Thursday, January 17, 2008

God reveals Godself in modern experience—true or false?

The real foundation of the view that same-sex affection can be a form of holiness.
Today, within the old-line Protestant Churches, and not least within The Episcopal Church, any traditional church member, if he/she is paying attention, hears often, in a clear or veiled way, a novel view of both Divine Revelation and human religious experience.

In its submission of The Episcopal Church to the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham in June 2005 (entitled, To Set our Hope on Christ: Response to the Windsor Report) this novel view was presented in a way that sought to hide its radical nature and make it to be sound, widely held, biblical interpretation. I responded to this TEC essay in the large booklet, entitled, Same-Sex Affection, Holiness & Ordination (available from seeking not to deal with sexuality as such but to make clear the presence and foundational nature of this innovatory doctrine of Scripture in the response of The Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion.

A few weeks ago, I listened to Bishop Gene Robinson via TV stating this same doctrine with clarity and apparent winsomeness in a lecture to students in Florida , as a means to defend his own “modern” sexual practices.

The innovatory doctrine

The TEC doctrine is simple: that in the two Testaments of the Canon of Scripture we have the account of the developing experience of God by the Israelites and then by Jesus and the Christians. Both the experience and the account of it naturally reflect the conditions of the times when received and described. So the received Revelation from God recorded in the Bible is a developing and maturing—though very much incomplete—Revelation. Further, it has always to be distinguished in its essence from the cultural form in which it is received and understood. In this development the high point but not the final point (for that is yet to be) is Jesus, in what he is, says and does.

Importantly, God does not cease to reveal Godself after the time of Jesus, for being the God of not only history but also of nature, that is the God of space and time, Godself reveals his/her/its mind and will through the varied searching and researching of human beings. And this is very obvious, they say, to moderns in the tremendous growth of knowledge by human beings in recent times of both human beings as complex creatures and of the massive cosmos in which they live. Further, this new Revelation both corrects and perfects knowledge gleaned from the religious experience of the Jews and early Christians and recorded in the Bible.

So on the basis that God is alive and well and making Godself known to human beings who have eyes to see, the Church has to move on in its worship, doctrine, morals and discipline to pay attention to the God of today, that is, to where Deity is in relation to humanity and the cosmos in 2008. And so the new prophetic agenda of the elite of The Episcopal Church is based on reality as they see it, the God in process revealing Godself! They can hold no other position, they say, for they are committed to the God who is, like the cosmos, in evolution and progress! Part of this reality is that same-sex affection is a reflection of the holiness of God.

Conservative response

But what about the conservative Episcopal opposition to this innovatory approach and in particular to its new stance on sexuality?

There does not seem to be one so-called “orthodox” mindset within the Anglican or Episcopal movement in opposition to that of the Episcopal elite. However, the varied approaches, in opposition to the development and process theory of the progressive liberals, all seem to believe that there are clear and final words of God about sexual relations and other basic matters written not only in the New but also in the New Testament. And these they quote and cite. But there are problems.

Most Evangelical clergy seem to come out of a seminary training where they daily saw the Department of Old Testament Studies and the Department of New Testament Studies having little dialogue--as a maximum cooperating and as a minimal going in parallel lines. It was as though the One Canon of Scripture was made up of two very different Testaments and what really connected them was the binding of the Bible in which they were placed.

Further, there was in the seminary usually no regular worship (= Morning and Evening Prayer) where the Old Testament and the Psalter are read/prayed daily in the context of their fulfillment in Christ in the New Testament readings and Canticles. This omission makes it difficult for students to establish a mindset wherein the right relation of the two Testaments is known intellectually and experientially. The theme of “according to the Scriptures” [i.e., The O.T.] is critical for early Christian doctrine and devotion and this is caught and imbibed in classic Christian worship.

From such a background as that of the typical seminary, it is difficult to make a reasoned case against the liberal doctrine of the progressive nature of revelation. And, in the present crisis over sexuality, it is difficult also in a modern context to use successfully the Old Testament texts which declare that homosexual practice is sinful.

The position of the Apostles and Early Church leaders with regard to the Bible seems to have been different and may be instructive. For them the Bible, the inspired, written Word of God, was without doubt the Jewish Bible, which most read in Greek. Together with this they had the teaching of, and facts concerning, Jesus as the Savior and how he fulfilled the Scriptures by his words, works and life, death and resurrection. On the basis of the Bible and with the guidance of the Apostolic Testimony and Tradition (which was simultaneously and slowly being put into writing and circulated), they possessed what has been called “The Rule of Faith,” which amounted to a Christ-centered reading and interpretation of the Jewish Bible, as from the God and Father of the same Lord Jesus Christ. Thus they read the Bible in both its common sense mode, and as the text not only approved by, but also fulfilled in various ways by, Jesus, the Lord and Savior. Therefore they cited the Old Testament as did Jesus as the Word of God written, nothing less and nothing more! Then later the “Rule of Faith” gave and made way to (a) the collection and acceptance of the books we call the New Testament; and (b) the fixed Creeds for Baptism of which the Apostles and Nicene are the most well known.

It would do us no harm today to regard the Old Testament as the primary Scriptures of the LORD and the New Testament as the Divinely authenticated interpretation of them by the Spirit of the LORD. Hereby we would have a sense of a fixed order of salvation in Christ from one God and Father, made available for revelation to the Gentiles and for us and for our salvation, in the Spirit.

I would suggest that the modern use of the Bible to support innovatory sexual relations, as is the norm in The Episcopal Church in 2008, cannot be overturned by the typical Evangelical use of the Bible. We need to recover the sense that the Bible is first ONE CANON and then within the CANON there are two Testaments, united in and by Christ. If we begin from the presenting doctrine of the seminary and many text-books, that “Two Testaments make up One Canon,” then we are probably sure to get things wrong.

(My learned friend Professor C Seitz of Toronto University is working on the relation of the Rule of Faith to the two Testaments and his insights contain important lessons for Anglicans to learn and make use of in their use of sacred Scripture in worship and doctrine and apologetics!)

But there is one more thing. Since the Episcopal elite is advancing a claim for Revelation based on process within God and cosmos, the “orthodox” response not only has to be from a sound view of the relation of OT & NT within the context of the Rule of Faith, but also with the use of Natural Law. Here much help can be gained especially from modern Catholic writers, who show that both homosexual practice and same-sex marriage are “unnatural” in terms of Nature as created by God, the LORD, and their support by the modern State will be a means of actually undermining the State in the long term. January 16, 2008

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