Episcopal Drama Part I: Bishop Schori’s Speech

james

Katharine_Jefferts_Schori

Right before I joined the Episcopal Church a person near dear to me called it “the laughing-stock of Christendom.”  I believe he was right in many regards.  It is a mixed blessing being a part of what amounts to foolishness in the eyes of Christendom.  The Episcopal Church (TEC) just finished its National Convention this week, and by my score board there were two extremely controversial things done or said there.  The first of which is the Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori’s opening address, the second of course, the passing of BO 25.  I’d like to reflect first on Bishop Schori’s speech.  Here are a few links so that if you are unfamiliar with the speech or the fallout you can aquaint yourself.

Full text of the speech

The dean of my Cathedral’s blog critical of certain parts of it

Crazy story claiming that coupled with Rick Warren’s Inaugural Blessing this speech is a sign of the coming apocalypse

An interesting but in my estimation theologically niave blog from USA Today’s Religion desk

The theme of the Convention is the Xhosa word: Ubuntu which means “I am because you are,”  or “I exist because you exist,” or “Our existences are intertwined inseparably.”  It’s one of the most important words of the 20th century.  If you don’t believe that a non-English word can be one of the most important words of the previous century then you need to read No Future without Forgiveness by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (ret.).   I think having an understanding of the theme of the Convention helps to put these much quoted words from Bishop Schori’s speech in a little better context than conservative pundits are doing:

“The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy, that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.  It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus.  That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being.  That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention.”

So there you have it.  I wish I could know in what way she uses the term “heresy,” but because I have yet to read anything else she has written or spoken (I know, I’m a bad Episcopalian), and because she is a duly appointed bishop of the Church, I have to assume at this point she is using that word with all the historical and polemical force that it can possess.  This makes me sad.  Personally, I think the word “heresy” should be consigned to the realm of historical scholarship.  Followers of Christ should stop using that ridiculous word (I have thrown the word around a lot myself).  Because we can (and I have a feeling a couple of you will) regurgitate what our Systematic Theology textbooks told us the word “heresy” means, but at the end of the day it is a subjective curse word used to describe those who profoundly disagree with us.    Any objective meaning that the word ever had is lost in the millions of polemic, emotional, tactical, and political utterances of it throughout the course of Christianity’s rocky history.

On the other hand, Bishop Schori’s comments cut to the center of the most profound and disturbing theological question that I’ve ever come across–the question, in fact, that led me away from evangelicalism in the first place; the question D.A. Carson couldn’t or wouldn’t touch (I asked him one time)– How can you reconcile Luther’s interpretation of Paul’s teaching on Salvation and Justification with the words of Jesus generally, but especially in Matthew 25:31ff. (there are other passages but this one is representative)?

Doesn’t Jesus seem to imply that Salvation is not contingent upon personal faith but upon how we treat each other?  Actually that last part is not merely implicit, he explicitly states that eternal judgment whether negative or positive is based on how we treat each other.  The fact is that Jesus doesn’t say much about a individual faith relationship anywhere, but has tons to say all over the place about loving each other (fellow disciples, neighbors, enemies, etc), and forgiving each other, which are, in my mind, exactly the two principles that underlie the concept of Ubuntu.

So, while I disparage Bishop Schori’s vocabulary choices, I do not out of hand dismiss what she said (even if it was politically charged given the current situation of TEC).  Furthermore, I challenge anyone to give a satisfying answer to the question above.  I am genuinely interested in what you have to say.

Advertisements

13 Comments

  1. I think the first task is to disentangle what Paul actually said, with what Luther said Paul said. Maybe it was Luther who disagreed with Matthew?

    Reply

  2. James,

    Are you creating a false dichotomy with your post? I don’t want to expose your hand (if you are indeed holding your cards close to your chest), but you and I have gone on at length about a third alternative. I know you’ll be partial to it – because, I’ll call it the James alternative.

    James 2:14-25 goes into great detail about how faith and action are inseparable. Now, at the risk of sticking myself out on a limb, I am fairly sure you would not advocate that anyone could simply follow a moral code and thereby gain salvation.

    I would also be interested to know how you think Jesus’ words directed toward sinners plays into the equation. On a number of occasions I see a kind of formula going on with the Gospel writers. Jesus heals someone because of their faith – Pharisees object to the healing and say “hey, you can’t do that!” – Jesus says, “Oh, in that case, (to the recipient of healing) your sins are forgiven too.”

    What do you make of the healing, forgiveness of sins, “your faith has made you whole” equation that happens in the Gospels?

    I would certainly advocate that faith exists because of obedience, but ther is still faith, right?

    Shawn

    Reply

  3. One of the bigger questions is how do Jesus’ teachings relate to “timeless” authority? We haven’t sold all we have and given it to the poor. Indeed, Jesus didn’t ask this of all his followers.

    I smell a future blog series. “Jesus: Timeless and/or Timely”

    Reply

  4. James wrote:
    …the question, in fact, that led me away from evangelicalism in the first place…

    RESPONSE:
    Hmmm… if I can get Carson to answer it, will that lead you back to evangelicalism? 🙂

    James wrote:
    the question D.A. Carson couldn’t or wouldn’t touch (I asked him one time)–

    RESPONSE:
    Personally, I have no difficulty answering this question, and I cannot imagine D. A. Carson shying away from it. Perhaps he did not understand your point? Perhaps he thought you were simply baiting him for something else?

    James wrote:
    How can you reconcile Luther’s interpretation of Paul’s teaching on Salvation and Justification with the words of Jesus generally, but especially in Matthew 25:31ff. (there are other passages but this one is representative)?

    RESPONSE from D.A. Carson:
    25:31–46 The last judgment. As judgment has been the theme throughout this discourse, it ends appropriately with this terrific description of the Son of Man enthroned in glory, judging all the nations. Though often described as a parable, it is not an illustrative story, but a vision of the future. The only ‘parable’ element in it is the simile as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats in vs 32–33.
    The language about the Son of Man coming, glory, angels, throne and judging all derives from Dn. 7:9–14. This is the ultimate outworking of the kingship and authority which that prophecy envisaged for the Son of Man, and which Jesus has already referred to in several connections (10:23; 16:28; 19:28; 24:30). The gathering of all the nations for judgment recalls the vision in Joel 3:2; but there the judge is God himself. The whole passage calmly attributes to Jesus the authority and kingship which in the OT belong to God alone.
    This passage is often understood to teach that ultimate salvation is based on acts of kindness alone, so that there is nothing specifically Christian about the criteria of judgment. But that is to ignore the important description of the recipients of this kindness as the least of these brothers of mine (40; cf. v 45). This phrase suggests that it is not just anyone that the righteous have helped and the others have ignored: it is disciples in need. The phrase the least reminds us of the ‘little ones’ of 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14, and we have seen above that this is a term for Jesus’ disciples. When Jesus says that in helping them you did it for me, this moving identification of Jesus with his ‘brothers’ recalls the principle of 10:40–42, where to receive the disciples is to receive Jesus, and it is a cup of water given to ‘one of these little ones because he is my disciple’ which will be rewarded. In that case, the criterion of judgment is not mere philanthropy (good as that is), but people’s response to the kingdom of heaven as they have met it in the person of Jesus’ ‘brothers’.

    D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, Rev. Ed. of: The New Bible Commentary. 3rd Ed. / Edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Mt 25:31.

    Reply

  5. Roger,

    In his commentary Carson seeks to nullify the “sting” of this passage by first focusing on his interpretation of “the least of these my brothers” as referring to Jesus’ disciples. His principle argument for this is the alleged use of similar terms by Jesus elsewhere in Matthew to refer to His disciples. I don’t completely buy this argument. Carson’s translation (the NIV?) and interpretation of Matt. 10:40-42 do not (at this juncture at least) take into account the textual problems with 10:42 which makes this a far trickier question than he lets on (maybe he discusses it in more detail in another part of his commentary), and besides that Matt. 18:6 is clearly talking of children as distinct from (and examples to) the disciples.

    But, all of this talk of who the “least of these my brothers” are obscures, in my opinion, the real issue at stake in this passage, and Carson does not address it but rather masterfully sidesteps it in his last sentence. According to him salvation depends on people’s “response to the kingdom of heaven in the person of Jesus’ ‘brothers.'” Correct me if it is wrong to say that Carson is slyly inferring that Jesus is really talking about a spiritual response to the kingdom of heaven that produces salvation, not a physical one. The passage itself, on the other hand, is clearly talking about a physical response to the needs of “the least of these my brothers” whoever they might be, Carson does not address this at all.

    So, if Carson’s interpretation that brother=disciple of Jesus is true (and again I am not convinced), the most we can do to mitigate the sting of this passage is to say that if someone refuses to meet the physical needs of the least of Jesus’ brothers/disciples he is in danger of eternal judgment. What then does this passage tell us about a church that supports a foreign policy that is physically devastating the Christian church of Iraq, and condones the terrorizing of thousands of Jesus’ disciples in the West Bank and Gaza Strip?

    Reply

  6. In his commentary Carson seeks to nullify the “sting” of this passage by first focusing on his interpretation of “the least of these my brothers” as referring to Jesus’ disciples. His principle argument for this is the alleged use of similar terms by Jesus elsewhere in Matthew to refer to His disciples. I don’t completely buy this argument.

    RESPONSE:
    If you are referring to the “sting” of this passage as something that is involves the application of the passage, then the “sting” of this passage depends on the proper interpretation of this passage.

    Carson’s translation (the NIV?) and interpretation of Matt. 10:40-42 do not (at this juncture at least) take into account the textual problems with 10:42 which makes this a far trickier question than he lets on

    RESPONSE:
    I compared the UBS4 (Union Text) of Matthew 10:42 with the Byzantine (Majority Text) and they agree word for word. Bruce Metzger did not mention any textual problems with Matthew 10:42 in his “Commentary on the Greek New Testament.” The “United Bible Society: Translators Handbook of the Greek New Testament” does not mention any textual problems. I am at a loss to understand what you mean.

    (maybe he discusses it in more detail in another part of his commentary), and besides that Matt. 18:6 is clearly talking of children as distinct from (and examples to) the disciples.

    RESPONSE:
    That is debatable. Notice the context of becoming like a little child in verse 3. Furthermore, the metaphor had already been presented by this time and would have been familiar.
    Matthew 18:3-6 (NIV) 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

    But, all of this talk of who the “least of these my brothers” are obscures, in my opinion, the real issue at stake in this passage, and Carson does not address it but rather masterfully sidesteps it in his last sentence. According to him salvation depends on people’s “response to the kingdom of heaven in the person of Jesus’ ‘brothers.’” Correct me if it is wrong to say that Carson is slyly inferring that Jesus is really talking about a spiritual response to the kingdom of heaven that produces salvation, not a physical one. The passage itself, on the other hand, is clearly talking about a physical response to the needs of “the least of these my brothers” whoever they might be, Carson does not address this at all.

    RESPONSE:
    Carson infers that the spiritual would lead to the physical. That is the same thing John explicitly spells out in his first epistle. This is the same thing Paul says. According to Pau, if you are in Christ by faith, then you are a new creature (2Cor. 5:17). The same writer that gave us John 3:16 also gave us:
    1 John 2:10-11 (NIV) 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

    1 John 3:10 (NIV) This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

    1 John 4:20 (NIV) If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

    What then does this passage tell us about a church that supports a foreign policy that is physically devastating the Christian church of Iraq, and condones the terrorizing of thousands of Jesus’ disciples in the West Bank and Gaza Strip?

    RESPONSE:
    I do not know what you mean. Can you please explain which church is knowingly supporting the devastation of other Christians and actively terrorizing the innocent? I do not know of any church that is actively supporting the politics of any single candidate… do you? If they are supporting a Barack Obama, then why should we hold the church responsible for Obama’s mistakes?

    Reply

  7. One more thing that needs to be noted about Matthew 25:31-46 does not include a to-do list of things to get saved. If that was the case, then these people would have stepped forward and said, “I remember when I did did see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink or a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you. I remember when I saw you sick or in prison and visited you.”

    These things that were not done as part of a checklist. These things were done as part of an outward attitude of love and compassion that should come to every person who has been changed by the grace of God through faith in God.

    Notice what Paul said in Romans 13.

    Romans 13:8-10 (NIV) 8 …he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

    Reply

  8. James,

    TEXTUAL PROBLEMS
    In the Nestle-Aland 27 there are 4 textual variants in 10:42, but I probably made it sound more dramatic than I should have, because the MSS that deviate from the Alexandrian text are minor (mainly Codex Bezae, some minuscules, and some of the syriac and patristic sources). What I don’t understand, however, is why the NIV and all of the more recent translations that I consulted (CEV, NLV, NIRV, TNIV, etc) translate it something to the effect of *…and give the least of these, my disciples, a cup of cold water,* or some of them have the slightly better but highly ambiguous *…and give the least of these a cup of cold water because they are my disciples.*

    In my somewhat lacking knowledge of Greek, I prefer the NASB and NRSV’s translation: “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink truly I say to you [Jesus is speaking to the disciples], he shall not lose his reward. (NASB; the NRSV is almost word-for-word)” But, once again, this is really a side issue for me.

    CARSON’S INFERENCE
    As to Carson’s inference that the spiritual would lead to the physical. That’s quite an inference in this passage, where there is a clear emphasis on physical things (Jesus mentions six different physical situations) and absolutely no mention of spiritual things whatsoever. As to other passages, I would prefer to understand them through the eyes of the gospels rather than the other way around (interesting this is something the Menzies argue for in the their book, Spirit and Power, which you gave me for Christmas [thanks, again by the way!]).

    THE FOREIGN POLICY COMMENT
    First of all, let me clarify that this was in no way implying anything about YOUR church. Rather I was thinking about prominent pastors such as John Hagee and Pat Robertson (maybe he isn’t even a pastor) who have explicitly condoned the Israeli persecution of Palestinians–several thousand of which are fellow Christians. That comment of mine was a little too vague and I probably should have edited it in the first place. Thanks for your comments!

    Reply

  9. Roger,

    I respect Carson as much as anyone, but what do you make of the fact that he admits that he is deviating from the “great majority of scholars” on his interpretation? As far as your choice in Greek Testaments is concerned, you seem to prefer taking the “agreement route.” I do understand the argument he makes, and he likes it better, because it fits better into his understanding of Scripture (that’s probably all obvious); but why should anyone ignore the majority of people who disagree with him?

    James,

    “I prefer the NASB and NRSV’s translation: “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink truly I say to you [Jesus is speaking to the disciples], he shall not lose his reward.”

    The NASB I am reading says, “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” It also contains a note that references the statement to Hebrews 6:10, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.”

    Shawn

    Reply

  10. James wrote:
    In my somewhat lacking knowledge of Greek, I prefer the NASB and NRSV…

    RESPONSE:
    In a word for word translation, the phrase “because he is a disciple” would literally be translated “in the name of a disciple.” The “little one” (which is Matthew’s reference to a disciple) is given a glass of water because he is recognized as being “named” (or labeled) as “a disciple.” The TEV combines these two phrases (little one and labeled a disciple) and renders the passage as “one of the least of these my followers.” The NAB has a similar rendering for the same reason “one of these lowly ones because he is a disciple.” These translators all understand that the term “little ones” refers to status rather than to age. A better translation might be, “one of these least important of my followers because he is named as my follower.”

    According to the Translator’s Handbook from the United Bible Society, the translation and interpretation of this verse is complicated by the fact that Jesus is addressing his disciples (as we see from the use of second person plural in v.40), but he is also referring to them in the third person as “one of these little ones … because he is a disciple.”

    James wrote:
    That’s quite an inference in this passage, where there is a clear emphasis on physical things (Jesus mentions six different physical situations) and absolutely no mention of spiritual things whatsoever.

    RESPONSE:
    Perhaps it is possible to overemphasize the dichotomy between spiritual and physical in this passage? …especially since this seems to be a spiritual judgment.

    Shawn wrote:
    I respect Carson as much as anyone, but what do you make of the fact that he admits that he is deviating from the “great majority of scholars” on his interpretation?

    RESPONSE:
    I do not have any quote from Carson stating that he deviates from “the great majority of scholars” on Matthew 10:42. He states that others “often” interpret this passage as salvation by acts of kindness. But, he does not say that those “others” are in the majority. I took that as a reference to Campbellite scholars or perhaps Roman Catholic scholars, but not as a reference to “the great majority” of evangelical scholars.

    Roger

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s