The Free Methodist Position on Baptism (Sermon)

I’ve recently been engaging the controversial question of baptism in Wesleyan theology and practice.  The Methodist position has always been somewhat unusual, and it continues to be of interest despite centuries of discussion and debate.  In the past several months, through student papers, conversations with other pastors, and situations in my own church, I’ve been pressed into renewed consideration of the question.

The occasion for the sermon below was two back-to-back baptism services at Wesley Chapel: four adult baptisms on June 3, and an infant baptism on June 10.  While we’ve had both types of baptism regularly, I don’t believe we’ve ever had them so close together. I realized that, in the ten years I’ve been at Wesley Chapel, we’ve never clearly addressed the question of baptism.

So in the sermon below I’ve attempted to give a brief orientation to the position of our denomination, the Free Methodist church. Given the context of this sermon, my goal was not so much to defend the Free Methodist view (though I do try to answer some common objections) as to articulate it. I also tried not to assume much prior knowledge, given the diverse set of people and church backgrounds we have with us on a given Sunday morning. So the sermon has limitations, and necessarily paints with a broad brush, but I hope it is helpful as a general overview.

*A note to my Salvation Army readers: in the first half of the sermon I set out the major positions on baptism from across the ecumenical spectrum; however, due to time constraints and the heavy amount of content that was already included in the sermon, I decided not to try to explain the non-observant stance of the Salvation Army and the Society of Friends. No disrespect was intended…this was entirely a practical decision. I didn’t think I’d have time to address it adequately. When I teach this topic in the seminary classroom, I always include an explanation of the Salvationist viewpoint.

Why heresy matters

Salvationist.ca is running a series of articles I wrote for them on heresies in the early church.  The print version of the series is already completed (it ran from August to January), but they are rolling out the articles online now.

The point of the series was to describe why these heresies were rejected by the early church, but also to show how the process of struggling with each heresy helped to shape the development of orthodox Christian belief.  So I opened the first article by saying,

Believe it or not, Christians owe a lot to heretics. The word “heresy” comes from a Greek word meaning “choice.” A heretic is someone who chooses to believe something that is in contradiction to official church doctrine. But church doctrine has developed gradually over time, and some of the most important doctrinal developments were made precisely in order to exclude particular heresies.

My other agenda in the series was to show the ongoing relevance of ancient heresies, by suggesting ways in which “shadow versions” of each heresy show up repeatedly in the church’s life.

Knowing the history of heresy is important because heresies have a habit of cropping up again and again, sometimes in less obvious forms. Some psychologists argue that otherwise mentally healthy people struggle with so-called “shadow disorders”—mild forms of serious mental illnesses that show up in subtle ways most of us wouldn’t even recognize. Knowing the history of heresy will help us to identify the “shadow heresies” that may crop up in our own thinking and teaching from time to time.

While I think the study of heresy is very important, addressing heresy in the contemporary church can be a tricky issue, particularly in light of the wide diversity that exists within Christian theology today.  On the one hand, as I’ve suggested before, no one wants unlimited diversity of belief in the church, even though it is trendy in our culture to celebrate “diversity” in all its forms.  On the other hand, some people are too paranoid about heresy, and end up finding heretics lurking behind every corner.

For my part, I tried in this series to point out that early church heresies were excluded because they were perceived to pose a threat to the preaching of the gospel.  These were not merely academic debates, but part of the church’s ongoing struggle to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and to proclaim salvation truthfully.

These are very short articles, and I’ll confess that I often found it difficult to do justice to the issues at stake in such a short space.  If you are looking for theological nuance, you won’t find it in this series.  However, if you’re looking for a brief overview of early church heresies along with some comment on their ongoing relevance, I think you’ll find the series worth your time.

Head over to Salvationist.ca and you can read the introductory article, “Thank God for Heretics,” along with the articles on Pelagianism and Monophysitism.   I’ll add links here to the articles on Gnosticism, Modalism, and Arianism as they are posted.

Theology and the Laughter of the Angels

Two weeks ago I began teaching Systematic Theology II at Tyndale Seminary.   I suspect that not all of the students in the course are excited to be there, both because the class meets at 8:30 AM on Mondays, and because systematic theology is not everyone’s favourite subject.  Some of the students are probably only taking the class because they have to.  I told them, “That’s fine.  You don’t have to love systematic theology.  You don’t have to be excited about it.  But you do have to know the basics.”

I think anyone who wants to be a leader in the church needs to be familiar with the basics of Christian doctrine – how it has developed and why it is important.  Systematic theology is not idle speculation; it’s not about professors sitting in their offices thinking up topics for papers.  It’s about the gospel and the God of the gospel.  It’s about proclaiming that gospel faithfully and biblically.  It’s about seeing the big picture of how each doctrine relates to the others; and it’s also about learning the lessons of history, so that we are not doomed to repeat the theological mistakes of those who have gone before us.

Stanley Hauerwas makes an interesting observation about the nature of seminary training today.  He’s concerned that many people don’t take seminary training seriously enough, and he makes his point by comparing seminary and medical school.  He asks us to imagine if a future doctor got to medical school and said, “You know, I’m just really not into anatomy.  I’m not going to worry about that subject. I’m going to focus more on my bedside manner.”  What do you think the school administrators would say to that student?  They’d say, “It doesn’t matter if you’re not interested in anatomy.  It’s important.  If you want to be a doctor you’ve got to understand how the human body works!”

Likewise, leaders in the church need to be able to think theologically.  It’s important.   This means they need to know the basic doctrines, historical figures, schools of thought, and so on, but more than that, they need to be able to bring these resources to bear upon the questions they face in their own life and ministry, so that these questions can be thought through theologically, and not simply on the basis of other concerns, be they pragmatic, psychological, financial, etc..

It is often said that everyone is a theologian.  I think this is true.  Theology is, simply put, God-talk. We all talk about God, and in that sense, we are all theologians.  The question is, are we going to be good theologians or are we going to be hacks?  We don’t need everyone to be experts.  But just like we expect that doctors will know the difference between our heart and our stomach, church leaders need to know the difference between Christology and ecclesiology; they need to see how they relate to one another, and both our Christological and ecclesiological assumptions inform our practices.  Just like a doctor needs to be able to tell the difference between a healthy person and a diseased person, church leaders need to be able to tell the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.

Having said all that, it’s important to recognize that theology is not like anatomy.  God is not laid out on a slab for us to poke and prod and test and dissect.  Although God does make himself known to us through Christ and the Spirit, this is always a profound condescension on his part; he comes down to our level so that we can understand him with our limited human minds – but we have to always remind ourselves that God is bigger than any theological system.  He is greater than the greatest thing we can possibly imagine. and so we have to remain humble about our theology.  We can speak truthfully and faithfully about God but we can never speak exhaustively.

I ended my introductory remarks during our first class with this wonderful quote from Karl Barth.  I reminded them that Barth was the greatest theologian of the 20th century – many would say the greatest theologian since the Reformation.  He wrote prolifically.  His Church Dogmatics was up to six million words when he died – and he hadn’t finished it.  In spite of all this, Barth retained a wonderful humility, both regarding himself as a person and about his theological work.  I always try to keep this quote in mind as I think theologically:

“The angels laugh at old Karl. They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. They laugh at the fact that volume follows volume and each is thicker than the previous one. As they laugh, they say to one another, “Look! Here he comes now with his little pushcart full of volumes of the Dogmatics!” And they laugh about the men who write so much about Karl Barth instead of writing about the things he is trying to write about. Truly, the angels laugh.”
Quoted in Robert McAfee Brown’s “Introduction” to Portrait of Karl Barth, by George Casalis, trns. Robert McAfee Brown. Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1964, p xiii.

Three Quotes from William Booth on the Sacraments

People who have done research on The Salvation Army and the sacraments will probably be familiar with these quotes, but I find that a lot of people are surprised by some of the things that William Booth said about the Army’s non-observance of the sacraments.  So I’m just putting these three quotes out there, as a follow up to my last post.

First, from Booth’s official announcement that the SA would stop observing the sacraments (“The General’s New Year Address to Officers,” The War Cry, Janary 17, 1883):

Now if the sacraments are not conditions of salvation, and if the introduction of them would create division of opinion and heart burning, and if we are not professing to be a church, not aiming at being one, but simply a force for aggressive salvation purposes, is it not wise for us to postpone any settlement of the question, to leave it over for some future day, when we shall have more light?”

Moreover we do not prohibit our own people… from taking the sacraments. We say, ‘If this is a matter of your conscience, by all means break bread. The churches and chapels around you will welcome you for this.

Second, from a book Booth wrote in 1885 called Doctrines and Disciplines of The Salvation Army, Section 26, question 6 (I’m taking the quote from Roger Green, The Life and Ministry of William Booth (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 148):

Q: What is the teaching of Army on the subject of the Lord’s Supper? A: When such an ordinance is helpful to the faith of our Soldiers, we recommend its adoption.

Finally, a quote from an interview Booth gave in 1895 (again from Green, 148):

…I should like to emphasize the fact that this with us is not a settled question.  We never disclaim against the Sacraments; we never even state our own position.  We are anxious not to destroy the confidence of Christian people in institutions which are helpful to them.

Obviously, I’m putting these up to flag the provisionality of Booth’s position (and the total lack of mention of a divine calling NOT to observe the sacraments), and also his desire to avoid any theological controversy relating to the sacraments.  He may have been naive to think that not having sacraments would steer him clear of controversy!, but also note that he viewed this position as conditional in part on the Army’s claim that it was not a church. Most Salvationists today claim that the Army IS a church.

A Comparison of Salvation Story and the 2010 Handbook of Doctrine

I’m working on a post for the Rubicon on the section of the new Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine which deals with the sacraments.

In the preface to the new Handbook, General Shaw Clifton writes:

This 2010 Handbook of Doctrine retains the wording of the 1998 edition except for minor clarifications and stylistic changes. The principal aim has been to maximise user-friendliness, for example by reallocating the Bible references and inserting them into the main narrative at the relevant places; renumbering the chapters to match the numbers of the Doctrines; merging the main Handbook with the 1999 Study Guide into a single volume, removing outdated material from the latter and condensing some parts of it; revising certain Appendices and introducing three new study aids by way of Appendices 5, 6 and 9.

I guess the part on the sacraments falls under the category of “revising certain Appendices,” because there is clearly more going on here than “minor clarifications and stylistic changes.”

I’ve made a chart which puts the two texts side-by-side, so you can clearly see the changes that have been made to Salvation Story’s treatment of the sacraments (Salvation Story was the 1998 version of the Handbook).

I’ve got a pretty good idea how I’m going to structure the post – around two major points. But I’m interested in getting feedback from others.  Feel free to comment here, or email me (james [dot] pedlar [at] gmail [dot] com).

Here’s the chart in pdf: Comparison of Salvation Story and Handbook of Doctrine on Sacraments

If you want more context, you can find a pdf of Salvation Story here, and the Handbook of Doctrine can be downloaded here.

Typology of Views of Charismatic Movements, Part 5: Charismatic Enlivens Institutional

A number of interpretations of charismatic movements centre around the idea of the enlivening effect of charisms on the institutional elements of the Church.  Such perspectives view both the established structures of the Church and the continued emergence of new reforming movements as normal and part of the Spirit’s work in the Church.

Along these lines, Howard Snyder attempts to provide what he calls a “mediating perspective” of church renewal, incorporating both the institutional and charismatic aspects of the Church.  Noting that institutional and charismatic views of the Church individually have their limitations, Snyder argues for a “a theory of church life and renewal which combines insights from both the institutional and charismatic views,” not seeking a middle ground but attempting to “incorporate the truth of both.” In his view both stable institutional structures and dynamic renewal movements are legitimate and in some sense normal aspects of the Church’s life in history, although the merits and faithfulness of individual movements and institutions could be debated” (Signs of the Spirit, 274-275).

The reform movements spring up within the institutional church, bringing new life and growth, analogous to a new sprout growing out of a stump which appears dead.  Snyder then offers what he considers to be the “marks” of this mediating model, which is based upon the idea of authentic reform coming through ecclesiolae in ecclesia – radical and more intimate expressions of the church which exist in the Church, for the good of the whole Church, maintaining some form of institutional ties with the larger body (Signs of the Spirit, 276-280).

Francis Sullivan, a Roman Catholic reflecting on the charismatic renewal movement in Catholicism, offers a similar view of the Church and the place of renewal movements in the Church’s life.  Sullivan speaks of the official sacramental ministries and charismatic movements as two “equally important” ways in which the Spirit gives life to the Church.

There are two distinct, but equally important, ways that the Holy Spirit breathes life into the body of Christ: on the one hand, by his covenant relationship with the church, guaranteeing the effectiveness of its sacraments and official ministries, and on the other, by his unpredictable and often surprising charismatic interventions (Charisms and Charismatic Renewal, 47).

The official ministries of the Church exist to safeguard and pass on the tradition, but charismatic movements are given “for the purpose of shaking the church out of the complacency and mediocrity that inevitably creep into any institution” (47).  Sullivan is comfortable speaking of the official structures of the Church as institutional, and of ascribing an inevitable stultifying character to those institutions, which puts him closer to someone like Snyder than to Rahner or Ratzinger.

In addition to Catholic religious orders, Sullivan also suggests that many movements that ended up becoming sects or separate church bodies began as charismatic movements within the Church.  Their separation indicates a failure to renew the Church, but it need not indicate that the separated movements were not in fact the work of the Spirit, because blame for separation often lies on both sides, and at times has been due to a resistance to reform on the part of the Church.

I certainly do not think that the fact of separation by itself is proof that the movement in question could never have been an authentic work of the Holy Spirit, because there is also the possibility that it was rather the refusal of the Church at that time to admit its need of reform and accept renewal that led to the alienation and eventual separation (49).

Without going into detail, Sullivan suggests that “the history of Western Christianity in the last four hundred years has been profoundly marked by alienations of this kind, whether from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, or from various Protestant bodies in the following centuries” (49).

Sullivan also notes that, while for much of this period, Catholics simply denied that the Holy Spirit was at work protestant bodies, Vatican II affirmed that the Spirit works not only in individuals but also through churches and ecclesial bodies outside of Catholicism. On this see Unitatis Redintegratio §§3 and 4.

Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ (§3).

…Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood…Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church (§4).

I’ll continue the discussion of this perspective with another post on Catholic literature about charisms and the religious life (religious orders, etc.).

The Salvation Army as an Order? An Early Catholic Comment

I stumbled upon a biography of Henry Cardinal Manning at the Regis College Library yesterday, published in 1892, the year of his death.  The book happened to be on their booksale shelf, for $2.   Many used book collectors are wary of library discards, because of the library marks, stamps, and stickers, as well as general wear and tear.  Personally I find these things endearing.  It adds the character of an old book when you can see the names of previous owners inscribed on the inside cover.

This bears the stamp of two previous libraries.  Obviously it was most recently part of the Regis College library’s collection, but prior to that, it found a home in the library of “J. & E. Stoneham Ltd., 51 Old Broad Street, London, E.C.2.”   Doesn’t that make you wonder how this book got from London to Regis College?

Manning is a towering figure in 19th century England, a high profile Anglo-catholic who converted to Catholicism and became Archbishop of Westminster in 1865.   Those who have read a bit of Salvation Army history will know that Manning was sympathetic to the work of the Army, but also willing to challenge the Booth on some of his presuppositions.  You can read an interesting comment from Manning on his appreciation for Army and his concerns with its teaching and practice in The Contemporary Review 41 (1882): 335-342.   Roger Green quotes from this passage in his recent biography of William Booth, specifically noting Manning’s astute on the Army’s claim that it was “not a sect,” in spite of the fact that it had no ties to the larger Church.

“The head of the Salvation Army is resolved that it shall never become a sect. In this he is wise. A sect is soon stereotyped. He seems to wish that it may not be a sect, but a spirit, which, like the four winds, may blow upon all the valley of dry bones—men, women, children, sects, communions, and, as he perhaps would say, Churches, quickening and raising them all to a higher life. So long as the Salvation Army teaches the three creeds in their true sense, and does not assail the Catholic faith or Church, it is so far doing a constructive, if it be only a fragmentary work… Nevertheless, we have a conviction that the Salvation Army will either become a sect, or it will melt away. This world is not the abode of disembodied spirits.” (341-342)

Manning was picking up on an ecclesiological ambiguity in the Army: they claimed that they were not a denomination or “sect,” yet they were a free standing Christian body, whose members were not members of other “churches.”  There is more work to be done on this question, and Salvationists need to reflect on its implications, and the degree to which Manning’s prediction came to fruition.

At the end of the biography of Manning I picked up yesterday, author Arthur Wollaston Hutton is speculating on what may come after Manning has passed the reigns of English Catholicism on to his successor.  Remarking on Manning’s emphasis on ministry to the poor, he writes:

“And indeed, if his spirit should survive in his successsor, there is one field – a very widely extended one – in which the Catholic Church in this country might hereafter reap a rich harvest.  Manning’s sympathy with the philanthropic work of “General” Booth was never disguised, and he was too much of an organizer himself not to look with admiration on the order and discipline of the “Salvation Army.”  The Army has a growing affinity with Catholicism, and its members, accustomed to an autocratic rule, might very well find in some future Archbishop of Westminster the successor who will surely one day be needed, if the organization is to be held together at all.  Of course these soldiers and salvation lasses are far enough from being Catholics at present; but they have accepted fully the fundamental principle of Catholicism – obedience; and in other was they are really nearer the Church than Dean Stanley’s “three men in green, whom your Lordship will find it difficult to put down.”  The ritualists, in spite of Catholic externals, are mostly liberals wearing blinkers, in accordance with the fashion introduced by Newman, and still much affected by polite society.  But the Salvation Army men are not theological liberals, and wear no blinkers, for they do not them any more than Manning did, believing with him that the straight road before them is the way revealed, and so caring to look neither to the right hand nor to the left.  A simple, certain faith is theirs, – belief in God, in sin, a Redeemer, the Bible, judgment, salvation, heaven and hell; and this simple faith is a far more serviceable basis on which to build a permanent structure of Catholicism, than the clever literary quibbles by which men better educated are able to persuade themselves that they hold to the old faith.  There is thus a promising field for an expansion of the Catholic Church – unless Catholics themselves shirk the opportunity – which should be further facilitated by the marked revival of credulity in recent times, and the growing popularity of ritual and outward show.”  – A. W. Hutton, Cardinal Manning. London: Methuen & Co., 1892, pp. 256-258.

Given the ecclesiological gulf that existed between 19th century Catholicism and the early Salvation Army, it is amazing to see a Catholic author publicly speculating about the possibility of a “Catholic Salvation Army.”  It is also interesting to notice those things which he thinks constitute an affinity between the Army and Catholicism: autocratic structures, conservative theology, and a lack of concern for “polite society.”   It seems counter-intuitive, but Hutton feels that these are “a more serviceable basis on which to build a permanent structure of Catholicism” than the sophisticated theological output of Ango-catholics.

This says a lot about the dominant characteristics of both the Army and Catholicism at the time!  We might wonder why Hutton doesn’t raise the ecumenical issues that loom large in the Army’s ecumenical relationships today: sacraments and ministry (in terms of the validity of “ordination”).  The reason is that people of the time (including Salvationists) didn’t look upon the Army as a “church.”  So a Catholic wouldn’t have related to the Army in the same way they would have related to the Church of England, or Lutherans, or Baptists.  They might think of the Army more along the lines of a irregular and unauthorized missionary order or congregation, one which was doing some good work, but was in danger of drifting from the apostolic faith over time, if not grounded in catholic soil.

Typology of Views of Charismatic Movements, Part 4: Charismatic Complementary to Institutional

Another approach to this question of the makeup of the primitive church attempts propose that the charismatic and the institutional aspects of the Church should be taken as complementary. In relation to the discussion of the constitution of the primitive Christian communities, Leonhard Goppelt was a particularly influential representative of this perspective, arguing that both charismatic gifts and offices were constitutive of the Church from the very beginning, strengthening his case by arguing that offices were both instituted by Christ and a functional necessity for the church as a historical reality (see Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, 1977).

The teaching on charisms in the documents of Vatican II presents a similar attempt at stressing the complementarity of the institutional and charismatic, speaking of the “hierarchical and charismatic” gifts through which the Spirit directs and equips the Church (Lumen Gentium, §4). A fundamental harmony between the charismatic and hierarchical gifts is presupposed here, in which the hierarchy “submits” to the working of the Spirit by endorsing and approving of those endowed with charismatic gifts.  The chapter of Lumen Gentium which deals with the religious life makes this clear:

“Submissively following the promptings of the Holy Spirit, the hierarchy also endorses rules formulated by eminent men and women, and authentically approves later modifications.  Moreover, by its watchful and shielding authority, the hierarchy keeps close to communities established far and wide for the upbuilding of Christ’s body, so that they can grow and flourish in accord with the spirit of the founders” (Lumen Gentium §45).

Shortly after the council, Gabriel Murphy, a Roman Catholic brother, completed a study of the theology of charisms, which included a chapter summarizing the use of the term at Vatican II (Charisms and Church Renewal, 1965).  His summary of Lumen Gentium’s teaching on charisms stresses how the Church is aided by “two forms of assistance,” hierarchical and charismatic gifts, both of which come from the Spirit (123).  The two kinds of gifts cannot be essentially divided or separated, but should rather be conceived of as “overlapping” and permeating each other.

“As we have seen, there is not and cannot be an essential division or separation between these two aspects.  There is rather an overlapping or permeation of one by the other.” (125)

The charisms then, far from being a minor aspect of ecclesiology, are “a structural element in the Church,” granted to all the faithful, and bringing about renewal (142). The complementarity in this case of course implies both that those in authority accept the Spirit’s work through the charismatic movements, and that the movements themselves accept that the hierarchy is also charismatically based. Murphy argues that this is what the sixteenth century reformers rejected – the charismatic nature of the hierarchy (30-31, 125).

A variation on this position comes from Joseph Ratzinger, who rejects the institutional-charismatic discussion as completely unhelpful in attempting to understand and explain the place of reform movements in the Church (I refer to the current Pope by his former name, as the text in question was written before he became Benedict XVI).  This is based not an objection to the theology of charisms but on his rejection of the category “institution,” because the Church’s official ministry is based fundamentally on the sacrament of orders, and by its very nature transcends the sociological category of “institution.”

He writes, “this “ministry” is a “sacrament,” and hence clearly transcends the usual sociological understanding of institutions.” (“The Ecclesial Movements: A Theological Reflection on their Place in the Church,” in Movements in the Church, 1999, 25).  To speak of the Church’s ministry as an institution implies, in Ratzinger’s view, that ministry is something which the Church “can dispose of herself” and “can be determined of her own imitative,” views which are clearly inadequate in light of the ministry’s sacramental character. He continues,

“Only secondarily is the sacrament realised through a call on the part of the Church. But primarily it comes into being by God’s call, that is to say, only at the charismatic and pneumatological level.  It can only be accepted and lived by virtue of the newness of the vocation and by the freedom of the pneuma.  Since that is so, and since the Church cannot simply appoint “officials” by herself, but must await the call from God… That is why it has been clear from the beginning that this ministry cannot be produced by the institution, but can only be invoked in prayer from God” (26).

The Church itself, then, including its enduring historical and ministry, is characterized as a charismatic entity, an “irruption of something else,” which is “intrinsically iuris divini” (27). While Ratzinger does allow that there are institutional elements in the Church which exist of purely human right,he will not allow that the Church’s ministry is one of these, and thus he rejects an approach to the question of movements in the church by way of an opposition between charism and institution.

He prefers therefore to discuss “movements” in the Church under the category of the Church’s universal apostolicity. Ratzinger is arguing that apostolicity has always had two aspects, the local and the universal, with the unpredictable reform movements identified as part of the church’s universal apostolic mission.  For Ratzinger this begins with the primitive Church, which had both local ministers and itinerant preachers (charismatics according to other perspectives).   He thus roughly follows Harnack’s interpretation of early Church structure here, arguing that in the second century the local apostolic ministries came to dominate the universal, though Ratzinger believes this was a necessary development.  The “universal” apostolicity of the Church has continually been present in various movements, such as monasticism, the mendicant orders, and the clerical and apostolic movements which emerged in the post-Reformation period (33-47).

Ratzinger’s perspective is therefore similar to Rahner’s, in that he insists on the charismatic nature of the church’s ministry, but Rahner is more willing to grant the tension between what he calls the two structures of the Church, and continues to view “institution” as a helpful category, so long as it is clear that the Church’s institutions are charismatic.  Ratzinger, on the other hand, essentially fuses institution and charism into one category, blurring what I think is a helpful distinction made by Rahner.   So, while I’m sympathetic to Ratzinger’s concern that we don’t treat the Church’s ministries as mere institutions, I think Rahner’s discussion of “institutional” vs. “non-institutional” charismata answers these concerns without losing the insights that we can gain by examining the stable structures of the Church as institutions.

Highlights of the Kingdom Economy Conference

I am really glad I got the chance to attend The Evolving Church: Kingdom Economy conference on Saturday at People’s Church.  This is the first time I’ve been able to attend an event put on by Epiphaneia, and it definitely lived up to my expectations.    The strength of the event was definitely the outstanding speakers.   I was drawn in by the chance to hear William Cavanaugh, but went away wanting to hear more from pretty much every one of them.

Maybe the most significant thing about the Evolving Church conferences is the way they bring significant thinkers from the academic world into dialogue with the local church.  This doesn’t happen nearly enough.   I posted some thoughts on this problem in relation to theological education a few weeks ago.    With Karl Barth, I see theology as an activity of the Church.  It could be described as the activity by which “the Church, in accoardance with the state of its knowledge at different times, takes account of the content of its proclamation critically, that is, by the standard of Holy Scripture and under the guidance of its confessions.” [Dogmatics in Outline, p. 1]  If this is true, the mutual isolation that currently exists between the life of the church and theological research is deeply problematic, both for professional theologians and for the Church as a whole.   It would also seem, on the basis of this definition, that events like Kingdom Economy could be considered more theological than many academic conferences, where the topics and papers presented are often very far removed from the life of the Church.

I couldn’t begin to summarize all the things that were said on Saturday, but I thought I’d offer a few quotes that have stuck with me.

“Shakespeare is country music.” David Dark. I could have listened to David Dark all day.  He made me wish I was more familiar with English literature.  But the point of this quote was that “literature” doesn’t mean really intimidating stuff that makes you feel inadequate – it is “the poety of the people,” and “that which expands the talk-aboutable.”  He wanted to focus primarily on “the classics,” works which are called classics precisely because of their enduring popularity, not because of their obscurity.  He painted a picture of our engagement with literature is part of a process of redemptive questioning, testing, and re-appropriating a stock of images and words from our culture.   There are times when an “explanation” could be a form of false witness, an inadequate testimony to God’s truth, which might be better expressed in poetry or narrative – something which, rather than giving a definitive, propositional answer, induces further questioning and searching (we might note here that the form of scripture itself testifies to this need for poetic and narratival witness to divine revelation).  I’m sure I haven’t adequately expressed his perspective, but I was quite moved by what he had to say, and I”m hoping at some point I’ll get a chance to read some of his work.

“Consumerism is not about having more, it is about having something else.” William Cavanaugh.  I read Being Consumed last year and was thoroughly impressed with the way that Cavanaugh used traditional theological voices such as Augustine and Aquinas to critique consumerist culture and economic practices.  His presentation and workshop were based on the book, so I was glad to be reminded of some of the more significant points he made there.  In his workshop he was talking about how we assume that consumerism produces an inordinate attachment to “things,” when really it pushes us to detachment from the material world.  We are detached from products because we are detached from the process of production (we don’t make our own stuff anymore) and from the producers (who are often working under deplorable conditions in far off places).  The result is that we’re not at all attached to the things we buy.  Once we have one thing, we just want other things – consumerism is about shopping not about actually valuing and holding on to the things we buy.   Much more could be said about this book…maybe later.

“To be a Christian is to be drawn into a story you did not want to be a part of…drawn into wanting to be bound to that which you despise.” J. Kameron Carter.   Somehow I came away appreciating Carter’s contrast of Avatar and District 9, even though I’m one of about five people on earth who haven’t seen either of these movies.   His point here had to do with the aesthetics of the two films.  Both make you want to become the “other,” but in Avatar, you are drawn into wanting to be one of the Na’vi because you see them as beautiful.  By contrast, in District 9, you are drawn into wanting to be bound to the “prawns”, which are hideous and revolting.  Carter spun this out as a kind of incarnational aesthetic – redemption coming through being bound to that which you despise.  I wonder where Gran Torino fits on this spectrum?

“Instead of following Jesus Christ you end up buying into certain brands…but they all started out as genuine movements of the Holy Spirit.” Becky Garrison. I found Garrison’s talk really funny, and I thought it shed light on a really problematic aspect of Christian culture.  Garrison is a satirist, and the idea of “Christian satire” certainly raises some interesting questions.  My friend Ian had a discussion with Garrison about this over on his blog.  He raises some really good questions about whether or satire, as a genre, is a helpful way for Christians to speak to one another.   He may be right, but I thought Becky’s talk showed that she is aware of the potential dangers of what she does.  That’s why I included the two quotes above.   I’m not sure how much time passed between her saying those two things, but she did say both.  The problem is not with big-name authors, but with the way that authors are themselves promoted and branded and marketed to the hilt. It’s a question about the system.  Granted, it is hard to separate the system from the people involved.  That’s why, towards the end of her talk, Garrison said,  “Beware of crossing the line from satirizing the subject to slamming the soul…beware of moving from smashing an idol to destroying the Church.”   That’s a difficult line to walk, for sure.

“It’s hard to tell the guy who got a free BMW for Easter that he is called to die.” Chris Seay.  Seay’s talk was mostly about righteousness.  While we tend to think of righteousness as being about upright personal behaviour, he offered the alternative way of thinking about it in terms of “shalom.”  There aren’t good and bad people, he said, there is “shalom” and there is “broken shalom.”  We need to understand righteousness as God bringing his shalom into the world – that will push the Church to rush into the broken places of the world.  It sounds like his church in Houston embodies this idea.  The quote I’ve chosen isn’t so much about that, but I thought it was hilarious.  In critiquing the typical “bait-and-switch” technique of trying to get people to come to church, Seay noted that a church in Houston had offered over $2M in prizes this Easter in order to get people to show up.  The prizes included luxury items like BMWs.  That’s where the above quote came from – we’re not inviting people to follow Christ in bringing God’s shalom into the world if we entice them to come by offering great benefits.   Another gem:  “The evangelion has become an infomercial.”

I’m really thankful to the guys at Epiphaneia for holding these events – and I’m encouraged that so many people show up!

I would definitely be attending the Eighth Letter conference this October, but I’m going to be out of town.   If you are able to go, I’d highly recommend it.

Typology of Views on Charismatic Movements, Part 3b: Balthasar’s Christological Constellation

Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church presents the most intriguing accounts of charismatic movements in the Church I’ve encountered thus far.     Balthasar provides an interesting example of an attempt to create legitimate space for radical movements of the Spirit within a robustly catholic ecclesiological framework.  The particulars of his argument are strange, and difficult for a protestant to digest, but his approach is sophisticated, and deserves engagement.  I include it under the “charismatic in legitimate tension with institutional” type, along with Rahner, but as a bit of an aside, given that the form of Balthasar’s argument is so idiosyncratic.

For Balthasar, the tension between stable orthodox Church structures and movements of renewal is inherent in the very nature of the Church.  This is seen most clearly in his use of the concept of the “christological constellation.” Balthasar’s argument is that just as Christ cannot be understood apart from his relation to the Father and the Spirit, so also he cannot be understood apart from the human relationships which were central to his historical life on earth.  John the Baptist, Mary, Peter, John, James, and Paul are all essentially related to Jesus and are therefore integral to christology (The Office of Peter, 136-137).  As the historical foundation of the Church, the members of the constellation are interpreted by Balthasar as “Realsymbols” or structural principles on which the church is founded, and through whom the presence of Christ is mediated to the Church (Office of Peter, 226-227).  Each member of the constellation is described according to their relationship with Jesus: the Baptist as a herald; Mary as the all-embracing perfect response to the grace of the Lord; Peter as one who participates in the authority of Christ in a singular way; John as the beloved who in love mediates between Peter and Mary; James as the one who takes Peter’s place in Jerusalem and represents continuity between the Old and New covenants; and finally Paul, the one untimely born who nevertheless takes the lion’s share of Christ’s mission, even though there seems to be no place for him among the college of the apostles.

Because the Church did not emerge en bloc, but is founded on the prophets and apostles, the particular relationship of each of the members of the constellation is prototypical for the Church.  Specifically, after Pentecost, Balthasar argues that there is a fourfold structure of the Church which emerges: the Pauline, Jacobite, Johannine, and Petrine aspects of the Church.   He sketches the constellation like this:

These are the four ways in which the Church is embodied in the world, and every community and every individual Christian life takes shape amid the tension and dynamism that exists between these poles. The Church “expresses itself concretely in the dynamic interplay of her major missions and in the laws inherent in her structure” (Office of Peter, 314-315).

In Balthasar’s scheme, the orthodox structures of the Church are interpreted as the Petrine and Jacobite aspects, while the movements of renewal are interpreted as Pauline.  Obviously the Petrine aspect of the Church is seen in office, and the Jacobite aspect is seen in Church law and tradition.  What is specific about the Pauline aspect is precisely Paul’s uniqueness, his supernumerary relationship to the apostles, and the unpredictable way in which he was chosen for his task directly by the Lord.  Because Paul is unique, his “successors” can only be identified by remote analogies as those who have charismatic vocations, whose recognition by those in office is compelled by divine evidence (Office, 159).  The founders of religious orders are examples of such direct divine vocations, according to Balthasar.  These movements of renewal are never founded by those in office, but by unexpected the founders of renewal movements, whose lives of sanctity “fall into the garden of the Church like a meteor” (The Laity and the Life of the Counsels, 67).  Their divine vocations must be tested by those in authority, but once tested, their unique missions and “charisms” cannot be suppressed.  These saints, “struck by God’s lightning,” ignite a blaze in those who gather around them, offering the Church hope of renewal and reform (The Laity, 42).  The religious orders that have arisen unexpectedly in response to these movements are able to radiate their light into the whole Church, moving outwards in concentric circles from the point at which lightning has struck (The Laity, 88).  The Petrine office is indispensable, but it is conceived by Balthasar as one aspect of the christological constellation, and must be seen in relation to the whole.  Because the Spirit works in unpredictable ways as well as through the official structures of the Church, Peter’s task is limited to making judgments and rendering verdicts amid the tensions that arise in the life of the Church.  He represents unity, but in so doing he must make space for others.

The unity of the Church is maintained when these major missions are understood in relation to the whole constellation.  The challenge is to achieve a reintegration of the elements which are isolated, in order that the tensions inherent between them may be lived out fruitfully within the mystery of the Church as Body and Bride of Christ.  In fact, the tensions between the principal figures of the constellation “all point to the mysterium; they are its necessary expression, not shortcomings on the part of the Church that need to be corrected by “changing its structure”” (Office of Peter, 24).  The history of the church can even be described by Balthasar as “an evident contest,” between the various poles of the christological constellation (Office, 314).  This process of contesting, for Balthasar, has a legitimate and community-creating value for the Church.  The church as ecclesia semper reformanda takes shape as various poles in the constellation are put back in their place, and a proper balance between the various aspects of the Church is established (Office of Peter, 314). The tension between the members of the constellation is the “force field” which generates apostolic missions.

What I like about Balthasar’s approach is that he avoids a simple opposition between “institutional” and “charismatic” without giving too much ground in one direction or the other.  His christological constellation is an innovative way of attempting to conceive of the complex human and divine reality which is the people of God.  It provides a way for discussing the history of the Church as it relates to charismatic movements, without smoothing out the conflicts that have often ensued between the movements and the established Churches.   The conflicts themselves are not so much a “problem” but an inherent part of what it means to be the Church.  This means we don’t need to “resolve” the conflicts between movements of renewal and established structures by siding with one side or the other (as has often happened in Church history).  The Church in her total reality needs both stable orthodox structures and unpredictable movements of renewal.

In the end, however, the particulars of Balthasar’s argument are a bit too idiosyncratic to be useful across ecumenical lines. The obvious problem (for protestants) with his approach is the high place which is afforded to the four apostolic figures in the ongoing life of the Church – even to the point of speaking of their “mediation” of Christ.  To be sure, Balthasar absolutely upholds the uniqueness of Christ, and is not assigning salvific value or merit to the apostles.  However, he argues (and I will grant that it is an interesting suggestion) that Jesus, fully divine but also fully human, cannot be understood apart from the human relationships he established during his life on earth, especially his relationships with those who were very close to him.  Historically speaking, we can also see how these primary persons in Jesus’ inner circle became the nucleus of the primitive Church.  Fair enough, but it is a stretch to move from these affirmations to four foundational principles for the Church in her continuing historical life.   While Balthasar’s theory is loosely grounded in the biblical narrative, the connection to the actual scriptural witness is quite tenuous, and leaves us wondering if he’s reading Church history back into the character of the four apostles.  Has he simply used these four biblical figures as a convenient means of conceptualizing what he believes are essential aspects of the Church?  I suppose if you begin from a Roman Catholic perspective, and you already accept the special role assigned to Peter as an essential aspect of the Church for all time, then it is not too much of a stretch to discuss similar principles of ecclesial life as grounded in other apostolic figures.  If that is the case, could his approach retain some merit, independently of the somewhat novel theory of these four apostles as Realsymbols of the Church?  Can we gain anything from his approach, without buying into the mediating role that Balthasar assigns to Peter, James, John, and Paul?   What would be left?  A set of “principles” which are inherent to the life of the Church?  On what foundation could such a set of principles be identified, if not on the basis of the apostles?  On strictly historical grounds, we can see how the history of the Church, interpreted from a broadly catholic point of view, supports these affirmations.  Should the lessons of Church history regarding renewal movements provide us with a normative basis for conceiving of the Church’s nature?  I want to say yes, but I’m still sorting out the details of how the argument can be made.