Revelation and Change

This from Fr. Tobias Haller:

No New Revelation

When addressing controverted subjects, we are called to look back on the Scriptural text for guidance in dealing with things about which those texts are themselves silent. The issue is not, “What would they have said?” on a topic about which they did not speak; but rather, “What do we say based on what those texts say about other things, using natural reason and knowledge gained since their writing to interpret old texts for new principles.”

This is not about any new revelation. As one important story from rabbinic history shows: Revelation is now closed, but interpretation is open — even a voice from heaven, even from God, cannot contravene the findings of the living interpretative community because, “It [i.e., the Law] is not in heaven” — that is, God has given the Scripture to the people of God and it is up to us to wrestle with it.

People may well disagree about the outcomes of the wrestling match. And the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” is not entirely out of place, but has to be asked by positing Jesus not of his time, but as he is with us in our time — as I believe he is, in his church, through his Spirit, which is now engaged in addressing challenges he did not address in those earlier days. There is no new revelation, but there is always new understanding.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

I truly like the way he put this.

Making Decisions in the Church

Over the last few decades, within the institutional Church (and my Church, The Episcopal Church), the way we as the Church have made decisions about our beliefs, our advocacy, and our governance has become increasing influenced by the prevailing sociopolitical cultural patterns.  The result has been an increasing dependence on arguments resting squarely within a secular, psycho-therapeutic, and civil-rights based ethos, rather than by the means given to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I know this is really nothing new, but the extent to which this now occurs within both the conservative and liberal Church structures has overwhelmed even our conceptions of what the Gospel compels us to do. 

By being so overwhelmed with secular, sociopolitical ideologies, we have lost our ability to present to the world a different way being together, of resolving conflict, and of making decisions for the common good.  We within the Church alienate and marginalize like the best of them, even as we declare, at least on the surface, that we are all about inclusion and welcome and the common good.  Do people seeking a different way find anything worth considering in the Church, today?

When I hear that the Church should do this or that or be engaged in one thing or another, too often the reasons given sound more like justifications devised by social-justice organizations, overly sensitive psychotherapists, or political action committees rather than from a body of people who place at their center the commands of Jesus.  The central characteristic of all decision-making within the Church should rest squarely, and in most cases exclusively, on the two great commands of Jesus:  1). Love God with all of your being; and 2). Love your neighbor as yourself.  Both 1 & 2 must be emphasized, because #2 is not possible in and of our human selves without #1.  For a long while now, and I can only guess due to an overactive need for affirmation by the secular culture, we have moved increasingly along a trajectory that tries to relativize or relegate #1.  This doesn’t work, and over time experience has proven that it does not.

For example, it seems that in our fighting against injustice, the way we conduct ourselves is justified by Latin American infused Liberation Theology, which is based more on Marxist ideology than on Jesus’ command to love our neighbor (at least as it is worked out on the ground).  Loving one’s neighbor requires us to put our lives on the line for the person subjected to the injustice, but the reason is not for political liberation within a geopolitical state.  On the other side, when we suggest that something like free-market Capitalism should be championed by Christians, because of the belief that the State should stay out of the affairs of individual citizens (in this case, expressed in the economic enterprise), we more often than not base the arguments on such things as personal greed, materialism, or consumerism rather than a desire for the betterment of both the common and the individual good – as well as for the benefit of our competitors.

When we argue for emigrant reform, when we argue for full inclusion of gay people, when we argue for strengthening and sustaining the family, when we champion sustainable agriculture, when we advocate for low-wage earners, as we champion individual freedom and individual responsibility, as we campaign against hatred, prejudice, and bigotry, when we call for reform of any kind, as Christians the only foundation upon which all these arguments or positions should be based is upon those two great commandments.  Social-action groups make their arguments based on individual “civil-rights” language and concepts.  Arguments based on individual civil-rights are not the arguments of the Church. They automatically lead to alienation and tend to not change the hearts and minds of opponents. The Church works to change hearts and minds, not to enact or enforce a myopic and often trendy political-correctness.  Loving one’s neighbor as one loves him or her self is upon what we base our positions, our arguments, and our advocacy.

In the Church, if I use civil-rights based arguments that a woman or a gay person has the “right” to be a deacon, priest or bishop, I have already lost the case with regard to the Gospel.  I have already alienated and marginalized groups of people with whom I disagree.  No one has the “right” to be a bishop, priest, or deacon – not matter what gender, ethnicity, sexual-orientation, race, etc.  “Rights” based language does not change hearts and minds and does not preserve unity.  There are losers and winners – or rather, there are just another and different a set of losers and winners.

I am not suggesting a mushy sentimentality when I speak of loving one’s neighbor.  It is very, very difficult to love an opponent, even more so an enemy.  No matter what decisions or statements we make, some people will be put-off or offended.  We cannot always help how others will respond, but we can help how we act, respond, and react. To abide within the two great commands of Jesus necessitates humility, a willingness to understand the other side of issues and arguments, and the willingness to compromise when needed for the benefit of all, and even for the other.  We can be strong and vigorous in our advocacy, championing of things, and in our arguments – no need to be a welcome mat – yet our concern is always for the betterment of not only the ones or the issues we support, but for our opponents as well.  We, those who call upon the name of Christ, should consider the wellbeing of the other before we consider ourselves.

Philippians 2:1-16

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care– then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death–and the worst kind of death at that–a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth–even those long ago dead and buried–will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Do everything readily and cheerfully–no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof th
at I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.

In the “Inventive Age”

Here is the quote:

“I think there is something much bigger going on than finding a niche market and asking how should we position this product of the gospel so that those people will appreciate it, and will like it, and will accept it. We’re really asking a deeper question about who we are in a changing cultural environment when it comes to the way think, the values we hold, the tools that we use, and the aesthetics that are meaningful to us.” –Doug Pragitt (describing the concepts behind his new book, “Church in the Inventive Age“)  
Pagitt is the pastor of Salomon’s Porch Church.

This is the melee in which I desire to be and where the Imago Dei Society has a real place within the greater arena of Anglicanism. Well, actually, this whole way of considering and thinking has had a place within Anglicanism, but to understand how we continue to do this thing called Anglicanism (this Christianity) in emerging cultures and with emerging generations are the questions we need to continually ask!

I came across one of the ministries that has as its purpose (or its obsession) the condemning of the “Emergent” side of the Church as being heretical. I don’t know whether it is simply their inability to understand enculturation and that we are all raised within a cultural system that forms us in the ways we collectively think, the way we understand the world around us and our place it in, what we consider to be aesthetically pleasing or appropriate, and even what we consider to be moral and ethical.  I don’t know whether they are simply ignorant of disciplines like anthropology, sociology, etc., or what is really going on within them.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the divine Logos do not change, but we certainly do, our cultures certainly do, and what we consider to be self-evident truth certainly does.  So, groups like this, I suppose, either honestly not to understand, are being willfully ignorant (and as a former teacher, this is an astounding tragedy), or are intransigent in their beliefs – fundamentalists, in other words. 

What is this particular ministry, you might ask?  Apprising Ministries.  I don’t know anything about this, really, and perhaps much of what they do is really good, but with regard to Emergent stuff, they have a thorn in their craw!  So, make up your own mind. 

History & Experience

Comments by Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, on the place of history and experience in Biblical Studies and the working out of theology in the Christian life:

“I would like to end by suggesting that holding the appeal to history and to experience in balance is really the key both to New Testament studies and to theology as a whole.  In theology, where the history of God in Christ is so central, we must appeal to experience in order to be credible: the experience of the first Christians, of Christians down through the ages, and of ourselves.  And in the area of New Testament studies, we are trying to find out what really happened.  What was said and done by the Sea of Galilee? What was said and done in the streets of Jerusalem, and on the hill of Calvary?  But we are also concerned in New Testament studies with the experience of those first witnesses to Christ the Savior that caused them to write at all — the tremendous experience that left them and us exclaiming, ‘My Lord and my God!'”
(Michael Ramsey, The Anglican Spirit; Dale Coleman, editor; Boston, Cowley Publications, 1991, p. 93)

Ramsey, in this lecture, is commenting on Charles Gore and Liberal Catholicism, in its Anglican form.

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Doctrine, the need for…

Marks makes some good points about the “feeling” focus of Christianity that has prevailed for a while now, and within my experience has culminated in the crisis of the Faith we are now experiencing in this country.

“…This is a Christianity of self-experience.
“In this sense, Western Christians are children of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the 19th-century Enlightenment thinker who built his theological system on the foundation of spiritual experience… A theology grounded in experience ultimately fades into soft moralism, humanism, or, in the unique case of American Christianity, a civic religion wherein God and country are easily confused…
“At the heart of Schleiermacher’s work lay an important quest: to understand how to be faithful in a particular context. Schleiermacher and his progeny wanted much to be relevant Christians. The problem is where he started.
“Schleiermacher thought that the essence of Christianity was its spiritual impulse, not its doctrine, which seemed to cause most of the problems…
“Schleiermacher began with internal experiences of God and built theology around those experiences, reconfiguring doctrine as needed. He assumed that by starting with ourselves and our desires, we would glimpse a purer vision of God and perhaps a more relevant church. But how did the project fare?
“With some 200 years of hindsight, we see that the ramifications were immense…
“In this trajectory, Jesus becomes a sage who, among others, came to tell us about our potential and awaken our religious sensibilities… Church becomes a kind of group therapy we attend to be told we are all right, to share in the piety of Jesus’ example. There is much positive here, the question remains whether God matters as the agent of changed lives. In the final analysis, core Christian beliefs, even those about Jesus, have to feel authentic or they are discarded…
“The emphasis on spiritual experience put us, not God, in the driver’s seat.
“As far as we remain the children of Schleiermacher, we either unconsciously or actively transform Christianity into something that, while seemingly relevant, is bereft of spiritual vigor.
“…this theological method inverts Schleiermacher’s. We do not start with ‘my spirituality’ and then identify core beliefs. Instead, we begin with core beliefs – those discovered by the church as it has intellectually wrestled with the truth of Scripture in the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit. These beliefs, which come from outside myself, correct and shape my spiritual experience.
“For the past 200 years, many parts of Western Christianity have labored as Schleiermacher’s Children. The mainline traditions have hoped to achieve relevance. The evangelical and free-church traditions have hoped to read the Bible unadulterated and alone. Both traditions, however, have made our feelings – which are, be definition, slippery and transitory – primary. Mainliners have eschewed theology for fear that it imposes another’s context and assumptions, while evangelicals have eschewed theology because it might compete with the pristine Bible or become a rigid boundary. Both traditions forget that theology is a kind of memory that allows us to hear God’s Word by clarifying our experiences.”
[Marks, Darren C. (March 2010). “The Mind Under Grace: Why theology is an essential nutrient for spiritual growth.” Christianity Today, 24-26.]

Icons not Doctrines

Over at “Sarx,” the author details 10 points and asks us to “Discuss.” I think they are very well written concerning what is the basis, the foundation, the essential (whatever word is best) for our Christian experience. I might use a different word than “icons,” only because of the Eastern understanding of them, but I get the point… and it is a good point.
Read all 10 here.

Mainstream Creationism?

What became of more mainstream ideas that “God created…” An overview of the development of the recent, literalistic “Creationist” mindset by PZ Meyers on his blog, entitled, “Ron Numbers—Anti-evolution in America, from creation science to Intelligent Design.” He puts the beginnings of current day literalists around the 1920’s. My dad is a “gap-theory” adherent (or at least was, I haven’t talk to him about it in quite a while).

“These early creationists had no bone to pick with geology at all, and were unperturbed at the thought that the world was hundreds of millions of years old. The two dominant explanations were the day-age theory, which stretched out the time-span of creation week to cover the whole of geological time, and gap theory, which argued that between the creation of the world mentioned at the beginning of Genesis, and the account of the 6 creation days, there was a long undocumented period of time in which geological history occurred.
“The mainstreaming of literalist creationism occurred in the 1960s, when John Whitcomb and Henry Morris wrote The Genesis Flood. It’s basically the same nonsense he Seventh Day Adventists were peddling, but Whitcomb and Morris were not SDAs, making it possible for conservative Christians, who regarded Seventh Day Adventism as a freaky cult, to coalesce in the formation of the Creation Research Society. These people had no ambition to convert the research community, but instead wanted to wean bible-believers away from what they considered the compromises of day-age and gap theory.”

Just to be clear, my stand on evolution vs. creationism is that “God created…” How God created and the means or processes or time-lines He used in beyond my pay grade, and frankly we simply do not know beyond faith in a theory. I have no problem with evolution. I don’t think it impinges on “God created…”
Via: Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish

Ritual and…

Just to be clear, I’m not trying to cast dispersion on a group of people or play into stereotypes, but I am wondering about attitudes of groups of people I’ve encountered over the years. I also know that “Ritual Studies” is not a discipline that I know a whole lot about, and I’ve forgotten a lot concerning Behaviorism and Behavior Modification.
Part of this comes from just seeing “Equus” on Broadway with Radcliff and Griffiths and what might be understood as a commentary on religion, worship, and psychosis (among other things). Part of this comes from thinking about the “vestal virgins” that brought in and ceremonially poured the “waters of baptism” into a giant font in the National Cathedral during the enthronement of Katherine Jefforts-Shori as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. Part of this comes from witnessing what seems to be a need to create all kinds of different and new forms of ritual within what is supposed to be a Christian context but often lacking any resemblance to norms of Christian Tradition and liturgical forms. Are we bound by “trendiness” and pop-ideas of “relevance?” I don’t know.
What would prompt the designer(s) of the enthronement liturgy to incorporate this kind of thing in the liturgy? In other contexts, what prompts priests or bishops or liturgists to depart from TEC Canons and the Book of Common Prayer that we vowed to uphold and abide by? Some say rebellion against convention or Tradition, some say boredom, some say a determination to remake Christianity in a new image (Spong-ish), some say a loss of faith, some say sincere interest in… you name it.
I don’t know their intent or their thought processes, so I’m not going to make some kind of declarative statement concerning their spiritual well-being or such things. Yet, why in the case of the enthronement liturgy, when they could have used a much more Anglican/Episcopal/Traditional “bringing in the waters of baptism” or something that was not perceived by many, Anglican and non-Anglican alike, as being indicative of paganism, did they use that form? Use women exclusively in the ritual, I don’t care, but why the quasi-Roman/Greek “vestal virgin-esque” dressed women carrying large urns of water? I know many people, liberal and conservative, that simply laughed at the spectacle. It was a joke, which I am pretty sure wasn’t the intent of the designer(s) of the liturgy. What was their reason or motivation? What was in the minds of those who loved it?
Anyway, it makes me wonder about the spiritual condition of people I’ve encountered in the past and still encounter today, particularly if I see my place as a priest to be about the “cure of souls.” I know I’ve mused about the generational shift taking place and the demographic differences between the desires of and worshiping “sense” of the upcoming generations contra the Baby-Boomers, but I’m trying to get beyond all that and trying to figure out foundational motivations, the conditions of the heart, the psycho-social-spiritual dynamics that prompt people to do or say or believe. When it comes to Christian worship, apologetics, theologies of all kinds, and personal experiences with the Divine, how does our “stuff” work its way out for good or for ill concerning the cause of Christ, deficiencies in Christian experience, and…
I wonder, and this is just wondering, whether groups of people may not be so much “Christian” in the traditional sense, as they are perhaps Ritualists and Behaviorists finding expression within Christian forms and traditions. This is an Anthropocentric rather than Theocentric focus or foundation.
I’m defining the following words, thusly:
“Ritualists” – simply, I’m thinking about those who put a great deal of stock in social or personal “rituals” and the significance of such rituals in creating meaning, rites of passage, and providing for interpersonal connections and social order and cohesion.
“Behaviorists” – those who believe that through some kind of behavior modification we can “reconfigure” people’s attitudes, feelings, and actions in such ways that bring about personal and social peace, harmony, and meaning.
“Christian” – the traditional notion that there is a personal, Trinitarian God, engaged with His creation, and who has provided a way for the restoration of personal relationship between humankind and God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos. Liturgical forms of Christian worship – rituals – are designed to help encourage and foster deeper encounters with the Divine.
It seems to me that there are people who gravitate to Ritualism, or a sensing or believing that in ritual people(s) find psycho-social expression and/or cultural meaning and order. By creating rituals, there is developed cultural “touch-points” that help the masses be included in the overall social context. Then, there are behavioralists that strive to use ritual to bring about their notions of what is best for society and the Modernist ideas of a continual and forward movement and progress of humanity to more Utopian expressions of society.
The people in this group, whoever they may be, at least in the West, were probably raised with a sense of at least cultural-Christianity, so they find ready expression of their ideas within the ritualistic forms of Christianity, yet without the foundational expectation or experience of personal relationship with God. As such, Christian traditions provide a means or structure for ritual and behavior modification without the emphasis on mystical ideas of the Divine. Again, a human focus rather than a Divine focus. Form without the power.
So, there may not be a necessity for abiding by Christian Tradition or norms, or a need for theological reasoning for the doing of any particular ritual beyond the temporal outcomes hoped for. Consideration of Divine intend, if present and accepted, is of lesser importance. What is their apologetic for what they do? Sometimes, the apologetic doesn’t go much beyond social ideals of identity politics or political correctness – all that we do is to make people feel welcome, included, good about themselves, and increase their sense of satisfaction or self-actualization (perhaps a la Goldstein or Maslow?).
From an anthropocentric perspective, we can do anything ritualistically that we think achieves our desired personal or social outcomes. From a Theocentric perspective, there is something else that comes into play – the desire of the Divine (as much as we are able to understand such a thing). I’ve come to truly appreciate Tradition – that which has survived over time and in many cultures – as something that might suggest a “realness” or legitimacy that new forms lack. Does God provide for ways of ritual that are given or revealed to humankind through Scripture and Tradition and are purposed not for social outcomes, but for nothing less than restoration of relationship between God and Man?