20 November 2001

In the comments on this blog, several people have praised the glories of the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer. For those who would like to look at that prayer book in greater detail, it is available on-line by clicking the link above. While I do like the 1662 prayer very much, I would prefer a version of it with the language updated a bit.

One of the interesting features of that prayer book, however, is the catechism that forms part of it. This particular Anglican catechism was first composed in 1549, enlarged in 1604 (adding the section on the sacraments) and revised a bit for the 1662 BCP. As such, in its initial version, it was composed shortly after Calvin's Genevan catechism (1545) and predates the Heidelberg Catechism (1563). The 1549 version is also available on-line. It would have been the catechism on which a number of later Anglican and Puritan divines were raised.

19 November 2001

I don't usually respond to comments here on the main blog, but given the length of what needs to be said, I will in this instance.

Travis writes:

Schlissel's caution about the role of the eucharist in worship exposed my lack of understanding regarding the issue. It seems that Schlissel's view is due to or at least influenced by his belief that Christian worship is to be based upon the synagogue rather then the Temple. Do you recommend any works which deal with the Temple/synagogue issue?

I have read some of what Schlissel has written regarding worship and the church against the backdrop of synagogue and Temple and I think you understand him aright. While I do find many of his criticisms of an overly narrow "regulative principle of worship" to be cogent, I must admit I don't find his claims about the synagogue as the primary background for new covenant worship to be really at all helpful or convincing.

Let's start with the eucharist. A couple of questions that would be important here are [1] how central was the eucharist to the worship of the early church and [2] what is the relationship between the eucharist and the worship of the synagogue and Temple.

With regard to question [1], it seems to me that the eucharist is of the essence of Christian worship. The early church met in order to break bread together on the first day of the week. We know of no form of early Christian Lord's Day worship that did not include the Supper as one of its central actions. The Gospels (written to eucharist-celebrating communities) are shot through with stories of Jesus' table fellowship with the people of Israel, with miraculous feedings, with the climactic institution of the Lord's Supper as Jesus' "last word" to his disciples before his crucifixion, and with his post-resurrection appearances to his disciples in the contexts of meals (preeminently on the road to Emmaus). I can't see how the early church could have understood these stories as not relevant to their celebration of the Lord's Supper. The book of Acts continues this pattern and it is presupposed by the epistles, even if it does not appear explicitly on every page.

The answer to question [2] will, I think, help make sense of question [1]. The relationship between the ritual meal that Jesus left to his church and the worship of the Old Covenant is a complex one. Several observations, however, are, I think, fairly straightforward:

[a] Under the Old Covenant, only the priests could eat within the sanctuary, though they could never drink wine. No one could eat or drink wine in the Most Holy Place. There was a certain kind of exclusion from eucharistic communion in God's presence. In the New Covenant that is overcome in Christ who invites his people in the heavenly Most Holy Place where he is seated in order to share a meal with him. This wonderful new thing is part of why the early church was, I think, so excited about the eucharist and even celebrated it daily for a time.

[b] That being said, it is also clear that Temple worship in the Old Covenant was characterized by sacred feasting. Many of the offerings included portions that were to be eaten and, in the case of the sacrifice of peace, that meal included not only God and the priests, but also the worshippers. It also seems that when a series of offerings was made, it ordinarily was concluded with the communal meal of the peace offering (we can recall that "shalom," peace, can also imply completion or finality). Besides the offerings, there were also the yearly festivals, particularly Passover, Booths, and Pentecost that were to be celebrated in Jerusalem in connection with Temple worship, all involving communal meals.

[c] I would also submit that Jesus' action at the Last Supper, taken in context, is offering to his disciples what the worship of the Temple once offered. It is the concluding act, short of the crucifixion itself, by which Jesus was forming a new community around himself that would replace the Temple and its worship. And what Jesus did in the upper room must be read against the backdrop of what he had done earlier in the week at the Temple.

Through his action against the money-changers and others at the Temple, Jesus brought to a climax (short of the cross itself) his challenge of the symbolic world of the Judaism of his day. He was, in effect, saying that this whole system was going to come to end since it was no longer needed as part of God's plan now that he was there and, besides, the role of the Temple had been thoroughly corrupted by the various competing parties within Judaism who each claimed it as their defining symbol. As such, Jesus' action in the Temple was the end-point of a whole series of similar actions ranging from healing on the Sabbath to not washing his hands.

The other, more constructive side of Jesus' ministry was his claim that he himself had come to replace the Temple and what it had once offered. In the place of the central symbols of Judaism--family, the twelve tribes, the land, sabbath, torah, food laws, sacrifice, and so on--Jesus had offered a new family, a new Twelve, his sabbath healings, his own teachings, miraculous feedings, and so on. The true restoration of Israel would take place in and through him. And with regard to the Temple, it had long stood as a symbol of Israel's covenant with her God, a sign of forgiveness, a pledge of final peace in the land and freedom from oppressive powers, and a place where God's people could renew covenant with him through their festivals, offerings, and communal meals.

The institution of the eucharist at the Last Supper was the climax (again, short of the cross itself) of Jesus' setting himself and his community in the place of the Temple. He took up the Temple-feast and sacrificial meal of Passover--a sign of exodus, a pledge of restoration, the hope for forgiveness and a renewed covenant--and placed himself in the very center of it. It was no longer simply a commemoration of the long ago exodus nor just a pledge of God's future deliverance. Rather, it became a proclamation that the exodus all along had pointed to Jesus' exodus upon the cross and that through this exodus Israel's true restoration would finally be accomplished: a new covenant, the forgiveness of sins. And to share in that meal was to be part of that new covenant people, forgiven and restored. As such, sharing in that Supper would come to symbolize, in every place it was celebrated, what once was made available particularly through the Temple.

In light of the eucharist and flowing out from it, the worship of the early church was seen in thoroughly sacrificial terms: an offering up of self to God in worship and service, a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, the sacrificial giving by God's people to the needs of the poor, and so on. After all, even the preached Word, according to Hebrews, comes and cuts us up like an offering.

This kind of thinking is not at all Roman Catholic and actually differs significantly from the Roman Catholic understanding of the eucharistic sacrifice against which the Reformers were reacting. Indeed, this is a thoroughly Reformed understadning of worship and eucharist (see, e.g., authors as diverse as Calvin, Beza, Turretin, Perkins, Baxter, Vines, and du Plessis-Mornay).

None of this is to deny that the early church may well have adopted various things from the synagogue whether the lectionary or forms of prayer or aspects of the presbyterate. But it does place an important emphasis upon the Temple as central to understanding the liturgical theology of the New Testament church.

Let me return to Schlissel's claim, then. I would also add that, even if, for the sake of argument, one granted Schlissel's synagogue-focus as providing the primary background for the development of new covenant worship, I'm not sure how much it would help his case.

Recent scholarship regarding Second Temple synagogues has emphasized how much they apparently saw themselves in continuity with the Temple and its worship, albeit apart from animal sacrifice. It seems that all the major "elements" of synagogue worship can be traced back to the Temple (Peter Leithart as an article on this forthcoming in WTJ). In fact, there is significant evidence that the synagogue was considered an extension of the Temple. Thus, in the Second Temple period, when a Jew entered a synagogue in Ephesus, he thought of it as a way of entering into the Temple in Jerusalem.

As a matter of historical fact, most people are probably aware that the destruction of the Temple in AD 70 led to the abandonment of literal animal sacrifice by the Jews. Moreover, what the sacrificial system had been taken to express was seen by Jews in the wake of AD 70 was continued in various ways by synagogue practices (e.g. almsgiving, Torah-study, etc.), even if those practices were not taken as fully adequate replacements for sacrifice. What is not so widely recognized is that the transition to non-sacrifical synagogue expressions of what the Temple had once provided was not simply a stop-gap and ad hoc theology developed in the wake of the Temple's destruction. Rather, it represented the filling out and deepening of trends that had been in place since at least the Maccabbean period.

If, in fact, Jesus' entire ministry was the kind of eschatological challenge to the Temple that I've suggested it was and if the community Jesus was building served as an alternative to that Temple, then (even apart from all the specific New Testament Temple and sacrificial references to the church), it would be exceedingly surprising if the earliest church had not developed its theology and worship in terms of Temple models, especially in light of the trajectories already likely in place in the synagogue system. After all, it was just those trends in Jewish thought about the synagogue that led to a different, though also sacrificially symbolic, re-appropriation of Temple symbols in the post-AD 70 synagogue.

So, it seems to me that not only is Schlissel's appeal to the synagogue, in isolation from the Temple, problematic and fails to prove his point, but it also can be deployed to make a case in precisely the opposite direction--that the possibility of Temple- and sacrificially-oriented community apart from Temple and sacrifice was already being anticipated in the Second Temple synagogue and should not be taken as at all surprising when encountered on the pages of the New Testament as the outlook and practice of the earliest church.

Besides all that, I believe that Schlissel's use of synagogue materials for his arguments is too selective, relies too heavily on relatively later sources, and fails to take account of the signficant counter-evidence.

I hope this is helpful.

16 November 2001

Ahhhh. I finally finished grading a stack of 45 papers papers or so that have been hanging over me for the past two weeks! What a relief.

I love teaching--being in the classroom, meeting with students, talking with them about philosophy. But grading I could really do without.

14 November 2001

Today the calender of the Episcopal Church USA commemorates the consecration of Samuel Seabury as the first American bishop in 1784.

The early American Anglican parishes were founded as missions by the Church of England and, as such, they did not have the regular forms of episcopal oversight that were typical in England. William White who served as bishop in colonial Philadelphia provided oversight throughout the colonies, well apart from strict diocesan boundaries. By the time of the American bid for independence, it became clear that a new church structure for an American episcopal church would need to be formed.

Thus, in 1783 the clergy of Connecticut chose Samuel Seabury as another bishop for the emerging American church and sent him to London to be consecrated by the Anglican bishops. But there were two problems: the candidate was required to pledge his loyalty to the king and the law forbade the Archbishop of Canterbury to consecrate a "foreigner." Given the success of the recent American Revolution, Seabury couldn't be made a bishop.

So what did Seabury do? He went to Scotland, to the Episcopal church there, which was independent of the Crown and the state. He was consecrated as a bishop in Aberdeen in 1784 by three Scots bishops (which also resulted in the American church following the Scottish order for eucharist rather than the English).

Of course the irony is that it is the ECUSA today that refuses to comply with Lambeth and provide alternative episcopal oversight for those parishes that cannot, in good conscience, work with their own bishop--even though it was just such cross-diocesan oversight that Bishop White had provided at the origins of the American church.

Moroever, when bishops from Rwanda and South-East Asia consecrate bishops outside their own provinces in a most irregular fashion, the ECUSA complains about it as a matter of principle--even though its own first truly American bishop was consecrated in just such an irregular move.

History, of course, is full of ironies.

I noted yesterday, in a comment on Brian's blog, that Wesley's evangelical revival movement in the Anglican church was also something of a sacramental revival. Scott asked me to say a little bit more about this largely forgotten aspect of the Wesleyan revival. So here it is.

The Methodist sacramental revival is probably most clear in terms of the eucharist. It has to be remembered that the prevailing practice of 18th century Anglicanism was one of quarterly communion or, at the most, monthly (with the exception of certain High Church circles). John Wesley, among other things, wanted the eucharist to be celebrated weekly and to have an integral role in the Christian's personal piety and progress towards Christian perfection (see Saunder's "Wesley's Eucharistic Faith and Practice" in the Anglican Theological Review 48).

The eucharistic theology of the Wesleys can probably be best seen in the 166 eucharistic hymns that they produced (see Rattenbury's The Eucharistic Hymns of John and Charles Wesley). It seems that Wesley (following the 17th century Anglican divine, Daniel Brevint), held that the eucharist expressed three temporal directions: past, present, and future.

In terms of the past, the eucharist is a sacrificial memorial of the once-for-all saving work of Christ. As a sacrificial memorial the eucharist not only commemorates Christ's sacrifice upon the cross. Nor is it simply a sacrifice of all possible thanksgiving and praise for that sacrifice, in union with Christ. Rather, the eucharist is also a means by which we unite ourselves with Christ's own continual self-offering of himself to the Father as the one who was sacrificed once-for-all, in order that we may be accepted in him.

In terms of the present, Wesley held that the eucharist provides grace and spiritual nourishment for those who received it worthily in faith. And in terms of the future, he saw it as an anticipation and pledge of the final kingdom of God (see Crockett's "Holy Communion" in The Study of Anglicanism, 313-314). That is a fairly rich eucharistic theology and, though it is thoroughly in keeping with various Anglican and Reformed figures prior to Wesley, it also represents a retrieval of those earlier views.

The second area in which Wesley's views could be seen as a sacramental revival were his views on baptism (see Felton's The Gift of Water). With many previous Anglicans, Wesley held that through baptism (in the case of all infants and those adult receivers who received baptism in faith) God bestowed five benefits: removal of the guilt of original sin, entry into covenant with God, solemn admission into the church as Christ's Body, being made heirs of the kingdom, and spiritual regeneration--even if all these benefits were not enjoyed immediately. As such, baptism could prove "a real means of grace, effectually used by God to convict, convert, or sanctify."

Now, given his doctrines of conversion, Christian perfection, and his Arminian tendencies, Wesley also held that some of the benefits that were gained through baptism (particularly regeneration and justification) could be later lost and the baptized would need to be re-converted and renewed in order to enjoy them again. Indeed, he held that infants who received these benefits in infancy would, at the age of discretion, have to come into a fuller possession of them through repentance and faith or they would prove of no saving worth.

Still, I think it is clear that Wesley took the sacraments with the utmost seriousness and, given the sacramental piety of his day, his views were certainly something of a sacramental revival in tandem with his revivalism of a more evangelical sort. And in America, given our temperament and anti-sacramental tendecies, Wesley ended up having to play down his sacramental theology. Still, some Methodists today (like Thomas Oden) are trying to recapture something of Wesley's sacramentalism.

12 November 2001

Well, I've been busy.

In addition to grading, teaching, taking a course, and helping my wife set up her blog, I've revamped my own blog. And here it is (and I'm sure there'll be plenty of kinks to still work out).

It was fun though, spending hours reading through on-line tutorials about CSS and JavaScript, trying out different things with lots of failures or odd quirks that just baffled me, as well as going to all my friends' websites and wading through pages and pages of source code to see if I could figure out just what they were doing that I couldn't do.

But, I seem to have done pretty much what I wanted to do. Woo-hoo!

Now all I need is a good stiff drink.

10 November 2001

They seem to be spreading like a mold culture in a petri dish, small protrusions edging out of a living web, each providing a wholly new terrain of colors and texture.

I'm talking about blogs, of course.

A more recent addition is lone xylophone, which will soon be filled, I'm sure, with tones struck from the mind of my lovely wife, Laurel, who was once a percussionist in her high school band. She now is the managing editor for the Observer news magazine of the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM), a member of three book clubs, the sometime editor of a Christian literary magazine, and the mother to our two furry children, Nicky (the dog) and Keats (the cat).

Poll results (out of 27 respondants):
  • The poll indicates that 37% of you feel profound indifference toward web polls.
  • 18% find them annoyingly stupid beyond measure.
  • 14% see them as mildly annoying but tolerable.
  • Another 14% think I should cut out the self-referential irony crap.
  • 11% like to have their opinions valued.
  • And 3% (just one pathetic person) can't begin his or her day without one.

Well, I'll send these results off to Princeton's sociology department first thing Monday morning. I'm sure they'll recognize them to be a fascinating basis for a whole new program of research. I'm so excited...

09 November 2001

I'm still working my way through the book on Anglicanism. The two initial essays that trace the history of the tradition were helpful for providing a context for further topics.

In the meantime, however, a shipment of books from amazon.co.uk has arrived, including among them a small book by N.T. Wright entitled Holy Communion for Amateurs.

The little book is part of a larger "for amateurs" series of books edited by Michael Green, aimed at giving the nuts and bolts on a topic without assuming much background and in a chatty, informal style. Other volumes in the series include a couple by Green himself and Theology for Amateurs by Alister McGrath.

Wright's book on Holy Communion is not a book to read if you want some kind of overall theology of the Lord's Supper argued in exegetical detail and interacting with various past theological traditions. Rather, it is a very informal presentation, with lots of imaginative narratives, some cartoon illustrations, and the like. It's not a heavy theological treatise.

That being said, Wright does deal with some basic issues like terminology: breaking bread, communion, eucharist, Lord's supper, mass. He explains them in a way that should make them less a stumbling block to some folks in traditions perhaps unfamiliar with the range of terms. He does also deal with medieval Roman Catholic views like transubstantiation or how the mass was popularly understood to be a new sacrifice of Jesus (though, as he recognizes, that was never the official teaching). Wright suggests how these notions are indeed mistaken, but that there are nonetheless real issues here to be grasped.

The Supper, he emphasizes, is an objective (this do) remembrance/memorial of Jesus' sacrifice on Golgotha, bringing the signficance of that one-time past event forward to meet us. He does mention the colloquy at Marburg, the dispute between Luther and Zwingli, the mediating views of folks like Oecolampadius and Calvin. On the whole he seems to approve of Calvin's view of the Real Presence, though suggesting that Calvin's notion of our "ascent" into heaven by the Spirit to Jesus might be too spatial. Rather he prefers thinking in terms of time.

And one thing that may trouble some folks is his talk about time. Wright speaks a great deal about the Supper as bringing the past and future to meet in the present, as Paul says "whenever (present) you do this you proclaim the Lord's death (past) until he comes (future)." But we shouldn't mistake Wright here, I think, as espousing any weird kind of metaphysical theory about time. He compares the eucharist in several instances to a birthday party and, of course, to the Passover meal.

At a birthday, the joy of someone's past birth is "brought forward" and celebrated in the present as well as anticipating the person's future life, "many happy returns!" Similarly, at Passover, Israel symbolically re-lived the Exodus, recalling God's past deliverance that made them who they are in the present, and looking foward and anticipating the final deliverance of God's people, beginning to live it out here and now in the Passover feast.

The Lord's Supper, Wright submits, is similar. Some details and qualifications here might have been helpful, but I think for most readers what he says will "click".

One feature of the book I particularly appreciated were two short chapters (Chapters 13 and 14) in which he sets out the basic elements of the historic liturgy using the structure of the Emmaus road incident as a model: troubled disciples are met by Jesus, they pour their hearts out to him (Kyrie, confession), he speaks to them with their hearts burning (Word and Credo), they arrive at their dwelling where Jesus plays host, bread is broken in order to make Jesus known (eucharist), and they return to Jerusalem with the good news (our being sent out at the end of liturgy).

If someone wanted to understand what the basic historic liturgy was all about, as it is celebrated in most confessional traditions (Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, etc.) these 8 or so pages summarize it quite well.

And there are a couple of other interesting points at which Wright spells out his opinion on issues that have proven somewhat controversial in certain circles. First, he insists (contra some of the Aussie Anglicans) that the eucharist be presided over by an ordained minister. He writes:

"On one matter of current debate I think we must hold the traditional line very firmly. The Eucharist, Communion, the Jesus-meal, is not the possession of a set of private groups. It is God's gift to the people of God in Christ as a whole. It is vital that the person presiding be in some way a sign of that unity...It won't do for anyone at all to pop up and preside. In most churches this means some form of ordination."

Secondly, he gives a ringing endorsement of paedo-communion. He writes:

"I would plead strongly with those churches which have not yet done so to regard all the baptised, including children, as rightful recipients of Communion. Linking confirmation to communion was a mediaeval trick to boost the numbers of confirmation candidates. Baptism is the way into the family; the Eucharist is the family meal Of course, babies need to learn table manners before they can take regular part. But I see no justification for keeping Communion as an adults-only event..."

All in all, I would recommend Wright's book. It certainly doesn't say everything (it is just a simple introduction), but what it says is basically sound, I think, and serves as a good foundation for building more in depth.

04 November 2001

A conversation (via e-mail) led me to pick up Hans Urs von Balthasar's little book Dare We Hope "That All Men be Saved"? (Ignatius Press) and look at it again after several years.

Balthasar is not a universalist and explicitly rejects the doctrine of the apokatastatis panton. Indeed, he has quite a bit to say about hell, the real and terrible possibility of hell, and the nature of hell. Nonetheless, he warns that we should not undermine a proper hope of salvation directed towards all people, especially by claiming to "know" the population of hell. Nor should we pit biblical teaching regarding the efficacy of grace and God's electing love against those passages that speak of God's universal salvific will. He argues that whatever distinctions we may properly make with regard to God's will (antecedent/consequent; conditional/absolute; etc.), those distinctions ought not to be taken to resolve the essential paradox.

I also appreciate his point that the possibility of salvation is always to be contemplated from the standpoint of the infinite sufficiency of the atoning work of Christ while the possibility of damnation is to be considered in light of the lovelessness of our own hearts.

And though I certainly don't agree with everything Balthasar has to say in this little book, it is a good book in that it is unsettling and jostles one out of an all too easy complacency. It also helps us to reconsider the place that the "doctrine of the decrees" has sometimes taken up within certain strains of Reformed orthodoxy.

It's been a while since I've posted anything here. Life has been busy, I guess.

Part of the reason is that I've been teaching an accelerated evening course two nights a weeks--a course in which, between Tuesday and Thursday, we cover what would ordinarily be two weeks worth of work. I've also been busy with some projects around the house, especially refinishing an old fireplace mantle and installing it in the living room.