Friday, February 29, 2008

Fake it 'til ya make it

Continuing my stroll around blogdom, I note that Arturo Vasquez, recovering Communist and [also recovering] SSPX seminarian and monk, has a piece which focuses on the practice of [Roman] Catholicism vs. the beliefs of Protestantism. While he may overstate his contention that Protestants battle each other more over beliefs than practices, he is spot on when he notes that the Catholic faith, in whatever form, had more to do with behavior than with belief per se, at least beyond a certain point. This brings to my mind, first, a contention that I encountered some time back, to the effect that the Reformation refocused what was called the “ascetic impulse” away from the practice of Christianity and onto “practical” concerns having to do with making a living, upward mobility, etc. After all, if Christ has already done everything needed for my salvation, what do I need to do? Compare also Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Conversely, as part of his famous wager, Pascal calls upon those who are faith-challenged to LIVE as good Catholics [whether Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, or Orthodox Catholic] for a year, regardless of belief, and then examine the state of their faith. In AA and other 12-Step programs, it’s simply called “fakin’ it ‘til ya make it”.

"Appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons"

Abu Daoud, an Anglican "Christian lving in the Middle East," is discussing the Didache on his blog, Islam and Christianity.

Dating on the Didache, "the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" is disputed, but the range is somewhere between AD 70 and AD 110. For various reasons, AD 85-100 is probably the most likely time period.

There are many things of interest in the Didache, the first part of which concerns Christian ethics. Among them are instructions about baptism, a call to fast twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Fridays, references to the Eucharist as "sacrifice" along with an allusion to Malachi 1:11 as a prophecy of the Eucharist, and an admonition for Christians to pray the Lord's Prayer three times daily.

However, what Abu Daoud's particular post highlights here has to do with Church order. In the Didache, "apostles" and "prophets" are functionally equivalent. When present, they preside at the Eucharist. In their absence, a bishop presides. All three are "high priests".

There is also the directive quoted in the title of the present piece. We know that Clement of Rome, writing around AD 96, documents the succession of bishops from the apostles as being of apostolic institution. Therefore, it seems likely that the "apostles and prophets" of the Didache are transitional figures in a process which leads to the prevelance of the monarchical episcopate of Ignatius of Antioch, already present in the New Testament in Jerusalem, where James the Just is found presiding with "the elders" (presbyters).

But what of the mandate to the congregation to "appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons"? It is, possibly, a temporary provision, based upon the absence of "prophets and apostles." It is certainly not documented as having continued in the early Church, beyond the role of the community in assenting to, or even selecting, candidats for ordination by a bishop or bishops. At the same time, I wonder if this provides some wiggle room for the acceptance of clergy who have not been ordained by a bishop in apostolic succession, everything else being equal. Since, in virtually all cases, everything else is NOT equal when it comes to faith and practice, such wiggle room would only be available to a body such as the Evangelical Orthodox Church.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

"The Word of God"

Link updated

Todd Wodd, a self-described "Fundamental Baptist" pastor, is an alumnus of Bob Jones University, an hour or two up the road from me in Greenville, South Carolina. Residing in Idaho Falls, Idaho, he engages Mormons in his blog, "Heart Issues for LDS" (see Links on the right). Given his commitments, it is not surprising that his first article of faith concerns the role of the Bible. As part of this, he posts the following, from R. A. Torrey: Ten Reasons I Believe the Bible is the Word of God.

Well, I hate to knitpick, and coming out of a background similar to Todd's, I have every sympathy for him, and I certainly support his ongoing engagement with Mormonism.

HOWEVER, I must note some things, both about the article and about the broader mindset in which it is rooted.

First, while the Bible itself frequently uses the phrase "Word of God" in both the Old and New Testaments, it rarely, if ever, refers to the Bible as such. It refers to God's message for His people and ultimately, refers to directly to Jesus Christ, the incarnate, eternal Son of God. So we already have a problem with "sola Scriptura": the Bible is pointing beyond itself.

Second, while Todd and his compatriots are always at pains to affirm their loyalty to the Bible, they approach it from a position which denies a great deal of what it says, especially about the roles of Baptism, Holy Communion, and yes, apostolic absolution in salvation. They cannot see this, it seems to me, because they approach the Bible with certain presuppositions that come from building a theological system on isolated passages and then turning around and applying that system to the rest of the Book.

Third, there is the question of the canon. Todd, somewhere, points to someone's post on another blog which speaks of a "fallible list of infallible books." I may be missing something, but this sounds pretty incoherent to me. The truth is, the Reformers and especially, their followers, truncated the canon of the Old Testament to eliminate some things that went against their system(s). Luther tried to do the same thing with the New Testament Letter of James.

Fourth, the Church, spoken of in pretty high terms in the New Testament, precedes the complete Bible. (Consider, for example, what Jesus, in the biblical Gospel of Matthew, has to say about apostolic authority). As it happens, three elements of Church life grew up together alongside the biblical canon, or list of writings to be included in the Bible. One structure was the apostolic office, first filled by the Apostles themselves and then, by bishops, the first of which were ordained by the Apostles and mandated to govern the Church(es), teach the faith, and ordain successors as needed. Clement of Rome, writing around AD 96, documents this. Second, there are two other "canons" or "rules". One is the "rule of faith", the final, most definitive statement of which is the so-called Nicene Creed. The other is the "rule of prayer", which consists of norms for the conduct of public worship. Take any liturgy of any Church which pre-dates the Reformation, and you will see an iteration of this latter canon.

Therefore, while I applaud Todd's high opinion of the Bible, I wish he wouldn't try to deal with it in isolation from the above. It just wasn't meant to be used in that way.

Buckley: Requiem in Pacem

This first post is simply going to highlight somebody else's post on another blog. Mark Stricherz is a writer for "GetReligion". He is RC. Here is what he has to say about the late William F. Buckley, Jr.:

Buckley wasn't a "conservative Catholic"

"Mater? Si! Magister? No!" Need I say more? Buckley, I think, never came to terms with the fact that his socioeconomic status could be, and was, a hinderance to his faith. What did our Lord say? "It is easier for a camel ["rope" perhaps] to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven."