Penal Substitution, Sola Fide and the New Docetism

Isaac Gutiérrez Pascual ©2010

Earlier this month I spoke about the cosmic importance of the Incarnation.  Today I’d like to build upon this reflection.  As I noted before, many Christians fail to see the Incarnation as the cosmic destiny or telos of Creation and, likewise, fail to see the work of Christ as including the sanctification, redemption, and renewal of the body and the physical/material world in general.  For many, the work of Christ is narrowly construed.  It was merely to satiate the wrath of God the Father so as to take away the punishment necessitated by sin (i.e., Penal Substitutionary Atonement).  This popular view of the atonement is accompanied by another important doctrine classically referred to as Sola Fide or “salvation by faith alone.”  It is this doctrine which teaches that belief—often understood as a sort of mental assent—in Jesus’ work on the cross is the sole means of our salvation.

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Divine Simplicity and Divine Energies

Credo ut Intelligam

The standard Catholic (Roman or Orthodox) understanding of the Divine Nature is that it is a simplicity. The standard complaint of the Orthodox against the Romans is that they make too much of this simplicity and forget entirely the Energies of God. That is, God is both Essence and Energies. This is highly technical and, as is often the case, confusing. I would like to offer some thoughts on perhaps understanding both positions in terms of each other, and perhaps thereby begin to show a synthesis.

What the Orthodox view seems to leave out, at least in the discussions I have had, is the act of God’s existence. Aquinas distinguishes real being as existence and essence. That is, the activity of existence and the whatness of essence. Real beings are “acting what-nots” to put it quasi-technically. This, it seems to me, is a wonderful insight. It is also, however, the…

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Questions and Issues with the Homosexual Marriage Debate

downloadI recently befriended the fellow young man who wrote this piece on Facebook where he shared this link with me. I really enjoyed reading his piece over at The Christian Watershed, so I attained his permission to post the blog here on my own blog. Definitely go give the site a look! Some great thoughts there! Hope you find these stimulating to your own thinking and convictions on the issue no matter if you agree or not.

Questions and Issues with the Homosexual Marriage Debate

By Joel Borofsky

The issue of homosexual marriage is one of the more polarizing issues in our modern society, that almost goes without saying. Yet, it seems that whenever a state decides to take it upon themselves to define marriage as between “one man and one woman,” an overwhelming majority of people support such restrictions.

To me, however, the issue boils down to “What is the role of the government?” Let us simply accept that most laws are enacting some form of morality, especially major laws concerning marriage. Thus, the whole, “The government can’t legislate morality” argument doesn’t hold up; while they can’t make people act a certain way, they can declare that moral x and moral y will be codified, thus to act out against x and y comes with consequences. That being said, what is the role of the government in this morality?

I would contend that the role of the government is to prevent our freedoms from coming into conflict with each other, that is, to prevent us from harming each other. Thus, we have laws against murder because such an act harms an individual (or individuals). We have laws against rape for the same reason, against pedophilia, and monopolies, and the list goes on. Laws created that have nothing to do with protecting us from one another – such as seatbelt laws – tend to be viewed as arbitrary and almost tyrannical. Even some laws that prevent us from harming one another can sometimes be tyrannical if taken too far (simply look at TSA procedures).

The purpose of the government, then, isn’t to enact a theocratic form of government where the government follows God’s laws. Rather, the purpose of the government is to keep us from harming each other and to prevent outside forces from harming us. It eradicates exploitation (e.g. slavery, insurance companies taking advantage of the poor, etc), but doesn’t become a tyranny.

If I am correct on the purpose of the government, then there are a few questions concerning homosexual marriage:

  1. Why is the government involved in marriage in the first place? While I can understand civil unions for tax purposes and other legal rights, if we are trying to protect the “sanctity of marriage” then it seems absurd to bring the government into the mix. Few Christians would argue that the government is sanctified or holy, so how can the government protect what is ultimately a holy institution?
  2. We should respect religious liberty, meaning that if a state does allow for homosexual marriage a priest/pastor should not be forced to perform the ceremony. Likewise, religious institutions should be allowed to not hire people due to sexual preference (this even includes people who are living together in a heterosexual relationship). At the same time, if we respect religious liberty, what if a church wants to wed two men or two women? While some would argue that such a church has abandoned their Christian principles, it’s not up to the government to decide when that has occurred. By banning homosexual marriage, aren’t we also banning the right of some churches to practice what they believe? Again, this is why the government should probably move towards purely civil unions rather than marriage licenses.
  3. Is homosexuality inherently abusive or bad, that is, is it any worse than people engaged in open relationships or Hollywood marriages? While people try to bring up statistics showing the homosexual lifestyle is destructive, such statistics typically aren’t good arguments against homosexual marriage, even if one is arguing the morality of the issue. For instance, even if 95% of homosexual males had 50 partners or more (I’m making up a statistic to show a point), this wouldn’t show that homosexual actions are inherently destructive; it could simply be explained that by an action being taboo, the risk involvement increases. Besides, their heterosexual counterparts are catching up quite quickly. Furthermore, while it was true in the 80s and even 90s that homosexual activity tended to come with a higher risk, anymore when it has been normalized it’s almost no different than heterosexual couples. Many homosexuals are able to find stable relationships. Now, I must stress that this has nothing to do with the morality of the issue, but everything to do with the legality of the issue. Unless it can be shown that homosexual behavior is inherently destructive (and this can be disproven by finding multiple stable homosexual relationships, which has been done already…), one is left without an easy argument against banning homosexual unions.
  4. Even if we did show that homosexual behavior is inherently destructive, this still would provide great difficulty in “outlawing” it.The main reason is because of something I alluded to above; what do we do with open heterosexual relationships? In an open relationship, there is a tendency for one partner to get hurt. In addition, do we outlaw adultery? Do we outlaw divorce? What punishments do we place on those caught in such abusive situations? Do we really want to live in a nation where the government is in charge of instilling values into our families? Perhaps we should ban all marriages in Hollywood, or among celebrities. Since the divorce rate is higher for celebrity couples, why haven’t we passed a constitutional ban on Hollywood marriages, which are seemingly inherently destructive? There is just a lot of inconsistency here.
  5. Shall we ban fornication (sex before marriage) as well? If we’re following Biblical morality and want to protect the “sanctity of marriage” via legislation, then shouldn’t we also ban fornication? This situation is far more analogous to homosexual marriage than even adultery or divorce (where someone is harmed). The statistics behind sex before marriage are also staggering, showing that when both partners have engaged in premarital sex, especially with other people, the chances for divorce or adultery increase dramatically. In other words, the argument that by allowing homosexual marriage we will somehow destroy the fabric of our society may be true, but it’s no more true than the argument that fornication among heterosexual couples does the exact same thing. Thus, if we outlaw one, why aren’t we outlawing the others?
  6.  Perhaps one could argue that while homosexual activity isn’t harmful to others, it is harmful to the participants and therefore the government must stop it, but even this argument is full of inconsistencies and problems. For one, why not ban all homosexual activity, not just marriage if this is the case? But more importantly, how is this any more dangerous than couples who engage in open relationships, any more dangerous than adultery, any more dangerous than heterosexual promiscuity? I ask again, shall we enact laws against all of those actions as well? Should we pass a law saying that you can only get married once (as multiple marriages can ruin the institution of marriage)?

Ultimately, I’ve yet to discover a good argument from Natural Law on why homosexual marriage should be forbidden, other than “It’s not the job of the government to issue marriage licenses.” On this point I agree and think the government should only be involved in civil unions. But even if we reduce the government to civil unions, I’ve yet to see a reason to prevent homosexuals from engaging in those unions that isn’t simply arbitrary or inconsistent.

I understand that Christians want to protect the sanctity of marriage. But it’s not up to the government to protect what is holy; in fact, using the government to protect what is holy ultimately makes something unholy (as history has shown us). It makes sense to use the government to stop abortion as abortion creates a victim. It makes sense for the government to prevent certain types of drug use as the drug use is so harmful to the individual and the community that it simply can’t be regulated for positive use. But it doesn’t make sense for the government to try to protect the institution of marriage.

I would argue that traditional marriage is the foundation of a society and that as a society loses that traditional marriage, the society begins to collapse. At the same time, this stands far more true for divorce rates, abuse within marriages, and adultery than it does for homosexual unions. What is more important, however, is that since the traditional family stands as the foundation for a society, the government, by its very nature, can’t protect it; the walls can’t protect the foundation of a building. Only individuals through grassroots movement can protect the family.

Now, I must stress that I’ve made absolutely no comment on the morality of the issue. I would argue that while all legislation is the act of legislating morality, the two must still function on different codes. What is moral is dependent upon what aligns with our telos, or our function with God. God created us for a certain end and to go against that end is to be immoral. The law, however, must function on the code of preventing us from harming each other. The old maxim, “So long as it doesn’t harm you, what do you care” doesn’t work for determining what is moral, but it does work when attempting to legislate morality. For instance, it is immoral to blaspheme God because He has created us to love Him; but very few Christians would want to outlaw blasphemy against God. Likewise, even if homosexual actions are immoral, it makes little sense to outlaw them (or marriage).

In fact, since I’ve basically alienated myself from my conservative Christian friends, let me further my alienation from my liberal Christian friends by stating that I do believe homosexual actions to be a sin. God created humans for a certain economy (or telos) and when we violate this telos, we are committing a sin. Homosexual activity simply doesn’t fit within God’s design for humanity. The whole argument of, “Well I’m born this way” doesn’t fly in a world full of sin; while I accept and argue that homosexual attraction is, for many, an at-birth disposition, I don’t think this justified homosexual activity anymore than an at-birth disposition towards alcoholism justifies drinking.

However, I don’t view the sin of homosexuality (the actions, not the attraction; being attracted to the same-sex is no more a sin than a married man finding a woman other than his wife attractive) as any worse than other “sexual sins.” All sexual sins – with exclusion to ones where a victim is created, such as in rape or pedophilia – fall in the same category as going against humanity’s telos, specifically for sex. Thus, if we are willing to accept that one engaged in premarital sex can be a Christian, we should be able to accept homosexuals as Christians. That is to say, how we react towards those in sexual sin (such as pornography) should paint how we act towards homosexuals; we shouldn’t alienate homosexuals, but instead should love those in that sin as Christ loves us in our sins. If we can befriend someone engaged in some type of sexual sin, then certainly we can befriend homosexuals. If we can say a guy who is addicted to pornography is a Christian and will go to Heaven, certainly we can say the same thing of those engaged in homosexual activity.

All of the above considered, it should be understood that I’m simply asking questions and pointing out problems with the arguments I’ve seen against homosexual marriage. I would say that one negative repercussion I see coming with homosexual marriage is that it could inhibit religious liberty. Just as I argued for religious liberty in questioning the outlawing of homosexual marriage, I too will argue for religious liberty should homosexual marriage be allowed. This means that private charities, adoption centers, churches, or religious organizations should be allowed to practice their beliefs regardless of whether a government recognizes a marriage or not. If a Christian adoption agency doesn’t want to adopt out to homosexual couples (or even non-Catholic, or non-Christian, or non-Religious couples) then it should be their right not to do that.

In other words, the issue of homosexual marriage is far more complicated than, “God said it’s wrong.” There are a myriad of issues that must be tackled, specifically concerning the sanctity of marriage. It just seems to me that if we’re going to protect the sanctity of marriage via legislation, we must first (1) eradicate the First Amendment and (2) outlaw all other instances that challenge the sanctity of marriage (should we allow atheists to marry since nothing is sanctified to them?). To say that homosexual activity is “just different” from adultery, fornication, pornography, or the like just seems arbitrary.

In the end, perhaps there is an argument against homosexual marriage that isn’t tied into heterosexual activity. Perhaps there is an answer to my questions/issues. But thus far, the arguments I’ve seen against homosexual marriage have simply been problematic. Thus, for those that oppose homosexual marriage, one must find better arguments or realize that even if such an activity is impalpable to you, there isn’t a reason to outlaw it.

Cruciform Hermeneutics: True Theology Begins with the Cross

crucifixion1To begin, I want to say that in many ways, this blog is a continuation of my thoughts from my blog “Cosmic Sky Dad“. I’m nearing the end of Father John Behr’s (Dean of St. Vlad’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) “The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death” (A great review here), and I have gained drastic insights into systematic theology from this book. It has been highly informative and formative in my thinking and theology in just the couple of weeks I’ve been reading it. I want to summarize in my own words what the book deals with. This is not a thorough treatment at all for the subject matter, so I highly recommend one pick up their own copy!

In the preface, Father John writes that he is presenting a “Christian theology that is systematic yet remains true to the way in which theology was first learned” (page 15). He begins to critique modern theology by saying that it seeks to be a model based entirely on the historical events or “what really happened”. He accuses modern theology and scholarship of starting with the theological debates found early in Christian history, but “separate these theological formulas form the way in which they were in fact learned and from the exegetical practice, the manner of using scripture, in and through which they were articulated” (page 15). Father makes a point that if we read define theological formulas detached from the original way they were learned we’re in danger of reading Scripture in a vastly modern way.

The notion of the Trinity is read as a history of the interaction between man and God and culminates in God being incarnate in order to bring about redemption. He says that this

approach to theology has become, in modern times, all but ubiquitous. But the fact that we only understand retrospectively should caution us to consider more carefully how such theological statements are made and what kind of assertions they are. For example…the term ‘incarnation’ [read in such a manner described above] is used to refer to the becoming human of the second person of the Trinity by being born from the Virgin Mary. But it is a stubborn fact, or at least is presented this way in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, that the one born of Mary was not known by the disciples to be the Son of God until after the Passion, his crucifixion, and resurrection…Thus, to speak of the ‘Incarnation,’ to say that the one born of the Virgin is the Son of God, is an interpretation made only in the light of the Passion. It is a confession about the crucified and exalted Lord, whose birth is then described in terms drawn from the account of his death…; it is not a neutral statement that could be verified by an uninvolved bystander as a part of an objective history, an account of things ‘as they really happened,’ in the manner of nineteenth-century historiography” (page 16).

It is here that the heart of the book is presented. The point Father John is beginning to make is that the historical method of reading Scripture like this, on its on, places Jesus strictly in the past. Who He was, what He did, and what He said are all matters of history, but for the early Christians the crucified Lord was eternal and ever present, the One of whom the Scriptures speak. And it is precisely here that the book’s foundation is built. Father John states that the Apostles knew Christ in light of His passion, death, and resurrection. They turned to Scriptures, as directed by Christ, to see that it is He of whom they speak. Even in I Cor. 15:3-5, the Apostle Paul states that “Christ died in accordance with the Scriptures”, which he means the Old Testament.

Father John writes

Despite having been with Christ for a number of years, having heard his words and seen his marvelous actions, the disciples did not yet really understand him. Only after his Passion, his crucifixion, and resurrection, do they begin to understand who Christ is and what he has done, and they did this by turning back to scriptures” (page 22).

He goes on to say on page 25, “…Scriptures, the Old Testament, provided the means by which the disciples began to understand how God was at work in the Passion of Christ (for the early church the Passion includes the crucifixion, death, and resurrection and were celebrated as one event). It is in the Passion of Christ, that hermeneutics and theology must begin. I like to think of this as cruciform hermeneutics because it is in the Passion that theology begins. It is in Christ giving himself up for the life of the world that theology proper begins (page 31). This is where God is revealed to us and this is where our theology must begin. Father John makes a great point that the first principle of hermeneutics is Christ Himself! The Cross is where we start!

The Cruciform God of the Cross

I recently finished Michael Gorman’s “Inhabiting the Cruciform God” and also highly recommend it as well! However, I have noticed a lot of meshing between these two books I’m reading. Gorman proposes that the following verses from Phil. 2:6-11 (translated in his own words) is the Master Story of St. Paul and the beginning of theology proper, with which I’m inclined to agree, but also I’ll venture to say that Father John would too:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Dr. Gorman makes a point that these verses paint the accurate, wholesome view of theology proper, of divine power. It reveals to us how foolish we think of divinity. For humanity, divinity does not empty itself, but demonstrates itself over us through power. However, the saints, Father John, and Dr. Gorman make a point that the cruciform God is revealed through strength in weakness. Thus St. Paul’s master story turns theology proper upside down, or perhaps, right side up. It is here that we can begin to understand God and who He is and what He has done. Father John says that “the centrality of the Passion of Christ [is] the locus of the revelation of the transformative power of God…” (page 33). God is revealed in the voluntary death of Christ on the Cross; this is the scriptural reflection of the Apostles and has been the theological vision of many theologians. It should be ours as well.

Father John writes in regards to Phil. 2:6-11,

Christ’s taking upon himself the role of a servant, voluntarily going to the Passion, does not diminish our perception of what we might otherwise have considered his divinity, but actually manifests his true divinity. The transcendent power of God is manifest in this world in flesh, in darkness and in death, as a servant. But this manifestation of divine power, in weakness, is simultaneously a transformation: Christ, in the form of a servant, shows us the image of God; darkness and death become light and life; and the flesh assumed by the Word, becomes flesh of the Word–and becomes Word…The Passion remains as the locus for contemplating the transforming power of God, the ‘God revealed through the Cross'” (page 35).

Father John closes the first chapter by stating that, again, “in the night in which he was given up” to “in the night in which he gave himself up” is the beginners point for theology. It is

a theology which does not simply speak about God in the abstract, nor satisfy itself with a historical report about events in the past, but which contemplates the transforming power of God revealed through the Cross, the eternal, timeless power that upholds all things, inviting and challenging us also to become transformed in its Word, putting on the identity of Christ” (page 43).

Theology is Confessional

What does this all mean for us? It means that we possess a confessional theology, which we witness to through the transforming power of God manifest in Christ on the Cross: “Light in darkness, Life in death, Word in flesh” (page 141). An historical reading or recording of these events don’t do them the justice they deserve. That is why I’ve come to believe a cruciform hermeneutic, a reading of Scriptures in light of the Passion (crucifixion, death, and resurrection) are needed to develop proper theology and theological formulas. We must search the Scriptures in light of Christ and go from there, from the Cross. Father John writes,

What history would record as Jesus being put to death, theology confesses to be the very victory over death by one who gave himself up for the life of the world. The basis for this confession is not a claim to ‘historical evidence’ provided by the empty tomb or resurrectional appearances: the empty tomb needs to be interpreted…Theology begin, rather, with the opening of the scriptures by the risen Lord, so that his disciples see how they all speak of him and the necessity of his Passion, and so be prepared to share in the meal to which he invites them, when he is recognized and disappear from sight, creating in them a desire for the Coming One. It is based on Peter’s acknowledgement that he had betrayed Christ, that he was complicit in his death, but is nevertheless, and as a forgiven sinner, called to be an apostle, proclaiming the forgiveness of Christ, his mercy, and his love–a new creation.

Such theology is a confession, acknowledging the work of God in Christ. But it is only possible if it is accompanied by a confession about oneself. As with the denier Peter, the persecutor Paul, and the Prophet Isaiah before them, the reaction to the encounter with the Lord is the confession of one’s own sinfulness–that we are, each, complicit in the death of Christ and his persecution and that he is our victim in each of our acts of violence and victimization. As we look to the Scriptures, with the crucified and exalted Christ as our starting point, we can, only now, recognize that the world has lain in sin and death from the beginning, waiting to be saved and brought to true life by Christ. The truth of God revealed in Christ brings with it the revelation of the truth about human beings, both what they are called to be and that they have fallen from this high calling. The aim of theology always remains ‘the true understanding of things as they are, that is, of God and of the human being'” (page 142).

This means for us that not only do we have a confessional theology found to begin in cruciform hermeneutics, but that we have a confessional theology that leads to a confessional theology, meaning we must see the depths of our own depravity as revealed in our theological confessions and formulas, which, again, begin with Christ. It means we find our stories within the story of Christ and his faithfulness to God. Father John states that an encounter with the Christ proclaimed “in accordance with the Scriptures” leads to a transformation of our lives. For me this means a cruciform theosis, direction union and participation in Christ and His faithfulness through co-crucifixion. It is the beginning of our past lining up with salvation history. Father John writes,

If, as is sometimes said, the ‘self’ of each person is their own past told form the perspective of the present, and that past acting in the present, then the encounter with Christ provides a new, and yet eternal, vantage point from which to narrate one’s own past: we are invited to see our own past retold as our own ‘salvation history'”(page 143).

For me, this highlights even more what I have spoken of in regards to what the Gospel is, which is the faithfulness of Christ to God. Our past is united to Christ and told from the vantage point of the Cross. Christ is the Faithful Israelite who fulfilled the demands of the law vertically and horizontally. By co-crucifixion with Christ, we share in His sufferings, but also in His faithfulness. It is by this co-crucifixion that we become deified and theosis is worked in us. It is here that such proper theology found in cruciform hermeneutics leads us: nailed on the Cross with Christ sharing in His faithfulness and sufferings. His story becomes our story, one of faithfulness, love, forgiveness of our sins, and mercy. We are to share this story and pour out such joy it has to the world by proclaiming the God revealed on the Cross.

Our stories lived up prior to the encounter of Christ were meant to prepare us for encountering the crucified and exalted Lord. Father John writes, with which I close,

Everything is compressed within his economy: standing in the light of Christ, we can see him as having led us through our whole past, preparing us to encounter him. He alone knows the alone knows the reason why he has led each of us on our particular path, for we still walk by faith, not by sight. But it is a faith that all things are in the hand of Christ, and that ‘in everything God works for good with those who love him'” (page 143).

Our theology must begin with the Cross, with Christ. It is here that true theology begins by opening up the Scriptures who testify to Him. It is here that we experience God, the God of power in weakness. Thus it is in our weakness that God is revealed to us and saves us. Our theology must start with the Cross so that it can lead us to the Cross ourselves, so that through our weakness the transformational, holy, reverent, love of Christ is displayed by uniting us with Him in His sufferings and faithfulness bringing us to union with Christ through cruciform theosis, which brings us to peace with God who is a good God and loves mankind.

Don’t Invent the Notes: A Sagacious Exhortation for Young, Armchair Theologians

EHS_Bible-and-CouchIn a discussion about books that have influenced him, Father Stephen, my priest, made a comment about Stanley Hauerwas’ theology saying that he was not really a seminal theologian, but operated more like a derivative theologian whose genius still shone brightly.

I found his comments on Hauerwas very interesting. This is something I wonder about. Aren’t we all derivative theologians? Or should be anyways? I mean, in a world where ‘nothing new under the sun’ exists it is hard to be seminal. Being Orthodox is hard to be seminal I find because it is all already in place and what has been said has been said. So that means there are a lot of folks that are derivative. Sometimes I doubt my process as a student, thinker, and armchair theologian; I often fear I’m not doing well at synthesizing theological concepts, ideas, and doctines to place them in my own words and understanding. Often I feel I’m regurgitating something, but in some ways that is all there is to do. Of course, of course, we must learn to think, to synthesize, and to apply these things, but often there isn’t anything, for the theologian, to be seminal about. So maybe I’m just regurgitating. Or perhaps I really can synthesize and think through these things. But the point is made, regardless of all that, in what Father Stephen said in response, which I find great advice for young theologians (or in my case a wanna-be theologian; I use the noun for myself here very, very loosely):

As an Orthodox Christian, I don’t want to be seminal. ‘Originality is not a virtue,’ according to CS Lewis…
Of course, Bach never invented a single note. Worked with the same 12 note scale that’s on my piano. But what he did with the notes! Same is true of good theology. Don’t invent the notes.”

That made me feel better because like I said there’s nothing new under the sun. I’d rather work on being better read, learning to further synthesize concepts and ideas, and repackage them for people who aren’t trained in such matters like theology.

One of my biggest issues while I was Protestant was that the theology was ever changing or seeking to reinvent the wheel. The next big fad! The new great idea! The growing cool movement! All of it relies on coming up with the next big thing! The beauty in Orthodox theology is that it is about receiving what had already been given and handed down, traditioned, through the generations. Thus being seminal in theology is not needy.

Of course what one can be seminal in, perhaps, is the orthopraxy of orthodoxy. The theology never changes or needs to change! The Faith has been given to the Saints as is (Jude 3). Of course as good theologians we must be aware of new ways of engaging the ever-changing contexts wherein the theology (orthodoxy) finds itself. However, the orthodoxy (as well as Orthodoxy) doesn’t change, but it finds new ways of orthopraxy within its cultural settings. Nonetheless, I digress.

This is good advice for any theologian, especially the young armchair theologian such as myself. It takes a lot of pressure off one’s self! We don’t need to be innovators, but faithful guardians and presenters of the gift traditioned to us. Anyone seeking refuge from the continual cycle of innovative theology or “faith” you are welcome to engage the Orthodox and see how one need not be a part of the ceaseless push to reinvent the wheel.

As Father said, and how Bach did, we don’t need to invent the notes of theology, we simply need to join our voices and instruments with the beautiful music being played by the Fathers, Saints, Apostles, and Christ. It’s not about inventing the notes, but playing them beautifully.

Vending Machine “Christianity”: The Church Created in Our Own Image (Mini-Blog #6)

vendingFr. Benedict Simpson, a Facebook friend, posted this deeply thought-provoking, but yet sharply critical status about Americans and how they “church hop”. One thing I have learned in my journey into Orthodoxy is that my preferences do not matter, the preferences of those in the early Church and throughout the ages did not matter, and neither does yours. This is where the Orthodox sharply disagree with some about spirituality, ecclesiology, and above all worship. Christianity isn’t  a vending machine where you get to pick and choose things. Nor is it a menu where you pick what is in line with your tastes. This is deeply out of line with both the New Testament and the Fathers.

I’m a drummer, and I’ve played in worship teams before. Of course, I wouldn’t mind some instruments in worship, but that isn’t how the Church has approached it and still approaches it (note, there are some African churches that bring deeply held customs of their culture into the Church, but it is not a general acceptance). But I’ve learned that there is so much beauty and watchfulness in the approach to worship we Orthodox take. We sing/chant the entire service without the aid of some silly stage, loud instrument, or egotistical worship leader. I’ve deeply criticized this approach and the entertainment-driven, feeling based approaches before, so I appreciated Father’s challenge and wisdom. This is just one insistence of preference, but think about your own preferences, your own theology, and how you may try to find a church that fits into them instead of a Church where you drop yours and receive what was given to the Saints.

We Americans and others shop for churches like we shop for coats. Does the coat suit me? Does it make me look good? Does it ‘feel’ good? Is it agreeable to my own sensibilities?

If we ask ourselves those same questions and simply substitute the word ‘church’, We will find the crux of the issue. Does this church suit me? Does this church make me look good? Does it make me feel good? Does this church agree with my own sensibilities?

Dear ones… with such an outlook, we are looking for the church created in our own image and not the Church that is the Body of Christ. Think upon this. To become part of Christ’s Holy Church one must sacrifice his own image in order to take upon himself the image and likeness of Christ; for indeed we are called to become imitations of Christ in all that we do. Even unto the Cross.”

Something to ponder on. God’s blessings to you in your ponderings.

Reflections from Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann

forthelifeI wanted to share this post from “The Life of the World” over on their Facebook page. Today is the 30th anniversary of the falling asleep of Father Alexander Schmemann. Continue to pray for us, Father! If you have not read “For the Life of the World” and want a great introduction to Orthodox sacramental theology, then I highly recommend you read it! I read it over the summer and it drastically stretched me and informed me of a sacramental worldview! It is a marvelous book.

Today we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the repose of Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann. This short meditation will not be about his life. It will not try to expound on the man’s legacy or attempt to contextualize his importance within the Orthodox Church.

Fr. Alexander is perhaps best known as a liturgist encouraging frequent communion and a deeper understanding of the Divine Liturgy. In honor of this, let us instead speak about Liturgy and ruminate on the Eucharist; as the center of Christian life and the center of the Church we can do no better honor to his memory. A note on the Word Eucharist: It comes from the Greek and means Thanksgiving. “The liturgy of the Eucharist is best understood as a journey or procession. It is the journey of the Church into the dimension of the Kingdom… [Our] entrance into the presence of Christ is an entrance into a fourth dimension which allows us to see the ultimate reality of life. It is not an escape from the world, rather it is the arrival at a vantage point from which we can see more deeply into the reality of the world”.

Fr. Alexander’s For the Life of the World : The Divine Liturgy opens with the words “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit!” In the Eucharist we enter into the Kingdom of Heaven – the perfect Kingdom – made present here on earth in the Church by the presence of the crucified and risen Christ. We are formed by entrance into the Kingdom to be temples of God celebrating the Heavenly Liturgy in the holy place of the heart. In eating the Body and Blood of Christ the new Adam, offered up in Thanksgiving on behalf of all and for all, we become truly human. The life of the true human, the redeemed human, is to give praise and thanks to God.

In the words of Fr. Alexander, “The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world.” The Divine Liturgy is a synergy between the three churches – the three kingdoms. The paradigm – the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church – the community of the faithful, and the person – the temple and alter of God. Brothers and sisters, it is not enough to ponder on this. We must gather as church and enter into the kingdom. Let us offer praise and thanksgiving – the Liturgy. Let us ponder the words of John the Evengelist in the context of our meditation and see how the scriptures may be illumined through the Liturgy. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” John 14:16-20

Apologies for the confusing layout. The original post was full of errors and was just one big paragraph. I hope I have reproduced it in a sensible fashion. Be blessed. And may the memory of Father Alexander be eternal.