Thursday, December 04, 2008

the Episcopal Church and Scripture

From time to time one hears the presenting issue between the Episcopal Church and its critics is really not the morality homosexuality so much but rather the authority of Scripture; here is R. Albert Mohler, President of the of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in 2003:

For a church to move to ... elect a homosexual bishop is to abdicate biblical authority in such an extreme way that it raises questions about the whole integrity of the church.

A bit closer to home, here is the Episcopal Church's Canon Kendall Harmon of South Carolina in 2005:

While the clash over sexuality makes the headlines, it is only the tip of the iceberg; underneath the debate about non-celibate same-sex relationships lurks the deeper issues of the authority and interpretation of scripture and the way authority is dispersed in the Church.

One could easily multiply instances; here is the spokesman for the new ecclesial entity of Quincy, one-time Episcopalian vicar John Spencer in 2008:

We feel the Episcopal Church has been on a fast, major drift away from scriptural authority and historic Christian teaching....

Blogger Ramsey Wilson of what was once the Falls Church congregation of the Episcopal Church put the gist of the contention well back in 2006:

The 2003 confirmation of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a divorced father of two who is an admitted, non-celibate, unrepentant homosexual, no doubt is important to orthodox Christians in the Episcopal Church. The importance, though, derives from the fact that Bishop Robinson’s confirmation is merely the latest in a long line of instances in which the Episcopal Church has expressed an utter lack of respect for the authority and reliability of Scripture. [emphasis mine]

Whatever the efficacy of homosexuality as a sexy wedge issue around which to rally the discontented, the conservative Anglican case for criticizing the Episcopal Church stands or falls on exactly this point about the authority of Scripture. In other words:

[A] If the critique is justified, then the Episcopal Church must have an utter lack of respect for the authority of Scripture.

By "the critique" I mean the cluster of opinions of both those who would merely like to see the Episcopal Church reprimanded in some severe way by the Anglican Communion as a whole, and those who would like to see the Episcopal Church replaced as a province in the Anglican Communion. The severe reprimand above would compel the Episcopal Church to choose either to conform to the order of the Anglican Communion or else assent to leave it.

The point I wish to make with statement [A] is that if the Episcopal Church did indeed after all have respect for Scripture's authority, then the critique would be a significant overreaction. The ordination of VGR cannot be merely an isolated instance of error, or merely part of a contingent pattern of error; it has to be part of a systemic failure rooted not in an innocent or superficial mistake, but in a conscious and settled rejection of Scripture's authority. Otherwise, our critics would have needlessly introduced dissension and division into the Body of Christ.

So, I contend that

[B] the Episcopal Church respects Scripture's authority.

If [B] holds, it would follow from [A] that our critics are not justified. In that case, the actions of CANA, GAFCON, etc would be rooted in error--an error dangerous to the substance of the faith, inasmuch as the orthodox are credally pledged to believe in the unity and catholicity of the Body of Christ, and these critics are exactly such orthodox by their own proclamation.

The case for [B] is quite strong in my opinion, inasmuch as the Epicopal Church has left little question as to where it stands on the issue of Biblical authority; volumes from the most recent two Church's Teaching Series from the '70s and late '90s have been devoted to the issue, and there are several other monographs with similar degrees of authority. Moreover, it seems to me equally clear that the actions of GC2003 are rooted in the approach to Scripture outlined in these publications.

Thus, I propose looking into these volumes to see what the Episcopal Church actually says about Scripture and Biblical authority; alas, I am unwilling merely to take our conservative brothers and sisters at their word on this one.

Where to start? Why not with Roger Ferlo's Opening the Bible; you can pick it up new for $12 and used for $3, plus 4$ shipping at Amazon, for instance.

48 Comments:

At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Phillip Cato said...

When conservatives complain that the Episcopal Church does not take seriously the authority of Scripture, they are actually objecting to the fact that mainline Episcopalians do not read the proof texts they have identified as forbidding and condemning homosexual acts in the same literal way that they do. It is best, I think, not to fall for the notion that they are saying that we disrespect Scripture and its teachings in toto. There may be other passages that thye would want us to accept as written without interpretation or nuance, but the ones on sexuality are the critical ones, I believe. If I may suggest a different text as more relevant, it would be that of Charles Cosgrove, Appealing to Scripture in Moral Debate: Five Hermeneutical Rules.

Phillip Cato

 
At 4:37 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Phillip,

Thanks for the reference to Cosgrove.

Let me disagree with you, however, about what our critics are saying. I believe many of them--esp. the most vocal ones like Harmon and Virtue--think the Episcopal Church does not respect Scripture in toto. Reading texts ostensibly referring to homosexuality--that is just one instance of what they see as a larger pattern.

For instance, some of these critics also complain about communion without baptism in TEC and how TEC reads Paul on the issue, or how TEC reads Scripture on the divine and unique status of Christ, or how TEC regards Scripture on exclusivism.

For these critics, the appearance of a pattern is a significant theological reason driving the intensity of their pessimism and dissatisfaction.

Of course, I am convinced the pattern they see is really just a mirage, or even better: a projection.

 
At 5:48 PM, Blogger Tobias Haller said...

AS, I think you have part of the key in your response to Philip. It isn't that TEC disregards Scripture when some in it make comments about BWOC or the uniqueness of Christ or whatever -- but it is that our readings (or some of our readings) go against their readings. The point is we do read, as I know you will find on reviewing Ferlo and Dentan. It is the differing conclusions they cannot abide, though they pretend we don't respect Scripture. Perhaps we respect it too much to treat it as a mere Berlitz Phrasebook to Morality...?

 
At 6:39 PM, Blogger bls said...

I'd like to point out, again, how little "conservatives" pay heed to the parts of Scripture they don't like or care to follow - the many admonitions in re: usury, for instance. And in particular, ones like Luke 14:26: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, as well as his own life, he can't be my disciple." The "plain sense" of Scripture is quite clear there - but there's never a mention of it. Or this, also Luke (18:22): "Now when Jesus heard these things, he said to him, Yet lack you one thing: sell all that you have, and distribute to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me."

And of course, there is the divorce question; something tells me that the new "conservative" whatever isn't going to ban divorce anytime soon. Want to bet that never happens?

So can we deduce that "conservatives" do not take Scripture seriously?

 
At 9:35 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

I must agree and disagree with you Scotist (and Co.). Granted I am a newbe Anglican, having been raised a Pentecostal, but that has, I believe, allowed me a bit more of an “outside” view coming into this shit storm. To be sure, many of the most vocal, let’s call them “The Right” (The Right, Conservative, Traditionalist, Moderate, The Left?) act just like any Southern Baptist (or SB President), they have a hermeneutic which is unsophisticated, lacking nuance and consistency, and the historical roots that Anglicanism has to offer. I think you rightly point out their hypocrisy. Perhaps we could fit Kendall and Co. here.

Nonetheless, the “Left” has been far from any better. Random quotes from the Gospels and the Johanine corpus are taken out of historical and canonical context and used to back up a rhetoric and vocabulary which is distincly post-60’s liberal. Perhaps we should fit +Schori and Co. here.

And I think it sophistry to say that TEC really is actually quite “biblical” simply because our “official texts” still are. There has been a pattern of allowing sub-catholic scripture readings and theology slip by undisciplined. Here we can fit +Spong & Co.

And to speak of “needlessly introducing dissention” is rich when we consider that both liberal and conservative warned pre GC2003 TEC that to do such an action would tear the fabric of the Communion. Which it has. Not that incursions and impatience have been the correct remedy, but it truly is that decision which caused all this. The fault, then, is TEC’s liberals and loose moderates.

Finally, and not a moment too soon, it is the moderate Evangelicals which are doing the best biblical readings, hermeneutics, science and theology. Not just in Anglicanism, but over the broader ecumenical specturm. Chris and +Tom Wright, John Polkinghorne, LeRon Schultz, Peter Rollins yada yada. The best post-liberals are congregationalists such as Brueggemann. Liberal and conservative theology is falling apart at the seams in light of post-foundationalism

 
At 2:44 PM, Blogger bls said...

adhunt, I would agree with most of what you say there, except, of course, your fourth paragraph.

Gay folks have been trying to have a peaceful discussion about how the church treats homosexual people for about 40 years - and we have been 100% ignored. We were laughed at, in fact, and people continue to point to Lambeth 1.10 - never intending for a minute to fulfill their half of the 1.10 bargain.

Further, Gene Robinson isn't a plot; he has worked in the Diocese of New Hampshire for over 20 years now, I believe. They elected him as their bishop, and there are and always have been other gay bishops; again, the difference is that he's open about it, that's all. (I always wonder why Peter Akinola's actions in re: encouraging the arrest of innocent people in his country doesn't "tear the fabric of the Communion," BTW. Some Communion.)

Further, same-sex blessings ARE occurring in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, so even if Gene Robinson's election were the proximate cause, another would have come along in fairly short order. Peter Akinola et al. openly detest homosexual people and nothing is going to change that fact.

BTW, it doesn't really matter what a few Episcopal writers have to say if it doesn't get down into the pews. Fortunately, EFM is becoming much more widely used, and that will help a lot in the area of Biblical Literacy.

 
At 3:09 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

BLS,

You won't find me defending Akinola to be sure!

 
At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Charlotte said...

In my view, we do our opponents a disservice by treating their arguments as substantive, when they are demagoguery, inflammatory rhetoric intended merely to "stir the pot." It is charitable to name demagoguery as demagoguery. It should not be named or treated as anything else.

Other recent examples of demagoguery:

1) on a Stand Firm thread recently: "Actually carl, since they (the progressives) don’t believe in the sanctity of Communion" -- Note that it is simply assumed this is the case.

2) From our own Don Curran+: "Some Parishes within The Episcopal Church currently invite those of other faiths such as Hindu, Moslem, Jew, Buddhist and even Wiccan to receive the Sacraments without Baptism, faith, repentance or salvation."

3) From Archbishop Akinola, who apparently takes his theology from the worst of Fox News: "To the ordinary person, what does it matter, when they say seasons greetings, or Christmas greetings. It doesn’t matter to the ordinary person, but for those who have the spirit of discernment, for those who follow the trend of the modern world, they would know that it is not ordinary.

Let me be blunt with you, I see the agents of anti-Christ at work and their determination is to remove God and Christ and the church from national consciousness, from the public domain. Begin to think of the tremendous developments and benefits nations have derived from the church, think of the tremendous blessings the church has been to Europe or to America . In fact, the founding fathers of these nations built their policies, government, and constitution on the strength of their Judeo-Christian heritage."

I'd provide more, but I am sure I have already nauseated enough readers. This stuff is not argument. It is (to quote a useful list compiled by Andrew Sullivan), "applesauce, balderdash, blatherskite, claptrap, codswallop, flapdoodle, hogwash, horsefeathers, humbug, moonshine, poppycock, tommyrot." And Harry Frankfurt has analyzed it very well.

 
At 3:49 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

My Cathedral lets all and sundry to the Table of Our Lord without respect to faith and baptism. I'm not sayi'n all "liberal" parishes do, but some do, let's not play perfectly innocent.

If we Episcopalians do want to demonstrate our orthodoxy, then, as Scotist recently pointed out...someones got to call sin, sin. Or at least we need to tighten some ropes and weed out some of the unitarian (and fundamentalist) tendencies that have come in through the back door which distort our heritage.

 
At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Charlotte said...

And your cathedral is -- ?

 
At 4:55 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

St. Mark's in MN

 
At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Charlotte said...

Now come one, adhunt, don't hold out on us. I'd like to ask your Cathedral Dean what's going on. How can I do this if you won't give me the name of your Cathedral?

 
At 4:59 PM, Anonymous Charlotte said...

Ok, you've replied. I'm going to e-mail the Dean and ask what's up. If Scotist is gracious enough to allow it, I'll post the Dean's reply here. Perhaps the practice is more innocent than you think, and perhaps it isn't. Either way, we'll find out what the situation is.

 
At 5:00 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

I'm not trying to taddle, just to point out that I have observed the phenomenon.

 
At 5:02 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

Keep in mind I don't regularily attend the Cathedral, perhaps it was a fluke I witnessed. I go down in St.Paul. You are likely right that it is more innocent than might be imagined.

 
At 5:10 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

I'd prefer you leave me out of it, I am entering the exploratory phase of discernment for ordination. I am not looking to pick a fight with the Diocese.

 
At 5:17 PM, Anonymous Charlotte said...

Well quite possibly whatever was going on is more innocent than you think. I just spent some time exploring the website of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, MN. It wasn't hardship duty. It's quite a nice website. But they do seem to be very concerned with formation. Parents who want to have their children baptized in the Cathedral have to have instruction first. And then there's this, under "Adult Formation":

"Discovery Series

"This series of classes and dialogues is for anyone interested in learning more about St. Mark’s, the Christian faith and the Anglican tradition. This series is used also to prepare individuals for Membership, Confirmation, Reception, & Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows; however, there is no obligation or pressure to join the church at the completion of the series."

Possibly you were misled by the fact that St. Mark's affirms the worth of gay and lesbian persons. Our diocese does not, as you know, I'm sure; perhaps seeing openly gay persons taking the Sacrament persuaded you that St. Mark's cares nothing for the faith of the recipient. They would not say so, of course.

Others who want to explore St, Mark's very beautiful website, or attempt to hire away its designer, go to:

http://www.ourcathedral.org/

I'll post the Dean's reply as soon as I get it.

 
At 5:19 PM, Blogger Charlotte said...

adhunt, I don't think anyone's going to know who you are. We'll keep you anonymous.

 
At 5:38 PM, Blogger Charlotte said...

Here's the e-mail I just finished sending. We'll see what Dean Simrill says! (adhunt, your anonymity is preserved, as I promised it would be.)

The Very Reverend Spenser D. Simrill
Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Mark's
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dear Dean Simrill:

I hope you can take time in your busy schedule to answer a question that came up
in discussion on the blog known as the "Anglican Scotist" URL: http://anglicanscotist.blogspot.com.
(Full disclosure: I am not "Anglican Scotist," though I am slightly acquainted
with him.)

Several persons were discussing the practice of Communion to the unbaptized. (A
resolution condemning this practice will be introduced by Fr. Don Curran at the
next Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of Central Florida.)

One commenter, who strongly prefers to remain anonymous, wrote the following:
"My Cathedral lets all and sundry to the Table of Our Lord without respect
to faith and baptism. I'm not sayi'n all "liberal" parishes do,
but some do, let's not play perfectly innocent."

This commenter subsequently identified the Cathedral in question as St. Marks, MN.
However, s/he is not a regular worshipper at the Cathedral and is willing to admit
s/he might have misidentified the practice.

My question for you, Dean Simrill, is: Does St. Mark's Cathedral make a practice
of offering communion to the unbaptized. I have promised to post your reply to the
blog.

Thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer this question.

Sincerely yours,

 
At 5:42 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

That's a bit unfair of you to treat me as if a gay person would make me cry "heresy." I think that if you looked at my blog posts on the "topic" you would see that I affirm a place for gay Christians even if I might disagree with you on it's place in sexual expression.

It had to do with "God's "inclusive" love for all, wherever you are on your faith journey." No mention was made of needing to belong to a Christian faith tradition.

again...I'm not trying to start bitching about the Cathedral Dean. I admit it might have been a misconception.

 
At 5:50 PM, Blogger Charlotte said...

adhunt,

Let's all look at the language St. Mark's uses together, then, to see if it will bear the meaning you want to ascribe to it: "Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, St. Mark's welcomes you."

Somehow that doesn't scream "Communion of the unbaptized to me." I don't think it means what you thought it did: ""My Cathedral lets all and sundry to the Table of Our Lord without respect
to faith and baptism. I'm not sayi'n all "liberal" parishes do,
but some do, let's not play perfectly innocent." And I don't really think that St. Mark's ought to be disciplined or counted heretical for using this language. To be honest, I think they were doing outreach in an urban setting, and I could only wish our own Cathedral did a bit of outreach in Orlando.

Again, I urge all to look through the website at http://www.ourcathedral.org/

We will all know more when the Dean of St. Mark's replies.

 
At 5:58 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

I never said they should be counted heretical did I? Do you consistently ridicule people like me with rhetoric or is it just something you wanted to do with me?

I wasn't speaking about the language used on the site (or on the sign outside, I attend school on the other side of the park from the Cathedral. I know damn well what the wording is), it was the language used in the service itself.

I feel like you have made this bigger than I intended it to be. If I am wrong I will gladly apologize.

 
At 8:45 PM, Anonymous Kokoro said...

Hey, great blog you’ve got here (I was just re-directed here from The Episcopal Café) and populated with very thoughtful comments !

Here are a few quite scattered (I don’t do linear) thoughts about all those conservatives jumping ship…

My admittedly uninformed impression is that many/most of the departing conservatives are not simply literalist homophobes that are intolerant of differing scriptural interpretations.

Rather, I think a lot of them (particularly the older folks, i.e., almost anybody over 45) took their confirmation classes using the old prayer book and were required by their bishop to make a catechismal vow expressing belief in, among other things,
the virginity of Mary,
the physical resurrection,
the necessity of baptism for salvation, etc.

And back in those same days gone by they were told from the pulpit that anybody (e.g., James Pike) that suggested those doctrines were merely “myths” was a heretic.

But now the TEC teaches that the first two of those doctrines are “myths” (along with another apparently vestigial chestnut, the paschal mystery), according to TEC’s justifiably obscure Teach and Learn manual for religious instruction .

[And all of we loyal post-modernist Episcopalians have heard the various (usually silly) rationales for why there’s no need to actually believe in anything we say every Sunday in the Nicene Creed, like
(a) “believe” means just to “hold in your heart”, not to actually believe,
(b) since the Elizabethan Settlement all Anglican creedal statements have merely been affirmations of political identity rather than sincere statements of belief,
(c) “we” means the Church (some third party, whoever and whatever that may be), rather than I and the others reciting the creed with me,
etc.]

And while the traditional creedal teachings accepted by the conservatives may only be the stated doctrines of the church, not “scriptures”, those are, nonetheless, the distilled interpretations of scriptures pretty much followed for more than a millennium and a half by the church (and, as stated in the 1979 BCP, “[t]he creeds are statements of our [i.e., TEC’s] basic beliefs about God”).

So, to the casual observer it seems that TEC has been a bit more than disingenuous in not admitting that there has been a massive shift in the operational theology of the TEC from what was taught many years ago (to all those conservatives) to what is widely accepted today (by all of us more sophisticated post-moderns).

So my vote (I have no vote, since I’m only an aspirational Episcopalian of questionable discernment) would be to respect and support the conservatives in the courage of their faith to move on and become affiliated with other like-minded followers of Christ – after all, there but for fortune (e.g., if we’d been raised mainline Episcopalians 50 years ago) go you or go I.

And as the break-away conservatives wrestle with their collective responsibility to their creedal pledge “to believe in the unity and catholicity of the Body of Christ”, it is of some comfort that they may be able to draw from their own tradition examples of bold and creative ways such a pledge may be paradoxically fulfilled, such as TEC’s break from the Church of England and the COE’s break from Rome (thank goodness for the enduring unity of “invisible church” just when the “visible church” seems to be going to hell-in-a-hand basket).

Now, with those subtle theological issues put to rest (or at least finessed), how about focusing on the nuts and bolts of TEC’s novel and soon-to-be-tested legal theory (concocted at no small cost and quietly unveiled just a couple of years ago) that the national church has a legal property interest in all Episcopal diocesan property and in all Episcopal parish property - that’s really gonna bring out the big guns…and bring fresh meaning to the term “episcopacy” (this time it’ll be the lawyers, not the theologians, doing the deconstructing) !

 
At 9:43 PM, Blogger Charlotte said...

Where do you get this stuff, Kokoro?

 
At 9:49 PM, Blogger Charlotte said...

Your statements, Kokoro, hardly inspire confidence. They are inflammatory, yet non-specific, and thus can't be refuted.

And when you write:
"TEC’s novel and soon
-to-be-tested
legal theory (concocted at no small cost and quietly unveiled just a couple of years ago) that the national church has a legal property interest in all Episcopal diocesan property and in all Episcopal parish property "

Well, that gives me no confidence whatever in the rest of what you say. The theory is scarcely novel, and it's been tested many times already. Check out what happened in the Diocese of South Carolina when All Saints, Pawley Island, tried to take its building into AmiA. The diocese (hardly a hotbed of liberalism) fought them and won.

You write as someone with no familiarity with the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Tradition, so I wonder why you are so concerned with what is happening in a church so clearly distant from anything in your own experience.

Who is telling you these things?

 
At 10:01 PM, Blogger Charlotte said...

Kokoro, let's see if we can get one of your many vague and inflammatory statements sufficiently pinned down that we can test its truth.

You say: "But now the TEC teaches that the first two of those doctrines are “myths” (along with another apparently vestigial chestnut, the paschal mystery), according to TEC’s justifiably obscure Teach and Learn manual for religious instruction ."

All right, let's have a citation. Give us the publication information for this "Teach and Learn" manual. Page numbers, please. Where can we look up the passages in which TEC teaches that the virginity of Mary is a myth? And as for the physical resurrection -- oh, dear, go read St. Paul before you accuse the Church of failing to teach the physical resurrection. And after that, let's have some more page numbers.

I am inclined to say that this is simply more of the same -- poppycock, etc. -- that has been ladled out for years by the extremist breakaway factions. Let's have some facts. Let's have something checkable, not this endless pot-stirring demagoguery. Not this neverending --codswallop.

 
At 12:18 AM, Anonymous Kokoro said...

Charlotte,

“Called To Teach And Learn” can be found on (and downloaded from) the ECUSA’s web site at
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/50534_49323_ENG_HTM.htm .

Since that document is, according to TEC, the Episcopal Church's official catechetical guide, you might find it to be interesting reading.

I hadn’t looked at it for awhile, so I had to dig around a bit to find some of that myth talk I mentioned :
“The most important and central narratives within the Scriptures are myths:
the creation narrative,
the birth of Jesus narrative, and
the pascal mystery narrative, all of which have historical relevance, reveal a truth that history can neither affirm or deny.”

Unfortunately those of us that you properly point out have "no familiarity with the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Tradition” are reduced to having to actually read TEC documents like that (and the BCP) to try to figure out what the church stands for.

Or we take the risk of venturing into blogs like this in the apparently naïve hope that we can learn and contribute without being instantly demonized as Stalinists by trigger-happy religious partisans.

From now on I’ll try to avoid even the appearance of serving up pot-stirring demagoguery, poppycock or codswallop.

P.S. I didn’t know anything about the Diocese of South Carolina, but that sounds like it may be a slightly different legal issue.

My understanding is that almost all dioceses (like South Carolina) have well-documented legal interests in their parishes’ real and personal property.

Traditionally, however, the national church has had no documented legal property interest in diocesan or parish property.

When dioceses, rather than just parishes, began breaking away, the national church began to assert the existence of an implied property interest of the national church in the break-away diocesan property. My understanding is that none of the cases involving that assertion has been finally adjudicated.

 
At 10:40 AM, Blogger Tobias Haller said...

Kokoro,

The legal position is complicated; but the language of the Canons does give explicit property interest to the national church. All church property is held in trust for the diocese and national church. The diocese is not separable from the national church, as it is in "union" with it. All of this was put into the canons to render explicit an understanding that had up until the 1970s been implicit, and further, upon which the vast bulk of all property disputes had been settled. This action was taken in direct response to a recommendation from the US Supreme Court.

The difference, as you rightly cite, is that the present assertion is the independence of dioceses from the national church. This will indeed need to be tested; however, the assertion of diocesan independence has no basis in the canons, and on the contrary it is as clear in the canons as it is in the Constitution of the US that states / dioceses do not have the right to declare themselves independent once they have entered into union with the nation / church. The only provision for diocesan independence in the Constitution and Canons applies to overseas jurisdictions; and even this independence requires the consent of General Convention. To assert that a domestic diocese can declare itself independent of the church is ultra vires and null. I am confident that the higher courts will defer to the church, as a point of constitutional law.

As to "Called to Teach and Learn" -- while it is "official" it is not intended as a dogmatic document, but as a tool for skilled teachers to use in generating lively educational approaches. As the introduction says, "Called to Teach and Learn is intended to be a foundational, theoretical document with implied practice; written for clergy and laity with some foundational knowledge in theology and education, who have primary responsibility for the Church's educational ministry within congregations, dioceses, provinces, seminaries and the national staff. As such, it is not intended to provide a dogmatic position to be accepted and acted upon. It is rather intended to provide a vision, an ideal, a direction, and insights to stimulate and guide conversation and decision-making."

An educated theologian understands that the word "myth" does not mean a "fanciful or false tale" but "a world-structuring story which points to a higher truth than the merely historical." That being said, I am one of those who supports a historical understanding of the Virgin Birth and resurrection (spiritual, not physical, in keeping with the Scriptural teaching in the Gospels and Paul). I think that is still true of many Episcopalians, though some do embrace a more Bultmannian approach.

But Bultmann himself should indicate to you that this kind of thinking is hardly limited to the Episcopal Church --- there are plenty of Lutheran and even RC theologians who would be comfortable with the statement you lifted from CTTAL.

 
At 12:04 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

I do not purposely intend to pick fights, but I must at least disagree with you that the Gospels and Paul envision a "spiritual" as opposed to bodily resurrection). Perhaps, rather than duking it out on poor Scotist's comment section we could converse via e-mail, or not; I just wanted to put in my two cents.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Tobias Haller said...

adhunt, the contrast is not between "spiritual" and "bodily" but between "spiritual" and "physical." There are, as Paul notes, both physical and spiritual bodies. This is spelled out in some detail in 1 Cor 15:35ff. The Orthodox position is not that Jesus was simply a dead body brought back to life -- like Lazarus or any number of other people Jesus reanimated -- but a whole new being, a transfigured and transformed kind of being. A body -- yes -- but much more than simply the dead flesh walking. As I say, Paul spells this all out; my reference to the Gospel is to the resurrection appearances in which the Risen Lord acts in supersubstantial ways, such as walking through closed doors -- not, as a ghost because he is so airy he can slip through the cracks, but because the merely physical world is rather foggy compared to his supersubstantial spiritual being. The point is that the Spirit is real, as real as matter; but it lasts forever, while matter decays. I think C.S. Lewis has some thoughts on this somewhere... the notion that the life of the world to come differs not merely in degree but in kind.

 
At 2:30 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

It seems perhaps, then, that we are in substantial agreement. Though, I think that since the fathers went to such a great length to defend something "more than spiritual" to the point that they spoke of the "resurrection of the sarx (flesh)" we might want to define "spiritual" in a way less like non-physical. Certainly the Resurrection appearences make clear the ability to touch the risen Lord... that seems at least somewhat "physical" even if it is "transformed" as Paul said.

I would be inclined to understand "soma pneumatika" as a body transformed and enlivened by the Spirit. I think great places to look at this "fleshed out" would be Gordon D Fee's commentary on 1 Cor. and +Wrights "Resurrection of the Son of God" (or ++Williams "Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel)

Blessings

 
At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Kokoro said...

Tobias,

Thanks for the helpful and detailed comments in both the legal and theological arenas.

So I guess that while I can conclude that my understanding that the national church’s assertion of a property interest in Diocesan property has never been finally adjudicated is correct, I’ll have to recognize that, in light of the long history of the ECUSA’s implicit/explicit claim on diocesan property, my surmise that the assertion of that particular claim is a novelty is simply dead wrong.

But on the other issue, my potentially out-of-date recollection is that the US Supreme Court (or was it the VA Supreme Court ?) recently rejected a TEC/diocesan request of the TEC/diocese to review the constitutionality of that long-standing, and much-exercised (100+ years), post civil war statute in Virginia that specifically authorizes the division of parish property following a well-documented theological, or merely policy, schism (no matter how trivial the issue – apparently under the statute the court is not allowed to judge materiality of the dispute beyond some de mimimis threshold) of the congregation.

But maybe I’ve got it wrong – did the Supreme Court recently find that VA law (or a highly similar law) to be unconstitutional ?

On the “myth” issue, I personally have no problem with its use in scriptural study and find it a highly useful device for accommodating the diversity of literalist/metaphorical/exoteric/esoteric/Paulian-not Markian/whatever approaches the faithful in the ECUSA bring to the Christ narrative (if pressed, I’d probably be found consorting with some of those rather unpleasant radical Bultmannians that can’t seem to agree on the historical truth of much more than Christ’s crucifixion).

But the primary concern I’ve tried to raise on this site has little to do with some idealized “correct” theology or rebuttal, or defense, of the TEC’s current let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom theological platform (for me, that’s what makes the Episcopal church such an exciting and fulfilling venue for my faith journey).

What I am trying to express (apparently not very well) is my concern on this site (which I understand from that Corinthians cite at the bottom of this page is a blog devoted to the ministry of reconciliation) that I think there is substantial basis “to take our conservative brothers and sisters at their word” when they assert their sincere belief that the dominant theology of the ECUSA is much different than the narrower, less-free-ranging theology they grew up with.

Sure, I can’t plausibly argue that the conservative wing of the church hasn’t used (perhaps opportunistically) the female and gay priests issue to galvanize a broader population of old-school Episcopalians into drawing a scriptural interpretation line in the sand that I'd certainly want to be on the other side of.

But to deny, as do many of my ideological kin, that the old theology as learned by our older Episcopal brethren is not substantively different from the extraordinarily broad range of scriptural interpretation and liturgical expression that the TEC embraces today (the PB rightly calls it “comprehensive”), remains difficult for me to understand.

All of which makes me highly reluctant to be as relentlessly cynical about the nature of the intentionality and thoughtfulness of most of the conservatives break-aways as would appear to be the wont of those authors of the snarky/paranoid comments that inevitably appear in these kinds of blogs for interested followers of Christ whenever another shoe drops in the progressive atomization and recombination (that Bultmann apparently believed to be inevitable) of the corporate (“objective”) church.

Again, thanks for sharing the info and perspectives. It does really help thinking through these knotty, and often contentious, issues.

 
At 3:26 PM, Blogger Tobias Haller said...

Adhunt, yes I think we are on a similar wavelength. There is a very wide range to "sarx" in Paul -- and he is not a systematic theologian after all!

Kokoro,
First let me say I agree that people often respond with mischaracterizations; on both sides, but that doesn't make it right. I find it unhelpful and a barrier to understanding.

Second, my recollection on the VA case is that the lower court (the same judge who found for CANA on the other counts) found the Division Statute to be constitutional; but that the decision is on appeal. I don't really see how it can prevail in the long run, as even if there is a "de minimis" threshold by which the court has to say to a church, "You have divided" even when the governing body of the church says, "No we haven't" that the court is forced to become entangled with the substance of the division as well as the fact. Moreover, in no small part, schism is generally about doctrine; and one could also say that ecclesiology (including the structure of a church and whether it can be divided) is a subset of doctrine itself. Part of the "doctrine" of Anglican tradition, embedded in the Articles of Religion, is the integrity (i.e., the indivisibility) of the national church; as I note, this is also part of our Constitutional self-understanding: domestic dioceses cannot become independent. There is also the doctrinal matter of what it means to be "in communion," and so on. Involving the courts in these matters would appear to be facially excluded -- the findings of the lower court in VA notwithstanding.

As to your larger issue, I do not believe this to be a generational matter, which seems to me to be how you see it: that people brought up in the "old days" are holding on to what they were taught and resisting change. It seems to me, TEC has been rather "liberal" for at least two and perhaps three generations as I count them, and the current crop of "conservatives" (to use vague and inaccurate terms, but I hope you know what I mean) are not particularly old -- or young for that matter. After all, questioning the Virgin Birth is not really a recent phenomenon, but I would suggest somewhat "old hat"! Though some like to drag forth Jack Spong, he always struck me as rather a relic of a kind of mid-century liberalism rather than a particularly progressive thinker, for example.

It may be that the general "liberalism" of the 50s -- which meant that you could hold conservative or progressive views, and there were always a good number of more conservative folks in the church -- set the stage for what we are seeing now. Rather than being generational, I think the situation is more geographical or "political" in the sense almost of parties: a more conservative "wing" or element of the church (that has always been there, but somewhat in the minority) has been energized by contact with a largely conservative and evangelical church in the Global South, as experience and exposure have increased those contacts. The global south "conservatives" are from churches evangelized by a very evangelical church society, the Church Mission Society, and so the "majority view" in those churches is generally -- unlike TEC -- historically evangelical. Churches evangelized by the other big mission society, the SPG (Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) which was more "catholic" (for example, South Africa) are generally more congenial to TEC.

That's how I see it, anyway...

 
At 3:51 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

Thanks Tobias,

As an end note, despite Pauls various use of "sarx," in 1 cor15 the contrast is not between "spiritul" and "physical," though that is the mistranslation in most English works. But "soma pneumotikos" and "soma psueke" a "soulish" body. Unless we are to believe the soul is physical!

 
At 4:29 PM, Blogger Tobias Haller said...

Indeed, AD. Paul's main contrast in 1 Cor appears to be between psuche and pneuma. I am very fond of his imagery later in the chapter in which mortality "puts on" immortality. Clothing something seems a major image for Paul -- as in all that "armor of God" imagery; though, of course, he also reverses himself on the image when he talks about putting one tent on over the other. As I say, Paul is not a systematic theologian, and he is struggling to express such huge concepts -- and apparently in the form (for the greater part) of dictated letters at that! I would not want my ex tempore sermons to be judged on such a strict basis as people are apt to examine Paul!

Thanks again for the lively discussion, and to you too, Anglican Scotist, for providing the venue and hospitality.

 
At 5:56 PM, Anonymous Jane said...

Hi,

I stumbled across this site looking for Episcopalian views on homosexuality and I have enjoyed it all so far.

I was excited to notice that one of the commentators, adhunt, was referring to the Cathedral down the road from where I live. I took the liberty of stopping by to see about his claims. Check out these quotes from the permanent laminated insert in the sanctuary:

"All who enter are part of this community no matter what their faith tradition and are truly welcome in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation."

or

"Our primary purposes as a community are:
To seek peace and reconciliation within ourselves, our community and our world by accepting God's inclusive love of all."

and

"Please join us in Communion: The Sacrament of Holy Communion is offered to all. See your bulletin for instructions and know that you are always welcome at the table of our Lord."

and finally, in the bulletin

"All are welcome at the communion stations to receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord."

Not that I mind, I'm in the UCC, but I did find it odd that you would chastise adhunt so. Poor fundamentalist that he is.

Thanks

 
At 6:31 PM, Blogger Marshall said...

Jane, thanks for your clarification on practice at the cathedral in Minneapolis. The language you quote may well be offer too much latitude for some, while for others may simply seem like a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on communion, trusting, in a more positive sense, that we can "let God sort'em out." That, of course, is part of the discussion of "communion without baptism:" how explicit we need to be in determining whether we are meeting the existing canons, and whether we have a Gospel reason for changing our canons and practice.

Kokoro, while a circuit (state) judge in Virginia has decided that the unique legislation of Virginia is constitutional, circuit and appellate courts in California, Connecticut, and New York have decided otherwise. That is why I think ultimately the Supreme Court will be asked to review one or more of these decisions. Whether or not they will is another matter. While I don't have the citation handy, the California Appellate Court ruling included a review of federal court decisions, including in the Supreme Court, affirming the principle that congregations are expected to follow the existing structures of their denomination. That's not one size fits all. Rather, hierarchical churches have a right to be hierarchical about the property, and congregational churches have a right to be congregational. The decisions date back a century or more, and have involved a variety of churches. I don't have it ready to hand, and would have to do some digging; but at least when the decision came down, not all that long ago, the entire decision was available on line.

So, in this instance the principle is not novel, nor specifically Episcopal; and, like Tobias, I think it will be sustained in the end on the basis of stare decisis, which basically means, "we've decided this before and don't see an overwhelming reason for changing it now."

 
At 6:36 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

I will pass over the "fundamentalist" jab in smiling silence. But thanks Jane for checking it out. I still await the response letter from Dean Simrill.

 
At 6:52 PM, Anonymous Kokoro said...

Tobias,

In the case of the rather distasteful wrangling over God’s assets here in the material world, I guess we’ll just have to wait on some of Caesar’s tribunals to render their judgements.

My bet (i.e., guesstimate) is that, if the VA church partition statute still works, the courts will give only nominal deference to canon law and quickly look to see whether the national church has deeds to any of the real property (The RC has none of these kinds of problems – THE church figured out a long time ago to hang on to deeds to it all).

On the topic of the current theological gulf in the church, I agree that geographical is at least as good (actually much better in the global context) as generational as a way to think about the issue.

I also couldn’t agree more that that theological gap worldwide is profound and is the direct product of the distinct views of the missionaries unleashed on much of the underdeveloped world by Anglican and other protestant churches.

In light of the substantial role of Anglicans in the spiritual formation of those third-worlders, though, I do find it a bit unseemly for so many of us in our affluent, well-educated, comfortable (we don’t have to worry very often about being martyred for our existentialism) sphere to patronize (no doubt unintentionally) those believers in Africa (whose biggest theological error may simply have been to believe precisely what our church’s missionaries told them) as unfortunate theological primitives to whom we can merely “listen” (seems awfully passive-aggressive to me).

But, once again, I’m getting off-topic.

I do agree that the Virgin Mary thing is old hat – I think even the pre-creedal Christians went more than a round or two on it and it was certainly one of the first things Thomas Jefferson went after with his scissors.

But when Pike (I agree – he seemed to have ever so much more depth than that delightful pamphleteer Spong) faced the repeated threat of those heresy charges in ’62, ’64, ’65, and ’66, it became pretty evident that there was a mass of prelates in the church that, even at that late date in our enlightened age, thought his views on the Trinity, Mary, and heaven (all “old hat” perspectives to us these days, and maybe even then) were way off the reservation.

Some of the like-minded clergy that were also troubled by Pike and his ilk may not have been teaching at your church or my church (hmmm… at my church and at my school, some of them actually were teaching), but there were enough of them to be spread out across the US helping to form the spiritual life (no mention of Kierkegaard – heck, not even a word about what myths are or how Via Media works) of at least a big part of a generation of young Episcopalians.

So, although my sample is ludicrously small (two schools, two parishes, TX and CT), I continue to suspect from that narrow slice of church life, and from reports of Pike’s adventures, my religious training by the old guard clergy was not entirely unrepresentative of that received by at least some of the conservative break-aways.

By the way I love that you mentioned the Articles of Faith.

In my little world, almost no Episcopalian I know has ever slogged through all of them.

And the few that have read the whole thing have tended to become really stressed out by all that unpleasant business in the Articles about the proto-calvinist desperation and wretchlessness of the non-elect, the absolute necessity of baptism for the expiation of original sin, the lie that any man may be saved simply by profoundly sincere adherence to the religious tradition in which he was raised, etc.

As near as I can tell (from old NYTimes articles), Episcopalians have been trying to get those Articles out of the prayer book for at least a hundred years and, even under all that pressure, as late as 1979 the General Convention could only get enough agreement to slap on the section of the BCP in which the Articles reside the purposefully ambiguous prefatory title of “Historical Documents of the Church”.

I really think some of those break-away conservatives that read the Articles in the old prayer book (that back then didn’t have the disclaimer to alert one that the Articles were merely advisory at best and at worst perhaps an embarrassing, to some, legacy of the church’s Anglican roots) actually thought that the Articles, like the catechism, were “to provide a brief summary of the Church’s teaching”.

Oh well, all of which is to say that I guess the ECUSA schism isn’t going away anytime soon - people are going to believe what they’re going to believe.

But it certainly is helpful to get a better understanding of the division’s roots (until today I had never heard of either the Church Mission Society or the SPG – I’m still just trying to figure out what the murky difference between high church and low church is).

Thanks for the assistance – I’m going into hibernation for awhile to digest all this !

 
At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Kokoro said...

Thanks, Marshall

 
At 1:04 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

Any response yet Charlotte?

 
At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Charlotte said...

No response yet. But I wonder why you did not contact him directly yourself, back when you were in MN and the Cathedral's "inclusive" language was bothering you. Someone might have been able to set your mind at rest. It's better to do that than to stew in silence -- and one thing you will learn about the Episcopal Church is that people are generally happy to explain themselves.

 
At 3:39 PM, Anonymous adhunt said...

I really haven't stewed on it. I think that perhaps you confuse me with the Stand Firm types. I really deplore their rhetoric and hyper-judgementalism. My thought was a mere response to your frustration that someone would dare suggest that Episcopalians practice open communion. I believe your word was "demagoguery."

Really, I am only just beginning to gain a greater appreciation for the Sacraments. At the time I did not think much of it, St. Mark's was one of the first Episcopalian churches I checked out.

Perhaps I got us off on the wrong foot?

 
At 10:29 AM, Blogger Charlotte said...

Well, you and I did get off on the wrong foot, adhunt, I did confuse you with the Stand Firm types. If I am wrong in so doing, I apologize to you. f you are genuinely interested in dialogue, I am willing to dialogue.

I am interested in what you have just told me about your own spiritual development and your interaction with St. Mark's Cathedral. What you said about them earlier makes more sense to me now.

Would you tell me whether my "take" on it makes sense to you?

adhunt, my guess is that you were coming to St. Mark's with a model of a church in mind such as this: A church is an organization that restricts its fellowship and sacraments to those who can sign up to a detailed list of doctrinal principles. I can see that St. Mark's would look like a church that doesn't care about the faith of its communicants to someone who had this model in mind. Actually, I think this is a misunderstanding.

However, it is an understandable misunderstanding. Most of the non-mainline denominations on the Protestant side are very restrictive as to who can participate in fellowship and the Sacraments. Each parish in the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church restricts Communion to those whom the Rector of that parish has personally certified as able to receive it. Baptism, in the Baptist model, is a believers' baptism only, and one cannot be baptized unless one publicly proclaims belief in whichever of the many possible sets of doctrines is affirmed by the particular Baptist church the person wishes to join. If I understand the Pentecostal model, baptism is just the first stage on the way to true salvation (there are many stages, not all of which are shared with the public at large), and, in the Holiness/Wesleyan denominations and many Bible Churches, baptism is of little to no effect without the conscious acceptance of Jesus Christ as personal savior (which, again, means in practice signing up to the list of doctrines endorsed by the particular sect or pastor of the congregation).

Members of these denominations are not permitted to question or dissent in any way from the doctrines of the particular sect to which they belong. If a member publicly expresses doubts about any doctrinal point, s/he is liable to be "disfellowshipped." Her/his church membership will be revoked, she will be denied the sacraments, and other members of the congregation may be instructed to shun her/him until and unless s/he publicly repents of her "heresy."

On the other hand, someone following the Anglican model of a geographically organized, comprehensive parish church works from a completely different understanding of the Church and its Sacraments. An Angiican would recognize St. Mark's as basically within the Anglican tradition, though certainly occupying a very liberal position within it.

St. Mark's is very concerned about adult formation. They want to talk to the parents of children presented for baptism before their children are baptized. But they don't examine people as to their beliefs before they are admitted to services, including Holy Communion, and they don't make new members sign up to particular lists of doctrinal principles in order to be admitted to services.

It is enough that the congregation says the Nicene Creed at the Communion service We don't cross-examine each member on how exactly s/he understands each phrase of the Creed. We assume that if an individual member's understanding of one or more phrases of the Creed is defective, that fault can be covered by God's grace. We don't try to "make windows into men's souls." This is persistently misrepresented by the Stand Firm types and other radical separatists. They claim it means that it's all right with the Episcopal Church if the congregation is "crossing its fingers as they say the Creed." This is only one of the many lies and slanders they spread about us -- and, yes, I did think you were one of their number, adhunt.

The Episcopal Church does not demand to check a visitor's qualifications prior to admittance to the Communion rail, but is willing to take the visitor's word for it that s/he is qualified to receive. Possibly this practice errs on the side of generosity -- actually, I think it does. But it is consistent with practices in a church that does not believe it defines itself by restricting membership, but by including as many as possible in its membership.

That is why "inclusive" isn't a swear word to people within the Anglican tradition. "Inclusive" is just another word for "catholic," and we are, have always been, and would always wish to be a branch of the holy catholic church, the inclusive church for all humankind. We are not a protestant sect and don't operate as one. I think our adult converts from the protestant sects often find this a little hard to get used to, and probably we should be more explicit about it; instructing converts as to "how Church works" might save a lot of bruised feelings, not to mention schisms.

 
At 11:45 AM, Anonymous adhunt said...

Charlotte,

I know exactly what you are talking about when you say that members of most low Protestant churches "are not permitted to question or dissent in any way..." That is in fact why, after a couple years of struggle, I felt compelled to leave the fellowship of my upbringing, of which my father is still a pastor, the Assemblies of God.

Still, I started my journey into TEC eyes open. I knew its wide stance on homosexuality and various doctrines before I started. I also had begun to value a more "catholic" understanding of ecclesiology as well.

All in all I am much less educated than probably any that read this blog. I am still in my undergrad program; it just so happens by accident that I received an exceptional education in Greek from a small Pentecostal school before transferring to the local public University. And I've tried to read widely; so I would call myself a young educated layman. Which is why I read Scotist's blog, as it turned out I am at one of the only traditionalist parishes in MN, and some (but not all) of the members are rather like the Stand Firm types. And so I peruse various blogs of a more "liberal" stripe and variously attend the liberal anglo-catholic parish down the road, in order to be challenged.

Still, I do not think that "inclusive" is another word for "catholic." Or even if it was, I feel catholic to be more appropriate, as it has the long history of the Church behind it. In my experience, the far liberal churches use scripture and tradition in ways not too unlike the far conservatives. That is to legitimize an already established practice rather than to be sit under it in trepidation. In fact I rather like the book Scotist in now reviewing on Episcopalians and the Bible.

All that to say, I look forward to interacting. Perhaps when we get off topic (as we have on this thread) we could resort to email correspondence so as to keep with the themes as introduced by the blog writer(s)? tonydhunt@gmail.com or www.theophiliacs.com

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger Charlotte said...

Thank you for your generosity of spirit, adhunt. I will indeed interact further with you.

Delighted also to hear that you had a good education in Greek from the Pentecostal college you attended.

 
At 3:43 PM, Anonymous kumbaya said...

"We are not a protestant sect and don't operate as one."

Excellent point.

Regrettably, many Episcopalians (and most of those troublesome Stand Firm types) continue to believe that the TEC is actually a protestant denomination.

Perhaps at the next General Convention someone might propose amending the TEC Constitution to drop that grossly misleading word, "Protestant", from the church's official name, "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America".

 
At 11:04 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks all--I think we have a relatively peaceful ending here.

 

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