Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wrong, wrong, wrong but well meaning

Canon Paul Ostreicher, one of the most famous Anglican priests in the world to have been nurtured in New Zealand in his early life, writes in the Press this morning from his experiences at Coventry cathedral and visiting rebuilt churches in Dresden and Hiroshima. You too can rebuild, seems to be his message. Well meaning but wrong: Dresden and Hiroshima could rebuild in the reasonable belief that their buildings would never again have to withstand bombs being dropped on them. Christchurch can only rebuild on the basis that it is likely to have further earthquakes. Perhaps our cathedral can be rebuilt stone by stone to be stronger than a 6.3 or 7.1 earthquake. But will our people believe the engineers who tell them it is safe? I suggest that unless we can see with our own eyes the steel girders that will hold it together we will have our doubts. Perhaps some letter writers to the Press a few days ago are right: Coventry is a model. Leave the ruined cathedral as it is and build a new one alongside. (Except I notice that one was built from bricks. Bad idea here).

Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi writing in the Anglican Journal (ACCanada) argues for 'open communion' or welcoming to the Lord's Table those who are not baptised. You can tell his argument is going to go horribly wrong very early in his essay when he says this, "Anglicans traditionally have believed that the eucharist is a family meal, reserved for members of the church through baptism. Those who are not baptized are not members of the church; therefore, they cannot participate in the family meal. This exclusive view of the eucharist has a long history. St. Paul warns against eating and drinking in an “unworthy manner” (I Cor. 11:27), though he seems to leave the decision whether to partake in the meal to each person’s conscience (I Cor. 11:28)." First he defines the eucharist solely as a 'family meal' and overlooks other important aspects of its definition such as an act of remembrance of Jesus' death, an act of participation in the body and blood of Christ as a member of Christ's body, and an act of reception of Christ's body and blood through faith. These other aspects assume faith and participation in the body of Christ the church, the entry to which is through baptism not apart from baptism.

Secondly Nicolosi nails the 'exclusivist' approach as having a 'long history' and neatly bypasses Paul's theology of eucharist in 1 Corinthians as having the authority of Scripture and not of longevity. Continue in this vein it is unloving to not welcome the unbaptised to this meal and it is anti-missional to miss the opportunity for growing our churches by making access to the Lord's Table easier. But this thinking not only overlooks proper regard for Scripture as God's teaching for how we are to be church, but also respect for tradition (Nicolosi is saying that the church has been wrong on this for 2000 years), and the basic facts of history: the gospel has flourished both in apostolic times and since by preaching the gospel, baptizing people, and then sharing eucharist together. In post Christendom times we should take seriously pre Christendom missiology not invent our own to suit, irrespective of the teaching of Scripture, tradition and church history.

Nevertheless I get it that Nicolosi's argument is highly fashionable in a number of Anglican circles these days. It is well meaning to want to include and not exclude.

But the question we could ask as Anglicans who profess seriousness about our study of Scripture is whether the argument is right or wrong. Were all the meals of Jesus 'open'? The Last Supper was actually exclusive! Was Jesus the host at the meals which were open to outsiders sidling in? Mostly he was a guest at these meals. What about the feeding of the five thousand? That was an open table meal but it did not form the basis for the early church's practice of eucharist. The similarity of the Lord's words and actions at the feeding of the five thousand and at the Last Supper tell us that the same Lord encourages both hospitality to those seeking him and remembrance of his death by those believing in him. Following that same Lord the church has practiced and can today practice open table hospitality through feeding people (modern day examples would be meals as an integral part of the Alpha Course, providing meals for the poor, opening church cafes to all in local communities). But these open table meals need not and, theologically speaking, should not be confused with the eucharist as a participatory meal for the baptised, those who outwardly have confirmed their inward faith in Jesus Christ.

Our cathedral here in Christchurch has been an open church to all in various ways. our new or renewed cathedral will continue to be an open church, but it will be an Anglican cathedral and thus its worship will be ordered through Scripture, tradition and reason. Right now the 'reason' part is focused not on Nicolosi's argument but on Ostreicher's: what is the rational way forward to maintain our heritage and provide a safe place to worship. If we do not get the safety aspect right we may have a cathedral which is exclusively for the use of risk takers!


Brother David said...

On this topic of Eucharist, we are in perfect agreement.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, you are tackling some very different and important questions in this thread, which really need to be treated (to my mind) separately, and with due diligence.

1. yr ref: "You too can rebuild, seems to be his message. Well meaning but wrong" :

Canon Paul, is the cleric mainly concerned with what has come out of the re-building of Coventry Cathedral, and has some experience in the known after effects, on the citizens, of the new edifice. Many of us who were in Coventry at the time of the Blitz were, at first, horrified by what we saw as an act of vandalism - in the proposal to erect a new, modern building to replace the original St.Michael's Cathedral. However, when the idea of keeping a part of the ruined church, as part and parcel of the complex was explained, the significance of the juxta-position of the buildings became evident. I think a similar project could work in Christchurch

Was Canon Paul wrong in suggesting this might be a viable option here? I think not. We have to keep all options open. As to materials used in the new building? Are you suggesting that nowhere in New Zealand must we from henceforth ever utilise the lovely local stone readily available for new building - in the belief that nowhere is safe from future earth- quakes? That would be sad.

As for your second great theme - the disposition of the Eucharist - that deserves a whole thread all to itself, and I shall refrain from commenting on your comments here. Who knows? I might even do something on my own blog.

What worries me more about the subject of the Eucharist, is that there is at least one Anglican parish church in this city of Christchurch that does not even advertise any celebrations of the Eucharist on its web-site. Do they not take the opportunity to celebrate the one sacramental presence of Christ among them at the altar? Or is the preaching of the 'words in the Book' more important than the traditional Anglican Eucharistic celebration of the Word-made-flesh? Something to ponder here, surely

Peter Carrell said...

Excellent, David!

Ron, I am happy to have a ruined cathedral left as a memorial alongside a new, safe building a la Coventry (and do not disagree with Canon O in that respect), but the article also mentioned rebuilt churches in Dresden. That is a direction I am loath to go in.

To paraphrase our Lord: do not judge a church by its website! The church you refer to regularly celebrates eucharist, and on the occasion I was there to participate, the service was closely by the book!

Kurt said...

I agree with you and David on this issue. However, I’m not going to get upset about it if others feel differently. As far as I’m concerned, the Great Exhortation says it all:

“But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy
Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must
remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call
upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to
prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and
drinking of that Cup.

“For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living
faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if
we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body.
Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.”

If un-baptized individuals are willing to risk receiving the Blessed Sacrament, then it’s “no skin off my nose” as they saying here goes.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY
(Where I saw my first spring Robin!)

Father Ron Smith said...

I must say, I agree with Kurt here. On the first Sunday after the quake here in Christchurch, I attended an open-air Eucharist, at which the presiding priest invited *all present*, who wanted to, to received the Blessed Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood.

This was the sort of open invitation (I felt in that moment) that Jesus himself may have been pleased to give. Who knows what might not be accomplished - in the way of redemption - by that simple and yet profound 'inclusiveness' invitation that Christ offers to all - irrespective of race, religion, social standing, gender or sexual-orientation.

As Bishop Desmond Tutu has so poignantly reminded us in his frequent homilies; the sacrifice of Christ was offered for ALL.

Catechismic Formation can always follow the experience of Eucharist.
In Acts we are reminded that Jesus had followers who were not yet Baptized! They were then brought into the Family by Baptism - not against their will, but because they had tasted the redemption of Christ prior to their Formation and then 'wanted' the benefits.

And, as Kurt says (virtually) Jesus can take care of himself. What we need to do is be open to whatever way God offers to bring children into God's Kingdom.