Tuesday, May 06, 2008

First things First: Our identity is in Jesus Christ

BB NOTE: Cardinal Kasper is right in asking the question, though we may quarrel with the idea that our identity is in whether we are sufficiently Catholic or Protestant, but whether we are sufficiently identified with the cross of Jesus Christ.


Speaking on the day that the Archbishop of Canterbury met Benedict XVI in Rome, Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council of Christian Unity, said it was time for Anglicanism to "clarify its identity".

He told the Catholic Herald: "Ultimately, it is a question of the identity of the Anglican Church. Where does it belong?

"Does it belong more to the churches of the first millennium -Catholic and Orthodox - or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions."

He said he hoped that the Lambeth conference, an event which brings the worldwide Anglican Communion together every 10 years, would be the deciding moment for Anglicanism.

Cardinal Kasper, who has been asked to speak at the Lambeth Conference by the Archbishop of Canterbury, said: "We hope that certain fundamental questions will be clarified at the conference so that dialogue will be possible.

"We shall work and pray that it is possible, but I think that it is not sustainable to keep pushing decision-making back because it only extends the crisis."

Ruth Gledhill at The Times makes a very good point. "The 'orthodox' or 'traditionalists' now are from the opposite end of the spectrum, in Anglican terms," she writes today. "They are from Kasper's Protestant wing. The irony is that if the Anglican Communion does what Kasper is asking and decides it is in fact a 'Catholic' Church, it will emerge as a Church in the mould of the liberal Catholic provinces of TEC, Scotland and the Catholic wing in England. This would not fit at all with the present mold of conservative catholicism in Rome."

This is so true. The fact is, the progressives in TEC are far more "catholic" in their worship-style, but off the rails when it comes to theology. John Paul II appears to have been the one to take such amazing strides on doctrine of salvation based on grace. The language of evangelical Protestants (mostly predominantly in the spin-offs from the mainline dominations in the United States) and the language of John Paul II found a surprising affinity. It is evangelicals that are warming up to Rome, not liberal Protestants. Now who would have thought of that?

What the Cardinal may not - yet - grasp is that the fields of Protestant non-denominationalism are ripe with an open-heart to liturgy, Jesus-saving, scripturally-based, Trinitarian evangelical liturgy - which is the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer could do more to bring together disenfranchised evangelical Protestants - who have been refugees from their parent denomination for, as in the case of both the Virginia Baptists and the United Methodists - for centuries. I was astonished recently when I attended a predominantly African-American Baptist wedding in Washington, D.C. and the Baptist minister was using the Book of Common Prayer for the wedding liturgy. I didn't even have to look at the service leaflet, which caused my friends to inquire how I knew it all by heart! They thought the pastor wrote it.

Something indeed is happening here, but it's something even deeper than whether Lambeth will tilt to Rome or to New York.

Our community networks as Christians are no longer reserved just for our own tribe. Alpha Conferences are a great example of this new networking. Now we gather together not because of our structural affiliation, but in our common devotion to mission and evangelism. Baptists and Catholics - not known for their long-term affinity for one another - find themselves eating box lunches together under shady oak trees discussing evangelistic outreaches to the inner city or to Islamic strongholds and then praying together. Theirs is a common language of conversion that we find in such networks - or as Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." It's not about achieving rights, but giving them up. It is the paradox that in handing the reigns of our life over to Jesus, we find our life and are set free. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," Paul writes later in his letter to the Galatians. "Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

What is that "yoke of slavery?" Isn't it selling ourselves to the "spirit of the age?" The walls are falling between Christians that have long had antipathy for one another because of the freedom we find when we are bonded to Jesus Christ first. It's Jesus first, Anglican second. It's Jesus first, Roman Catholic second. It's Jesus first, Protestant second. When Jesus is first, we are free. That's what means that He is the head of the church, He is first.

John Paul II and now Benedict speak as those who believe, not just with their minds but in their hearts that Jesus if first. This resonates to evangelicals - whether we are Anglican or non-liturgical Protestants. Benedict's speech to the American people was filled with the assumption that Jesus is first. The bridge over the chasm is so strong when he and other Christian leaders "get it" that we find ourselves meeting on that bridge and swapping stories like old friends.

It's such a contrast than what we find at so many General Conventions and Diocese Councils, where the heart-understanding that Jesus is first is almost considered "common." We then are aliens in our own land, Prayer Book in hand that still speaks the language of Jesus first - but with the imagery of the word "Christ" being reimagined into something so different renders us to polarizing sides. We are divided.

What appears to be before the bishops of Lambeth is whether they will embrace their love for Jesus first, that they may be filled with His Holy Spirit, that they will be converted and in that conversion repent and return to the Lord. The simplicity of the Gospel is so often lost on those of us who bear the name of Christ. If we can't agree Who is first, how can we agree on anything else?

It's not our love for the Church, or our love for the lost, or our love for those who are excluded, or our love for our neighbors, or our love for justice, or our love for ourselves. It's putting first things first and falling in love with Jesus. What has been extraordinary is that it appears that the language of love for Jesus is being proclaimed from Rome to Saddleback - and the bridge between the two is to find a way to pray together as a common people who bear the name of Christ.

And who has that book of common prayer?


Paul Rimmer said...

I would say it is Jesus first, Catholic Church same. The question, as you stated at the beginning of your article, is a good one. It must be asked. Even if (or hopefully even though) the Anglican church is Jesus First, is it along side the Catholic/Orthodox tradition, or the Protestant tradition? Will they stop blessing gay unions, or setting up women as "bishops"?

The answer may not seem like an important thing, but it's important to the Catholic Church. And it will determine the ecumenical relationship between Catholics and Anglicans for a very long time.

Sibyl said...

BB, Your response to Cardinal Kasper's question is the wisest I have yet read anywhere. THANK YOU!!!

To paraphrase Paul, it is not Catholic or Protestant (circumcision or uncircumcision or sacerdotal priesthood, apostolic orders, transubstantiation, etc) being catholic and orthodox outwardly, "he is a Jew (Christian) who is one inwardly and circumcision (catholicism, orthodoxy) is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God"(Romans 2) "What counts is a new creation. (regeneration and ongoing repentance, redemption through love relationship with Christ)" (Galatians 6)
"If a man love me, he will (want to) keep MY commandments."

TLF+ said...

Wow, clicked on this for news analysis and came away uplifted and inspired...beautifully thought and written, BB. Thank you.

Our parish Vestry, studying Colossians 1:15-20 at a planning retreat, came away with two priorities:

1) Putting Christ in first place;
2) Helping one another do item 1.

Landon DePasquale said...

It is so interesting because this seems to catalyze one of the fundamental differences between Protestants and Catholics. Cardinal Kasper is not, it seems to me, concerned with worship styles (Anglo-Catholics, high Anglicans, low Anglicans) and how they relate to the Mass. I don't think he is just speaking to those who practice high liturgy.

Instead, I think Cardinal Kasper is asking: "Will the Anglican Church put Christ first and, in their love for Christ, keep his commands and unite themselves to the Church founded by the Apostles."

Whether Anglicans agree with how Catholics view Apostolic Succession, Ecclesiology, and the Great Tradition, this is what Cardinal Kasper is concerned with. He is (gently) expressing the desire for the Church to be one, united together as Christ and the Father are one.

BabyBlue said...

I do think, Landon DePasquale, that you articulate very well a Roman Catholic view, which is in contrast to what might be considered a Protestant view - or in the case of Anglianism - a low-church point of view. For those of us who are Protestant, we are are not affliated by our structures (which is are very important to the polity of the Roman Catholic's understanding of its identity so that anyone outside that structure is outside The Church), but in our worship of God. We are bound together in worship not structure as we see as more and more denominational boundaries fall in the Christian networking that is now underway globally. We have more affinity in our shared worship and so yes, worship is central. Since shared worship is impossible in a Roman Catholic Church, it is impossible for their to be unity because we do not share the structure.

The Anglican tradition offers a shared liturgy which reaches to Protestants who do not have liturgy but experience a dynamic transformation of their relationship to God and to one another in the act of worship. We are made one in our worship - which in the Anglican liturgy includes teaching, preaching, confession, declaration of the creeds, praise, prayer, petition, rejoicing, proclamation and being sent out into the world.

Anglicans are like the alchemy of Catholic and Protestant - the blend is what makes the difference. What we offer Christendom is our Prayer Book, a doorway to worship where God makes us one.

This is a different way of thinking and understanding our identity and I believe mystifies devout Roman Catholics. Only in Alpha have I seen some of that demystifying though not without some bewilderment, not only on the part of Catholic participants, but those who are from the farthest parts away from liturgical worship, like evangelical Quakers or American Baptists or non-denominational Protestants. The chasm is wide between those on the out-most points. Anglicans still seem to be the bridge.

But in the United States The Episcopal Church is in the process of redefining the words we find in the liturgy, to reimagine the symbols of those words to convey a different religion and where the words are not reimagined, they are recast, especially words like "Father" and "Son." At some point, if the path continues on its current trajectory, at some point the TEC Prayer Book will in fact be a shadow of what it once was when the book was brought over on the early ships from England.

But in our shared liturgy we find our bonds, in our shared liturgy we find our theology and in our shared liturgy we are a Communion that meets one another on our knees. For Protestants, the use of liturgy is a direct line to our Roman Catholic and Jewish heritage. In fact, the resurgence of liturgical forms of worship by evangelicals may have more to do with evangelicals rediscovering our Jewish roots of theology and worship than our roots in Rome. But nevertheless, once the roots have been re-established, then the chasm between Catholic and Protestant lessens. Anglicans provide the vehicle to cross that chasm in a bridge called The Book of Common Prayer.

But I continue to submit that what has made the recent openings from Rome does not have to do with their structures, but of a conversion to centering on Jesus. I am old enough to remember the influx of liberation theology on the American Catholic Church in 1960s and 1970s and the wacky pronouncements that use to come from the U.S. Catholic bishops. It was embarrassing. Those days are over, way over. Now we have a Pope who talks to the American people in words Protestants can understand - and perhaps the leadership of TEC cannot which is why they beat it and Jim Stanton is invited to the White House instead. The pope's words focused on Jesus - not some Cosmic Christ, but on Jesus and Himself personally. That is no small thing.

Will Anglicans respond to strengthening those ties with Rome? The answer in the U.S. is a definitive NO as we saw played out rather boldly here a few weeks ago. That's the answer - no. The question is whether the rest of the Anglican Communion is going to follow New York's lead and leave Rome out in the cold.


Kevin said...


I don't think you understand Roman Catholics very well. I think the question is of Catholic verse Protestant is probably ask as on the Body of Christ or individual, they'd view Protestantism as rabid individualism (not high church verse low church, remember RC can out "Calvary Chapel" any Protestant in low church post-VC2 style).

I'd read Cardinal Kasper as connecting the theological drift to Protestantism (remember whose talking) and asking if Lambeth will continue that drift (from their prospective the that would be very much connected).

Perpetua said...

This is so important. I'm with you, babyblue. I love your emphasis on putting Jesus first and your vision of the Anglican Prayer Book gathering us back together.

The issue of language is so frustrating. The progressives have changed the meaning of words, and now we find different meanings for words in communicating with the Catholics.

Note that in the question, the phrase was "the churches of the first millennium - Catholic and Orthodox". So I think it was about whether the Anglican Church will continue in an outward trajectory, away from Jesus, the New Testament and the Early Church, or seek revitalization by returning to the source.