"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Friday, July 31, 2009

An Ecumenical Moment for One

Russell E. Saltzman
Russell E. Saltzman is pastor of Ruskin Heights Lutheran Church, Kansas City, Missouri. Today, his article titled "An Ecumenical Moment for One" was published in the "On the Square" online forum of First Things. Here's an excerpt:

Frankly, the creation of one more Lutheran church body in America is a dauntingly depressive possibility. I'm not entirely certain I want anything to do with it . . . unless we're talking about a ministerium organized to open dialogue on becoming a Roman Catholic affiliate, congregations, pastors, the whole caboodle, eventually seeking full communion with the bishop of Rome. If Rome cooperates, this ought to be pretty easy. Just think of us as inactive members seeking reinstatement. In my congregation, an officially inactive member is welcomed back to full fellowship by making a contribution and receiving Holy Communion, and sometimes we've been known to even skip the contribution part. Couldn't the Church of Rome handle that? There might be a few subsidiary issues to settle, but get us inside first and everything else becomes manageable. What is needed here is a brave archbishop or two, together taking cognizance of what is about to happen to the ELCA, and stepping forward as potential shepherds. Can't really call it stealing sheep if the previous shepherd has run off, can you?

No, I'm not being facetious. Not altogether. The original intent of the sixteenth century Reformers wasn't to start a new church but to be a witness for evangelical reform within the one church. Our Lutheran confessional documents—notably the Augsburg Confession of 1530—forcefully argues that nothing Lutherans taught was contrary to the faith of the church catholic, nor even contrary to that faith held by the Church of Rome. As it has happened, much to our Lutheran chagrin, late twentieth century Rome itself become a better witness to an evangelical gospel than early twenty-first century Lutherans have proved capable of being. And for all the radical Lutheran polemic coming after Augsburg—you know, about the pope being the latest anti-Christ sitting on the throne of the whore of Babylon—truth is, these days, I get far less trouble from the bishop of Rome than I get from my own bishop.

Some time in the mid-1980s Richard John Neuhaus told me—with no little optimism, I might add—that fifty Lutheran pastors and their congregations seeking fellowship with Rome would become an ecumenical moment. After he himself became Roman Catholic following formation of the ELCA he lowered the number to a more modest twenty-five. Facing the August convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its inevitable aftermath, I'm wondering, how about one?

Read the whole article.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ecclesial Deism: Interview Podcast

Assumption of St. John the Evangelist
Taddeo Gaddi (1348-1353)
Collezione Vittorio Cini, Venice

Tom Riello recently interviewed me regarding my Ecclesial Deism article. Listen to the podcast here on Called to Communion.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Philosophy and Faith: Two replies

I wrote two brief replies involving the relation of philosophy and faith. One is to R. Scott Clark, and the other is to James Jordan.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Gospel and the Meaning of Life

The Last Judgment (c. 1450)
Fra Angelico
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

My post titled, "The Gospel and the Meaning of Life" can be found here on Called to Communion.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Branches or Schisms?

My latest post, "Branches or Schisms?" is now up at Called to Communion. It is a revised version of one I posted here last year.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bartholomew to Kyrill: "Dear Brother"

Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople

"Dear brother! Even though the atheist regime has fallen, the atheist practices of hedonism and religious indifference flourish everywhere with all its consequences," the Patriarch said.

"Mass murder is committed in God’s name and entire populations are uprooted from their land. There is a disgraceful trade in human beings and an upsurge in nationalism and religious fanaticism. [. . .] Instead of standing united and offering convincing responses to the challenges of a desperately troubled world, we Christians are troubled by intrigue and divisions, scornfully unwilling to be conscious of our responsibility towards Our Pastor Jesus Christ, who wants to see love, peace and unity prevail among us. For only then, shall we be able to set a good example for the nations [of the world] and thus for the Father of Light! [. . .] Indeed our last meeting in Geneva, which took place in an atmosphere of unity, stands as an example and a point of reference, and this not only for Orthodox Christians." (emphasis added)

(Read more)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ecclesial Deism

Assumption of St. John the Evangelist
Taddeo Gaddi (1348-1353)
Collezione Vittorio Cini, Venice

St. Irenaeus and St. Clement of Alexandria, who both lived during the second century, tell us that after the Apostle John returned from exile on Patmos, he remained at Ephesus "till Trajan’s time." Trajan became emperor in AD 98. According to the tradition, St. John was the last of the twelve Apostles to die. When the angels carried his soul into Heaven, was the Church then left to fall into heresy and apostasy? (continue reading)

Like Head, Like Body

The Supper at Emmaus
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez (1620)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

"Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him." (St. Luke 24:31)

"If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you." (St. John 15:18)

Those who claim that Christ is "our present experience of life-giving love that transcends the human condition," had they lived in Jerusalem from AD 30-33, would have looked upon the man from Nazareth and seen at most only a rabbi who teaches us about the Christ-experience and through whose illumination we can encounter the Christ-experience. They would have been utterly scandalized by His claim to be God, but more likely they would have treated it as a mere metaphor, or as an invitation to us all to join him in discovering our own inner divine identity. They would have been many things rolled into one: Ebionites, because for them the rabbi from Nazareth was a mere man. They would have been Docetists, because for them the transcendent Christ-experience is not to be identified with any particular human being, though they grant that at one time in history the transcendent Christ-experience was most seemingly present in the rabbi from Nazareth. For them the true universal and timeless Christ-experience did not actually become, and could not become, this Nazarene, but is already subconsciously within every person, to be encountered concretely through inner exploration and deepening self-consciousness. They would have been Nestorians, because for them the teacher from Nazareth came to an inner harmony of self-discovery, and thus became for us a channel, one among many, in which we may encounter within us by transcendental enlightenment the one divine Christ-experience of loving self-awareness. They would have been monophysites, because for them the transcendent Christ-experience has no animal nature or physical body, but is the universal energy of divine love which we encounter within ourselves by abstracting ourselves from matter, the senses and our animal pole. In that way they would have denied Christ's human nature. They would have been monothelitists, for whom the teaching of the rabbi from Nazareth is neither authoritative nor infallible, but through whose enlightenment we too might encounter the all-embracing volitional dynamism of the trans-personal Christ-consciousness. They would have been iconoclasts, ridiculing those who revered His image as entirely missing the point, as mistaking the man for His spiritual message, and in doing so detracting from the attention due to the divine Christ-experience.

"If they have called the head of the house 'Beelzebub,' how much more shall they call them of his household?" (St. Matthew 10:25)

"Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God." (St. John 16:2)

Those who think that the "holy catholic Church" referred to in the Apostles' Creed is "the invisible communion of all those who believe in Christ" look upon the Catholic Church, and see at most only an institution that teaches men about Christ and through whom people may experience Christ. They are utterly scandalized by the Catholic Church's claim to be the "holy catholic Church" of the Creed, or they treat it as a mere metaphor, a physical example of that creedal ideal toward which we all are striving. They are ecclesial Ebionites, because for them the Catholic Church is a merely man-made institution. They are ecclesial Docetists, because for them the "holy catholic Church" is not to be identified with any particular ecclesial body on earth, though they may grant that at one time in history the "holy catholic Church" was most seemingly present in the Catholic Church. For them the resurrected and glorified Christ did not literally become, and could not become, the Head of the Catholic Church, but is Head rather of a spiritual community to which are invisibly joined all believers by an inner movement of faith. They are ecclesial Nestorians, for whom the Catholic Church developed her own unique spirituality, and thus became for us a channel, one among many, through which we may encounter the message and life of the divine Christ. They are ecclesial monophysites, because for them the "holy catholic Church" is no unified visible hierarchy, identifiable body or particular institution, but is a universal and invisible union of all believing souls with the invisible Christ, a union we encounter not through matter or the senses, but within ourselves through an inner act of the will, a trusting prayer of faith that rests and receives. They treat the Church as having only a spiritual nature, hence an invisible communion of believers united spiritually, not necessarily visibly. By denying the visible hierarchical unity that is essential to a human society, ecclesial monophysitism drops the human nature of the Church, and retains only the divine nature of the Church. They are ecclesial monothelitists, for whom the Catholic Church's binding and loosing, teaching and disciplining are merely that of the will of men, and not also that of the will of Christ Himself, the Head of His Mystical Body. They are ecclesial iconoclasts, ridiculing those who revere the Catholic Church as the living image of Christ the Head as entirely missing the point, as mistaking a merely human thing for the spiritual message it teaches, and in doing so detracting from the attention due to the invisible Christ.

"... she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus." (St. John 20:14)

"among you stands One whom you do not know." (St. John 1:26)

Where is Christ's Church? It is right in front of us. We have not recognized it, because her members have no form or majesty that we should look at them. They are in other respects quite ordinary. But there is something unique about Christ's Church, something that characterized the Man from Nazareth:

"He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not." (Isaiah 53:3)

"Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him." (Acts 7:54)

To find the Man from Nazareth, we could have followed the hate, loathing and rage; it would have led us right to Him. Likewise, to find His Body today, follow the same. Notice the direction that the anger and hate are oriented, and follow it to its object.

And they said to him, "Where, Lord?" He said to them, "Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered." (St. Luke 17:37)

Cross-posted on Called to Communion

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Introducing ... John Kincaid

I mentioned three weeks ago (here) that I had met John Kincaid, a fellow graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, at the 2009 Letter and Spirit Summer Institute, and that he was joining our team at Called to Communion. Since then, I wrote this post introducing him to Called to Communion.

More recently he gave a fascinating in-depth interview explaining how he came into the Catholic Church. You can listen to the podcast here, and read here about his description of the process by which that transition occurred.