater concern to me in your reply is that as a licensed priest and appointed theologian of this church you seem somewhat cheery rather than chary about marriage not being the legitimation of sex between a husband and a wife. Do we not have an obligation to teach Christian doctrine? And is not our doctrine of marriage based on Scripture rather than common Kiwi cultural practice?

Christian teaching on marriage, based on key texts such as Genesis 1, 1 Corinthians 5-7, has taught that the proper place for sexual intercourse is within, not outside or before marriage.

As a matter of fact, in my experience, many if not most Christians living according to Christian teaching continue to believe and to act upon this understanding, including four wonderful young Christian couples whose weddings we will have taken part in the course of this year. In each case they belong to a generation of Kiwis where "living together" is the norm, but they have chosen to conform to the mind of Christ and not to the mould of the world.

liturgy said...

Sorry Outis, clearly a misunderstanding due to limitations of the medium of the internet. I do find a great deal of what you write absolutely hilarious and think to myself, you must be joking. It is helpful to now have you confirm – you are. If, on some occasion, you want to make a serious comment, I suggest you use the emoticon :-|

liturgy said...

Can I come to the defence of Howard’s being licensed, Peter? Or, to be consistent, we may possibly result in the loss of many licensed clergy in our province.

Our province has an unusual, possibly unique, baptism rite as a formularly of our church. In this parents, unlike elsewhere, do not make declarations and promises on behalf of the child, but solely on their own behalf.

One of these declarations is that they renounce all evil, prior to the priest proceeding with the baptism of their child.

Many couples presenting their child for baptism are not married. I would be very interested to have you recount the percentage of clergy who refuse to baptise the child on the basis of inconsistency with the formulary – that the couple are having sex outside of marriage and that this is wrong, and should one proceed with the use of our liturgy it would turn it into a farce. I would posit the percentage of such a refusal would be very small. In fact I myself have never heard it occurring, ever.

Hence, the acceptance that sex apart from marriage is not wrong is, in practice, (almost?) universal amongst licensed clergy.

You will have read recently my reflections on the shift in emphasis from “to have and to hold” to “forsaking all others”.

Returning to your original post: it seems to me the complex distinction between unconditional and unconditioned are the result of a particular understanding of being “saved” – if one approaches salvation differently, these summersaults are unnecessary:
http://www.liturgy.co.nz/blog/are-you-saved/1983

Thankfully our faith is not in a particular theory of salvation, but in a Saviour.

Blessings

Bosco
http://www.liturgy.co.nz

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
In this thread to this point, on the topic of marriage-and-sex (among several which somehow have been raised here!!), I am raising the question where licensed clergy in our church derive their teaching from. Where do you think our teaching on marriage in relation to sexuality should be derived from? Scripture? Popular culture and practice in our society? Somewhere else?

The question of clergy pastoral response to couples seeking baptism for the child who are not actually married to each other raises a number of questions. Occasionally I have actually heard them discussed in meetings of clergy :).

One of those questions is whether the question of encouraging the parents to marry should be raised. In general my experience, as yours seems to be too, is that priests are reluctant to refuse baptism when it has been requested. Would a non-refusal of the child of two unmarried parents necessitate the conclusion that clergyperson concerned (1) believed it was okay for the parents not to be married (2) determined that some pastoral pragmatism overrode other considerations? A survey might need to be undertaken!

On the specific question concerning renunciation of "evil" ("One of these declarations is that they renounce all evil"), is a pattern of sinful living "evil"? I have taken the renunciation to be of evil things (e.g. idolatry, occult). But then it would not be the first time I have been wrong ...

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, if you do indeed have a serious question about my fidelity to ordination and my worthiness to be licensed as the Waiapu diocesan theologian (I have no license to be a priest - do you?) you know where to find my bishop this week :-)

If it comes to a formal defence, I will gladly call on Bosco as an advocate, especially now that I have reacquainted myself with some of his earlier reflections on marriage. I think that he might agree with me that one of the essential tasks of a theologian is not only to give a balance representation of received doctrine but also to question it in the light of new challenges to our Christian mission.
Like you, I keep scripture before me as the ultimate touchstone for Christian doctrine, but unlike you seem to see more than model of marriage expressed within the canon. It is now past time for me to set this out systematically on my own blog!

liturgy said...

I am fascinated, Peter, that you take the renunciation of evil in our baptism rite to be limited to eg. idolatry and the occult, and not include “a pattern of sinful living”.

In my catechesis of literally thousands of people I have always had that mean the rejection and repudiation of all that is wrong, of all that is sinful. It is fascinating that in your ministry as parish priest, ministry training and theological education in this church you interpret this important text so significantly differently.

The authors of this text are still alive, those in the committee that worked on it are still alive (one being your dad), the members of General Synod that debated it are mostly still alive, it was written recently, in our language, in our context and culture. Yet we both have absolutely different understanding and teaching of what this core text means.

When we come to the scriptures on sexuality and marriage, these were written not recently, but thousands of years ago, in a completely different culture, in a completely different language, in a completely different context, often in response to other texts now lost, often without any attempt to be systematic, or even coherent in approach. Hmmmm – doesn’t offer much hope, does it, for those who insist that only the scriptures and their particular interpretation of them will be the source of our decisions about marriage and sexuality.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco and Howard,

OK, I have two 'cheery' rather than 'chary' licensed colleagues and friends :)

I cannot go with the spirit of this: "When we come to the scriptures on sexuality and marriage, these were written not recently, but thousands of years ago, in a completely different culture, in a completely different language, in a completely different context, often in response to other texts now lost, often without any attempt to be systematic, or even coherent in approach. Hmmmm – doesn’t offer much hope, does it, for those who insist that only the scriptures and their particular interpretation of them will be the source of our decisions about marriage and sexuality."

(1) I think the Scriptures are worth much more than that as 'the ultimate touchstone for Christian doctrine'. But they are not much use if we take a view which has the appearance (at least) of viewing them as more problematic than helpful.

(2) While it is true that some would insist, or try to insist that 'only the scriptures and their particular interpretation of them will be the source of our decisions about marriage and sexuality', the line I am trying to pursue here is (a) the Scriptures should be the foundation of our doctrines (b) the Scriptures are more likely to lead us to the wisdom of God than soundings taken from contemporary culture (c) accepted: there are interpretative discussions to be had on a range of matters (d) apparently there are matters we and the Scriptures are agreed on without further ado, e.g. sexual fidelity in marriage.

More later re baptism ... but Mother's Day looms ...

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
Re baptism/renouncing evil

I must first of all counsel you not to be ever surprised at my shortcomings and faults :)

The words we are discussing in the Baptismal Service are:

Question: Do you renounce all evil influences and powers that rebel against God?

Response: I renounce all evil.

According to member of the Prayer Book Commission I have consulted, this "clearly refers to the presence of evil as a real force for ill in the world, expressing itself in unwillingness to accept the 'kingdom of God', God's authority and Christ's Lordship.

It does not have in mind acts of wrong or practices that are simply in themselves contrary to the will and purpose of God. In other words the focus is on evil outside of ourselves that impinges on our world and on our lives, rather than any of the fruit of evil that may affect how we live."

Now, this response, understood in this manner, is an aligning of one's life with the lordship of Christ rather than with the 'ruler of this world', so something is implied about seeking to live a right(eous) life. I would certainly, as a baptiser and preparer for baptism in that situation be urging the importance of marriage for the parents of the child (presuming that relationship is not otherwise broken down), as part of that alignment.

But given that the question is not, "Do you repent of all known sin in your life?" is it wrong in such a situation not to make marrying a precondition for the baptism to occur, and does not imposing such a condition necessarily imply that the baptising minister's understanding of the importance of marriage is closer to the couple's understanding than it is to the received doctrine of the church?

(I ask these questions much more for all in ministry to reflect on than for you to answer personally!)

liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

I understand your comment, Peter, to imply that you see the Prayer Book Commission member (PBCM) as confirming your position that the renunciation of evil in our baptism rite is limited to eg. idolatry and the occult, and does not include “a pattern of sinful living”.

Maybe I am being obtuse, but I struggle to make sense of the PBCM’s position. I cannot even see the second sentence as agreeing with the first – it appears to me that the second sentence disagrees with the first. Nor can I see the third sentence as expressing the others “in other words”.

Prior to your comment, I have been doing some research of my own, asking clergy and laity who have not been influenced by my catechesis, nor priming them with either your or my interpretation, to “translate” the declaration into sentences without using the word “evil”. Every single one, clergy and lay, came up with my position. When I gave them your interpretation, every single one looked in complete astonishment.

I may, at some future time, do this exercise as a post on my blog.

So it may all be “clearly” to you and to the PBCM, but your/PBCM’s interpretation is not at all “clearly” so understood by anyone else I have approached.

This must be very distressing as the PBCM has produced a text in contemporary English that is being totally misunderstood by a significant proportion of the population. It shows negligence on the part of the PBC in not adequately checking their own preconception against what everyone else would make of their text.

Even more significant, IMO, is that the PBC has provided us with an absolutely deficient baptism rite, one in which there is nowhere, according to you and PBCM, any place where the baptism candidate can renounce sin. Your/PBCP’s understanding of our baptism rite then is that it is not even in accordance with the teaching of our church on baptism as expressed in our catechism (Question 46)!

Finally it helps me to understand why you so regularly seek to insert confession and absolution into every service. For me the turning from sin and wrong towards God and goodness is the primary dynamic of the baptismal life of a Christian lived out in every moment. As, for you, this is absent in baptism, there is, rightly, a desire to make up for this deficiency in other ways.

Blessings

Bosco
http://www.liturgy.co.nz

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
It might be helpful to distinguish two questions in responding to your points which, I suggest, do not so much show the baptismal service to be 'absolutely deficient' so much as to challenge us to understand each and every part of our prayer book well.

The two questions (in this thread's context) are (1) might two unmarried parents' bringing a child to baptism be rightly challenged to first marry? [either because this would be consistent with what the baptismal service requires, or, irrespective of the baptismal service, be the right thing to do], (2) in general terms, does the baptismal service require presenting parents to repent of sin, and, if so, on the basis of what words?

(1) The more you write about the (at least) implied requirement of turning from sin, along with your theologically profound statement, "the turning from sin and wrong towards God and goodness is the primary dynamic of the baptismal life of a Christian lived out in every moment", the more I am inclined to argue that it indeed is a requirement of baptising priests that they ask two unmarried parents to marry first (unless the relationship is broken down and beyond repair), for I cannot see any theological or scriptural support for the notion that disciples of Christ have an alternative to marriage or singleness.

(2) Your comments re the baptism service, associated with Q46 in the Catechism, are certainly making me think more carefully about the baptismal service.

I notice that in the baptism service we ask of the parents, "Do you renounce all evil influences and powers that rebel against God?" and "Do you trust in Christ's victory which brings forgiveness, freedom and life?" with the respective answers being, "I renounce all evil" and "In faith I turn to Christ, my way, my truth, my life, as I care for this child" whereas the Catechism at Q46 asks, then answers, "What is required of those seeking Baptism? That they renounce evil and turn from sin to Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life."

Crucially, and noticeably, "turn from sin" is missing from the baptismal service, even from the responses articulate candidates for baptism make for themselves.

For myself, before denouncing the baptismal service as "absolutely deficient", I would seek to find out (a) was it intentional not to include "turn from sin" (or similar), and, if so, why? (b) is "turn from sin" implied in "renounce all evil" (that is, the catechismic answer provides the definitive interpretation, one I have, sadly, been missing, all these years ........) (c) with hindsight, including acknowledgment of the form other post 1989 Anglican baptism revisions have taken, would the shapers of our service do things differently?

But, perhaps the most important question we could raise here (or, you could tackle on your forthcoming post) is this: are the questions being asked on p. 384-85, being asked of the parents and godparents as individuals bring a child to baptism, or of the child(ren) being brought to baptism, answers being given on their behalf?

Your comments have led me to the C of E service where there is this rubric before the questions (which includes a specific one about repentance): "A large candle may be lit. The president addresses the candidates directly, or through their parents, godparents and sponsors". In turn that has taken me back to NZPB p. 384. There the rubric is:

"The bishop or priest says to the candidates, and (for children), to the parents and godparents"

On the face of it, the parents and godparents are being asked this question. But "for children" raises for me, just a little at least, the possibility that the simplest change to our baptismal service would be one which clarifies that it is those being baptised who are being addressed directly, and not their parents/godparents.

I look forward to your post!

liturgy said...

We have an eccentric baptismal rite.
In comparison to both pre and “other post 1989 Anglican baptism revisions”.
We in NZ thought we had solved all the planet’s supposed baptismal issues of the last 2000 years and took it on a world tour with much pride. Unfortunately for PBC not a SINGLE other province followed our revelations. All have stayed with the inherited tradition, and we stand alone in our eccentricity.

Part of our eccentricity is that PBC has always insisted that it is not possible to make promises and declarations on behalf of another (parents take note!) and so all declarations and promises are on the person’s own behalf, not on behalf of children as occurs in other rites.
Again, a revelation no one else has had.
In any case I cannot see how any of this affects my central point – the meaning of the renunciation.

So, these things aside. Your contention was that
Do you renounce all evil influences and powers that rebel against God?
I renounce all evil.
does NOT mean “I renounce sin”, but “I renounce the occult, actual idolatry, etc”

You have support for your position from an actual (if anonymous) PBCM – but whose explanation I am not bright enough to make much sense of.

Your interpretation (and the support of the PBCM) has taken me by complete surprise. I am continuing my survey – and still cannot find a single person without prompting to come up with your or the anonymous PBCM’s interpretation.

I have always taken renunciation of sin to be part of renouncing all evil, as is the case in every baptism rite in Christian history that I can think of. And hence have never seen a conflict between our baptism rite and our catechism, as you have now seen one.

Your final suggestion that it might be parents on behalf of babies renouncing the occult leaves me almost speechless.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
I think you are missing my point.
In response to your arguments I am contending for nothing and open to everything. Hence asking some questions.
I am not disagreeing that the baptism service needs work! But it will not be helped by you being 'speechless'!
If renouncing sin is included in renouncing evil and the wording was changed so that parents made such statements on behalf of the child, would you be satisfied?

liturgy said...

It is not I who am missing the point.

The quality of our baptism rite is not the issue, and I am not in this thread arguing for its revision (that is a whole other discussion).

1) I pointed out that the acceptance that sex apart from marriage is not wrong is, in practice, universal amongst licensed clergy in our province as no one you or I have ever heard of has stopped a baptism going ahead in which unmarried parents “renounce all evil”.

2) Your response was that no such thing can be drawn from this as “renouncing evil” does not include renouncing a “pattern of sinful living” but you “have taken the renunciation to be of evil things (e.g. idolatry, occult)”. You then brought in an anonymous member of the Prayer Book Commission to support your understanding against mine (mine being that “all evil” includes my own sin and hence is a renunciation of, as you describe it, a “pattern of sinful living”).

I am perfectly happy that those I have baptised have understood that they renounced sin as that has been my catechesis for literally thousands. And yes, I continue to be astonished that, with your interpretation, you have been prepared to use this rite at all, as I cannot recall any baptismal rite in Christian history where the candidates have not repented and renounced sin. That your PBCM supports your interpretation and understood our rite to have no renunciation of sin does, yes, again leave me speechless. Thankfully, I can so far find not a single person who holds your and the PBCM’s interpretation of the renunciation – so I think there is no need to rush through a revision of that section of the rite at the current meeting of GS.

Bryden Black said...

I will not try to engage with all the spurious and/or helpful comments made on this varied thread ... Just to offer this rather insightful link from ACI

http://www.anglicancommunioninstitute.com/2009/06/blessing-a-scriptural-and-theological-reflection/

One of the very best I have encountered for years. It has now been published in Pro Ecclesia, vol XIX, #1, as the lead article, such is its deemed worth.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Bryden!

Hi Bosco,

Irrespective of the merits of your case that all clergy using the NZPB baptismal service in cases where the parents are living together but not married are practically saying that they do not believe that sex outside of marriage is wrong, I personally would prefer to hear from our colleagues as to whether they think that deduction is fair!

I think you are missing the point that I am carefully hearing what you have to say about the meaning of "renouncing evil" and thus I am hoping you might recognise that my last comment or two has been intended to indicate that I am willing to question myself and my previous understanding rather than persist in what appears to be an isolated understanding.

I think it would be helpful to include in a revision of the service words to the effect of repenting of sin (cf. CofE service). I am unclear whether you think that might be helpful (even if unnecessary).

liturgy said...

Greetings Peter

It might be interesting to have other clergy contribute to this thread, but I am at this point far less interested in the opinion of clergy and their ability to obfuscate and finger-cross through their understanding of what they think they are doing at this point in the service than to hear from the unmarried parents, their friends and supporters, and the gathered community for the baptism (anonymous surveys? doctoral thesis anyone?) Are they seeing their cohabitation as being renounced? My contention is that in general they are not. Awaiting to contradict me: a deluge of responses from our colleagues claiming that a majority of cohabiting parents do not return together to their shared dwelling, but immediately book a wedding date for as soon as possible after the baptism?

I most certainly was hearing your humility in being prepared to discuss this publicly with the possibility of changing your mind, and you know that I very much respect that in you. Were you also hearing my own horror that I might have been catechising thousands in error, reinforced by the Prayer Book Commission, and was already trying to work out how to issue a product recall? Meanwhile, as we agreed, you may have seen I blogged about this http://www.liturgy.co.nz/blog/baptism-renunciation/3196 and , (phew!), it appears that my interpretation, even if incorrect and not intended by the Prayer Book Commission, is shared by the majority of commenters (let alone the majority position of historical Christianity).

As to revising the Prayer Book: ah! where to begin?! Certainly these two sentences would not appear at the top of my list. We may first need to re-establish a culture of using the Prayer Book for common prayer before we start putting serious energy into revisions which we know only a minority will use anyway and which will just increase diversity and further abandonment of common prayer.

Thanks Bryden for your link. Many will remember in the heyday of the “Anglicans All” site I tried to steer people towards a more biblical/liturgical understanding of “blessing”. With the advent of Howard’s site I had thought of contributing a post about that in parallel, but had misunderstood the pacing of that site. I may yet one day produce such a post, but it will only be a cut-down, very amateur version in comparison.

Blessings

Bosco
http://www.liturgy.co.nz