Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Why do I care that he cares?

I was on a private discussion list recently (I have since left) where anathema's were delivered for bowing to crosses, altars, etc. For a good response to these anathema's, see Paul Owen's post. Of course, it wasn't until just 500 years ago at the Reformation that the Church really became enlightened! So, the same ole song goes. At times, I have found some to take on what seems to be almost 'cult-like' mentalities within the Reformed faith. That is a generalisation, I know, but one that is often true enough when you get behind the curtain and look around enough. Some in the Reformed camp find themselves in an argument or have issues with so many things that one wonders if that is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Many of these people are friends or have been collegues of mine in the past but I simply cannot fathom what it is where every time you turn around they have another 'issue' to bring up in order to confront. There is something wrong with this! My wife asked me, 'why do you care that he cares?' when this mindset is displayed. What a great question. At then end of the day, most of these squabbles are simply matters of personal opinion. But the Church really does have authority in matters of ceremony and ritual, even if She is developing one, for the edification of the people so long as it is not 'repugnant to the word of God.'

I have recently been examining Trent and issues of Eucharistic Sacrifice in my PhD studies. I have come to learn that there really is no banquet without the rite of sacrifice. We don't come to 'eat' with God or to 'eat' Him without a real offering being made first. That offering for the Christian is the One unique offering of Christ that is sacramentally memorialised in the Eucharist. Theological development and understanding has reflected on this for 2,000 years. Therefore, the Eucharist is more than a meal with God, it is the sacrificial offering of the Church for the forgiveness of sins. As a result, it is not sinful to kneel in order to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus and greater men than myself have theologically defended this for a long time. How does receiving the Eucharist in the posture of kneeling 'cripple the meal at the Eucharist and turn it into an abstraction'? That is what the Rev'd Mark Horne says it does:
Why do liturgical churches practice kneeling at the table for the Eucharist?

Kneeling at the Table is defended by virtue of the Real Presence. But why should this matter. If God invites us to sit and relax in his presence, it is a strange form of devotion that says we must disobey him in order to be properly humble and pious. Did the disciples kneel or sit or stand for the Last Supper? They reclined on couches as they did for every meal.

And that's the point. They were really eating a meal. They weren't performing a special ritual in the sense that we think about. The ritual was an ordinary meal. Paul told the Corinthians that they could partake with just bread and wine and not the rest of the regular meal, but the fact remains that the Lord's Supper is a supper.

Jesus didn't demand that his disciples wait on him at the Supper. He didn't demand they kneel. He elevated them by eating with them and even serving them.

In the OT, kings had cupbearers to serve them wine. Yet instead of a ritual in which we somehow give wine to Jesus, ministers serve the people in his name and stead. If we no longer recline, so be it. We should, however, assume whatever posture is really appropriate for a meal!

What I want to argue--though I'm not sure how--is the rhetoric of "real presence" and "incarnation" masks a truly Gnostic and perhaps Docetic impulse. The Church seems to be at war with the idea that God would actually condescend to use a mere meal as a means of grace. Instead we make it into this strange, meditative rite in which one is really just in prayer and grace is inserted while one maintains this devotional posture. One sees the same thing in low-church congregations when the participants have time to hold the elements and hunch over them in prayer, almost going into the fetal position, bodily denying the community that has gathered with them.

Far from affirming the "real presence" or the "incarnation," crippling the actual meal that we have been given only turns it all into an abstraction. Jesus has invited you over to eat with him. That is not the time to be on your knees.
Take note of that language! Gnostic, Docetic, War! Give me a break! I would like to hear the substanitated claims as to why this is the case rather than simply taking The Rev'd Horne's word for it because he said it. With all that he has personally been through over his own theological positions, it sure seems that he would be a bit more careful than this.

His post is found here.


Anonymous Paul Owen said...

I can only add my amen. It is sad to see some within the FV crowd applying the same lack of charity, the same pedantic willingness to question the spirituality of others over minor theological issues, the same lack of catholic instinct when looking at questions which divide good men, the same unwillingness to accurately present the views of others with whom they disagree without knocking down silly straw men, the same unwillingness to avoid name calling, which has been directed at them by the Truly Reformed Watchdog Society. As I said to one of them in a recent email, I am sad to discover that as Luther said of Zwingli, "You have a different spirit than us."

7:08 pm  
Anonymous thecommonanglican said...


Thank you for your kind words of support when I was moving out of the PCA this past summer.

Hearing your story, the fact that we both know many of the same people, coming from the same background, etc. ... you have helped me immensely on my journey into the Catholic faith, even though we have not personally met. Thank you!!

5:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are more than welcome! It is a real blessing to see you grow so much. I am looking forward to seeing where the Lord has you in His service in the future. It is so refreshing to be in the Catholic faith! I look forward to a formal meeting over here in the UK soon! Come on over for pilgrimage! You're welcome any time.

6:27 pm  
Anonymous thecommonanglican said...

Well I will be there this July, for my honeymoon. Email me your info, and we'll try to meet you and your wife. I will be there for about a month, so we should plan on it. Thanks!

- Andy

7:43 pm  
Blogger Mark said...

Jeff, I would use the same sort of rhetoric to describe any number of presbyterian practices includings one I engage in. I think serving grape juice instead of wine is far more serious than kneeling, yet I served grape juice for years even in the face of knowing what a straightforward act of disobedience it was.

I would recommend that people submit to the "fathers" of their communities, but that doesn't mean it is wrong to think about ideals. I expect a certain amont of non-utopian self-restraint.

But again, I have said, could say, and almost certainly will say various sorts of things about Presbyterian practices. Plastic wafers masquerading as bread or microscopic crumbs? Didn't I mention the "fetal position" so common? Business suits instead of robes (almost four years ministering in Christ's name in worship while imitating an exec). Barring children from the table (oh wait, that actually conforms with the Western Tradition; well, so much the worse for the West then).

And if I made any comments, just as strong as I made on my offending entry about kneeling, and attributed anti-incarnational impulses to the use of grape juice, you wouldn't be upset at me at all. The problem is not my tone; the problem is that I don't agree with you.

Well, fine. I'll take the non-self-righteously indignant content of your objections into consideration. But your claims about my "spirit" are simply bogus. You wouldn't mind at all if it were done in conformity to your present convictions.

Really though, is anyone's skin as thin, or tone as shrill, as an offended traditionalist Anglican? It is easy to call for peace when peace means simply demanding conformity to ones damn recent convictions on a matter. How long ago was it, Jeff, that I was accused of violating the second commandment for defending images of Jesus. I seem to remember that that man was just as confident as the one I'm writing now.

3:33 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Mark, no one is called to conformity to my positions, I didn't make them up. I didn't invent anything I'm doing. You are right that in my ignorance at one time 8 years ago, I believed, via my subscription to my ecclesial constitution at the time, that pictures were wrong. It was your own pastor's writing on it that convinced me otherwise, mea maxima culpa. I've been confident about a lot of things that wisdom, knowledge, and reflection have changed my mind on. Thank God for the gift of repentance. I asked for a substantial argument for why you believe it is Gnostic, Docetic and an anti-meal to partake by kneeling. I have problems with the language you use of "ordinary", "comfort" when coming to the Eucharist as if we were going to a coffee shop with Jesus or something. Christ instituted the Eucharist after the meal and things changed after his resurrection and Paul makes it plain that if the Corinthians were hungry to go home and eat, hence it was not an "ordinary" meal. Do you really believe because they were reclining at the meal that Jesus is teaching a mandatory posture? A lot of traditions receive standing, including the Roman Catholics.

I simply do not wish to make an issue of what posture you take in communion but to make the claims that you did in your post about kneeling, based upon the reasons you gave do not justify your claims. You can write on your blog whatever you want, it's your blog, but I want to know why you out of all people would choose such rhetoric without substantial argumentation. Plus, you didn't just receive a reaction from me, I saw two or three other blogs that took issue with your post. So, if you are trying to be more catholic in your theology as claims are often made, it sure doesn't come across that way.

I've always said that you can disagree with me and brethren can agree to disagree without resorting to condemning language. I am happy to disagree with you on this and I am happy to kneel to receive the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. If you aren't, no harm to me. Just remember all the stuff that the watchdogs in your denomination are saying about you all with unsubstantiated reasons and maybe care will be taken and brethren will not isolate each other from open and honest dialogue. To say, "that was settled 500 years ago" can be turned right back around on you with some of the things you say and have said.

7:50 am  
Blogger Mark said...

Jeff, I was way too upset when I wrote that post. Please forgive my anger. I also had in mind other stuff besides your own writing which somehow got merged in my mind with you. I polarized the whole situation even more than it was.

So, if we can put this out of the way, I will reiterate in what I hope is a lighter tone that the word "catholic" seems to mean "not holding an opinion that challenges anything we do." Because lots of good Christian kneel I can't challenge it. Or, a way of arriving at the same point, if I describe something as "gnostic" I am accusing all participants of heresy. If this is what various Anglicans have been saying of other protestants, then the language has always been way too severe. But I always thought it referred to a mindset and tendency that could mislead us in our practice and expression of Christianity. I may be wrong, but I'm not saying anything so horrible.

Finally, I thought I had said enough to be sufficient. I don't think what one believes about presence or absence should settle any issue regarding kneeling, because no matter how "present," there is the question as to whether God doesn't *want* us, especially at that point in the service to relax with him. Kneeling stikes me as roughly equal to some Puritan views of how one (cough) "celebrates" the Lord's Day. There are texts from Deuteronomy I would use to show the Sabbath is a feast day and they would apply to how we celebrate the Eucharist as well.

But, again, I could have written all this as a priest who led his congregation in kneeling every Sunday. Again, this isn't anything I wouldn't say for various things Presbyterian.

3:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark, not a problem. Thanks for your kind and humble words. It's good when brethren dwell together in unity even with diversity.

5:56 pm  
Blogger jon said...

Why do we persist in dividing over that which is supposed to unite us, especially those of us who have a high view of the Eucharist and should know better? I'm sure this is the sort of question you're pondering in your studies, Jeff, and I know there are different answers.

Some (like you, I gather) suggest a return to the Catholic observance of the mass. If we'd all just do it that way, we'd be one.

Others suggest putting the communion rite back in the context of a full meal, noting the significance of this practice as an expression of community, etc.

Although I have sympathies with the former, I'm more inclined toward the latter personally, but that's just my preference, radical as it may be. (I'm sure a lot of it for me has to do with my past experiences. When I was growing up and we started having weekly communion, it was in evening worship only. Since we already had a church meal every second Sunday evening of the month, we started having communion at the end of that meal. So, growing up, once a month, I received communion in the context of a full meal, and I will never forget how rich those times were.)

In any case, I'm not one to go in for easy answers, and I wonder if either of the above solutions really address the problem of why we divide over that which is supposed to unite us. Obviously, the need for prayer is great, as our Lord taught us: "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." There's something very missional about this prayer.

Since John Armstrong was just here teaching on the church's missional mandate, I'm reminded of the first Core Commitment of his ministry, ACT 3: "To advance worship in culturally accessible forms, through orthodox theology that is deeply rooted in the classical doctrine of the triune God and through humble collaboration and cooperation within the whole Christian Church."

4:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all, I didn't write the post you are commenting on, I am simply responding to it. I didn't make any claim that one is less "catholic" by any posture. I'm not sure I fully understand your comments in light of what was written concerning kneeling but I will take a stab at what you say,

"Some (like you, I gather) suggest a return to the Catholic observance of the mass. If we'd all just do it that way, we'd be one."

The post is about whether it is Gnostic or Docetic or an anti-meal by kneeling to receive. Based upon theological reflections on the nature of the Eucharistic rite, there are issues that such a view simply does not get to the core of Eucharistic theology. I guess I don't understand what you mean by your above statement. It comes across as a pejorative remark. If you define for me what you mean when you say "Catholic" I may be able to better respond to the substance of what you want to know.

5:47 pm  
Blogger jon said...

I wasn't responding to your post as much as I was to the comments, although your post's first sentence touches on the sort of division I'm lamenting. Also, I included myself in this general lament: "Why do we persist in dividing...." Maybe I shouldn't have included you in it, but I didn't intend any of my remarks to be perjorative. I mean the same thing you mean by "Catholic." Sorry I wasn't clear. I was just making a general lament, noting a couple proposed solutions, and wondering out loud if either of them (including the one I prefer) ultimately solve the problem of our divisions.

1:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As far as posture is concerned, I am glad to kneel, especially with regards to my theology of presence and what the Eucharist is instrumentally effecting in my life when I receive it, ie the forgiveness of sins. Of course I adore Christ in the Eucharist and with thanksgiving go to my knees to humbly receive that which I am not worthy to receive without him saying the words of healing grace to me.

I am also interested in this "ordinary" meal theology and where that came from. I do not see the Passover meal as ordinary and I especially do not see the Eucharist as an "ordinary" meal. An ordinary meal does not effectuate the forgiveness of sins. It does not make present that which happened in the past and apply that grace to me when I receive it. The Eucharist does that; ordinary meals do not. Paul didn't see the Eucharist as ordinary and told the hungry to go to their houses to eat. It was not that he simply told them to take away the meat and now they could simply eat bread and wine. He is giving clear instructions on a rite, not an ordinary meal. I submit that those who think this way ought to re-think their theology of the Eucharist. As I sit and write this, I am struck again with the thought of how much every man simply does what is right in his own eyes. People seem to like to talk about the catholicity of the Church and the authority of the Church as long as they define what's Catholic and as long as they are in charge. Luther was so correct to say that every man hath a pope in his belly. My immersion in C16 and early C17 Church History in England this last year has shown me a lot about what the results of Puritan theology produced. I am convinced that it is not the way of the future. People will begin to move to more catholic bodies and I believe a new reformation of unification is going to begin. It's a mess right now but I do believe that God is moving the Church in that direction. I intend to be a part of that.

8:02 am  
Blogger jon said...

I'm not concerned so much with kneeling, sitting, etc. I think there's a time and place for both. I'm concerned with the fact that we divide over posture.

For more on "ordinary" meal theology, I'd suggest Eric Svendsen's Trinity Evangelical Divinity School master's thesis, The Table of the Lord: An Examination of the Setting of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament and its Significance as an Expression of Community (Atlanta, GA: New Testament Restoration Foundation, 1996 [Revised]; 161pp). As you may know, Svendsen is pretty anti-Catholic now, but that doesn't come through in his thesis, which is really worth reading for its biblical, theological, historical research (e.g. the bibliography lists numerous sources on the Eucharist and community in the NT and early church, etc).

3:32 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reference Jon. There's no doubt that the institution narrative of the Eucharist was set within the context of the meal but it was distinct from the meal and the institution itself was not ordinary in the sense that it is often referred to as a non-rite. It is within that sense that I say it's not ordinary. I recommend Mazza, _The Eucharist:The Origin of the Rite and the Development of Its Interpretation_.

5:00 pm  
Blogger jon said...

That title reminds me of something I saw in the Ignatius catalog last night: The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB. Have you seen this?

10:14 pm  
Blogger jon said...

I just posted some further thoughts on my blog on what I mean by "Catholic":


10:45 pm  

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