Thursday, June 26, 2008

Doctrine and Scripture

The next essay I read was Christopher Seitz's "A Reflection on Scripture and Theology in the Canadian Anglican Context." This brought to life some more beefs that I have. I know that I am being nit-picky and that I am missing the point of the paper. There's two reasons for this. 1. I get so tired of claims that are not really reflective of either stance and 2. I can't argue the point of the paper because it is beyond my learnings to do so. I will let someone better qualified argue the Acts passage.

I have to admit that my back went up when I read this: "The Church of the the late modern West is divided, and so the claims of one of its number (The Anglican Church of Canada) to be 'the Church' are themselves part of the cause of the problems we now must face."

I realize that I don't have a good handle on attitudes and words used in Eastern Canada but I have never heard the Anglican Church of Canada claim that it was 'the Church'. In my, admittedly, small group of revisionists (but ever growing) out here, we tend to feel that we are not examples or normative of 'the Church' but rather speaking prophetically to 'the Church'. There is also the understood notion that 'the Church' would be establishment and, in general, those of a liberal or progressive bent, as traditionally understood, do not see themselves as part of establishment but on the edges, pushing for change. We see ourselves more as 'voices in the wilderness" - right or wrong, modesty or self-aggrandizement. I am not at all sure where the basis is for the claim that we see ourselves as "the Church".

Seitz goes on to write:

"The fact that the other Churches (including the vast majority of Christians today and through time) have reached a clear decision about the matter in question, and base this on either scripture or received tradition or both, establishes the point."

See the post below for my concerns about received tradition. 'Received tradition' based on information that was not complete/even shown to be wrong by research in present times. They have not so much reached a clear decision as maintained the status quo - closing themselves off from current research and understandings of sexuality.

"The very fact that the Western text of Acts has a different set of proscriptions reveals at once that the analogy was imperfect once the Christian Church became largely severed from its Jewish roots, ..."

Here is an acknowledgement that somthing can be seem as imperfect when it is severed from its roots (or context or worldview etc.). Is that not what revisionists are trying to get across? Are we not trying, apparently rather ineptly, that what has been said about human sexuality is imperfect. We don't deny that the 7 clobber texts exists. That would be foolish. What we are saying is that they are imperfect as a basis for the current debate due to their context and the different context now.

Times and understandings change. Case in point is the use of the Sodom and Gomorrah passage as a clobber passage. Very few people with any credibility will point to this passage as a proof text anymore and yet the more traditional understanding saw it as speaking against homosexuality. Closer study, placing the passage in its proper context, has shown that is not about homosexuality but about power and hospitality.

And don't think I'm letting the implication above that the revisionists don't base their understandings on scripture slide.

"Then there is the related problem, moring to the second point, that the ruling given overthrows nothing at all. It is seen to be consistant with the prophets...At question was precisely not overthrowing but unholding the Law and the Prophets. Again, there was no possibility 'doctrine' being anything other than an appeal to the scriptures..."

We revisionists really do see full inclusion (including same-sex blessings) as consistant with the scriptures. We look at the full of the scriptures (we tend to suck at proof-texting) and from that we find that full inclusion is consistant with the teachings of Jesus.

Seitz is making a case against the use of Acts 15 as an example of doctrine changing. For all I know, he may have a valid point - this is definitey not an area I feel anywhere near capable of debating, hence the nit-picking.

"This [using the Acts passage as an example of doctrinal change and other incidents like it] demands of course a serious commitment to individual texs and discrete episodes ... and not to the comprehensive scope of scipture, which inheres with is claim to be scripture, and not discrete episodes in religious history."

Do you ever feel like you have entered the twilight zone. I felt this way with some of the statements that are made in this paper. The first was that the ACC claimed it was 'the Church'. The second is in the above quote. If anything, revisionists usually get critisized for taking a comprehensive look at scriptures not with a form of 'proof-texting.' We will deal with individual texts when we are presented with them - such as the 7 clobber passages - but in general we look at the whole of the gospel rather than individual events and interpret through that lens. And we get soundly critisized for that.

One of Seitz's arguements is that, at least in the Acts 15 passage, "the Holy Spirit spake in relationship to the dominical teaching remembered..." The implication being (or at least as I understand it) that this is not the case with same-sex blessings or at least with the revisionist understanding of the Holy Spirit in this case. But revisionists turly believe that the Holy Spirit is speaking for full inclusion and that this is a continuation of the Holy Spirit speaking to the love, compassion, and inclusion of those society sees as outcasts and sinners. We speak in general terms and use specifics to highlight or example what we mean.

I will admit to getting confused in this first paragraph of the conclusion. And my confusion just grows and grows as I read farther. There appears to be a statement that the revisionists give a central role to doctrine. And yet when I talk to those in the middle or on the reasserters side I find them saying that we need to have a good theological and doctrinal basis for same-sex blessings and that the lack of this is a significant weakness in the revisionists stance. And yet I seem to be reading that we are the ones with an obsession with doctrine. Once again, I am not an academic, so I could be reading this wrong.

But it does remind me of an incident in my family's past (you didn't think I could go a day without a family story did you?) We would quite often get transients at our door looking for money. In one such instance one came to our door asking for money for a bus ticket. This was at noon on the first day of school in the fall and things were at sixes and sevens around the house. My mother had a couple of quarters and that was it. She informed the man that she had no money. He started yelling that all the white man ever thought about was money. I did a double-take at that - who was the one that was asking for money (and who was known to threaten violence when he didn't receive it as shown in a prior incident).

I realize that I live in an upside down world out here. Often things are backwards of larger centres but some of the claims made in this paper make me shake my head. There are times when revisionists are being credited with things that I find opposite of my experience. It leaves me with a feeling of disconnection and confusion with the paper as a whole and a lack of focus on what is the underlying arguement centered around Acts 15.

I know, I know that I have been nit-picky but I have to get the nit-picking out of the way in order to be more clear headed to see the paper in its true intent.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie


toujoursdan said...

Happy Canada Day AM!

r O b E r T said...

Thanks for being one of those voices in the wilderness. Like you, I was interested to read the responses to the Primate's Theological Commission. However, when I read in the opening line of the Introduction that "one thinks readily of Richard Hooker and The Laws as an irenic response to a polemical situation in the process of whose writing decisive work on Anglican ecclesiology was accomplished," I realized that this dialogue was not aimed at the prayerful faithful in the pew, but from academic to academic. I'm glad that you are availing yourself of the opportunity to put some of this in context for "the rest of us." It's much appreciated. Keep writing, and I'll keep reading.