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All Flesh Shall See the Salvation of God: A Response to Doug LeBlanc
December 10, 2003
Doug LeBlanc's article "Loving the Questions: Disarming the Road to the Answers" in the December issue of Episcopal Life provides a wonderful opportunity to reclaim the via media of the Episcopal Church we love, in the Anglican Communion we treasure. The Claiming the Blessing (CTB) Collaborative welcomes this opportunity to respond to his thoughtful questions.
This does not mean that in the more liberal or progressive aisles of the church the Creeds are treated with less respect than they deserve. To the contrary! We believe that the Creeds are not static documents, but active and dynamic in the midst of those who have eyes to see.
Yes, the CTB Collaborative does believe that the two major Creeds are statements of theological reality. We also believe that salvation history is still being revealed and that our baptism calls us to be active participants in God's salvific actions in the world. This does not mean that in the more liberal or progressive aisles of the church the Creeds are treated with less respect than they deserve. To the contrary! We believe that the Creeds are not static documents, but active and dynamic in the midst of those who have eyes to see.
The Creeds are, at the very least, critically important for their historical value in giving us a map of how we got from 'there to here' in our theological development and understanding. We believe in God, but some of us do not believe that 'God the Father' is the only appropriate way to refer to the first person of the Trinity. Yet, because of a deep respect for the Creeds, we are perfectly able to stand in solidarity with those who have gone before, those who are present still, and those yet to come, who believe the exact wording to be true. Many of us can still say the Nicene and the Apostles Creed without crossing our fingers or flunking a lie detector test. Far from 'liturgical throat clearing,' it's more like reading the Creeds in one language and translating them into one's own language. We make contemporary, relevant, and respectful theological translations Ð sometimes silent, sometimes aloud Ð with regularity. We believe a larger portion of the church than one might suspect does this all the time.
What may be to some an 'impersonal formula' such as 'Creator, Liberator and Sustainer' is actually a statement in the understanding that actions speak louder than words. To many Christians, the history of God's actions in our lives of faith is of greater consequence than the gender roles that have, in modern English translations, been ascribed to the Trinity. Interestingly enough, many of us are more comfortable with ascribing the feminine to the third person of the Trinity than with a gender neutral ascription. We are, in the end, complex creatures of God, coming close to being an accurate reflection of the deep mystery of God.
Do we, as Anglicans, know nothing of the 'plain truth' of Scripture? What a delightfully provocative question! What is 'plain truth'? Pilate asked a similar question of Jesus (John 18:38) and then Pilate washed his hands. We believe that "the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation" (BCP 526). Is this what you mean?
As for the Articles of Religion, these Calvinist documents are aptly placed in the section of the Book of Common Prayer under the heading of "Historical Documents of the Church" Ð right alongside the Council of Chalcedon, the Creed of Athanasius, and Tables for Finding Holy Days. They are helpful documents, but the spirit of Anglicanism is neither a confessional nor strictly doctrinal faith. Rather, we are, ultimately, a pragmatic faith, with a rich legacy of such reconciliatory precedents as the Elizabethan Settlement and the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.
The Claiming the Blessing Theology Paper places our understanding of the justification for the church to bless gay and lesbian couples directly within our understanding of the Hebrew Scripture's perception of 'blessing,' the promises made in our Baptismal Covenant "to respect the dignity of every human being," and the rubrics of the Prayer Book on page13 which state, " . . . and for other special occasions for which no service or prayer has been provided in this Book, the bishop may set forth such forms as are fitting to the occasion."
Finally, we recognize that in opening wide the doors of the Church we risk losing those who will not enter because of those who claim equal occupancy in the 'big tent' of Anglicanism. We understand the dynamic. It is an ancient one: A little impurity makes the whole impure.
Finally, we recognize that in opening wide the doors of the Church we risk losing those who will not enter because of those who claim equal occupancy in the 'big tent' of Anglicanism. We understand the dynamic. It is an ancient one: A little impurity makes the whole impure. David Anderson, President of the American Anglican Council (AAC) was recently asked by news commentator Bob Press, "Don't you think . . . that this is a way to open up the church to bring in more people? To which Anderson replied, "I don't think so. If you keep lowering the standards to a certain point, you can, I guess, get everyone in, but scripture talks about the way to salvation being narrow, not broad and wide." This seem to us a reflection of the exhortations of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah to build a wall, divorce Gentiles from pure Jews, and shun the half-breed children (Ezra 9, Nehemiah13). A little impurity makes the whole impure.
And yet, in the Gospel of Luke which we hear in Advent, John the Baptist says, "all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Luke 3:6)." God came in the flesh and lived and took that prophetic teaching and turned it up-side-down and right-side-up. Jesus taught that a little purity might just make the whole pure. Isaiah suggested the radical idea. John the Baptizer prepared our hearts to accept it. And Jesus lived it. He was resurrected for it. In Christ all flesh shall see the salvation of God. What can be more inclusive than that - if we choose it?
Faithfully, the CTB Collaborative