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Archive for July, 2005

J K Rowling Sucks

If you haven’t read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and/or you don’t want to know the really big plot spoiler I will reveal in my rant, do not click on the link to continue reading.

I’m serious: You will be reading about THE REALLY BIG THING THAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF THE BOOK if you read any further.

Are you sure you wanna?

TURN BACK NOW IF YOU HAVE ANY HESITATION.

Are you sure?
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[Note: Lengthy post. Updated (4:00pm CDT) with links to the message board discussion I refer to.]

I come from a church tradition which very strongly believed that for a church or group to claim that they were (a part of) the Church of Christ, they had to look, act, and believe like the New Testament Church. Thus, with respect to Church polity (it’s organization and structure), in the Restoration Movement churches in which I grew up, trained for ministry, and whom I served for a time as a minister, we believed that there ought be no church organization higher than the local congregation, and that the leaders of the church were men who served as elders and deacons. We rejected any notion of the ministry of a bishop, or the very ancient practice of the Church being led by bishops, priests and deacons.

Recently, I engaged some members of the Restoration Movement on one of their message boards about this very thing. (The thread is about something else–as always happens on message boards–but the discussion I’m referring to turns to the topic under consideration in this blog post right about here. My comment precipitating the ensuing discussion is the second one from the bottom.) I was challenged to present a case that the first century, New Testament Church was indeed governed by bishops, priests and deacons. So I did. And I want to share this with you all today.

My argument is essentially this: In the New Testament there is a clear association of the ministry of apostle and bishop, and further that these roles were associated with the Lord’s Supper. Further, in the New Testament the Lord’s Supper is presented not only sacramentally, but sacrificially. Church leadership grows out of this association with the Lord’s Supper.

As I understand it, the contention has been that St. Ignatios’ ecclesiology is alien and an imposition on the NT. I claim that this assertion is false. I think it is based on a fundamental error, which is the fairly singular (not necessarily exclusive) reliance on the appearance/use of the terms for bishop/presbyter/deacon and on explicit delineation of Church structure.

I think this is mistaken for the following reasons:
1. The NT strongly suggests (as I will show) a much different account of local Church polity than that of presbyters and deacons, and that the beginning of the distinction between bishops and presbyters had already begun within the lifetime of the Apostles, and, indeed, that in the first century, the predominant term for one group of leaders in the local Church was that of bishop.
2. One element–often overlooked in these discussion–of Church leadership in the NT revolved around the sacrifice of the Lord’s Supper, which is tied to Jesus’ heavenly service.
3. Further, the continuity between these ideas revealed in the NT and then in the Didache, and then in St. Clement and then in St. Ignatios reveals a fairly clear historical pattern in which what began in the NT developed fully by the end of the first century (minimally at least in Asia Minor).

I am not arguing that St. Ignatios’ monoepiscopal structure is explicitly mentioned in the NT. But there is, I maintain, a very clear line tracing right back to the NT which serves as the foundation for what St. Ignatios talks about.

In other words, it is the will of God, as revealed in his written word, that the sacrificial sacrament of the Lord’s Supper be the foundation for the organization of his Church around bishops, priests and deacons.

What follows then, expanded and slightly revised, is the evidence for my case.

The New Testament

Consider the following brief points.

1 Peter 2:25: Jesus is called our bishop
Acts 1:20: The office of the bishop is tied to the Apostles.
Acts 13:2: When the prophets and teachers in Antioch were ministering (lit. “liturgizing”) the Holy Spirit indicated that Paul and Barnabas should be set apart for the work God had for them.
Hebrews 8:7: Jesus is our minister (lit. “liturgist”) in the heavenly tabernacle (cf. Romans 15:16 below)
Hebrews 10:11: speaks of Old Testament “liturgizing”; i. e., offering the sacrifices.
Romans 15:16: St. Paul refers to himself as a minister (lit., “liturgist”) who ministers the Gospel as a priest (lit. “priest-working”) (cf. Hebrews 8:7 above).
Acts 20:7: St. Paul meets with the Church at Troas specifically to observe the Lord’s Supper.
1 Corinthians 11:34: St. Paul says, in specific reference to the Lord’s Supper and its proper observance, that he will come and set things in order (or appoint, ordain, etc.).
1 Corinthians 10:16-21: The Lord’s Supper is explicitly tied to sacrificial offerings, both Old Testament and pagan, and the “table” of the Lord’s Supper is clearly depicted, in context, as an altar.
1 Corinthians 11:17ff: In conjunction with 1 Corinthians 10:16-21 above, the elements of the Lord’s Supper are united with the Body and Blood of Jesus
Hebrews 9:12-15; 10:10: Through the sacrifice of Christ’s Body and Blood we have a new and better covenant; which in conjunction with the 1 Corinthians passages above indicates a sacrificial understanding of the Lord’s Supper.
Acts 20:28: Some or all of the elders at Ephesus are said to have been made bishops by the Holy Spirit
1 Timothy 3: the office of bishop is described
1 Timothy 5:17: certain elders are said to have ruled well, and as such are said to be worthy of “double reward”; which may indicate remuneration
1 Corinthians 9:1ff: the Apostles were known at times to have received remuneration for their work
1 Peter 5:1-2: presbyters were told to exercise oversight (be a bishop) over their flocks.

In the New Testament it already is seen that we have the Lord’s Supper observed as a sacrifice of the altar, that the office of the Apostle is seen in a priestly typology with Christ, that bishops were tied to the office of the Apostles, and that a single Apostle (and thus bishop?) presided over the Lord’s Supper when it was observed. This is amazingly aligned with what St. Ignatios and St. Clement, and, surprise, the Didache say.
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From the Touchstone Magazine – Mere Comments blog comes this Breaking News: Orthodox Leave NCC

Dearborn, Michigan. July 28, 2005.This afternoon the General Convention of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America voted overwhelmingly to leave the National Council of Churches of Christ. The General Convention is holding its annual meeting this week in Dearborn, Michigan.

The action was not a temporary “suspension” of membership, but a formal withdrawal from the NCC. The clergy unanimously approved the withdrawal, followed by a unanimous vote of the lay delegates supporting the move. An announcement of the final vote was met with thunderous applause by the Convention.

Reasons given for the withdrawal include the general liberalism of the NCC, whose General Secretary, Bob Edgar, withdrew his signature from a statement defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Metropolitan PHILIP, head of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, was reportedly outspoken in calling for the church to withdraw from the NCC, stating that the relationship had proven fruitless.

The National Council of the Churches of Christ has listed on its website “36 member communions and denominations.” It now has 35.

Note: An interview about this vote and its consequences with the Very Rev. Olof Scott, the newly-elected chairman of the Department of Interfaith Relationships, is scheduled to air on Ancient Faith Radio this coming Sunday, July 31, 2005, at 5 PM EDT.

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Ecumenism VII

[Please note: The following are personal musings and not to be construed as *the* Orthodox understanding. If anything here contradicts the received teaching and way of life of the (Orthodox) Church, please correct me. As always: check with your priest or spiritual father.]

I’ve said this before, but I thought this might be a nice way to sum up my previous posts on ecumenism.

I would say that the first most important question a person can ask is “Who is the Christ?”

The second most important question is “Where is His Church?”

For there is no such thing as a Church-less Christian (which Ephesians 4, among other texts, nicely affirms).

But it is also manifestly true that not every church or group claiming to be, or be part of, the Church are telling the truth. This is not to say that they are intentionally lying; just that their claims are not consonant with ecclesial reality. For churches and groups fundamentally contradict one another on central issues such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the ordination of women, and human sexuality. And the Holy Spirit would not have led all these groups into these contradictions.

So we are left with two options:
1. Either we must deny that Christ left behind and indwells His Church on earth; or,
2. We must deny that knowing God’s will on important matters such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper really matters.

Neither option is true to Scripture. (Note by the way that option 2 does not necessarily mean we have to have exhaustive knowledge of God’s will. But surely we should be able to work out the major stuff.)

This leaves us with the following facts: Christ did, in fact, leave behind and indwells his Church on earth AND that knowing God’s will on important matters such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper really does matter.

Which leaves us with the second most important question: Where is His Church?

[This is another in a handful of reflections I want to make on the matter of Church unity.
Previous posts:
Ecumenism I
Ecumenism II
Ecumenism III]
Ecumenism IV
Ecumenism V
Ecumenism VI]

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Free Will, Free Choice

Back in March and April the soteriology diablog was hot and heavy, but eventually died down. (I continue to post links to any further responses the participants have.)

Recently, at the invite of a commenter on this blog, I registered over at Grace Centered Message Forums (a largely churches of Christ venue). As a result of participation in one message thread I am still involved in, I decided to actually make the case for human free will/free choice/freedom to choose. Note that the case is made from a Christian standpoint and not from a strictly a-religious philosophical one. My arguments would be much different for that sort of audience.

If you’re interested in the discussion, begin here. But if you just want to read my initial posts sans responses, click on the “continue reading” link below.
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The Church as the Body of Christ

St. John the Wonderworker, “The Church as the Body of Christ“:

Fully abiding in the Church is already victory over sin and complete purification therefrom. To some degree everything sinful estranges us from the Church and keeps us out of the Church; this is why in the prayer read at confession over every penitent we have the phrase: “reconcile, and unite unto Thy Holy Church. ” Through repentance a Christian is cleansed and united closely to Christ in partaking of the Holy Mysteries, but later the grime of sin again settles upon him and estranges him from Christ and the Church, and therefore repentance and communion are again necessary. As long as the earthly life of a man endures, up to the very departure of the soul from the body, the struggle between sin and righteousness goes on within him. However high a spiritual and moral state one might achieve, a gradual, or even headlong and deep fall into the abyss of sin is always possible. Therefore, communion of the holy Body and Blood of Christ, which strengthens our contact with Him and refreshes us with the living streams of the grace of the Holy Spirit flowing through the Body of the Church, is necessary for everyone. How very important communion of the Holy Mysteries is we see from the life of St. Onuphrius the Great to whom, as well as to other hermits dwelling in the same desert, angels brought Holy Communion; and in the life of St. Mary of Egypt we read that her final wish after many years of desert life was the reception of the Holy Mysteries. The lives of St. Sabbatius of Solovki and a multitude of others tell us similar things. Not in vain did the Lord speak and say: “Amen, amen, I say unto you, except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you” [John] 6:23).

To partake of the Body and Blood of Christ is to receive in oneself the Risen Christ, the victor over death, granting to those with Him victory over sin and death.

Preserving in ourselves the grace-filled gift of Communion, we have a guarantee and foretaste of the blessed, eternal life of the soul and body.

Up to the very “Day of Christ, ” His Second Coming and the Judgment of the whole world, the struggle of sin with righteousness will continue, individually in each person and collectively in all mankind.

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Ecumenism VI

[Please note: The following are personal musings and not to be construed as *the* Orthodox understanding. If anything here contradicts the received teaching and way of life of the (Orthodox) Church, please correct me. As always: check with your priest or spiritual father.]

The Church Is Holy

In the Creed we confess our belief in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” in the same way that we confess our belief “in one God the Father Almighty,” “in one Lord Jesus Christ,” and “in the Holy Spirit the Lord, and Giver of life.” But my good friend Tripp has asked me several times, how is it that the Church does not sin when those who are members of the Church do, indeed, sin?

While it is tempting to respond by saying: We believe the Church is holy, that She does not sin. What else is there to say?–I rather suppose I owe my friend a bit more than that.

It must first be remembered that the Church is a theandric institution, at once both human and divine. The Church is Christ’s Body, and just as the communication of the divine and human in the Person of Christ was, as Chalcedon affirms, “without change, separation, confusion or division,” so, too, the union of the human and the divine in the Church is not some hybrid different in kind than either the divine or the human, yet is not separable in that either can be considered (as the Church) apart from one another or delineable into a human part here or a divine part there, nor does not the union alter either the divine or human natures. And if this be true, then if Christ the head be holy and sinless, so, too, must His Body be holy and sinless.

Yet, Christians sin. And if being Christian is only possible insofar as one is a member of the Church, then how is it that the Church is not in sin when the members are?

If I may say so, first of all, the question betrays the failure of perspective. When viewed from the vantage point of human sinfulness it is almost axiomatic to suppose that we would bring our sins into the Church, infecting it from within. But this is a view of the Church that fails, significantly, to take into account the divine nature of the Church. The Church was not adopted by God. He did not wait for the right human society to flower and then take that group under his wing. This is the adoptionist Christological heresy applied to the Church. No, God himself built the Church on those whom He himself called (prophets and apostles), with His Son being the Head that gives the Church its very life. The Church is holy, therefore, not because humans do holy things more or less consistently, but because Christ Himself is Holy.

This failure of perspective must be corrected by viewing the Church from its source in Christ. Indeed, the Church participates in the holiness of the Trinity in that God calls the Church into being, through the life and work of His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Church is wholly indwelt by the Trinity–it is the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15), where God lives–and therefore is holy, for otherwise God could not indwell the Church (cf. Hebrews 12:14). In Christ the fullness of God dwelt bodily, says St. Paul, and the Church is complete in Him (Colossians 2:9-10). God is greater than human sin, and his holiness drives out our corruption.

That is to say, salvation according to the Christian faith is that union with God which divinizes human nature. But that deification happens only in and through the Church. Like Christ, the Church’s humanity is deified through the communication with the divine that God accomplishes in uniting human nature with Himself in Christ. Just as Christ’s human nature was deified from the moment of conception, so, too, is the human nature of the Church deified and made holy from its inception. Just as in Christ there was no sin to be found, nor did he ever sin, so, too, in the Church there is no sin to be found, nor does she sin. Like Christ, the human nature of the Church is deified by communion with the divine, which is Christ Himself, Her Head.

However, we must make an important and fundamental distinction between human nature and our own personal mode of existence. That is to say, human nature is not replaced but restored by way of our incorporation into the Church. Our personal mode of existence, however, has been in bondage to sin, through a human nature that has been corrupted in the Fall. When human nature is brought into union with God, and therefore deified, we are made free from our bondage to sin and our personal mode of existence–where we exercise our will, or one might say, what use we make of our human nature–must be brought into conformity with God’s transfiguration of human nature. And it is precisely our union with the Church that brings about our sanctification. We are saved not as individuals and then incorporated into Christ’s Body, rather we are saved through the divine energies manifested in Christ’s Body. Because the Church is completely holy, Her individual members, who are brought into union with Christ and therefore with the Trinity by way of incorporation into the Church, are made holy by being the Church. What must happen on the personal level, then, is for the personal mode of existence to be united with deified humanity. This is done by way of repentance and the Mysteries of the Church.

So, when members sin, they are not, as it were, legal representatives of the Church, whose sin and guilt are then reckoned to the Church. Rather, they are engaging in actions which are wholly their own moral responsibility by way of their personal mode of existence. These sinful acts, which are not of the Church, orient them away from the Life of Christ in the Church. Since deification is an organic process, however, and not a fundamentally juridical one, each sin act does not necessarily completely sever members from the Church, with a requisite and proportionate act of repentance necessary to restore them to the Church (though of course such a sin is possible; cf. 1 John 5:16-17). One does not, as it were, jump in and out of salvation. But sin acts left unrepented do lead toward a disposition in one’s personal mode of existence that can, ultimately, sever one from the Church, and therefore from salvation.

So it is that the Church can be completely holy and without stain, and yet Her members commit personal sin.

[This is another in a handful of reflections I want to make on the matter of Church unity.
Previous posts:
Ecumenism I
Ecumenism II
Ecumenism III]
Ecumenism IV
Ecumenism V]

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This site has a wonderful account of the revelation of the incorrupt relics of St. John and photos of the relics. May you be blessed by these as was I:

Photos of the holy relics of St. John Maximovitch

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Alexei S. Khomiakov: “The Church Is One”

In the spirit of my posts on ecumenism, I wanted to pass on this link by poet, philosopher and lay theologian Alexei S. Khomiakov: “The Church is One.”

Some excerpts:

1.

The Church is one. Her unity follows of necessity from the unity of God; for the Church is not a multitude of persons in their separate individuality, but a unity of the grace of God, living in a multitude of rational creatures, submitting themselves willingly to grace. Grace, indeed, is also given to those who resist it, and to those who do not make use of it (who hide their talent in the earth), but these are not in the Church. In fact, the unity of the Church is not imaginary or allegorical, but a true and substantial unity, such as is the unity of many members in a living body.

The Church is one, notwithstanding her division as it appears to a man who is still alive on earth. It is only in relation to man that it is possible to recognize a division of the Church into visible and invisible; her unity is, in reality, true and absolute. Those who are alive on earth, those who have finished their earthly course, those who, like the angels, were not created for a life on earth, those in future generations who have not yet begun their earthly course, are all united together in one Church, in one and the same grace of God; for the creation of God which has not yet been manifested is manifest to Him; and God hears the prayers and knows the faith of those whom He has not yet called out of non-existence into existence. Indeed the Church, the Body of Christ, is manifesting forth and fulfilling herself in time, without changing her essential unity or inward life of grace. And therefore, when we speak of “the Church visible and invisible,” we so speak only in relation to man.

2.

The man who takes Scripture only, and founds the Church on it alone, is in reality rejecting the Church, and is hoping to found her afresh by his own powers: the man who takes tradition and works only, and depreciates the importance of Scripture, is likewise in reality rejecting the Church, and constituting himself a judge of the Spirit of God, who spoke by the Scripture. For Christian knowledge is a matter, not of intellectual investigation, but of a living faith, which is a gift of grace. Scripture is external, an outward thing, and tradition is external, and works are external: that which is inward in them is the one Spirit of God. From tradition taken alone, or from scripture or from works, a man can but derive an external and incomplete knowledge, which may indeed in itself contain truth, for it starts from truth, but at the same time must of necessity be erroneous, inasmuch as it is incomplete. A believer knows the Truth, but an unbeliever does not know it, or at least only knows it with an external and imperfect knowledge. The Church does not prove herself either as Scripture or as tradition or as works, but bears witness to herself, just as the Spirit of God, dwelling in her, bears witness to Himself in the Scriptures. The Church does not ask: Which Scripture is true, which tradition is true, which Council is true, or what works are pleasing to God: for Christ knows His own inheritance, and the Church in which He lives knows by inward knowledge, and cannot help knowing, her own manifestations.

3.

The Church, even upon earth, lives, not an earthly human life, but a life of grace which is divine. Wherefore not only each of her members, but she herself as a whole, solemnly calls herself Holy. Her visible manifestation is contained in the Sacraments, but her inward life in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, in faith, hope, and love. Oppressed and persecuted by enemies without, at times agitated and lacerated within by the evil passions of her children, she has been and ever will be preserved without wavering or change wherever the Sacraments and spiritual holiness are preserved. Never is she either disfigured or in need of reformation. She lives not under a law of bondage, but under a law of liberty. She neither acknowledges any authority over her, except her own, nor any tribunal, but the tribunal of faith (for reason does not comprehend her), and she expresses her love, her faith, and her hope in her prayers and rites, suggested to her by the Spirit of truth and by the grace of Christ.

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Ecumenism V

[Please note: The following are personal musings and not to be construed as *the* Orthodox understanding. If anything here contradicts the received teaching and way of life of the (Orthodox) Church, please correct me. As always: check with your priest or spiritual father.]

It should by now be clear how it is that the modern ecumenical movement has failed, and, indeed, can only fail. Here, however, I want to come at the point again from another angle.

I hope that it can be seen that Church unity is accomplished by the Holy Trinity through the Eucharist presided over by the bishop. Certainly there is doctrinal or dogmatic unity, and institutional unity is important as well. But these are founded on the Eucharist which embodies the fullness of the Gospel: the reality of the Holy Trinity, the proclamation of the Incarnation, the unity of the Holy Trinity and of the Church with and in the Trinity.

Modern ecumenism fails by way of two fallacies (Roman Catholics and Orthodox would call these fallacies heresies): 1) reductionism and 2) the denial of the Church.

Let’s start with the latter. Protestants simply cannot get around the reality that Rome and the Orthodox each claim to be the one true Church–which means Protestants (and Rome or the Orthodox) are not. Protestants can only continue in ecumenical efforts by denying this claim, either actively and intentionally or passively by simply ignoring the claim. Concomitantly, Protestants claim to be a part of the one true Church (which, in Protestantism is an invisible, spiritual entity). But simple denial is no argument. It’s a fallacy. Further, Protestant ecclesiology fails to follow through on the logic of the Incarnation. That is to say, given the Incarnation, the Church must itself be incarnate. This entails an historic institution whose life is instantiated in quite specific ways. There is an objective standard against which Protestant ecclesiologies can be measured. Not only that, Protestants beg the question of the true Church by simply assuming they are (a part of) it.

(Aside: Protestants could claim the same sort of question begging of Rome or the Orthodox. However both Rome and Orthodox have objective, rational arguments supporting these claims. Not to mention the simple fact that the Roman Catholic Church, or, as I would contend, the Orthodox Church, is. That is to say, the claim to exclusivity is based on the reality of that which is itself what it claims to be. Clearly, between Rome and Orthodox, I stand on the side of the Orthodox and these reflections have been written from that perspective. But I will not here argue for Orthodoxy over Rome. That has been done by abler minds and more Christ-like spirits than mine.)

But Protestants commit another fallacy as well: reductionism. How can it not be otherwise when not only do Protestants differ from Roman Catholics and Orthodox in their fundamental doctrinal beliefs, but, as importantly, differ among themselves as well. Given that, in contradistinction to Rome and the Orthodox, Protestants start from contradictory beliefs, ecumenism cannot even get off the ground without beginning to pare away those things that are “not essential” to the Gospel. Despite my great esteem and admiration for C. S. Lewis, there is no such thing as “mere Christianity” which can be boiled down to an essence. (And in fact, those who argue for a “mere Christianity” would not even all agree with C. S. Lewis on what “mere Christianity” actually is.) What is essential to the Gospel? All of it. It is as essential to the Gospel that we affirm Jesus of Nazareth to be God in the flesh as it is that we affirm divorce is a sin as it is that we fast, pray and give alms, as it is that we affirm the wine and the bread are the Blood and Body of Christ, and so it goes.

In other words, true Christianity is maximalist not minimalist, and the only Christian unity that can obtain in reality is the unity that affirms all of the Gospel. This is not to say that all Gospel things are important in the same ways (one would rightly prioritize the importance of the truth about the Eucharist over the specific ways one fasts or prays or gives alms and the sanctity of marriage over these). But all Gospel things are important and cannot be relegated to adiaphora. Because quite frankly, once one wields the knife to cut, the cutting will and must take on a life of its own. One simply need trace the life of the Christian churches in America over the last two hundred years. Both evangelical and mainline congregations have abandoned the sanctity of marriage by not only allowing for multiple divorces but also for divorced clergy to continue to serve at the altar. Not coincidentally, American Christians are increasingly affirming that Jesus is not the only pathway to God, and even questioning his divinity. After all, if marriage is not at the core of the Gospel, then why need one continue to adhere to Jesus’ exclusivity or even his divinity? Reductionism is a fallacy precisely because it assumes what it must first prove: that some Gospel things are unnecessary.

The Church has always held–as was briefly noted in the previous post–that unity in Christ is maximalist. That means bishops, sacramental Eucharists, and one true visible Church. Protestants will not bring about Church unity via these two fallacies/heresies. But they may become one with the Church if they reject these fallacies/heresies and embrace the fullness of the Church which has remained whole, one and complete for two millennia.

[This is another in a handful of reflections I want to make on the matter of Church unity.
Previous posts:
Ecumenism I
Ecumenism II
Ecumenism III]
Ecumenism IV]

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