Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “ecclesiology”

Speaking the truth to power: two Anglican archbishops

A few days ago the synod of the Church of England failed to approve a measure that would allow women to become bishops, and that has led to a lot of comment in the blogosphere, on social networks, and no doubt elsewhere.

Like Antioch Abouna, I have no wish to comment on the internal affairs of another Christian body. What the Church of England decides about who to have as its bishops does not affect me. Sixty years ago Anglican ecclesiology was perhaps a bit closer to Orthodox ecclesiology than it is now. Back then, at least some Anglicans believed that apostolic succession was important; it strongly affected their relationship with the African Orthodox Church and the Order of Ethiopia, for example. Now, I think hardly any Anglicans regard apostolic succession as important, and the model for episcopacy is perhaps more akin to that of a branch manager of a supermarket chain, and the criteria for selection are probably similar — can they perform the management task adequately? Of course the analogy is not complete; a supermarket manager is not expected to be pastor pastorum to the other members of staff, and I believe there is still that expectation of Anglican bishops. As Antioch Abouna has noted, the discussion has been almost entirely in secular tems, and based on secular criteria. So it is up to Anglicans to decide on the criteria for the selection of their bishops in accordance with their current understanding of what bishops are. It is not for Orthodox, who have a different understanding of bishops, to approve or disapprove of whatever they decide.

But an Orthodox Facebook friend also commented “Orthodox Christians who delight in knocking Anglicans (esp. Rowan Williams) very distasteful. Don’t they have anything better to do?” and cited this post Women Bishops and an Archbishop Agonistes | Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy:

Well, it seems that the lame duck Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has decided to take his episcopal duty of admonition with some seriousness this week…

Now there may be a cultural difference here. It is possible that the term “lame duck” is inoffensive or neutral to people in the USA, because of their political system, but to people outside the USA it sounds very offensive indeed, and quite uncalled-for.

But, personal insults aside, what Archbishop Rowan Williams said (as opposed to what he is) does seem to be worth commenting on. Church of England in crisis: Archbishop of Canterbury attacks members for voting against women bishops – The Independent:

Speaking in the aftermath of that decision this morning, Dr Williams said the church risked being seen as “willfully blind” to the demands from wider British society that it must do away with institutional and theological sexism.

“We have, to put it very bluntly, a lot of explaining to do,” he told the General Synod. “Whatever the motivation for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society. Worse than that, it seems as if we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities of that wider society.”

He added: ”We have some explaining to do, we have as a result of yesterday undoubtedly lost a measure of credibility in our society.“

Perhaps he was speaking as the leader of the Established Church, and believes that the church needs to shape its own priorities according to the trends, priorities and demands of that society.

But if so, I think that reflects the dangers of Establishment. And I cannot help comparing it to another Anglican archbishop, facing a synod, at another place, another time.

The archbishop was Bill Burnett, then the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, and the occasion was the 1979 meeting of the provincial synod of the Church of the Province of South Africa (now known as the Anglican Church of Southern Africa).

There was a rather dull motion being debated, proposed by a Canon Albertyn of Cape Town, asking that the synod set up a commission to look into and report on all the permits the church was required to apply for in terms of the then-current apartheid legislation. Bill Burnett intervened from the chair, and said that in his position as Archbishop he was often called on to apply for permits for various things, and he disliked doing so. He did it because he thought it was expected of him as part of his role, and that it was expected of him to try to preserve the church as an institution, but that it was a role he disliked, and he disliked having to apply for permits, and was prepared not to do so, if that was what synod wanted. He warned that it could mean the end of the church as an institution. Its property could be confiscated by the government, and worse, but he was prepared to do that if it was what synod wanted. “Is that what you want?” he asked.

There was dead silence.

The moment passed, and the synod went back to its ordinary dull business (you can read more about that here Trapped in apartheid – South African churches | Notes from underground.)

But there you have two Anglican archbishops, more than thirty years apart. One is saying that the church must conform to the demands of the wider society, and the other announcing that he was prepared to resist the demands of society, no matter what it cost.

FutureChurchJourney – I talk about megachurch on TV…and eat my own foot

Roger Saner has an interesting discussion on Megachurches on his blog, in which he says, among other things FutureChurchJourney – I talk about megachurch on TV…and eat my own foot:

One of the guys was talking about how Jesus was such a success and this is where I said my silly thing: I jumped in and challenged him on that. It seems like we can adapt the Bible a little too easily and make it say what we want to…and I don’t know why I thought this would be a good thing to challenge, but I did. And told the story of Albert Schweitzer, one of the great human beings of the 20th century, who had great fun showing how all of the historians before him had brought their own presuppositions to bear on the historical study of Jesus, and instead of portraying the actual Jesus of history, they put across their own idea of Jesus. Then he proposed to tell us what Jesus was really like, and concluded that he was a wild-eyed apocalyptic prophet who died a failure.

I tried to comment on Roger’s blog, but was told to enter the characters in the picture, and could see no picture and no characters, so I thought I’d comment here.

Roger mentioned a “pastor” who had a medium-sized church that he wanted to grow into a megachurch, and that got me wondering about all sorts of things — like what do we mean by “pastor” and why do we (or at least some people) think that “size matters”?

And it seems to me that some of the people called “pastors” are not so much pastors as ranchers, or at least wannabe ranchers. OK, we read in the Old Testament about all those patriarchs with huge flocks, and especially Jacob who increased his flocks and herds at the expense of his uncle and father-in-law, and all the good things that happened since their corn and wine and oil increased. And of course in the secular world the more people a person has to boss around, the more important they are. The rulers of big and rich nations are more important than the rulers of small and poor nations. And the CEO of a big company is more important than the CEO of a small one. But didn’t Jesus say “It is not to be so among you?”

What is a pastor? A CEO for Jesus?

With Jesus as partner, and perhaps a junior partner at that?

As someone (I think it was Juan Carlos Ortiz) once said, “Is your church growing, or is it just getting fat?”

I remember one Anglican priest who was always preaching about money and the need for the church to look successful. “Success appeals to those who love success, and all men do,” he said.

Yet, as Roger points out, in the eyes of the world, Jesus was a failure.

And I read a passage in a book that somehow seems truer to the Gospel of Christ than the false gospel of Success:

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate’s answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused
with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.’ It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty (from The holy barbarians, by Lawrence Lipton).

Whom do we worship? Christ, who came to be poor among the poor, or the bitch goddess Sucess?

FutureChurchJourney – I talk about megachurch on TV…and eat my own foot

Roger Saner has an interesting discussion on Megachurches on his blog, in which he says, among other things FutureChurchJourney – I talk about megachurch on TV…and eat my own foot:

One of the guys was talking about how Jesus was such a success and this is where I said my silly thing: I jumped in and challenged him on that. It seems like we can adapt the Bible a little too easily and make it say what we want to…and I don’t know why I thought this would be a good thing to challenge, but I did. And told the story of Albert Schweitzer, one of the great human beings of the 20th century, who had great fun showing how all of the historians before him had brought their own presuppositions to bear on the historical study of Jesus, and instead of portraying the actual Jesus of history, they put across their own idea of Jesus. Then he proposed to tell us what Jesus was really like, and concluded that he was a wild-eyed apocalyptic prophet who died a failure.

I tried to comment on Roger’s blog, but was told to enter the characters in the picture, and could see no picture and no characters, so I thought I’d comment here.

Roger mentioned a “pastor” who had a medium-sized church that he wanted to grow into a megachurch, and that got me wondering about all sorts of things — like what do we mean by “pastor” and why do we (or at least some people) think that “size matters”?

And it seems to me that some of the people called “pastors” are not so much pastors as ranchers, or at least wannabe ranchers. OK, we read in the Old Testament about all those patriarchs with huge flocks, and especially Jacob who increased his flocks and herds at the expense of his uncle and father-in-law, and all the good things that happened since their corn and wine and oil increased. And of course in the secular world the more people a person has to boss around, the more important they are. The rulers of big and rich nations are more important than the rulers of small and poor nations. And the CEO of a big company is more important than the CEO of a small one. But didn’t Jesus say “It is not to be so among you?”

What is a pastor? A CEO for Jesus?

With Jesus as partner, and perhaps a junior partner at that?

As someone (I think it was Juan Carlos Ortiz) once said, “Is your church growing, or is it just getting fat?”

I remember one Anglican priest who was always preaching about money and the need for the church to look successful. “Success appeals to those who love success, and all men do,” he said.

Yet, as Roger points out, in the eyes of the world, Jesus was a failure.

And I read a passage in a book that somehow seems truer to the Gospel of Christ than the false gospel of Success:

The New Poverty is the disaffiliate’s answer to the New Prosperity. It is important to make a living. It is even more important to make a life. Poverty. The very word is taboo in a society where success is equated with virtue and poverty is a sin. Yet it has an honourable ancestry. St. Francis of Assisi revered poverty as his bride, with holy fervor and pious rapture. The poverty of the disaffiliate is not to be confused
with the poverty of indigence, intemperance, improvidence or failure. It is simply that the goods and services he has to offer are not valued at a high price in our society. As one beat generation writer said to the square who offered him an advertising job: ‘I’ll scrub your floors and carry out your slops to make a living, but I will not lie for you, pimp for you, stool for you or rat for you.’ It is not the poverty of the ill-tempered and embittered, those who wooed the bitch goddess Success with panting breath and came away rebuffed. It is an independent, voluntary poverty (from The holy barbarians, by Lawrence Lipton).

Whom do we worship? Christ, who came to be poor among the poor, or the bitch goddess Sucess?

Women clergy leaving the Episcopal Church

According to Ad Orientem: Women priests leaving the Episcopal Church? Alice Linsley is doing a survey of women clergy who are leaving the Episcopal Church in the USA.

Alice Linsley herself was one who left to join the Orthodox Church, and knows of others who have done so, but would like to find out more. If anyone has information about this, please pass it on.

Well he would, wouldn’t he?

No surprises here: Vatican: Non-Catholics ‘wounded’ by not recognizing pope.

A 16-page document, prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Pope Benedict used to head, described Christian Orthodox churches as true churches, but suffering from a “wound” since they do not recognize the primacy of the Pope.

But the document said the “wound is still more profound” in the Protestant denominations — a view likely to further complicate relations with Protestants.

If it weren’t so, we’d all have been Uniate long ago. That’s one of those areas of disagreement that still has to be hammered out before the churches can be reunited. The Orthodox, of course, see it from a different viewpoint. The “wound” is the claim of the Pope of Rome to “universal ordinary jurisdiction”, and perhaps his claim to be “the” Pope. We have a Pope in Alexandria, and as far as we are concerned, he is “the” Pope. The one in Rome is just the head of a non-Orthodox denomination.

All sorts of people seem to be getting their knickers in a knot over this document. But that’s just silly. Would they rather that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pretended to be what they are not, or that their ecclesiology is other than what it is? How can we have dialogues and discuss differences in ecclesiology if everyone is pretending that their ecclesiology is something else? Christian unity is not brought about by papering over the cracks and pretending that differences don’t exist. We need to face the differences honestly. Let’s face it: Roman Catholic ecclesiology is dffierent from Orthodox ecclesiology, and different from most Protestant ecclesiologies. The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith is just being honest. Would we prefer it if they weren’t?

Emerging church and Orthodoxy revisited

This morning I was playing around with the tag surfing feature on WordPress and came across this post, which was more than 9 months old, so I might not have found it otherwise: Just an apprentice: Emerging church and orthodoxy. This linked to some articles by Scot McKnight, an emerging church theologian, which answered some of the questions I posed in an earlier post here: Notes from underground: Orthodoxy and Evangelical Protestantism. And “just an apprentice” puts a finger on the biggest stumbling block in all ecumenical discussions between Orthodox and Protestants, whether the Protestants are Evangelical, Emerging, Pentecostal, Liberal, or anything else:

This question that Scot McKnight addresses is one that I have been asking on my journey. It is a question of ecclesiology. What is the center of the Christian church? What is the prism through which we worship God, read Scripture, and interact with our culture? What is the relationship of the emerging church with the Creeds of classical Chrisitianity? The commentary and analysis by McKnight are helpful in connecting a few dots.

The stumbling block is ecclesiology.

It was this that nearly caused all the Orthodox Churches to leave the World Council of Churches recently. It is this that causes some conservative Orthodox to call “ecumenism” a heresy.

The book to read is Beyond the East-West divide — the World Council of Churches and “the Orthodox problem” by Anna Marie Aagaard and Peter Bouteneff (Geneva, Risk, 2001 ISBN 2-8254-1350-X).

If you’re Protestant and want to talk to Orthodox Christians, read this book to understand where the Orthodox are coming from. It doesn’t matter what kind of Protestant — Evangelical, Ecumenical, Lutheran, Calvinist, Reformed, Pentecostal, Emerging, Anglican (even Anglo-Catholic, if you believe in the “branch theory” of ecclesiology).

One can’t go into all the nuances in a blog post, so what follows is probably over-simplified, not to say simplistic, but I try to summarise the point.

Most Protestants share a common basic ecclesiology.

Methodists (for example) are quite happy to see themselves as one denomination among many within a particular religion — Christianity (which is in turn seen as one religion among many). That applies to most Protestant Christian denominations, and those that do not see it in that way are regarded by the others as sects. Even non-denominational bodies tend to think of themselves as one nondenomination among many denominations and nondenominations within one religion, Christianity.

The Orthodox Church does not regard itself as a denomination, at least in the ecclesiological sense. And even the sociological sense, for conservative Orthodox, comes too close to the “heresy of ecumenism”. The “heresy of ecumenism”, in this case, being to regard the Orthodox Church as one denomination among many.

The Orthodox “statement of faith” (to use an Evangelical Protestant term), is the Symbol of Faith, usually called by Protestants the “Nicene Creed”, though the actual Nicene Creed was a much shorter document, which says nothing about the Church.

Among the statements in the Symbol of Faith is “(I believe) in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” (is mian agian kathoikin ke apostolikin ekklesian). Not in many denominations (and nondenominations), but One Church.

In what sense is the Church “apostolic”?

If we read about the day the Church began, in Acts 2, we see that the first Christian converts “continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers” (isan de proscarteroundes ti didache ton apostolon, ke ti kinonia, ti klasi tou artu, ke tis prosevches).

The Orthodox Church believes that it has “continued” unbroken in those four things from that day to this. It is not “Wesleyan” or “Lutheran” or “Calvinist” but “Apostolic”. The “apostles’ fellowship” is maintained by, among other things, the apostolic succession of bishops. The “apostles’ fellowship” is among the key elements of Orthodox ecclesiology, and, with the “apostles’ teaching” is what makes the one holy catholic Church “apostolic”.

There are numerous denominations, especially in the Pentecostal tradition, which have the word “Apostolic” in the name of their denomination, such as the Apostolic Faith Mission (from which many of the others sprang). As David du Plessis puts it, their criterion is not so much “apostolic succession” as “apostolic success”. But for the Orthodox Church the “apostles’ fellowship” (or “apostles’ communion”) is an essential mark of the Church.

In the New Testament the word “church” never means a “denomination” or “communion” (or even a “nondenomination”). In the New Testament the word “church” refers either to the local church or to the universal church. The worldwide church is the “ecumenical church” (not in the modern sense of “many denominations together”, but in the geographical sense of “the inhabited earth”). The local churches are bound together in the apostles’ fellowship through the communion of their bishops, as they commemorate and pray for each other in the Divine Liturgy.

The church is catholic, not in the sense of being “universal” (for the Orthodox that is covered by “ecumenical”) but more in the sense of being holistic. Catholic means “according to the whole”. In a holographic image, if you divide the image in two, you get not two half images, but two whole images. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So the church is like a temple, where the building is more than just the individual bricks and tiles. But each local church is not just a brick in the building, but like a holographic image, whole in itself.

From an Orthodox point of view, therefore, the congregationalist ecclesiology resembles a pile of bricks rather than a whole building, while Roman Catholic ecclesiology resembles a monolith – a single boulder rather than a building.

So for the Orthodox, schism is not within the church, but from the church.

And for the Orthodox it makes little sense to talk of “emerging ecclesiology”, unless it means that the ecclesiology that submerged a long time ago in the West is resurfacing.

I realise that to ecumenically-minded Protestants this all looks extaordinarily arrogant, saying “we’re right and you’re wrong” (non-ecumenically-minded Protestants, like those who generated the Biola report mentioned in an earlier post, assert that far more strongly than most Orthodox). But for the Orthodox it is more a matter of being true to the Orthodox understanding of history — that the Orthodox Church has continued in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers, for twenty centuries, and it would be false to say that it has not. The Orthodox Church participates in the ecumenical movement because it believes that it would be good to restore the apostles’ fellowship among all who declare their faith in the Triune God, but not at the price of abandoning its own ecclesiology and adopting a Protestant one (and there have been times in which there has been pressure within the World Council of Churches for the Orthodox Churches to do just that — see the book by Aagard and Bouteneff for details).

In dialogue there are four things we need to learn: you need to know who I am, and how I see you. I need to know who you are, and how you see me. We need to know the reality of both sides, and the way in which both parties perceive themselves and each other. Or if you want to be really postmodern about it, the way the self is perseived by the self, and the way the self is perceived by the other. And our perceptions of others show the others more about how we see ourselves. So the Biola report about the Orthodox tells the Orthodox a lot about Biola, and much less about the Orthodox.

So when I describe Roman Catholic ecclesiology as a monolith and Congregationalist ecclesiology as a heap of stones, that tells you more about Orthodox ecclesiology than it does about Roman Catholic or Congregationalist ecclesiology. And so we learn more about each other, even through our misperceptions.

Let the discussion continue.

Anglicans and Orthodox

In A conservative blog for peace Serge writes:

So in the Anglican Communion one can have women bishops, gay weddings (at least unofficially) and clergy who don’t believe in the creed (I realise these three issues are not necessarily related!) but leaving out the filioque is supposed to impress the Orthodox. Okaaaaay…

… which puts the whole thing in a nutshell.

Three-fold ministry and five-fold ministry

My blogging friend John Smulo once posted something in his blog about the five-fold ministry of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers, and he posted “job descriptions” for each of them.  His blog seems to have disappeared, so I can’t refer you to what he wrote.

I originally posted the following as a comment in his blog, and then thought I would post it here as well, in the hope of getting comments from my Orthodox readers (all two of them!), who might be able to point out whether I have allowed any heresies to creep in.

The Orthodox Church has a distinction between ministries of order, ordained ministries – the three-fold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, and the charismatic ministries, of which the five-fold ministry is a sub-set (one could add, for example, healing).

It is quite possible for people to have more than one ministry, of both types. Philip, for example, was a deacon and evangelist.

I think John Smulo’s job descriptions are OK in practice, but not in theory. Good in application, but bad in principle.

Again, that might just be an Orthodox take on it, and it might look different from where he is. The thing is, the Church never “hires” apostles, prophets, evangelists etc. The Holy Spirit does. The Church never said “We have a vacancy for a prophet: here is the job description. Qualified candidates please apply.”

Jeremiah didn’t apply. God told him.

And so from the Orthodox point of view, the charismatic ministries are recognised by the Church, ex post facto. No one is “ordained” as an apostle. But when the Church recognises that someone has had an apostolic ministry (played an important role in church-planting), then they are called (usually after they are dead) “Equal-to-the-Apostles”.

So Nikolai Kasatkin, a 19th century missionary to Japan, is now called “Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of Japan”. Mary Madgalene, first witness to the resurrection, is also called “Equal-to-the-Apostles” (sucks to The da Vinci code).

If you look at most of the people who are called apostles etc., you will find that they have fitted the job description. But they weren’t given the job description in advance and asked to sign on the dotted line.

When St Nina of Georgia was taken as a slave to Georgia she no doubt hoped that God would use her and be with her, but she never imagined that centuries later people would be singing about her as “Equal-to-the-Apostles and Enlightener of Georgia”.

By their fruits shall ye know them, not by their job descriptions.

For more on this, and how the “charismatic” ministries relate to other ministries, see Ministries in the Church | Khanya.

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