Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

Realistic expectations of what the church is and will be

In a really well written article in Themelios by Uche Anizor that draws together various ecclesiological strands of Colin Gunton’s thought from multiple sources, we see some really practical outworkings of what the church is and should be and will be in the light of a robust doctrine of the Trinity.  Anizor writes, “Gunton’s relentless attempt to root the nature and calling of the church in the being and action of the triune God opens up a way for a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common, while offering a potentially more fruitful starting point for ecumenical dialogue regarding the nature of the church.”

“a more concrete and realistic perspective on the church than is common.”

We all know things could and should be better; some are disillusioned to the point of desertion; others remain but function in a spiritual wilderness akin to the effects of Ritalin; whilst yet many more recognise a “concrete and realistic perspective” is the only way to live in reality and eschew fantasy.

Thus Anizor opens with these words,

“Conflict in relationships is often rooted in inappropriate or unmet expectations. This commonplace wisdom regarding everyday relationships is no less true of one’s relationship to the church. Our conduct and feelings toward the church are governed largely by our expectations of what the church should be. These expectations, furthermore, are rooted in our understanding of the church’s nature. Ministers who weekly find themselves disappointed with the failings of their congregations would do well to attend to their understanding of what the church is. Laypeople who find themselves regularly frustrated with their community’s shortcomings are advised to do likewise. Disappointment (among other negative feelings) often flows from unrealistic expectations, which sometimes betray an unbalanced view of the church. Therefore, a healthy understanding of the nature of the church is of utmost practical import. Is the church the kingdom? If not, what is it? In what ways, if at all, is the church (and actual churches) a sign of the new Jerusalem? How can we theologically describe this imperfect reality we call the “church”? Colin Gunton provides one helpful response.”

The way forward is offered positively thus,

“First, we examine three related areas that contribute to a fuller understanding of the trinitarian heart of his ecclesiology: (1) the ontology of the church, (2) the place of pneumatology, and (3) the role of a proper Christology.  Then we provide a constructive appraisal. The hope here is that Gunton’s contribution might help free pastors, teachers, and congregants to live and serve in the church with a love and compassion rooted in realistic expectations of what the church is and will be.”

The essay really weaves a fantastic theological tapestry integrating the Pneumatological, Christological and Ecclesiological threads.  We need to know who this God is before we build on ecclesial foundations.  That is why I enjoyed the comments right at the end just before the conclusion, aimed at those pastors and lay people who are tempted to disillusionment at the ontology of the Church:

Continue reading

“The same frantic steeplechase toward nothing”

I found these Thomas Merton excerpts on a tatty piece of paper the other day, and thought they belonged here:

“The problem is to learn how to renounce resentment without selling out to the organization people who want everyone to accept absurdity and moral anarchy in a spirit of uplift and willing complicity.”

“We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios.”

“If we are fools enough to remain at the mercy of the people who want to sell us happiness, it will be impossible for us ever to be content with anything. How would they profit if we became content? We would no longer need their new product.”

“The basic inner moral contradiction of our age is that, though we talk and dream about freedom…though we fight wars over it, our civilization is strictly servile. I do not use this term contemptuously, but in its original sense of ‘pragmatic,’ oriented exclusively to the useful, making use of means for material ends. The progress of technological culture has in fact been a progress in servility, that is in techniques of using material resources, mechanical inventions, etc., in order to get things done. This has, however, two grave disadvantages. First, the notion of the gratuitous and the liberal (the end in itself) has been lost. Hence we have made ourselves incapable of that happiness which transcends servility and simply rejoices in being for its own sake. Such ’liberality’ is in fact completely foreign to the technological mentality as we have it now (though not necessarily foreign to it in essence). Second, and inseparable from this, we have in practice developed a completely servile concept of man. Our professed ideals may still pay lip service to the dignity of the person, but without a sense of being and a respect for being, there can be no real appreciation of the person. We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being.”

“The monastic life is in a certain sense scandalous. The monk is precisely a man who has no specific task. He is liberated from the routines and servitudes of organized human activity in order to be free. Free for what? Free to see, free to praise, free to understand, free to love. This ideal is easy to describe, much more difficult to realize…The monk is not defined by his task, his usefulness. In a certain sense he is supposed to be ‘useless’ because his mission is not to do this or that job but to be a man of God. He does not live in order to exercise a specific function: his business is life itself. This means that monasticism aims at the cultivation of a certain quality of life, a level of awareness, a depth of consciousness, an area of transcendence and of adoration which are not usually possible in an active secular existence…The monk seeks to be free from what William Faulkner called ‘the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing’ which is the essence of ‘worldliness’ everywhere.”

The Pocket Thomas Merton, ed. Robert Inchausti (Boston & London: New Seeds, 2015).

Rainbow

Exegete of the Eternal

In yet another excellent sermon published in ‘Descending on Humanity and Intervening in Histrory’ (ed. Jason Goroncy), P. T. Forsyth skillfully exposes, by force of logic, the poverty of ignorance in understanding Christian things in general, and specifically in this section of the sermon, Creeds in particular.  He calls these contemporary interpreters of Christian things people of “narrow mind” and “narrow soul”.

By contrast, the Christian teacher, the “preacher-scholar” is an “exegete of the eternal” and that includes history, culture and so on, but especially the scriptures and the creeds.  So many people, many of them Christians, are so quick to dismiss things they don’t understand, that (quoting Ernest Renan) he writes, “We begin examining before we have appropriated enough to fit us to examine.  Very few people have acquired the right to disbelieve in Christianity.”

People dismiss great historic institutions like the creeds out of ignorance and even novelty for things that are new (as is supposed).  But, argues Forsyth, “Our creeds are at once old and new.  It is not abolition the need but reinterpretation.  Many people don’t bother to understand, arguing instead for such deceptively slippery concepts as the “simple directness” of plain speaking, as though it were the only “mode of spiritual expression.”  He writes, “Plainness of speech is not worth the price if it costs squatness of thought and baldness of vision.”

Continue reading

A Bit About Abelard (c. 1132-1138)

A Bit About Abelard (c. 1132-1138)

I have recently been enjoying The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (c.1132 – 1138) by Peter Abelard and Heloise with a translation and introduction by Betty Radice and M. T. Clanchy.  And this has caused me to theologically investigate what is a very interesting Medieval man and his theology, a poor token offering of which is offered below (that’s my attempt at being humble):

9780140448993

Peter Abelard was a highly gifted intellectual.  He outshone his fellow French pupils and tutors alike during the High Middle Ages, being also a supreme master logician.  One of his pupils was a young woman named Heloise, who was, arguably, more gifted than he.  The short story is that they fell in love (or fell in lust?), had a secret affair that was then exposed, leading to a strange story of marriage, revenge (castration – ouch!), love and ministry.

I have been reading from the Penguin Classics series by updated by M. T. Clanchy from the work of Betty Radice’s own work of the 1970s, featuring the letters of Abelard and Heloise (including his really fascinating autobiographical account – worth the book alone – Historia Calamitatum) plus other bits, such as letters between Peter the Venerable and Heloise, two hymns by Abelard and extracts from the Lost Love Letters. Another of Clanchy’s books opens with: ‘Peter Abelard, now forgotten, was once the most famous man in the world.’  Well that may be what it is, but it is not what all it is.

The Lives of Abelard and Heloise

Peter Abelard was born c.1092 at Le Pallet, near Nantes, the eldest son of a minor noble Breton family. His father wanted his son to have a career in the military as he did, but Abelard pursued life as an academic, and a gifted one at that. Abelard excelled at the art of dialectic, and during this early part of his life he “began to travel about in several provinces disputing, like a true peripatetic philosopher, wherever I had heard there was a keen interest in the art of dialectic.”  One gets the impression he rather enjoyed being the know-it-all, but I suppose to many (including himself), he did!

Continue reading

The necessity of the ‘upon-ness’ of the Spirit

The necessity of the ‘upon-ness’ of the Spirit

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

Because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives,

And recovering of sight to the blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed,

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Luke 4:19-19

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me:

As it had to be for Jesus, so it has to be for us.

That the Spirit of God must be ‘upon’ us before anything is said or done.

The Spirit being ‘upon’ us speaks of God’s own desire to be present with us.

The Spirit being ‘upon me’ or ‘upon us’ is our recognition that God is near and not far.

 

Because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor:

The Holy Spirit of God is ‘upon me’ for a reason.

There is a job to do.  That job is primarily an announcement.

“And here is the evening news…death, destruction, lies, greed and war…”

This is what happens when the Spirit of God isn’t ‘upon’.

‘To proclaim Good News…’ is to announce the end of death, destruction, lies, greed and war.

To proclaim anything of God is always proceeds the anointing of the Spirit.

‘To the poor….’ isn’t merely an economic phrase. It’s a human quality-of-life-phrase.

The poor are those who do not have the Spirit of God ‘upon’ them;

Because they are being robbed by the evening news.

  Continue reading

“Mighty is the water in the seas — yet is it too weak for atonement”

Eclectic Orthodoxy

Blessed be He Who was baptized that He might baptize you, that ye should be absolved from your offences.

1. The Spirit came down from on high, — and hallowed the waters by His brooding. — In the baptism of John, — He passed by the rest and abode on One: — but now He has descended and abode, — on all that are born of the water.

2. Out of all that John baptized, — on One it was that the Spirit dwelt: — but now He has flown and come down, — that He may dwell on the many; — and as each after each comes up, — He loves him and abides on him.

3. A marvel it is that surpasses all! — To the water He went down and was baptized. — The seas declared it blessed, — that river wherein Thou wast baptized: — even…

View original post 819 more words

I Suffer Not A Man To Suffer Not A Woman To Teach

There are some verses in the bible that have been read as culturally time-bound and therefore limited in scope and application.  Others have been interpreted as timeless, and therefore interpreted as timeless (see here)!  1 Timothy 2:9-15 is one such passage, a complex passage in the Greek, that has fallen foul of the hermeneutical confusion that befalls some categories of the church, notably the American holiness movement, and various other ‘complimentarian’ groupings.

Throughout church history, i.e. traditionally, these verses have been read as a universal code for female decorum and then applied generally to women everywhere!  This has determined what some women have worn as jewelry, how they did their hair and what clothes they wore, etc.

The inevitable consequence of this has been a restriction of women’s role within the church.  The Reformer’s varied slightly on this:  Luther offered women the privilige of leadership by way of exception in times of necessity (which was generous of him); Calvin and Knox were adamantly against women in any kind of ministerial role.  They each show their hand in awful ways:  Knox in a nasty little title: First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, and Calvin who wrote that women are “by nature born to obey men.”  Calvin and Knox make Luther’s offer look quite lovely!

That these verses have been used like this to control, limit and restrict, seems quite unwarranted given the local circumstances that formed the context of Paul’s writings here.  But to be clear from the start, it is always a Christian ideal for women to present themselves in modesty and propriety, but it is no less the same for men too!  The trouble is, we now equate these verses with not only a bullying use of power and control, but it also looks too much like a tame but rigid 1050’s American Evangelicalism.  Truth is, men too easily use power and force.  The desire to dominate is to be avoided by women and men.  Humility in service is the responsibility of both sexes.

Continue reading