December 15, 2009

Thought for 12.15.09

The surest way to become a sect is to establish something other than Christ as the focus of your unity or identity.*

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

*like a covenant, the episcopate, the chair of Peter, a confession, national boundaries, a political agenda, a program, a locale, a tradition, a language, a culture, whatever


Fr. Bryan Owen said...

You could have added scripture, too.

Can we know Christ apart from such "non-essentials"? Is such a "mere Christianity" possible?

Erika Baker said...

I love it. What a truly wonderfully deep paradoxical sentence, filled with the same truth all those other wonderful Christian paradoxes share.
Thank you.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

This thought was truly proleptic for me, in that it came to mind this morning before I started reading Bonhoeffer's Life Together (the theme of the BSG winter retreat next month.) I was astounded to discover exactly this thought expressed in different words in the opening chapter of Bonhoeffer's work, in the distinction between the spiritual (pneumatic) nature of the community of faith as opposed to the human (psychic) nature of the community of people. It is not that these are "non-essentials" but that they are not the point of focus for the community of faith -- which is my thesis here. That does not imply a dualism or necessary rejection of these other things, however. As St Gregory said, "One can make use of the things of this world without being consumed by them." The problem is that the church so often becomes focused on its own institutional structures rather than the ends towards which they were meant to serve. In this they become, technically "demonic." And, as I observe, sectarian.

Thanks Erika, it is a paradox, but then so is God!

Anonymous said...

I was thinking the same thing, Bryan (i.e., "You could have added scripture, too.").

To the extent scripture is a human creation, it is necessarily imperfect. To assert otherwise is to make gods of ourselves.

To the extent scripture is inspired by God, it is part of his creation. If we say it's infallible, we are worshipping creation rather than creator.

The earliest Christians knew very well when it was necessary to disregard scripture in favor of contrary evidence of what God had done. How else could they have concluded that a crucified man, whom scripture clearly stated was cursed by God, was instead God's anointed one?

I know I'm not saying anything original. I like how Luke Timothy Johnson straightforwardly acknowledges what scripture says about same-sex unions and then appeals to a higher authority. To those already familiar with his argument, my apologies. I guess it's new to me and I was really happy to discover it.

"I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy - that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.

I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality - namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.

Implicit in an appeal to experience is also an appeal to the living God whose creative work never ceases, who continues to shape humans in his image every day, in ways that can surprise and even shock us. Equally important, such an appeal goes to the deepest truth revealed by Scripture itself - namely, that God does create the world anew at every moment, does call into being that which is not, and does raise the dead to new and greater forms of life."


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, David.
I very much appreciate Dr. Johnson's approach, especially in frankly acknowledging that Scripture is not the final authority. In Reasonable and Holy I take great pains to chart out the many ways in which various traditions, most particularly our own, find their way around the contradictory bits of the Scriptural witness.

Bibliolatry is not merely one more form of idolatry, it is perhaps the least intellectually or morally defensible, in that it flies in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, and the very "better angels" of the Scripture itself!

Thanks again.

Caminante said...

Definitely. The AMiA/ACNA congregation up the street, created by someone originally from the parish I serve, is united fearfully in its distaste for women clergy and gays. Knowing who all now is going there, I can't exactly imagine that if one scratches deeply beneath the surface, there is much joy. I pray for the well-being of their souls, I truly do. They are a sect, or worse, a cult.

RB said...

I think that without the Bible, the Christ that is the focus of your unity will simply be the projection of your own ideals. There are many other idolatries than bibliolatry, all of them much more subtle, and without that book you are likely to fall into them without ever knowing it. You see it even in your discussion here. The focus of unity has become liberalism, not Christ, who certainly did not offer a relaxed attitude toward sexual expression. Your dictum is a good one, but also expresses a need to explore just how this wild-eyed apocalyptic first-century prophet we worship becomes the focus of unity.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Actually, RB, I concur completely. This is why I am so adamant about a careful reading of the Scriptures, and the Christ to whom they attest. There are errors on the "liberal" side as serious as those on the "conservative." Thus assertions about "what would Jesus do" must be tested against "what Jesus DID!" I devote a chapter of Reasonable and Holy to precisely this question.