Monday, December 14, 2009

My Exchange with Don Warrington

Don Warrington is a lay leader in the Church of God, a classical Pentecostal Holiness denomination. He was raised in the Episcopal Church and was, for a time, Roman Catholic. Thus, his journey is almost exactly the opposite of mine. In any event, a while ago he posted a piece called "Why I don't agree with the Concept of the Sacrifice of the Mass". I posted a comment in reply, found at the bottom of the post. Don then posted the following: "Priesthood, Analogical and Formal: A Reply to Fr. Greg on the Sacrifice of the Mass" and I again replied, by way of a comment to this post. Don then posted "More on the Eucharist, Churches, and Priests". Primarily for convenience sake, I had hoped to confine this discussion to Don's blog, but I am concerned that my latest reply is too long for the comments section. Thus, I am posting it here.

Don, what you have written concerning the end of sacrifice assumes that the foundational purpose of sacrifice is dealing with sin. This is not the case: sacrifice, being grounded in the Intra-Trinitarian Divine Life itself, in the kenotic relationships between the Divine Persons, and, by extension, in the relationship between humanity and God, as creature and creator, precedes the Fall and its primary purpose is communion between God and humanity. (See A. Schmemann, For the Life of the World.) The shedding of blood, the slaughter of biological creatures, only becomes part of sacrifice with the Fall: “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” This is true, in short, because sin kills. Further, not even all of the sacrifices in the Jewish system involved the shedding of blood. There were offerings of incense, grain, wine, and then, there was the “Bread of the Presence” all of which point to the Eucharist (Incense is a separate issue, but is closely associated with the celebration of the Eucharist.) So, the Eucharist is a real sacrifice, offered by real priests, not so much for the expiation of sin (In this context, baptism and the Mystery/Sacrament of Reconciliation are for the appropriation of that), but for the worship of, and communion with, the Divine Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity.

Regarding Participation/Koinonia: That would work if this participation in the Divine Life were only individual, interior, and psychological. However, it is not. Human participation in the Divine Life is interpersonal and communal, both interior and exterior, and both psychological and sociological, just as is human life itself, created in the image and likeness of the Divine Trinitarian life. Again, one cannot be reconciled with God and at the same time be alienated from his kindred who are also “members of Christ” and are thus, “members one of another” as St. Paul writes.

You write: “In Roman Catholicism at least the idea is stronger than that: through the withholding of the sacraments (excommunication,) the church is capable of denying eternal life.”

Actually, the concept is the exactly the opposite. Church discipline is exercised in order to bring someone to repentance and thereby, to eternal life, never to deprive anyone of eternal life. Remember that if the Eucharist is received unworthily, such reception, far from bringing the receiver closer to God, does just the opposite, subjects the one who so receives to Divine Judgement, and endangers their participation in eternal life (I Cor. 11:27-32). Also, in all the Apostolic Churches, all Church discipline ends at the time of death; the person in question is released into the hands of the ultimate judge, Jesus Christ himself. As further evidence of this, all priests are duty bound, in the case of danger of death, to administer the last sacraments to anyone, regardless of standing with the Church, at the least sign of repentance (construed in the most general of terms): all disciplinary bets are off (or, if the person is unconscious, the priest is to presume repentance and so to administer anointing and absolution). Further, the question of infallibility doesn’t real enter into questions of discipline per se. Thus, your numbered points are at best a caricature.

With that in mind, let me address this question of discipline with regard to the issues you raise. I will return to the question of Church unity afterward. First, I am not defending Rome against the other Apostolic Churches. It has distortions which are unique to it, specifically with regard to the Filioque, Papal infallibility, and an ecclesiology which, in reality, denies the laity any role in the governance of the Church. The other Apostolic Churches, modeling their governance and the teaching role of the clergy on Acts 15, do not do this (at least not in theory, and when the bishops get out of line, this aspect of ecclesiology can always be invoked, as it often has been).

Now, having said that, and without in any way minimizing the pain inflicted on the victims, such as the martyred Archpriest, I have to ask: would you also abrogate or abolish the authority of parents over their children? Would you deny that such authority is of Divine origin? After all, many parents neglect or abuse their offspring and in so doing, inflict untold damage. (I myself am a victim of such parenting.) However, according to the Bible, both the authority of parents over their children and the authority of bishops in the Church is of Divine origin; and to abolish the latter because it has been abused would be highly analogous to abolishing parental authority: chaos results.

Just look at the world of Protestantism today: the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater. At best, leaving aside such debacles as have occurred in many of the mainline Protestant groups and focussing only on Evangelicalism, the sacraments have become optional and often disparaged and Christians have lost touch with the great spiritual tradition of the Saints which is bound up with the 2,000 year history of the Apostolic Churches. They are “blown about by every wind of doctrine, being treated to “the prosperity gospel”, “the purpose driven life” and other such aberrations.

The great principle of the Reformation, “sola Scriptura” is contradicted, meaning that, in the name of sola Scriptura, much of the Bible is in fact ignored or explained away and the interpretation of the rest of is impoverished. Why? Because, “sola Scriptura” contradicts the Bible and thus, is self-contradictory: it is an oxymoron. The Bible points beyond itself, not only to Christ, but to the Church, and the Tradition of said Church is the only nexus in which the Bible itself can be fully and accurately understood. Further, while the Churches are always in need of practical reformation (not dogmatic reformation) to one extent or another, our primary task, as individual Christians, is not to reform the Churches, but to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, through the ministry of the Church, in the transformation of each of us as persons so that we conform to the image and likeness of Christ. The fundamental rule of thumb here is Matthew 23: “do what they say but not what they do.” The Christian path has long been laid down: it is simple, but no, it is not easy. So many would seek an easier softer way, and it is so much easier, and more gratifying to remove the speck from your eye than to remove the plank from my own. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony here.)

Now, regarding the Churches proper, those communities which, all else being equal, have maintained Apostolic Succession: actually, there are four communions which can trace their history directly back to the Apostles. These four are: the Roman Church, the Byzantine Orthodox Churches (Greeks, Russians, etc.), the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Coptic Church, Syriac Church, etc.), and the “Nestorian” Assyrian Church of the East, the East Syrian Church. (I have not included Anglicanism here because it is not clear to me that Anglicanism as a whole has in fact maintained valid Apostolic Succession. In any event, it is an off-shoot of Rome and would therefore be included in the next category.) Beyond these four, there are various off-shoots: for example, the Old Believers, the Old Calendarists, the RC Traditionalists, and the Old and Independent Catholics and the Independent Orthodox (not all of these successions stem from the aftermath of Vatican I), the latter having given rise, in one way or another, to virtually all of the Independent Churches of which you speak. (Many of these jurisdictions have fallen away into their own forms of craziness. Others have remained orthodox. In what follows, I am considering only the latter. While valid apostolic succession is necessary for a community to be fully a Church, it is not sufficient.) All of this, of course, begs the question of the “Oneness” of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

IMHO, the one Church is so divided, in the providence of God, for several reasons. The first is that when it comes to the really essential and basic questions, the “fundamentals,” these Churches speak with one voice (and yes, they all say that the Christian priesthood is real and that the Eucharist is a real sacrifice). Thus, even while separated and divided, they give a unanimous witness to the core content of the Apostolic Tradition. Second, it is MHO that these divisions came about to accommodate human weakness. This is especially manifest in contemporary America, where all of these major Churches are present and we have a full slate of Independents to boot. As a nation, we are a rebellious lot. Our country was forged in the fires of a revolution and reforged in the furnace of a civil war. We take no less kindly to overbearing ecclesiastical authority than we do to such political authority (although we are generally all too ready to tolerate overbearing, presumptuous, and arrogant leadership and authority figures in the business sector, but that is another story).

Can’t deal with Rome? You got the Byzantines (who are also divided, if not separated, in this country). Can’t deal with any of the big boys? You got the Independents. There is no need to tolerate a situation in which the sacraments are downplayed or dispensed with and the Faith is mutilated, abrogated, or both. There are options!

As you may be aware, I am a priest of one of these Independent Churches. While we are not overtly charismatic (being grounded in the Oriental Orthodox West Syriac Tradition), many of these Churches are, and I think that these lines of Apostolic Succession provide a viable alternative for the re-catholicization of Evangelical/Charismatic/Holiness congregations, even denominations, that have come to realize they have hit a dead end. Personally, given that I grew up in an eclectic Evangelical/Pentecostal/Holiness environment (Christian and Missionary Alliance, Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene), I would love to personally lead such a congregation (or denomination!) back to the fullness of the Faith once delivered; however, that opportunity has yet to come my way.

1 comment:

Mother Clement said...

Bravo, Father, Bravo!!!

Well done indeed!!!

It grieves me deeply to realize from seeing some of these programs on PBS supposedly about Christianity that serves nothing but to undermine the integrity and credibility of Christianity and also that people are rejecting Christianity because they have never really known what authentic Christianity is.
For some, all they know is what has been passed down from the house that Reformation built and in greater numbers they are heading to a dead end, as you say.

I pray that more people will keep seeking and start finding.

Keep up the good stuff!!!

Mother +Clement, OCB