30.7.08

Very poignant and convincing on Women's ordination

This is from our new friend

1. Any "innovation" or "development" with significant doctrinal implications stands or falls in the final analysis on its correspondence to the Gospel and its efficacy in proclaiming it...

2. Any "innovation" or "development" that has as its heart the proclamation of the Gospel cannot ignore the edification of the whole Church of God, which has ecumenical implications. Nonetheless, divergence in sacramental and kerygmatic practice between churches now does not preclude convergence later. (As, for example, was the case with Vatican II in reconciling many Reformation-era "innovations," such as vernacular in the liturgy, with Catholic practice.)

3. Divergence without an eye to convergence, however, is deeply troubling, and to expect that other churches will "come along" later risks arrogance and hubris that does not befit the spirit of humility and charity that is essential if one hopes to proclaim the Gospel with any integrity.

4. Nonetheless, causing scandal to those within and among the separated churches (and thus setting back ecumenical convergence) may be justifiable on missional grounds. In other words: If I scandalize someone who has already received and accepted the message of Salvation in my attempts to communicate that message to those who have not received and accepted it, the souls of my co-religionists are not thereby imperilled by my scandalous actions, unless my actions lead them to lose faith in the message of Salvation they have already accepted and become apostate. (Even then, I am not sure that I could be the cause of anyone "losing" his or her salvation--but it is a risk not to be entirely discounted.) More likely, those so scandalized will denounce my "innovative" attempts at evangelization as proclaiming a false Gospel, with the risk that schism may result.

5. The dilemma between causing scandal within the Church and scandalously bringing others into the Church is as old as the Acts of the Apostles. Paul is quite clear that where the salvation of souls is concerned, he is willing "to oppose...to his face" anyone who stands in the way of his proclamation of the Gospel. Nevertheless, Paul takes pains to remain in communion with those he may oppose in matters such as mission strategy (esp. Peter & James), recognizing their apostolic authority. On the other hand, he seems to disregard any obligation to communion with parties (such as the "Judaizers") who are scandalized by his innovations. What are we to do with this dilemma? Do the Judaizers hold the place of heretics in Paul's eyes? Does he even think in terms of "communion" with them, or are they regarded as within the same Church but each doing their own thing?

6. Clearly, the edification of the Church and the mission of the Church are supposed to function organically. But throughout history, a concern for innovative mission strategies, especially directed at marginalized groups, has exerted centrifugal force on ecclesial unity, particularly when unity is understood to be based in doctrinal agreement and common practice.

7. In order for edification and mission to support each other, therefore, unity must allow for innovations consonant with the Gospel, and innovations consonant with the Gospel must result in (eventual?) edification.

8. This is not a simple task or process. From one perspective, when Gentile converts entered the Church, many Jewish converts likely left the Church, or broke away forming their own (quasi?) ecclesial communities. Yet the Church was edified by the entrance of Gentile converts, and arguably better off without the conservative Jewish converts!

9. This way of framing it, however, assumes groups are "in" or "out" of the Church catholic based on whether one accepts or rejects an innovation or can live with the scandal it produces. Could it be that both Jewish converts who were unhappy with Gentile converts and the Gentile converts themselves belonged to one Church, whether they liked it or not? Paul clearly believes so, as his use of images such as the Body and the grafting of branches into the one Olive tree indicate.

10. Communion, then, is not self-determinative. Our declarations of being "out of communion" and our schismatic institutional organizations over against each other do not separate us from the one Body or cut us off from the one Tree. What schism does do is impede common mission and discipleship, which properly has communion at its heart.

11. We are left, then, with a very messy Church, a multidysfunctional family with many emotional cut-offs, who yet all agree that Jesus is Lord and the Savior of humanity, and whose practices all are intended to be oriented to this end. And if the activities of any particular ecclesial group are not oriented to this end, such a group is in need of reform and correction: if their sacramental acts and kerygma are not intended to know Christ and make Christ known, there's a problem.

12. But just because one group accuses another of failing in this regard does not, in fact, mean that it has. For the failure or success of an ecclesial community in its kerygma is dependent in the final analysis on grace, not works. The Spirit of Christ works through broken vessels, including broken ecclesial communities, else the Church(es) would have died off long ago.

13. Such a view gives us reason for hope. Because the good news is that one day, we shall all be dead, and if our faith is not in vain, we shall all be alive in Christ. The tension and conflict between mission and edification is not therefore resolved, nor should we take our own salvation for granted, but we can have supreme confidence in the love and mercy of God in Christ, while praying for the Spirit's guidance as we all seek to be one in mission and witness.

14. But what are the implications of all this, particularly for the proponents and opponents of WO? Personally speaking, whichever side you are on, I am more interested in what you are doing to proclaim the Gospel and edify the Church than whether you ordain women--or are an ordained woman--or not. To me, the issue becomes idolatrous when it distracts those on either side from the mission of the Church, and thus, I see no grounds for schism based on this or any issue.

15. One possible rejoinder to my position, of course, is that to many opponents of WO, the ordination of women a) impedes the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Church and therefore invites schism, and b) this "innovation" amounts to the proclamation of a "false Gospel." To which my reply is that "a)" is not true if even one soul is brought into the Church catholic via this innovation. Even if "a)" impedes proclamation and edification, it does not invite schism, but challenges its opponents to remain united in the hope of reforming the Church and prevailing in its own proclamation of the Gospel. Far from inviting schism, it challenges its opponents to redouble their efforts at edifying the Church. Further, "b)" is not true in that the ordination of women does not obscure in the least the heart of the Gospel, and even if it did, it is the responsibility of its opponents to continue to proclaim with vigor the Gospel as they understand it; any "false Gospel" should only goad those who know the "true Gospel" to greater evangelical zeal, which of course includes loving our enemies!

16. The fact that people will be schismatic is therefore not directly attributable to any conflict in and of itself, but to their schismatic reaction to conflict. And this reaction is due, in my estimation, to incomplete catechesis: We have not learned what it means to love each other and be committed to each other in Christ, even in the midst of our sinfulness and multidysfunctionality and (sometimes even legitimate) scandalousness. We have not seen that proclaiming the Gospel, even in innovative ways, goes hand-in-hand with edifying the Church in holiness, and many of us on the other hand who are obsessed with the visible unity of the Church have lost sight of the Church's mission in our discomfort over the ambiguities and scandals inherent in proclaiming a Gospel that by its very nature is scandalous.

17. So all challenges to the Church from within regarding any proposed or enacted "innovation" should merely challenge the Church to focus more deeply on its central mission. The tragedy is that conflict is used, instead, to raise the status of any issue to the level of an idol. The response of the faithful should be two-pronged: committment to each other as one continues to proclaim faithfully the Gospel as one has come to understand it, and non-anxious, even joyful, discernment within the context of any advocacy of, or opposition to, such "innovations."

18. So, for instance, if (as I do) oppose the admission to communion of those not baptised, I must nonetheless be committed to those who support it and even practice it on the one hand, while vigorously defending my position and putting my own convictions into practice. The cosmological disturbance caused by the non-baptized receiving communion will be dealt with by the proper authority, i.e., God. God's judgment and mercy will take care of those who scandalously offend my sense of good order in the Church. Even were I to feel that priests who admit the non-baptized to communion are harming such people by inviting them to "eat and drink judgment" upon themselves, and thereby not being very good priests, I cannot allow this feeling to take control of me. I cannot let the anxiety it produces to goad me into wishing to control the (in my view) inappropriate actions of others. Rather, with joy I can propound why it is that I believe communion should be reserved to the baptized, and hope to tell this story with persuasive conviction. Rather than focusing on the "bad" that "others" do, rather than demonizing the other, I can ask for the grace to present my own understanding in ways that give glory to God the Father and lead people into deeper intimacy with Christ in the power of the Spirit.

19. Conflict thus is an evangelical, missional tool. Schism hobbles my ability to be an effective evangelist because it ultimately doesn't matter how right I am if I am unwilling to be in relationship with those who are wrong. And of course, given the fact that none of us is completely right, we need to be in relationship with each other in order to avoid falling into those monstrous doctrinal rigidities that some have dared to call heresy.

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0. The arguments around innovation and reception, tradition and good order, therefore, must be tested by the equally-important criteria of mission and edification, knowing that it is not always possible to be both missional to all and edifying to all simultaneously. The key, then, is in practicing discernment so that one's actions have integrity and are ever-mindful of our call to mission and edification, without either of which the Church cannot be what the Church is called to be.

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A little background reading on the two theological integrities in the Church of England regarding women in ministry.