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Dec 23, 2005

Comments

ruidh

Of course we're not being judged on theology. St. Paul says we are justified by faith. Not faith as in doctrine, but faith as trust in God. It follows, then, that non-Christians can certainly be saved by the grace of God. The historic Church has even tought as much.

I believe that the doctrine that people are saved by beliving correct doctrine is manifest heresy. It's the Orthofox Heresy, if you will.

redeemed

St. James said, "I'll show you my faith by what I do." But, I heard he was an Orthofox too.

Phil Snyder

Ruidh,

Yes, we are justified by faith, but we have to ask "faith in who/what?" The purpose of the orthodox teaching is to help us to put our faith in God as He is in His essence, not in what we perceived as God. Or, to be closer to the truth, since we will always put our faith into what we perceive as God; to help insure that our perception of God is as close to what the Church has perceived to be true about God for its history.

If, for example, I were to say that my faith was in Jesus Christ, but Jesus Christ was a guru that emegrated from India and taught that only by sex will a person receive enlightenment, you would say that the Jesus I worship is not the same as the Jesus proclaimed in the Gospels or by the Church. Or at least I hope you would say that. I would also hope you would say that the teaching I expouse is not Christian.

Put another way, I don't know what "doesn't work" when it comes to a relationship with God. I do know what does - orthodox Christianity - "Continuing in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers."

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

ruidh

Put another way, I don't know what "doesn't work" when it comes to a relationship with God. I do know what does - orthodox Christianity - "Continuing in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers."

Yep, thanks. That's a very cogent expression of the Orthodox Heresy. Orthodox Christianity has a heckuva lot more cultural baggage then "Continuing in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in the prayers."

The point I'm trying to make is that it isn't important to believe all of the correct details. Whether the birth of Christ was to a young, unmarried woman or to a literal virgin dosn't matter. Salvation isn't a theology exam. "You did very well on your Christology section, but your Sacramental Theology? what *were* you thinking? F!" is not something you should expect to hear.

You have to be willing to be wrong. Because all of us are most certainly wrong about something. Theology isn't the answer. Theology is just something we do to distract our logical minds while waiting for the Kingdom. The only reason for theology is to provide plausible explanations -- call them harmless lies -- to con our our logical minds into silence. They aren't the goal.

Phil Snyder

Ruidh,

I strongly disagree that "The only reason for theology is to provide plausible explanations -- call them harmless lies -- to con our our logical minds into silence."

I also strongly agree that Theology is not the Goal - God is the goal.

The problem is that Theology tells us whom we are worshiping. While we may not be given GSE (General Salvation Exams), we will be asked if we are willing to let God be God.

As one priest I know (following C. S. Lewis) put it: "At Judgement, either you will say to God: 'Thy will be done." (and you will enter heaven with eternal communion with God) Or God will say to you: 'Thy will be done." (and you will enter hell with eternal separation from God.)

As I have added (and this is probably not original with me), whether you say it or hear it at Judgement will depend on whether you practice saying it or hearing it in this life.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

ruidh

On one hand, you make wonderful minimalist staements like

"At Judgement, either you will say to God: 'Thy will be done." (and you will enter heaven with eternal communion with God) Or God will say to you: 'Thy will be done." (and you will enter hell with eternal separation from God.)"

But then you insist on all of the theological speculation that comes along with orthodox Christianity.

There's no dclaration there of doctrine. God is not testing you for the purity or correctness of your beliefs. God is not even asking if you are a Christian. One dosn't need to beleive in the divinity of Jesus to answer your question in the affirmative.

I have nothing against teaching orthodox Christian doctrine. I support teaching orthodox Christian doctrine. I strongly object to requiring tests of orthodoxy to be a member in good standing of a chruch. I strongly object to someone trying to place another outside of the ciricle of communion because they have judged the other's beliefs as heretical. I have a great objection to using the most prescious body and bllod of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ as a blunt instrument to enforce doctrinal conformity.

If Christ is to transform people's lives we should not be presuming to declare in advance what shape that transformation will take.

John Wilkins

Phil, I think the issue is exactly what does it mean to "let God be God." Which would make most of our debates about who is in and out seem quite ridiculous.

I think that one issue for me is that I'm not sure what orthodoxy we're talking about. I think we're confronted with a conflict of orthodoxies. Reappraisers are affirming a traditional understanding of sin and grace that trumps - or clarifies - our legalisms about sexual behavior.

Who is going to heaven? Plainly, noone knows, nor do we need to know. Only God needs to know. And in our effort to discover, we do a really poor job of it.

Phil Snyder

John & Ruidh,

I reject that we are looking at a "conflict of orthodoxies" (as John put it). I will be willing to accept it if the Church ever taught that homosexual sex was blessed prior to the 20th century.

The question of letting God be God is paramount and if I am wrong in my belief that what we do with our bodies is important, then I want to be set right.

The critical part of classical orthodox teaching is that we submit ourselves and our desires and our beliefs to God. As human beings, we will worship something. Also, as humans, we will worship what we perceive as God. The creeds and scriptures and tradition and teaching of the Church are there to guide us so that our perception of God is as close as it can be to the Reality that is God.

So, the only way that we will say to God "Thy will be done" is if we practice saying it and living it in this life.

How do we know that we are submitting to God's will rather than our own? That is the trick, isn't it. That is what we are really argueing about - discernment and authority. How do we discern God's will and who (if anyone) or what has the authority to say that we have got it right or wrong?

I don't pretend to know who is or is not going to heaven. I don't pretend to know God's will as it relates to John Wilkins or Ruidh. I do know that I promised to submit myself to the teachings of the Church when I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained.

May God grant us all the grace to submit to His Will in all things.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

John Wilkins

Phil,

There is absolutely nothing in your letter I explicitly disagree with, except with the implicit idea that the church has been right on everything for 2000 years. I don't think the evidence bears this out. I am in perfect agreement that what we do with our bodies matters - as Paul says - do what is beneficial [for all is lawful] and "don't be stupid" which he says in another place [I can't quite remember the verse].

The church is, of course, where these truths must get argued, for within its work does lie the truth.

The church, besides, wasn't always in the business of blessing heterosexual marriages. That invention came later.

But the conflict of orthodoxies comes when we recognize that gay people have circumscribed places of sanctity and safety that look a lot like what a marriage should be [mutual encouragement, public witness, share lives, fidelity, love of Christ in each other]. The orthodox assertions that these virtues are worthwhile are held in stark contrast with its strange prioritization of genital sex.

Phil Snyder

John,

The crux of the issue here is how do we know that homosexual sex, in any context, is moral? The Church has never taught it as moral. While the blessing of marriages may not have always been done in the Church (and I would dispute that as the Church's worship grew out of the Jewis synagoge), the Church has always taught that sexual expression belongs in marriage and that marriage is one man and one woman. Those two facts are undeniable.

Now, do we want to change the teaching of the Church? If so, then we need to be clear that is what we are doing and do it in an appropriate context. I submit that General Convention is not the appropriate context as GC was never designed as a teaching body, but as an administrative one. At what level can we change the teaching of the Church? At the Universal Church? The Anglican Communion? The Province? The Diocese? The Congregation? The individual? What level is appropriate and why and then what do we do with those who disagree with changing the teaching of the Church?

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

John Wilkins

Phil,

I think of marriage as a human condition upon which we ask God's blessings. And it is the act of covenanting that we are asking God's blessings upon. If he wills it, children.

I think its disingenuous to say, first, that marriage can ONLY be between a man and a woman and then condemn gay people for a game they can't play with any integrity.

But to answer your question, I don't think the church says much about sex - but it says a lot about relationships. It says that we should have good relationships so that we can raise children well. that's pretty clear. But I think that reading morality into sexual acts is an intellectual mistake - because it offers no description of what the acts contain.

For example, heterosexual sex that results in humiliation or abuse cannot be said to be holy, even within a marriage. thus we cannot say with any certainty that a genital act can convey holiness in itself. We need an incarnate, a real relationship to make this assessment.

And as I've said, if the church makes such statements, it is making an error. And it is not the first time. It is more accurate in its understanding of envy, greed, decadence, and self-control.

Phil Snyder

John,

I notice that you didn't answer my question on changing the teaching of the Church. As of now, and for the last 2000 years, the Church has taught that homosexual sex is sinful. It is not the worst sin, but it is sin.

Who has the authority to change that teaching? Does it require the Church Universal, the Anglican Communion, the ECUSA, a diocese, a congregation or do individual have the authority to change that teaching. If they can change that teaching, what other teaching can that level change? Can a diocese say that God is not a trinity of persons, but unity of substance and remain part of the Church? Can a congregation say that, for them, Jesus is not divine and that that resurrection is a grief mechanism on the apostles' part?

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

Erin

Phil, if I am reading Fr. Salty correctly, what he's saying is that the church actually hasn't taught anything about sex per se, and that the belief that it has done so is and was an error. If this is a correct interpretation of his words, I don't think I agree with him, though I do agree with him on the rest -- on good and evil as a property of relationships and not a property of sex acts.

I'm sensitive to Phil's point about authority, and have no real answer, other than to say that authority is, or should be, a real intellectual puzzle for anyone who doesn't believe he's getting weekly phone calls from God. I think history shows that placing full trust in human religious authority is dangerous, because we can never know when they are going to do something evil in the name of holiness. I'd argue that this can apply equally well to established doctrine as to changes contemplated thereto. I trust my own moral instinct more than I'd trust the moral instinct of an office. (It might happen that I'd trust the moral instinct of particular pastors more than my own instinct, but that would be because of their moral authority as people and not as officials, won not by earning degrees but by earning my respect.) I appreciate that a belief in individual conscience runs counter to the attempt to build an orthodoxy; but I suspect that unless you are an Anglican fundamentalist, this problem lurks unacknowledged elsewhere in your catechism. (and given problems with historical accuracy, maybe it lurks even for fundamentalists!)

(Off the subject: Salty, did your promotion this past year come with a new honorific? (Wow, I just found this table of honorifics and I realize now that Fr. doesn't at all have the meaning I thought, being a Latin abbreviation and not an English one, and more appropriate to a monk than a priest. So maybe Pr. Salty is better?))

John Wilkins

I do like the term brother and it was how the early Christians called themselves.

The church has taught things about sex, per se, and on this, it has been in error, in part because it sees homosexuality as intrinsically disordered.

Phil's question about who decides is a difficult one, but I take a cue from Althusius and Tobias Hallar who refers to him [Althusius is, however, usually read by conservaive political theorists, I admit], who argues that what touches all should be decided by all. The people directly affected have a right to decide. The decisions are manifestly local - from parish to parish - then from diocese to diocese. The creeds, as they are international, must be changed by a consensus. Marriage, in sofar as it is regulated by towns, are regulated thusly.

Phil Snyder

John,

If what affects all is to be decided by all, then who determines what affects all? I submit that If I believe that something affects me, then I should be included in the debate.

In the current debate on the morality of homosexual sex, I am reminded of what my spiritual director once told me. As the body of Christ, my sin affects you and your sin affects me. All sin hurts the body to some degree.

Since homosexual sex has been seen as a moral issue and not a civil rights issue, I submit that it is still a sin issue. As such, the whole body of Christ should decide on changing the moral teaching. I understand that getting the whole body of Christ to agree on anything these days is impossible. So, before we act on this change, we should at least have the agreement within the Anglican Communion that homosexual sex in a marriage like state is not sinful or that it is not a moral issue.

As I said before, I am willing to be shown that I am wrong on this, but I have not yet seen convincing scriptural, traditional, or reasonable evidence that I am wrong or that the teaching of the Church is wrong.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

ruidh

I don't pretend to know God's will as it relates to John Wilkins or Ruidh.

Don't you? You certainly seem willing to proclaim that two people of the same sex who are willing to make the same kind of committment to one another that conventionally married couples make are putting their desires before God's. I could be misunderstanding you, but such a vigorous defense of orthodoxy makes me expect certain positions from the defender.

I do know that I promised to submit myself to the teachings of the Church when I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained.

I was never ordained, but I received those other two Sacraments and I promised no such thing. I certainly never promised blind obedience to orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is merely a guarantee of error.

ruidh

I am reminded of what my spiritual director once told me. As the body of Christ, my sin affects you and your sin affects me. All sin hurts the body to some degree.

And you accepted such obvious nonsense?

Every person in the Church, the Body of Christ is a sinner. If the body of Christ could not endure sin, it would have failed centuries ago. This insidious teaching is merely an invitation to *ignore* the Gospel and to put yourself up as judge of another's worthiness.

It seems to me you need a less orthodox and more Christian spiritual advisor.

John Wilkins

Phil you say,

"As the body of Christ, my sin affects you and your sin affects me. All sin hurts the body to some degree."

This is theoretically interesting, but practically useless. This would mean that I was hurt by every divorce or every example of AIDS. I may be empathetic to the suffering involved, but it is a stretch to say that my church is harmed in any strong way.

Since I don't think homosexuality as sin, that set "homosexuality of the set that is not sin" does not affect you. And those homosexual acts that ARE sinful, are, perhaps, worthy of both of our discussion. We here do not spend a lot of time on homosexuality, except when trying to defend ourselves that it is a non-issue for us. It has little to do with rights, nor does it have much to do with sin. It has more to do with grace and being free in Christ.

In this way, we simply do not touch the same things. The set I describe is unfathomable to you, and thus, cannot be touched by you.

Phil Snyder

John,

If we are free to call things "not sin" that have been called "sin," then there is no such thing as sin.

You say that homosexual sex (presumably in a marriage like arrangement that is mutually monogamous and life long) is not sinful because you do not see it as sinful. Can I say the same thing about my anger or my gluttony or my pride? If not, why not?

We are set free in Jesus Christ - that is true. But we are freed from slavery to sin, not freed to allow sin to continue to have dominion or control over us.

Paul is very clear that we are feed from the law. Paul is also very clear that we still sin and transgress God's law. As catholic Christians, we must say that both are true.

Thus, I do not believe that the individual believer is at liberty to say what is sinful for him/her self.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

John Wilkins

Being concrete is crucial here. It is not merely a matter of if you simply say it for speculative reasons, but if you truly believe it.

If you think that gluttony and pride are good, and parts of the human character that should be developed, and are important parts of the Christian character, then we have to have a conversation. If we can point to Christians who act out of pride and humility and say - this is permissible, then we should have a go at it.

If you can argue that Pride has worked out quite well in your church, and brought peace in some fashion to your parish then, we should have a discussion about what this means. I happen to think that plenty of Christians DO think that greed is permissible and a legitimate part of the market, for idleness and laziness are worse.

We could also, if you truly believed this, reconsider the idea that God is Love or that God is found in peace. Now, I have orthodox views of such. I would find it incredible to think that you really thought that peace and love were optional, if you really did so. You could probably find scriptural parts to justify your position, also.

I admit that I think that homosexuality is seen by Paul as greedy and decadent. That to me is the plain text. Is Paul right about this? It is a lot like his assumptions about the cosmos or about how the earth was created. As a Jew, he believed that the earth was created in six days. To me, his views on homosexuality are as reliable as his interpetation of the birth of the universe.

It is argued that Paul thought Homosexuality was wrong because jews thought so. Well - that is probably correct. But I reject the notion that our faith is necessarily held in such cultural captivity. That circumcision and dietary rules are held figuratively rather than literally just demonstrates that most Christians, in fact, do reject the notion that we are supposed to have the same cosmic worldview.

John Wilkins

Second, I think your logic about sin is confused. Is there sin or not? We both agree that there is. But what is sin?

It is a few things. First, it is whatever is outside the norm - that's one definition. It can also be conveyed as pollution. It can also be described as "missing the mark." In general categories, we probably can come to some consensus.

But it is in particulars that we do not. Eating chocolate in itself might not be sinful. eating someone else's chocolate might be; eating too much might be. In itself, eating chocolate has no moral sense as it is too abstract. Spending $5,000 for an ounce of chocolate is immoral, if, for example, you are taking it from your wife's retirement account.

I say that homosexual sex is not sinful not merely because I think so, but because I believe that sin always has a context - as we are embodied and incarnate persons. Abstractions only make sense only in a particular concrete way. They help, but they do not let us off the hook.

My point is that sex is simply not anything. The church can be wrong about things; and local churches can be the loci for moral decision making. And local churches have said that the church'es teaching is not comprehensive.

ruidh

I admit that I think that homosexuality is seen by Paul as greedy and decadent. That to me is the plain text. Is Paul right about this?

Paul was certainly right about what he observed. Read Romans 1. The licentious acts described there have real consequences and it is the presence of those consequences that proves the presence of sin.

But, when we get to know faithful Christians who happen to be gay and have lifelong, committed relationships, we don't see the negative consequences of sin that Paul identifies in his time. That tells us we're talking about something different that what Paul observed.

When we look closer and we find that these committed couples share some of the same positive qualities of marriages described in First Corinthians, we have to ask ourseves seriously what could possibly be sinful about these relationships.

Moving on to an other comment:
You say that homosexual sex (presumably in a marriage like arrangement that is mutually monogamous and life long) is not sinful because you do not see it as sinful. Can I say the same thing about my anger or my gluttony or my pride? If not, why not?

Because it's *your* sin, you can't be objective about it. But, you see, homosexuality isn't my sin. I don't have a horse in this race.

I used to be homophobic. I moved and joined my neighborhood Episcopal Church and then I discovered that most of the single men in that parish were gay. I have to say I was freaked out at first. But I stayed and got to know these men as people. I prayed with them. I ate and laughed with them. I came to realize that these men are not depraved individuals looking to nail anything that moves. They are faithful Christians. That they saw their committed relationships as a blessing from God tells me that they *were* already married no matter what the Church or State said and that God had already blessed them without the assistance of the Church.

And this is fundamentally the problem with the conservative position -- it is based on a lie. When you find that your theology conflicts with reality, it's time to change your theology.

Phil Snyder

I do not think that homosexual sex (particularly in lifelong monogamous relationships) is "depraved" nor do I think that homosexual men or women are trying to "nail anything that moves." I do not think that greed, gluttony, pride, envy, lust, anger, or sloth are not sins.

Here is my stance on homosexual sex. It is outside of God's design for human beings. It falls short of what God wants for us and desires for us. It is a sign of the disordered universe that we live in. It is not the worst of all sins. It is not even in the top 10, but it still is a sin and the Church cannot bless sinful behavior. It can bless sinful people, but not behavior.

I believe that it is possible to sin without knowing it and even to sin when you believe with all your heart and mind that you are doing the right thing. This is what it means to live in a fallen world. We don't know right from wrong and when we do, we often want the wrong anyway.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

John Wilkins

Phil,

You raise an interesting point about "design." I think in a biblical culture, where genders are essential and "fixed" that you are prefectly correct. But I think that there are things we know that were incomprehensible in biblical culture, but that we assume are true, even if they are counter intuitive.

Because our knowledge has changed, Homosexual "desire" has thus moved from one category - sins of excess - to a sin of pollution. having a drink isn't a problem. Having a lover isn't a problem. Getting drunk a lot, is a problem. Being promiscuous is a problem.

Christianity, in particular, moved "pollution" out of a necessary category of sins. Sex was constricted in Christian morality because it had never been separated from property [hard to recognize now, however]. The culture has divorced sex from property, whether we like it or not.

And that is what is at issue. Is homosexual behavior - in itself [like, drinking, or eating, or plain old sex] disordered? Is it pollution [which it looks like, anthropologically] or is it a matter of excess.

In my view, evolution [and other forms of scientific knowledge about the body] has changed, a bit, a lot what we know about "design" as it seems that variety is a good way for humans to work. It is also generally distinguishes, in my view, the difference between most [not all] orthodox and reappraising Christians.

Phil Snyder

John,

Interesting points on design. On evolution, I submit that homosexual desire is counter evolutionary and cannot be an evolutionary trait passed on. Simply, early humans or hominids with homosexual orientation would not have passed on their genetic code to progeny. The behavior is simply counter evolutionary. Societal pressures to be heterosexual would not have existed until a society was created.

While we do know more about the human body and mind that we did in ages past, we do not really know more about the human design than in ages past. We may know more about "what" and "how," but we do not know more about "who" or "why." The who and why are contained in the self-revelation of God to us and are part of the Deposit of the Faith.

This knowledge of how or what does not help us with moral teaching. If we can change the teaching on homosexuality (and I admit that this is possible), then shouldn't we wait until the rest of the Church (or the rest of the Anglican Communion) is ready to say that this is not a communion breaking issue before we proceed? Surely you don't think that blessing SSU is part of the deposit of the faith since you admit that it is a recent change from the church's practice.

YBIC,
Phil Snyder

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