2005-08-06

Will Nate ever go Catholic?

A friend of a friend named Matt (check his blog here) sent me an email after reading my blog the other day. In it, he asked me a rather blunt question, but one worth answering and sharing with y'all:

"Can I ask you a question? Have you ever considered becoming Catholic?"

Given all the stuff I write on this blog in favor of Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I felt I needed to answer this publicly and not just privately. Here it goes:

SHORT ANSWER: Yes. I have considered becoming Catholic with a big "C" (i.e. Roman Catholic). I already consider myself catholic with a small "c".

LONG ANSWER: We have all seen Church "family trees" in our Church history classes. Usually the denomination / sect / tradition that you are (and I say this for any denomination) in winds up being the middle of the chart, and all other forms of Christianity are seen as deviations to the right or left, if not fallen off entirely. This makes your particular denomination the "truest" expression of the Church, the norm to judge all others.

One of the things I like about Anglicanism is that I have yet to see a chart made by an Anglican in which we occupy the middle place. There is this constant attitude that the Anglican church, as it is right now, is a sort of "way station", a church en route to the reunification of all churches. As such, I know of few Anglicans who consider themselves to be part of the truest (or only) expression of the Church. Those folks are kind of treated as the lunatic fringe.

For me, the center trunk of the tree would be the Catholic-Orthodox Church up until 1054. Then they split, and there is no more center of the tree for me. The two biggest, and most central branches are Catholicism on one side, and Orthodoxy on the other side. Catholicism veers from center on issues of putting too much authority in the Pope and not enough on the worldwide brotherhood of bishops (although, I do believe that the Body of Christ should have a central "mouth", and the seat of Peter has as much claim to that as anyone... but a mouth never functions apart from a head or a neck or the rest of the body). I also think that in general there is an over-emphasis on Mary and the saints (which is more an issue of piety than doctrine for me). And there are a couple of other minor issues (clerical celibacy and others).

On the other side, Orthodoxy veers off center with a little too much in being enmeshed with both the civil governments and the cultures from which it comes out of. In most countries where Orthodoxy is prominent, it is (or has been) the State Church and has been heavily involved in power politics, and politicians have also played major roles in determining Church leadership. Also, Orthodoxy tends to be very heavily dependent on the native cultures it comes out of, and thus (a) resistant to changing things in the liturgy that are merely cultural, and (b) hesitant to be outreach oriented beyond its own culture and ethnicity.

With that said, I think the Orthodox and the Catholics have the best claim to being the inheritors of the Apostolic Church, and whatever doctrinal problems they have, I do not think them near as severe as any Protestant tradition's problems (my own Anglicans included). Which is closer to the "center of the tree" for me? Most days I say Orthodoxy, but other days I say Catholicism. It depends on my mood and what theological issues I am wrestling with. When those two branches finally combine back together, then I definitely see them as being the fullest expression of the Church.

So, why am I still Anglican? Because in the Anglican Church I can say what I just said and not be fired, or even told I am a "bad Anglican". I can be an orthodox, catholic Christian who accepts the doctrine, worship, and polity of the ancient ecumenical Church and its seven councils, and I can urge all sides of Christianity to re-unify. And yes, I stay Anglican because I do have this thing for women's ordination... but that is a second or third tier issue for me, and I would give that up if needed for the sake of unity.

I believe I will be an Anglican until either Catholicism and Orthodoxy re-unifies (which is improbable in the next half century, though we are closer), or until Anglicanism falls into heresy and I am pushed out because I can no longer function as an orthodox, catholic minister (which may be more of a possibility than I am willing to entertain right now).

All in all, if the Anglican Church takes a nose-dive, I could not go back to a Protestant Church. Not because I do not believe they are a Church. I do believe they are (and I believe you are). Yet, I do not believe they are nearly as close to the fullness of the Church. I mean, the lowest common denominator for being "Church" to me is baptism in (at least) Jesus' Name and living faith in Jesus. But does any of us want to live in the least common denominator? Do we want to live "Christianity Abridged"? I don't. I want the fullness of the Church. I have come to believe (and would love to discuss reasons why) that the fullness of Church involves everything Protestants and Charismatics have, plus (1) a sacramental and iconographic spirituality; (2) three-fold ministry of overseers, elders, and ministers (Bishops, Priests, and Deacons) in apostolic succession; (3) a worship liturgy in accordance with the early Church that emphasizes prayer, preaching, and the Eucharist; (4) grounding in the early and medieval Church fathers and mothers as resources for teaching, doctrine, and spirituality; and (5) adherence to the seven ecumenical councils as a doctrinal and hermeneutic basis for the interpretation of Scripture.

I can find these elements in Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Anglicanism, and some Lutheran churches (as well as some of the catholic and Anglican splinter groups in the states). Yet, from where I am at, I can only head toward something that is MORE rooted in Orthodoxy and Catholicism, not less. So, that is where I am at.

2005-08-03

And now for something completely different

To make proper sense out of this blog, it might be best to read my original post on “Where have all the good heresies gone?”, followed by my (admittedly vitriolic) reply to Krister’s comments on that blog, found at “Houston, we have a debate”.

I have got to hand it to Krister, he is humble and honest once you get past the rhetoric. He listened to me in one of my feistier moments and had the intestinal fortitude to reply with intellect and honesty. For that, I say that I see Christ in your reply and your attitude, even if I am not (yet) sure where He is in your theology. Thank you sir, and now I will respond in a much more sane manner.

I am sorry my reply was so harsh. But I did it for a purpose: there is a certain agenda of false tolerance in the theological outlook of Krister and many I have found in so-called “liberal” seminaries. This agenda has to be struck right between the eyes to make it realize how false, non-enlightened, and culturally determined it is. Sometimes soft words speak most loudly. Sometimes loud words do. Jesus used both. I felt like loud words were best on the last post, and if I was out of line, I am sorry. I will try to use softer words here.

But, before I do, here is Krister’s kind response to my not-so-kind response to him:

---FROM KRISTER---
Thanks for addressing my comments. It is clear that we are talking past one another. I never intended for my comments to draw so much heat. Perhaps I read your post wrong, and it is clear that you feel free to read into my comments things that are not there. I most certainly accept Christ's parables as having direct implications for my life as well as anyone elses. We could proof text all day long (believe me, Churches of Christ have gone down that road many times). I appreciate that we do not agree on these issues and in no way think that you are more or less of a person because of what you say on your blog.

My comments in regard to the poor, sick, etc. were rhetorical questions, not requests for proof that you are bearing fruit. As a nation with many churches, it seems that we have missed out on some of the simpler acts of faith including those that Christ talks about regarding the poor, etc. I used the word we to imply a collective question. The gap between the rich and the poor grows larger each day. Our prisons are full of people who will likely not receive the rehabilitative training/counseling that they will need to keep from ending up back in prison, and our nation continues to slash medical benefits and spending for those who can't afford healthcare. I think it's great that you do so much for these people, I wish I did more myself, but there are larger systemic issues that need to be addressed, as you have pointed out in your response.

I'm not sure where you got the idea that I was saying that doctrine wasn't important, perhaps the orthodoxy statement? I don't recall saying that specifically anywhere. What I will say is that I believe that Christ has made the call simple enough for all to follow and boils it down to love for God and love for neighbor as self. As much as I enjoy doctrine, philosophy, other theological matters, I honestly don't think we're going to get a quiz at the pearly gates to see if we can explain the significance of the economic trinity. I may be wrong. It's not an unfamiliar feeling.

As far as the white comment goes, I apologize. I am currently in the process of a class on the Black Church and the Civil Rights Struggle that has me truly re-evaluating the power structures in our society. Through my action and inaction I find that I am complicit in many of the ills of society.

I'm sorry that what I said caused you to become so very defensive and quite upset.

However, I find it somewhat disheartening that you would "call me out" by devoting an entire post that basically puts me on trial sentence by sentence, as if you have found the next great heresy. I would not attempt to slander another individual in this manner. If winning is what you are after, I give up, you win.
---END KRISTER---

My first thought is that nobody “wins” until we all find ourselves living in the Kingdom of God filled with the abundant life of God through Jesus Christ in the power of His Spirit. However misguided my words and actions may get, this is the ultimate goal that I strive for. And, in all honesty, I think this is Krister’s ultimate goal as well. And, to be honest, here is the most “liberal” belief I hold: I believe that God will reconcile everything and everyone in Heaven, on Earth, and under the Earth to Himself through Jesus Christ our Lord. I am in no way trying to kick people out of God’s Kingdom, because I believe that God will really get to all of them eventually and bring them to the knowledge of the Truth that is in Jesus Christ our Lord. I view myself as a sign holder, pointing the true way to that Kingdom. People may reject the sign I hold up. They may reject hundreds, thousands, of signs that others hold up. But eventually they will get so lost that they will try the sign and find the fulfillment of everything they ever hoped for in and through the Jesus Christ of Scripture. It is a bold statement, but I believe, along with the ancient Greek Church Fathers, in the ultimate reconciliation of all things through Jesus Christ. I want that to happen for everyone and believe that it will happen for everyone (I know, this probably opens me up for a huge debate with folks who hold polar opposite views to Krister, but we will handle that later).

Anyway, the main problem I have with Krister’s theology (as I understand him so far, and I am willing to be corrected here) is that it seriously misdirects us away from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. It hinders us finding true signs to the real Kingdom. It puts people on the road longer, and does not shorten the trip for them. I hate the terms “liberal” and “conservative” because they have been stretched so far out that they are darn near meaningless at this point in history, but I take Krister to be coming from a more “liberal” type of theology that denies the uniqueness of Christ as the God-man, and denies the authority of Scripture in theological method. Let me use a term I like better at this point: Revisionist. Krister seems to come from a theological method (again, I am willing to be corrected here, so speak up) that is revisionist, which alters the DNA of what it means to be Christian so that it becomes a truly different organism than it was in the first century, or during the age of the Ecumenical Councils. It is not a natural growth of doctrine and practice, such as the Oak Tree that grows from an Acorn, but it is a different tree altogether, calling itself an Oak.

Again, I do believe that whatever theological foibles Krister has, or I have, or you who are reading this has, Christ will work out at the end. I just want to make that path to Christ as straight and clear as I can, and I believe that revisionist “Christian” theology actually points away from the truth in many ways.

HOWEVER, and this is a big however, I will hand it to some of my more revisionist friends: typically the “liberal” Churches have done a much better job of working for social justice and relieving poverty and discrimination, especially in the 20th century. It is probably not good to paint with such a large brush, but sadly it seems like many of the Churches that did the best job of staying doctrinally orthodox did the worst job of being orthoprax in their actions in the 20th century. If I can do anything about that, it will change this century.

I share Krister’s dislike for proof texting in general, and I would like to point out that even as angry as I was in my post, I did not beat him down with proof texts from Scripture. Proof texting is a usually poor way to use Scripture (unless, of course the text was written to be used as a one-liner proof text or guide, such as the Ten Commandments). But 95% of the time, Scripture is supposed to be used as a contextual document, read as a whole, taken as a whole, without slicing the text up into random pieces. I would also like to note that both “fundamentalists” and “liberals” proof text. What is the “Jesus Seminar” doing with picking apart the Gospels by color coding if not “proof texting”? What about Wellhausen era literary criticism that turned much of the Old Testament into a jumble of conflicting proof texts from the “Yahwist”, “Elohist”, “Priestly”, and “Deuteronomic” sources. There are now many schools of both post-liberal and post-conservative textual criticism that treats the text holistically and honestly, not just picking it apart to get what you want out of it. At my theological school I would point out professor Roy Heller (and his education at Yale) as a great example of such an approach to Scripture.

Krister pays me a compliment by saying that it is “great that you do so much for these people”. I thank you, but in all honesty, I don’t feel like I do enough. For instance, I take my youth to go serve the needy once a month on a Sunday, and then have a yearly mission trip. Is that really enough? I do nothing to address larger systemic socio-economic issues, except preaching on not buying into western consumerism and living simply. Shouldn’t I be writing letter to political officials? How about researching what I buy and refusing to buy from folks who are involved in economically or environmentally unjust practices? Heck, I am sitting here writing a blog right now, not feeding the homeless. I don’t do as much as I should. None of us does. Thank God for His grace shed upon us through the atonement of Christ, to forgive us for those things “done and left undone”.

Krister said that the Gospel call is ultimately simple and boils down to “love for God and love for neighbor as self”. Yes, I totally agree with this and have been known to preach this on several occasions. When I get a new Bible, the very first Scripture I underline is this one in Matthew 22:37-40 (Ok, I promise, no more proof texts). Yet, I think there are some important differences in how we would unpack this very simple truth. For instance, for the words to be meaningful and be able to be acted upon, we must define as well as we can what we mean by “love”, “God”, “neighbor”, and “self”. There is also the added epistemic issue of this: Why is this text so important? Why is the command -echoed several places in Scripture, but focused primarily in the text quoted above- why is this command so authoritative? Why listen to it? Why care what some guy says as recorded in some old book? These are very, very important foundational questions. If they are not answered, then the whole importance of loving God and loving neighbor dissolves into personal sentiment, and then a Nietzsche (my favorite non-Christian philosopher because he is so honest) can walk in and declare God to be dead and that the most important thing in the world is not Love, but the will-to-power of the Ubermensche.

Krister also makes a comment about not being quizzed on the economic Trinity at the pearly gates. Amen. I agree that we will not. But the reality of the Trinity provides the metaphysical and epistemic underpinnings upon which we may truly value Love, Community, Unity, and Diversity. Read professor Bruce Marshall’s book “Trinity and Truth” on this. If the basis of all reality is an eternal community –Persons eternally in committed love with one another, eternally sharing in the fullness of one another, eternally interpenetrating each other and sharing in what we call masculinity and femininity, eternally overflowing with a personal love that creates other persons to love- if this is the Source of all reality, then Love really IS what it is all about! And then Jesus IS this Love incarnate! We become what we worship. We transform into that which we love. If we worship and love THIS God, THIS Trinity, then we become as He is: Love. But what happens if we worship ourselves? Our own tastes? Or if we worship an Impersonal “Ground of Being”? Or a despotic God? Or a God who hides behind masks in a metaphysical realm of nouomena that we can never experience? I am not saying we can circumscribe God or put Him in a box. Even with my above description there is much more left to know, much more left to debate.

I am saying that God’s self revelation in History (and particularly through Scripture) either points to who He really is, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, God is first of all not truthful, and second of all we are left to our own feelings to grope and feel for Him. My feelings get me in trouble on too many mundane things to trust them to tell me what Ultimate Reality is. If God’s self revelation does point to who He really is, then the economic Trinity (our experience of Father, Son, and Spirit in History and salvation) actually does point to an Immanent Trinity (God as He is in Himself apart from our experience). And if an Immanent Trinity is the Source of all reality, then it really IS all about Love. But this comes at a cost to our independence: If we submit to God’s Word in telling us who God is, then we must also submit to God’s Word- struggle with it, wrestle with it’s meaning without side stepping it- to show us how to live in God’s Love.

Again, we are back to the core issues of my blog “Where have all the good heresies gone?”.

I am willing and eager to discuss, debate, and revisit ANY moral or ethical issue- homosexuality included- in light of God's revelation of Himself through Christ in Scripture. This is a Christian-to-Christian discussion. I am also eager to discuss issues of epistemology, metaphysics, and whether Revelation from God is possible, and if so, how do we determine what constitutes revelation. This, however, I would usually consider a Christian-to-non-Christian discussion. Yet, it is hard, if not impossible, to come to an understanding on ethical issues when arguing from different metaphysical and epistemological foundations.

I want to thank Krister for the apology about the white comment. The big thing about Krister’s response that just took me over the edge was the racial comment and the “intolerant tolerance” of his approach. I do not deny that culture and socio-economic status affects theology, and I am sensitive to the insights of Liberation theology on this (in the vein of Gutierrez). But, to be honest, between social work, ministry, and seminary, I have gotten beaten up over the race issue. Not only have I atoned for my sins in this area, but I have come to see that pulling the “race card” (all in the name of being open minded) actually destroys real dialogue. It does not open up dialogue.

I also apologize to Krister if he felt I was trying to slander Him. I was not. I was just pissed off over the race comment and “closed-open-mindedness” of his approach. I look at things line by line because I believe words matter. Words start wars. Words heal souls. Words are powerful. Maybe that is why the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. I think Krister’s words are important, otherwise I would not comment on them. And, no, I do not believe I have found “the next great heresy”. I feel I have exposed an age old heresy: the heresy that our words matter more than God’s Word. The heresy that we get to tell God who He is. The heresy that we can develop a theological method which allows us to pick our God from a buffet of attributes.

I will end with this: Krister laments that I spent the whole last post on him (he may lament that I did the same here). But, the last post is not about Krister. It is about truth-claims, worldviews, and things that need to be said about things people are thinking about. These things need to be talked about. Krister just happens to be the person who embodies these beliefs in my life right now. By all accounts, and especially by the last post I got from Krister, he seems to be intelligent, honest, sincere, and the embodiment of dozens (hundreds?) of other Christian virtues. What is perhaps most tragic about my last post is that I do not know Krister personally. I would probably like him a lot, and enjoy talking with him over coffee. But, I blasted him and his ideas before getting to know him. That is unfair, even if His ideas are dead wrong (and again, I am willing to be corrected here).

So, I finish with an apology. You got the blindsided by my sarcasm and rebuke in the last reply. Thank you for your kind reply.

2005-08-02

Houston, we have debate!

Y'know, if you want no one to care what you write, write it very carefully, nuanced, so that it does not offend anyone. If, however, you want to get a lively discussion going, make outrageous statements that are just on the cusp of being undefendable! A theo-blogger named Krister (check his blog out here) just got kind of ticked off at my blog on the current homosexual crisis in the Anglican Church and wrote this:

--- FROM KRISTER ---

"When God becomes meaningless, the only thing that remains meaningful is how you feel. And the strongest feelings always come from between one's legs. So it is kind of a logical conclusion that when a Church body largely rejects Christ and Scripture, the only really meaningful thing left to debate is what we do with our genitals."

is this really your argument? life is surely much more complex than dividing the world into the binary, dualistic structure that you posit in your entry. Having been to a couple different seminaries (Princeton Theological Seminary and Brite Divinity School), the implication that there are professors who are out there to undermine the community of faith is without merit. These people, by and large, are not there to gain the accolades of men and women. They exist for the sake of the students whom they are equipping for Christian service.

Additionally, when you say that the church now has a "minority voice" that is truly Christian while the other voice (there is the other half of the camp that you argue for, since we can't have more than two groupings) is apostatic, it seems that you have bought into the interesting concept of remnant theology of the 21st century in which those who are truly in the majority (being a white, middle class male) adopt the theological position of the minority and play the victim.

With all of the great heresies that you mention and their solutions, what good has come of the this wonderful Christian community of yore of which you longingly speak?

Do we stand up for the poor, visit the imprisoned, care for the sick? Or do we sit around and complain about the state of our denomination or religion or society or relationships or ...? My guess is that in your attempt to demand that professors and bishops pass a test of orthodoxy you are trying to rid the world (er, church) of those who think differently than you on whatever the topic may be. If it were not for people who had the courage to stand up to the same old way of interpreting scripture, the reformation would have never happened. In like manner, the restoration would never have taken place. Women would not be allowed to minister. Blacks would still be enslaved. The church is always in the process of reforming.

Christ's call for unity is not a call for uniformity. It is a call to appreciate the diversity inherent in the body of Christ. Christ himself explained that the wheat and the chaff shall grow together until the day that God determines to separate the two. The decision rests with God, not on humans.

The call to the Christian ministry is call to kenosis, the call to emptying oneself for the sake of others. This requires humility, a posture to see others as incarnations of the Christ. The decision of who is or is not a Christian is ultimately not up to men and women but to God who will judge justly when the time comes.

--- END KRISTER ---

So, here we go for the reply.

Part I: First, I will start out with positive, constructive statements about how I deal with some of the issues Krister raises.

1. Regarding how I understand the use of Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason, refer to the following blog.

2. Regarding how I understand the "theology of culture" (i.e. how the Church should interact with the surrounding world), read the following blog.

3. Regarding how I understand the reform of the Church's tradition in the light of new questions asked by culture, refer to the following blog about why I AFFIRM ordination of women to ALL levels of ministry. The concept I use is what Brian McLaren refers to in "Generous Orthodoxy" as "emergence" (Read his chapter on "Why I am an emergent Christian", which I agree with substantially). It is very similar to Cardinal John Henry Neuman's concept of how the Tradition and Practice of the Church grows organically over time as an Oak Tree grows and emerges from an acorn. He is careful, however to differentiate between that growth which is healthy and natural and emergent, and that growth which is malignant and diseased and must be cut out.

Here is my blog on affirming women's ordination which touches on these issues, especially and including slavery and women's rights:

4. Finally, if you want to get a fuller understanding about how I view homosexuality in light of Scripture, and in light of other more important issues facing the Church (such as social justice, integrity, and ministering to the needy), then you might want to look at the following blogs:
Blog 1
Blog 2

Part II: Now that I have been all constructive and laid out my basic method (if you have bothered to read it), it is time to critique the post that Krister gave me:

1. Krister chides me for using a simplistic worldview that he terms "binary" and "dualistic". He then goes on and tells me the source of his authority for saying this: he has been to schools which include both "theological" and "divinity" in their titles. How can a simple ol' southern boy like me hope to compete with that type of learnin'?

Apparently, these schools are too enlightened to believe that reality has any dualistic elements. I am sure that if Krister did not pay his tuition, they would not be dualistic and say "you cannot attend here, because you either paid or didn't". I am sure that if Krister failed to turn in his work for his professors, they would not be so simple minded as to fail him because he either did his work or did not. I am sure that if Krister's spouse committed adultery it would be completely fine with him, because the marriage covenant is not about black and white dualisms of faithful versus unfaithful. Then again, maybe there are dualisms after all...

I am not saying that everything is black and white (I have painted too much to do that), but I am saying that everything isn't grey. There are boundaries and limits to social structures, belief systems, moral choices, and even cellular structures. If you think that clear boundaries are not important, think about how your cells would function with no permeable boundaries, how chess would function with no rules, or how a counseling session with a therapist would go if there were not clearly defined boundaries.

Krister, in fleeing from the heresy that everything is dualistic, do yourself the favor of not falling into the equally damnable heresy that nothing is dualistic. It is a bit simplistic and polly-anna-ish to think that our reality is permeated with dualisms in every area of life (some pretty basic ones are that X cannot be non-X; you are either pregnant or not; either dead or alive), and then to think that this dualism somehow does not apply to ultimate reality in at least some ways.

When the boundaries of our cells become too hardened, the cell dies because food can no longer pass over the boundary. Theology that is moribund in dualisms and over-systemization likewise starves those who believe it. I will grant that. But also, when the boundaries of a cell completely dissolves, it dies and becomes a lump of mush. Likewise, theology that does not have clear boundaries dissolves into a tasteless milktoast pabulum that brings life to no one, but rather hides the true reality of God from us.

2. This brings me to the issue of authority and whether or not we are willing to hear, and obey, the word "NO". It is the issue of whether or not we will be bold enough to discern between truth and falsehood, love and hate, and then have the courage to choose truth and love. To know the truth and not tell others for fear of hurting their feelings is not love. It is hate, just as surely as knowing a bus is coming and not telling someone to get out of the way.

I will say this: I can honestly admit that if someone were to show me how monogamous, lifetime covenants between practicing homosexuals is the best, most honest way to understand Scripture and the consensual Tradition of the Church, then I would affirm it. I myself have sought this in the past. I have read the best books I could find from both sides on the subject. I have talked with good friends who are homosexuals about it (yep, I do have good friends who are gay, and an uncle too!). I have also read countless websites and articles on homosexuality, medicine, psychology, sociology, and Scripture. I have translated the relevant texts from Scripture, exegeted them, and looked at the best commentaries I can find on the subject. I have wanted, honestly wanted, to affirm that the Church could have the power to bless homosexual unions. It would make life easier on many people I know if that were the case. But, I cannot. God, as I have sought Him in prayer, Scripture, Tradition, experience, and reason, has said "No" to me on this matter. He has said "Yes" to me on the issue of women's ordination (see above). But I have come to the firm conclusion that the Church has no power to bless or sanctify sexual relationships outside of marriage between a man and women. Neither do they have the power to ordain those who practice such relationships openly.

I will admit, that if God showed it to me through Scripture and Tradition that this were not the case, I would follow that. But, can you say the same? If the evidence were overwhelming that homosexual activity is intrinsically disordered, a-typical, and sinful, would you be able to stomach that and live by it? If you would not, then the debate needs to end here, because you hold a position that is absolute, un-correctable, and (may I say it) closed-minded.

3. You talk about the nobility of your professors who have made it their life's work to "equip people for Christian service". I have no doubt they have given their lives to equip people for service. Noble aspiration at that. But is it CHRISTIAN service? How do you define Christian? Does that definition root itself in the etymological source of the word, so that it is someone who is a Christ-follower, or more literally, a "little Christ"? Or is it some feel-good definition of "someone who does nice things to help people"? Does Christian for you have a denotative, objective meaning by which we may judge whether someone is actually Christian, and choose whether or not they are truly part of the Christian community? Or, does Christian merely have a connotative, subjective meaning, that means "people who do stuff I like and value"?

If you have no objective criteria behind the word Christian, then it is a term empty of any value we can actually discuss, and it is just as good as saying that your professors equip people for Flubnarbian service (Flubnarbian, of course, refers to someone who flubnars, or does what I like).

If you do have objective criteria behind the word Christian, then you are actually in the same boat as me, and we can have a wonderful debate over which criteria qualifies for making someone part of the Christian community. Is it a certain amount of "good works" that promote righteousness and social justice (for true righteousness, after all, is social justice in the Hebrew Scriptures). Yet, there is a problem right off the bat here, since St. Paul was pretty adamant that those trying to justify themselves by works of law were not part of the Christian community. Well then, is it someone who is baptized into Christ and confesses faith in Christ as Lord? I think this is probably closer to the fact, but still offers some problems. For instance, what exactly is meant by "Christ" and "Lord"? What does it mean to be "baptized into" this Christ?

Well, to answer that, you have two routes: Either you can choose to self-define those terms as you see fit, picking and choosing whatever scholarship says what you want it to say about Christ as Lord. Or, you can try to find out and affirm what the most ancient, most universal, most reliable Christian Tradition on these issues is. If you choose the former, you are still stuck in a trap of subjectivism, whereby you affirm that "Christianity is what I want it to be", and therefore, meaningless to anyone else. If you choose the latter, then you are arguing EXACTLY what I am arguing for in my blog, namely that Christians are those who are defined by (a) affirming that Christ is both God and Lord; and (b) affirming that Scripture is the authoritative source through which we know Him.

4. Dude, about the quip that I am trying to rid the "world (er, church)" of people I disagree with: are you a totally brainwashed westerner or what??? You want to see "ridding the world" of people we disagree with? Hang out with some of the Christians (or Muslims) in Sudan or other similar countries. Liberals and Fundamentalists in this country think that they are getting "persecuted" (sob, sob, why is life so unfair???) when people simply tell them they are wrong. Go somewhere where your God can get you killed, then come back and talk to me.

I am happy to enter into dialogue with people I disagree with (notice, I am writing you back, not driving over to Brite Divinity School to beat you up). I do not want to exclude anyone from dialogue. I just want people to be honest about where they are dialoguing from. Are they speaking as a Christian, or as a non-Christian? That is all I am asking.

Yes, the basis of most of the argument over homosexuality is not in fact between Christians, but between Christians and pluralists.

Yes, some who argue for the acceptance of homosexuality are in fact Christian in both name and fact. I know some of them and dialogue with them, but as yet remain unconvinced by their arguments. They are, however, rare in this debate.

Yes, this debate has led me to the realization that homosexuality is indeed sinful and cannot be sanctified by the Church as normal, but also that there are much more important issues out there to stand for or against (namely, Christ and Scripture).

No, this does not, in my opinion transfer to the sphere of governmental policy, because the New Testament is pretty clear that Church and State have separate spheres and responsibilities. As far as I can tell, it is only the business of the government to protect persons, freedoms, property, and contracts made between consenting persons. If the state desires to protect people who have made a contract to care for and support each other for a lifetime, no matter their gender, then the state should be able to protect such persons and their contracts. Yet, the state, as I understand it, has no more ability to bless and sanctify a marriage than it does to declare the next Pope.

And yes, if you are wondering, I am basically a Christian Libertarian and not necessarily supportive of either major party.

5. You said "It is a call to appreciate the diversity inherent in the body of Christ. Christ himself explained that the wheat and the chaff shall grow together until the day that God determines to separate the two. The decision rests with God, not on humans." Yep, He did. He also said to recognize false teachers "by their fruit" and to out them as wolves among sheep (cf. Mat 7). So, what do you do about that?

If you really, really meant the above statement, then you could not have written the email you did to me. You would not be in any position to judge or even comment on my blog. But, you are supremely intolerant of those you perceive as intolerant, so you did not really mean the above statement for yourself. You only meant it for people who disagree with you.

Here's a better way of looking at it:

I think the key to understanding Jesus' parables on not judging (on one hand) and judging and discerning (on the other hand) revolves around two distinctions: First, we are to make a person vs. doctrine-action distinction. We are to judge doctrines and actions. We are to be constantly merciful to persons. Second, we are to make a this age vs. the eschaton distinction. We are to realize that none of our judgments can be definitive until we "know fully even as we are fully known" (cf. 1Co 13).

I know this is hopelessly simplistic and dualistic, but I think it works a heck of a lot better than your "I appreciate the diversity of everyone except those I do not appreciate" approach.

6. You said:

"Do we stand up for the poor..."

Yep, painted houses for four immigrant families on the border last week. My youth ministry goes out every month to serve the needy. I support native missions, child care, and social justice in developing countries. I teach it to my kids at Church all the time.

"...visit the imprisoned..."

We have active people in our Church who do prison ministry, as well as people working in recovery and support groups helping free people from addiction to everything from alcohol, to drugs, to ADHD. I personally worked full time in social work for 6 1/2 years with runaways, addicts, and criminals.

"...care for the sick..."

I am actively involved in visiting hospitals as the need arises. Many of our service projects involves working with the sick.

In short, I and the youth that I serve probably do not do as much as we should, but we are involved with the praxis of ministry, and I preach that orthodoxy of faith is NOTHING without orthopraxis of action in the world to liberate everyone and everything from spiritual, physical, social, psychological, and economic bondage.

You imply your own dualism here: Either you work for social justice OR you work for orthodox beliefs, but you can't do both. That is hogwash. I do both. Do you?

In fact, it is precisely my belief in the Orthodox Christ -the God-man, the Myth made historical fact, the unprecedented life of beauty, truth, and love that He lived, the death that He died, the physical resurrection in which He conquered death, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father- it is this belief that urges me onward to fight for BOTH social justice AND right beliefs. Without this Christ, Christianity would be just another meaningless crutch to deal with the uncertainty and vanity of existence. It is precisely this Christ- the Christ of Scripture, the Christ debated by the seven Ecumenical Councils- it is this Christ who I know, love, and follow, who gives my existence meaning, who stopped me from blowing off my head when I was a teenager, and who keeps me sane today.

Don't tell me that doctrine is not important, or inferior to action. It is precisely what we believe that fuels and motivates what we do and why. If a vague, nebulous God in which anything goes is enough to get you out of bed in the morning, and fuel your passion for life, then good for you. I do not have enough faith for that. My God rose from the dead in Jesus Christ. My God gave me a love letter, a saga, a scrapbook of the best and worst moments in HIStory, filled with all sorts of idiosyncrasies and anachronisms, so that I could walk on my journey with Jesus Christ. Out of love I am duty bound to follow Jesus, in Community, according to this strange, awful, and wonderful book He has given me, without simply editing out the parts I do not like.

For the same book that tells me "God is Love", "Jesus saves", "We are all one in Christ Jesus", "Love your neighbor as yourself", and to practice Social Justice, also tells me not to sleep with my mother, sister, brother, or pet. It tells me not to eat shellfish and not to sacrifice my children. It tells me not to lie, not to steal, to honor my parents, but also to "hate" my mother, father, sister, and brother for Christ's sake (His words, not mine). The Spirit who inspired this book cries out for us to wrestle with it, to listen to it, to take it seriously. We cannot simply edit out the parts we are uncomfortable with, and then ex post facto create a method of literary criticism to justify it. We can't just edit out what we do not like without putting those parts that we like on the line as well. The knife cuts both ways, and there is nothing which does not then stop people from saying that "God is Love" is what we should edit out instead.

And, oh yeah, by the way: Before we start talking about how the slavery movement and women's rights movements got started, we should think about their origin. It was very evangelical believers who took the Bible very seriously (even literally) who spearheaded all of these campaigns. They were people who affirmed that the Biblical Christ is the true Christ. They are people who affirmed Biblical morality. We cannot in the same breath claim them as our spiritual foremothers and forefathers, and then eschew the very basis on which they argued their case.

7. Now, here is where I get a little pissed off: What the hell does the fact that I am a "white, middle class male" have to do with anything??? Have you told that to the 60 million African Anglicans who agree with what I wrote? Unless your enlightened head has been under an enlightened rock you will have noticed that the resistance to the "pink agenda" in the Anglican communion has been spearheaded almost exclusively by "people of color".

Let me let you in on a little secret: I am currently a white male student at a mainline Seminary (Perkins School of Theology, you might have heard of it). The people who disagree with me the most at my school are white folk, like you, who like to bask in self-deprecation over their own skin color. It is actually the African students I agree with the most. I grew up in a poor neighborhood in North Little Rock, which was 2/3 minority (thereby making me a minority). I played football for a decade on mostly minority teams. I worked full time in social work for 6 1/2 years with mostly minority clients and co-workers. Don't tell me I theologize a certain way because of my skin color. Don't sit me at the "whites only" table of your little politically correct theological buffet.

I resent you impugning my theology on the basis of race, instead of on the basis of issues. I resent you making value judgments about me based on the color of my skin instead of on the content of my character and my theology. I think it is this comment that shows the true nature of your theology and pretended tolerance.

Do you want to practice kenosis? Really practice it? Try emptying yourself of the race-baiting "I tolerate everyone except those I disagree with" stuff that you spewed out. You want to practice humility? Engage the issues, instead of sloganeering.

8. And finally, you ask what has become of "this wonderful Christian community of yore" (a question which belies your western egocentrism)? It is not "of yore". Actually, it is of the East. The oldest Christian body, in continual existence, without all the denominational schisms and revisionism rampant in the west today, is actually the Orthodox Churches. Ever been to an Orthodox Church? Ever interviewed an Orthodox priest? Ever read an Orthodox book of theology? Or over a dozen? Ever read some of the Church Fathers and Mothers of the East? Ever read the proceedings from the seven Ecumenical Councils? I have. It opened my eyes in ways I have just begun to describe.

Want to find the "Church of yore"? Look east. Eastern Orthodox, Antiochian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Mar Thoma, and I could go on. Around 300 million of them wandering around on planet Earth right now. You should be able to find one easy enough.

And here's a bonus, since valid theology seems to be mystically tied to skin color: most of their theologians and bishops are not Caucasian.

Where have all the good heresies gone?

The current situation in the Anglican Communion grieves me. As someone who has come to know and love the communion over the last six years (I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in December of 2000), it is like watching the family you have just married into be ripped apart by adultery. As someone who is seeking ordination to the priesthood, it makes me worry about my future livelihood and calling. What, after all, am I getting myself into? I look at other communions / denominations and their relative lack of drama compared to us, and I often wonder if I should jump ship. But everytime I do, God whispers two things simultaneously in my spiritual ears: First, a line from "Mere Christianity" and the Gospel of St. John: "What is that to you? Follow thou me." Second, the grass always looks greener on the other side, but every lawn is crawling with pests, and chances are you will be more miserable with their pests than your own. Stay where you are at, where I have called you.

So, here I am. I am an Anglican Christian following my Lord. I am called to be faithful in a faithless generation, in the midst of a communion struggling with its faithfulness. I am called to remember that Christ has His people all over my communion. People like me. People who have not bowed the knee to the Baals of western culture. People who are struggling to be faithful to the same Lord I am trying to be faithful to. And some of those people even stand on the other side of our conflict... and some of them Love Jesus more than I do.

What do I do?

The thought keeps coming back to me over and over that we have let the forces of the world- the powers, principalities, and gates of hades that war against God's Church- we have let them choose our battle ground... and truth be told, it is a horrible place to do battle. We have allowed ourselves to be defined as that part of the Church that is either for or against homosexuality, rather than that part of the Church that is either for or against Jesus Christ as known through the Scriptures.

Oh, that we would have better heresies to fight against than the "pink agenda"! Where have all the good heresies gone? Where are the good old days when we could fight on firmer ground?

You see, at the very bottom of this debate over homosexuality, there are two different sets of presuppositions about Christ and Scripture. One side emphasizes that Christ is God and Lord of all, and the other side emphasizes that He is a good man and a wise prophet for His day and age. One side emphasizes that Scripture is divinely given by God and is the constitutional document upon which all other tradition and meditation on God must be done. For them, you do not get to Christ by going around, under, or above Scripture, but only by going through Scripture. The other side emphasizes that Scripture is a merely human book reflecting merely human opinions about God and the "Christ event" which is the basis for Christianity. As such, we may get as this Jesus by going "above" Scripture in forms of higher criticism, "under" Scripture by removing its foundation in history and claiming it to be a mythical document, or by simply going "around" Scripture and saying that the content of Scripture s hopelessly tied to its time and place of composition, and can offer no enduring principals for 21st century humans.

Is Christ Lord and God or not? Is Scripture the God-given route to know the Christ or not? It is the true Christian position to say that Christ is Lord and God, and to place Scripture in the controlling position to know who He is and what His will for our life is, without trying to go above, under, or around it. We can have inter-Christian debates over the place of the Church's Tradition in interpreting this Scripture, and who's Tradition represents the best method of interpretation. That is a valid debate. What is not a valid inter-Christian debate is to deny that Christ is Lord and God and to deny the authoritative, constitutional nature of Scripture altogether. This is not a debate between Christians, but a debate between Christians and people who are not yet truly part of the Christian community.

Many who espouse the "pink agenda" are not even arguing on the basis of Christian presuppositions. They deny the authority of Scripture. They go above, under, and around it to rationalize their positions. They make Christ their spiritual guru, but not their Lord and God. Their current position affirming gay marriage and ordination of practicing homosexuals is nothing but the tip of a very deep iceberg of non-Christian presuppositions about Christ and Scripture.

Would that our current debate was founded upon these issues and not the "pink agenda"! Would that we have debated three decades ago whether or not Scripture is truly authoritative and binding upon the faith and practice of the Church! Would that we would have debated two decades ago whether Christ was really Lord and God! Whether He was really born of a Virgin! Whether He really died and rose again! Would that we would have defrocked bishops who are not Christian and who cannot honestly affirm the Creed nor truly commit themselves to their ordination vows, in which they promised that "I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church."

Let us compare our absurd heresy today against the great heresies of the past:

THE COUNCIL OF 325- NICEA I

Problem: Is Jesus God or not?

Outcome: Jesus is God.

Ramification: Because Jesus is fully God, He can fully save us. God became one of us to draw us to Himself.

THE COUNCIL OF 381- CONSTANTINOPLE I

Problem: Is God a Trinity or not?

Outcome: God is a Trinity.

Ramification: God is eternally a Love relationship, and from the overflow of this Love we experience Love.

THE COUNCIL OF 431- EPHESUS

Problem: Is Jesus a split personality or not?

Outcome: Jesus is one unified person.

Ramification: Jesus is not just a God-possessed person, but God Himself. He became all we are so that we may become all He is.

THE COUNCIL OF 451- CHALCEDON

Problem: Is Jesus fully God or fully human? Does his Divine nature swallow up His humanity?

Outcome: Jesus is both fully God and fully human.

Ramification: Since Jesus' divinity does not dissolve His true humanity, neither does God dissolve us when He saves us. We remain the creature, Him the Creator. We do not cease to be ourselves when in union with God through Christ, but become more fully the individual we were made to be by being in the most intimate possible union with God.

THE COUNCIL OF 553- CONSTANTINOPLE II

Problem: How do we affirm Jesus' oneness (of person) without destroying His twoness (of humanity and divinity)?

Outcome: Jesus is one person who unites two natures (humanity and divinity) in Himself.

Ramification: Just as the Trinity is Three Persons in One Being, or Three Subjects in One Object, so also Jesus is Two Beings in One Person, or Two Objects united by One Subject. Just as Christ's Self unites His two natures, so also Christ's self and our self may be united in love, so that our life may be united with His eternal life.

THE COUNCIL OF 681- CONSTANTINOPLE III

Problem: Does Jesus have a divine will that over-rode all of His humanity? Or did He make truly human choices?

Outcome: Jesus has a divine will and a human will and had to submit His human will to His Father.

Ramification: Since God does not work apart from Christ's human will to accomplish our salvation, so also God does not take over our own will to save us. God gives us Himself, but we must receive. He always initiates salvation by His will, but we must accept by our will. Salvation's origin (in Christ) and its application (in our lives) is always a result of a synergy, or co-working, of the divine and human will. We can never be saved without God working in our lives, but God will never work in our lives without our will consenting to His work.

THE COUNCIL OF 787- NICEA II

Problem: Can humans worship God through created matter, or is true worship totally spiritual and non-material?

Outcome: We can use icons to worship God, because the honor given to the image transfers to the reality which the image re-presents.

Ramification: Matter is good. God has given us the world so that we may experience Him. Just as He used matter to save us through Christ, He still uses matter to help us experience Him and draw near to Him. Through sacraments, icons, and beauty God opens windows of grace and light that we may get glimpses of Him.

GENERAL CONVENTIONS OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH 1980'S - 2000'S

Problem: Where can I stick my penis and get away with it?

Outcome: Stick your penis anywhere you like, as long as you really love them and it is consensual.

Ramification: Sexual love is placed firmly on the basis of personal preference, and not on the basis of covenant commitment. Sex is an outward and visible sign of how I feel, not an icon of the Holy Trinity reflecting the identity, masculinity, femininity, and reciprocity of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

In short, we have moved from debating the nature of God incarnate to debating the virtue of our genitals. It can mean nothing less than this: we are screwed (pardon the pun). But it does reflect a certain truism: If you loose faith in God-Incarnate, you are merely left masturbating your own feelings about who and what God is. Without Christ as God's unique self-revelation, everything, including God, becomes a matter of personal taste and feeling. You talk about God becomes merely an exercise in what you wish God would be like, which you have no real evidence for. With such a malleable God, you can form Him/Her/It however you want, to the point that His true nature becomes meaningless. When God becomes meaningless, the only thing that remains meaningful is how you feel. And the strongest feelings always come from between one's legs. So it is kind of a logical conclusion that when a Church body largely rejects Christ and Scripture, the only really meaningful thing left to debate is what we do with our genitals.

We have moved our eyes from pondering the Heavens above to meditating on the wonder of our own genitals: All hail the Phallus! O Great Phallus, save us by your yearning, groaning, sweaty might! It would be comic if it weren't so tragic. Christ must be laughing when He is not busy crying.

Where have all the good heresies gone?

Now, I will make one concession at this point: There are those, and I know some of them, who are pushing the "pink agenda", who are Christ centered and Biblical. I mean this in that they (a) Do truly affirm that Jesus is God-Incarnate, who historically lived, died, rose again, ascended, and will come again; (b) Do truly believe that this Christ is only known through Scripture and do try and make all their points by going through Scripture. Yes, they have very "creative" (i.e. implausible) methods of interpretation, and very subtle ways of getting around those texts that clearly seem to outlaw homosexual behavior. But, to their credit, they do place the debate firmly upon Scripture without editing out the parts they do not like. These people deserve clear Biblical answers and rigorous debate, and lots of Christian love.

But, alas, in our current debate, there are very very few who follow this route to espouse the "pink agenda" (possibly because they see how implausible it is to interpret Scripture as affirming of gay sex). Instead, they just eschew Scripture altogether and go over, under, and around it. These too should be treated with much love, but not as members of the Christian community. But, we cannot do this. Why? Because we have allowed Scripture, doctrine, discipline, and worship to be relativized into a tasteless pabulum that allows anyone to do or believe anything they want and still be Christian, still be part of the Church. Indeed! We have given away our places of prominence as professors of theology and bishops to those who deny Scripture's authority and Christ's divinity. We have created a Church in which the minority voice is the Christian voice and the majority voice is a milktoast pluralism that is eager to do anything to be liked by everyone except Christians.

If we had fought our battle on the noble grounds of Scripture and Christ three decades ago, we would not be fighting on the absurd ground of the "pink agenda" today. The "pink agenda" is a bloodless heresy, a nod to political correctness by those who have sold their birthright as God's Church decades ago.

Would that we would take back the battleground! Would that we would withdraw our troops from this place and re-deploy on the noble ground of Scripture and Christ. Would that we would have our clergy and professors of theology affirm or deny the following:

--------------------------------------------

Do you affirm or deny the following statements, taken in their plain, straightforward sense:

1. I affirm it is true that Jesus Christ is the Lord, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. [From the Nicene Creed, Rite II, BCP 1979]

Affirm or Deny

2. I affirm the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation. I receive the Holy Scriptures, and commit myself to be a faithful steward of his holy Word. Whatsoever is not read in the Scriptures, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any person, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture I do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church. Furthermore, I affirm that the Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. [From the Ordination of a Bishop and the Articles of Religion, BCP 1979]

Affirm or Deny

--------------------------------------------

If we could simply get straight answers on these two questions from all the parties involved in this debate, we could at least understand where they are coming from. Are they arguing from Christian presuppositions (affirm both) or non-Christian presuppositions (deny one or both)? We would know if they were arguing from within the Christian community, or from without it. This makes all the difference in the world. It is the difference between knowing whether your opponents need to be evangelized as non-Christians, or reasoned with, as Christian brothers and sisters.

It is my supposition that most of our problem in the Episcopal Church is not from poor Christian teaching and catechesis (of which, there is much), but rather because we are dealing with whole segments of the Church who have not even been evangelized in the first place and who have no authentic Christian faith. This is not to say that they do not have faith at all. This is to say that the faith they have, and which has been told to them is Christian, is actually not at all. It is rather a mix of wishful thinking and political correctness.

It is my prayer that we take back this battle and choose our battle ground, and stop letting the powers and principalities choose it for us. It is my prayer that we would stop being known as the Church that is either for or against gays, but rather as the Church that is for Christ alone.

May we allow Him, and Him alone, to define us.

Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason in Anglican Theology

So, how do Anglicans interpret all the Scripture we read? Anglicans are first and foremost a "Bible church", and that means that we cannot, and do not, deviate from the data we find in Scripture. Scripture is divinely given by God and is the constitutional document upon which all other tradition and meditation on God must be done. You cannot get to God without going through Jesus Christ (John 14.6 ff). And you cannot get to Christ without going through Scripture. We cannot go "over" Scripture by using forms of higher criticism, or "under" Scripture by removing its foundation in history and claiming it to be a mythical document, or by simply going "around" Scripture and saying that the content of Scripture s hopelessly tied to its time and place of composition, and can offer no enduring principals for 21st century humans. It is the only reliable data we have about who God is and how to live for Him. Yet, data does not interpret itself. Kind of like data on a computer disk. You could have the plans for a revolutionary invention on the disk, but if you do not have a computer to interpret it, it is useless. In the same way, the Bible is only useful when interpreted by God's family, the Church. We Anglicans believe that there are two or three tools God has given the Church to do this.

The first tool is Tradition, meaning the interpretations, decisions, and teachings that the Church has agreed on always and everywhere. The main traditions that Anglicans use are the seven worldwide Church councils that met before the Church split in two in 1054 AD. These councils were meetings of the entire Church to figure out solutions to tough problems, such as: Is Jesus fully God? Is Jesus fully man? Is God a Trinity? Can we save ourselves by human effort, without God's grace? (The answers the councils came up with were: Yes, Yes, Yes, and No). These councils produced the statement of faith, which summarizes the main teaching of Scripture, that all true Churches agree on today: The Nicene Creed.

Along with the Councils, we accept the writings of great Church fathers, teachers, thinkers, preachers, and mystics to help us understand Scripture. Often we call these writers "divines", because they help us attain knowledge of THE Divine. We particularly value the early Church fathers, because they lived in the same culture as the Apostles, spoke the same language, and had access to early documents and traditions that we no longer have. This inherited Tradition gives us great insight on what Scripture really means.

As Christians, we are supposed to do things "by the Book", which means that we must base everything on Scripture. We use the Bible as the standard by which we judge all other things. And yet, we also grow up in a "church tradition" that helps us (or even tells us) how to understand what the Bible is saying. Our tradition also goes beyond this, because it tells us by word and example what "being a good Christian" means. We may grow up in a very "contemporary" Church tradition, or a very "traditional" Church tradition. We may love our tradition, hate our tradition, or not even care about our tradition. But however we feel about it, it shapes us for good, or for bad.

The Bible even tells us about good traditions and bad traditions. Tradition comes from the Latin word "Tradere", meaning "to hand over". This is what the Bible means by tradition. It is something that is "handed over" from generation to generation in the Church. It is kind of like habits. We get good habits, and bad habits, handed down to us from our parents. These habits shape us. This is how tradition works in the Church too.

The Bible tells us to listen to good tradition and follow it. It says to "stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours" (2Th 2:15). These good traditions come from written or spoken teachings (2Ti 2:2; 1Co 11:23, 15:3), or by the personal example of other Christians (1Co 4:16-17, 11:1-2; 2Th 3:6-10; Phi 4:9).

On the other hand, Jesus warns us not to follow just any tradition. We must make sure that we are following traditions that glorify God and bring us closer to Christ. Jesus tells the ultra-traditional group called the Pharisees "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions" (Mark 7:9; Mat 15:3-9, 23:1-39). St. Paul later warns us: "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ" (Col 2:8; Rom 12:2).

So how do we tell the difference between good and bad tradition? Well, first, we must distinguish between "Tradition" (big T) and "traditions" (little t). Tradition is the great teachings that the Church has agreed on through all times, all places, and all generations. Tradition will never contradict the Bible, but it may build on the foundation of what the Bible teaches. A great example of "Tradition" is the handed down teaching we find in the Nicene Creed. This Creed summarizes what the Church has always and everywhere believed about the main points of Scripture.

On the other hand, there are "traditions" which are held by minority groups in the Christian Church. These traditions may contradict the Bible (in which case they are in harmful), or they may be new understandings of what the Bible says. They may just be habits that have been handed down without question from one generation from another. A great example of new "traditions" is found in contemporary Christian music, or in the newest "End Times" books. When these traditions contradict Scripture or Tradition, we must reject them. Yet, if they do not, we must test them by Scripture and see if they are worthy to keep.

All of this discussion about Tradition and traditions have led some Christians in history to say "Enough discussion! I just want to follow the Bible! I am going to leave the Church and be a 'Bible only' Christian!". This is where we get so many denominations and "non-denominational" churches. But, if you attend one of these places long enough, you find out that they have simply started their own traditions (often while rejecting really good, beneficial Tradition in the process!). You will see that they have their own ways of worship, ways of praying, expected behaviors, and even styles of dress that are not found in Scripture. In reality, there is no "Bible only" Church. If there were, they would all have to speak Greek, wear togas, and not use electricity, modern medicine, or anything else not mentioned in the "original text" of Scripture!

Every Church is "traditional" because every Church must take the teachings of Scripture and apply them to their situations. Where the Bible speaks directly to our situations, we must obey and follow, but where the Bible is silent or does not speak directly, we must use Tradition to help us. Every time we try to get away from tradition, we wind up trying to "re-invent the wheel", and often what we invent is not as well thought out and not as Biblical as the great Tradition of the Church. Our rule is this: Where Scripture speaks, we obey. Where Scripture is silent, we are free to create, according to the Spirit of Scripture, guided by Tradition.

Here are a few analogies to look at Tradition and the Bible. The Bible is like the seed, giving the basic DNA of what the Church is supposed to be. Tradition is like the growing plant that comes from the seed. The plant will eventually look very different from the seed, but it is grown from the same DNA. The plant also develops over time (a mature tree is very different from a sapling), but its growth is always in line with the DNA of the seed and cannot contradict it. If it does grow in a contrary way, these new "traditions" become like cancer. They must be cut out before they endanger the entire tree.

Another analogy is that the Bible is the Constitution of the Church and Tradition is like the laws and court decisions that surround the Constitution. Just like the government cannot make any laws that are against the Constitution, so also the Church cannot make new traditions that are against the Bible. Yet, in our government's history, new situations and needs have arisen which the founding fathers never thought of in the Constitution. Therefore, the government has had to make new laws, in the spirit of the Constitution, to deal with these situations. In the same way, the Church must come up with new methods and traditions that are in the Spirit of the Bible, to deal with changing situations.

The Bible and Tradition is like a horse and rider. The horse needs a rider to get to its destination, but without the horse, the rider would never get anywhere. The Bible needs Tradition to apply it to the life of everyday people, but without the Bible, Tradition would have nothing to apply. In fact, without Church Tradition being led by the Spirit to discover which books were truly inspired by God, we would have no Bible at all. The books included in our Bible are a product of Church Tradition, because there is no book in the Bible that tells us which books to include in the Bible. It is our ancient Tradition that defines what the Bible is. Furthermore, our modern traditions shape how we translate the Bible into our own language from the original languages. We use tradition and culture to select which words and phrases we use to translate Scripture.

Therefore, as Anglicans see it, Scripture and Tradition are inseparably intertwined together. Scripture is our only reliable source of data to tell us how to know God and live for Him (2Ti 3:16-17; 2Pe 1:20-21). But it is the Tradition of the Church that is the "pillar and foundation of truth" which tells us how to understand what this data is saying (see 1Ti 3:14-15). We must evaluate the traditions of our Church, and ask the following: 1. Does it follow Scripture? 2. Has the Church always and everywhere believed it? 3. Does it help me and help others know Christ better, love Him more, and follow Him more faithfully? If our tradition does not pass these tests, we should change it or chunk it altogether.

The reason why I am an Anglican is because I believe our traditions, and our use of Scripture, best meets these three criteria above. First, I believe our tradition, as a whole, makes the best use of Scripture out of all the church bodies I have been involved with. Second, as I read the Church Fathers of the first five centuries, it seems to me that Anglicanism fits best with what they taught. Third, it has helped me "know Christ more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly" (from a prayer of the English bishop, St. Richard of Chichester).

After Tradition, Anglicans value human reason as an invaluable tool to understand Scripture. After all, the Bible says that God guides us through reason, meaning our common sense or simple logic (Luke 12.57; John 7.24; 1Co 2.15-16; Isa 1.18). With our common sense we take what we have learned from Scripture and Tradition and organize it. We compare one to another and order it in a way that makes sense, without contradiction (because God doesn't contradict Himself!). Human reason, used properly, never contradicts Scripture, but it does help us organize the data it gives us.

Scripture, Tradition, and Reason form what Anglicans call the "Three Legged Stool". This is the stool we sit on to follow God, and it holds us securely in place as we seek God's will. The stool helps us stay balanced. But, in the 1700's John Wesley, an Anglican revivalist and theologian, added another leg to the stool. He reminded us that our experience is a key to understanding Scripture.

Our personal and communal experience of Christ as we follow Him is crucial to comprehending Scripture. For instance, the experience of having a child profoundly changes how you understand Scripture when it calls God our "Father" and us His children. It also puts a new light on those passages that deal with parents and children. In addition, the experience of the Holy Spirit as He opens our minds to grasp Scripture is essential to understanding it. We cannot know God's will apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit (1Co 2.12-14; Acts 2.17, 11.5, 12.9; Heb 2.4). God also says that He "works all things for the good" of those who Love Him (Rom 8:28; Pro 16:33). Presumably this means that our experience of "all things" is crucial to understanding God, just as our understanding of Scripture is.

So, now our "three-legged" stool becomes a "four-legged" stool, which keeps us balanced as we follow God. Scripture gives us the data to interpret. Tradition guides us in interpretation. Reason helps us organize and systematize all we have learned. Experience helps us apply Scripture to our lives today. Each of the four legs are emphasized by different movements within Anglicanism, and together, we all keep each other in balance.

An Affirmation of Women's Ordination

In a number of Anglican Churches (especially in the U.S., Canada, England, and Africa) you will find female priests. Ordination of women was one of the most hotly debated issues in the Anglican Church from the 1960's to the 1980's. It is still hotly contested by many Anglicans. For instance, the diocese next to mine does not ordain women to the priesthood, nor do they permit women priests to minister in their diocese. Much ink, and not a few unkind words, have been spilled over this issue in the last four decades.

I will try to explain the basic reasons for, and against, women's ordination. Before I attempt this, I want to make three admissions: First, I believe in women's ordination and my writing will reflect this. I will try to be fair, but I am not objective. Second, I will probably over-simplify things. This is a vast subject with many books written on it. Third, I have friends who are against women's ordination, and I once was against it myself. I respect the position of anyone who honestly opposes women's ordination for the sake of Christ (though I disagree with them). If you are in a Church that opposes women as priests, please ask your pastor for his view on the matter. With that said, let us talk about the four most common objections to women's ordination:

Objection 1:

It is un-Biblical for women to "teach or hold authority over a man", and this command is universally binding for all people in all places. This is a strong objection, and it comes mainly from two key passages (both from the New International Version Translation):

1Timothy 2.11-15: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

1Corinthians 14.33-35: As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

In this translation (which is like most English translations) it seems to be fairly clear: Women cannot "teach" or "have authority" over any man. They must learn in "silence" and "submission". The reason is universal, and not cultural, since "Adam was formed first", and it was Eve who was deceived. Case closed, right? Not so fast. Many would argue with how these passages are translated.

First of all, the words here used for "man" and "woman" are also the same Greek words for "husband" and "wife". If you look at how Paul uses these words throughout his writings (and he uses them about 120 times), you will find something curious. He never seems to use them for all men and all women in general. Instead, almost every time he uses them, he is talking about men and women who are married or "engaged" to be married. That is, he is talking about husbands and wives specifically, not men and women in general. In fact, when Paul does want to talk about men and women in general, he uses different Greek words (see Rom 1.24-27; Gal 3.26-29). It seems clear from the context of these passages in particular, and all of Paul's writing in general, he is writing about how husbands and wives should treat each other in Church, not prohibiting all women from speaking in Church.

Secondly, we must think about the cultural situation that Paul was speaking to. In Greek culture, women had been oppressed for centuries. They were little more than property of their husbands, with no rights, and no voice in society. Suddenly, Paul preaches that men and women are all one in Christ and that they are all children of God and heirs of His Kingdom (see Gal 3:26-29). Women are made equal to men with equal voice, and in Church they were finally free to express this voice. Now, you have a Church full of women with pent up frustration over centuries of mis-treatment, and many want to get even with their husbands.

To top it off, women were not used to instruction. In Greek society, they never had been allowed more than the most basic education. They were not used to listening, did not know how to properly ask questions, and did not know how to learn. So imagine you are in Paul's church. The preacher is preaching. One wife loudly asks a question. Another turns to her husband and yells "See, I was right! You were wrong! You should have listened to me!" So Paul has to correct the situation, just as if he would have had to correct husbands or youth if they were doing the same thing. So, he tells wives that they can't treat their husbands this way. They need to learn. In the 1Timothy passage, he tells wives that they cannot "hold authority" over their husbands. The Greek word actually used there means "to domineer, browbeat, nag, or bully". Paul is simply prohibiting wives from "getting even" with their husbands in Church.

If you re-translated these passages in a more reasonable way, you would find that Paul is teaching about family behavior, not about women's ordination. Here is my translation:

1Timothy 2.11-15: A wife is to learn in tranquility and in all obedience. But I do not permit a wife to teach, neither to domineer her husband, but to remain in tranquility. For Adam was formed first [in time and rank], then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the wife was seduced [when] she fell into transgression. But she will be saved through the Childbirth [i.e. the birth of the Christ child, indicated by the Greek definite article "the"], if they will remain in faith and love and holiness along with good judgment.

1Corinthians 14.33-35: As in all the assemblies of the saints, the wives should keep silent in the assemblies. For it is not proper for them to keep chattering, but they should be subordinate, just as also the Law says (when talking about Sarah and her husband Abraham in Genesis 18:12). But if they desire to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home. For it is shameful for a wife to keep chattering in assembly.

It is fairly clear for me that the Bible does not prohibit women's ordination, it merely puts a stop to dysfunctional family behavior.

Objection 2:

It is improper for a woman to minister in Christ's place, since Christ was a man. Many people believe that it is simply "unnatural" and feels wrong for a woman to stand in the place of a man: THE man, Jesus Christ. Jesus was clearly a man, as indicated by the fact that He was circumcised and that every Bible passage refers to Him as male. This is not disputed by anyone except the lunatic fringe. On this basis, it is argued, that only a man can stand in the place of Christ.

Yet, this seems to be in direct conflict with what Paul says in Galatians 3:26-29. In this passage, Paul states: "You are all SONS of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, MALE NOR FEMALE, for you are all ONE in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and HEIRS according to the promise."

Note that Paul says three key things about women: They are ONE with men in Christ, not two. Not higher and lower portions of Christ, but equal. They are SONS of God. That's right, females are considered as "sons". In ancient Roman, Greek and Jewish culture, firstborn sons had the highest rank in the family. Daughters had the lowest rank. Yet, it does not say that females are daughters of God and males are sons of God. It says both are sons of God. They are HEIRS of God's Kingdom. In the ancient world, usually it was only the firstborn male son that was an heir and inherited everything from his father. Now, women, along with men, are co-inheritors of everything the Father has.

The operative question now is this: Since God gives all Christian women (and men) the highest offices in the world, that of "sons of God", heirs, ambassadors, and ministers (1Pe. 2:5-9; Rev. 1:6, 5:10; 2Co 5:16-21; Gal. 3:26-28), why then would He deny them the lesser office of serving Him as a deacon, priest, or bishop? Why would He deny them the ability to represent Christ at the altar, if they are able to represent Him everywhere else? It is not Biblical to assume that the lack of male genitals or chromosomes excludes all women at all times from pastoral leadership. If we have a problem with women representing Christ, we do not merely have a problem with women's ordination, we have a problem with Scripture.

Objection 3:

Neither Christ nor the Apostles ordained women as leaders in the Church. Yet, it must be noted that Jesus never appointed Gentiles either. In fact, women were far more represented among Jesus' followers than were Gentiles (remember Mary, Mary, and Martha). If we are to exclude women on this logic, then we should definitely exclude Gentiles from leadership as well.

Furthermore, it does not seem to be true that neither Jesus nor the Apostles ordained women. While we do know that none of the 12 Apostles were women, we do not know if any of the 72 disciples He sent out were women (Luke 10). We do know that women were prominently mentioned as key members of Jesus' band of disciples. They cared for Jesus’ personal needs (Mat 8:14-15, 27:55-56; Luke 8:1-3), and went to the tomb to embalm Jesus’ body (Mark 15:46-47). We also know that women were the primary witnesses of His resurrection (Mat 28:1-10; John 20:1-18). It was Mary who told all of the men He had risen! We also know that women functioned in all types of official leadership throughout Scripture:

+ There are several Bible passages authored by women (Exo 15:20-21; Judg 5:1-31; 1Sa 2:1-10; 2Ki 22:14-20; Luke 1:38-55).

+ Women were given the ability to teach and preach (or prophesy) by the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17-18; 1Co 11:5).

+ Women led the Church as administrators and deacons (Rom 16:1-2).

+ They cared for the poor (Acts 9:36) as well as for widows and others (Acts 9:39; 1Tim. 5:3-16).

+ They hosted and presided over house churches, and even taught male believers (Acts 12:12, 16:15; 18:24-26; Rom 16:3-5; 1Co 16:19; Col 4:15).

+ They were even considered as fellow workers on the Apostolic mission field (Rom 16:3-4; Phi 4:2-3).

+ In at least one place a woman named "Junia" is called "outstanding among the Apostles" (Rom 16:6).

Objection 4:

Universal Church Tradition denies that women should serve as ordained ministers. It is true that women, throughout Church Tradition, have not been officially allowed to become priests or bishops. Yet, women have always functioned as teachers and spiritual guides throughout history, even if they were never given "official" recognition through ordination. Yet, sometimes new cultural situations force us to look at Scripture in new ways.

One example of this is slavery. Through 1800 years of Church history, slavery was allowed. It was looked down upon and discouraged, but no official statements were made that slavery was inherently anti-Christian. Then, in the 1800's, things came to a head. The Church was forced to really examine Scripture, and to hear what Scripture had actually been saying all along: Slavery is morally wrong and inherently anti-Christian. It is only allowable as a "sub-Christian" way to live, and every possible measure should be taken to end slavery in society.

I, and many Anglicans like me, feel that culture is doing a similar thing with women's rights. Culture is forcing us to go back to Scripture and realize what it has been saying all along: women have fully equal roles in Christ's Church. Note that this is different from changing what Scripture says to fit with society. This is allowing culture to give us a new horizon and vantage point, from which we may see that Scripture has always pointed us on a different trajectory than the patriarchal path the Church took for some 18 odd centuries.

In contrast, Scripture clearly gives women roles in leadership (see above). Indeed, the Church has implicitly recognized women in leadership for centuries, because nuns and laywomen have been treasured as teachers and spiritual guides by average Christians, kings, clergy, bishops, and even popes. Many women show the gifts of the Spirit for leadership, and several other Christian traditions have validated this by giving them pastoral and missionary roles. Now Anglicans are making this explicit, by ordaining gifted women to serve as deacons, priests, and bishops. It seems clear that Biblical criteria for ordination includes spiritual gifting, spiritual maturity, moral purity, and a sense of calling (see 1Ti 3; Tit 1). It does not, however, include someone's gender.

2005-08-01

Form, Deform, Reform, Conform, Inform, Transform

My friend Brett has posted an article about spiritual growth and being "conformed" to Christ. It is posted here. There is a rich, rich symbolism behind the word "form" which his article revolves around. So, here are some things that begin to swirl in my head about "form", as in formation, conformed, transformation, etc.

Let us begin with the word "form". Form has been a big word in Christian Theology from its inception (indeed, since Plato in 500 BC) until we began to give up on beliefs in universals in the late middle ages and the reformation. Now we do not talk about "forms" as much because we tend to take it for granted that there cannot be forms or archetypes which exist as the metaphysical basis for reality as we know it. To put it another way, we have given up faith in universals and only believe in particulars these days. Yet, for the great theologians before the rise of nominalism in the 1300's, knowing something's "form" (i.e. universal nature and purpose) was essential to knowing what it was. Then came Nominalism, which is in part, a belief that universals are not real entities, but merely names- nomina- that we give to general sets of traits. Nominalism is just one of a scad of deconstructive philosophies and theologies throughout the centuries that deny the unity and purpose of the universe in big and small ways.

So, in talking about form, we come to a big divide in worldview. Do you believe that there are universal forms and purposes for every created thing, or are we just a bunch of particulars, existing in the chaos of our world, trying to make the best sense we can out of it? Did He who is form and purpose, the Incarnate Logos, create us with form and purpose? If so, what is that form, that purpose, that logos, for which our lives are made? The Fathers of the Eastern Church maintain that we are created "logikos" (as rational, purposive creatures) to reflect the "Logos" (our Creator who is Reason and Purpose).

So, our entire life as children of God can be seen to revolve around our "formation".

First, we are FORMED: we are given an imprint of the Logos on our very selves. We are made with cognition, affection, and volition, that we may think and feel and act... just as He does. We are given self-reflective consciences, that we may stand outside ourselves and our world, transcending them and connecting to Him who is transcendent. We are formed for the purpose of eternal loving union with Him who is eternal Love: Father, Son, and Spirit.

Then, we are DEFORMED: We have been given the most triumphant and tragic gift that can be given to anyone, anywhere. We can actually refuse our Creator. We can bite the hand that feeds us. We can cut ourselves off from our own source of Love, Purpose, and Being. We can destroy what the Almighty God has created: we can destroy, deface, and deform ourselves. And this we do, with gleeful abandon, imagining that either (a) we are the source of our own form, our own Logos, or that (b) there is no form or Logos at all, and thus we can give up on it all and live for whatever pleasures us. In the words of Padme in the latest Star Wars movie: "So this is how liberty dies - with thunderous applause." With thunderous applause we deform ourselves, deny our maker, and spiral into nothingness and misery.

Then, we are REFORMED: We see our evil. We see Christ is the only way out. We repent, receive Christ, and are Baptised back into His life, death, and resurrection (cf. Rom 6). We are re-formed into the image of Him who descended that we may ascend (cf. Irenaeus). He was formed as a human, that we may be reformed into children of God. He became one of us, so that we might become one with Him. The Divine was made man that man might be made divine (cf. Athanasius). This repentance, this turning around, this descent-ascent, this burial-and-raising, this immersion into Christ is what reformation is.

Then, we are CONFORMED: This leads us to the long process of being con-formed, or with-formed, to Christ. Like a sculptor, we trace the forms and shapes of the Original statue (that of the Incarnate Logos) and try to re-make it in our own block of granite, so that we are con-formed to the Original. We get one side done, only to rotate the statue and find that there are still huge chunks and imperfections that need to be conformed to the Original. It is a life-long process. A life-long sculpting to make ourselves like our Logos. Yet, the paradox runs deeper... for as we are conformed to Christ, we begin to realize that we are not the sculptor after all. He is. We merely offer ourselves to His skilled hands. It has felt that we were sculpting ourselves for so long, but the whole time it was Him. Or was it us? Or was it Him? Are we passive stone being hewn into, and conformed to, the image of our Creator? Or are we active participants in our own completion? I think the wisest answer is yes. The answer to both is yes.

The means for all of this is INFORMATION: Information is such a funny word to us. We tend to think of it as bits of data floating around us, which we catch and put together in the puzzle of our minds, trying to make some sense of it. And, if you do not believe in the concept of form, of logos, then that is all information is: bits of data. Random. Meaningless until rendered meaningful by humans, who are the meaning makers.

But, if you believe in form, in Logos, in the purposive nature of the universe, you come to see information as a trail of clues leading to union with Him who is Purpose. We may not see the pattern and purpose of information for years, or lifetimes, or centuries... but at some point all pieces of data, all this "information" will make sense, and find meaning in Him who is Meaning-Incarnate.

You see, the purpose of data, of information, is to in-form, or form-within, the image of Christ within us. Many of us are fond of saying "All truth is God's truth". Well, all true information is given by God to form Christ IN us, to conform us to Him who is the Form, and who formed us in His image.

But here's the trick about information: you can't MAKE people use it. You can't force people to allow information to trans-form them into Christ's image. Trans-formation is a mystery, whereby the will of the Form works with the will of the person being formed. It is a free acceptance of in-formation. All we can do, as agents of transformation, is offer the information that God has given us to all who will receive it, in hope that they will reform, and allow themselves to be conformed to the image of Christ, that they may be transformed creatures showing forth the glory God.

We inform people, that a deformed generation may be reformed by Christ, transformed in Christ, and conformed to Christ. All of this so that we may attain the original purpose for which we were formed: to Love the Lord above all and share His Love with every creature formed in His image.



This is a bunch of stuff to make us think hard about our incredible love affair with the God of the universe, our astounding infidelities against him, and his incredible grace to heal and restore us through Christ. Everything on this site is copyright © 1996-2015 by Nathan L. Bostian so if you use it, cite me... otherwise you break the 8th commandment, and make God unhappy. You can contact the author by posting a comment.