Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Treating Friends Like Enemies

Matt Kennedy has written an excellent piece on Stand Firm entitled, "Treating Friends Like Enemies," dealing with the Australian Diocese of Sydney's move to allow deacons and lay people to preside at the Eucharist. I have written about Sydney's move twice previously.

Matt disagrees with this move, as do I, and he gives three reasons for his disagreement:
First: There are many Anglicans, and I am one of them, who reject the Anglo Catholic understanding of the priesthood while recognizing that presiding over the Eucharist is an act of headship and as such ought to be reserved for the ordained leadership of a local congregation. I will not argue that case here but I want simply to point out that the Communion standard is no more an implicit endorsement of the Anglo Catholic sacerdotal position than it is an endorsement of the evangelical headship argument. The reason the Communion standard has survived so long is precisely because it can be legitimately embraced by both evangelicals and Anglo Catholics in very good conscience.

Second: Because that is true, what Sydney may perceive to be a grand act against sacerdotalism also stands as a divisive act against fellow evangelicals.

Third: Sydney’s stance toward Anglo Catholicism as represented by the move toward lay or diaconal and lay presidency is the kind of stance generally taken toward an enemies rather than friends.

I appreciate Matt's contribution to this issue and agree with his piece to a large degree. But I posted a comment on Stand Firm taking issue with Matt's representation of Anglo-Catholicism. Here is what I had to say:


I am somewhat late (perhaps too late) in weighing in on this piece. But thank you for making this contribution to the discussion of lay presidency. Your three reasons are on target and well said. But I would like to raise a few points concerning your characterization of Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Catholic positions.

When you say, "There are many Anglicans, and I am one of them, who reject the Anglo Catholic understanding of the priesthood," you leave your readers to assume they know what you mean by an "Anglo Catholic understanding of the priesthood" or to deduce it as they continue reading. Subsequently, you refer to "an Anglo Catholic sacerdotal understanding of the priesthood," which elaborates but doesn't clarify.

A sacerdotal priesthood can mean three things:

1. A sacrificing priesthood, as in the Old Testament or in pagan religions that still sacrifice live animals. Obviously this does not apply to the New Testament presbyterate. A priest in the Eucharist re-presents the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ; he is not re-sacrificing Christ.

Or, to cite a dictionary definition, it can mean one of two other things:

2. Relating to priests or the priesthood; priestly.
3. Relating to a doctrine that ascribes spiritual or supernatural powers to ordained priests.

Well, #2 seems a bit redundant, but might, in fact, be apt: Sydney evangelicals do seem to object to a priestly priesthood, and Anglo-Catholics favor a priesthood that looks like one. But that seems to be bit trivial for such a profound difference of opinion.

Which leaves us with #3, that there is a spiritual or supernatural power that pertains to the ordained priesthood. I think (and I believe most Anglo-Catholics would agree) that spiritual authority is more accurate than "power." But is it not also true that the lowest low-churchman who sets apart a presbyter for ordained ministry believes that a spiritual authority has been conferred on that individual by virtue of ordination?

Another way to put it is to say that Anglo-Catholics believe that when we lay hands on something or someone and pray, God actually does something. When we pray "that we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ's holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood" (1662 BCP) we believe that "the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ." (Article XXVIII. And, no, I am not talking about Transubstantiation, which is spoken against in the same Article.) We believe that that which was previously bread and wine is now, for us, the body and blood of Christ. "The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith."

Likewise, when the Bishop and assembled presbyters pray over a candidate for ordination, "RECEIVE the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" we believe that the Holy Spirit actually empowers the individual for a new ministry of Word and Sacraments. The Bishop then says, "TAKE thou Authority to preach the Word of God, and to minister the holy Sacraments in the Congregation, where thou shalt be lawfully appointed thereunto." (1662 BCP)

So the Church authorizes and the Holy Spirit empowers an individual to undertake the ministry of a priest in response to the Bishop's laying on hands and the Church's prayers. Do Evangelicals not believe this as well? Is the individual who has been prayed for effectually and set apart in this manner not spiritually changed? I would submit that the reason the Communion standard has survived so long and can be legitimately embraced by both evangelicals and Anglo Catholics is because it embraces a difference in emphasis and not in substance.

I am very concerned when you say that "Regular participation in a validly celebrated Eucharist with validly consecrated elements is necessary, Anglo Catholics believe, for the salvation of souls." Most Anglo-Catholics would not want to be perceived as belittling the Eucharist by taking issue with that statement. But, as a theological proposition, it is not strictly true. The thief on the Cross is an obvious biblical exception. The Ethiopian eunuch was obviously saved, though there is no mention of his partaking of the Eucharist. So, to be theologically accurate, no Anglo-Catholic I know would say that partaking of the Eucharist is essential to salvation. But it is an essential part of the Christian life, in that no real Christian would choose to live a life that neglects the Eucharist. After all, our Lord instituted it and commanded that we partake of it. So Anglo-Catholics believe the Eucharist is an essential part of the Christian life and that the ordained elders (presbyters/priests) should preside. Wouldn't most Evangelicals agree with that?

The matter gets complicated further when Carl says and you agree that "The Anglo Catholic understanding of the priesthood is, I believe, in error because it is, as you say, 'a works based gospel.'" Whoa! Hold on! That's a dangerous allegation. But I am certain that that assumption underlies the problem that Sydney Evangelicals think they have with Anglo-Catholics.

The beautiful thing about the Prayer Book is that it sums up a theology that we all confess every time we celebrate the Eucharist. We pray "that by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion." Is that not the basis of salvation for all of us?

Evangelicals tend to look at the disciplines that an Anglo-Catholic considers an important part of the Christian life and say, "they think they are earning their salvation." Anglo-Catholics look at an Evangelical and Reformed proclamation of sola fide and say that it is "cheap grace" or that it breeds a lax Christianity. It is, once again, a difference in emphases (and the source of a great misunderstanding). We do not have different Gospels!

Matt, I do not know if you have ever read Archbishop Michael Ramsey's The Gospel and the Catholic Church? A new edition has been released recently. I highly recommend it. As I have said elsewhere, I wish Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics could come to a true understanding of each other's positions, actually discuss their differences, and achieve a rapprochement. The division has continued too long, and our witness is suffering because of it. The Sydney move toward lay presidency is just the latest manifestation.


Matt Kennedy said...

Hi Dean Munday, thank you for what you have written. I've responded to your comment at Stand Firm on the comment thread. Thanks again.

Matt Kennedy said...

Here is what I wrote in response on Stand Firm:

I do apologize if I have misstated or mis-characterized Anglo Catholic beliefs. That was not at all my intention. When I refer to “the sacerdotal” priesthood this is the understanding I have, please correct me if I am wrong:

1. The priesthood of the church is the counterpart of the OT priesthood—of course now there is only One sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ, which is substantially re-presented (as in, made present again) by the priest at the altar during the mass.

2. The priest stands “in persona Christi” when he celebrates the mass, hears confession, joins a man and woman together in marriage (performs any of the seven sacraments?). The priest stands in the person of Christ. I had one priest say to me that during this time Catholics (and I assumed that included Anglo Catholics as well) Christ performs the sacramental act—not the priest…

3. In order for the sacrament of the eucharist to be valid, it must be performed by a validly ordained priest standing in apostolic succession. Only he can stand in persona Christi at the altar and only through him does Christ act to make the sacrament.

4. Since the sacrament is a moral necessity for salvation…the lack of valid orders is a terrible tragedy and, in fact, means that the “Church is not present”.

That is my understanding of the matter, please help me understand better. Thank you.

Matt Kennedy said...

second post:

I forgot to add, I do understand your point with regard to the thief on the cross and the eunuch. Who would argue with Christ’s declaration to the thief or the Spirit’s command to Philip?

At the same time, isn’t there a difference in Catholicism (and I think Anglo Catholicism as well) between a “moral necessity” for salvation and a necessity? If I understand things correctly…the barest necessity is baptism which conveys justification or, if someone dies on the way to be baptized, the desire to be baptized or, if someone does not know about baptism (ei. the thief), the presence of a love for Christ which would become a desire for baptism suffices.

And yet it suffices for the beginning of the Christian walk not the fullness of it. So if one were to begin well with baptism (and not die right off) and yet subsequently neglect and ignore/neglect the sacraments of the church (eucharist and confession) he would, bereft of sacramental grace, almost certainly fall deeper and deeper into sin and be in great danger of killing off the justifying grace of baptism?

And so because final justification is only given at the final judgment (not declared at the moment of faith through the imputed righteousness of Christ as protestants believe) a valid priesthood and the resulting valid eucharist is, as I understand it, a morally necessity for salvation.

Again, please correct my understanding if I am wrong here.

Craig said...

Even this Presbyterian wants to say, "Well said!" The Gospel and the Catholic Church is one of the most important books I've ever read, and I'm amazed when I discover Anglicans who have never read it.

Blessings, Robert, on you and all at Nashotah!

Craig Higgins

Fr. J said...

This is a great post, Dean Mundy. Thank you for it. It's my sincere belief that Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics in the Communion are generally not as far apart as they might imagine. You've explained perfectly why this might be so in this case.

The one thing that I'm still having trouble with though is when you say that Anglo-Catholics don't believe that regular reception of the Eucharist is necessary for salvation. It seems to me that the clear teaching of scripture is that the Holy Eucharist is necessary for salvation. This, after all, is what Our Lord says in John 6.

Of course, as you point out, there are exceptions, the thief on the cross being one of them. I think the worry that some Evangelicals have about a necessary place for the sacrament is that to admit this would be to undue the idea of justification by grace alone through faith alone, but I don't think that it does. The Eucharist is a means of grace, not a work. To receive regularly is an act of faith, not an attempt to appease or buy one's way into heaven. Of course God can and does give this grace to those who believe even if they aren't able to receive, either because of bad catechesis or because of lack of access. That's the witness of the thief on the cross. He reminds us that the Eucharist is not a talisman, not some sort of magic bracelet or "get out of hell free" card. As the Oxford Fathers pointed out, echoing the Anglican divines of the sixteenth century, it's our faith that allows us to receive the grace found in the Eucharist.

But it's all too easy to make the leap from saying that the Eucharist is not part of what justifies us to saying that it is simply an extra that we can adjust or dispense with as we see fit. As I'm sure you agree, the Eucharist is not an extra. It is at the very heart of faith. To choose as a Christian not to receive the gift of the Holy Eucharist is to choose essentially not to be a disciple. After the Lord teaches about the Eucharist in John 6, we're told that many felt that this was too hard a teaching and left. It is a hard teaching, but it reveals a beautiful truth.

Anyhow, don't let that detract from the rest of what you're saying, especially about the nature of the priesthood. Spot on!

grace and peace,

Fr. J