Tuesday, May 24, 2011

How does tradition really work for Anglicans?

Observable on this and other sites are comments critical of 'sola scriptura' Anglicans (i.e. Anglicans who decided things solely on the basis of Scripture) and affirmative of 'tradition' (i.e. a number of things are important to Anglicans because they are part of the tradition of the universal church, or part of tradition of the Church of England, or of our own local church).

But how does 'tradition' work out for us? I read comments here which (in my own words) invoke 'tradition' as a kind of general authority: it's tradition so that settles it. In a way such invocation is very similar if not exactly the same as invoking Scripture as an authority: it's Scripture so that settles it.

But some commenters invoking tradition also espouse Anglicans making changes (e.g. in respect of blessing same sex relationships). One Anglican 'move' behind such espousal can be invoking yet another authority, 'reason' as in (again, my words characterizing the situation) 'Reason now tells us that Scripture and tradition are wrong on such and such a matter.'

Somewhere in here I think Anglicans are entitled to check in as to whether or not we are confused. How do we know (or 'know') that on matter X we can say 'X is right, tradition teaches it' but on matter Y we can say 'Y is right, reason tells us so (P.S. Scripture and tradition are wrong on this one)'?

Should baptism come before communion or is that an optional sequence?

The tradition is quite clear. For example in the Didache we read,

'5. But let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptised in the Lord's Name. For concerning this also did the Lord say, "Give not that which is holy to the dogs." '

(There is also a strong Scriptural case for baptism then communion, though not one simple text to cite).

Andrew Reid a commenter here has pointed us to this George Conger article which highlights a member church of the Communion seeming somewhat ambiguous re sticking to the tradition and enforcing its own canons (canons, let us remember that are enforced stringently in respect of property and related issues re dissidents).

How does tradition really work for Anglicans? When may we invoke it to settle an issue, when may we set it aside to make progress on another issue?

On a very positive note I welcome our Dean here in Christchurch, Peter Beck, standing firm on tradition: our Cathedral is the Anglicans' Cathedral and not about to become a multi-faith centre.


Jon said...

I have to admit this is one where I have gone back and forth. I should say that I came to faith and the Episcopal church through a parish that practiced CWOB, but I also went through a very thorough catechumenate for 9 months prior to baptism.
For those who support this, the question is whether the eucharist is primarily linked to the Last Supper (the reference in the eucharistic prayer, btw) or to the other feedings and meals where Jesus ate with all comers - sinners, etc.
As you note, scripture itself is not exactly clear cut, though the weight of tradition certainly comes down on the side of baptism first and then communion. That said the issue would seem to be hinging on the origin of the tradition - has the Reason behind it changed or not. Those in favor would say yes - it is a change based on a significant cultural change in the past 2000 years and the church's need to be welcoming outweighs the earlier need to be careful about who get sin because they might betray you to the Roman authorities.
I think also, that those in favor would cite a general trajectory of the scriptural witness towards the lowering of barriers and the godliness of inclusion.
For me, I'm not sure that lowering barriers to entry necessarily makes people more likely to commit, rather by devaluing baptism perhaps we drive away more people because of not appearing to "stand for" anything.


Andrew Reid said...

Hi Peter,
Thanks for posting this and for your clarification on the Palestinian issue. My apologies for misunderstanding your position and jumping to conclusions. I had read that many unbalanced posts on this issue (including the Cranmer one you linked to), I couldn't keep silent any longer.

I think the way forward here is to see reason and tradition as tools for interpreting the primary authority, Scripture. For example, the three-fold order is how the early church Fathers interpreted the Scriptures in terms of ordering church leadership. It is only Scripture that "settles" issues, but reason and tradition help us in the task of interpretation. Article 34 is quite helpful here also in explaining the role of tradition (reason doesn't get a guernsey in the Articles!), saying that God's word is the primary authority, but we should hold to church traditions where they are not "repugnant" to God's word. Reason helps us in the task of responding particularly to new issues never before encountered in the time of the Scriptures or the church, e.g. biomedical ethics, nuclear weapons.

Applying this to the case of baptism before communion, you would look at the NT, which everywhere assumes that participants in the Lord's Supper are already members of the church community and have been baptised. Because it isn't crystal clear, you then look at church tradition, which has held since the earliest times that those wishing to participate in the Lord's Supper must be baptised first. Turning to reason, you then ask is it reasonable to admit someone to communion before being baptised? The TEC group here makes the argument that we want to welcome everyone, not just the baptised. Even if this were a strong argument, the evidence from Scripture and tradition is against it. There is no strong Scriptural argument to support it, nor any new development that compels a change from the practice of the church.

Just a quick point on canons. It's no point having canons if you pick and choose which ones to enforce. TEC has enthusiastically enforced its property and disciplinary canons. It is inconsistent to then turn a blind eye to the liturgical canons.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Pilgrim and Andrew.

When you put it like you do, Andrew, re BTC (baptism then communion), then the situation is remarkably clear.

TEC on the enforcement of its canons may be as inconsistent as fundamentalists obeying every verse of Scripture :)

Kurt said...

While I generally support the position that baptism should precede Eucharistic fellowship, I think that one has to allow the priest some pastoral leeway. Hard and fast rules don’t always help a seeker along in his or her path to spiritual enlightenment. Certainly if an unbaptized person presents him/herself at the altar rail for Holy Communion again and again, the Rector should have a “heart-to-heart” talk, invite the individual to seriously consider baptism, confirmation, etc., and explain what becoming a member of the Church means.

As to traditions, I have explained before that the American Episcopal ethos historically is a combination of Low Church Latitudinarianism and High Church Catholicism. Evangelicalism has always been much less influential here than the first two traditions.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY
Where it’s a spring-like 82F (27.7C)

James said...

I particularly like Kurt and Pilgrim's thoughts here about CWOB.

This makes me think: it's really the Evangelicals of a particular stripe, especially the new "Megachurch" tradition, who sort of emerging as a tradition of their own - who have excelled in making people "feel comfortable" at services. Some even have their primary "teaching" services on days of the week other than Sunday, so Sunday can maximize the "welcoming" effect.

I'd argue that Christians who value liturgical worship need to take a significantly different tack. That worship services aren't primarily for welcoming and lowering barriers, and most certainly not for evangelism - that liturgical churches need to explore alternative avenues for evangelism. I'd suggest for this: discussions (especially of Scripture) which are able to get into depth amongst laypeople - but without resorting to technical language that's not explained on the spot. This is a great way to show Christians mutually teaching one another as inspired by the Holy Spirit - if done properly.

Part of liturgical services is the mystery that we keep saying the same words again and again ... the con-temporality of Christ's presence ages ago, and today, embodied in words which are eternally true ... but can be, in some sense, difficult to grasp, especially when we continue to utter these self-same phrases. This is something which some evangelicals avoid like the plague, fearing "idolatry" and other things - but then rather unreflective when encountered with the thought that Scripture itself is such a text which we abide in, just as our spiritual forefathers abided in it ages ago.

So some words of "initiation" can be appropriate - "You probably won't understand all of it, nor need you - but you can always ask questions afterwards - don't feel bad if you don't follow everything, or stand at the wrong time."

One of the very appealing things about liturgy is this mystery of con-temporality in our understanding of how the body of Christ "works" together. I would suggest that in some sense, the eucharist is the very pinnacle of the celebration of this con-temporality (amongst celebrating other, more important things, of course, con-temporality simply being one aspect).

So I hope that it would make sense to newcomers: "There are some ways we do things; we don't slap peoples backs or clap or chitchat like other, more 'open-American' style churches - what we do, is guided by Christ's presence and teaching; and we see this sanctuary as set aside for people to pray and worship. We can engage in other important, edifying behavior like conversation elsewhere."

For persons who want to visit a Sunday service, but feel that to be included they need to do everything everyone else is doing - there's a good chance they'd simply "feel better" in a megachurch, where you can more easily talk to the person sitting next to you, clap when you like something, and engage in the other actions which have more directly to do with sentiment and feeling than what we tend to emphasize in liturgical churches.

Megachurches have their areas where they truly excel. We live in a beautifully diverse body of Christ; a lot of people will probably be better cared for in megachurches than amongst ourselves. And a lot of people will cringe at aspects of megachurches, where they will find refreshment with us.

We might also remember: the first "pioneers" of open communion (and not CWOB) - i.e., amongst different denominations - were the Evangelicals. In the early 20th century, some group of Evangelical Anglicans (I believe Episcopalians in the U.S.) shared eucharist with some Lutherans. Their bishop noted something like: "God was most certainly pleased ... but never again."

Brother David said...

How can scripture be the primary authority. There was certainly a time when the early church did not have the new canon at all, and later there were eras when different parts of the church had different parts of the new canon. It was later still before the church had anything similar to the new canon as it is compiled today and even today there is not full agreement on what constitutes the authoritative canon.

That history seems shaky ground for asserting that something is a primary authority. It would seem to me that tradition would certainly predate scripture as an authority.

James said...

Brother David,

I'd answer "yes and no." Yes: it's true the early church at Pentecost didn't have any of the books of the New Testament. But no: as God inspired the various authors to write, the church then had these texts. Yes, it did take a while to come to a consensus; however there's also quite a lot of evidence of a rather firmly established consensus regarding most of the books already.

I'd also say, because we believe in tradition, we believe in the primacy of Scripture. Tradition itself refers to Scripture in this way. Tradition itself is not canonized in the same way Scripture is, nor authoritative in the same way. We accept some things of Origin; others we don't; this has also been the way tradition has largely received Origin. We believe that Scripture is inspired in a unique way; we believe that Origin, was at times, inspired: but not in the same way as Scripture.

Tradition has helped us select Scripture. Though authors of the New Testament are humans, and certainly writing as a part of their culture, church fathers agree that they are inspired by Scriptures, rather than "making" Scripture by their own choice.

Does this help?

Anglicans believe - as we find in the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral - that Scripture is the "rule and ultimate standard of faith."

An authority which predates another one is not necessarily more authoritative. God spoke to Saul; but Saul is not thereby more authoritative than David.

I don't know of who you're referring to when you say that there is not full agreement on what constitutes the authoritative canon (unless you mean a few short pericopes).

Brother David said...

Does this help?

Not in the least. This is but your view of why scripture is authoritative. Mostly based on myth of how it came about and became the accepted canon.

Very little of your comment is historically accurate.

James, as a 4 year seminary graduate, with working knowledge of Hebrew, Greek and Latin, I am not ignorant of scripture; how it came about and of what it actually consists.