Friday, November 28, 2008

How Anglicans understand the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ

I confess that sometimes I find it easier to say what the Anglican understanding of the sacrament of communion is not than to say what it is ... it is not Transubstantiation (the Roman understanding disputed at the Reformation) ... it is not Tokenism (a widespread Protestant understanding in which the bread and wine of communion are mere tokens or emblems which aid our memories of Christ's death).

But reading a little in Richard Hooker's magisterial Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity I found this succinct, crisply clear summary of Anglican understanding:

'The real presence of Christ's most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament.' (5.67.6)

In this sentence Hooker simultaneously affirms the Anglican approach (the body and blood of Christ is truly present at communion but the 'location' of the body and blood is in the worthy receiver of the bread and the wine; the worthy receiver being the one who receives by faith with thanksgiving) and denies other approaches. First Tokenism which denies 'the real presence of Christ's most blessed body and blood'; secondly, the Consubstantiation of Luther in which Christ's most blessed body and blood is 'in' the bread and the wine; and thirdly, the Transubstantiation of Roman thought in which the bread and the wine is converted (changed entirely in its substance) into the body and blood of Christ.

Hooker says a whole lot more - he is never short of a word or two on any given subject - but here I will add a further point made by him. In any attempt to explain the sacrament of communion there needs to be some explanation of why the bread and the wine are necessary for the occasion. Why not feed 'spiritually' on Christ without any resort to material objects? Hooker's explanation is this:

'The bread and the cup are his body and blood because they are causes instrumental upon the receipt whereof the participation of his body and blood ensueth. For that which produceth any certain effect is not vainly nor improperly said to be that very effect whereunto it tendeth.' (5.67.5).

The first sentence makes it clear that the bread and wine of communion are necessary for the real presence of Christ at communion: they are instruments for the receiving of the body and blood of Christ by faith with thanksgiving. The second sentence acknowledges that the effect of being instruments is that they are bound up with the body and blood of Christ so that one can honestly say at their distribution 'This is the body of Christ ... this is the blood of Christ'. The sufficient condition for the real presence of Christ at communion, we can restate in conclusion, is worthy reception by participants.

The beauty of Hooker's position is that a profound emphasis falls on 'communion' at Holy Communion: nothing happens to the bread and the wine but something happens to the participants as they fellowship together with Christ through faith. The bread and the wine are vital to this unique nurturing of believers, but through the faith of the believers and not through some change to the bread and the wine.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Church order (or, disorder?)

Recently the Diocese of Sydney agreed to a resolution which affirmed that both lay people and deacons may preside at the eucharist. It did so knowing that (a) their Archbishop is unlikely to license lay people to actually preside at the eucharist; and (b) a recent ruling on another matter in the Australian Anglican church created a legal means for deacons to preside at the eucharist without the Archbishop needing to adjust their licenses in any way. That is, following the resolution, nothing is altered concerning lay presidency (Sydney has been agreed to it in principle for years, but not practised it) but something has altered concerning diaconal presidency. Unexpectedly this move has generated a great deal of controversy which you can follow on sites such as Stand Firm, and Fulcrum (to say nothing of a few posts by me on Anglican Down Under).

It seems to me that at the heart of the controversy are two issues: whether as Anglicans, being part both of Anglican history and of the Anglican Communion, this move is a plausible 'Anglican' move; and whether as part of GAFCON with its Jerusalem Declaration's clause 7 upholding the BCP Ordinal, Sydney can with integrity support both the JD and its own resolution.

Here I do not want to tackle the whole controversy, but to take up a query raised in a comment on the Fulcrum forum - a query which is entirely reasonable and proper to raise in a fair and full discussion of Anglican order:

"In Anglican tradition word and sacrament go together. If we allow deacons and lay readers to preach why can't they then preside/administer at communion. In Anglican tradition word and sacrament go together, surely."

Word and sacrament do go together in Anglican tradition concerning eucharistic ministry. There is also, we should acknowledge, a strong Anglican tradition of non-eucharistic worship expressed through services such as Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer - services of the word and not of the sacrament. But if we are to speak of word and sacrament 'in Anglican tradition' then we can make the following observations:

(i) Anglican tradition goes back into the great tradition of the undivided church itself, and in that tradition priests/presbyters or bishops have been the presiders at the eucharist.
(ii) Anglican tradition has made distinctions between orders of the church in respect of sacramental ministry: bishops may ordain, confirm, marry, baptise, preside at the eucharist; presbyters may marry, baptise, preside at the eucharist, and join with the bishop in laying hands on a deacon being ordained a priest/presbyter; deacons may baptise, assist the priest at the eucharist. It is not inconsistent with this tradition of distinction of orders of ministry to approve lay people preaching but not presiding.
(iii) Anglican tradition does not understand 'ministry of the word' to be equivalent to 'ministry of the sacrament'. A sacrament is a visible word, and the ministry of the word may include explanation of the sacrament taking place in the service, but the ministry of the word is not a straightforward equivalence of the ministry of the sacrament. Preaching should flow from a recognised spiritual gift within the preacher (e.g. 1 Peter 4:11), but presiding at the sacrament flows from a recognised appointment to the office of priest/presbyter. (Later addition: nevertheless all priests should be able to teach/preach since the pastoral responsibility of the office of priest should be expressed through the ministry of the word and of the sacrament. My point is that gifted preachers within the congregation should not be denied opportunity to preach even if they are not called to pastoral responsibility through the priesthood. From a utilitarian point of view, accepting that good sermons take time to prepare, it can be useful for the priest(s) of the parish to be able to share the burden of the ministry of preaching).

I will probably think of a few more things. Here is a final thought for now: in my discernment a considerable motivation for pressing for approval of lay and diaconal presidency is fear of 'clericalism' - domination of the church by clergy; misunderstanding of the role of clergy so that they assume an unbiblical sacerdotal priesthood. This pressure, perhaps fuelled by some post-modern Western desire for as much inclusion and as little exclusion as possible in the life of the church, presses for 'opening up' the ministry. But what does opening up presidency of communion to lay people and to deacons do? It diminishes the point of having a distinct priesthood/presbyterate. Now, let's assume, at least for the moment, that is a good thing. The question then arises in connection with lay presidency, which lay people will be able to preside? If the answer is 'specially selected people', then (effectively) we smuggle the priesthood/presbyterate back into the church. If the answer is 'any baptised lay person' then we have a completely different kind of church, essentially one already in existence called Plymouth or Open Brethren. Similarly with diaconal presidency: effectively deacons become priests/presbyters, even if not actually named as such.

In other words, what, on the face of it, is a plausible desire to broaden the ministry of our church in connection with the sacraments involves a paradox whereby the outcome in the long term is either no actual broadening of the ministry, or a completely different kind of church!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Advent Wreath Blessing, Prayers, Hymn, Comment

Bosco Peters at Liturgy has two posts on Advent Wreath resources, including a hymn sourced from Doug Chaplin's Metacatholic site, and other material, including a joint NZ Anglican-Catholic bishops' letter commending joint services. Check it out here and here.

Wedding Sermon

Click on this link to read an excellent example of a sermon at a wedding, delivered by John Richardson.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reviewing our services

Its always tough being part of a review. Our contribution to worship services is an emotional commitment of ourselves as well as a mental, energy, and ability commitment. So a 'review' of our services can be something we prefer to avoid: 'why were there 17 songs in the service?' is heard as 'why did YOU choose 17 songs?'

Yet without review we may never improve on what we offer; and without improvement we may find that newcomers do not return and regulars slip to irregular attendance.

One smart way to review is to 'self-review' frequently (with 'self-review' meaning either 'I the individual responsible review what goes on' or 'We the team responsible review what goes on'). That way its likely that bad habits will not be fallen into, improvements are constant, and when a "Review" happens, its not so threatening. (A "Review" should happen from time to time since 'self-reviews' are by definition unlikely to incorporate the perspective of 'the other person').

Here are some questions to ask when reviewing worship services:

- how many pieces of paper are we placing in people's hands?
- (if Powerpoint is used instead of paper) how readily viewable is the screen? does its placement enhance the unity of congregation and leader?
- (paper or Powerpoint) is the wording of songs and prayers accurate?
- how well is the sound system working?
- when directions are given (verbally or in writing), are these directions:
(i) clear/understandable
(ii) inclusive/welcoming or exclusionary?*
(iii) appropriately placed?**
- what things are distracting and what are enhancing with respect to worshippers' mood/concentration? (e.g. are there periods of silence? does 'mood music' during (say) communion distract from or enhance communicants' reflection? do Powerpoint slides during intercessions distract from or assist focus on our prayers?)

*A special challenge (IMHO) are the instructions we give around children and infants: all too readily with one badly chosen word we can convey the impression we do not want children and infants present in the service!

**I am continuing to be amazed at the choices some worship leaders make for the placement of notices; but my personal bete-noire is giving instructions on reception of communion just prior to the invitation to people to come forward!!!!!!!???????? The point of the Great Thanksgiving, Prayer of Humble Access and Fraction of the bread is drawing us deeper into union with Christ ... to interrupt the flow of words and actions with banal instructions about dipping, sipping, options re juice/wine is ... just wrong ... and a few other things I shall restrain myself from saying.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Let's have just one lectionary cycle!

Those of us who advance the cause of using the lectionary, apart from bringing any canonical considerations to bear ("you must use it"), commonly draw attention to the catholic and communal considerations of everyone everywhere preaching on the same readings. We worship God together and read Scripture together. But yesterday I had an experience which highlighted the folly of operating two canonically permissible lectionary cycles.

At 8.30 am I preached in one church on the theme 'Things of eternal worth' with the readings 2 Corinthians 4:6-5:10, as laid down by the main lectionary cycle followed in our NZPB (i.e. the two year cycle). At 10.30 am I was in another parish listening to a sermon on Matthew 25:1-13, the gospel prescribed by the three year "RCL" lectionary.

Is it time for our church to settle on one and only one lectionary?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The privilege of preaching

There is an important doctrine called the 'perspicuity of Scripture' or, a little simpler in language, 'the clarity of Scripture'.

As I understand this doctrine (over which there are interesting debates) most can agree that Scripture in respect of its main message of salvation is 'clear' - the ploughman and the barmaid can understand it through reading or hearing Scripture. Things are not so unified if the doctrine is pressed to mean that any reader of Scripture (i.e. with or without education in theology and biblical studies) can understand any part of it so long as (say) they follow a simple interpretative strategy such as allowing 'Scripture to interpret Scripture'.

When evangelicals press the doctrine there is an interesting paradox going on because evangelicals typically press the case for preaching - substantial sermons at every service, if not every meeting of the church. If Scripture is wholly clear, why preach it and not just read it? (!!)

The fact is that parts of Scripture are not easy to understand, or are capable of different interpretations, not all of which are necessarily true. The point and privilege of preaching is the opportunity and responsibility it provides for the preacher to explain the meaning of the passage under consideration.

One such passage occurs tomorrow, Sunday 9th November, in our NZPB two year cycle: Luke 16:1-13.

Actually, this gospel passage is so difficult to interpret I defy any preacher to make perfectly good sense of it!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Anglican Hero

Bosco Peters offers a fine tribute to Richard Hooker (3 November). I agree with Bosco: Hooker is the man for the hour. Especially this hour when, surprisingly or not, a via media is still required between the 'puritanism' of (e.g.) Sydney - see its recent decision to endorse (though not implement) lay presidency and support implementation of diaconal presidency) - and the attractions of Roman Catholicism (which has a lot going for it but still has commitments to teaching difficult to swallow).

Among Hooker's great characteristics is the sheer intelligence of the man; another is the wisdom associated with that intelligence.