Thursday, January 06, 2005

Public witness, private interpretation, and the nature of the Church

This is a response to a post by Clifton D. in the extended discussion on Reconciler's blog. I am responding with a post of my own since the productivity of the discussion had seemed to run its course on Reconciler's blog. I think Cliff raises questions that should be addressed but I cannot address his questions as representing the views of Reconciler or the Pastoral staff, at this time. So,Like the other posts referencing the discussion on the church's blog, these comments are my opinions and they do not necessarily represent Reconciler's position. (If you have not read the 67th comment you will probably need to do so in order to completely understand this post.)
As I understand Cliff, he claims that Reconciler wants to assert that issues of sexuality are private interpretation and that "Traditionalists" assert that "what they believe about sexuality is Public witness." I can see how Reconciler's position may be interpreted as such, but I am not certain this is in fact what we are saying. However, if Reconciler or anyone else claims that for the Church issues of sexuality are merely private opinion and not public witness,then they are misguided.
What I in fact see is that there are competing claims about what the public witness of the Church concerning sexuality should be and/or is. As I see it then what was suggested is that given that both sides of the issue are members of Christ's Body each side must take more seriously the claims of the other side. I see it this way because I do not think that either position (in the Protestant and Anglican context) is theological well founded. Also, It seems to me that we are not listening fully to the Orthodox position: "there has been 2000 years of unchanging teaching by the Church"(this I think needs to be unpacked and explored but we are poor theologians if we simply ignore this claim).
So Cliff, as I see it you conflated the traditionalist Protestant/Anglican view with the Orthodox view, this disregards an important difference between the Orthodox and traditionalist Protestants: all who broke from Rome believe implicitly that the Church in some particular things has erred, while it may or may not be admitted that in the broad sweep the Church has not erred. This is even to some extent, I think, true for Roman Catholics since the Pope has admitted a number of errors/mistakes committed by the Church: the Inquisition and Crusades being the most notorious examples. Though this does not extend admittedly to doctrine. However, to this protestant both the Crusades and Inquisition resulted from the teaching of Rome so I would need to be persuaded that the Pope can admit mistakes and still claim the church has never erred. It seems to me that if one believes the
Church at some point needed reformation or if it needs to apologize for mistakes then it has erred and therefore continued possibility of error in some of the details.
So, yes I am willing to say that the Church could have gotten some of the details about human sexuality wrong, though I would argue that error in some of the details does not mean that the Church's entire teaching on sexuality for 2000 years has been wrong. As I understand it the Orthodox don't like/allow for such a nuance. It's this disallowance that is one of the main reason for my remaining Protestant, it certainly isn't that I believe that Protestants are the Church and no one else is.
Now back to Public witness:
Sexuality is a matter of the Church's public witness. Given that members of the Church claim differing things concerning that witness and given that these Christians can neither fall back on private interpretation nor "well the church is without error and it has always taught this" each side must critically look into both their own claims and the claims of the others position. Since the traditionalist tend to simply assert what has always been without willingness to take a critical eye to the teaching and those who see the Church as needing to change its position on homosexuality have not actually provided any coherent theological reason for doing so, there is the need for both sides to remain together until actual and extensive theological examination has taken place.
So yes, I am saying that one or both sides will need to change their position. I personally do not find it outrageous to ask a Christian to consider that an aspect of their life might be "not only not of God, but of darkness and the demonic anti-Christ" since we are all on a journey from Darkness to Light, of theosis and sanctification. We have oriented ourselves towards Christ and away from Satan, but is there not continued struggle and cannot we be blinded from sin in our lives? I would answer yes. It is also not outrageous (given what I said about error and the Church) to ask traditionalist to consider the possibility that the Church has been wrong in this particular instance.
Now this discussion has been tangentially dealing with the question of the nature of the Church which Cliff asks of Reconciler. First let me say that I think the lacunae that Cliff detects in Reconciler's pastoral vision statement is explicable in that we are not seeking to form a new denomination with an eclesiology of its own. I would venture that to understand the eclesiology of Reconciler one would have to look at the possible ecclesiology of Baptism Eucharist and Ministry and then ask what are the eclesiologies of the three denominations which form Reconciler.
I will atempt a brief answer for the Evangelical Covenant Church: Two influences form the background of Covenant Eclesiology Lutheran teaching and Believer's church conceptions. We say, with the Lutherans, that the Church is where there is the right administration of Sacraments and the proclamation of the Word/Gospel which shows connection with the historic apostolic witness of the Church. WE also add, agreeing with the Believer's Chruch tradition, that such a church is made up of those who have come to faith, we then add and are baptised. Given this definition Reconciler is a chruch and is part of The Church. Given this eclesiology I do not see why Reconciler would be a parachurch organization. There is nothing that prevents me, as a Covenater from sharing the Eucharist with any other church/denomination, it is an other church's eclesiology that would prevent me from so partaking.
I do not claim that I am satisfied with Covenant eclesiology (it can be a bit vague because in truth the Covenant doesn't have a well defined eclesiology of its own) or with Lutheran and Believer Church eclesiology from which we borrow, but as far as I understand Orthodox eclesiology I do not as of yet find it convincing. If I did I would be Orthodox.