Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Diet of Box Hill - Part III

The following paper was presented and read in response to my paper.

Response to Theological Issues of Peter

Introduction: The Lutheran Perspective of “Dialectic,” the necessary tension, a necessary partnership, together with undeserved grace.

Peter's Issues:1.

The Church: Divine and Human. Divine in its creation by the Holy Spirit, but also human, a congregation of people, simul iustus et peccator. Human in full of frailty, may err in doctrine and practice. Those who are one in the Spirit, despite appearances; accepting the message of God’s reconciliation in Christ. The Church created from the proclamation of the Word, and the ministry for that proclamation are essentially and intimately bound together. Church is both the means and end of
God’s saving grace. Both must be stressed — ministry and people, divine and human, transcendent and imminent.

Priesthood of believers/Ministry: God’s offer of reconciliation in Christ comes to people through the proclamation of the Church (2 Cor. 5:20). The validity of the proclamation does not depend on a privileged class, but the Lord of the Church firstly gives the ministry of the Gospel to all believers (I Peter 2:9; Matt. 18:15-20).The priesthood of believers has an essential connection with the ordained ministry of the Word. As Christ created the Church) his body, he also founded a ministry which proclaims the Word with his immediate authority and mandate (Malt. 28:18-20; 262&28; Luke 24:47. The gift of the Spirit was promised for this ministry (John 20:22-23). At Pentecost this ministry began in the power of the Spirit, the twelve first carrying out Christ’s mandate Through the apostles there is not a succession of episcopacy, but a succession of faith in God’s grace.

Ordination/Call: The Church ordains through the laying on of hands. Not implying that a special kind of succession or character is handed on to the one being ordained; rather a setting aside, a giving of mandate for proclamation, a giving of authority for the forgiveness of sins, a receiving of a person by the Church as a gift from the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 6:6; 8:17; 13:3; 2 Cor. 3:6ff, 5:19; Eph. 4:11). The Lord graciously calls men into the ministry, through the congregation and the Church. The office of the Ministry is divine and human: Both called by the Lord and the Church, and a minister of the Lord and the Church. Efficacy does not depend on ranking, but on the command of Christ and the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Revelation and the Church (Scriptures & Confessions): Scripture has authority because under the guidance of the Holy Spirit people of God put in writing the original testimony of the prophets and apostles of God’s revelation to humanity God is always speaking in every word of the Bible, now as then, graciously creating faith. A certainty through the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. The Confessions are a certain understanding of Scripture through the Church’s exegetical and dogmatic tradition, a tradition we receive with thanks, by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. We are both free to accept them as a correct expression of the truth of God’s Word, and see their authority and depend for their authority on the Scriptures. Distinction from the Roman Church is they are always subject to and measured by Scripture.

Theology of Glory/Theology of the Cross: A theology of glory looks for evidence, certainty, results and certainty in self. A theology of the cross is about God’s undeserved grace, ministry working despite the evidence, certainty not in self, but in the ongoing gracious call of Christ. It is a theology that wrestles with all the uncertainty of the divine and the human: divinely impacting the office of the ministry through the presence and call of Christ; human as we are stewards of the mysteries of God in the clay jars that we are. In the end, it is all about grace.

There is a fundamental issue expressed within this paper, that I believe underpins and is essential to a true understanding and appreciation of
1. The Church
2. Priesthood and Believers and Ministry
3. Ordination/Call
4. Revelation and the Church (Scriptures & Confession)
5. Theology of Glory/Theology of the Cross.

Fundamental issue presented: Repeated reference to “My claim” to exercise the authority of Christ. What does this mean? “To announce the forgiveness of sins in Word and Sacrament” What right do I have to do this?

Lutherans believe we’re created by God, reconciled through Jesus Christ, called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. This is not something I claim but how God claims me. If I make this my claim I am trying to make a claim for my own effort and I am no longer in the position of response to and reception of the work of grace. This is a fundamental tenet of God’s relationship with humanity. This is not negotiable. Our whole relationship with God is about trust and faith, a work of God, not or my own achievement or arrival. To adopt the framework of claim can lead into absolutism negating God’s power and freedom to challenge, enlighten, surprise and liberate. I am always servant in the midst of grace — to demand a claim is to shift out of the servant role. The church is servant of the Lord and I willingly join with others in this servanthood.

To exist out of claim is to remove myself from the source of grace to a legal context. Living according to the right of claim appears to create certainty but it actually leads to bondage for the pastor and those he ministers to. The Gospel brings freedom to every person. Freedom for the pastor means having heard the call of Christ to go in trust with the message of reconciliation to each person. Firstly having experienced that message myself I can speak of its power to reconcile and create new life, to
bring light in darkness, to feed where there is hunger. The authority, responsibility, invitation and blessing the Church gives me is to announce this message in Word and Sacrament.

The Church cannot create certainty or authority for the individual person or pastor; this always comes from Christ’s working within me and within the Church. Christ says to Peter “Feed my Sheep” and the pastor and the Church hear this as addressed to themselves. Christ thus sends the pastor through the Church to feed, nourish and shepherd the people.

The sense of this will wax and wane but ultimately I am always one of the sheep, called to hear, follow and obey the One Good Shepherd. One of the communion in
Christ who receives and gives, is both equal with and set apart for the special purpose of Word and Sacrament. This is the authority I am given and can claim.

Did you spot the answer to my question? Neither did I.

Next: The Diet of Box Hill - Part IV (The response to my friend's Paper)


UltraCrepidarian said...

Nevertheless, this is a more cogent response than you would have received anywhere else.

The summary of your friend's argument is:

1. You are asking for certainty, I can give you my own feelings.

2. We are where we have to be right now. You are meant to be here, doubts and worries and all, to minister within this tension, to serve both sides of a mysterious dialectic that you cannot even parse, let alone comprehend.

What you have here is obscurantism, albeit filled with love for Our Lord and Saviour. This is where our dear fellow evangelical-catholic types must live, and so they learn to make friends with language like "living in tension". As I spent 10 years in an evangelical-anglo-catholic anglican parish, where we considered ourselves (similar to you), "the best way to be catholic".

I am really enjoying your story. Thanks for sharing it!'

[ RC Convert, from Baptist/Brethren, then Anglican, to Catholic. Received in 2002.]

Julie said...

This response describes my basic form of Christianity from my early 20s to my late 50s, going from one nebulous evangelical group to another. Until we landed in an Episcopal Church it never crossed my mind that the Church was anything but nebulous, and then it took 7 years to wake up to even the possibility of hierarchy being a part of truth. (the church was charismatic, so still nebulous!)
Had our son not become Catholic after the Gene Robinson fiasco, I may never have looked further. My husband is still upset with me; we now go together to the Church of Christ of our youth, while I go to Mass on my own time. These Nebulous People: they are harder to get hold of than the strongest Lutheran, because they long ago accepted what the above response is; you disagree with your church body, you have 50,000 places to find a kindred spirit, and if not there, start your own. Freedom in Christ is thus defined.
Thank you for your story.
J from Louisiana