Skip to comments.Canon Theologian responds to Via Media [TEC]
Posted on 07/19/2006 12:33:16 PM PDT by sionnsar
To: Albany Via Media
As expected, Albany Via Media has responded to the Standing Committee's recent statement about the General Convention '06. Typical of recent statements from AVM, your response not just a diatribe. It is measured and articulate, and reasonably expresses the concerns that naturally follow from your convictions.
I wish only to address a single point in your comprehensive statement, namely your response to the Standing Committee's repudiation of "all false expressions of our Christian Faith that would seek to dilute or avoid Jesus' clear words 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'."
This, more than anything else, reveals the sad gulf between us since the issues at stake are so much more fundamental than the volatile questions of sexual ethics. This gulf has grown so wide and concerns such basic matters of the faith that I worry that even though we wear the same outfits and use the same script in church, we risk becoming separate religions under one roof. I am not suggesting that the diocese should seek "Alternative Primatial Oversight," though like the Standing Committee I understand why some have chosen to do so. Nor do I say this in anger or condemnation-but only with an unspeakable sadness at what has been lost to a church to which I have given my entire adult life. I do not seek to close down conversation-indeed, perhaps honestly to address the substantive issues of disagreement is to do just the reverse. So here we go.
Has John 14:6 really has been used to "exclude billions"? To begin with, insofar as the canonical scriptural text has been inspired by the Holy Spirit, the evident fact that it has been used...and misused, interpreted...and misinterpreted, in countless ways, does not speak to its authority or truth-value. That we do not like how someone has used a particular text does not exempt us from coming to terms with its challenging message. Moreover, when it comes to salvation, it is not we who include or exclude-it is God. We are not in a position to say who lies outside of the span of God's mercy, nor can we hold God accountable to our thin and rather one-dimensional canons of political correctness.
The Uniqueness of Christ as a Small Box?
And then there is your applause for Katherine Jefferts Schori's response to Time Magazine's question about the unique saving role of Jesus. I was disappointed by Katherine Jefferts Schori's public declaration that basic Christian claims about the unique saving role of Jesus put "God in a very small box."
It simply contradicts what the New Testament says, beginning with such key verses as the afore mentioned John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"; as well as John 1:18, "No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known"; Acts 4:12, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved"; 1 Timothy 2:5-6, "There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all."; Philippians 2:10-11, "At the name of Jesus every knee [shall] bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord," etc.
But it is not just a matter of isolated texts. Bishop Schori's statement contradicts the overall shape and structure of the New Testament witness to who Jesus is and what he does. Take, for example, a typical summary statement of Christian proclamation from last Sunday's reading of the Epistle to the Ephesians (1:3-8):
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us.
Paul speaks of what God the Father has done for us in Christ, having chosen and destined us for adoption, and in Jesus Christ provided redemption and forgiveness "through his blood." As in any number of other places in the New Testament, reconciliation between a sinful humanity and a just God is accomplished through the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross-which we reaffirm and re-enact with each Eucharist. Of course, the idea of sacrifice for sin has become manifestly unpopular in some theological circles, but it remains embedded at the core of the New Testament witness. More to the point, no other religion makes any such claim for anyone else, or even assesses the human situation and the means of redemption in quite this manner.
The Epistle to the Ephesians goes on to stress the universal global import of what God has accomplished in Christ:
With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will.
In the claim that God "gathers up all things in Christ," Paul stresses Jesus' supreme and unique saving role as having an absolute, universal, and cosmic significance. In this respect the message is echoed by 1 Corinthians 15, that "all will be made alive in Christ...when all things are subjected to him."
Here and throughout the New Testament it is not just isolated proof texts, but the overall picture that prohibits us from interpreting the Gospel as merely one way among many; its claims are universal and global.
One Religion Among Many?
No doubt, Katherine Schori speaks for many people today when she suggests a view of religion in which Christianity stands among the religions as one "vehicle to divine" among others. It is as if we are here, and God is there, and there are any number of ways that God has provided to get from here to there. This view presents religion as single generic thing, and each particular religion as merely a culturally conditioned version of the same basic project. We simply need to pick that which best suits us-just as one person drives Chryslers, someone else likes Toyotas, and I happen to prefer Hondas.
I have spent much of my life studying world religions; I have published on the subject, and I have taught other religions at a university level. I remain deeply impressed at how diverse-and fundamentally distinct-the varying religions of the world actually are: what different descriptions of the universe they offer, how differently they understand the nature of God (if indeed they even posit the existence of God at all), how different their diagnoses of the human problem, what different solutions they offer. It is the details that make all the difference.
I embraced Christianity in my early twenties, not because I perceived Christianity as one vehicle among many, but because after having rejected Christianity for many years, I came to recognize that it was offering something entirely unique, something that I believed to be the Truth with a big "T", in a way that other religions simply were not "the Truth." This is also why St. Paul and his converts turned to Jesus Christ two thousand years ago-it is not as if there were not other options back then any more than there are today.
Separate Questions: Is Jesus Unique? Who is in and Who is Out?
It is helpful to separate two questions: One relates to the unique saving role of Jesus, and here the New Testament is explicit, "No one comes to the Father except through me." To say anything less is to whittle away at the Christian Gospel until it becomes something else-a sort of dressed up, high church Unitarian Universalism.
But the other question is: what of those countless people who have not confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord? There are Christians who might challenge me on this, but it clear to me that the New Testament is not quite as explicit here. Like it or not, the New Testament does speak of eternal punishment for those who explicitly reject the grace of God in Christ. But how far that condemnation extends-and similarly, how far the reach of God's grace and forgiveness extend-this is something only God knows. We don't know where those boundaries lie-we do not have that map.
What we do know is that in Jesus Christ, God uniquely becomes human, and in his sacrificial death, and resurrection, has done what no one else even claims to have done-he has reconciled a sinful humanity with a just God. Those who believe, and receive Him, are invited to share in his intimacy with the maker of all things-if that is to put God in a small box, it remains open to all, and big enough to accommodate all of us. It is not for us to say who is in or who is out-but to say that there is any other name by which human beings are saved is-whether we intend to or not-to abandon the Gospel.
---Fr. Christopher Brown is canon theologian in the Diocese of Albany
Documents regarding GC's response to the Windsor Report" Click on one of the items below, or just scroll down and browse...
Albany Via Media statement. "Taken on its face, this passage from John can be used -- indeed has been used -- to exclude billions of human beings from any prospect of salvation. We applaud PB-Elect Jefferts Schori's response to Time's question about Jesus's uniqueness"
Presiding Bishop Elect Schori's Time Magazine interview. "We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box."
The Diocese of Albany Standing Committee's statement. "We repudiate all false expressions of our Christian Faith that would seek to dilute or avoid Jesus' clear words: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6.)"
Response: Fr. Christopher Brown. "It is not for us to say who is in or who is out-but to say that there is any other name by which human beings are saved is-whether we intend to or not-to abandon the Gospel.
Albany via Media Statement
TO: Standing Committee, Episcopal Diocese of Albany
FROM: Board of Directors, Albany Via Media
SUBJECT: Statement of 7 July 2006
DATE: 17 July 2006
This responds to the Standing Committee's Statement of 7 July 2006, which concerns The Episcopal Church's (TEC) response to the Windsor Report. That statement includes the welcome news that you have not urged Albany's bishops to follow the lead of the seven other Network dioceses which have asked Canterbury for alternative primatial oversight. That decision shows good judgment.
Other aspects of the Committee's statement are less welcome. For example, it is disheartening to find that you still feel obliged to reiterate Albany's positions on Lambeth 1998's Res. 1.10 and same-sex unions, which are all too well known. We share The Rev. John Danforth's view, expressed at General Convention, that TEC needs to stop obsessing on sexual issues and get on with the compassionate mission to which Jesus called us.
Other parts of your July 7 statement invite more extended responses.
Standing Committee 1. The 75th General Convention has willfully failed to meet both the spirit and letter of the Windsor Report in areas of human sexuality and to show proper regard for "the bonds of affection" within the Anglican Communion.
Albany Via Media: This statement casually sweeps aside the efforts of hundreds of faithful Episcopalians who struggled, before and during GC2006, to respond constructively to Windsor's requests while dealing justly with all Episcopalians. Their considerable accomplishments include resolutions that reaffirm TEC's commitment to the Anglican Communion, express regret for straining the "bonds of affection," and support discussions leading toward the construction of an Anglican covenant. On the last day of the Convention, under pressure of time and at the urging of both PB Griswold and PB-Elect Jefferts Schori, they passed a resolution - B 033 - that restricts, albeit incompletely, the consecration of bishops whose "manner of life" would strain communion in the wider church. This attempt to placate the Communion won TEC few friends, and it cost our PB and PB-elect much political capital. Archbishop Rowan Williams acknowledged this when he praised and thanked them "for taking the risk of focusing the debate and its implications so sharply."
Your characterization of TEC's answer to the Windsor Report abuses both the Church and the truth. In his recent statement, "A Word to the Church," PB Griswold said that "General Convention's response to the Windsor Report and the Windsor Process was costly and generous." So it was.
SC: 2. We thankfully receive as the way forward the communique' of the Archbishop of Canterbury, entitled "The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today: A Reflection for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion.
The key element of the structure that Abp. Williams suggested is a binding Anglican covenant, the terms of which are to be worked out through negotiation among provinces in the Communion. Churches that agree to adhere to the finished covenant shall be called constituent provinces of the Communion and will have voting rights. Churches that cannot or will not adhere to it will be less strongly linked to the Communion, as non-voting churches in association.
The Archbishop's reflection has been and will be a valuable spur to discussion, but calling it "the way forward" gives it much more credit than its author does. In an address to the General Synod of the Church of England, Abp. Williams said,
"In spite of some interesting reporting and some slightly intemperate reaction, this [reflection] contained no directives (I do not have authority to dictate policy to the provinces of the Communion) and no foreclosing of the character and content of such a covenant. Were any such arrangement to be proposed, it would of course have to be owned by the constitutional bodies governing Provinces. The proposal has already been dismissed in some quarters as a capitulation to fundamentalism and in others as a cunning plan to entrench total doctrinal indifferentism.
"Both characterizations are nonsense."
Many substantial hurdles lie between here and an Anglican covenant. It is interesting that both PB Griswold and Nigeria's Abp. Akinola, polar opposites on most issues, have come out strongly against the two-tier scheme, though for very different reasons. Akinola takes the purist view that a church must be wholly in the Communion or entirely out of it.
PB Griswold's objection to the two-tier model is that it
"...raises serious questions about how we understand ourselves as being the church. I am put in mind of Paul's understanding of the church as the body of Christ of which we are all indispensable members in virtue of our baptism. I think as well of Jesus' declaration in the Gospel of John that he is the vine and we are the branches and that apart from him we can do nothing.
"Such a two-tiered view of our common life suggests to me amputated limbs and severed branches without any life-giving relationship to the One who is the source of all life. A pragmatic solution in this regard is at the expense of the deeper truth that the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you."
Even if Canterbury's model proves to be "the way forward," the path to it will be far too long and tortuous to address the issues that now bedevil the Episcopal Church and, increasingly, the Church of England.
SC:8. We repudiate all false expressions of our Christian Faith that would seek to dilute or avoid Jesus' clear words "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
AVM: Taken on its face, this passage from John can be used -- indeed has been used -- to exclude billions of human beings from any prospect of salvation. We applaud PB-Elect Jefferts Schori's response to Time's question about Jesus's uniqueness:
"We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box."
SC: 7. We stand in solidarity and deepest sympathy with our sister Dioceses that have found the actions and inaction of the 75th General Convention to require an appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Panel of Reference for various aid and relief.
AVM: Webster defines solidarity as "unity of purpose, interest, or sympathy." Do you agree with the Network dioceses's opposition to TEC's actions and, in particular, its choice of Bp. Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop? Do you endorse the Network's efforts to establish an evangelical body to replace TEC as the North American "franchise" (Canon David Anderson's crass but accurate term) of the Anglican Communion? Would you be willing to see Albany leave TEC's Province II for the non-geographical, purely evangelical Province X envisioned by Pittsburgh's Bp. Duncan?
Until/unless you tell us just how strongly you support the Anglican Communion Network, with which Albany is affiliated, we must assume that when Bps. Duncan, Schofield, Iker, and Howe rail against our Church and our new PB, they are voicing your thoughts.
"Are you Episcopal or are you Network?" Peter Akinola asked a convocation of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. How would you, our Standing Committee, reply? As Akinola told Pittsburgh, "both" is no longer an acceptable answer.
SC: In conclusion, we support and uphold our bishops in their statement of June 30, 2006 that "being part of the greater Church is necessary to prosper and we are confident that Albany will hold to that higher course."
AVM: We found the bishops' statement puzzling when we read it in a Priests and Deacons Update. It is no less puzzling now. Which greater church? TEC? The Anglican Communion? The Anglican Communion Network? We urge you, as the elected representatives of all Episcopalians in this diocese, to state our allegiance clearly and boldly:
The Diocese of Albany is and shall remain a loyal part of The Episcopal Church, which is an autonomous province within the Anglican Communion.
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