Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Well, I Thought I Was Done

There seems to be no end of things to comment about in the CWOB/communing the unbaptized exchanges. For instance, over on the Episcopal Cafe we have Jeffrey Shy asking rhetorically, Is it Communion Without or Communion Before Baptism?. Well, since the focus really is on us, that's why I prefer to refer to "communing the unbaptized". Nobody should be taking communion before they are baptized, and people who are preparing to be baptized surely can understand, if they are taught, the need to wait. The movement is surely more about countenancing "communion for people who have no intention of being baptized", and at that point the matter becomes less their lack of receptiveness and more the proponents' lack of respect for the sacrament. But then, here we have a policy suggestion from an admitted "non-theist", so really the question ought to be, "what is it with the institutions of the church that we hand them over to people who cannot even get to the end of the first line of any of the creeds without crossing their fingers?"

This is how incoherent liberal theology can get. It was one thing twenty years ago when one was likely to be buried in a lot of supposedly post-theological Tillichian or whatever jargon; it didn't mean anything substantive when pressed, but at least the semblance of intellectual persuasion was maintained. Now, the best they can come up with is the largely aesthetic standard of "radical hospitality", and while I have expressed my opinion on that before, and before that, I'm not the only one who sees the vacuity of the phrase. Over at Sublunary Sublime the author asks, "what exactly about this message is supposed to be radical?" and goes on to say:

It’s not difficult to see that the CWOB movement is straining toward relevancy, and is increasingly taking its cues from the advertising industry. So, by breaking with the status quo, in this case, 2,000 years of ecclesial tradition or the “canonically-driven,” they think they are doing something progressive; and in so doing, they are only giving the people what they want. But what if the message of the status quo is to break away from the status quo? What if the message of the status quo is collapsing difference, mixing all forms of life into one homologous consumer package? If they really wanted to be radical, wouldn’t the message be: you can’t purchase spirituality on the cheap?
But, no, "radical" isn't speaking to the culture, except to say, "see how we aren't like those other (stodgy, mean-spirited, parental) Christians". Well, yeah, except that to the spiritual-but-not-religious upper-middle hipster/sub/urban inquirer which seems to be our preferred clientele, this translates to assurance that we don't expect anything from them. It's not a challenging message; it's certainly anything but a call for them to rise out of their religious indifference or dilettancy. "You can believe in therapeutic moral deism, be a pagan or a satanist or an atheist, or not believe in anything at all, and still commune with us": that's our stirring rejoinder to the call of the world.

An actually radical message these days would sound more like, "abandon your false gods and philosophies, repent of your sins, believe and be baptized, and then join with us in communion with your savior." That is theology of the prayer book, and the theology of the church from the days of the apostles. Gritting our teeth and sticking with the tradition of the church as we received it: that is what is now radical. Instead we have what Bryan Owen accurately describes as "an assault on the church":

The current assaults on the orthodox understanding of Baptism take direct aim at what it means to be united with Christ in his death and resurrection, to be reborn into God's family the Church, to receive forgiveness of our sins and new life in the Holy Spirit. And by extension, an assault on the Church's understanding of the inward and spiritual grace received in Baptism is an assault on the Church itself. Such assaults entail a revision of the biblical narrative of Creation-Fall-Redemption that excises the Fall from the story. They jettison the understanding of sacraments as sure and certain means by which we receive the grace needed to heal our profound brokenness. And in the process, the very meaning of the term "Church" gets redefined. No longer is the Church "the mystical body" of Christ and a "wonderful and sacred mystery" that elicits our awe-filled, humble obedience and transcends our capacity to comprehend and control (BCP, pp. 339, 515). Instead, the Church becomes just another merely human institution that can be manipulated and tinkered with as we see fit. Lacking any transcendent dimension, the Church is just about us: our preferences, our agendas, and the wills to power that have the majority votes to satisfy those preferences and enact those agendas.
And such a church is not worth belonging to, except perhaps to gratify one's taste for choral singing and empty ceremonial in a spiritual space, though I note that as theological traditions lose their grip, so to do those of the liturgy, and one may be subjected to clown masses or liturgical pep rallies or Giant Liturgical Puppets of Doom.

Once, we held a very high view of the church and her sacraments. It is time to take back the church from those who have forsaken this. Otherwise, we will be left with naught but Gothic revival tombs of faith, sold off one by one to real estate developers or Muslims or indeed anyone except for those refugee Anglicans who bailed out in time. And if it takes a purge of the clerisy to get rid of the apostates and theological slackers: well, it's a radical idea in this church, but something must be done.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for commenting on this. I'm glad there's someone else out there who has similar thoughts on this matter.

Great point about it being one thing 20 years ago, mired in someone like Tillich, and another to face up to today's political and theological landscape.