Monday, July 30, 2007

What's Wrong With This...?

Consider the claim:

[1] We cannot err.

It seems to be a statement that must refer to itself; i.e. it implicitly says something like:

[2] [i]We cannot err regarding certain matters C, and further [ii] cannot err in saying we cannot err regarding C.

Suppose C is, for instance, stuff to be included in a religious confessional statement.

There is something exceedingly odd about the scope of [1] read as [2]. It seems, as a glance may reveal, to reach a bit too far and to launch what is, in effect, something of an infinite regress. That is, now [2] needs to be amended to spell out [1] so as to clarify [2ii]: we cannot err in saying we cannot err in saying we cannot err regarding C. Off to the races.

And things are not significantly different if [1] is amended to say [1']:

We are not in error.

Note, on the other hand, if the self reference is removed from [1], we have in effect [3]:

We cannot err regarding C, though we might be in error about whether we cannot err.

[3] is right on the edge of intelligibility. Maybe it means So far as we know, we cannot err regarding C, which is something like saying We might be infallible regarding C. One might for example have unerring discernment--which in fact could not be mistaken--without being sure whether or not it was in fact unerring. But it would be odd for such a one to then turn around a make the claim like So far as I know I cannot err.... as we had posited uncertainty.

Which sort of claim is implicit in the Network's new charter? Is it a matter that we should take as prefaced by a We cannot err in the following.... or rather So far as we can tell we cannot err in the following...? Or neither? Maybe we should see instead something like So far as we can tell...but we might be wrong prefacing their confession?

That last one, which admits it might be in error in the very act of making its claim, would model epistemic humility. It would not preclude disciplinary action or taking a stand, but it would imply that the ones taking the stand or taking action are ready to repent and are open to correction. My guess is that the Network's new charter does not model epistemic humilty; we are instead to take it and read it as if it is simply certain--not in error or not capable of being in error. Thus they say:

We confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God, containing all things necessary for salvation, and to be the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.

The problem is the ambiguity in that last bit. Sure, Scripture might express an immutable standard. But our grasp of it might wax and wane over time. I think the Network implicitly thinks there is no problem about the sureness of our grasp of the imputed immutable standard.
That is, they are unwilling to let Scripture be a final authority; they will smuggle in some merely human X other than Scripture as the interpreter of Scripture so as to say, in effect, X's interpretation of Scripture is the immutable standard. That kind of claim, alas, is unscriptural.

The same sort of problem crops up later in the charter:

6) We receive The Book of Common Prayer as set forth by the Church of England in 1662, together with the Ordinal attached to the same, as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline, and, with the Books which preceded it, as the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship.
7) We receive the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1562, taken in their literal and grammatical sense, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing fundamental principles of authentic Anglican belief.

The Network seems to be sleepwalking through these assertions, inasmuch as it does not see itself as fallible and sinful in the act of asserting them. As if in asserting them the Network was able to cast off fallibility and sinfulness. Magic!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

On CWOB: I May be a Heretic

It seems that I have failed to convince my e-audience that CWOB should be permitted. Derek recently wrote up a piece for Daily Episcopalian against it, and it looks to me as if he has broad support. As his position remains the official--canonical--position of TEC, and of much of the rest of Christianity as well, I'm compelled to consider: Did I go wrong here? Maybe I did; for all I really know, I may be a heretic. Arius could have felt justified with his old-school logic, and he might have gone to the grave unconvinced; just so, my unshaken conviction does not imply the truth of my position.

Maybe Derek et al's tenacity is at least in part a function of TEC's success in liturgical formation. It may be, as the BCP '79 is almost thirty years old, his voice represents a formed conviction among the first generation of Episcopalians raised entirely--or mostly--within the BCP '79. And there is no way of getting around the centrality of Holy Baptism, and the Baptismal Covenant, in the BCP '79. CWOB from such a perspective threatens to displace the rightful place of Holy Baptism in our liturgical life, and to do so for largely unarticulated liturgical reasons at odds with the liturgical format, and tradition, set forth in the BCP '79. Of course, this is not to say only the BCP '79 figures in their response to CWOB, as the BCP '79 in many places obviously reaches beyond itself and its own denomination.

If I really am a heretic given my continuing stand in favor of permitting CWOB, it is--I should hope!--merely material. Our community, by which I mean to include Anglican churches and movements most broadly, has not really progressed to the point of having a clear conceptual framework within which to argue about the permissibility of CWOB. We have clearer liturgical forms, and to some extent they may do our theology for us, but the problem is liturgy is just too rich for theology. It cannot be limited to/exhaustively expressed in theology; like Scripture, liturgy underdetermines theology in part because theology just is not the main point of liturgy or Scripture. At its best, I submit, Anglicanism understands this about liturgy and Scripture.

The consequences of liturgical (and even more: Scriptural) underdetermination are hard to live with. For instance, it may be that life with the BCP '79 and associated liturgies forms a sensibility under which CWOB betrays the nature of Baptism and more besides. But due to the richness of the liturgy, the very same BCP '79 may form a contrary sensibility under which denying the permissibility of CWOB betrays...the nature of Baptism and more besides.

A paragraph like this from Derek's article is to the point (brakets added):

...[A] the message of the Gospel is not simply a message of hospitality alone. Scripture also insists upon the reality and the responsibility of the covenant community. [B] True Christian hospitality is a sharing of not merely of things or of time—as valuable as these are. [C] Through these vehicles it is a sharing of what God has done for us, a sharing through both deeds and words, [D] and an invitation for the stranger to remain a stranger no longer but to enter the covenant community through Baptism.

I take it Derek is summarizing his case here. But note how much of what Derek says could be accepted as-is by a proponent of CWOB. The call for responsibility/commitment along with hospitality he makes in [A]? Nothing about CWOB implies a rejection of responsibility or even a deferral of commitment. The point in [B] that true Christian hospitality is more than sharing things and time? That flies with CWOB too, where the risen Jesus and the love of the Trinity are shared, neither of which are merely things in time. And of course we may share our story, the things God in Christ has done for us that Derek refers to in [C], even with CWOB. Finally, an invitation to Baptism, mentioned in [D], is compatible with--and even called for--by CWOB. In short, it is very difficult to see where the sound reasons for rejecting the permissibility of CWOB are when CWOB can enfold and incorporate so many of the practices of concern to its critics. But behind the argumentative critique here, note something much more important: how the underdetermination of theology by liturgy is an issue. The various practices Derek notes and mentions as part of his case, most of which are connected to liturgical action and spirituality,can fit well both with forbidding and permitting CWOB. They won't "do the deciding" for us alone.

I'll close with a tenuous observation. The Episcopalian center-left includes groups formed in various ways by contrary sensibilities, in spite of their common and firm devotion to Jesus, the authority of Scripture, and the liturgy of the BCP. One of the center-left's growing segments is low-church, connected to the emerging church movement and left-evangelical emphasis on justice (thinking Tony Compolo)--I think of venerable Episcopalian churches with stonework and stained glass flying rainbow banners inside and sporting portraits of notables like Martin Luther King while taking pointed license with various shortcomings in the BCP's official forms. If there is a constituency for CWOB in the Episcopal Church, it is here. And if that constituency really is growing, and will continue to do so, there will be a reckoning on CWOB on the level of General Convention soon. We had best continue to learn to speak one another's language before that day, lest that day be another occasion for division without comprehension.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Suitably Scholastic Case for CWOB, once again

In case anyone is keeping track, I figured a corrected, current version of my argument for CWOB might be handy. This for the most part just restates earlier lines of reasoning.

The core intuition is captured in commitment to God's Otherness (Holy, Holy, Holy!) which implies that even Incarnate, God remains a Mystery to us; one part of that mystery is God's sovereign power, his omnipotence. Of course, we run head-on into the power of God in the Creeds, which presume God revealed in Scripture as El Shaddai and Pantokrator, the God who will be whom he will be.

(1) If CWOB is forbidden, God is not omnipotent.
(2) God is omnipotent.
Thus, (3) CWOB is permitted.

The initial premise, if CWOB is forbidden, God is not omnipotent, might shock, so it gets a special argument in its support:

(1) Suppose CWOB is forbidden.
(2) If CWOB is forbidden, then God cannot save all human beings.
(3) If God is omnipotent, then God can save all human beings.
Thus, (4) God is not omnipotent.

I know that [A2] might look outrageous, but hang in there a sec. I give this consideration in support of the third premise of [A2], if God is omnipotent, then God can save all human beings:

1. Suppose God is omnipotent.
2. If (1), then whatever God does by means of a creature, God can do immediately.
Thus, (3) whatever God does by means of a creature, God can do immediately.

The normal means of salvation proceed through creatures--consent to Jesus as Lord and Savior, perhaps sacraments as well--but God can bypass these altogether. Thus, presuming that it is at least possible all could be saved by means of creatures (e.g. it is at least possible each human being says "Yes" to Jesus), then by [A5] God could simply save everyone, minus any contribution on the side of creatures.

Yes, the second premise in [A2], if CWOB is forbidden, then God cannot save all human beings, now needs some support as well. The argument below has an asterisk b/c I have had to weaken its premises in a minor way to get the argument to come out right (the original had "obligated" in for "permitted").

(1) If God can save all humans beings, we are permitted to hope that God does save all human beings.
(2) If we are permitted to hope that God does save all human beings, then CWOB is permitted.
(3) Suppose CWOB is forbidden.
Thus, (4) God cannot save all human beings.

Someone might balk at [A3]*(2), the connection between being permitted to hope that all humans are saved (I leave angels out for the moment) and being permitted to perform CWOB; so, taking the "we" above to refer to the church:

(1)If the church is permitted to hope that all humans are saved, then it is permitted to act on the hope that all humans are saved.
(2)The church is permitted to hope that all humans are saved.
Thus, (3) the church is permitted to act on the hope that all humans are saved.

Built in to the premises here is an understanding of the Eucharist as being in part eschatological--as being more than merely a gathering up and sanctification et al of the Body here below. The Eucharist taken with an eschatological understanding sees the Kingdom to come already present in part in the Church. Operating under the imperative "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"--that "is" being eternal, we might expect implications to flow for us here below from the eschatological reality of the consummated Eucharist. Given the possibility of universalism--not the necessity of it or even the actuality of it--everyone baptized or not could have a place at the table from the point of view of eternity. More--we may hope that they belong here with us. By [A4], given that hope--grounded in a real possibility which itself is grounded in the omnipotence, in the very being, of God, the church is permitted to act on that hope.

CWOB is an action the church takes in solidarity with the hope (foolish, wasteful, unreasonable, etc) for the total triumph of God's love over human evil.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

On CWOB: Against Ephraim Radner

Having picked up this latest dust-up over CWOB, T19 helpfully linked to a number of earlier pieces opposing the practice; the one that caught my eye was an old and well-written work from Radner, which still exists online.

Much of it is, frankly, quite good; I'd like to quote some parts with brief commentary:

[A] Hence, “discerning the body” [in I. Cor 11] refers to a kind of life. It is a life led in reception of and in conformance to the “body of Jesus [crucified]” (something which Paul lifts up throughout his letters as a central reality of the Christian vocation and gift). It is also a life led in accordance with the mutual love and subjection among Christians that represents the keeping of the “new command” within the “new human being” (cf. Eph. 2) of the Church’s corporate life in Christ. The Eucharist “shows up” this kind of life....

[B] What are the implications of all this? On one level, it is very simple: “Take heed”....Watch out! Take care! Take care how you eat, what you do, how you approach, how you live! For the calling is great, the gift is powerful, the judgment is strong. The import of this conclusion is not meant to turn the Eucharist into the Ark that killed Uzzah as some kind of impersonal outbreak of destructive holiness (cf. 2 Samuel 6)....The place to which we come is a place where terror has no initiating role, but where awesome joy and delight and worship blossom. But that is only because it is place opened up to the willing, for the sake of approaching God himself.

I very strongly agree with the comments in [A] and [B]--and similar comments beautifully made throughout Radner's piece on the nature of the Eucharist.

But why do such considerations imply the necessity of Baptism?

Opponents of CWOB too often take shots at straw men. Notice how Radner throughout the article refers to advocates of open communion as if they formed a homogeneous mass in thought and practice. Not true, not true at all. His characterization of CWOB manifestly fails to get traction with the reality of CWOB.

For instance, comments like [A] and [B] could just as well be pulled out of Radner's article and pasted into a pro-CWOB article. In themselves, they seem neutral. They might feel like they carry great weight inasmuch as opponents of CWOB are worried about cheap grace or deflating the practice of the Eucharist--but (1) CWOB can be practiced without deflation or cheapening, with respect for and consistent with such considerations as those voiced in [A] and [B] by Radner, and (2) C with B can be cheap and deflated in spite of the restriction to the baptized.

It is easy to hear, if you are listening for it, odd tones out of place in Radner's exegesis:

The Church has never claimed (in its doctrinal definitions around this matter anyway) that baptized Christians are “better” than the unbaptized; and Jesus certainly did not single out his 12 disciples on the basis of their moral preparedness. The claim made is simply this: that the baptized have made a choice to be held accountable to something greater than their own sense and construal of God, that is, to the calling from God given in Christ Jesus, to “follow” him “to the end”. The choice, however, itself carries with it enormous responsibilities and dangers.

That is, as it stands, obviously false. There is a long tradition of infant baptism in the church, from which it follows that most--nay, the overwhelming majority--of the baptized made no such choice at their baptism. Radner is off in la-la land here, fetishizing human autonomy in a way foreign to a long tradition of Christian thinking. Grace simply does not need your choice to operate and bring you close to God. Your choice is not really of any ultimate significance.

Let me say that again: whether you are saved or damned is not ultimately determined by any choice you make. And likewise for whether you are close to God or far from God, sanctified and holy or polluted and unclean.

Yes, someone will quote "Choose this day..." but be careful not to read too much Kant (or modern secularity) into the OT.

The point of choosing God is not an occurrent act from which everything else follows. That is not saving faith, but the old error of works righteousness. It's also pretty foolish; we are ever at risk of getting lost in translation. The point is not "daring to think for yourself" or "daring to choose for oneself" as if human autonomy were of ultimate import. It is important, to be sure, but not that important. Rather, the point of choosing God is living a certain kind of life and becoming a certain kind of person in a certain kind of community. Life/character/community: Radner knows this at some level; he writes in [A] that discerning the body refers to a kind of life. Why can't he stick with this valuation of living a type of life, giving it its due seriousness?

And note this well: you are already formed in a life in a community with a certain character before you are even capable of making a choice for yourself. And lo--that community might be Christian, practicing the Eucharist and offering your baptized self the body and blood of Christ, which you rightly take. And no choice need be made in the matter.

The smell of Kantian-influenced secularity is all over Radner's reading of Scripture. I cannot wash it off--it sticks like a sweet, cloying syrup. Sweet and sticky because we would like to flatter ourselves that our works make a final difference to whatever it is God will do with us, or whether we rightly partake of Christ's body and blood. True, Radner seems in at least one spot to know better--but occurrent choices get priority in his argument again and again.

Another, second, odd tone out of place in Radner's piece, vitiating his use of Scripture: he fails to distinguish between the case where (A1) Baptism ought to precede participation in the Eucharist from the case where (A2) Baptism would best precede the Eucharist, but its priority falls short of being obligatory. It's just too bad, but sometimes in the sad valley, what would have been best is lost in the fog of the merely counterfactual--and how then to go on?

In short, he seems--I speculate--to have been misled into a rather coarse exegesis by his attatchment to taking shots at straw men. He quotes the Gospel narratives around the institution of the Eucharist, I Cor. 10-11, et al inferring (A1) but never bothering to eliminate (A2) as a reading. Or: he never bothers to actually get dirty building an explicit case for an obligation from Scripture. For a proponent of CWOB could well passionately advocate (A2)--ceteris paribus we would be better off being baptized before being in Communion--while acknowledging that sometimes other things just aren't equal.

A final discordant note: so far as I can see, his tone is overwhelmingly occurrent. I have a very hard time detecting any eschatological dimension in Radner's conception of the Eucharist here. As the strongest theological case for CWOB (that I can see) leans heavily on seeing the Eucharist in eschatological terms, Radner's instincts at least are dead-on; he's "better off" seeing the Eucharist as a gathering of the Body of Christ here below, period. Go back and look at his descriptions in [A] and [B]: one would (falsely) infer the Eucharist is all about things done in the here below and this life.

Monday, July 02, 2007

More on CWOB: Some Replies

Christopher's take on CWOB notes we cannot directly argue from the Eschaton to our present existence and practices without some provisos given that we are not in direct correlation with the Eschaton in our present existence. For instance, something is awry in the inference we after all will be fully one with one another in the Eschaton, [thus] we’re free to be so now in every way, including sexually. According to what one might call the Eschatolgical Proviso, the Eschaton is "now and not yet"--and the not yet implies limits and the possibility of myriad forms of abuse. With regard to the practice of the Eucharist, "having not yet arrived" at the point where universal salvation would even be a possibility means

not unbounded practices, but commitment, discipline, and discipleship in the meantime because salvation must still work Himself out in us over time (stabilitas). This commitment, discipline, and discipleship are found explicitly in Baptism, in which God first commits to us, we are brought into God’s own life, and we respond with promises....

It seems Derek shares Christopher's point of view on the relationship between Baptism and Communion. In his piece for the Daily Episcopalian, he compares CWOB to a fling with God:

Coming from this perspective, Communion without Baptism misreads the logic of the liturgy. It demands intimacy without commitment, relationship without responsibility. To apply this same logic to another sphere of human relationship, this is the logic of the one night stand—the logic of the “meaningless” fling. Is this the relationship that we wish to have with the God who knows us each by name and who calls that name in the night, yearning for our return to the Triune embrace?

And on the face of it, this looks to be a sufficient rationale for refusing CWOB.

However, while it is without doubt true that one cannot simply infer whatever is practiced at the Eschaton may be practiced here below, the case for CWOB does not require that false premise.

Surely we are not obligated--or even permitted--to "immanentize" all aspects of the Eschaton already here below. But that is consistent with our being obligated to immanentize some aspects of the Eschaton here below. Indeed, if we are truly to act from being "in between" or "already but not yet", then the Eschaton must be immanent already in at least some respects.

For instance, we are commanded to celebrate the Eucharist, and in so doing we "immanentize" the Eschaton--partially, to be sure, but nevertheless there it is as celebrated. [Presuming the anamnesis properly conceived goes temporally in two directions, as with Advent].

And furthermore the union of the saved models charity as conformity to the inner life of the Triune God--and that conformity we are obligated to model here below. For instance, calls to justice here below by the church may acquire justification from the example of the eschatological charity of the saved. Indeed, that seems an obvious OT and NT trope in prophetic and apocalyptic writing.

Here the "meaningless sex" trope both Derek and Christopher employ comes to the fore. But note that nowhere does Scripture imply eschatolgical union among the saved is sexual in nature; nor need Scripture be taken to imply sexual union here below should be modelled after the eschatolgical union of the saved. It seems some special argument would be required to show that it licenses sexual promiscuity here below.

Rather, it seems that as marriage is to be modelled after the eschatological union of Christ and the church, permission for sexual activity here below follows from--wait--eschatological considerations: not considerations about the union of the saved among themselves, but rather of the union between the saved and Christ. Scripture seems to inform the yearning of sexual practice here below for meaning by limiting it with ties to a specific eschatological union with Christ. That is, perhaps contrary to what Christopher and Derek might expect (?), permission for sexual activity follows from an immanentizing of eschatological considerations. Thus, that particular counterexample is blocked.

[To belabor the point, there are at least two different types of union to consider at the Eschaton: (1)union among the saved; (2)union between the saved and Christ. the worry about moving from the Eschaton to the present licensing promiscuity ellides these unions, erasing the distinction.]

Hi from St. Mary's