Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and I'm on holiday

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers.

I am on blogging holiday for a while - till mid-January-ish - unless the world blows up, which is slightly more likely since You Know Who (USA) and You Know Who (Russia) reignited the arms race.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

2017 will be a big year, in my view. Even bigger than 2016 has turned out to be!

My final wisdom for the year, especially pertinent on Christmas Day, courtesy of something my son Tweeted a while back:

Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in the fruit salad!

Boxing Day Postscript:

At the Midnight Service at St Barnabas Fendalton I preached a sermon more or less according to the following text. (My actual text had a few mores scribbled words than this version, but I have lost that!)

"Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14
It is not a very happy Christmas this year.

This year we are acutely aware that people in places such as Aleppo are in an especially unhappy situation. But closer to home we also find people in difficult situations illustrated by long queues of people outside the Auckland City Mission.

Isaiah knew about the threat of evil and oppression which stalks humanity. We heard his description of the situation using words such as “yoke,” “bar”, “rod,” and “boots.”

This year we have felt the rod of oppression and the trampling boots of the oppressors across our world and we end the year feeling next year could be worse rather than better.

It is not a very happy Christmas this year.

Yet here we are singing about light and life, greeting one another with “Merry Christmas,” and hearing readings about glad tidings of joy for all.
What is up with that?

What did Isaiah see in the midst of his dark day? He foresaw a child being born, a child full of hope and promise, serving Israel with powerful love rather than the love of power.

At the time Isaiah almost certainly thought this foresight was about the next royal baby to be born.

But for centuries no royal baby born in Israel quite matched the job description of the Prince of Peace given in that passage.

Then, and we know the story well, a baby was born, with royal lineage, in a very obscure way, placed in a feeding trough with no spare room anywhere else in a Bethlehem hostel.

And as people got to know that baby, as the baby grew to be a man, what Isaiah saw was determined to have come to pass.

Jesus was the Wonderful Counsellor or, as Paul wrote to Titus, “our great God and Saviour.”

All that is good. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is the manifestation of our great God.

But there is this tiny challenge. When Christmas is not a happy Christmas for many people, has the promise of Isaiah’s prophecy been fulfilled?

Isaiah did not only foresee the coming of the Christ child, he foresaw a better world, talking of “endless peace” and the establishment of a just kingdom.

I think this challenge has to be met. We crave integrity. We want promises to match reality. 

That is why Trump won and Britain is leaving the EU. Voters in those places are tired of reality not matching politicians’ promises.

The shepherds give us a clue as to why we do not yet see Isaiah’s vision fulfilled. When told that Jesus is good news for the world they go to him.

Ever since some people, like the shepherds, have followed Jesus. But many have ignored Jesus, some have shunned him, a few have even gone further and persecuted his followers.

Even our beloved Press today [24 December 2016] has an editorial relegating Jesus to the sidelines and giving thanks for Santa Claus!

Isaiah’s vision will be fulfilled when we run towards Jesus rather than away from him. When we pay him homage, like the shepherds, rather than toss him to one side.

It is not a very happy Christmas this year. That is a challenge. At the least it is a challenge that we might help people discover or rediscover Jesus, the only way to endless peace and a just world.

Will we find our way to Jesus, like the shepherds?"

82 comments:

Father Ron said...

Dear Peter,

Thanks for your blog contributions and generous blog hospitality over the year.
The Christ-child's Richest Blessings upon you and yours this Christmastide.

Shawn Herles said...

Thanks for the blog Peter, and for putting up with your commentators! I have learnt a great deal from ADU. For example, I am now an expert in identifying store fronts and street signs!

Merry Christmas, and have a great holiday!

Brian Kelly said...

A Blessed Feat of the Nativity to you and your family, Peter, with thanks for all you do to promote knowledge and wisdom for the Church of Christ down under.

Here's a healthy alternative for your Christmas lunch:

http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016885-tomato-fruit-salad

Bryden Black said...

Pax et gaudium ad omnes!

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you all for comments. Lovely mild day in Christchurch so aspects of Christmas festivities fit well. On a personal note, received some great presents, things I didn't know I needed :)

Andrei said...

"This year we are acutely aware that people in places such as Aleppo are in an especially unhappy situation. "

Of course in the real world celebrating Christmas in Aleppo was safer than celebrating it in Berlin

But of course in the Anglo Saxon media you'll see nothing of Christmas celebrations from Syria - just the usual distortions of the facts interspersed with the usual nonsense about "Santa" which most modern Anglos think is a forename, like Shayne, Dwayne or Kane with Klaus being the Surname of the obese grotesquery, a product of a Madison Avenue ad agency developed for Coca Cola in the 1930s.

One thing the Anglican Church could do to reclaim Christmas from Coca Cola logos would be to return to the Julian Calendar :)

Never happen though

Andrei said...

Here's another thing you could try doing to reclaim Christmas

Instead of greeting people with "Merry Christmas" you could use this "Christ is Born!" for which the appropriate response is "Glorify Him!"

Anonymous said...

Peter, might I frame five questions for consideration according to the Bible?

(1) Is the civil condition of religious pluralism better seen as a good consequence of Genesis 1:28 and 11:8 that occasions the Great Commission, or simply as a bad deprivation of the full goods of unity and community?

(2) Given that Christians have forged social arrangements that agree with their faith over many centuries, but also that some believe that all on a territory today should negotiate its contemporary social arrangements, should believers today defend all the old arrangements against any new ones jointly legislated with non-believers?

(3) Given the fact of pluralism on the ground, are there times when Christians should choose to mute their communal voice in order to facilitate frictionless civil relations among adherents of different belief systems, or not?

(4) When is more legitimate pluralism in a society a problem and when is it a solution?

(5) Must the project of a godless and pluralistic society fail for the gospel to be true, or not?

Reasoning from scripture to any answers to these questions could be interesting to read.

Bowman Walton

Bryden Black said...

Frankly Bowman, I am bemused by your series of questions - which perhaps is but one question at root.

In the first place, it is couched very much from within a Modern frame, with scant regard for the genealogical or the historical, being therefore abstract and perhaps even idealistic. Curious, as it appears at first blush almost a piece of American pragmatism or practical real-politic - something we love in NZ too!

Au contraire, we should ask ourselves, what has brought us this far, to this point? One key feature I propose is that our contemporary take on human being is but a bastard step-child of the age of Christendom. Without the likes of a St Augustine, and his “synthesis” in the West, it would simply be impossible to suppose human being to be a “self-positing, autonomous personal subject” (my definition of the modern and now postmodern condition). The likes of “personhood”, as mostly assumed by the West, is a direct fruit of the Incarnation and the idea of a triune Deity behind that - yet also twisted (not to say perverted) by the likes of Descartes and others (Kant, Marx, Nietzsche). Rawls does not merely appear from nowhere ...!

In such a “public square” therefore, how may an authentic, fully orbed Christian anthropology be presented and even embodied? And how may any Western, 21st C form of the Christian Faith suitably sift their environs in a way that might honour the likes of Rom 12:1-2? The “obedience of faith” promulgated by the Apostle in our particular setting and given our particular history I humbly suggest is not aided by your questions - in the end. Nor do I sense Niebuhr and his revisers (Carter, Carson, Cavanaugh) have it all their own way; perhaps Hunter is on a better track ... the so-called Benedictine option. For plurality has been mostly with us since ... Babel! Pluralism on the other hand is but a silly ideology, susceptible to that failed verification principle and there being no metanarratives: both prove to be self-defeating, and so therefore is this latest (western) ideology - where power actually seeks to veil itself with ‘tolerant’ words.

In the end, I sense that exchange between you and Brian (on another thread) has a better way of putting it: European and what I’ve seen of the US societies are moribund; they have no answer to contemporary Islam; Trump may very well be “God’s wrecking ball” - of PC secularity; the future IS bleak - apart from a NON “pusillanimous” because “bold” (Acts) embrace of the triune God of the Gospel, or rather, of our letting THAT God more fully embrace us (so Phil 3, the entire chapter). In such a dynamic, Bowman, I sense your questions will merely fall away ...

Shawn Herles said...

Hi Peter,

"All that is good. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is the manifestation of our great God.

But there is this tiny challenge. When Christmas is not a happy Christmas for many people, has the promise of Isaiah’s prophecy been fulfilled?"

Yes, in part. In the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the Kingdom has come, but not yet in fullness. To put it another way, the Kingdom has come and is coming. Christ's coming inaugurated the end times. We have literally been living in the end times since Jesus died and rose again. Thus there are "wars and rumors of wars" and other Bad Things, including earthquakes! And there will continue to be Bad Things until the Kingdom finally comes in fullness when Jesus returns.

This tension between the 'already come/not yet in fullness' makes the most sense of our experience of the world as Christians living with the Good News in a world still experiencing bad news.

Shawn Herles said...

‘Next Pope’ Says Trump Could Be Like ‘Best President’ Reagan

"The Archbishop of Vienna who has been tipped to be the next Pope, has implied the election of Donald Trump is a good thing as Ronald Reagan turned out to be “certainly one of the best presidents the U.S. ever had”.

Looking back on a transformational year in politics, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn also cautioned about the effects of mass Muslim migration, urging Europeans to retain the continent’s Christian heritage.
“Many also shook their heads when Ronald Reagan was elected: ‘For God’s sake, an actor from California!’ But Reagan was certainly one of the best presidents the U.S. ever had. So you should not be too quick to judge.”

On the European migrant crisis, he said, “We [Europeans] have responded with a great deal of generosity to the refugee crisis… The figures last year were simply dramatically high… The key issue we are facing in Austria is the integration of refugees.”

In September last year, the cardinal caused a stir when he claimed the ultimate aim of many Muslim migrants is to conquer Europe with their religious ideology. Before Christmas, Cardinal Schönborn said on Austrian television that he was rethinking his approach to mass migration and wanted to see many return to their homelands.

When questioned last week, he appeared to stand by this claim, insisting that, as a Christian, he would like to see much of the Muslim world restored to Christianity and urged Christians in the West to preserve their culture.

“The Islamisation of Europe is nonsensical if one does not contribute something to the fact that Europe remains Christian”, he continued, insisting that the real problem in Europe was a loss of faith in Christianity, rather than Islam.

“But, of course, if a church is sold in the Netherlands and transformed into a supermarket, when the supermarkets are more important to us than the Christian roots of Europe, we must not be surprised that Europe [changes].”

“But it is not the fault of the Muslims,” he reiterated. “When we see that the mosques are well visited and the churches are badly visited, we can not blame Muslims for wanting to Islamise Europe.

“But we must reproach ourselves for not doing enough to maintain a Christian Europe.”

http://www.breitbart.com/london/2017/01/03/next-pope-says-trump-could-be-like-best-president-reagan/

I like thus guy! Can we have him as Pope now? :)

Shawn Herles said...

Relevant to the discussion above, a review of James Burnham’s book Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism.

The idea that Liberalism is a form of secularized Puritanism is particularly interesting.

http://www.socialmatter.net/2016/12/19/book-review-suicide-west/

Father Ron said...

Welcome back, Bowman.

I detect a certain eirenic sensitivity in your last contribution. Whether we like it or not, we live in the world that God created - together with a great diversity of human beings who also reflect the Divine Image and Likeness. How do we as Christians cope with this reality? Is this perhaps the real question?

Happy New Year!

Bryden Black said...

I sense Ron, you miss the main point. For there is a world of difference - literally, properly - between plurality and pluralism. Mere “diversity” (or better, created differentiation) is not a genuine Christian concern; as you suggest, it is a given.

What was of great concern, and rightly so, to the Early Church was the ability to distinguish, when confronted with certain ‘differences’, among those that could be affirmed by the Christian Faith, those that had to be rejected, and those that were indifferent (adiaphora). Such discernment by definition is denied by the ideology of pluralism - ostensibly. Yet, as I suggested last time, such an ideology is itself inherently silly because illogical. Nor is this contemporary ideology unique re its inherently illogical nature, also pointed out last time.

So; the contemporary western church might wish to cultivate what the Early Church laboured so hard to effect. Such a mind-set would assist greatly its ability then to negotiate more aptly the “public square”, and so live amongst those whose views were ‘different’. For then, this kind of church would be able to seek out its true “allies” versus its “co-belligerents” (these last two terms, with their differing nuances, coming from Jacques Ellul) versus its real enemies. This too is something of what Bowman was seeking, I venture ...

Shawn Herles said...

Plurality is a natural fact of life. Pluralism is a political ideology.

To put it another way, a multi-ethnic society is a natural fact of life, but Multiculturalism is a political ideology.

These ideologies are not rooted in a Christian anthropology, or a Trinitarian understanding of diverse human community, but in the anti-Christian and anti-Western ideology of the 68'ers, who rebelled against all ties of kinship, tradition, patriotism, and moral limitations, in a quest for an unrestrained and rootless freedom that has, inevitably, led to it's opposite, political tyranny.

'Sweden passes law to criminalize any criticism of immigration'

http://speisa.com/modules/articles/index.php/item.122/sweden-passes-law-to-criminalize-any-criticism-of-immigration.html

'NYC Will Fine You $250,000 For ‘Misgendering’ A Transsexual'

http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2015/12/27/nyc-will-fine-you-250000-for-misgendering-a-transsexual/

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks for comments, one and all - all very interesting, challenging and keeping us thinking about the main thing is and whether we have aimed at it if not arrived at it :)

My own connection to the sacred mysteries of the internet over the next few days may not be as fluid as the internet might like - holidays can have that effect - do not take your iPad into the surf etc - so if you send a comment in and it is not posted, be fruitful in the Spirit (code for "be patient, please").

Normal service will resume when the surf dies down and the sunlight of rest and recreation sinks over the horizon. Yes, I do have to go back to work ... :(

MichaelA said...

A very happy and blessed Christmas and New Year to you and yours Peter.

Andrei said...

Who is celebrating Epiphany today?

January 19th in the East and in the northern Hemisphere it is very cold!

Epiphany is a more important festival than Christmas IMHO

And I think it is these public expressions of our Faith that are an important part of evangelism

Father Ron said...

Dear Andrei, with all due repect to your (Eastern Orthodox) idea that the Festival of the Epiphany is more important thsn the (Western) Festival of Christmas, might I suggest that, unless the Word had become Flesh at the Incarnation, there would have been little of such great importance to 'show forth' at Epiphany.

Kalo Epiphania!

Brian Kelly said...

ah Andrei - the Orthodox Epiphany: many are cold but a few are frozen.

Happy Christmas, you old unreconstructed Julian!

Andrei said...

Dear Fr Ron Christmas and Epiphany are on the liturgical calendars of both the Eastern and Western Churches and both are important feasts

And yet how many people in New Zealand and the West in general could have told you yesterday as a write was Epiphany?

These feasts serve markers of the year and teaching opportunities for the Church provided the Church isn't hiding away in its ghetto

It is all about evangelism Fr Ron and bringing people to the Faith and maturing them in it (including ourselves)

Do you want to market Christianity the way garlic choppers are marketed on TV , pulling people in with gimmicks or perhaps a better way is to live your life in the Faith using the traditions handed down through the ages (which includes the liturgical year with its Feasts each of which has something important to impart to us about our Faith)

The later is what I'm am trying to suggest

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei and Ron
I am putting down my metaphorical surfboard for a moment to say:

Andrei, I do not the way you pose your question to Ron is fair comment. I cannot think of anything Ron has ever written which suggests he supports, even implicitly, a amarketing approach to evangelism akin to marketing garlic choppers.

Also, generally, yes we Kiwis are slack about Epiphany, Orthodox Christians among us excepted, but, for goodness sake, 6th January is beach time and holidays are part of God's Sabbath vision for our re-creation. You will not find me among those taking a dim view of those of us who spare slack about Epiphany.

Andrei said...



I wasn't directing that remark a Ron per se Peter, my phraseology was poor perhaps - Ron as I understand it is one of the more liturgically minded of those who frequent here

The Question is how do we put the Christian Faith out there in the public eye to compete with the noise of this world, such as TV only offers for garlic slicers.

... but, for goodness sake, 6th January is beach time and holidays are part of God's Sabbath vision for our re-creation.

But surely Peter the root for the English word "Holiday" is in fact Holy Day

And Epiphany or Theophany as celebrated in the Eastern Church anyway is a festival made to be celebrated at the beach or lake front or river and often is :)

And there you have the Church getting positive media exposure with Christ's baptism getting a mention, from acorns mighty oaks grow

Andrei said...

Well done Brian or should we groan :)

Christ is Born

Let's Glorify Him!

Bryden Black said...

Well; here's a way of (re)evangelising, tho to be sure, a little different to western TV:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhgjVmaPJlI#action=share

Enjoy!

MichaelA said...

"Epiphany is a more important festival than Christmas IMHO."

Even if that were correct, why does it matter? The apostles did not lay great emphasis (in fact, hardly any) on the celebration of festivals. They laid much more emphasis on faithfulness, sound teaching, and the daily practice of Christianity in our lives. The primary engine room of Christian life is the weekly gathering and the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

"And I think it is these public expressions of our Faith that are an important part of evangelism"

They are indeed. But you appear to making assumptions about what people in another country think and do, yet having no actual knowledge of that. Why make such assumptions?

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Andrei!

Andrei said...

". The primary engine room of Christian life is the weekly gathering and the celebration of the Lord's Supper. "

It is indeed MichaelA

But you know as well as I do the congregations swell during the two remaining Christian festivals that are remembered, Christmas and Easter - both of which have been hijacked by gross commercialism - (there are Hot Cross buns and chocolate eggs on display in my local supermarket already) :(

Some of those once or twice a year worshipers will in time mature into people who faithfully live a Christian life on a daily basis and it is our job to help them mature in the Faith

Evangelism opportunities must be grasped with both hands

" But you appear to making assumptions about what people in another country think and do, yet having no actual knowledge of that."

I know that service well MichaelA - the Gospel reading is Matthew 3:13-17

And the Hymns are

Lord, when You were baptized in the Jordan, the worship of the Trinity was made manifest. For the voice of the Father gave witness to You, calling You Beloved; and the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the certainty of His words. Glory to You, Christ our God, who appeared and enlightened the world.

and

Today You appeared to the world, and Your light, O Lord, has left its mark upon us as in fuller understanding we sing to You: “You came, You were made manifest, the unapproachable light.”

Those people in the first video are recalling the Baptism of Christ and celebrating their own baptism which is why they attempt to immerse themselves three times and crossing themselves after each immersion

What it means to them on an individual basis who can say, whether it is just blindly following a tradition as it may be for those who attend Church only for a carol service at Christmas or whether it is deeply spiritual - but in the former case it may lead to growth in the Faith

But whatever - if for some it is a superficial gesture it is a start and a theological message is delivered

Father Ron said...

Dear Andrei (and other bloggers interested), as the regular Celebrant on Friday and Saturday's Masses at SMAA, it fell to my lot on January 6 to lead the eucharistic worship. As opposed to a regular congregation of about 6 on those days of the week (Mass is celebrated on a daily basis at St. Michael's), that on Friday, official Feast of The Epiphany in the western Church, we had a round dozen, who were fully aware of the implication of the Epiphany Season - as being a worshipping/teaching opportunity for the 'Showing Forth' of Jesus - to both Jew and Gentile .

All the following Sunday during the Epiphany Season are given - in our Kalendar - lessons appropriate to such epiphanies of Jesus - the Visit of the Magi; Jesus' Presentation in the Temple; the Baptism of Jesus and the First Miracle at Cana - all separate and unique instances of epiphanic presentation of Jesus as Christ/Messiah!

Today, Sunday - a day when most people attend Church - we again celebrated the story of the Three Kings, and were given a sermon that demonstrated the intentional ministry of Jesus; proclamation to the whole world, not only to ourselves who are equipped by the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist to take Christ with us into the world we live in.

Kalo Epiphania!

Shawn Herles said...

"It is all about evangelism Fr Ron and bringing people to the Faith and maturing them in it (including ourselves) "

In terms of global evangelism, liturgical churches are some headway, but not much, suggesting that liturgy and festivals such as Epiphany, while not in any way bad in and of themselves, and also not particularly useful evangelistic tools.

WORLD CHRISTIANITY BY THE NUMBERS

"But perhaps the most astonishing numbers in the survey involve Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians. There were 981,000 of these souls in 1900; there are 643,661,000 of them today; and there are projected to be over one billion Charismatics and Pentecostals in 2050. In raw numbers, then, Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity is the fastest growing phenomenon in world religious history."

https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/02/world-christianity-by-the-numbers

Andrei said...

"But perhaps the most astonishing numbers in the survey involve Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians. There were 981,000 of these souls in 1900; there are 643,661,000 of them today;"

These things are definitional to some degree but those numbers seem a somewhat exaggerated.

If those numbers are to be believed, Shawn, then the world population of "Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians" would be approaching 10% of all humanity and represent a third of all Christians


The next paragraph is telling though
"These three phenomena—African growth, urbanization and the rise of Pentecostalism—also help account, I suspect, for the greater fragmentation of the Christian world. What might be called entrepreneurial Christianity—founding your own church—is very much a part of all three, and that helps explain why the number of Christian denominations grew from 1,600 in 1900 to 45,000 today, with projections of 70,000 in 2050.

And this verse springs to mind: Matthew 7:15
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."

We don't seek "greater fragmentation of the Christian world" just the converse in fact.

The thing about "Liturgies and Festivals" that people brought up in the modern world don't seem to recognize is that for most of the history of the Church the vast majority of its members could neither read nor write and Bibles were very expensive and rare. So the Church in its wisdom developed a way of imparting the Faith and its deeper theology to the people through these.

It is not so long ago the "Family Bible" was a cherished thing handed down through the generations, that is 19th, early 20th century

Before that most people had no access to the Bible except through the Church, that was economically dictated. But we know from history that many were very well founded in the Faith despite humble origins and they grew in Faith and wisdom through the Church

Shawn Herles said...

Andrei,

"These things are definitional to some degree but those numbers seem a somewhat exaggerated."

I have seen a number of surveys over the last few years and they all pretty much say the same thing.

"We don't seek "greater fragmentation of the Christian world" just the converse in fact."

It depends on how you define fragmentation, or unity. Older churches are hung up on institutional forms of unity, but the Body of Christ is not an institution, but a spiritual body. It's only true institutional manifestation is the local church. Diversity in institutions is not a problem if their is broad theological and spiritual unity. My theological tribe, for want of a better way to put it, transcends denominational institutions. As one example, an Anglican local church that is in the Holy Trinity Brompton model, has more in common in both theology and praxis with Vineyard Churches than it does with a Liberal Anglican church in the TEC model.

The older, "traditional" denominational institutions really just don't mean much anymore. I'm not saying they are wrong or bad, they are just not terribly relevant.

"The thing about "Liturgies and Festivals" that people brought up in the modern world don't seem to recognize is that for most of the history of the Church the vast majority of its members could neither read nor write and Bibles were very expensive and rare. So the Church in its wisdom developed a way of imparting the Faith and its deeper theology to the people through these."

Thankfully, the printing press and the Protestant Reformation solved that problem.

"But we know from history that many were very well founded in the Faith despite humble origins and they grew in Faith and wisdom through the Church"

From a Protestant point of view, that is very debatable. Many kinds of paganism grew in both the Eastern and Roman churches, such as praying to dead "saints" and relics, and the elevation of Mary to a quasi-pagan goddess. The Gospel became obscured, and even twisted into a works based religion. Widespread access to the Bible revealed these problems.

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."

Indeed, but I suspect you and I may have very different understandings as to who that may apply to in these times.

Anyway, I am not saying church festivals are bad, or that liturgy is bad, that's not at all what I believe. I just don't see the evidence for them as a tool of evangelism. On this issue I agree with MichaelA; "The apostles did not lay great emphasis (in fact, hardly any) on the celebration of festivals. They laid much more emphasis on faithfulness, sound teaching, and the daily practice of Christianity in our lives."

Bryden Black said...

To be sure Shawn, your latest will most probably put the cat among the pigeons - but I'll let those likely pigeons do their own flapping! And flap they will - which is why I now post:

To suggest to BOTH lots (eg Shawn vs Andrei/Ron/whosoever) that an even more constructive conversation or debate is possible if reframed. And the alternative perspective may be derived from the likes of my chapter 8 in The Lion, the Dove, & the Lamb, entitled "Deconstruction". I point out there one crucial reaction to the Arian controversy which has skewed matters ecclesiastical, sacramental and theological for centuries. By pushing Christ's identity firmly up into the Godhead, something of a mediatorial vacuum ensued. This was plugged effectively by 'the Church', its sacred personnel, actions and things - all to the detriment of the triune God's own mediation in the economy. A classic case of putting the cart before the horse.

The classic debate now provoked by Shawn needs to be reframed by means of a renewal of an operational theology - and praxis - of the Trinity. All things will look rather different in such a light!

Andrei said...

"I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church"

A statement from the Nicene Creed

Peter has been posting on what the word "apostolic" means but it its generally understood to mean the Faith as has been handed down from the Apostles through the Bishops i.e. the Apostolic succession

The beloved Saint Francis from whom the current Pope takes his name was opposed by the Church authorities in his time but he worked within the Church and his legacy has endured - He did not start a new church!

And you don't have to look far to find negative consequences of people founding their own church e.g. the Branch Davidians

The Church over the past 2000 years has amassed 2000 years worth of collective wisdom from which we can learn and in my opinion should.

The reformation was not all positive, the "reformers" did not even agree among themselves on how to interpret the scriptures and spent 200 years burning each other as heretics, not to forget the thirty years war when the "Christians" of the day behaved very much like ISIS does today and the population of central Europe was reduced to a third of its number before the war - and I doubt that that was pleasing to Our Lord Jesus Christ

To come back to Epiphany - that is a joyful celebration, there are the liturgical aspects of it followed by customs which vary from place to place but are rooted in the theology of the feast, the revelation of Jesus Christ to mankind as God incarnate, and feasting with dancing and other joyful celebration

Next will come Mardi Gras or Carnival, the last chance for people to let their hair down before Western Lent begins and a penitential season begins (most people have forgotten the origin and meaning of this)

The Eastern equivalent is Maslenitsa which ends on a Sunday, rather than a Tuesday as in the Western tradition and it calculated according to the Julian calendar

The last day of Maslenitsa is called "Forgiveness Sunday" when we seek forgiveness from God and from those we have offended and grant forgiveness to those who offended us - we do this year after year gaining greater understanding each time into the nature of the Lord's forgiveness and the benefits of our being forgiving

Matthew 6:14
If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses

Do you see how that works Shawn? Its not all dour and preachy, preachy - there are times of solemness to be sure but times of great joy and celebration and people not well grounded in the Faith participate with those who are and hear some of the Gospel message which may take root in time

Andrei said...

Generation snowflake

'Crucifixion maybe too distressing,' theology students warned

Shawn Herles said...

" but it its generally understood to mean the Faith as has been handed down from the Apostles through the Bishops i.e. the Apostolic succession"

By some churches, but that is a tradition, not Biblical teaching.

"And you don't have to look far to find negative consequences of people founding their own church e.g. the Branch Davidians"

You can find all sorts of negative things in all churches. In the Orthodox churches some have taught this idea: http://www.orthodox.net/articles/life-after-death-john-maximovitch.html

The teaching that the Christian soul, after death, has to pass through "toll houses" where it is tested by demons, and may if it fails such tests fall into Hell, strikes at the very heart of the Biblical Gospel teaching that we are saved by faith alone, and not by works, and strikes at Christ's teaching that He will not lose anyone who comes to Him in Faith. This teaching cannot be found anywhere in Scripture, and would instil unnecessary fear in Christian people. It is exactly this kind of fear-based, works-based religion, and traditions not found in the Bible, that the Reformers were against.

The Reformers were not establishing a new church or churches. They were restoring the Church to it's early apostolic/Biblical foundations. There is only one Church, and all the individuals denominations that adhere, as best they can, to Biblical teaching, are part of the one Church.

That there are disagreements is normal. There are disagreements in all churches, Eastern, Roman, Anglican.... That's just human nature and human limitations. And there have been violent religious wars in all traditions, including Roman and Eastern. Protestantism is not alone in that.

"The Church over the past 2000 years has amassed 2000 years worth of collective wisdom from which we can learn and in my opinion should."

Only in so far as that "wisdom" is based on Scripture alone. Otherwise we open ourselves up to all sorts of dangerous nonsense, like the idea of toll houses.

Anonymous said...

"By pushing Christ's identity firmly up into the Godhead, something of a mediatorial vacuum ensued... All things will look rather different in such a light!"

Bryden, I hope that you will elaborate a bit on this difference. At least so far as ecclesiology is concerned, Tom Wright takes a view similar to that in your comment (cf his colloquy with Jeremy Begbie at Wheaton) when he insists that the Ascension presents the present rule of Christ, not his absence.

But it often appears that the divide today is between those who have become so deeply comfortable with the "mediatorial vaccuum" that they are ever afraid that some communion of the saints may yet break out, and those for whom there cannot be continuity with either the Old Testament or the New without some identifiable people acting, wisely or foolishly, in the public history of this aeon.

Interestingly, this divide runs right through the conservative Reformed churches, separating the NAPARC churches (eg R Scott Clark) from those adhering to some Federal Vision (eg Peter Leithart). Among Anglicans who lean Reformed, it was interesting to read Michael Bird's efforts to bridge this divide in the exegeses supporting his Evangelical Theology, and it will be interesting to see how Katherine Sonderegger's ecclesiology addresses it.

Put another way, some will insist that, although the Resurrection is public knowledge, no people of God followed it that can be recognized by the public or even by believers. In place of the third article of the creeds there is a vapor followed by a rapture. To others such an epistemological gap between a knowable act of God and an unknowable presence of the Kingdom (yes, Jacques Ellul) makes nonsense of the gospel as presented in the canonical scriptures or by the reformers.

Anonymous said...

Cont'd

This has practical consequences well beyond the liturgical rubrics by which Anglicans often define themselves. Loose, decentred gatherings of believers who think that Jesus left behind a sort of vapor, necessarily depend on the state to define and enforce the conventions that support Christian morality. At best, their politics will strive to compel Caesar to enforce on all souls today a simulacrum of the life of the redeemed in the next aeon. And to those thus overdependent on the territorial state, mere plurality is danger and pluralism is mortal danger. To put it mildly, the politics of dependence on state power coupled with fear of Others can be very dysangelical on the ground.

In contrast, well-defined, tradition-informed, authoritatively-led bodies can afford a more dialectical relation to the state because they do not viscerally need it to take care of business. And seekers, given the choice between a vapor that cannot speak and an organised body able to say "it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." often choose the latter. Sometimes the darkness that the gospel enlightens is the absence of the testimony of the faithful or the capacity for collective action.

For better and for worse, few will object today to "renewal of an operational theology - and praxis - of the Trinity." As you may know, Kimlyn Bender has also found Karl Barth's retrieval of Jesus's humanity to be the most likely centre to his uncompleted ecclesiology of the people of the Word. For Barth, as for eg Richard Hooker, the Chalcedonian definition seems to have supplied the frame of reference for an ecclesiology. But to achieve the discussion that you suggest, where should a more robust understanding of Jesus's humanity sit amid proponents and critics of *eternal functional subordination of the Son* on one hand and Robert Jenson's insistence on the *personal work of the Holy Spirit in the Church* on the other?

https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/churchman/114-01_022.pdf

And can Jesus's humanity be understood in a way that allays the fear of so many of Bird's "ordinary gospel people" that something may break out that fills their "mediatorial vacuum" with the communion of saints?

Bowman Walton

Andrei said...

"Only in so far as that "wisdom" is based on Scripture alone"

So how do I as a seeker distinguish between that taught by the Jehovah's Witnesses, Brian Tamaki or Benny Hinn? They all base their teachings on selected scripture.

The canon was defined by the (Apostolic) Church Shawn - it was written in Koine but what the above and you have are translations of the original mostly made not from the original Koine but from translations of it. (Benny Hinn might be familiar with Koine)

" It is exactly this kind of fear-based, works-based religion, and traditions not found in the Bible, that the Reformers were against"

Leaving aside the "toll houses" which was a controversy that roiled elements within American Orthodoxy 40 years ago and is not Orthodox dogma, most Orthodox people wouldn't even know what you were talking about if you brought it up, let's examine what Scripture has to say about the Judgement

31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

42 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink:

43 I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.

44 Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

45 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.

46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."

Brian Kelly said...

Shawn,
Very strange indeed:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerial_toll_house

It sounds to me very much like a Gnostic fantasy (needing to know the passwords to escape the powers).

Those who invoke 'Holy Tradition' need to be able to say which bits of 'tradition' need to be discarded like bad fish from the dragnet of the Church.

Father Ron said...

Dear Shawn,

Without The Tradition, there would have been no AScriptures to either inform of proclaim! I t was the Church that defined that of the scriptures which it has deemed necessary for salvation. Had there been no Church (no Tradition) the Scriptures would have been abandoned long ago.

Besides all of this, the Holy Spirit still has work to do in the ongoing definition and Proclamation of the Gospel, its equipping and its enabling for the present day. (Unless, of course, the Holy Spirit became defunct at the canonization of the scriptures.)

Tradition, if remaining static, may have no life or power to redeem.

For instance, the world view has changed from 'heaven above and earth beneath' since the discovery of the reality of the cosmos - post Scriptural! This has required a progressive theology - not based on Scriptural understanding of ther cosmos.

Bryden Black said...

Well Bowman; I’m not sure I follow entirely this pair of comments. Shall put it down to the format of blogging and so compression. Here’s a response to what I do glean, in four parts.

1. Re ecclesiologies generally. I’ve observed these are mostly of two kinds, thick ones and thin ones, those that are overblown and those that are minimalist. Then of course, the former accuse the latter of precisely being the latter, since they of course are the former - and vice versa!! In other words, an appropriate/adequate ecclesiology is a tricky business, often!

2. I do suggest a read of my chapter 8, since naturally my own comment was thin and too sketchy. Unfortunately, the Look Inside facility on the Wipf & Stock web site does not extend that far into the book’s Contents ... Nor of course does that chapter address adequately the ecclesiological question, since its primary focus is trinitarian. True; a few explicit conclusions are drawn, but they are few and tentative. One cannot do everything at once!

3. When I was the interim priest-in-charge of our local parish back in 2010-12, I led a Lenten sermon series on “Who Are We?”, with additional study material for groups. The five parts were: We are the People of God; We are the Body of Christ; We are the Temple of the Holy Spirit; We are the Household of the Trinity; We are Pilgrims of the Way. The last of course assumes the “rediscovery of [the] apocalyptic” nature of the Gospel, taken up so strongly in the 20th C and expressed in Vatican 2. For previously the contours of most theologies of Church were content to be framed within an ‘Augustinian synthesis’, of ‘mystical’ dimensions + visible/institutional/political dimensions. Cf. that pdf of yours (with which I’ll conclude) Au contraire; it is imperative we see eschatology front and centre, both collectively and individually, both theologically and pastorally. And while the fourth session naturally addresses the “economy” via the image “household”, and speaks of an ordained ministry of word + sacrament (like any good Anglican!), the centre of gravity for me of any ecclesiology is found here too: with the economy of salvation wrought by the triune God as the premise, any idea - and praxis! - of Church is to see itself in terms of “stewardship” and “witness”. Consequently, any such notions as ‘the continuation of the Incarnation’ or ‘representation’ are indeed overblown and too thick. For in the end ...

4. As with Hooker and Calvin, and the Reformers generally, any due ecclesiology is Christologically determined, and circles around the two natures of Christ in the singular Person - with the four Chalcedonian negatives clearly acknowledged. That pdf was a delight! Thank you! Yet front and centre too is, as Athanasius stressed, the mediation of Christ in our human response to God—that is, the Incarnate Son as Jesus “ministered the things of God to man and the things of man to God” [sic]. It is the latter movement especially that my chapter 8 focuses upon, thanks to the anti-Arian backlash which JA Jungmann highlighted. Framing ecclesiology is the key therefore, I suspect, and the reason for my answering your comments with these four loci. True; just a beginning - but again, one cannot do everything at once, and notably in this format ... (I'm aware of MFB across the Ditch and his 'stable ...!)

Andrei said...

Those who invoke 'Holy Tradition' need to be able to say which bits of 'tradition' need to be discarded like bad fish from the dragnet of the Church.

Aerial Toll Houses are not Holy Tradition Brian

Ascribing the authorship of the Gospel according to St Luke to a physician named Luke is an example of Holy Tradition

Then there are things more akin to folk tales - like calling the Magi "Kings" and saying there were three of them and giving them names Casper, Melchior and Balthazar - it is hardly important how many Magi there were, some say there were 12 and others 20.

What is really important is contained in the Gospels and the Nicene Creed, worrying about Toll Houses, Creationism or "the Rapture" is empty speculation.

Brian Kelly said...

"Aerial Toll Houses are not Holy Tradition Brian"

Indeed. But I would go much further and say they are bizarre nonsense and a complete misunderstanding of the Gospel.
Yet the Wikipedia article suggests the idea is favourably received in some Orthodox circles - as if it were adiaphora!

No doctrine turns on the number or supposed names of the Magi. On the other hand, the apocryphal Protevangelium of James has exerted an enormous influence on both the iconography of the Nativity and the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of the Theotokos - even though the book is evidently a romance and not historical.

Andrei said...

Yet the Wikipedia article suggests the idea is favourably received in some Orthodox circles - as if it were adiaphora!

Wikipedia is Wikipedia, articles are often written by those with axes to grind - that article was presumably written by an American who had some involvement in the American controversy over Seraphim Rose's book which articulated the idea

St Philaret of Moscow who was a great Theologian of the 19th century did not approve of the concept which at that time was not as fully formed as it appears now

At its core though is the idea that if we are to be reunited with God we have to let go of earthly desires and that at death there may be things we still cling to which will stand between us and God that we need to let go of - and that seems sound to me

" On the other hand, the apocryphal Protevangelium of James has exerted an enormous influence on both the iconography of the Nativity and the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of the Theotokos

The Church Fathers in their wisdom did not include the "Protevangelium of James" in the Canon

The Perpetual Virginity of the Theotokos is another example of Holy Tradition and one that I deliberately avoided as an example because some might dispute it

However the key is in the honourific Theotokos (God Bearer), the Ark of the New Covenant - I hold the truth of this and it speaks to the Divinity of Christ

Shawn Herles said...

Ron,

"Without The Tradition, there would have been no AScriptures to either inform of proclaim!"

Cart before the horse Ron. Without the Scriptures, there would be no tradition.

"t was the Church that defined that of the scriptures which it has deemed necessary for salvation."

It was the Church which received the Scriptures as they had been given by God through the Holy Spirit. The Church fathers made it clear that they were accepting the canon as received, not creating it.

"Besides all of this, the Holy Spirit still has work to do in the ongoing definition and Proclamation of the Gospel, its equipping and its enabling for the present day."

Yes absolutely. As a continuationist I firmly believe in the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the Scriptures. However, two things are important here. One is that special revelation has ceased. That revelation is contained fully and exclusively in the Scriptures alone. The Spirit then is illuminating what has, once for all, already been given, and not creating entirely new revelations. And secondly, we must always be on guard that it is the Spirit of God we are listening to, and not the spirit of the world.

"For instance, the world view has changed from 'heaven above and earth beneath' since the discovery of the reality of the cosmos - post Scriptural! This has required a progressive theology - not based on Scriptural understanding of ther cosmos."

No. What Scripture actually teaches, which is not a simplistic "heaven above, earth below" cosmology, has not been overturned by anything science has discovered. This is a standard claim of modernity which reduces the Biblical and pre-modern world views to a caricature at best, then claims to have replaced them. But a deep reading of all of Scripture, not to mention a thorough understanding of what pre-moderns actually thought about the cosmos, shows this claim to be hubris.

Shawn Herles said...

Andrei,

"So how do I as a seeker distinguish between that taught by the Jehovah's Witnesses, Brian Tamaki or Benny Hinn? They all base their teachings on selected scripture."

By reading Scripture itself, deeply and thoroughly, with tradition, and our respective church communities, as a guide, but only as a guide, and also allowing Scripture to critique tradition and the Church. This is a dialectic, but with Scripture as supreme. Churches, creeds and confessions play their role, but the revelation of God is in Scripture alone. Our creeds and confessions, our traditions, must be at the service of Scripture, not the other way around.

Shawn Herles said...

Andrei,

"What is really important is contained in the Gospels and the Nicene Creed, worrying about Toll Houses, Creationism or "the Rapture" is empty speculation."

Now that's almost a Protestant point of view! The problem of things like Toll Houses, or praying to Mary and the saints, is that they go beyond what the Gospels/Scripture actually teach, and in both cases directly contradict it. That is what the Reformers were, in part, on about. Not that tradition is always bad, or useless, quite the contrary, but that tradition must always be held up to the supreme authority Scripture. It does not mean that we, as the JW's have done, throw tradition entirely out the door, it simply means that we allow Scripture to critique tradition, so that tradition becomes the servant and handmaiden of Scripture.

And bringing this back to Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, the vast majority have not in fact thrown tradition entirely out the door, which seems to be your claim. The largest Pentecostal church, the Assemblies of God, affirms the Nicene/Chalcedonian understanding of the Trinity and the nature of Christ.

The Vineyard churches, which is the Evangelical-Charismatic church I am most familiar with, also affirms the Nicene/Chalcedonian understanding. Both churches are, in that sense, traditional, creedal, and orthodox.

It is, to repeat, a matter of the cart and the horse, not ditching the cart entirely.

Shawn Herles said...

As I think Andrei may be confused on this point, the Jehovah's Witnesses are not a Pentecostal or Evangelical-Charismatic church. Arguably, they are not even a Protestant church. They are a sect, much like the Mormons, outside of any 'mere orthodoxy' boundary, Protestantism included, and a form of the old Arian heresy. It's not remotely accurate to put them in the same box as Benny Hinn or Brain Tamaki.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Bryden, for a reply as clear to the serious reader as my own comment, and also for your reminder of the points at which your fine book touches on ecclesiology.

http://wipfandstock.com/the-lion-the-dove-the-lamb.html

Yes, this is difficult. I have had thoughts about how we might discuss the themes you identify in a wider circle, but public mention of them will have to wait for the summer.

I will post a few responsive thoughts here on Friday.

Bowman Walton

Andrei said...

I am not confused at all Shawn

The world offers a plethora of things, like Moses David, snake handling, seventh day adventism all theoretically "biblically based"

But if I go to Church next Sunday the gospel reading I will receive will be the same as my kids in Australia, will receive and my cousins and everyone else who follow our ways regardless of location

Because the Church in its wisdom systematically works through the Bible in a way the Christian Faith in its fullness may be imparted and we don't get hung up on peripheral issues like how Armageddon is going to play out or any other obsession held by an individual priest or self appointed Church leader

Andrei said...

Meanwhile more confusion at Epiphany : Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali Condemns Koran Reading At Anglican Cathedral Epiphany Service

https://youtu.be/uGGi_sLiW4c

Bryden Black said...

Thank you Bowman.
Ah yes; time is ever pressing: y'day I had to review pasture management and wee lambs' growth; Today it's finalizing a new treasurer's position - and still Sunday's sermon (on Ps 89) needs more prep!!
Shalom!

Shawn Herles said...

Andrei,

"The world offers a plethora of things, like Moses David, snake handling, seventh day adventism all theoretically "biblically based"

.... Ariel Toll Houses.

"Because the Church in its wisdom systematically works through the Bible in a way the Christian Faith in its fullness may be imparted and we don't get hung up on peripheral issues like how Armageddon is going to play out or any other obsession held by an individual priest or self appointed Church leader"

There was a fierce, and sometimes violent, religious civil war in Russia over the liturgy and the exact way Orthodox believers should cross themselves. This led to a split, and the formation of the Old Believers, followed by acts of violent persecution. That was just one of many serious disputes in the Eastern Churches over the centuries, such as the icon controversy, debates over various mystical ideas (Toll Houses being just one of several I'm aware of), and yes, long running arguments over the end times. The Orthodox liturgical way of reading Scripture did not prevent these obsessions over peripheral issues.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Russian_Orthodox_Church#Schism_of_the_Old_Believers

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byzantine_Iconoclasm

Religious disputes, controversies, and splits are just a fact of life, and occur in all churches and in all traditions, Orthodoxy included. You have a tendency to portray Orthodoxy as inherently superior to the Western churches, and free from all the controversies, debates and splits that have occurred in the West, but anyone familiar with the history of Orthodoxy knows that this is a very "rose tinted glasses" point of view.

Brian Kelly said...

Fair point, Shawn. The only (Antiochene) Orthodox priest I've ever known was Jack Witbrock, formerly Anglican vicar of Lyttelton until he could no longer bear Anglicanism's liberal drift. He taught me German in my last year of school. I enjoyed my conversations with him, which usually didn't have much to do with German but awoke an interest in this callow youth in historical and systematic theology. As an erstwhile Anglican (and Anglo-Catholic) Jack had been thoroughly educated in liberal Protestant theology and didn't believe any of it. He went on to set up a kind of Orthodox oratory in Rangiora and may still be there.
Naturally Jack believed in the superiority of Orthodoxy but even he ruefully conceded that 'Rasputin was one of ours.' The bugbear of Orthodoxy, it seems to me with my very limited knowledge, is a kind of apocalypticism and a hankering for the prophetic and the mystical - perhaps a byproduct of its monastic soul with its love of revelations not anchored all that securely in the sober text of Scripture.

Shawn Herles said...

Hi Brian,

Yes, I have heard of Jack Witbrock and the Orthodox oratory he started.

I don't want to be mistaken for being anti-Orthodox, I just think Andrei tends to paint a somewhat simplistic and whitewashed version of it, but the only serious disagreements I have are the same Reformation issues that I have with Roman Catholicism. I am open to appreciating what is of value in forms of Christianity other than my own.

On that score a comment I made recently on ADU regarding Calvinism got me to thinking that perhaps I have not understood their point of view adequately or rightly, so last night I bought Michael Horton's 'For Calvinism' on Kindle when I saw it being recommended by a Calvinist Vineyard theologian I respect. It may not change my mind, but I want to give it a fair shake.

Kindle is a Godsend if you're a theology junkie!

Anonymous said...

Esteemed evangelicals beware:

Even the apparent similarities (veneration of Mary, liturgy, icons, etc) between the Eastern patriarchates and Rome are disputed ground. Thus Orthodox churches are not subsidiaries of a holding company in Italy, they have been critical of the Roman understanding and practice of these things, and arguments that assume the same rationale in West and East are not persuasive to those who know all this at first hand.

Even more bewildering to most evangelicals is the insistence of some Orthodox theologians (eg Slavophiles in the tradition of Khomyakov) that (a) the differences between Rome and Protestant churches are minor, and that (b) the schism of the Reformation was just the natural outcome of the West's overdependence on the brilliant but incoherent theology of St Augustine of Hippo. Those who know less than they think and more than was ever true about medieval history are especially likely to find this line of argument flabbergasting.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleksey_Khomyakov

To understand or fairly evaluate these claims, one must see the forest of Orthodoxy before the trees and underbrush. For most serious readers of theology, this is still much the best panoramic view--

http://tinyurl.com/gt4redw

https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=GoVeDXMvY-8C

Meyendorff was erudite, irenic, and fair. He made his mark with a landmark dissertation on the theology of St Gregory Palamas, and went on to produce a stream of important studies in the history of theology in the East. Although a churchman close to the founding of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA), he was also a colleague of eg Jaroslav Pelikan and was a leader in such academic gatherings as the yearly Spring Symposium at Dumbarton Oaks. Other introductions are more lyrical-- or more dyspeptic and cranky-- but this one is sturdily useful to serious readers. Two points of entry--

The last few pages of his Byzantine Theology offer a calm, understated apologetic for the theological legacy of the East. Reading this first can be motivating.

Pages 95-98 of the PDF construe the Greek text of Romans 5:12 in the ways standard in the East. In so doing, they accounts for the Eastern view that the Augustinian and Western notion of *original sin* was both a departure from the plain teaching of scripture and also a rather tragic forking of the once-ecumenical tradition. It is hard to overstate its implications for precisely the sorts of criticisms that evangelicals have tended to raise against Orthodoxy. Reading this second will at least help the reader to stop complaining that the Orthodox are a failed attempt to be as we are.

Because of that fork in the tradition, it is sometimes helpful to replace one's *restitutionist* monocle (eg St Thomas, John Calvin) with an *elevationist* one (eg St Maximus, John Duns Scotus). Here, for example, is a smart Reformed evangelical in America who does just that (along with Myk Habets at New Zealand's Carey Baptist College)--

http://tinyurl.com/hyjhtnt

The point of the exercise is not that all the Orthodox have been exclusively "Scotist"-- they aren't-- but that Western thinking is so emphatically *restitutionist* that few of us are fully aware of the way this lens has shaped our view of many scriptural and doctrinal loci. Once one is aware of this, then one has some questions to ponder about where one's own artery sits in that Body of Christ which has two lungs and one heart, but that is a topic for another day.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron said...

Shawn, you write here of your willingness to examine other brands of Christianity than you own. However, in your obviously eclectic experience of Christianity, what would you actually consider as beng 'your own' brand of Christian discipleship - from Roman Catholic to Vineyard and other experiences; which is the one form you would claim as 'your own'? My own experience is that, until oner puts one's feet securely into one particular denominational tradition - a 'turanga waiwai', one might have no basis on which to judge the validity of the position of others.

Shawn Herles said...

Hi Ron,

"which is the one form you would claim as 'your own'?"

Evangelical Charismatic.

"until oner puts one's feet securely into one particular denominational tradition... one might have no basis on which to judge the validity of the position of others."

100 hundred years ago, perhaps even fifty, that might have been true, maybe, but it's not at all true today. Mainstream denominations are meaningless. They no longer describe or represent a 'turanga waiwai'. Within the institution of the Anglican Communion you can find churches that have absolutely no true relation to each other in terms of theology, doctrine, and praxis. Merely being under the same episcopal oversight does not matter anymore. Natural diversity in unity has been overcome by anarchy. Holy Trinity Bromptom has more in common with Vineyard churches than it does with Liberal Anglican churches. HBT Anglican churches and Vineyard churches are, in terms of theology and praxis, within the same tribe.

The true dividing lines today, the true 'turanga waiwai', are not found in denominational tribes, but in theological tribes that transcend the old denominations.

Liberalism has rent asunder the old mainstream denominations.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Shawn has a point: denominations are not what they used to be.
There are plenty of people worshipping in Anglican churches today who do not consider themselves Anglicans, nor consider denominational loyalty much to shout about, especially not as they belong to this church in this town, to a different denominational church in another town and so forth.
We are in a change of era more than in an era of change ...

Shawn Herles said...

And speaking of eclecticism Ron, to what degree are your own feet "securely into one particular denominational tradition"?

The classical Anglican tradition was defined in part by the 39 Articles, which you reject. Your own stated view of the Eucharist is the Lutheran one, not the classical Anglican view, and your theology and practice regarding Mary and the saints is Roman Catholic, also not the classical Anglican tradition.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with any of this necessarily, I'm not criticising, just pointing out that perhaps you and I are more similar in our denominational eclecticism than you may realise.

Father Ron said...

With all due respect, Peter, it would seem that you do not consider commitment to a particular community in the Body of Christ to be important any more. Surely there must come a point where one makes an actual commitment to a particular Church community? Otherwise, what is the point of Baptism and Holy Communion within a specific Christian Family? Or is this what is now being taught at places like Laidlaw College - that commitment is not necessary as long as one is free to flit from community to community for the frisson of 'difference'. I'm not sure any other Church Leader would agree with you on this point. Occasional visits to other Churches are sometimes essential. However, one must surely commit oneself to a particular Church community to become a living member of the Body of Christ. The role of spiritual gypsy cannot be conducive to one's maturation in faith.

Anonymous said...

It seems that Ron and Shawn agree that (a) there is such a thing as a tradition that is a "basis on which to judge the validity of the positions of others," but that Shawn objects that (b) no denominations are the vehicle for any such traditions, and (c) the reason that they are not is exclusively due to something he calls "liberalism." I cannot agree with any of these three propositions.

(a) Christian formation is inherently a matter of tradition, but what is more or less adequate to the definition of identity (eg handbook theology, standard polemics) has never been adequate to the understanding or evaluation of positions of differently situated Christians. This is true whether the identity is denominational or theological.

(b) Some important currents of the ecumenical tradition are not fully knowable apart from the old "denominations," and the latter still do a reasonably good job of representing the former. You can still learn about St Thomas from Catholics, Luther from Lutherans, Calvin from the Reformed, etc. And although some are deluded about this, you still cannot learn about Calvin from Catholics, Luther from Calvinists, or St Thomas from Lutherans. Alas, you cannot learn about Richard Hooker or St Maximus from any of them, and in a global village that matters.

(c-1) English-speaking Protestants have inherited especially flimsy membranes between denominations that never needed to happen. It is not surprising that they are disintegrating as the founding reasons for them are gradually forgotten. Just because we are "in a change of era more than in an era of change," some once-urgent ideas are proving to be too shallow to survive, but that was also true in AD 100, 500, 1000...

(c-2) Ecumenism and evangelicalism have both offered sturdier sacred canopies than the odd "distinctives" of the "denominations." The German liberal tradition somewhat facilitated early ecumenism, but today inherently conservative projects of retrieval matter much more. Some Pentecostal theologians (eg Simon Chan) have been bridging ecumenical and evangelical faith effectively.

(c-3) In some locales, denominations are rightly viewed as unhelpful clericalist obstacles to the emergence of a place-engaged, laic, Christian polis.

(c-4) Global polities on a synodical model (eg Central Methodist Conference, Anglican Communion, Orthodox Great Council) are still too young to evaluate. They may thrive if they attract loyalty as more than representative structures.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Please do not put speculative views about what I would prescribe into my mouthpiece in response to a comment I have made descriptively about how many Christians currently act.

Please also do not - here - judge fellow Christians as being potentially immature in their faith because their commitment to the local (say, Presbyterian) church in Omakau does not translate to a commitment to remain Presbyterian when they move to Otematata and find the local church best expressing the gospel is, say, the Baptist church.

This blog is called "Anglican" Down Under precisely because I am committed to being Anglican, to reflecting on what it means to be Anglican and to both covertly and overtly arguing that the Anglican church is the best form of church to be committed to.

I have found in the course of my life that not everyone is persuaded by my arguments and thus I try to relate well to Christians who do not share my commitments!

Shawn Herles said...

Hi Bowman,

"but that Shawn objects that (b) no denominations are the vehicle for any such traditions"

No, that's not what I meant, or said, though I may have been unclear.

First, I was speaking solely about Protestantism, and solely about the older Protestant mainstream denominations. There are many newer Protestant denominations that are vehicles for a clear and specific tradition.

Secondly, even then, denominations alone are not the sole boundary markers. Evangelicalism is a movement within the wider body of the Church that sometimes manifests in a single denomination, but also transcends them, as it can be found within Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist churches, and so forth.

Shawn Herles said...

To be clear, as I think Ron tends to radically overstate the reality for his own polemical purposes, I have been firmly planted within one theological tradition, Charismatic Evangelicalism, for well over twenty years now, and mostly within one Church for the last 15, the Vineyard, which is why I approach many things from a Vineyard pov. The only reason I also have a foot, so to speak, within Anglicanism, is because I'm married to an Anglican minister.

I had a brief flirtation with Roman Catholicism in the mid 1980's, but that aside, I don't think my church or theological history can reasonably be described as that of a "spiritual gypsy".

Brian Kelly said...

"Please also do not - here - judge fellow Christians as being potentially immature in their faith because their commitment to the local (say, Presbyterian) church in Omakau does not translate to a commitment to remain Presbyterian when they move to Otematata and find the local church best expressing the gospel is, say, the Baptist church."

Ah, that made me smile because for three years of my childhood I lived in Otematata (my father worked at Benmore) and the only church I knew then was our local Catholic community which met (IIRC) in the school hall of Otematata District High School. I was only dimly aware of the existence of other 'churches' like the "Press Button B's" as we called them although I was assured they weren't 'real churches' and only we Catholics could trace our origins back to Christ. On my way home from school I would pass a mysterious building called 'Gospel Hall' which was always locked. Otematata was a thriving metropolis of about 4000 souls then, so I imagine the ecclesiastical choice today is rather less than in those heady days.

Brian Kelly said...

"(b) Some important currents of the ecumenical tradition are not fully knowable apart from the old "denominations," and the latter still do a reasonably good job of representing the former. You can still learn about St Thomas from Catholics, Luther from Lutherans, Calvin from the Reformed, etc. And although some are deluded about this, you still cannot learn about Calvin from Catholics, Luther from Calvinists, or St Thomas from Lutherans. Alas, you cannot learn about Richard Hooker or St Maximus from any of them, and in a global village that matters."

- But I have learnt about just of all of these (for free, thanks to the internet!!!) from Anglicans like Gerald Bray and Alistair McGrath and Baptists like Tim George and from Richard Reeves at Gordon-Conwell, and someone whose name I forget at Covenant St Louis. Good church historians are there for the finding in the evangelical world, you just need to know where to look.

Shawn Herles said...

I'm not sure if my last post made it to Peter, so...

To clarify, as Ron tends to radically over-state the reality, I have been Evangelical for over twenty years now, and in the Vineyard church for 15 years.

I had a brief flirtation with Roman Catholicism in the mid 1980's, and I have one foot, so to speak, in the Anglican Church solely because I am married to an Anglican Minister.

I don't think the reality of my theological and church history amounts to being a "spiritual gypsy".

And of course none of this is relevant to the issues actually being discussed.

Shawn Herles said...

Apologies for the double posting...things got...confusing.

Brian, what on earth were or are the "Press Button B's"???

Brian Kelly said...

Presbyterians. In old payphones in NZ you had to 'Press Button A' to connect, 'Press Button B' to get your money back if the call didn't connect - or if you didn't want to pay for a quick shouted message (e.g. 'I've arrived') before you were cut off automatically. Of course, the suggestion that we Scots don't like paying for anything is racist slander. Now have I mentioned free internet resources?

Shawn Herles said...

Bowman said:

"the reason that they are not is exclusively due to something he calls "liberalism.""

Like this for example...

'Episcopal Church Celebrates Epiphany With Muslim Song'

"One Episcopal church in Scotland celebrated Epiphany this year by letting a Muslim sing a song — which denied the very basis of the Christian holiday. In fact, the song, taken from Surah 19 of the Quran, explicitly rejected a doctrine fundamental to the Christian faith.

On Epiphany Sunday, January 8, 2017, Muslim singer Madinah Javed sang a portion of Surah 19 — including a section which flatly states that Jesus is not the Son of God — during a Eucharistic service at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow."

https://pjmedia.com/faith/2017/01/12/episcopal-church-celebrates-epiphany-with-muslim-song/

That is Liberalism, and that is a perfect example of how Liberalism is gutting the older mainstream denominations of the Gospel.

Brian Kelly said...

Shawn: I'm afraid this is Kevin Holdsworth all over. To judge form his blog - and his complete inability to sustain an argument with an opponent - he seems to make up the content of the Christian faith as he goes along, jettisoning the parts he doesn't like.
His grasp of theology, not to mention Christian liturgy, is very weak.
As things are, the Scottish Episcopal Church has a tiny following and getting smaller.

Anonymous said...

Shawn, I am not uninterested in your intended reply to my argument of January 14, but I cannot reconstruct it from your comment of January 15. The posited web of causal relations connecting the irregular practice of St Mary's, Glasgow and, say, the decisions of the millions of people whose grandparents attended *mainline* churches in the US is not explicit enough to think about.

By "mainline" I mean the denominations of the old "Protestant Establishment" in US society, just as by "mainstream" I would mean, not just those denominations, but also the Roman Catholic Church, the larger Orthodox jurisdictions, and probably the Mormons. At least in the US, both terms classify churches by their relation to our society at a particular time.

Brian, reading about the history of other Protestant traditions through the lens of one's own is not acquiring the understanding that practitioners of those traditions have and use in their own communities. This is especially true where one's own tradition has defined itself in opposition to the tradition of interest. For example, Father Ron is less helpful as a guide to evangelical faith and practice than Peter. So whatever we call them, we cannot have a continuing witness to the distinctive insights of Luther, Calvin, Wesley, etc. without continuing communities of practice.

Bowman Walton

Shawn Herles said...

Bowman,

" but I cannot reconstruct it from your comment of January 15."

I have no idea what that means.

"The posited web of causal relations connecting the irregular practice of St Mary's, Glasgow and, say, the decisions of the millions of people whose grandparents attended *mainline* churches in the US is not explicit enough to think about."

I have no idea what that means either.

But the trajectory of mainline Protestant denominations towards an explicitly Liberal theology has been well documented and is observable enough to both think and talk about.

Shawn Herles said...

"reading about the history of other Protestant traditions through the lens of one's own is not acquiring the understanding that practitioners of those traditions have and use in their own communities."

It might, it might not. It depends on how well the person writing has done their homework. I don't think that can be elevated to an absolute rule the way you have. I get the distinct whiff of post-modernism in much of what you say, and this is a good example.

"This is especially true where one's own tradition has defined itself in opposition to the tradition of interest."

It may be less true, if the critique of the other tradition is accurate. Ron's critiques of evangelicalism are more often then not inaccurate. It does not follow that all critiques from outside evangelicalism are.

Post-modernism posits that there is no over-arching Truth by which all truth claims can be evaluated. That we cannot understand any community other than our own because we have not had the lived experience that people within that community have had. Down that road lies the plague of multiculturalism.

Despite the name, Protestantism is not merely reaction. It is also a positive statement, a claim of Truth.

I believe that the five Sola's are an accurate distillation of Biblical truth, truth with a capital 'T'. On that basis I understand and believe that prayers to Mary and the saints are contrary to Biblical teaching, and thus on that basis I can critique the practice in both Roman Catholic and Eastern orthodox churches. That I may not have has the lived experience of practitioners within those traditions is irrelevant. Where God's revelation in Scripture is concerned, something is either true or not true. Truth is determined by God, and given to us in Scripture. Multiple "truths" determined by diverse human communities, or diverse faith communities, do not determine God's truth. That is putting the cart before the horse.

Bryden Black said...

I sense Shawn you are perhaps rather missing the point - or at least, one of the points Bowman is trying to make.

The hermeneutics of a Richard Hooker are not quite the same as that of the Puritans. Otherwise I suspect there would not have been quite so much fuel for the English Civil War. And yet both would I also suspect say they were seeking the Truth.

So; it’s not a case frankly of postmodernism. Rather, it’s a case of due humility, an acknowledgment that we humans are all always “situated”. Au contraire; it’s only the hubris of an Enlightenment Project’s Modern Universalism that would try to say otherwise ...

Francis Schaeffer put it nicely when he distinguished between true Truth and exhaustive Truth. Only God knows the latter; while those of us who seek after His Truth, by means of the Scripture’s written Truth, always seek the former, for this side of the parousia, like everything else, we know only that Truth in faith not by sight. Now; such a faith based hermeneutic is not to be contrasted with knowledge (back to the Enlightenment’s Modernistic heresy). Such people as Polanyi and TF Torrance, AE McGrath and John Webster all know that ANY human knowledge necessarily employs a faith dimension. Consequently, it’s a case of faith, hope and love, embodied in those communities who seek to practice certain forms of Truth.

And finally, on the basis of that last sentence, please don’t merely lump me into a supposed “postmodern” camp simpliciter! For what else are we dealing with when we have FOUR Gospels rather than only one. True; as I am fond of saying, we don’t have twenty four!! Multiculturalism’s pluralism is a false ideology. Yet the likes of Richard Bauckham and Francis Watson’s work is surely right: their careful detailing of the particularity of the four amongst the coherence of the single whole as testimony to the Truth of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the best summary I have encountered. And we’d all be wiser if we were to sit humbly at their feet ...

Shawn Herles said...

Bryden,

"I sense Shawn you are perhaps rather missing the point"

Always a possibility!

Yes, I do understand what you are saying, and yes to due humility, however, with a caveat. The essence of the Reformation was a firm belief that Rome was well off track with regards to the Gospel, and to Christian/Church praxis. That required a view that the Gospel and Christian practice could be determined from Scripture. Not perfectly, and not with total clarity, but with enough clarity that a determination could be made that reform was a necessity. And surely that determination of Luther and Calvin required a view that was not solely situational, but assumed that a broader clarity, over and above our situated reality, could be found in the Word.

I am not sure if what Bowman and you are saying is the same, yet. But I am sure that, even with due humility, God has revealed Truth with enough clarity in Scripture that Truth can be found and known in His Word,again not with perfect clarity, but with enough, and that Semper Reformanda, based on the diligent study of Scripture is a possibility Which means that critiquing doctrines and practices, in all churches, is also a possibility, regardless of our individual situated being. Otherwise, an acknowledgement that we are all situated can too easily dissolve into postmodernism's denial that any Meta-Truth is possible. And that is as much a heresy as modernism.

Brian Kelly said...

"Brian, reading about the history of other Protestant traditions through the lens of one's own is not acquiring the understanding that practitioners of those traditions have and use in their own communities."
Oh, I dunno - that's a bit like saying only an Arabic speaking Muslim "understands" Islam - and as all we know, the world is full of vast numbers of (usually) Arabic speaking Muslims who "misunderstand" Islam, which is only "understood" by the New York Times. The best (most profound and most sympathetic) interpreter of Islam I ever met or read was (the Arabic speaking) Bishop Kenneth Cragg ... an Anglican of course. :) And my guide to understanding the early church and the differences between Latin and Greek thought has been Gerald Bray ... another Anglican. Maybe you underestimate the power of a good liberal education? And the ability of an 'outsider' to see things an 'insider' can't? Of course there are things we inhabitants of the Anglosphere won't easily see or readily understand (such as why the dispute between Lutherans and Calvinists was so fierce in 17th and 18th century Germany - but Britain was also at war internally 1642-53 over comparable matters).
"This is especially true where one's own tradition has defined itself in opposition to the tradition of interest. For example, Father Ron is less helpful as a guide to evangelical faith and practice than Peter."
What a beautifully English way of putting it! But I lack all tact and manners: I think Peter is likely a more helpful guide to Anglo-Catholic faith than dear Ron!
"So whatever we call them, we cannot have a continuing witness to the distinctive insights of Luther, Calvin, Wesley, etc. without continuing communities of practice."
What I said above about Islam. From what I know about neo-pagan-liberal Swedish Lutherans (for instance), I seriously doubt you would understand Martin Luther very well from them. The Uniting Church of Australia would be embarrassed to meet John Calvin today. And modern Methodists, at least in the US, are seriously divided by the incubus of liberal Protestantism. Isn't GWB a Methodist? And the once future President HRC? 'Continuing communities of practice' only make sense if they continue to practise what their "founders" taught.

Peter Carrell said...

No, not me, Brian!

Anonymous said...

"Liberalism is gutting the older mainstream denominations of the Gospel."

I took this to mean that something called "Liberalism" was reducing the participation, membership, and budgets of congregations that belong to "denominations of the Gospel." If "Liberalism" and "denominations of the Gospel" can be made clearer, if some mechanism of change can be specified, and if we have data on participation, membership, and budgets, then this is a claim of cause and effect open to evidence-supported discussion. Such a discussion could be worthwhile if it illumined the social forces causing nearly all large denominations, even the conservative evangelical Southern Baptist Convention, to slow or negative rates of growth. I care about that and I think other readers do too.

But no--

"...the trajectory of mainline Protestant denominations towards an explicitly Liberal theology..."

So what was actually meant was something like--

*Liberalism* is making the older *denominations of the Gospel* more explicitly *Liberal*.

"...has been well documented and is observable enough to both think and talk about."

Yes, with similar clarifications, one could have a somewhat impressionistic discussion of that. But such a discussion would be much less valuable to me and I suspect to other readers.

Bowman Walton


Shawn Herles said...

"that something called "Liberalism""

I am assuming you have heard of Friedrich Schleiermacher, John Shelby Spong, Loyd Geering, Don Cupitt, Katharine Jefferts Schori, among many others?

'Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving.'

"A Canadian study found that conservative churches are still growing, while less orthodox congregations dwindle away.

Mainline Protestant churches are in trouble: A 2015 report by the Pew Research Center found that these congregations, once a mainstay of American religion, are now shrinking by about 1 million members annually. Fewer members not only means fewer souls saved, a frightening thought for some clergy members, but also less income for churches, further ensuring their decline.

Faced with this troubling development, clergy members have made various efforts to revive church attendance. It was almost 20 years ago that John Shelby Spong, a U.S. bishop in the Episcopalian Church, published his book “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” It was presented as an antidote to the crisis of decline in mainline churches. Spong, a theological liberal, said congregations would grow if they abandoned their literal interpretation of the Bible and transformed along with changing times.

But the liberal turn in mainline churches doesn’t appear to have solved their problem of decline.

Over the last five years, my colleagues and I conducted a study of 22 mainline congregations in the province of Ontario. We compared those in the sample that were growing mainline congregations to those that were declining. After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline. The results were published this month in the peer-reviewed journal, Review of Religious Research."

https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/01/04/liberal-churches-are-dying-but-conservative-churches-are-thriving/?utm_term=.6647d32fcd87

'The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity'

https://www.amazon.com/Empty-Church-Suicide-Liberal-Christianity/dp/0684828111