May 26, 2006

Tearing the Fabric

One of the assertions common these days is that the actions of North American Anglicans have somehow obscured the underlying reality of our communion in God the Holy Trinity. (Primates’ Dromantine Statement 2005.12). This assertion also sometimes takes the form of an accusation that we have torn the fabric of the communion. (Primates’ meeting 2003)

Whether obscured or torn, it seems to me that two very different kinds of communion are being spoken of here. One is the pragmatic ecclesiastical communion that we talk about in ecumenical relationships, the sure and certain sign of which is mutual acceptance of ministers. On this ground, let’s face it, the Anglican Communion is not just impaired, but divided, by the lack of agreement on the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, pace the historical fiction of the Windsor Report.

But I would submit that the communion referred to in the Dromantine statement, however “obscured” is not capable of being torn, for it does not lie in our power to tear it. The communion we share in God the Holy Trinity does not come about by our doing, except to the extent we participate in and carry out the mandate to baptize all nations. Once baptized, there is no human power that can unbaptize. One can depart from the ecclesiastical institution — but however far we flee, be it to the heights or to the depths, we cannot escape our incorporation into God.

It seems to me that the concern with tearing the fabric of the communion — preserving the shreds of the partial unity we seem to enjoy in the manifestly divided church— is perhaps misplaced, as a part of our general fixation on the institution. It struck me in the early hours of this morning that a similar concern about tearing fabric took place in another context. To what extent are the powers that broker the future of our Anglican Communion like the soldiers haggling over the seamless garment, casting lots to see who will end up in possession, while the Lord of Glory hangs naked and crucified, spilling his blood for the world, and praying forgiveness for those who know not what they do?

—Tobias S Haller BSG


7 comments:

Darius said...

One reason I'd have to say good luck with China and India, not to mention the Muslim world, when it comes to "baptizing all nations," is the trinity doctrine.

Dogma divides. There is no more hope of uniting the world behind Christian dogma than Muslim or any other dogma.

Doug Worgul said...

Thank you, again, Fr. Tobias, for your wisdom and the stubborness of your love.

J.C. Fisher said...

To what extent are the powers that broker the future of our Anglican Communion like the soldiers haggling over the seamless garment, casting lots to see who will end up in possession, while the Lord of Glory hangs naked and crucified, spilling his blood for the world, and praying forgiveness for those who know not what they do?

This is beautiful, Tobias. Thank you. :-)

BabyBlue said...

You write: "Once baptized, there is no human power that can unbaptize. One can depart from the ecclesiastical institution ? but however far we flee, be it to the heights or to the depths, we cannot escape our incorporation into God."

I do not know exactly what you mean by "our incorporation into God." We are "grafted" and "adopted," but I am not sure the term "incorporation" is an accurate representation of the extraordinary act of redemption that Jesus won for us through the cross and resurrection.

Baptism is not a free pass into heaven. God's love is so wide, and deep, and long that He offers us free will to turn away at any time. We can - at any time by a course of our own will - say "no thanks." Yes, of course we can escape God's grace, we can reject our baptism - not by God's will, but by our own. We do have the power to undo and that power is granted to us because of God's love for us. We may not be able to escape from His love, but His love is so complete that He gives us free choice to turn away - yes, we can turn our backs on God. Yes, baptism can be overturned.

The choice is always now.

aatw

Tobias said...

Dear Baby Blue (or All Along the Watchtower),

"Incorporation" is the language Saint Paul uses to describe our being brought into the Body (the "corpus") of Christ through baptism (see Ephesians 4).

I certainly agree that Baptism is not "a free pass into heaven." I don't think I said that. But I don't think your assumption that baptism can be overturned is quite the same thing. Being baptized does not free one from judgment: as St Peter pointed out, judgment begins with, and is harder on, the household than on those "outside." However, the church has taught that baptism itself is "indelible" and not to be repeated. In the early church, in fact, continued sinful behavior after baptism was considered especially bad. Can you produce any scriptural evidence to the contrary?

All Along the Watchtower said...

Titus 3:5

He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

It is not the act of baptism that saves us - the baptism points to Jesus (why repeat the sign?). It is not the act of baptism, but the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, that is the author of our regeneration and renewal. Since we were discussing God's love, we can also reject that regeneration and renewal by the decision of our own will. God's love extends so far that we can reject God's work in us - the sin against the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is in us, as we invite Him to come at baptism, then we are also free to reject His Spirit and reject His salvation.

The question is - how do we do that? How do we know when we are rejecting God and leading others astray as well?

Our actions do not save us - it is Jesus who saves us from the penalty of sin, death. We are all judged - believer and non-believer, but it is not our baptism that saves us, but our faith in Jesus - and it is His work in us that strengthens our faith. We are saved by His mercy.

I am concerned when I see statements that appear to give carte blanch to all who have been baptized, as though being baptized gives us the security to experiment with new theological innovations that scripture has said was contrary to Christ-like behavior and that the Church traditionally teaches as sin because we have confidence in our baptism. It is not the baptism which saves us, but the mercy of God as we yield our lives to the saving grace of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. If we say the Spirit is doing a new thing and it is contrary to who Jesus is, then we should question whether it is the Spirit of Jesus at work or the Spirit of the Age. And this is when I wonder if we are not rejecting the Spirit of Jesus as we embrace the Spirit of the Age.

But baptism will not cover us if we are willfully teaching people such things that leads them deeper into sin. That's what causes me concern. Even then, we remember Jesus' plea to His Father to forgive us, that we don't know what we're doing. That humility, to plead before the Lord that we don't know what we're doing and we pray that He will show us what is good and right in His sight - as well as the courage and sacrifice to turn away from what is clearly taught in Scripture as sin, no matter how sad it might make us for our own personal loss. That's the way of the cross.

aatw

Tobias said...

Dear Watchtower,

Your sentiments are heartfelt, and I hope you live by them.

However, you appear to be arguing with points I've not made. Of course we are not "saved by baptism" except to the extent that it brings us into Christ. It is Christ who saves. Whether it is our "faith in" Christ or the "faith of" Christ that saves us is a matter for discussion (you might check the KJV wording of Gal 2:16, which is closer to the Greek). I tend to prefer the former as it places the burden of salvation completely on the Savior: all we are called to do is respond, and obey his commands -- which are to love God and one another.