Thursday, November 21, 2013

Women's Ordination: An Attempt at Agreeable Disagreement

Please allow me a few opening clarifications.

First: I do not support the ordination of women to the diaconate, priesthood, or episcopate. 

Second: I am only speaking for myself. I am also speaking as myself. I am not an academician. I am not an expert. I am not infallible. I am simply a husband, father, and parish priest.

Third: I once supported the ordination of women to the priesthood. I figured it was just the way things were, which was certainly the case in my ordaining diocese. As I got closer to my own priesting I discovered more of the opposite view. I began to study that point of view. I found it compelling alongside other, interconnected arguments that led me to embrace Anglo-Catholic practice and theology.

I am prompted to write having read a blog post brought to my attention by a tweet. The blog post is titled: We can agree to disagree on women's ordination.

I expressed my initial appreciation for the post in a retweet. Now I'll briefly interact in a blog post.

The writer's first major point is a great place to start.

1. Objection to women's ordination is not equivalent to sexism.

I genuinely appreciate this point and I hope there is wide agreement with it.

Her second point is admirable, yet slightly problematic.

2. We must offer hospitality to those with whom we disagree.

She goes on to say: "Those who want to retain unity in the church—especially us ordained women and female church leaders—must ensure that we preserve room for those who disagree with us or who aren't certain about this issue."

Several quick observations:

First, "female church leaders" and "ordained women" aren't the same thing. I say this not to be pedantic, but for a simple clarification. It is quite possible to be a female church leader, or a male church leader, and not be in ordained ministry. This agreeable disagreement isn't about leadership, in general. It is about the sacrament of holy orders.

Second, and this (I believe) is a factual observation, ordained women (i.e. females in holy orders) cause further division in an already divided church. There are substantial, insurmountable barriers added to Anglican conversations with our senior ecumenical partners (the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches) that are a result of the innovative practice of women in holy orders.

Third, I find that her conclusion mirrors that of the Episcopal Church (which I recently left). To me, the "we need to preserve room" perspective says, "This is our room. We are going ahead with this and are convinced that we're in the right. You can disagree with us, but you should not oppose us or stop us." This is relationally dangerous language.

Her final point is largely inarguable: Our mutual goal is serving Christ and his bride.

But her conclusion from this appears to reiterate the "it's only a matter of time" approach, though in softer language.

Here's the final paragraph:

"However, it is harmful when denominations that ordain women demand that clergy fall in line on this issue or find a new church. As long as there are those in my communion who pure-heartedly believe Scripture precludes women from ordination, I want to allow room for them and to serve the church alongside of them. I hope they will do the same for those of us for women's ordination. Our mutual love for the church compels us to seek to grow together into him who is our head, even if our growth is painful, messy, halting, and incomplete."

The first sentence is irenic, which is always appreciated.

The second sentence is well said, but I find it confusing. How is it practically possible to "serve alongside" someone in the ministerial priesthood if you each hold mutually contradictory views about what that ministerial priesthood is? I don't think that's possible in theory. Neither have I found it healthy in practice. It may not even be possible. In my former diocese, when my views on the issue became more widely known my relational matrix with my peers was substantially altered.

The third sentence, to be agreeably blunt, is something I cannot do. I cannot and should not "do the same" for those practicing women's ordination. The practice in and of itself redefines the catholic ministerial priesthood out of existence within Anglicanism. 

I think it is still possible to be a catholic priest as an Anglican. I could be wrong here. Anglican orders may be null and void. And if that's the case, then my argument doesn't matter. I don't think that's the case.

What, then, does "mutual love for the church" and "growth together into him who is our head" look like if neither side is willing to risk a wholesale change of mind and practice on the issue?

One side of this argument is wrong. For a time, we can and we must disagree agreeably.

I believe this is the deeper question: is it possible to remain within the bonds of charity while one of side loses this debate?

Much more, and better, can and has been said on both sides of this issue.

Presently, Dr. William Witt, whom I greatly admire but disagree with on this issue is writing a fine series in support of the ordination of women. The first installment can be found at this link. If I'm wrong (and I may well be) then I certainly hope he's right.

One of my favorite articles supporting the ministerial priesthood is Man, Woman, and the Priesthood of Christ by Bishop Kallistos Ware. The link is in the title. There are plenty of other resources for those interested.

If I've been uncharitable, please forgive me. If I'm wrong, I trust that Jesus will make that clear.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Form Sufficient for Parochial Missiology: The Remnant Concept

The Remnant, far from being an amputated segment—the clique detached from the whole—is at the center of the parochial organism and of power [i.e. grace] extending beyond it. It is the very heart which recapitulates and serves the whole; the heart of the Body of Christ in microcosm, and its relation to its environment is the relation between Christ and the twelve, to their world. This palpitating heart pumps the blood of life to all the body as leaven leavens the lump or salt savours the whole.

Martin Thornton, Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation, p.23

Friday, November 8, 2013

Exchanging "What I Believe" for "Who I Trust"

"Belief by its very nature requires assent and participation, trust and commitment. When we believe we are at our most personal and intimate with another, the Other. Belief cannot be forced. If we are bullied or seduced or manipulated to believe, we do not end up believing, we end up intimidated . . . or used. And we are less, not more." (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 94)

In my teens and early twenties, "what I believed" was very important to me. Important but unknown. "What I believe" was largely haphazard opinion. Owing to youth, sloth, and inattention, I was self-limited to a Bible verse here or there, hazily remembered, floating disembodied from its context.

I still remember sitting in my youth pastor's study, in the midst of conversations with him I would see the spine of Berkoff's Systematic Theology. It was a stark, library bound copy, thick, black with gold letters. It scared me. I thought that if I read a book like that it would challenge "what I believed." I didn't know what I believed. But whatever it was, I didn't want it challenged.

What I believed was probably some truncated, soterian form of Christian Smith's moralistic therapeutic deism.

Soterian, in that I believed Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead. And, because I believed that, I knew that I knew that I knew that I would go to heaven when I died. No matter what I did or didn't do. No matter what I knew or didn't know. I was convinced that I was my own priest. I didn't need anybody between me and God. I didn't need anybody to tell me what to think or not to think. I was my own, unassailable, unlearned, but eternally saved, individual, independent authority. Oh, and one more thing. I believed with all my heart that the Bible was the inspired, inerrant, Word of God. I just didn't read the thing. But, then, I didn't have to. I was going to heaven with or without Bible literacy.

In the midst of this sloppy fog, I also believed a truncated moralistic therapeutic deism. I thought that that I was supposed to "be good." That's what my Momma told me to do: be good. It's what my youth pastor told me to do. Except he took if further. He quoted Peter, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pt. 1:16). But I believed I was on my own to accomplish that project, thus deist.

But my moralistic deism wasn't therapeutic. God wasn't a therapist; he was an absentee judge. He would grade me; he wouldn't help me. I was on my own. I knew I was supposed to be good, or worse, holy. I knew couldn't be good, much less holy, even if I tried, which I rarely did. Good thing I had just a little bit of Jesus' blood to deal with (what I assumed to be) God's permanent anger towards me.

I suppose that made me a soterian moralistic nihilist. Salvation was "heaven when you die." That's all Jesus could help with. I was supposed to "be good" but I new I couldn't and I wouldn't. 

I'm very blessed I to have been where I was. I could have been much worse off. If Jesus and the Bible are at least in the mix, any number of good things can happen.

Beginning to get myself sorted out has been a long and surprisingly enjoyable process of exchanging "what I believed" for "who I trust". Now I still believe things. What I believe is important to me. I am far less reactive when questioned or challenged because I spend time reflecting on what I believe and why I believe it. And the whats and the whys are secondary and tertiary to the who. 

I trust, I believe, Jesus.

In the language of Peterson's quote above: I assent to who Jesus is. I participate in who he is. I trust who he is. I am committed to who he is.

I am not in charge of who he is. I am not directly responsible for who he is. I claim him. But I don't have to defend him. He can defend himself. I answer to him. He does not answer to me.

As one of my favorite teachers said, "Our personal relationship with Jesus is what saves us in every sense of 'saves.' And there is no personal relationship with Jesus but that of disciple to their master, teacher, and Lord. The idea that you could trust him for forgiveness of sins, but for nothing else, is a psychological absurdity, a theological crime, and nothing the Bible ever heard of. It is designed to rationalize a preexisting system that allows people to be Christians without being disciples."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Parochial Missiology: a theological synthesis?

About five years after graduating from seminary (DTS Th.M., 2002) I read a course altering book: Via Media: An essay in theological synthesis by E.L. Mascall. 

The minor course change was identifying and correcting a heresy I held (I didn't know I was an monophysite! Oops!). The major adjustment consisted of clarifying the main points of Christian orthodoxy. As you can see, I needed the help.

I initially thought the book would be about Anglicanism, bearing the title Via Media. Fortunately, I was wrong. The book is about the Christian faith.

In using the term via media Mascall healthily clarifies and expands the concept.

The clarification: "A via media like other viae, is a narrow path separating broad tracts of varied country; comprehensiveness is not prima facie one of the qualities we shall expect to find in it."

That is to say the middle way, is not a moderate, broad compromise between two extremes. Neither is it a loose, boundless comprehensiveness. The middle way is more of a tightrope than an eight-lane highway.

The expansion: "The position which I wish to maintain in the present book is this: that on the cardinal points of Christian doctrine orthodoxy consists in holding together two notions which might well seem to be incompatible. I do not mean that they are incompatible in fact; the idea that Christianity involves believing contradictions seems to me to be as stultifying and immoral as the view that it involves clutching at the horns of any ostensible dilemma. a naive 'both-and' programme and a naive 'either-or' programme both provide scope for theological pyrotechnics but little for steady illumination. My point is simply (1) that the two notions may very well seem to be incompatible; (2) that if we assume that they are really incompatible we shall be tempted to opt for one of them to the exclusion of the other and so to fall into error; (3) that if we go on to enquire how they must be understood if they are not to be incompatible we shall acquire a very much more profound understanding of the question at issue than we had when we began. And I think that, as a matter of history, we can see that the Church herself entered on just such a process of deepening her theological understanding when the proliferation of heresies compelled her to examine more closely the faith which had been committed to her." (emphasis added)

That's quite an expansive expansion!

What's the rumpus?

The rumpus is that some opposites are really opposite. The law of non-contradiction is fully in force here. Yet, some opposites only appear opposite. If we too quickly assume incompatibility we might miss out on something important because it's true and true because it's important.

Mascall goes on to unpack this idea with fore core teachings of the Christian faith: Creation, Trinity, the Incarnation, and Grace (or comprehensive salvation: justification, sanctification, & glorification).

The brilliance and value of the book are found in the simple, two-word synthesis that Mascall develops for each doctrine. The words seem opposite. Their synthesis is Christian orthodoxy.

Creation: Dependent Reality

Trinity: Derived Equality

Incarnation: Unconfused Union

Grace: Deified Creaturehood

I'd say I could write a book on that. But I don't need to, and I can't. Dr. Mascall wrote the book. I'm nowhere near his league. Read his book. I'm a simple (and infrequent) blogger.

My point is that Parochial Missiology might be (let me stress, might be) a similar theological synthesis suitable for the missional conversation, offered from a perspective grounded in a sacramental view of the Church.

In upcoming posts I hope to (1) unpack and clarify the idea; (2) in so doing, criticize and improve the concept; (3) highlight important books, authors, and thinkers that inspire the idea; and (4) keep it, if refined and profitable, or scrap it if unsustainable and detrimental.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Parochial Missiology at St. Mark's, Arlington

A blueprint for missional discipleship in the Anglican Way 

VISION – IN A WORD: JESUS
(Who are we and what are we about?)

Jesus Christ: known in word and sacrament, 
transforming his people for transforming the world.


MISSION – IN TWO WORDS: KINGDOM DISCIPLESHIP
(Where do we want to go?)

We exist to know, love, imitate, and serve Jesus Christ.


STRATEGY – IN THREE WORDS: THE ANGLICAN WAY
(How will we get there?)

We will: 

Proclaim, practice, and promote the faith of the one, holy, 
catholic, and apostolic Church.

Glorify God and enjoy Him through sacramental worship, 
biblical preaching, and sacred music.

Promote spiritual growth and maturity through transformative Christian education.

Enjoy Christian fellowship through an engaging parish social life.

Reach out in compassion to the needy in our community.



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Three Tools for Training in the Life from God

Some books are meant to be read. Others should be absorbed. In this second category is Bishop Jeremy Taylor’s Rules and Exercises for Holy Living and Holy Dying. Bishop Taylor (1613-1667) was an Anglican leader in a time of great stress and commotion. He suffered much for remaining a faithful bishop. He also suffered much as he prayed for and loved dear friends through their dying, even losing his wife, Phoebe. The character and perseverance in love of this godly bishop are evidence that his life and teaching were of one piece and that his foundation was the Word of God and the person of Jesus Christ.

In Rules and Exercises for Holy Living he begins by listing three “General Instruments” for holy living. In other words, he gives three universally valuable practices for becoming someone who shares the life and character of Jesus Christ: (1) care of our time; (2) purity of intention; (3) the practice of the presence of God.

One big idea from the Bible, with with regard to care of our time, is simple recognition of how little of it we have. It’s a foundation of biblical wisdom, “So teach us to number our days,” writes Moses in Psalm 90. Bishop Taylor singles out the sin of idleness saying, “Idleness is the sin of Sodom and her daughters, and indeed is the ‘burial of the living man.’” And, ‘Idleness is the greatest prodigality [i.e., waste] in the world: it throws away that which is invaluable in respect of its present use, and irreparable when it is past.”

To me, these are fighting words. Idleness is one of my favorite pastimes and I've developed it into an art. How dare he say these things! Except that he was a good pastor and doctor of the soul. The problem isn't a proper amount of rest, neither is the solution busyness. The goal is consistently to use the one thing we’re given, the present moment, for the purpose for which it is given, to love and serve the Lord.

This leads to the second general instrument: purity of intention. If the purpose to which we use the present moment is to love and serve our creator and savior God, do we intend to do it? He gives two practical rules to help guide and support our intention. First, “In every action, . . . consider why you do it.” Second, “Begin every action in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” These two simple practices open every moment to divine interaction and the blessing of God’s grace.

This leads us to the third general instrument, which is both the foundation and the culmination of our life: the presence of God. What we hope for in the age to come is the clear and present manifestation of the glory of God. 'They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. ‘They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever’ (Rev. 22:4-5). The presence of God is what we lose by sin, gain by grace, and enjoy by growth in holiness.

Taylor’s writing on this is so beautiful; I’ll quote it at length and let it stand with little comment. I’ll limit myself to a few highlights in the text. Reflect deeply on this passage for the purpose of living deeply in God’s present goodness.

“That God is present in all places, that he sees every action, hears all discourses, and understands every thought, is no strange thing to a Christian ear, who hath been taught this doctrine, not only by right reason, and the consent of all the wise men in the world, but also by God himself in holy Scripture. ‘Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? Saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?’[Jer. 23:23-24] ‘Neither is there any creature, that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and open to the eyes of him, with whom we have to do.’ [Heb. 4:13] ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ [Acts 7:28] God is wholly in every place; included in no place; not bound with cords, except those of love; not divided into parts, not changeable into several shapes; filling heaven and earth with his present power, and with his never absent nature. So St. Augustine expresses in this article. [City of God, book 7, chapter 30] So we may imagine God to be as the air and the sea; and we all enclosed in his circle, wrapped up in the lap of his infinite nature; or as infants in the wombs of their pregnant mothers: and we can no more be removed from the presence of God than from our own being.

Three tools for training in the life from God for which we are made: (1) care of our time; (2) purity of intention; (3) the practice of the presence of God. May we step intelligently, purposefully, and happily into life with God.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Prayer for the Seven-Fold Gift of the Holy Spirit


A Prayer for the Seven-Fold Gift of the Holy Spirit
From the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book

O Holy Ghost, my Lord and my God, who hast over-shadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary and formed the most holy humanity of my Savior Jesus Christ, I adore thee, and acknowledge here in thy divine presence, that I am nothing and can do nothing without thee. Come, thou blessed Spirit of God, and dwell in this soul that longs to be thy holy temple. Heal the lurking distemper of my heart and infuse thy grace into the well-springs of my life.

O Holy Ghost, grant me the gift of wisdom and supernatural light, that I may not only know God in his infinite goodness, power, and beauty, but also taste with ardent joy of heart his infinite sweetness.

O Holy Ghost, grant me the gift of understanding and shining light, that I may know the mysteries of faith and of heavenly things, not as in darkness, but in the true light of thy wisdom filling my mind and heart.

O Holy Ghost, grant me the gift of counsel and brilliant light, that in danger and doubt I may choose what is right and good, and under thy guidance attain a happy end.

O Holy Ghost, grant me the gift of fortitude and comforting light, that I may generously overcome all difficulties in the way of salvation, resisting all temptations, and bearing patiently all the troubles and trials of this life.

O Holy Ghost, grant me the gift of knowledge and discerning light, that I may judge of all things according to their true worth, and despise what is to be despised and love what is to be loved.

O Holy Ghost, grant me the gift of godliness and heavenly light, which may penetrate my soul with a tender devotion to thee and love for thy divine service, and also cause me to find happiness in practicing good works.

O Holy Ghost, grant me the gift of the fear of God and penetrating light, that I may recognize how greatly sin offends thy infinite majesty, and may fear and most carefully avoid all that is displeasing to thee.