2007-05-24

Cacophony or Communion

Exploring the Open Question of Identity, Authority, and Unity in Anglicanism
Copyright © 2007 Nathan L. Bostian


"[T]he Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose."
-C.S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity", book IV, ch. 8


"However we judge the theological concept that the divine became human so that the human could become divine, it is a philosophical, even a metaphysical concept. It is not concrete and will not 'preach'… [It will not] cut the Gordian Knot of human bondage to guilt and stress."
-Paul F.M. Zahl, "The Protestant Face of Anglicanism", p. 37


"[W]e do not believe that Jesus leads us to break our relationships… We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children… are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church… we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate…" -Navasota Statement by the Episcopal House of Bishops, March 20, 2007

I. Introduction: Standard Anglican Typologies of Church.

We come finally to the question of "What will become of the Anglican Church?" To answer this we must ask a deeper, more profound, theological question: "What is the Church to Anglicans?" The three quotes above display three essential trajectories in Anglican ecclesiology. Lewis' quote embodies the core genius of the Anglo-catholic position: The Church is an ontological entity, an extension of Christ Himself, reaching out into the world draw humanity into the Reality of Christ's life and thereby "divinize" them as partakers of Christ. This the Church does this via sacramental means, using those rites, rituals, and practices through which Christ has promised to share His life with the world.

Zahl's quote, while not mentioning the Church per se, embodies the core Anglo-protestant resistance to, and answer to, the Anglo-catholic position. No talk of metaphysics or "popery" here. The Church is just a collection of individuals who consent to preachable propositions that are concrete and explicitly Biblical. It has a doctrine to proclaim, which centers on one core transaction: The imputation of Christ's righteousness to our account so that we may be released from our "guilt and stress". It is also helpful to note what Zahl, the consummate low-church Anglo-protestant, does not talk about. His book, A Short Systematic Theology, is a series of numbered theological propositions for the individual believer to assent to, which supposedly represent the whole scope of essential Christian belief. Yet none of these propositions deal with the nature or mission of the Church. This omission speaks volumes about protestant assumptions concerning the Church.

And this leads us to the statement by our own House of Bishops, which says things that are quintessential to the Anglo-liberal position. If the Anglo-catholic is focused on sacramental transformation, while the Anglo-protestant is focused on doctrinal proclamation, the Anglo-liberal focuses on inclusive toleration. The core genius here is a post-Enlightenment egalitarianism that uses words like "free", "equal", "diversity", and "open" to refer to everyone who agrees with their open-mindedness. The key is to find an absolute minimum which all reasonable people can agree to, and exclude the rest.

Catholic, protestant, or liberal? Transformation, proclamation, or toleration? Will the real Anglican ecclesiology please stand up? The answer to what is "authentically Anglican" cannot be settled by historical research, or mining our "standard divines" for proof-texts that our party is more "Anglo-than-thou". As we have learned this semester, all three have a flawless pedigree, and heavy-weight thinkers, with which they can claim to be truly "Anglican". And while there are countless permutations of each, and various attempted compromise positions, these three typologies of the Church recur with great regularity.

II. Top-Down and Bottom-Up Views of Church.

Perhaps the question of which ecclesiology is more definitively Anglican can better be answered by looking to the future, while learning from our past, and asking the question "Which ecclesiology best answers the question of what the Church is, and how it can best
preserve unity and extend mission in the future?"

We can start by answering whether the Church is a real ontological entity, or if it is just a name we assign to a group of people who are joined together for a common cause. When we define "Church", do we begin "top-down", by saying "there is this Reality called the Body of Christ, of which Christ is really the head, and into which people are incorporated as something like members or cells?" Or, do we begin "bottom-up", by saying that we are autonomous individuals, who, by a free act of our will, choose to form this club we call the "Body of Christ"? Does the universal Reality of Christ govern our particular lives (top-down), or do our particular experiences create our reality (bottom-up)?

How we answer this question will put us a large way toward how we conceive of Anglican unity, and how we can maintain that unity. Because, if something like the top-down approach is right, and we are a living organism of which Christ is the head, then we can expect that Christ has grown His Body in such a way that there are already structures and organs ontologically inherent in the Body, designed to maintain unity and structure. If this concept of the Church is essentially right, then the ordered ministry is meant to function as something like a skeletal system. And the "rule of faith" passed down through that ordered ministry as something like DNA, which governs the growth and development of the Body. If the ordered ministry is broken, then it becomes something like a broken bone, and if the DNA is altered, it becomes something like a cancerous growth.

If the Church is an ontological entity, then we identify her first and foremost by her "nature" or "structure", and only secondarily by what she does. However, if something like the bottom-up approach is right, things are much less clear. We can only identify her by what she does: her function(s). While an ontological definition of the Church is the Anglo-catholic position, the protestant and liberal positions start from a "bottom-up" conception
and thus rely on solely functional definitions of the Church.

This functional definition of the Church is enshrined in Article 19 of the 39 Articles: "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men" [notice the bottom-up conception implied here] "in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered, according to Christ’s ordinance." Who are "faithful men"? Those who agree to consent to a set of doctrines, as laid out propositionally in the Articles. How do they make sure they fulfill the functions of preaching and administering sacraments? They do it "according to Christ's ordinance". How do they do this? By following Holy Writ. Who's interpretation of Holy Writ? The Church's, as found in the confession of the 39 Articles. Who gave the Church authority to define what Holy Writ means? Well…

At this point, if you are protestant, you punt back to Scriptural authority as interpreted by the confession of the Church (which is a hopelessly circular argument), or you realize there is no real authority here and go the liberal route of including anyone who seems even moderately interested in religion. That is, unless we take the escape hatch of a top-down, ontological concept of the Church. This is because all purely functional accounts of the Church falter on the fact that, ultimately, we need an ontological unity with Christ, mediated through the structures of His Body, to explain why the Church has any authority at all. A catholic, holistic concept of the Church can comprehend, order, and explain the varied functions of the Church, while a purely functional definition cannot.

III. Problems Found in Merely Functional Unity.

In fact, there are about three types of functional categories used to define the Church: How we feel, how we think, and how we act (i.e. experiential, doctrinal, and practical). An experiential-functional definition sees the Church as a collection of folks who have a common experience of God, whether in gender/ race/ sexuality/ oppression (in Liberation theologies), in conversion testimony (among Evangelicals), or in ecstatic encounter (among Pentecostals). Many Anglican groups unite based on shared experience, such as conservative charismatics, revisionist radicals, "Anglophiles" in love with all things English, or connoisseurs of a certain type of liturgical aesthetic. Yet, without an ontological authority structure within the Church, this experiential unity quickly dissolves when the Church is either unwilling or unable to cater to everyone's styles, tastes, and expectations.

Doctrinal-functional definitions of the Church tend to focus on the Church as a group of people who assent to a certain set of propositions. This list of propositions can be a highly-structured "maximalism", such as the strident Anglo-protestant variety that would demand adherence to all 39 Articles (and hopefully the Westminster confession as well). Or, this list of propositions can be lowest-common-denominator "minimalism", as in the case of the original Latitudinarians, who paved the road to Deism, or contemporary pluralists, who travel the road to Pantheism. Without an ontological authority structure within the Church, the maximalist variety quickly becomes a self-refuting epistemological "circular argument" (witness the never-ending splits in protestant churches over doctrinal issues ranging from baptism to eschatology), and the minimalist variety becomes something that is in no way identifiable as Christian (witness Bishop Spong).

Practical-functional definitions of the Church tend to focus on the Church as a group of people joined together who do a certain task. There are those who say that the core of our Identity as Anglicans rests on the fact that we worship as one, with one common Book. We can believe anything we want, so long as we worship together! And while this is a romantic notion, it simply does not fit the facts. When our own national Church has seven different canons of the Mass in one book, not to mention the parishes who use morning prayer or the 1928 Prayer book, not to mention a worldwide Communion that uses sources as diverse as the 1662 English Prayer Book and the New Zealand Prayer Book, with at least three lectionaries (BCP, Revised Common, and Roman Catholic), it is simply not feasible to say we worship together in form or function. Imagine what would happen if we actually tried to mandate that everyone worship from the same liturgy, in the same Book!

Another practical-functional way to define the Church is that we are committed to a common mission, be it pursuing social justice or missionary activity. But no sooner have we said that, than we ask "whose justice, by what authority?" With that, we are back to the same circular argument that befuddles doctrinal-functional definitions. This also tends to reduce the Church to the religious arm of a political party, either as the "Democratic Party at Prayer", or the "Republican Party at Prayer". And while missionary activity is a noble, essential mission of the Church, it suffers the same defects. No sooner do you send missionaries than you have to teach converts what type of Church they are baptized into, what that Church believes, and how that Church lives, on what authority. And this, in turn, opens up every functional problem listed so far.

A final practical-functional definition of Church unity says that we are a group of people who agree on a method: A distinctive way of looking at, and working through theological problems. And Anglicanism does bring to Christianity a unique sense of balanced synthesis, "passionate patience", and dialogical interplay to theological dialogue, as we try to work through our various "sources" for theology (whether in the form of a stool or a quadrilateral!). On bad days, this method can look like compromise or cowardice. But, on good days, this method looks like a via media that affirms what is good and true in opposing theological camps, while avoiding what is unhealthy. However, method does not unity make. A lawyer can only make so many procedural motions before her case gets tried. You can only think about the wedding proposal so long before you have to say yes or no. Whatever our method is, eventually it must lead us to concrete decisions about the nature of the Church, and how it functions in "faith and practice".

IV. The Need for an Ontological Unity.

This brings us to the need for a "top-down" ontological conception of the Church, which has certain God-given, authoritative structures for identifying and preserving unity. If one looks at those Church bodies which hold a high view of the ontological, divinely-structured unity of the Church- notably the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox- you find a type of long-term unity that is missing in Protestant churches that define themselves functionally. This is not to say that ontologically-based churches do not split. Over 1900 years of Church history, you can trace dozens of splits- major and minor- in these more "catholic" traditions. But this is a far cry from the thousands of schisms and splits that have come from Protestant and "non-denominational" churches in the last 500 years.

Clearly, if one views the effects of theology from a pragmatic standpoint, the ontological concept of Church has something going for it that other conceptions do not have. Across time and space, there is more unity, more consistency in doctrine and practice, more membership, and a broader sweep of territory, included by ontologically-based churches than their functionally-based protestant counterparts. They are, in a word, more "universal"- more "catholic". Do these ontologically-based Churches use functional instruments to help evaluate unity? Yes. Romans have a Magisterium, Orthodox have the Seven Councils, and both have approved canons for discipline and worship. But these functional instruments flow from a divinely-given, authoritative organ of unity within the Church, instead of creating a merely functional unity.

V. Problems and Promises associated with the Ontological View.

And this is not to say that getting together and deciding "we are an ontological entity" will automatically save the Anglican Communion. Even within the ontological conception, there are serious issues to work out. For instance, in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches there are two different ways of conceiving the organ of unity. For Romans, unity and authority flows from a titular head (the Pope) down through the Curia and then to local bishops. For Orthodox (and Anglo-catholics), the principal of collegiality dictates that all bishops are equally part of that organ of unity, and any difference between bishops is one of honor, not ontological status, so that even Archbishops and Primates are "first among equals" with other bishops. These issues of the "flow of authority" must be dealt with, lest the Body of Christ become deformed. Historically, there have been four "deformations" that plague the ontological Church: acromegaly, obesity, cancer, and broken bones.

Acromegaly is when one part of the skeleton grows at the expense of the others, often creating obscenely large extremities. In the Church, perhaps the most conspicuous example of this is Papacy of the medieval Church, which was so power-and-money hungry that it incited the Eastern Church to cleave, and set the stage for the chaos of the Reformation. Yet, at the base of Papal claims is the realization that one bishop should have the primacy of honor to be able to convene Church councils, and act as a spokesperson for the decisions of the college of bishops. In fact, every province of the Church needs someone like an "archbishop" who has a primacy of honor to be able to call regional councils, and speak for the regional church as well. However, a brief perusal of Church history will show that it is easy for this primacy of honor to be distorted into an ontological primacy, in which the Pope (or archbishop!) claims wild powers and privileges over the rest of the Church that result in acromegaly of Christ's Body. The protestant solution to this was to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and go for a strictly functional solution. But five centuries of the misery of protestant schism upon schism indicates this works worse that the alternative.

Obesity is the next major problem that the ontological Church has. Because episcopacy is a time-proven way to preserve Tradition, it has been incredibly easy to add tradition upon tradition until there is a very "fat" Church, which it is hard to see the muscle of Christ through. Perhaps a good example of this is some of the overly complex liturgies of the East which combine so many ancient elements that it is hard to discern a structure, a message, or a method in the liturgy anymore. The same obesity can be seen in Church structure where so many layers of "middle management" is added to Church bureaucracy, with so much money and resources going to it, that it forgets its real purpose to heal and reconcile the world as Christ's hands and feet.

Cancer also plagues both the functional and ontological conceptions of the Church. The DNA of the Church is found in its "rule of faith": the "gospel" which it proclaims. This DNA leads the Church to grow and develop over time, much the same way that an Oak Tree develops from an acorn, or an adult human develops from a sperm and an egg. Neither the Church's organism or doctrine looks the way it did when it was young (in the Apostolic Age), but it has developed according to the DNA of the gospel. Except when the DNA is distorted, deleted, or added to in a way that makes it cancerous. Cancerous DNA- heretical teaching- spiritually distorts individual cells within Christ's Body and spreads like gangrene. All forms of Christianity have a problem with creating, teaching, and preaching cancerous doctrine. But, when we compare distorted Catholic DNA, such as Papal infallibility or Marian dogmas, with the obliterated DNA of protestant denominations that have deleted canonical Scripture, the Trinity, and the Incarnation from their teaching, it is clear which seems to stay healthier over time. Furthermore, councils like the Seven Ecumenical Councils, Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II have actually shown an ability to remove "cancer" and decrease "obesity" in the Body. Protestant bodies have no similar reforming capability, and the best they seem to be able to do is reform by schism, in which they cut off Christ's limbs.

The last deformation of the ontological church comes in the form of broken bones. This happens when episcopal structures, all ordained in legitimate succession, cease to have communion with each other. The key to understanding this is to understand that apostolic succession is not merely a functional act. While the transmission of "apostolic DNA" is a key element, on it's own it will merely become a defective form of doctrinal-functional unity. And, while commitment to "apostolic mission" is another key element, on it's own it degenerates into another form of practical-functional unity. To tie all of this together, there has to be an ontological element to apostolic succession. This ontological element is found in the actual physical act of prayer and laying on of hands which has been the "matter" in the sacrament of ordination since the time of the Apostles. The fullest form of the Church- the ontological fullness- happens when the episcopal structure is in tactile apostolic succession that is traced back to the Apostles and Christ Himself.

But, even within those episcopal church structures which maintain apostolic succession in its fullness- Romans, Old Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglican- we have breaks in communion. Christ's Body has broken bones. And that must be remedied in time. But it cannot be remedied from the Anglican side if we choose to splinter into a dozen more denominations because we are pursuing a merely functional form of Church unity. We must pursue a thoroughly ontological concept of the Church that will be strong enough to unify the functional elements of experience, doctrine, and practice. The question thus becomes, what type of ontological structure will keep the Anglican Communion together? What instruments should this structure use to make authoritative decisions?

VI. The Windsor Report and Ontological Unity.

The Windsor Report, in outlining a structure for the unity of the Church, proposes that unity is rooted in a certain conception of communion which is both covenantal and ontological in nature: We are bound by relational promises and as organic members of the Anglican instantiation of the catholic Body of Christ. Individual provinces "express their own communion relationships in a variety of juridical forms, as: bipartite (in communion with Canterbury); multipartite (in communion with all Anglican churches); or simply through the idea of 'belonging to the Anglican Communion'". This communion is "all about mutual relationships" which are identified in various and commonsense ways, such as "community, equality, common life, sharing, interdependence, and mutual affection and respect. It subsists in visible unity, common confession of the apostolic faith, common belief in scripture and the creeds, common baptism and shared eucharist, and a mutually recognised common ministry". Yet, while methods of identifying communion have been developed, there has been no "negative criteria" developed to identify impaired or destroyed communion.

At this point the Report launches into a discussion of the different "bonds" of our communion. It makes clear that while Scripture is the authentic source of information about God in Christ, it has to be interpreted by teachers who have their authority from Christ. This is because, while the Bible holds the most authentic information we can possibly have about God's self-revelation through Israel, Jesus Christ, and His Church, it simply is not self-interpreting. The Bible will not stand up and tell us how it has to be interpreted. The history of protestantism is full of this lesson, over and over and over, as the "clear and apparent" meaning of Scripture leads to arguments, sectarian splits, and even wars, based on different interpretations. Rather, the Windsor Report wisely notes that it is the authority of God that works through Scripture, and is expressed in the teaching authority of the episcopate, which tells us authoritatively how Scripture must be interpreted. Then it goes on to point out how the episcopate is integrally, even ontologically, constituent of Anglican unity, expressed in the principal of synodality (i.e. their authority is most fully expressed in synods).

Thus, the episcopate is "essential" to the unity of the Church, and bishops are "more than simply the local chief pastor… [they] represent the universal Church to the local and vice versa". This is continued by saying "Bishops represent Christ to the people, but also bring the people and their prayers to God" . This strong affirmation that Bishops are essential- of the essence or substance of the Body- grants the episcopacy its rightful status as the ontological organ of unity and authority. Immediately after this, when one might expect the Report to express some definite recommendations about placing our authority for interpretation of Scripture in the hands of episcopal synods, the Report instead launches into a discussion of discernment, diversity, and adiaphora. Finally, in paragraphs 97-104, it launches into a description of the instruments of unity for our communion. This organ of unity finds its focus- but not its source- in the person of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who acts as a moderator for- but not a monarch over- his fellow bishops. The ABC moderates the decisions of the Communion through the "Instruments of Unity", found in the The Lambeth Conference, The Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates’ Meeting (of the chief bishops of each province).

Paragraph 42 of the Report is right when it sums up the whole problem in one key word: authority. Who has it? Pieces of paper who cannot argue, or persons who can? A inanimate Book, or the living organ of Episcopate? Section C of the Report ends with recommendations on the instruments of unity. It poses the question of whether or not the Lambeth conference could function as "the gathering of the chief pastors and teachers… [to] have a ‘magisterium’, a teaching authority of special status" which befits the apostolic teaching authority conferred onto the episcopate. It also proposes that, as a method of evaluating the unity of the Communion and determining the status of constituent members, we devise an "Anglican Covenant" , which would measure the functional degree to which a province or diocese conforms to essential doctrine and practice. This Covenant would spell out this authority structure in detail and provide a mechanism for future decision making over contentious issues in the communion. While the Windsor Report tries to avoid the implication that the proposed bond of unity will be similar to Roman Catholicism , it seems clear that, we seem to be headed toward a well-defined form of "conciliar catholicism" with some similar structures to the Roman Church, though without a supreme pontiff from whom authority flows. I think that this ontological, structural unity actually could save the communion, but only if we do not let the merely functional definitions of unity offered by protestants or liberals derail the process.

VII. Recommendations for the Anglican Covenant.

Yet, Windsor is a bit vague about how exactly all of these organs, instruments, and covenants would work together. Would authority flow ultimately from the covenant (making us another protestant confessional church), or from the episcopate? Is it possible that using "instruments of unity" could just dissolve into another form of methodological, not ontological, unity? Finally, will this form of "conciliar catholicism" actually maintain true communion, or will it degenerate into just another protestant cacophony?

In view of the preceding analysis, I would offer some suggestions for the way forward, all of which are in accord with an Anglo-catholic interpretation of the Windsor Report:

1. The Anglican Covenant should clearly spell out the primary ontological basis of Church unity, in terms which make it clear that the episcopate, in full apostolic succession, is the essential element from which teaching authority flows in the Church, and that this episcopate is not merely an accident of historical development, or conducive to the English temperament. It is a God-given organ of unity in the Body of Christ.

2. We should make clear[er] the role of the ABC as a primacy of honor, and not ontology. Furthermore, we need to grant similar regional primacies of honor, not ontology, to provincial primates, so that they have the responsibility to call councils and synods, act as their moderators, and speak as their spokespersons. This should be done without conceding, in any way, a greater ontological level of authority or voting power to the ABC or provincial primates.

3. We should outline the structure of authority so that local parishes are accountable to their diocesan bishop, diocesan bishops are accountable to provincial synods, and provincial synods are accountable to worldwide councils (such as the Lambeth Conference).

4. We should create a system whereby a majority agreement of provincial primates, acting in emergency situations, have the ability to change or veto the policy of individual provinces or dioceses, until the next general conference of all Communion bishops at Lambeth can meet to decide more comprehensively.

5. Major doctrinal and moral decisions at Lambeth would have to be ratified by the next successive regular meeting (every ten years). This would put major decisions at a 10-20 year interval, which would help insure that such decisions were not merely caused by cultural contingencies, but expressed the genuine growth of the Church's DNA.

These steps would help insure Communion and avoid cacophony. It will offend those with a more "bottom-up" concept of the Church, and possibly lead them to leave. But, as I have shown, it is only a matter of time before that happens anyway with a merely functional church unity. Over time, such a concept would help us avoid acromegaly, cancer, and obesity of the Body, while setting the stage for a future healing of the broken bones of the Church. I truly believe that what the Anglican Communion offers the larger Church is worth the effort. For, at our best, we offer what I call a "creative, conciliar catholicism" to the rest of the Church. We are conciliar because we have a collegial conception of ontological unity that places ultimate authority in the hands of the whole college- the whole organ- of bishops, and not in the hands of one monarchial bishop. We are creative because of the unique method and sensibilities we bring to doing life with God (as I outlined above). And while this method gets us in trouble occasionally, I believe that if we will become willing to be disciplined and corrected by the whole Church, our creativity is worth the occasional trouble it causes us. We have a unique, beautiful, messy, magnificent history that should be woven together with the whole Church. My sincere hope is that something like the steps I have outlined will create an ontological unity that will save our Communion.

[Works cited and consulted are in comments section. This paper originally had footnotes, but these did not work in blogger format. If you want footnotes, please email Nate and he will send you a .pdf of this essay]

2007-05-13

Subverting Submission: A Rhetorical Analysis of Ephesians 5

Most of the scholarship surrounding Ephesians 5 revolves around the "revisionist versus traditionalist" axis. One side, hating the idea of unqualified female submission to a Jewish form of male chauvinism, reject the passage as spurious or semi-spurious. They develop possible literary hypothesis upon possible literary hypothesis, without hard evidence, to prove that Paul did not, in fact write it. And then, based on their leaning tower of hypotheses, they reject it as non-apostolic, therefore non-canonical, and therefore non-binding on Christians.

The other side, convinced of the much more probable hypothesis that Paul indeed did write it- or if he did not, one of his close disciples did- rightfully side with the catholic Church and accept it as canonical. They believe that God is, in fact, speaking through it to the Church today, and we need to listen to it as a foundational document for the Church. But, they read it in such a way that it supports something close to a ancient Jewish "second class status" for women.

One side wrongly approaches Biblical authenticity, but rightly discerns the Gospel message of liberation. The other side rightly approaches Biblical authenticity, but wrongly discerns the message. What shall we do?

Is there any way to reconcile this Paul:

"For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:26-29, circa 48-49 CE)

With this Paul?

"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church submits to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind-- yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.

In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband." (Ephesians 5:21-33, circa 54-63 CE)

What if both sides are right in what they affirm, but wrong in what they deny. What if, an older, wiser Paul, toughened by a decade of debate and persecution, wrote Ephesians with the same CORE MESSAGE as Galatians, but a different way of getting there?

My hypothesis is that a younger Paul wrote Galatians, and preached openly and loudly the complete abolition of social structures of oppression that separated and demeaned Jew from Greek, Slave from Free, Female from Male. And when Paul proclaimed this, it exploded like a social nuclear bomb in the communities he preached in. To traditionalists (both Jewish Rabbis and their Roman overlords), he sounded like an anarchist. To the oppressed, it sounded like he was giving them a free pass to get even with those who had oppressed them.

The result? Chaos in the Church. Pissed off traditionalists are trying to put a cap on it all, and tell everyone Paul is a false apostle. Angry women are berating husbands in public assembly. The rich are leaving the poor behind, while the poor are hating the rich. Everyone is emphasizing ecstatic experience over the Love of Christ (this is all what is behind 1Corinthians 10, 11, 14, and 1Timothy 2).

Everything is coming unhinged socially, and Paul is getting challenged intellectually by traditionalist Rabbis about his social teaching.

Something must be done.

So, Paul does something very "postmodern". Rather than trying a full frontal assault on the social system like he did in Galatians, he decides to deconstruct the social systems by using its own logic against it. He decides to use the logic of submission to subvert submission.

And, this is what you find in Ephesians 5. If you are reading it as a "straight", "up-front", "literal" reading, then you will not get it. You will think that the Paul is contradicting himself while trying to uphold traditional gender roles of female submission. I say this, because, even on the most traditionalist reading, the text does not fully support what traditionalists want it to say.

In verse 21-22 (one sentence in Greek) it literally says "Submitting to one another in respect of Christ, the wives are to be to their husbands as to the Lord". So, it starts with the idea of MUTUAL submission. Now, many traditionalist translations will hide this by repeating the verb "submit" (which is only used once), and separating verse 21 and 22 as two separate sentences. Then, they will place verse 21 with the section above, and put verse 22 with the husbands and wives paragraph. Check out the NIV or NASB on this.

Now, this is a mistranslation that borders on un-ethical, and it makes the passage sound like it un-equivocally supports female submission. But it doesn't. It starts with the principal of mutual submission. So, this is one strike against the traditionalist interpretation.

Next, the passage does go on and strongly advocate female submission. But then Paul throws in the second monkey wrench. He gives the husbands a condition too. He pulls out the relationship of Christ to the Church, and says, not only should wives be to husbands like the Church is to Christ (something supported by traditionalists). But, husbands are to be to their wives like Christ is to the Church as well. That means giving up themselves- to the very last- for the good of their wives.

That puts a big hitch in a straight traditionalist reading of Ephesians 5.

Finally, Paul puts a third hitch in the traditionalist reading. In verse 33 Paul puts a condition on the wife's obedience and respect for the husband. He must earn it by loving her like Christ loves the Church. He literally says "Nevertheless, also each one of y'all is to love his own wife as himself, and the wife in order that she should respect the husband". It essentially says that the wife's respect of the husband is conditional upon the husband's love of his wife. It is not unconditional submission, but conditioned upon the selfless love of the husband.

And, back to verse 21, all of this is held within the bounds of mutual submission.

So, even a straight textual reading of the passage blows huge holes in a traditionalist reading of the passage. And yet, in verse 24 Paul drops a huge traditionalist bomb "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands."

In everything? Everything?

How does that fit with the rest of the passage?

Now, it is at this point you have to make a faith choice about the passage. Is the passage trying to sneak a traditionalist message in through liberating clothes? Or, is the passage trying to sneak a liberating message in through traditionalist clothes?

I opt for the latter, and I think there is a rhetorical reason for this. You see, I do not think that this is a straight, literal passage. Rather, I think Paul is having a conversation with traditionalists here in which he is using their own logic of female submission to destroy the whole system of submission. I think Paul is deconstructing their argument with rhetorical genius, and I think that if you use this hermeneutic to unlock the passage, it makes sense of everything in it.

In fact, when viewed from the standpoint of rhetorical deconstruction, you can see how Paul is creating the same message as Galatians 3, but coming from a different direction. I think his conversation actually looks something like this:

TRADITIONALIST: Paul, you are upsetting the world with this egalitarianism. We know from the Rabbis and the Torah that a wife is to submit to her husband!

PAUL: You know, that is what I have been saying all along. Submission. Everyone should submit to one another.

TRADITIONALIST: Perhaps. But, don't you agree that wives must submit to their husbands?

PAUL: Of course! They should submit in everything. A woman is to her husband as the Church is to Christ. Do you not agree?

TRADITIONALIST: Certainly. The relationship of the Church to Christ is a perfect analogy. The husband is Lord, and the wife submits.

PAUL: We are in agreement. And we know how our Lord treats the Church, right?

TRADITIONALIST: Well, yes…

PAUL: He gives up his life for her. He gives up everything. Everything he does is for HER good, not his own, right?

TRADITIONALIST: OK, but…

PAUL: No buts here. We agree. Christ is our model. So we need to follow the logic. Yes, a wife submits in everything, but the husband gives himself completely in everything. Right?

TRADITIONALIST: I don't see how…

PAUL: Of course you do, silly. We are in agreement here. Complete surrender of self based on the relationship between Christ and the Church. That is what we are REALLY talking about here, because marriage is a mirror of the Church. You don’t want to disagree with the Lord, do you?

TRADITIONALIST: Well, no, I don't…

PAUL: Then we agree! It would simply be dishonoring for a husband to fall short of the standard of Christ, wouldn't it? After all, he does bear Christ's role, right?

TRADITIONALIST: Yes…

PAUL: Then, that means that the woman's submission is conditioned on the husband treating her as Christ would. If a husband does not love her with that kind of love, he destroys her whole basis for submission. It is the husband's responsibility to do the right thing.

TRADITIONALIST: But the wife has the responsibility to…

PAUL: To submit in everything. Of course. We agree. But, we know that her husband must lay down his very life, submit everything he has and is, for her sake. He is to treat her as his own body. That is the only way this works. Right?

TRADITIONALIST: I suppose.

PAUL: And so we see that they are both equal in Christ. This is not an equality that asserts our rights and uses each other to get what we want. This is an equality that equally submits, surrenders, respects, and loves one another. That is the only way a wife can submit to her husband in everything, if she has a husband who is surrendering everything back to her.

TRADITIONALIST: But, that's not what I meant to say…

PAUL: Of course it is. We both agree. [Walks away with sly smirk on his face]

Thus, I believe that Paul subverts submission through submission and gets the Ephesians to the exact same place as he got the Galatians. This is the only interpretation I know of that makes sense of all of the evidence here. Paul is not a traditionalist. He is a rhetorical genius.

2007-05-10

Coaches and Parents, Body and Bones.

Coaches and Parents, Body and Bones.
A Theological Sermon on Ordered Ministry and the Structure of the Church
Copyright 2007 © Nathan L. Bostian

[1] Our Cultural Problem with Authority.

In an age when many consider putting on a belt and a button-up shirt "dressing up", it an be quite a culture shock to walk into a sacramental church and find a priest wearing a tab-collar, a robe, and a stole that drapes down off of her neck. If a bishop is present, wearing his flame-shaped, miter hat, and carrying his large shepherd's staff, it can be an even greater shock.

Our natural reaction, as folks living in a consumer culture with a democratic government, is to ask: Why on Earth are they wearing THAT? Why are they standing up front, preaching, teaching, and praying? Who do they think they are?

Now, the shock is not really because what they are wearing is strange. We are tolerant people living in an accepting age, and we see actors on TV and teenagers at the mall wearing much stranger things. The shock is actually due to what the clothing represents, not what the clothing is. The clothing represents something we are not. It represents a certain authority.

For the priest, the tab-collar says that she has a different vocation- a different calling in life- that her neck is yoked to. Her identity is yoked to Christ, serving Him as an elder in His Church. That is, after all, what "priest" means. It comes from the Greek word for "elder": pres-byoo-ter-os. Her stole reminds us of the towel ancient servants would hang around their necks, with which they would wash their master's feet and house. It means that she is a servant of the servants of God.

For the bishop, the pointy, flame-shaped miter represents that he is anointed with the same Spirit of flame that descended upon the Apostles [1]. It means that he is a successor of the Apostles, and he shares in their authority [2]. Likewise, his large shepherd's staff says that he is "chief shepherd" of the Church in his region (which is usually called his "diocese") [3].

And, one of the reasons this disturbs us is because, in a distorted way, our assumptions about authority and social position come from the Bible. In several places the Bible makes the astonishing claim that everyone in Christ is a "priest" of God [4]. It says that being baptized into Christ erases structures of social oppression so that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female", but we are all one in Christ, and equally God's children [5].

Our culture has erased the need to be "in Christ", and declared all people equal, period. From this flows many good gifts: Civil rights, freedom, and democracy. But, this non-Christian concept of freedom forgets that we have rights because we are made in God's image. Thus we forget that God has the right to order our lives. So, we do what we want, completely forgetting Who makes us free and why.

[2] Structure flows from the Identity of the Church.

Yet, the idea of authority and ordered ministry does not flow from our rights, but from God's. It is God's right to define how His Church functions. This makes sense if we remember the foundational images of the Church.

Scripture often speaks of the Church as something like an army [1]. Armies have a definite authority structure. If everyone was a general, the army couldn't march! A similar analogy is a team. Football teams have to have a coach to lead players with separate positions. There may only be one quarterback and six linemen, but they will loose if the linemen keep trying to pass the ball! Every position is an equal member, but all have different functions.

The Church is also called the Family of God [2]. We are God's "children", and Christ's "bride" [3]. And even in this family, the Bible calls some "fathers" and others "little children" [4]. And while the organization of a team or an army is somewhat arbitrary (after all, a lineman could sub-in as quarterback if he really had to), the organization of a family is not.

By age, origin, and DNA, some are grandfathers and grandmothers, some are fathers and mothers, some are older siblings, and some are children. You can't sub-in mom for granddad, or your brother for your mother. All are equal members, with different places.

Finally, the Bible says the Church is the "Body of Christ" [5]. This does not mean that we are simply a group of free individuals who got together to form a club, and then called it a "body". It means that there is a Reality, of which Christ is really the head, and into which we are incorporated by faith and baptism as individual "cells" or "members" [6].

This means that just like any body, the Body of Christ has different organs which contribute to the health of the whole. And Christ has made one of these organs into something like a skeleton, which gives form to the Body, which the muscles attach to, to do the work of the Body. All organs are equal members, but they need the skeleton to work.

[3] From Apostles to Bishops, to Priests, to Deacons.

When Christ ordained and commissioned his apostles, he was beginning this skeleton [1]. He sent them out to grow His Body by bringing new members- new cells- to be part of His life. These apostles, in turn, ordained overseers to continue their ministry around the world [2]. The Greek word for overseer- "e-pis-ko-pos"- was later changed to the Latin "bis-co-pus", and then became our English word "bishop".

These early bishops were given whole cities and regions to oversee, which later developed into a system of dioceses. And, as early as Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus, we find bishops ordaining elders to be extensions of their ministry in local congregations within their diocese [3]. Also, following the Apostles' example, early bishops ordained ministers to take care of the physical needs of God's people, such as teaching and leading the Church in acts of charity [4].

The Greek word for "minister" is "diakonos", from which we get "deacon" [5]. So, when we see bishops, priests, and deacons, we are seeing the growth and continuation of Christ's structure for his Body. And, there are not three skeletons. Bishops, priests, and deacons all share in same skeleton that holds the Church together. It is this ordered, ordained skeleton that the other organs and muscle cells attach to, so Christ's Body can reach out to the world.

And Jesus only ordained one organ of leadership: His Apostles [6]. These Apostles gave their authority and function to the bishops that they ordained [7]. This is why one early bishop wrote "where the bishop is, there the Church is" [8]. The bishop is a sacrament, who re-presents Christ to his people, and represents his people to Christ [9]. Priests and deacons only exist as extensions of the bishop, performing local functions that he cannot do because of the size of the diocese.

[4] The Roles of Clergy and Laity.

This explains the difference between "clergy" and "laity", and why one cannot be Church without the other. Clergy comes from the Greek word "kleros", which means "specially chosen". Clergy are those specially chosen by Christ, through His Church, to be this skeleton [1]. Laity comes from the Greek word "laos", meaning "people" [2]. The clergy give the Body form, so that the laity can function as Christ's muscles and organs.

You cannot have a healthy Body without both. Without the clergy, the Body is a blob. Without the laity, the Body is a dead, dried up mummy. So we can see why ALL Christians are priests in one sense [3]. In English, the word "priest" represents two Greek words. One word means "elder", but the other word means "one who mediates between humans and God through sacrifice" [4].

Because we are ALL cells in the Body, we all function together as Christ's hands and feet doing His work, sacrificing ourselves to help others. We are ALL priests in the second sense, and we all act as mediators between Christ, who is our head, and humanity, who He is reaching out to save. But, only some are chosen as priests in the first sense to be part of His "skeleton".

Now, if we look at the Church as God's Family, we also understand a few other things about the difference between clergy and laity. At family meals, it is the parent who sits at the head of the table and presides over dinner. It is usually the parent who resolves conflict and has the authority to discipline. And it is the parent who is the primary teacher.

When one of the children becomes the "elder sibling", then parents often delegate responsibilities to them. They may help younger siblings, or do chores for the parents. Thus, in God's Family it is the "elder" or "parent" who has the responsibility of presiding over the family meal of communion. They have the duty of teaching and discipline as well. And deacons act as "elder siblings" by serving God's children, and helping them serve the world.

This is why we often call our priests "mother" or "father" [5]. It is healthy as long as we remember that their parenthood and teaching flows from our Father God, and our Teacher Christ, and is not their own. An unhealthy view of clergy comes when we forget that they are merely mirrors of God's authority and organs in Christ's Body, and we begin to "idolize" them as THE Father or THE Teacher [6].

Clergy are also our "shepherds" or "pastors" [7]. They have the responsibility to lead God's sometimes-stubborn flock to healthy food and living water, to defend them from wolves, and rescue the lost sheep. By seeing clergy as parents and shepherds, we can understand the self-sacrificial lifestyle, and God-given authority, that comes with God's call to ministry.

[5] The Roles of the Bishop, Priest, and Deacon.

Thus, the bishop is our "grandparent" in the faith, responsible for guarding the unity, discipline, teaching, and mission in the regional family of a diocese. Within that diocese, priests are our "parents" who celebrate communion, teach, and shepherd local Church families (usually called parishes or congregations). And deacons are our "brothers" and "sisters" who teach God's children to live as Christ, and help them reach into their communities to serve the needy [1].

And, if the Church is a team, then the clergy are our "coaches". It is not the coach's job to play the game, but to empower the team to play together effectively. Thus, clergy are not supposed to DO everything- or even most things- in the Church. Rather, it is their job to teach us and "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all come to… the full stature of Christ." [2]

If there is a problem in a parish, the local priest generally handles it. If that problem grows larger, it is the responsibility of the bishop. And, if a problem affects the Church nationally or worldwide, then bishops follow the early Church who called a council of "apostles and elders" to decide tough issues [3]. Led by the Holy Spirit, bishops will meet together in regional or worldwide councils, and make decisions that are binding on the faith and life of the Church [4].

[6] Identifying clergy.

Now, the question becomes "Who can become clergy?" And the answer is both personal and communal. Personally, someone may feel specially called by God, and they may have individual experiences which lead them to feel like God made them to be clergy. But since clergy are members of the Body, it takes the whole Body to recognize this call [1].

Thus, the Body, led by our bishops, will often look for people to become clergy who have Christlike character, who believe in Scripture and the teaching of the Church, and who exhibit special gifts, such as preaching, teaching, counseling or administration [2]. These three categories- character, doctrine, and ministry gifts- are the primary indicators someone may be called to be clergy.

Some traditions say that only unmarried people may become clergy, but the early Church had ministers and even apostles who were married [3]. And while being unmarried may help some clergy focus solely on ministry [4], it is evident that there are many situations where married clergy can more effectively minister, such as family and marriage counseling.

Also, many traditions exclude women from ministry on the basis of Biblical passages that seem to prohibit women from speaking in Church, teaching, or holding authority over men [5]. But a quick look at the original languages shows that these texts speak specifically about marriage problems between husbands and wives. When Scripture speaks of men and women in general, it uses more generic words for "male" and "female" [6].

Thus in Genesis, men and women are equally made in God's image [7]. In Romans, we are equally infected with sin [8]. And in Galatians, we are equally redeemed in Christ [9]. Several passages make it clear that women taught, preached, ministered, led local Churches, and were "among the apostles" in the early Church [10]. It just makes sense that if the Church reflects redeemed humanity, it should embody the fullness of God's image through male and female leadership.

Thus, men and women, married and unmarried, are identified by the Church as potential clergy. After much training and interviewing, these people can be ordained into the "ordered ministry" as deacons. If they continue to show a calling and ability to be a priest, they may be ordained to that order. And, if the Church recognizes that a priest has unique gifts which indicate God has called them to shepherd a diocese, they may be ordained as bishops.

At this point it becomes personal. What ministry are YOU called to? It is not a question of IF you are called. We all are called. It is a question of who God has made you to be. Where do you fit in the Body? Are you a muscle? An organ? Part of His skeleton? How will you fulfill your vocation as a Christian- a "little Christ"? May Christ Himself guide you in prayer and discernment as you ask yourself, and your Church, this question.

[Endnotes in comments section]

2007-05-07

LOVING TRUE IS HARD TO DO

LOVING TRUE IS HARD TO DO
A SERMON FOR YEAR C, SEASON EASTER 5
By Nathan L. Bostian

Let us pray: Come Lord Jesus: Fill us with your Spirit, and drive far from this place anything that would distract us from you. Let your Word transform our mind, reform our heart, and conform our will: That we may know you more clearly, and love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, now and forever. Amen+

Wow. The last Eucharist of 2007. The end of a year together. It has been a year of triumph: For some of us, this has been our first successful year on our own in the big world, with all of the stupid mistakes, and fun times that come with it. Others of us have arisen victorious over the evil forces of tests, projects, and papers to receive our diploma. And me… I survived becoming a college chaplain. A year of triumph.

But it has also been a year of tragedy. We have lost friends close to home, and seen lives needlessly lost in murderous rampages. We see terrorists blowing up the innocent on TV screens, while elected officials from every side use tragedy as an excuse to get "face time" to fund their election campaigns. As Charles Dickens said in that book that nobody in English class wanted to read: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times".

And now, most of you are going away for the summer, and I ask myself: What do I want to leave you with as you head out? What does God want me to say to you, to help you deal with the joy and pain that comes from living in a world like ours?

And its days like this that I am glad I minister in a Church that uses a lectionary. A lectionary is a reading schedule that picks the readings for every week during a three-year cycle, so that they are thematically connected with where we are at in the Church year.

That's right, I don't just pick this stuff at random, or play "Bible roulette" to figure out what I am going to talk about.

The lectionary will take you through nearly all of the "preachable" parts of the Bible- minus most of the endless lists "begats", and strange dietary laws- so that, if you prayerfully listen hard every three years, you will know the Bible better than any fundamentalist. I promise.

And it is amazing how the lectionary almost always fits with what we are going through, right here, right now. [Sarcasm] It's almost as if the Bible were really inspired by God, and God really speaks into our lives through it! What a thought…

Anyway. If I could leave you with one thought this summer, it would be precisely what Jesus leaves His disciples with in our lectionary reading today: "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Now, it is just like God to say something that is so simple, and so complex, at the same time. It is something we understand in an instant. In fact, I believe God programmed it into our souls, so that we are born knowing that love is, what we were made for. But, even though we understand it, we spend the rest of our lives figuring how to live it, rationalizing why we don't live it, and repenting to try again.

In fact, I want to do something I don't normally do. I want to unpack this command piece by piece. Because, if you look at this command deeply enough, you find something like a mini-systematic theology.

Jesus starts with "just as I have loved you". How did He love us? Well, if Jesus is the Lord God in human form, and not just a liar or a lunatic, then the answer to this does not start with how Jesus loved in his earthly ministry. It starts in who God is.

And Scripture does not say God IS truth, or God IS justice, or God IS power, or even that God IS existence. But, the first letter of John does say "God IS Love" [4.8]. God does not exist to Love. God exists as Love. God's attributes, such as truth, justice, power, and existence flow out of God's essential nature as Love.

And Love cannot exist alone, by itself. I cannot say "I am loving" or "I am in love", and yet have no person to Love. Love requires a beloved. And so, based on what God has shown us about Godself, in Scripture orthodox Christianity comes up with the most outrageous claim that anyone has ever made about God:

That God's being is Love, and that this being is Love because it is made of three eternal persons: The Lover, the Beloved, and the Love they share- The Father, the Son, and the Spirit- that have forever been sharing in each other, dancing with each other, and caring for each other. When we say that God is eternally Three Persons in One Being, the only way to grasp that is to KNOW Love.

But God did not want to keep this Love to Godself, because if you ever encounter true Love, you find that it has one key characteristic: It longs to give itself to others, to share itself, to bring others into the beauty of itself.

So, this undulating, pulsing, dancing Love of God did what Love does: It overflowed. And that overflow is US. All of creation is the result of that cosmic dance of union and separateness, that has always been inside God. And if God is this eternally bonded, interpenetrating, joyfully dancing, self-giving Love that creates life, then you begin to understand the reason for a lot of things: From the playful dance of sub-atomic particles, to the mystery of marriage and sexuality.

It ALL mirrors God.

And this Love made us to share in God's own life, forever. But to do that, God had to give us a choice. God had to give us freedom to deny Love, to hate, to hurt, to destroy the goodness God made. God Loved us enough to risk everything- including His Love- to make us in God's image.

And we took him up on the offer. From hatred, to wars, to adultery, to overdoses… we took Him up on the beautiful, awful, offer of freedom.

But Love did not stop. It did not give up. It did not relent. Love pursued us. Love ceased being an Ideal in Heaven, and became a man on earth. Jesus IS Love Embodied- in human flesh- fully God, fully human, fully Love.

And that Love loved us to the very depths of our pain. The Love sat at the last supper with Judas, who would sell his life for 30 coins. That Love ate with Peter, who would deny that he even knew Jesus when He needed Peter the most. That Love shared food with ten other disciples who would completely abandon Him in a few hours.

Then that Love took up a cross, and endured the death that we all deserve, as a natural consequence of walking away from Love. And, like we have been celebrating over the great 50 days of Easter season, that Love conquered death.

So, when Jesus says "as I have loved", this is a short roadmap of all that this entails. He wants us to love with that same intensity. And the crazy thing is that, if we have joined ourselves to Christ by faith and sacrament, we actually CAN love with that intensity.

Because just one chapter over in John, Jesus tells us "Very truly, I tell you, the one who puts their trust in me will do the works that I do. They will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father" [14.12]. And from the Father he pours out His very own Spirit of Love, the Spirit that brought Him back from the dead, so that we too, can bring back to life a culture of death.

Thus, Jesus follows "as I have loved" with the imperative verb "Love!" It is a command. A verb. An action word. A choice. It is not a sentimental feeling, or a gushy warmth. Love is something you do, even if you don’t feel like it. Liking others is a feeling. But Jesus did not say "Like others as I have liked you". He said "LOVE!"

Now, feelings are nice, and I am not dissing them. But they are not the core of what Love is… although, as you seek to really, truly, selflessly love others, you will find that will start to actually LIKE them too. In fact, you will find all kinds of warm, gushy, sentimental feelings once you start DOING Love. But the doing comes first.

So, what exactly does this "doing" look like in a more general sense? I mean, we know what Love looks like embodied in a first century Jew in an age without the internet or flush toilets. And the example of Jesus does in fact transfer in a whole lot of ways to our own day. But, there are some things that "What would Jesus do?" simply will not answer.

An example is great, but we need a definition too.

And, it just so happens that God thought the same thing, because he had a guy named Paul write a definition, that we hear read at weddings all the time… But if divorce statistics are right, only half of the people actually pay attention to what it says in any lasting way.

It says that Love is "patient". That literally means "long suffering" in Greek. Real Love is willing to suffer with others to do good to them.

It says "love is kind". That means it gives itself for the good of someone else, even when they don't really "deserve" it.

It says "Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude". That means that real love does not put others down, in sneers or snide remarks, to try and raise itself up and feel superior.

It says Love "does not insist on its own way". Another way to translate this is "Love does not grasp things for itself". It isn't selfish. It's selfless. It isn't taking. It's giving. It does not use people as means, but treats them- all of them, even the ones we can't stand- as children of God.

College is a time when it is incredibly easy to be self-centered. No accountability. No spouse. No kids. It is easy to think "it's all about ME!" Love begs us to re-think that.

It says Love "it is not irritable or resentful", and it "does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth". In an age when people are more than willing to believe the worst of their political opponents, and hope for the suffering of those who have wronged them, we need to remember that love is precisely opposite from this.

It doesn't gossip. It doesn't say things to make others look bad. It doesn't make checklists of bad deeds the other person did, to pull out later and beat them over the head with guilt.

Paul's definition of Love ends by saying that Love "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things". Love is like God, because it IS God's essence. And God never retreats, never surrenders, never stops, never gives up, never rests until he has brought every single one of his children, every last one of his lost sheep, to know Him and Love Him.

If our Church practiced that kind of Love, how different would we look?

How different would the world look?

How different would you and I look?

And it is not that we do not have the ability to Love like that. We do. We have Christ's resurrection Spirit, the Spirit of Love. We can do "greater things" than Christ, because no longer is there one Christ on the world stage living in God's Love.

There are now millions- even billions- of Christ-ians, little Christs, filled with Christ's Spirit, who could Love like Him if they would just surrender their whole self- body, spirit, and soul- to that Love.

But we don't surrender because we can't conceive it, or don't believe it, or we just find that we have better things to do…

Things to make ME happy…

Man, I am glad God didn't have better things to do. I am glad Jesus isn't just concerned with making himself happy…

What about you?

Can you conceive it? Can you get a vision of this awe-inspiring, world-transforming Love that existed before all time, and has become embodied in Jesus, and now has been poured into you?

Can you believe it? Can you believe that it is this Love that has always Loved you, and wants to transform you into something so beautiful that you can scarcely imagine it?

And if you can really, truly conceive it, and believe it, how can you possibly have something better to do with your life? [PAUSE]

As we leave here and go our separate ways this summer, I have one prayer for each of you, and it is this:

"May Christ fill your life, so much that the Cosmic dance of God's Love overflows from you, so that you may TRULY Love one another as He has Loved you. Amen+"
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.