Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hospitality, Inclusion, the Altar, and the Font

I have been following several discussions/posts about what Derek Olsen has taken to terming "communion without baptism" (or CWOB). As he and Tobias Haller have been engaging the Anglican Scotist (especially concerning this blog post), it struck me that I would prefer at this point to step back a little bit from the fray and take a larger view of those very current words, "inclusion" and "hospitality".

Now, as nearly everyone on the traditional side of the argument is wont to point out, the theology of the BCP is quite clear: baptism is what includes us in the church. Two passages from the catechism:
Q. How is the Church described in the Bible?
A. The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus
Christ is the Head and of which all baptized persons are
members. It is called the People of God, the New Israel,
a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and
ground of truth.

Q. What is Holy Baptism?
A. Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us
as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body,
the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.
Also, consider Cramner's words in the postcommunion prayer:
...and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people....
This rather puts me in a position very close to that of Christopher, who writes that "If I were to make a distinction in the parlance of our day, I would prefer "incorporation" rather than "inclusion."" I think, however, I must take a more aggressive stance. Let me reiterate my chief concern of a few weeks ago: that those so "included" in communion, in this age at least, are those with a commitment to syncretism that leads them away from Christianity.

Christopher, and BSnyder in the comments here, and Derek here, and I are all agreed: communion takes place in a Mystical Body in which the chief sacraments are not only about feeding or whatever, but that the Christian life is about being bound into that Body, which is the life of Christ. But that leads me to a much stronger negative response, one that is elicited by Paul's statements about the consequences of sexual immorality. The problem with offering communion to Hindus and Wiccans and random New Agers and other people who have no Christian intentions is that we are joining Christ back to them. We thus make communion a Hindu/Wiccan/New-Age/whatever sacrament.

If we want a feeding model, we would be better off looking to the Syro-Phoenician woman. At first, she seems to fit the bill; but note also that she who gathers up the crumbs from beneath the table specifically acknowledges Jesus' unique authority in approaching him in the first place. One should also note the cases in the Acts: conversion of gentiles leads directly to baptism. There is something of the restorationist in this movement, as though something was lost even before the Diddache, perhaps even before Pentecost itself. It's hard to take seriously a theory that is supposedly based in historical analysis and which appears to skip the entire history of the church.

My final observation is how deeply insecure this movement seems, underneath. BSynder sums it up thus: "Episcopalians have been so worried for so long about offending people that our preaching has become soft and atrophied." I would put it another way: that the radicals in the Episcopal Church are fine with the spiritual, but are scared to death of appearing to stand for anything religious. And I think this is hurting our evangelism, because in the end we increasingly cannot give anyone a reason for joining our church as a vehicle for joining with Christ. In this case, we are opening up the sacrament of our unity with Christ to people who do not want such unity and reject that inclusion. Surely that paradox is not lost on many who might convert rather than visit.

Addendum: I would commend to the reader a series of posts by Matt Gruner, beginning with Baptized into Eucharist.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Come See the Violence Inherent in the System

When the presiding bishop's pastoral letter was released, I didn't read it particularly carefully. Thus, I missed this quite remarkable passage:
We also recognize that the attempts to impose a singular understanding in such matters represent the same kind of cultural excesses practiced by many of our colonial forebears in their missionizing activity. Native Hawaiians were forced to abandon their traditional dress in favor of missionaries' standards of modesty. Native Americans were forced to abandon many of their cultural practices, even though they were fully congruent with orthodox Christianity, because the missionaries did not understand or consider those practices exemplary of the Spirit. The uniformity imposed at the Synod of Whitby did similar violence to a developing, contextual Christianity in the British Isles.
Now, I cannot speak to the other issues, for I am not as conversant with the situations in question. Early English church history, on the other hand, is something of a hobby with me, so when this passage was pointed out to me, I was aghast at her grotesque misrepresentation of the council.

As Mark Clavier writes:"We have here a sort of theological variation on Avatar"-- perhaps more apt an analogy than he intended, considering all the woad, er, blue skin in the movie. Of course, as he points out, the matter was nothing of the kind; the council was called to resolve differences in practice which were becoming too disruptive to continue tolerating. It is strikingly presumptuous for the PB to deny the assembled churchmen (and women-- remember that they met under the authority of Hilda) the right and authority to make the kinds of decisions which they made. The Celtic churchmen were not victims; they were parties to a dispute, which for the most part they acknowledged losing with grace and forebearance. The greatest saint of the era, Cuthbert, acceded to the changes and eventually assumed a short bishopric under the "new" (that is, Roman) hierarchy and rites.

Clavier notes, as he should, that Celtic Christianity serves as a object of romanticism. But he neglects another point, the continuing paradox of the present struggle: that 815 2nd Avenue stands not just for Iona, but also for Rome, and the General Conventions of the Episcopal Church might as well all be held in Whitby. And yet there is not the charity which characterized the English council, but indeed, only, war, legal rather than phsyical, but combat nonetheless. Or if I may jump, not so charitably, to a parable: the ruling clerisy in ECUSA is altogether too much like the servant who is forgiven his debt, but then presses all the more on those in debt to him.

There is no mythology of dissidence and freedom within the communion which cannot come back to haunt ECUSA in the treatment of its dissident and rebellious dioceses and parishes. And of course the reality is that the Episcopal Church is safe from having its parish churches and cathedrals confiscated by Cantuar, as opposed to the relentless litigating within ECUSA. But of course, unlike the Hawaiians or Navaho, the modern reactionaries are irredeemably wrong and have to be made to change their ways,

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Confused but Inclusive Mess

Judging from some discussions I'm seeing, the next assault on the church's theology is not going to be against the Father. Communion without baptism seems to have jumped to the head of the line. Now the prohibition against communing the unbaptized is so old as to be untraceable, to the point where in the New Testament baptism seems to be assumed. And while we're at it, in 2006 General Convention passed Resolution D084, confirming the restriction and asking the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops to make a presentation concerning the issue at the next GC. The paper so presented can be found here, and not too surprisingly it supports a pretty traditional yet middle-of-the-road understanding of baptism as an essential initiation into the life of the church, with communion being part of that common life together.

Nonetheless, the pressure against it continues, in the name of Inclusion. So, for instance, in the Daily Episcopalian we have a column by Linda L. Grenz, recently interim at Good Shepherd Silver Spring, presenting this line of thinking. So we get strung together the usual line of people we used to exclude: blacks, women, and homosexuals, with (for some reason) a detour to Hispanic workers for Walt Disney. We included them, the implication goes, so we should include everyone else.

This just completely ignores any kind of theology, because whatever exclusions there were varied widely, and the (good or bad) theology behind the exclusions was all over the map in the kinds of arguments made. Of course, women and blacks were always baptized. The exclusion of women from the clergy can be traced right back to specific statements in Paul's letters; whereas whatever theological justification can be wrung out of scripture for the exclusion of blacks from such positions was tortured at best. There was nothing in Paul, for instance, to hang the latter exclusion on, whereas the statement that in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek nor a long list of other, highly relevant distinctions plainly bears directly on the matter. This is surely why racial discrimination within the churches has been driven into fringey corners, while ordination of women must still fight for acceptance. Reconciling Paul's denial of distinction on the one hand and his flat prohibitions on the other requires theology, one way or the other.

Homosexuality is a quite different issue. Nobody claims it is sinful to be black or female; by contrast, the center of the homosexuality debate is over whether it is an ontological fact of sexuality which must be respected (and thus affirmed), or a manifestation of sinfulness which must be resisted. On the other hand, the rejection of Donatism implies that the only possibly insurmountable problem with Mary Glasspool's consecration is her sex, not who she chooses to have sex with. It stands as a symbol of the church's endorsement of homosexuality, but it doesn't delegitimize her office, at least if one accepts that a woman may be made a bishop.

All of this is preface to the observation that Grenz's essay doesn't come within miles of this. Indeed, considering the kind of inclusion that she discusses, I can only note Paul Goings's waspish remark at another place that he's "waiting for the movement to introduce ordination without baptism." I don't see the theology in this, only an inchoate urge towards Inclusion as the highest Christian value.

And furthermore, one should give a thought about how people who are not baptized may approach the rail (or should I say, altar, since rails are after all a realization of exclusion). People with strong religious commitments--faithful Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or atheists--are likely either to refrain out of piety or (perhaps in the case of the Hindus) reinterpret the act in the context of their own religion, in which case they may be ritual participants but not faithful participants. We cannot include these people with bread and wine.

From there we turn to that growing faith, the irreligious and the "spiritual but not religious". Here the paradox is made manifest: the problem these people have is their lack of religious commitment, so we "welcome" them by abolishing the requirement for that commitment! Or as I put it several years ago: "Open communion sends the message that you don't have standards." I have to think that these people are the ones most likely to transgress Paul's numerous warnings about approaching communion unworthily, not perceiving Christ in it. They are not being included; they are being indulged. They come to church with no commitment to Christ, and they leave the same way; in the middle they may persuade themselves that they've had some sort of deep spiritual (which, I am sad to say, is likely to mean aesthetic and emotive) experience, but the one person they do not want to meet there is John the Baptist demanding to know what they're doing there and calling them to repentance.

And naturally, as usual the clerics get to congratulate themselves on their radical hospitality. "Radical" means "rebellious", and if there isn't a bishop or the canons to rebel against, there's always the Baptists and the pope. "Hospitality" means catering to spiritual dilettantes. Meanwhile the church itself suffers, if only because of the old principle: "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The power of a sacrament

Chasing down some remarks by Derek Olsen concerning communion without baptism, I came upon this striking statement from Fr. John-Julian, OJN:
I had a friend who was a military chaplain. He had been a Congregationalist, but the moment he left the military, he became an Episcopalian. (He wasn't allowed to "convert" while a chaplain!)

I asked him why he became an Episcopalian. He said: "I was on the battlefield in the front lines, and when one of the young soldiers was dying, I watched the Episcopal priest give him Communion and anoint him with holy oil. As a Congregationalist, all I could do was TALK to the dying -- and that was so bloody irrelevant. It was then that I literally SAW the power of a Sacrament -- and knew where I belonged."