Monday, May 30, 2011

Is orthodoxy as elusive as a solution to the world's economic crisis?

Last night at Antioch, a model (familiar liturgy, contemporary songs, edgy feel) youth service in a local parish, one song featured the line 'in the waves of his mercy.' Yesterday had a number of merciful waves for me. A 9am Roman Mass which was full to overflowing - to answer the inevitable question as to what a good Anglican priest was doing there: I was supporting my wife whose school class was there as part of the cycle of school liturgies through the year. I love the fact that in our secular country there are full churches.

Then a drive in the country on a sunlit day without a cloud in the sky. Once I found St. Andrew's church at Little River, a village at the end of a lake in a valley which God may have copied from the English Lake District, I had terrible temptation to resist. Due to the earthquake disrupting some piles beneath its floor, this church is unusable, so we met in a foyer-come-hall at the end of the church which has a wall of windows looking out over a graveyard and a green valley-and-hills pastoral scene of spectacular beauty. Everytime I allowed my eyes to wander to gaze upon it I had to force them back to attend to the service itself. It was a scene worthy of Constable and Wordsworth. Another wave of mercy. Then there was a hospitable lunch to follow the service - for all God's mercies we give thanks.

Incidentally an odd thing featured that morning. I spent a large amount of the driving time to Little River listening to Chris Laidlaw interviewing Christopher Ward, author of And the Band Played On, a moving story of the death of his grandfather, a violinist on the Titanic, and its consequences for his family - a truth is stranger than fiction story if ever there was one. You may imagine my surprise when the sermon began (and continued) with the Titanic as the key illustration for the message!

On return home the day was too entrancing to remain indoors and a family walk ensued, with a merciful rest-stop at my parents' place. Sometimes God's mercy is 'a severe mercy' and one wave in the day was to return home from the evening service to find that the Crusaders (local rugby) team had lost 16-17 to the Reds (playing at their home in Brisbane). Is God preparing us Kiwis for catastrophe in October's World Cup?

Meanwhile the splendour of the day changed nothing about the world economic crisis which, arguably, has Titanicesque qualities to it: there is an iceberg just ahead of us, but few see it, and even less want to do anything serious about it, least of all the officers on the bridge. In defence of the officers, they might respond by saying that the iceberg is so big it doesn't matter which way they steer. But, my mind possibly working in strange ways, I am provoked by this Catholicity and Covenant post, to wonder if Christianity is in an analogous 'world orthodoxy crisis' in which the solution is as elusive as the solution to the global recession. Apparently a sure and certain orthodoxy cannot yet be found anywhere in the West since Aidan Nichols (as important a licensed Catholic theologian as there is in the world today) has recently noted the potential of the Anglican Ordinariate to save Roman Catholicism from its Vatican II self:

'They know of course that all is not well in the Roman communion they may be entering, that in some places they may need a special environment not just to preserve an Anglican Catholic ethos but to preserve orthodoxy and orthopraxis until the crisis of postconciliar Catholicism in the West has passed - an eventuality considerably aided and abetted, it can be said, by the election of Pope Benedict XVI.'

Where is orthodoxy to be found if Rome itself is hesitant about the direction to guide us in? It is early days to be confident that heading backwards to the Latin Mass, whether in Latin or in a strict English translation, is the best way to navigate the shoals of the 21st century. Is it not a bit of a worry that Anglicans fleeing the SS Communion may be the pilots to guide the SS Rome on the right path? Is Eastern Orthodoxy the solution? Possibly. On analogy to the world economic crisis, perhaps this question is like the question of returning to the gold standard. Underpinning currency with gold has some good supporting arguments, but it has yet to persuade us that it is 'the solution.' In the case of Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicans, Romans and Protestants might at least be united in wondering about the extent to which Orthodoxy is in cultural captivities (Greek, Russian, Romanian, etc), structurally prone to conflict with leadership, and weak on theological engagement with contemporary life.

As an Anglican I can find common accord with Aidan Nichols in one respect. Orthodoxy is found among the Anglicans. It might be more helpful to world Christianity if we Anglicans could agree on what orthodoxy is and where it is found among us! Meantime we must appear to many non-Anglicans as though our greatest skills are as deck-chair rearrangers on a sinking ship. Kyrie Eleison.


James said...

Perhaps - before we'll succeed in hashing out a covenant that works, or determine a church polity that is loving of both our members and of God in helping us establish "orthodoxy" - we need to repent. Corporately. Like Ninevah.

This would take quite some time. We would need to take an assessment of our corporate sins. And they are many.

Peter Carrell said...

Repentance all round would be a good basis to move forward on the Covenant, James.

James said...

I wonder if part of our problem is the focus in our discussions. We have gotten to the point that so many discussions are either about sex or ecclesiology, and those that don't begin about them frequently become about these topics. We're also bringing up ecclesiology with questions like, "how can we be more inclusive?" or: "who do you propose then we kick out of the church?"

Perhaps - somewhere on the net - we need to be engaging in some of the central topics about Christ in the life of the church and pastoral theology, in order to bring into focus such things as the resurrection. Why do we (or do we) believe in the centrality and importance of this for our faith? Why do we insist on teaching this? Why do we insist that it is wrong to teach otherwise on the resurrection; what effects is this likely to have upon the church, and upon vulnerable people exposed to teaching which denies the resurrection, when it comes from within the church?

Of course, there are many presuppositions in the above, and we would need theological minds from within the Communion who do not agree with these presuppositions to help sharpen our thought. There are quite a few in TEC who would identify with the position that the bodily resurrection of Christ is not central to faith; and commending to the faith alternative ideas as being "the resurrection" is not only permissible but encouraged.

I'd suggest: that this occur with some good Anglican minds across the spectrum. Maybe we could call it the "Christ Seminar" (though I'd refrain from marble dropping).

I see wisdom in the choice of the Communion in choosing not to deal with Christology "officially" in the manner we've been dealing with sexuality. This would have likely been a terrible blight upon world Christianity; I think it's clear we Anglicans are not spiritually mature enough to "debate" Christology in pastoral theology on an official level. Though it is awful that so many LGBT people feel themselves somehow pointed at now when the Communion discusses its fracturing.

I'd venture to guess that in this exercise, we'd find that we are profoundly split and don't belong together: that we'd find that one group is exclusively Trinitarian, and adamant that all teaching within the church be Trinitarian; while the other group insists that the church must also accept teaching which encourages a form of non-Trinitarian Jesus following. And we'd discover that when we take the word "Christ" in our mouth, we are really speaking of two radically different referents. So the very phrase, "Christ is our center" has utterly different ontological, sociological, soteriological, and practical meanings and consequences. Which is part of the reason why our communication is not working, and the two sides are entrenched in misunderstandings of one another.

I think TEC is more or less "decided" on this point, but could still, with a miracle, change its mind on this point: that the teaching of Trinitarian Christianity and of non-Trinitarian Jesus following belong in the same ecclesial structure. Though I think relatively few provinces outside of TEC would agree. Though many provinces would admit that there were struggles in dealing with actual teaching within the church advocating non-Trinitarian Jesus following; but that this is not "hypocrisy," these are discipline issues with which the church struggles, still committed to the principle that the church should commend to belief Trinitarian Christianity only.

There may be disputes as to whether, e.g. persons who associate "the divinity of Christ" with phrases like "a great figure; a fulfilled humanity; a higher consciousness" and teach such, are teaching Trinitarian Christology; but actually I think it's likely that this point would be settled fairly quickly. Though of course I could be wrong.

Brother David said...

James, your most visible sin is that you run around convinced that in reality "we", whomever "we" actually are, do not believe what "you" believe.

Repent James, quickly, completly, and without malice or reservation.

Bryden Black said...

Dear James, How dare you call the elephant in the room out of its shadows; that’s very ... unanglican of you; well, very unenglish at the least. We Down Under however have a bit of a habit of calling spades bloody shovels! So; I could not agree more with your assessment: it’s either a full blooded Trinitarianism based on a full Incarnational Christology (either Logos based and/or “pneumatologically oriented” (Kasper); preferably both), or it’s ... heresy. Though I do appreciate your nomenclature for the latter: “non-T Jesus following” is as bland as it might be!

FWIW: For many years I have used 1 Cor in its entirety for just the pastoral theology agenda you propose, given especially its telos in ch.15, which Barth saw in his commentary as Paul’s driving force throughout - even as undergirding chs 1-4! Curiously, Paul actually knew from the outset of his Letter where he needed to finish up and why. ‘Deny the physical transformation of the body of the risen Jesus, the Crucified Messiah of Israel’ and many things just follow: from partisan church squabbles through sexual dalliances, sacramental mal practices and community worship/life before the world. For we should note the ease with which Paul switches ‘body talk’ seamlessly between the Christological use, referring to Christ’s personal body, especially in its risen state, the ecclesiological use, of those people who are incorporated into Christ, all together, and the Eucharistic use, of that which is broken, shared and communicated in the Supper. None of which ‘works’ unless Messiah is actually transformed, which transformation in the power and grace of the Spirit is shared, specifically, concretely, with his own - eschatologically, and so in faith, hope and love.

Frankly, follow the logic of 1 Cor and it’s a lay-down misère! But there lies the rub: what does it mean to duly live under the authority of Scripture, of which 1 Cor happens to be a part?

Father Ron Smith said...

James' apparent obsession with the need for Trinitarian belief, (and his related fear that some people can be obsessed with 'Jesu-olatry') as the basis for true Christianity is quite easily relieved - when he begins to understand that the One in Three-ness of the Trinity is mutually understood by accepting the fact that the three are so closely related that to speak of One is to involve each of the 3 Persons of the Trinity - basic theology, is it not? Paul believed that 'In Christ - all the fullness of God dwells'. This makes one realise and fully understand that a true Trinitarian cannot speak of one Person of the Godhead without involving the other Two; otherwise the Trinity would not be mutually: God. Again, basic theology.

Lucy said...

James, very well said indeed!! I'm with Bryden on the value of naming digging implements clearly.

James said...

Fr. Ron, Thank you for your kind and eloquent comment which resounds with a deep and compelling truth. Yes, when we come to authentically understand one person of the Trinity (which occurs in relating to Jesus with our whole selves - cognitively, but then also much more), we are also led to the other persons of the Trinity.

I'd add, however: that the problem is that we can teach things about God which do not reflect Him, and which also undermine this unity.

E.g., I'd say that Marcus Borg's teaching profoundly disrupts this. When we believe that, in plain language, Jesus is a person who lived centuries ago who is now dead, this doesn't intimately associate Jesus with God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the same way as when we believe that Jesus lives (as understood in plain language).

In discussions elsewhere on the net with TEC folk, I'm encountering many who have been profoundly influenced by Borg. Many have a problem with the Trinity, also thinking this is a kind of metaphor, but then it's vague as for what ... does it mostly mean that people need to stick together and and love one another? Though this might be a "beginner's understanding" in the path of faith, I'd say: yes and no, but mostly no - the truth of the Trinity is infinitely greater than this, and is about a unity far beyond what we can understand in terms of our own love relationships.

Some very honestly say they can't agree with the teaching of the Trinity, and that we need to reform the creeds. They tend to find the words "Non-Trinitarian Jesus following" a good descriptor for their faith practice. For them, Jesus is most certainly not God; and a very prominent distinction is necessary. A good thing about this is that it's honest.

So my concern remains, Fr. Ron - it's not that the persons of God are not interrelated - it's simply that some teaching teaches things about "Jesus" in a manner that doesn't lead to the kind of authentically Trinitarian understanding which we both cherish, and which holds us together in faith.

Bryden, thank you so much for your kind words. I do hope more in the Communion "wake up" to the fact that our teaching of things contrary to what Christ told us about Himself in those things which are most important for us and our salvation, is a far graver and damning sin than any teaching on sex or inclusion matters, and that this is perhaps the reason par excellence that our unity has been so compromised. I do hope that we're able to hold some kind of "Christ Seminar" to help us discuss this, and become more aware of our most urgent problems.

The Incarnate Christ is not only for heteros and "Orthodox" - and we shouldn't be teaching a form of non-Trinitarian Jesus-following for those we fear might not be capable of faith in the Triune God, especially targeting gay people, while teaching Trinitarian Christianity to others. This is condemning gay people to a fate far worse than any form of discrimination or injustice in ecclesial careers. In creating these associations, of course, we're engaging in a form of orientation discrimination which is not only painfully injust, but which sows spiritual death and stunts faith.

James said...

Bryden, I have read your comment now four times. It needs four readings to be duly appreciated. Wow, and yes! Some very profound thoughts there, each sentence which deserves a very, very significant pause. The disadvantage of this kind of writing is that most are likely to skim and not avail themselves of the full depth that's there.

I would suggest that you share this further with others in reflecting upon the profound lack of unity in the Communion. With your experience of years of living with the pastoral theology that you unpack from I Corinthians, you could surely help shine a light on things. If you are unable to find an auspicious venue for posting your article, such as Peter's own notoriously thoughtful blog, I would be more than delighted to post it on my own measly little blog, amongst my own arcane musings and postings on sacred music. Perhaps we could inspire bloggers to begin a chain of reflections upon Christ as our center, and the crisis in pastoral theology, with multiple, divergent referents of this word we all share.

Your powerful thoughts on this matter may well inspire others in uncovering new significances as well, and new ways of thinking about paths for repentance and healing.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
It may be basic theology etc, but the fact is, there are Anglicans regular in worship who will not say the Nicene and Apostolic creeds. What do you say to them?

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter. I appreciate the point you are making - about the Creeds. And I do agree that Anglicans are bound by the officially accepted credal statements of faith. In fact, if we follow the N.Z. Prayer Book rite of Baptism, we are all encouraged to repeat our Baptismal Promises in affirming our credal beliefs.

Regarding the authority of Bishops, this is already in question in the U.K., since the archi-episcopal over-riding of the traditional collegial method of choosing the new Bishop of Southwark. Bishops are human beings, subject to error - the same as the rest of us.

In response to James, I would say that "No-one knows the Father - except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him"; so that there is already an organic connectivity between true knowledge of of both Father and Son. And then, as we know from the Gospels, all knowledge of Jesus comes from the Holy Spirit. Even the Apostles did not know Jesus perfectly until they had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It's all related. You cannot know anything of God without the Spirit's help. I am Trinitarian - or I am not a Christian!

Peter Carrell said...

I suggest, Ron, that Trinitarians have nothing to fear from Anglican orthodoxy expressed via the Covenant!

Father Ron Smith said...

Nor. Peter, am I questioning the theological 'orthodoxy' of the Covenant. What I am questioning is it's obvious need for a doctrinal commission on matters which have been described as 'adiaphora'.