Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The kind of mess matters. . .

From a "conservative" Episcopalian:

Even if the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are broken homes, they are as decently equipped with sacraments and Scripture as any other, and better than most. We are ideally both Catholic and Evangelical, but in practice we are neither one nor the other. Our canons may allow gay marriage in some places, but they insist upon the Nicene Creed in every place. Even the most liberal, establishment Episcopalians are forced into relative conservatism. No one gets everything they want, and everyone makes do with what they have. As [Sir Roger Scruton] puts it: “I rejoice that the Church to which I belong offers an antidote to every kind of utopian thinking.”
I will admit that most all churches are "broken homes" -- dysfunctional is the modern word.  I know that my own church body has all sorts of problems.  Sadly, even though our Confessions would seem to say otherwise, Lutheranism does not insist upon the Nicene Creed at the Divine Service even though we in the LCMS certainly do not allow gay marriage.  It is a bit of a mess, to be sure, but I am not sure I would agree with the author who seems to claim that, since all are messes, it does not matter which mess your choose to call your church home.  That is not something to which I can say "amen."  The kind of mess matters and there are messes which require you to leave, to depart, and to find a better mess to call your church home.  No, that does not mean you are prone to roam the sea of Christianity in search of a perfect (utopian) church but it does mean that some messes are deal breakers.

Lutheranism has it right.  It is, unlike the author of this article puts it, both confessionally catholic and confessionally evangelical (the good sense of that word).  The individual Lutheran church bodies reflect this "right" mix of catholic and evangelical to varying degrees.  Even the ELCA would admit that it has consciously departed from the doctrine and practice of Lutheranism (even though they would also probably argue that Lutheranism's hold upon the Gospel requires it).  Missouri holds it all right on paper but we have a problem with practices that challenge this identity (or at least the theory of it).  We have worship practices that are all over the page -- from simply goofy stuff to things that do conflict with what we say we believe.  What struggle with is how much uniformity is required for unity and how do we enforce and accomplish the unanimity and uniformity.  We have a distinctly individualistic and congregationalist bent that begs both questions.

I rather like Gorsuch but I am mystified by his church choice.  The Episcopal Church has allowed the likes of John Shelby Spong and has shown itself unwilling and unable to deal with those who violate the most sacred canons of Christian identity.  Part of me suspects that Gorsuch has found a niche that is comfortable and one that allows him to retain his conservative Christian identity.  Certainly there are many such "not in my back yard" spots that are pleasantly out of step with their own denomination but that is sort of like saying I ate some spoiled food once and did not get sick.  Okay, but don't do it again.

It does matter what the mess is.  When Scripture is but one of many voices that inform and shape and define belief, this mess cannot be tolerated.  When individual interpretation refuses to allow any catholic voice to the Scriptures or faith, this mess is too messy to tolerate.  When orthodoxy is no longer allowed, the mess requires an exit.  When the public identity of belonging to the mess overshadows everything else, the mess is too much of a mess to be ignored.  The Episcopal Church puts on a fine ceremonial but the sad truth is that not that many people belief what the ceremonial points to.  The Lutheran Church is ambivalent about the ceremonial but the belief is spot on.  I hate to say it but truth trumps ritual every time.   Nevertheless, that does not mean ritual does not count -- especially when it flows from a solid doctrinal confession.

The kind of mess does matter. 


John Joseph Flanagan said...

The reason many denominations have been splintered into liberal and conservative camps can be attributed to the social movements of the past decades, notably the teaching and popularity of secular humanism and moral relativism. The church often reflects the values and preferences of society, and this goes for both morality, theology, and politics. The church is dysfunctional in many areas because of a simple and plain fact: people want to do what they want, and there are those academics and theologians who will provide some justification and a clever rationale to question the word of God, or make it conform to their own notions. It is disobedience which drives this train, and as Scripture accurately predicts, the number of true believers and followers of the Lord will ultimately be a smaller remnant....the rest of humanity having chosen the wide path leading to the destruction of their souls.

Dr.D said...

The Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA), through its actions, fairly screams that it no longer believes in the Christian faith. It has replaced apostolicity with apostasy.

Its canons may require the Nicene Creed, but saying it when no one believes it is simply a mockery. It has adopted the Social Justice Creed as a de facto replacement in reality. It is not longer a true church at all, but simply a comfortable country club environment in which all tell each other what swell folks they are.

Anyone who things that ECUSA is "an acceptable mess" is simply deluding themselves.

Fr. D+
Continuing Anglican Priest

Chris Jones said...

The linked opinion piece is an example of why the word "conservative" is so useless in a Christian context, and why I prefer "orthodox" (and, even better, "traditional" if that word is properly understood) to "conservative."

Of course it is possible to be "conservative" in a progressive denomination; all you have to do is be a little less progressive than the norm. But being orthodox in a heterodox denomination is a good deal harder, because Christian worship by its very nature is an act of confession. And worshiping together -- especially communing at the same altar - is an act of common confession with those with whom one is worshiping. For an orthodox person to worship and commune together with the heterodox is, by the act itself, to compromise that person's orthodoxy. You are who you are in communion with.

Of course, the author offers his denomination's common confession of the Nicene Creed as its touchstone of orthodoxy. But ECUSA's commitment to the Creed is hollow for a number of reasons. At best the Creed is used as a statement of utterly minimal orthodoxy (as in "how little can I believe and still belong?"); as long as you can come up with a personal interpretation of the bare words of the creed that you can stomach, you can call yourself "creedally orthodox." ("Creedally orthodox" is a seeming redundancy that I have seen only in progressive Episcopalian circles. "Orthodox" in those circles means "believes what the Bible says about sex" and is a bad thing; "creedally orthodox" means "believes (one' own interpretation of) the Creed but is progressive about everything else.")

But even that minimal commitment to Nicene orthodoxy means little, when clergy and even bishops can, and do, deny the substance of the Nicene faith and are never held to account for it. Spong is only one example of it; ECUSA bishops have been denying the Trinity, the Incarnation, the virgin birth, and the resurrection at least since Bishop Pike in the 1960s. There may be an ECUSA bishop who believes the Nicene Creed with the meaning that the Nicene fathers meant when they wrote it; but if there is I certainly don't know who he (or she) is.

Mark said...

"I hate to say it but truth trumps ritual every time. Nevertheless, that does not mean ritual does not count -- especially when it flows from a solid doctrinal confession."

Doctrine influences and shapes practice until practice influences and shapes doctrine. Lex orandi, lex credendi.