Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The theology of unity

On July 28, I posted the following:

Unity and Salvation

"Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." John 17:20,21

We hear this quoted often, and alluded to even more often. Almost never do we actually hear the full quotation. This should not be surprising in an age that thinks in sound bites, and that places greater emphasis on how people feel about issues, than on what they think about them. When we are treated to these allusions and partial quotations, the message seems to be this: Jesus really wants us to become one, and we have to make it happen. Put another way, God is praying to us, and we ought to hear his prayer.And, if that seems wrong to you, good; well it should.The emphasis of the Gospel according to St. John is twofold: It is the Trinity and the Incarnation. As it opens, John takes us behind the scenes of Genesis. The Hebrew name of the first book of the Bible means, "In the beginning." ( B'Rasheet, בְּרֵאשִׁית). John opens with this same phrase recognized by readers of the Septuagint(LXX), the standard Greek translation of the Old Testament; He too opens with, "In the beginning," (En Arche, ἐν ἀρχῇ ). In the Book of B'Rasheet, or Genesis, we are told what God did, the word "created" (bora, בָּרָא) following as the second word ("In the beginning" is all one word). 

If translated into English words, but retaining Hebrew syntax, it would say, "In the beginning created God the heavens and the earth." The emphasis is not on God himself, but on his work of creation. John, using the expression known to Greek readers of the LXX (ἐν ἀρχῇ ) alludes to the opening of Genesis in a very obvious way, but does not immediatley speak of God's work. First he lingers on God as God, and presents God as the Trinity."In the beginning was the Word (Logos, Λόγος), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." (1:1,2)Verse 2 is not superflous; it mentions God the third time because, as this Gospel unfolds, we see the Son and we hear him speak of the other Comforter, that is the Spirit of Truth. The theme of God as Trinity is presented immediately. Then, with a bow to the Genesis narrative, John speaks of creation (בָּרָא): "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. " He speaks of the Logos as the One in whom there is life, that is, life that gives life, suggesting most strongly the creation of Man: "In him was life; and the life was the light of men." 

When we keep reading, and get to verse 14, the second great theme of John's Gospel is introduced. "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth."It is only in the context of these two great themes that dominate this Gospel, the Trinity and the Incarnation of the Word, that we have any business interpreting the meaning of the High Priestly prayer of chapter 17. The first Unity that we must consider in the words of this prayer is the Unity of the Trinity. 

So, it opens: "These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. " (17:1-3) 

Our salvation is knowing God, and because whoever sees the Son sees the Father, and no man comes to the Father but by the Son (14:6-10), because God cannot be separated from God (for each Person is distinct, but inseparable), to know the Father requires that we know Jesus Christ. The only true God is known truly only by revelation, namely, Jesus Christ Whom he has sent; that is, the Word Incarnate.By the time we get to the place where Jesus says, "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are" (v.11), it ought to be clear that he is speaking to the Father, one Divine Person to another Divine Person, about our common salvation in himself. The meaning is eternal and salvific. 

It means, in effect, keep them in me. For, "this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. "Understood correctly, "that may all be one" gives greater motivation to be unified among ourselves in common faith and thought, with charity; because we are one whether we live like it or not. A prayer spoken within the Godhead, which we are privileged to overhear, the Son addressing the Father, is as much a declaration as "Let there be light," or "Let us make man in our image." God has pronounced that his people are one, that is, that the Church is, as St. Paul says many times, "in Christ." 

The Church as a whole is "in Christ," and each member of the Church is "in Christ."We know that a married couple is no longer two, but one flesh. This is clear in Genesis, in the Gospels where Jesus explains that divorce is a mere fiction, and in the Epistles of Paul when he warns us to live within the boundaries of God's moral laws. To suggest that the eternal unity of the Church in Christ can really be broken, is akin to believing that human courts can undo the work of God in a valid sacramental marriage. The Church's various divorces, whether in 1054 or in the 16th century, do not annul its unity in Christ; for if it did, members would be cut off and die simply because of human failing. Where true faith is present, we are in Christ; and, unless one can rob a Christian of his faith, he cannot cut him off from Christ (Romans 4:16).

Our unity is both a present and eternal fact, because we are in Christ. We should make efforts to understand each other, to be very clear in communication, to work for the resolution of theological and political separation, and to cultivate charity by the grace of the Holy Spirit who is within us all. But, we must not let this become mere sentimentality, and neither must we feel anxiety or pressure to leap forward faster than honest and clear communication allow. We already are one in Christ, and can proceed toward a resolution of differences in polity only with theological clarity and respect for everyone's conscience.
At the time I was writing to respond to false ideas about unity being pushed on people by urgent demands that they convert to Roman Catholicism. That was a false appeal to unity. What is happening at the present time is that the leading bishops of the older and larger jurisdictions are working on a realistic unity that can be achieved fairly soon. That is, unity among us; to have no more Continuing movement, but the Continuing Anglican Church. 


Fr. Steve said...

Okay, you have to spill the beans Fr. Hart. You're being way too cryptic.

Anonymous said...

I take it that the four presiding bishops in the photo are ready to bury the hatchet for the greater good of Anglicanism. What needs to be worked out are details and canons to ensure that all members have freedom to worship according to the mode of Anglicanism (i.e. Anglo-Catholics can worship as A-Cs, Evangelicals can worship as Evangelicals) yet we have the unity of orthodox theology, the 39 Articles, the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the three ancient creeds, 1928 BCP, etc.
Thus once the accord is agreed upon there will not be a bunch of churches under a loose umbrella of "continuning churches" but there will be one Church called the "Continuing Anglican Communion" (or something to that effect). This is pure conjecture.
It's human nature to want to be part of something larger than oneself. With several tiny continuing churches it is difficult to attract and keep members. Some won't leave the Anglican Communion out of fear, some will go to Rome or Constantinople instead, some will or will no come from protestant denominations. They just want to come to a church that is sane, not suffering from existential crises, and big enough so that when you tell people, 'I belong to X-Church,' they don't say, "Wha~? Huh?"
I have no idea what the number of faithful would be in a truly unified Continuing Anglican Communion but perhaps it would be enough that the Archbishop of Canterbury would bring the bishops into discussion the way the Pope has brought the SSPX in for discussion. Looks like the SSPX is going to help Rome shed the double-knit polyester and tambourines. Perhaps a Continuing Anglican Communion can help the CofE and the other provinces to shake off women priests and other obscenities.
No matter, God bless the bishops for showing the natural maturity and for accepting the supernatural grace to grant Continuing Anglicans genuine unity. Although not practicing in a continuing church, I am more than sympathetic (quite a fan, really) and I will pray for a positive outcome.

RC Cola

AFS1970 said...

I don't think he is being cryptic at all, just the fact that all these Bishops got together and talked is a sign of unity. The fact that all shared in communion is somewhat monumental, in that a few years ago it would have been hard to get them in a room together.

This has been somewhat multifaceted, with two different conferences, attendance at various synods, participation at each others consecrations. However the ball rests in the court of the older and larger continuing churches (I do like that term) for a variety of reasons. This is not to say that smaller jurisdictions will not be welcomed into unity, just to say that the process needs to start where the most splits have occurred, as healing wounds is crucial to the overall process.

Anonymous said...

(part1) First, many keep reverting to the Roman model for a Continuing Anglican Church. While we could use to consolidate some of the alphabet soup into fewer crock pots this is not essential to the actual life of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

In theory, ANY group which has Apostolic Succession and valid three fold ministry, adheres to the Creeds, the Ecumenical Councils, believes Sacraments are effectual means of grace, etc... can be in communion with each other - regardless if their liturgy (and minor traditions) are Greek, Polish, English, etc. If any Bishop and his dioceses teach or practice heresy, they fail to be in communion with the rest of the Church. This was the problem of ECUSA - the other Bishops would not discipline those they were in communion with who were teaching heresy.

We've seen over the last ten years what happens when a continuing Bishop mixes the Roman and Alphabet Soup models by globe trotting around as mini-pope, setting up jurisdictions within jurisdictions and consecrating men to the Bishopric who (literally) wear hats in three different , and often theologically contradictory jurisdictions. This is clearly, not only a bad idea it isn't how the Church is supposed to be run.

The early model of the church was all Bishops succeeding the Apostles in communion with each other. This is the essential, regardless of how all of those Bishops administer the daily affairs of their diocese. The Greek and Russian churches have different Bishops and different liturgies, exist in each others back yard in the United States anyhow, and are in Communion with each other. In fact, there are far less things hold Continuing Anglicans from achieving Communion with the Orthodox branches than there is with Rome.

As Fr. Vernon Staley expressed it, these are fractures or full on breaks within the Body, not from it. Sometimes bones heal and are stronger because of it. In the case of the English Reformation the break was necessary due to indulgences, the storehouse of merits, false ideas about the Eucharistic sacrifice, and other issues. The Church in England actual sought to restore frequent Communion to the laity in a language they could understand, something that took Rome a whole lot longer to fix. Those skipping to the Ordinariate are pretending there was never a need for the broken bone, or that the Church in England was wrong to have broken it in the first place.

Then there is the question of the place of Evangelicals within the unity of the Continuing movement. This is the flip side of the Ordinariate folks, the thread running through Anglican history that wanted to downplay, or rid itself, of liturgy, sacraments, and the essential nature of the three fold ministry in Apostolic Succession. We see this thread in the creation of the REC in the late 1800's, and in the ANCA which has some odd "worship" practices in many places, and women ministers in some places.

If we are to have unity we must be clear then about what the Church is and what is her worship and sacraments are supposed to be. (cont in pt2)

Anonymous said...

Cont from Part 1 (by Aidan, forgot to sign my name)

(pt 2) Second we must ask What is worship? What does "Anglo-Catholics can worship as ACs and Evangelicals can worship as Evangelicals" mean?

By Evangelical are we talking about praise bands, charismatic "prayer warriors," and free-church worship with big screens over the Swedish coffee table up front- and the underlying theology about what sacraments and "ministers" are (or are not) often lurking behind this? (There is a lot of this on ANCA web sites.) If the Anglo-Catholic wing is actually Anglo-Papists using Elizabethan language (The Ordinariate) there is no unity in that either. The theology is different, and that is what we must be unified about.

The Continuum Blog writers have done a great job of showing what classical Anglicans believe. The fact that in the past the REC removed much from the American BCP (references to eating the body and blood of Christ, regeneration in Baptismal, priestly absolution, and "by our office and ministry" in ordination) shows that the BCP actually DOES teach a Catholic (NOT Roman) understanding of The Church, the Eucharist, and that the sacraments are Divinely appointed effectual means of grace, not bare symbols.

We need to move beyond the old Low / High Church argument. Adding a post-communion prayer from the Missal and doing the Asperges doesn't make you a Romanist. Using the Altar Service Book (a straight, said, BCP Communion) doesn't make you an Evangelical or Presbyterian in decent vesture. I attend both forms of the Prayer Book service: same theology, same sacraments, same reverence, same Lord. Anglican corporate worship and spirituality is rooted in the Liturgy: Eucharist as the prime Sunday service as a minimum, and then the Daily Offices supporting our daily prayer life. The BCP clearly is set up for this.

I left Evangelicalism over 20 years ago. Anglicans are not Evangelicals, period. The intent of corporate worship is not the same. The means of grace is not the same. The understanding of ordained ministry isn't the same. Why import things which come from a different theology into Anglicanism?

The Evangelical movements first emerged in the 1700's with Pietism and Methodism. They featured revivals and an emphasis on the need for an experiential personal salvation moment while downplaying or vilifying rituals, traditions, and sacraments. The Wesley bothers encourage increased piety and frequent Communion - but many wanted to leave The Church, something the Wesley's warned them not to do. These ideas morphed to the Free Church in England which must bring a smile to the Puritans who always wanted freedom from liturgy, sacraments, and the threefold ministry.

From there we end up with Darby and dispensationalism leading to today's Evangelical fixation on The Rapture, and Left Behind. The Evangelical Azusa Street Revivals lead to Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement, private revelation and freelance exorcists who see deamons behind ever door. I grew up around all of this.

On a few ANCA web sites I learned about "soaking prayer" whereby people lay on the floor and "let the Holy Spirit come love on you" while listening to insipid Easy Listening Christian praise music. I've seen liturgical dancers and praise bands with spot-lights and side stages. I'm sorry, but I am not interested in "Ecclesia 's Got Talent" whereby entertainment masquerades as worship performed by people with not enough talent to cut it on any other stage. Please, let all mortal flesh keep silence.

The Book of Common Prayer gives us a very clear structure for our spiritual life allowing us to maintain decency and order, predisposing us to reverence. What possible unity can come from verbally declaring "UNITY!" while allowing strange and erroneous ideas about worship. -Aidan

Anonymous said...


That was the finest and soundest rant I've read in a long time, and I mean that in the *best* sense of the word.

I too came out of Evangelicalism a long time ago. I was overjoyed to discover the Anglican paradigm soundly tethers the free grace of the Gospel and the riches of catholic worship and theology to the life of the Church without recapitulating to every corrosive novelty, Roman or Protestant, after the Middle Ages.

Steven Augustine Badal
ACC Layman

Anonymous said...

I used "Evangelical" as a synonym for low churchmanship, since the only low churchmen I know refer to themselves in that way.
So when I said that Anglo-Catholics may worship as Anglo-Catholics and evangelicals as evangelical, I really just meant that one subset of Anglicans would not force another subset to slavishly follow their preferred liturgical expression. In other words the ban on incense that was once in place in England to prevent priests from being "Romish" should never happen in a unified continuing Church. If my parish wants a platoon of altar boys obscured by smoke and your parish wants white walls and a priest wearing nothing but a stole, then so be it. As long as the BCP is the unifying element then the Church is big enough to allow the ornate and the austere and everything in between.
I'm not sure if we agree or disagree since we may be using terms differently.
RC Cola

Anonymous said...

I also must express appreciation for Aidan's rant. He touches on a subject in which I have a keen interest, i. e., the sad fact tht the term "Evangelical" has well nigh been evacuated of any tangible meaning. Like Aidan, I abhor the praise bands and choruses and the Rick Warren style worship which has come to be associated with the term. Having suffered though a couple of neo-Anglican events, I wonder what Augustus Poplady or Bishop Ryle would have to say about such froth.

Being a regular reader of "New Reformation" magazine and occasionally of blogs associated with its writers, I can tell you that not only are classical Anglicans disassociating themselves from the word "Evangelical," but so are the consistently Reformed. People like R Scott Clark, Carl Trueman and Darryl Hart wish to distance themselves firmly from "seeker sensitive worship" and the squishy theology it promotes.

I am happy to be called a conservative/traditional Catholic Evangelical. But Rite II worship with praise choruses is about 180 degrees away.