Friday, April 21, 2006

That Time of Year Folks

Dearly beloved readers. It is once again finals time for me at the ol' WU. I am immersed in my work and blogging has been relegated to after finals. But don't worry. I will return soon and I have some most engaging blogs coming. For the time being, may the grace of Christ be with you.

Pax Christi,

Your blogging buddy Ben

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

Mark 15

Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. "Are you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate. "Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, "Aren't you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of." But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. "Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. "What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them. "Crucify him!" they shouted. "Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!" Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, "Hail, king of the Jews!" Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. It was the third hour when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!" In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah." One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!" Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Maundy Thursday

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."
Matthew 26:26-29

As the sacrament series finishes, what better day to reflect upon this passage.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

It Has Run Its Course

I am encouraging discussion to proliferate on the previous post but am noting that the last post will be the final post in the series regarding sacraments. Please return to them to continue the discussion but also look forward to a shift in gears as I will once again take a look at different topics.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

4: A Continuation...

Joshwall made some extremely pertinent comments on the last post. I thought it would be easier to post a new blog to address some of the issues rather than address them in the limited comment space.


Thanks for the comment! Your post strikes upon a number of issues which I think we would all consider quite important.

1. How do we know what is correct theology pertaining to the sacraments?

2. Who has the authority to dictate what is orthodoxy in this regard? (Does having an orthodox interpretation of the sacraments even matter?)

3. And (although implicitly) what is the Church?

I certainly cannot attempt to comprehensively address all those questions, but let me begin by addressing some of the specifics in your post.

My question is who has decided over the years that sacramentality was part of the church, or what constitute sacraments, or the nature and role of sacraments?

The Church has decided, based upon the trajectory set by Scripture. While certainly the most advantageous and rich place for us to go would be the writings of the Church Fathers, we would do well to understand that the development of doctrine and Christian orthodoxy was never done outside of the context of the Church. These decisions were not made by the Bishops and then imposed upon the laity but the laity had an integral part in the acceptance and proliferation of these universal decrees.

I think its a great way to understand the transmission of grace but I think we run into issues when we make hard and fast rules on sacraments, does a full immersion need to be done or just dropping water enough for it to constitute a sacrament, with both being held in a traditional high view?

I'm not as concerned about the "hard and fast" rules you describe here as much as I am with the theology of the sacraments. Can baptism be considered sacramental whether its praxy is by means of full immersion or sprinkling? Yes.

Furthermore, while we have the example for the sacraments laid out in the Bible, their fully formed theological conceptions don't happen till later. Its only later on in the church, after several hundred years of ecclesial existence do we start to gather enough of a consensus to agree on sacraments.

You're exactly right. The fully formed sacramental theology is by all means a development within the Early Church. Yet I must contest the notion that these were developments which occurred "several hundreds years" later. The earliest literature we have available to us from the Fathers of the Church develop this sacramental theology. The understanding of the communication of grace through the sacraments is something that occurs very early in ecclesial history, not a rather late development.

But let's suppose it was a late development. Although inaccurate, let's say sacramental theology did not come to full development until the 5th century. If this had been the case the grounds for dismissing sacramentalism would still not be firm. After all, this century holds the great Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) in which the official statements regarding the hypostatic union are made.

You mention that after Augustine this higher view of the sacraments “takes off.” This is not true. An incredibly high view of the sacraments is held by Fathers before the time of Augustine. Cyril of Jerusalem posits a view which is quite similar to that of transubstantiation. Much before Cyril the Eucharist was seen as a central and necessary component of the worship of the Early Church. It was the means by which God communicated grace but also the way in which the Church expressed thanksgiving and gratitude to God.

But again, let’s suppose that it is not until Augustine’s era that the sacraments take a prominent role in the Church. We must also then realize that it is not until the council of Constantinople in 381 that the Holy Spirit is officially declared to be God. It must be clearly understood that decrees of the Ecumenical Councils were never decisions that had arisen in a vacuum or suddenly appeared. The decisions of the Councils were the result of years and years of debate and discussion about the doctrines which are absolutely essential to the nature of Christianity. In the same way, the beliefs concerning the sacraments did not suddenly emerge but are the result of development that begins extremely early in the history of the Church.

If so wouldn't we have seen Jesus talk about them more?

There is much that I wish Jesus would have discussed in greater detail. But the reality is Jesus also left us with some ambiguity regarding the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church, the deity of the Holy Spirit, and even his own ontology. But that is one of the reasons that he promised to send the Spirit, who would guide the Church in all truth. Some of the vital aspects of the Christian faith simply are not fully addressed in Scripture. The discussion begins but does not always end with Scripture.

On final thought, you also ask if "does a church which does not practice the sacraments run the risk of eventually moving towards what can be inexpressibly called outside of the Church?"

Yes, I think it does. But to follow up (and come full circle), your questions is (near as I can tell) asking if by ceasing practicing sacraments there is a risk that churches may function outside of the broader ecclesial domain... and think that's a possible outcome and I don't know if that's a bad thing.

I think it might be helpful to have you clarify what you believe the Church to be. What I am asking is does a church (local body) which refuses to practice the sacraments run the risk of no longer being a part of the Church (holy, catholic, apostolic)? To be outside of the broader ecclesial domain is to no longer be Christian. One cannot exist as a Christian while being divorced from the Church. Perhaps you will have to define what you mean by “broader ecclesial domain.” Because historically the sacraments have been considered a part of the ontology of the Church (that is the sacraments constitute a component of the very nature of the Church), a local church which does not practice them runs the risk of ceasing to be in the Church. This is to cut that local body off from the primary means of God’s grace. That is why I am so concerned with orthodox teaching of the sacraments.