Monday, April 18, 2011

Consistency in Anglican Theologies (3)

Moving on from Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy theologies as examples of theologies in which supporters strongly believe they adhere to a consistent theological system, a question arises about non-Anglican, non-Roman, non-Eastern theologies (i.e. Protestant theologies anchored in the Continental Reformation). I realise that I do not know enough about Calvinism and Lutheranism to say much about their consistency or otherwise. I guess their shared weak point is getting the relationship between Scripture (which figures very large in all Protestant theologies) and non-Scripture right. By 'non-Scripture' I mean the mixture of tradition (here, in a Protestant context, how the church has interpreted Scripture through the ages) and discernment (how the church determines in its present context either what the meaning of Scripture is, or what the Spirit is saying to the church on a matter on which Scripture says nothing). This is a weak point because, depending how the relationship between Scripture and non-Scripture is worked out, it may incur the charge of "pick 'n' mix" (e.g. why choose the decisions of these ecumenical councils and not the decisions of those ones?) or "bias" (e.g. why weight teaching on salvation towards Romans and Galatians rather than towards Matthew 5 and James?), to say nothing of the charge of offering an inadequate account of "authority" (e.g. who appointed Calvin to be God's spokesperson, or why does the congregation (i.e. smallest unit of the church) have so much say in discernment of God's will?)

A further point may be made about Protestant theologies: as they are worked out, they tend to involve a large amount of continuation of the theology of the universal church (e.g. holding to rather than revising the ancient creeds, retaining Scripture (albeit with variation in importance of the Apocrypha), as well as strong emphasis on the points of protest against medieval Roman Catholic theological understandings (some of which have been reworked by Roman Catholic theologians). Why maintain a theological apparatus from a separate standpoint when so much is in common with the theological apparatus based in Rome?

Time does not permit me to continue this line of thinking, but any Protestants reading here who wish to comment are most welcome. Tomorrow I aim to move from this set of observations to think about Anglican theologies and their consistency, or otherwise.

7 comments:

Father Ron Smith said...

"who appointed Calvin to be God's spokesperson, or why does the congregation (i.e. smallest unit of the church) have so much say in discernment of God's will?"
- Peter Carrell -

Precisely, Peter. Who, in fact, appointed anyone but the Son of God, Jesus, to be God's spokes-person?

The problem with Sola Scriptura Biblical literalists today - and throughout the history of the Church - is that they have usually accpted the 'writers' of the Bible as the *only* appointed spokes-persons of God - forgetting that God's Holy Spirit is the sole, consistently present, interpeter of God's Word - not in The Book, only, but manifest in The Flesh!

What the protestant element in the Church often overlooks is the fact that God's Incarnate Word is more potent, and more reliable, than the written word, which has been given as our guide and mentor - not Saviour and Redeemer.

The words of Jesus: "Do this, to remember me" are a tangible, living reminder of the fact that Jesus is God's Word - Yesterday, today and forever. The Eucharistic Presence of Jesus - as indicated to us in the New Testament - is a constant reminder of the fact that God's Word in the world of today - as He has always has been, ever since the first commemoration of Jesus' Resurrection in the Early Church - is as accessible to us as the nearest Celebration of the Holy Common-Union.

As the Church continues to worship Christ at the Eucharist, so it is privy to the mind of The Christ who is there present. Sermons by the truck-load - without Christ at the centre - will never carry the full extent of the grace of the Incarnate, Crucified, Risen and Glorified Christ - who is the definitve Word of God.

Discernment of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world is an on-going reality - not something limited to Biblical exposition, valuable though that can be as guide and mentor.

Pilgrim said...

I don't know much about Calvinism, but I do have a more than passing acquaintance with Lutheranism (of the ELCA kind).

The ELCA has bishops and synods so I think your comment about the congregation as the locus of authority is incorrect in this case. And as far as sola scriptura goes, they are not biblical literalists so much as as they believe that scripture prevents the Church from claiming powers it does not possess by holding that all actions of the Church have a biblical warrant. In other words the Church may not impose extra-biblical hurdles to salvation - it's between you and Christ, not you and the Church.

I believe Luther's main point in his theology of the cross is that the glory of Christ's resurrection does not transfer to us or the Church. We are sinners and we have hope of salvation, but we have not and cannot earn it, it is gift alone.

IF there is a fault to be layed at the Lutheran's doorstep it is its tendency to focus on individual rather than communal salvation; there is too much "me" and not enough "we." In addition there is the danger that in scrupulously avoiding "works righteousness," the mission to serve can be lost. that said, Lutherans around the world are engaged in great relief and development efforts.

In my North American experience, the biggest difference between Lutherans and Episcopalians is that the Lutherans are rooted in their confessional formulas and the perspective of Justification pronounced by Luther whereas Episcopalians are rooted in the communal worship and prayer of the prayer book with a higher tolerance of ambiguity and mystery as realted to doctrine.

Luther himself was an earnest reformer and did not seek division from Rome, in the same way that Henry VII did, but the political situation of his day pulled his movement increasingly in that direction which I would suggest was to the great loss of both the Protestant and Catholic traditions. At this point neither are fully satisfactory because they are each missing the gifts of the other half.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Pilgrim.

Just to clarify a small point: by mentioning 'congregational authority' I am offering one instance of a Protestant way (e.g. Baptists, Congregationalists) which does not apply to other Protestants (e.g. Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians).

Anonymous said...

Ron, have you ever been to a communion service of the Jehovah Witnesses? or the Church of Latter Day Saints? or even the Breaking of Bread among the Brethren? Are all "eucharists" the same? If not, why not? What's the defining characteristic(s) for you and why?

Peter "Palaiologos"

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter P. To answer your question on the efficacy of the Eucharist. For me, the basic requirement is that the minister of the Eucharist be validly ordained, and is truly cognisant of the 'Real Presence' of Christ in the Sacrament.

Anonymous said...

Ron, I don't know whether you have answered my question or dodged it.
I know of no Baptist or Presbyterain or Pentcosalist minsiter who doesn't consider him- or herself "validly ordained". Are they ordained in your eyes? If not, why not?

Peter "Palaiologos"

Anonymous said...

To amplify my point to Ron: anyone can say the words of a communion service and believe what they like about "Real Presence", but who decides who is "validly ordained" and what does that mean in any case? Who is the "real" church then?

Peter "Palaiologos"