Friar John's Ruminations

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ecumenism, the Eucharist and The "Cool Kids"

In the rash of bad decisions made in the final hours at General Convention this summer (along with cutting the Evangelism, Women's Ministries, Anti-Racism Training, and Education to the vanishing point) was a provision to have "Interim Eucharistic Sharing" with the United Methodist Church. Now I say "bad" not unadvisedly. I'm not going to launch into some screed about how the UMC isn't really a Christian Body and Church, or that it is invalid at some key level. Rather, I am pointing out that there is far to much work that needs to be done before we can even go there.

Methodism and Anglicanism have a common heritage, but the relationship is rocky. In the end, American Methodism was founded by a precipitous act by John Wesley to ordain two men to come to the new nation to act as superintendents, not Bishops, for the nacient Methodist meetings here. Coke and Asbury's names are today remembered in the Publishing Company of the UMC. There was an implicit rejection of the Historic Episcopacy (Not to mention the slightly different concept of Apostolic Succession) in this action. When the old Southern and Northern Methodist Churches, as well as the EUB, merged, they decided upon the tittle of "Bishop" for their District Superintendents but decidedly left out any idea of the Episcopacy that smacked to much of being "Catholic." To this day, if you really measure up the two services for Making Bishops in the Methodist Book of Worship and the Book of Common Prayer, you will note a few differences. In the BCP the idea is that there is a conferring of a separate Order of Ministry and that the recipient will share in the Office of the Apostles. The UMC service of "Consecration" is the elevation of a senior Presbyter, granted special authority and set aside in that role, but still a presbyter. In there lies the difference.

The reason that this becomes important is that the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886 and 1888 defines the "inherent parts of [the] sacred deposit" that we Anglicans consider to be non negotiable. The Fourth Article of the Quadrilateral outlines that we hold the concept of the Historic Episcopacy to be essential to our understanding of the Church, and that we expect to meet it in some form in any other Church with whom we are to attempt parity with. In the Case of the ELCA we were willing to accept their Presbyteral Ordinations in the same spirit that similar ones were received in England after the Restoration. When there are no bishops available and the Church needs to survive, they are acceptable. Loss of the Historic Episcopate due to the forced merger of Reformed and Lutheran Bodies in Germany in the 18th century was, in part, the pretext for our embrace of them. We also have made it so that their Bishops will be in the Historic Episcopate and the Apostolic Succession and the agreement is such that all of their Pastors going forward will be ordained by their Bishops. We are working a type of union within both our and their categories and it's still fairly touch and go.

With the United Methodists, however, we have all of that touchy and unpleasant baggage. Wesley acted outside of our Anglican tradition, even as it was understood at the time, in order to tend to his groups in the United States. That rejection, and the continued rejection of the Historic Episcopate is a major issue that should be addressed.

Another part of this is, and this may sound odd, is that we don't see eye to eye about the nature of the Sacrament it's self. I'm serious. The first problem is the one many people see as being the silliest. You see that Lambeth Quadrilateral I mentioned before has as its third article a commitment to the two Dominical Sacraments using the "elements ordained by Him." At issue here is that the UMC has a doctrinal and social commitment to using pasteurized grape juice ala Welches, and not wine. As the UMC Book of Worship puts it:
"Although the historic and Ecumenical Christian practice has been to use wine, the use of unfermented grape juice by the United Methodist Church and its predecessors since the late 19th century expresses pastoral concern for recovering alcoholics, enables the participation for children and youth, and supports the church's witness of abstinence." (pg. 28)
We'll not stop for to long and ponder the implications of this pastoral concern. That the only one that seems to not be tied up with 19th century pietism and general Victorian prudishness about alcohol (in particular when dealing with children) is concern for those for whom alcohol is poison. The proper way to respond to the needs of alcoholics is one that needs to be discussed and dealt with. The TEC's insistence that reception of one species or the other makes for a full communion may be a part of the answer, but such theology seems to be missing in the formularies of the UMC. However, that all is beside the point if one is willing to ignore such a difference in the basic idea of the proper administration of the Sacrament and paper over it.

The other issue is one that, the well written and theologically sound This Holy Mystery aside, there is no real parity between what Anglicans think of the meaning of the Sacrament and that of the UMC. That a major part of the "method" for which Weslians are names was regular reception of the Eucharist is down played if not actively forgotten now. Any sort of theology that even dares approach even the lower end of the Anglican spectrum of the Real presence is shrugged off. There is a need for the UMC to find it's voice on the Eucharist more definitively so that we may know what it is, exactly that we are sharing. The Prayer Book, in almost all of it's iterations starting in 1549 taught some form of Presence. The brief Second Book of Edward VI had the lowest and the proposed Scottish Prayer Book one of the highest. It is a part of our theological heritage that has been a part of our distinctiveness for a long time. We have no one voice on the "how", but pretty strong on the "what," the UMC is still trying to reclaim both. It is not, however, the job of TEC to do that work for them.

Not that any of these considerations matter that much to many at General Convention. Such matters, like real evangelism and the need for a fully funded educational office, are matters anadiaphoron, a thing indifferent. Most matters of theological distinction are really rather unimportant to many in power in our Church. That may seem harsh, in particular those who I just accused of being indifferent may object, but the accusation stands. Trivialities and feel good affirmations as well as sociology and political aphorisms have replaced the hard work of theology. There is a long, low roar of impatience that crescendos into a high pitched whine when ever the topic comes up. It could be simply a matter that almost every seminary is really a school of social work with a few, often resented, theology classes tossed into the mix. Most of our clergy are simply untrained in dealing with complex issues of theology and the culture of the Church has become one that, essentially, down plays such issues as unimportant.
In my last post I mentioned that there is a group of men and women who could best be defined as "The Cool Kids." These are people whose opinions matter in TEC in a way that the rest of our do not. They are the ones who reacted to strongly to the rejection of the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester's election, and couldn't quiet understand that theological scruples really existed in a strong enough form to cause "good Liberals" to not support him. They are the same ones who don;t quite yet grasp the point that it is not a failing on the part of younger people to not fit into the same categories of taste and interest; and to like traditional music, or worship and not go running whole hog after new liturgies or new expressions. A desire to experience and use the old is seen as an aberration that must be stopped. It is the same air of assuredness that leads to the echo chamber like atmosphere of Committees like the SCLM, and to weaken the resolve of those who are on the Legislative committee to ruefully send the mess forward to the Bishops because to send it back to the SCLM would have hurt their feelings and it unChristian to harsh on a mellow.

now that I have, in part, defined the "Cool Kid's" I'll stop this post and move onto one about Evangelism, and why our Church seems to hate it.


C. Wingate said...

I have some further comments here.

Brad Evans said...

Minor point; it's "nascent", not "nacient".
Second, don't you feel angry with the catholics and orthodox when they tell you that your church has 'deficient orders'? Why are you giving the methodists a hard time about something you don't like hearing about from the pope and the patriarchs?
Why are you a "proper" church and they're someone who has to jump through hoops before you recognize them?

Frair John said...


I find the Roman and Orthodox theories on the subject to be specious. But the validity or not of the UMC's orders is not, exactly, my point.

My point is that there is a fundamental disconnect in the definitions of "Church" not to mention the composition and meaning of the sacraments. It is the way in which both sides so blithely side step such issues and act as if they are unimportant is the source and cause of my little rant.