1 June 2010

"Baptismal Ecclesiology"

An interesting article by one of our brightest theologians, Dr Colin Podmore, in Ecclesiology 6 (2010) 8-38. It traces the development in an organisation called The Episcopal Church (I think this is something to do with what most of us call PECUSA) of a 'theology' which is based upon taking Baptism to be the whole of Christian Initiation.

We all know what Gregory Dix would have thought of this abolition of the Seal of the Spirit (which we call Confirmation or Consignation) In his delightfully provocative way, realising what a cat it would put among the ecumaniac pigeons, he once opined that Confirmation as the gift of the Spirit was more important than the water-bit of Initiation; which inspired a liberal evangelical called Lampe to devote a whole book to trying, unsuccessfully, to demolish Dix.

This new Yankee heresy goes on see all Christian Ministry as simply a diversified set of applications of the Spirit bestowed on all alike at Baptism. Thus Lay, Diaconal, Presbyteral, and Episcoal ministries all sit together as outworkings of that one charisma. This, of course, has implications for the question of the presbyteral ordination of women; indeed, given their premises, it is easy to understand how Pecusans feel that 'denying' priesthood to women is a pretty radical error.

The whole question is very interesting and Colin deals with it in his usual lucid, and painstaking, way. I will mention only one aspect of the matter. As Colin points out, this new foundational dogma runs up against the agreement of ARCIC in 1973 that the ministry of the ordained "is not an extension of the common Christian priesthood but belongs to another realm of the gifts of the Spirit". I think I am right in saying that this ARCIC agreement received the approval of Lambeth Conference and of most Anglican provinces, including PECUSA. In other words, the new American heresy has been introduced and made structural within the canons, liturgy, and life of PECUSA in despite of an ecumenical agreement.

There is nothing particularly unnatural about such a thing happening. It is a plan fact that ecclesial bodies, and their thinking, move ever onward. As a community progresses to embrace what it sees an an exciting clarification of the Christian Faith, it doesn't very often stop to say "Oops! That would contradict such-and-such a dusty old Ecumenical Agreement! We can't go down that path! What a shame!"

But, in our present 'ecumenical winter' some people, including the Archbishops of Canterbury and (CMOC) Westminster, have argued that the ARCIC agrrements have not been rendered useless; they are there, in the bank, as it were, waiting for the time when they will be able to bear fruit.

I find it hard to believe that Archbishop Rowan is stupid enough actually to believe this. He knows perfectly well that Theology moves on, and very often does so quite radically (the ARCIC document on Justification, for example, had already been rendered obsolete when it was published by the 'New Look in Pauline Studies' associated with the name of E P Sanders). Even a very good book (or ecumenical document) is extremely lucky if it doesn't look quaintly dated thirty years after its composition. The idea that, when the 'winter' thaws, the ARCIC accords will look like anything other than old-fashioned period pieces, is so silly that Archbishop Rowan's attitude can only be a mark of the extent to which his hopes (and those of many good men like him) have been bankrupted by the divergent course taken by worldwide Anglicanism as it steers definitively away from the Great Tradition. How great his despair clearly is, that he can only think of something as dotty as that to say.


Derek the ├ćnglican said...

Thanks for this notice, Father--I can't wait to see what he argues.

This new Yankee heresy goes on see all Christian Ministry as simply a diversified set of applications of the Spirit bestowed on all alike at Baptism.

This is perhaps not as novel as you suppose:
"For whoever comes out of the water of baptism can boast that he is already a consecrated priest, bishop, and pope, although of course it is not seemly that just anybody should exercise such office" (Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, 1520)

John Park said...

It is definitely true that PECUSA (or "TEC," as they prefer to be known in their current incarnation) indeed teach in their 1979 BCP that Baptism, with or without chrismation, is full initiation with the Holy Spirit. The following prayer is said by the Celebrant (be he bishop or priest) placing his hand on the newly baptised's head, BEFORE or after (optional) chrismation:
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.

The Catechism of that book also lists 4 orders of ministry: "The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons."

Confirmation is becoming increasingly optional, to the extent that in at least some dioceses of the Anglican Church of Canada, it is no longer required for positions within the church.

Jesse said...

Sincere question: How, apart from the goofy language, is this USA 1979 prayer different from, say, the prayer that concludes the 1662 Baptism of Infants?

We yield thee most hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this Infant with thy holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own Child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church. Etc.

I seem to recall attending an ecclesiology lecture (given by an Orthodox chap) in which it was argued that baptism must be, at some level, constitutive of "the Church", simply because this is the means whereby people become Christians -- and it is objectively true there are plenty of Christians out there who belong to ecclesial bodies that offer (and may aspire to offer) no other sacrament. That is the sense in which I have always heard the term "baptismal ecclesiology". This other use of it does indeed sound strange. As for the Church in Canada, my diocese certainly wanted to know if, and by whom, I had been confirmed!