Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Tag: Theology (Page 2 of 3)

From Inhabitatio Dei: The Role of Hauerwas in Contemporary Theology

I intended to post this several days ago, but got very busy during and after Holy Week. I hope Halden doesn’t mind me directing attention toward an older post.

Good stuff from Inhabitatio Dei:

Nearly everyone who’s interested in contemporary theology has heard of Stanley Hauerwas. Indeed out of all contemporary theological figures he may be the one who today its hardest to have not heard of or read. One way or another everyone has to deal with Hauerwas. Whether you’re Jeffrey Stout, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Robert Jenson, Stephen Webb or whoever, if you’re writing on ethics, politics, or anything pertaining to the Christian use of force, you simply have to deal with Hauerwas.

However, the flip side of this is that it also seems somewhat fashionable in contemporary theology to not take Hauerwas seriously. A great many theologians seem to take joy in deriding him as little more than a cantankerous bastard with a squeaky voice who is better laughed at then engaged. Now, to my mind both of these dynamics in contemporary theological discourse only point to Stanley’s importance as a theologian. If, on the one hand a great many people find him an indispensable interlocutor and a comparable number of other folks consider him simply someone to ridicule away, it would seem a reasonable conclusion that whatever Stanley’s got to say it is either vitally important or vitally dangerous.

So this brings me to my question, what is the role of Stanley Hauerwas in contemporary theology? What position does he, or should he occupy in the cartography of doing theology today? What do people think?

{read it all}

Ok… here’s my response. I’m closing comments here because I want to encourage everyone to go over to the Inhabitatio Dei blog and leave their responses in the comments there.

Hauerwas is by his own admission a contrarian, but I think what is first and foremost is that he is a Christian contrarian, and he is someone who strives to allow the gospel to challenge his inclinations and then announces that challenge to others. Sometimes the challenge Hauerwas proclaims isn’t necessarily the one that others might see–sometimes the challenge is seen as simply part of Hauerwas’ own biases. Be that as it may, and taking into account that there are places where I disagree with him (his total commitment to non-violence for example), I can’t recall a time when he has asked a question that I’ve thought about later and said “that really wasn’t important” or “why address that?” Instead, I’ve been challenged to examine my own beliefs in light of the Holy Scripture and the Christian tradition. At times I have come to change my perspectives, while at others I haven’t. But even in the latter cases, my foundation for thinking as I do has been greatly strengthened.

Ironically perhaps, several of the critiques leveled at Hauerwas in the discussion thread seem to be highlighting aspects of this thought that he is intentional about. For instance, one commentator in particular criticizes Hauerwas for “inconsistency” because he largely focusses his criticism on liberal protestantism while remaining in “liberal” protestant institutions, i.e. teaching at a United Methodist University and attending United Methodist and Episcopal churches. As another commentator pointed out quite succinctly, to view this as inconsistent is to miss a major facet of Hauerwas’ thinking: to be a witness where God has placed you. There is a particularly poor example of “consistency” given by comparing Hauerwas to his former student R.R. Reno who did in fact leave the Episcopal Church for Roman Catholicism. This is not intended in any way as a slam on Reno (whom I have a great deal of respect for), but his move to the RC Church can hardly be considered the most “consistent” outcome of his theology.

But while Hauerwas isn’t particularly inconsistent, it is important to note that consistency as such doesn’t deem to enter into his project as any sort of laudable goal. There is consistency to be sure, but only in the sense that he tries to make faithfulness to the Jesus we know from Scripture the hallmark of his work. Hauerwas would be the first to say that any particular point of his theology that was seen to be in conflict with scripture should be rejected (of course, those pronouncements are debatable, as always). Hauerwas’ work primarily consists of “occasional theology,” that is, he writes for particular occasions or purposes, which is appropriate when one considers his Methodist/Anglican roots. Certainly he has ranged widely and been influenced by those he has come into contact with (Roman Catholics and Mennonites etc…), but perhaps there is a reason he finds himself at home among Methodists and Episcopalians.

In the occasional nature of his theology, one can also see the sense in which it is practical (one of the reasons he is not taken seriously by some academic theologians). Hauerwas’ writing serves, at least in my humble opinion, as a bridge between academic theology and practical theology without fitting squarely in either place. His work is too academic to be considered “practical” by some, and it is too “practical” to be considered sufficiently academic by others. But what he is doing is providing a framework for engagement with the world on the gospel’s terms (at least as he sees them), and in that sense he is providing a great service to the Church.

In the end, it seems that the person leveling this particular criticism of Hauerwas is simply irritated about the fact that there are people within their Church (it seems they are Episcopalian–probably could’ve guessed :-p ) who criticize liberalism. In addition to destroying any possibility for self-criticism, the commentator seems to have totally missed the differences between the various ways we use the term “liberal” in our society and instead views that as interchangeable. So, Hauerwas shouldn’t be in a “liberal” Protestant body because he critiques “liberalism” and he certainly shouldn’t be attending an Episcopal Church where the parishioners tend to be the most “liberally educated” among the various church bodies. Of course, “Liberal Protestantism” when referring to the theological movement, such as those professors of the German State Church that cozied up to Hitler, overlaps but is not coterminous with “liberal protestant” when used to refer to the mainold-line Protestant churches which is not the same as what is meant by a “liberal education” and none of the above is the same as political “liberalism,” all of which seem confused by this criticism.

In the end, I think Jonathan Wilson offers the best and most balanced assessment of Hauerwas’ place in contemporary theology. I could go on in more detail and at greater length, but this post is already very late, and I want it out of my “drafts” section. Perhaps it will be worthwhile to some of you.

From "In Spirit and Truth:" Baptists on Baptism Baptist style.

I ran across a new blog recently entitled “In Spirit and Truth.”  The author has quite a few interesting posts up.  Here’s a selection from his discussion of a Baptist panel’s discussion of Baptism:

Finally, Thomas Nettles said “The Old Covenant was promising that the New Covenant would be a circumcision of the heart,” in an effort to emphasize his belief “that circumcision under the Old Covenant is fulfilled in the New Covenant not by baptism, but by regeneration.”


This is an interesting position, although I believe Holy Scripture soundly undermines such a view. The distinction between a circumcision of the “flesh” and a circumcision of the “heart” is not exclusively a new covenant emphasis — it is an old covenant one. The Old Covenant did not “promise” that, someday, the New Covenant would be a circumcision of the heart — it exhorted to Israel that it should be of the heart, right then and there. The sign should always correspond to the reality of what the Sacrament signifies about the person. This is why Moses says to a circumcised Israel in his second giving of the Law, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 10:12),” emphasizing a holistic faith, along with “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn (Deuteronomy 10:16).”  The promise of Abraham, fulfilled with the incarnation of Jesus Christ when the Word became flesh (John 1:14), was not annulled by the Old Covenant, as Paul teaches so plainly in his Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 3:17-18). The Old Covenant very much emphasizes the everlasting covenant that God made with Israel (cf. Genesis 9:16; 17:7,13,19; 2 Samuel 23:5; 1 Chronicles 16:17; Psalm 105:10; Isaiah 24:5; 55:3; 61:8; Jeremiah 32:40; 50:5; Ezekiel 16:60; 37:26), so that Moses could say with full confidence to the people of Israel, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live (Deuteronomy 30:6).”


{Read it all}

Unity Cannot be Created, it can only be Recognized.

Over the years of conflict in the Episcopal Church, we have often heard the statement that “what unites us is greater than what divides us.” If that is the case, then our unity is a foregone conclusion. If it is not, then our institutional unity is a lie. Carl Braaten, in the book Mother Church: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism says this about unity, and I think it’s something important for our Bishops and the rest of us, to keep in mind:

Mother Church: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism

Bishop James Pike I hope we won’t let any feelings of negativity toward Bishop Pike to hinder our appreciation for what Braaten says. was once attacked by certain conservative Anglo-Catholics For not regarding episcopal succession as essential for the validity of ministry and sacraments. He quipped back that while Episcopalians have apostolic succession, other churches seem to be having apostolic success. To have apostolic success, it would seem that emphasis on evangelical truth must take priority over ecclesiastical unity, as important as unity is. A reunited church of the future that subordinates the truth of the gospel to the unity of the church would only set the stage for a new rupture as severe as the Reformation schism. Christian faith seeks unity in the truth of Christ and refuses to be indiscriminately joined with those who seek unity merely for the sake of convenience and who have become indifferent to the question of truth. The unity of the church is something that must derive from unity in truth. A visible continuity in the structure of the church is not sufficient compensation for any lack of unity in the gospel of Christ. Community can only be founded on unity of faith. […] Consequently, in a certain sense we cannot create unity, we can only recognize it. How do we do that? We don’t do it by looking at each other but by looking toward the gospel. If it is the same gospel we see, then the church is already one. Carl Braaten, Mother Church: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism, 32

If this goes in one direction, i.e. seeing the same gospel leads to unity in fact, then isn’t it safe to assume that not seeing the same gospel leads to disunion in fact? So…what gospel are we looking toward in the Episcopal Church?

Discipline and the Church

[Update: Bishop Howe of Central Florida has proposed a resolution that is similar to Ephraim Radner’s. The only problem is that reappraisers in the church are already poo pooing it because they think it forces the liberal Bishops to make an admission of some wrong-doing, or that it is simply unfair to ask them to absent themselves from the councils of the Communion without the reasserters doing the same.]

I have been following the developments at the House of Bishop’s meeting with some interest over the past several days, as have many within the Anglican/Episcopal fold. I have been encouraged to a small degree by a letter released by the “Windsor Bishops”that might serve as the basis for a resolution for our current conflicts. I say I’ve been encouraged only to a small degree because, while I appreciated the statement and seeing that both our current and retired Bishops of Tennessee had signed it, I haven’t seen anything to indicated that this proposal or anything substantive has really been taken up by the Bishops in their meeting. Every press conference I’ve seen has been discouraging–more ambiguity, more unease, more discouragement for people struggling to stay within the Episcopal Church as it currently exists.

That’s not to say that absolutely nothing is happening. There have been several proposals presented for possible ways forward. The most notable are those presented by the Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina, and the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, a member of the Anglican Communion Institute and a member of the Covenant Design group.

Both Harmon and Radner suggest that there may be a way forward for the Anglican Communion if Bishops of the Episcopal church voluntarily absent themselves from the deliberations of the communion. (you can see a note of comparison between the suggestions by Matt Kennedy on Stand Firm).

In Harmon’s scenario, the entire House of Bishops would voluntarily exclude themselves from the deliberations of the Anglican Communion, thereby representing our corporate responsibility for the current conflict and resulting loss of trust (this is not an us/them issue). This suggestion has much to commend it, and I think it bears a similar motivation to the reflection/thought experiment I wrote entitled “A Proposal for Repentance: what would it look like?” where I was, at least in part, inspired by Dr. Harmon’s statement at Plano, that we are all under judgment and in need of repentance. Here’s what “Bishop Theophilus Fictitious” suggested then (March of 2006), particularly relating to how repentance might be given liturgical and sacramental expression:

And so, friends, what is it that we must do. I have spoken of repentance, but what would it look like for us, for our church, to repent in these latter days where repentance has all but been forgotten, within the church as without?

I reiterate that this is a repentance of the whole church, not just of those who voted to approve the titular Bishop of New Hampshire. Nor is it only for those who have consented to or actively went forward with either same sex unions or the ordination of sexually active homosexuals. This is a time of repentance for us all, for our failures, for our neglect of Christ and his message, for our failure to serve Christ, to serve others, to set our face and stay the course.

As such, I want to suggest that, from a period determined (either Advent or Lent, depending on the time of year), we as the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church USA, determine and state that we will hereby abstain from either partaking in or celebrating ALL sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, except in cases of extreme illness or imminent death.

We do this recognizing that the Eucharist is not a gift of grace only, but a gift of judgment and discernment for the people of God. Just as the Lord warned the Israelites while in the wilderness to maintain the appropriate boundaries lest he “break out against them,” so too does the Eucharist have boundaries, established by our Lord, evidenced in the fate of Judas, explained by St. Paul, that those who eat and drink unworthily eat and drink judgment or damnation upon themselves. Not only will we as Bishops abstain from the sacraments, but we heartily encourage all our Priests to abstain as well (except in those cases where pastoral necessity may require. i.e. baptism, marriage, moments of death and funerals), and to explain such abstention, its reasons and symbolism to their parishioners. We will compel no one outside the house of Bishops to maintain this abstention, but we recommend that it be a sign of repentance for the whole Episcopal Church.

We will maintain this abstention from communion as a sign of our unworthiness and repentance and as a sign of the communion which has been shattered with our fellow Christians around the world. At the designated time (Appropriately Easter or The Nativity of our Lord), a select foreign Bishop appointed either by ballot at the Primates meeting or selected by the Archbishop of Canterbury, will admit one designated Bishop of the Episcopal Church back into the Communion through a Eucharistic service of repentance and reconciliation.

That Episcopal Bishop will then, the following Sunday or major feast, admit another ECUSA Bishop back into communion, the order (beyond the first who will be picked by the primates) having been designated by ballot in the House of Bishops. Each Sunday or major feast following, those Bishops who have been readmitted to communion will do the same for another ECUSA Bishop, the number growing exponentially.

{read it all}

Kendall’s suggestion, which I think is a good one, is this:

“For myself, I will consider those in New Orleans serious when they consider offering the Anglican Communion something like this statement:

We realize we have caused huge damage to the whole Anglican Communion and therefore, we, as a body, voluntarily withdraw from coming to Lambeth 2008.

Now please note this means ALL the TEC Bishops. No exceptions. It would allow Dr. Williams to get nearly all (perhaps actually all?) the rest of the Communion to Lambeth, and it would show a sense of corporate responsibility for the wrong.

Yes, I know it is not perfect. I also know that it would only be PART of a solution and that there are many other questions which would have to be addressed. I also know it would only happen by divine intervention.

But only things LIKE THIS will really get us anywhere given the degree of damage, alienation, confusion and struggle.”

{HT Stand firm, T1:9}

In comparison, Dr, Radner suggests that only those Bishops who are unwilling or unready to accede to the requests of the Communion should voluntarily withdraw from the life of the communion, while those Bishop’s and Dioceses that are so commited would continue to participate:

My own hope, in light of this limited sense of the Archbishop’s desires, would be this: that the “Windsor Bishops” resolution be voted upon, and that, following that vote, there be an agreement worked out by which those who cannot, in good conscience (and here Abp. Anis’ plea provides a concrete possibility of direciton), abide by the acknowledged teaching and discipline of the Communion, by which they will temporarily withdraw from the Communion’s formal councils for an undetermined time (5 to 10 years was the suggestion of Prof. Grieb at the last House of Bishops’ meeting, a suggestion greeted with much appreciation); and during this time, those dioceses committed to the Communion’s teaching and discipline will move forward with the Communion’s life, and those congregations and clergy in dissenting TEC dioceses will be put under the oversight of Communion dioceses. When this is done, a formal request will be made to the Primates that those providing extra-geogrphaical oversight give up that role, and fold their congregations back into the Communion-linked dioceses and oversight of American bishops. TEC will not cease to exist (though, as with the Communion, not all will participate in its formal life); it will, rather, exist in a state of partition.

Like Matt Kennedy, I find much to commend in both of these ideas. I would be ecstatic to see either one put into place, though I think Radner’s may be less confusing to many orthodox who may not quite understand why their fellowship with the global communion should be so limited.

For myself, I would not only be encouraged to see such a step taken because I think it would provide the best way for the Anglican Communion to not only survive, but thrive, but I would also be encouraged because it would in effect, be a sort of self-imposed discipline that would allow time and space not only for the Communion to heal, but for TEC to re-learn what it means to be Church. What do I mean by that? Lately I’ve been thinking about discipline in the Church; the following is a summary of some of my thoughts. I hope they may be valuable as a starting point for discussion.

Where there is no discipline, there is no Church.

That may be a shocking statement to some, but it is a true one nonetheless. Consider first what discipline means. We think of discipline primarily in terms of punishment, and perhaps that betrays another example of the impoverishment of our language and thought. Consider: to be termed a “disciplinarian” is tantamount to being accused of being totalitarian or abusive. But discipline is not primarily about punishment, though punishment may be one of the acceptable tools to enforce discipline. “Discipline,” like the term “disciple” comes from the Latin word for “instruction,” and a person who lives a “disciplined” life is one who strives to set the bounds of their conduct by a particular teaching–their “discipline.” There is no getting away from discipline in the Church because there is no getting away from discipleship. Our Lord gave us the Great Commission saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”(Matt. 28:19). As Christians we can no more reject discipline and discipleship than we can reject baptism–they require each other, and we are bound to them both by the Word of God, incarnate and written.

The question then, is whether the Anglican Communion in general and the Episcopal Church in particular can truly claim to be part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church when we find it impossible to exercise even the most basic discipline in our common life, save that “discipline” which protects the letter of the law with not even a nod to its spirit. The truth, as hard as it is to stomach, is that if the Anglican Communion cannot find a way to discipline itself, if TEC continues on it’s way without any check, then the Anglican Communion will in effect, as a body, give up any claim to be a functional Church–instead, we will simply be playing dress up, and pretending–“having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). In fact, I think it’s safe to say that TEC has already taken that step–we rejected any notion that we are fully or truly a part of the Church by affirming not just “local option” for the blessing of same-sex unions, but “local option” in the ordaining of non-celibate homosexuals to the priesthood. This point was made quite forcefully in another context, by theologians of the ELCA, our sister church, who stated in regard to their own denomination’s (since affirmed) drift toward local option:

By using the language of “this approach” (8) instead of “this change in policy” the Task Force advocates that the ELCA should “trust congregations, synods, candidacy committees, and bishops to discern the Holy Spirit’s gifts for ministry among the baptized and make judgments appropriate to each situation” (8). In the New Testament, however, the criterion for the discernment of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is a broadly based, ecclesial determination and not an individual, local preference. If the Report before us were to be implemented, the ELCA, as a national church body, would abdicate its theological and moral constitutional responsibility by relegating the decisions for which it alone is responsible to regional and local components. Far beyond transforming the polity of the ELCA into a congregational one, such an action would so fatally extend the boundaries of diversity in matters of doctrinal and ethical substance that this church would no longer be an effective collaborator either in the communio of the Lutheran World Federation or in the multiple dimensions of ecumenical dialogue. The proposed shift of matters of such enormous import from the national to the local levels will have two adverse consequences: 1. structural dissolution of the ELCA as it currently exists, and; 2. creation of intense division and disunity at the local level, thus effectively undermining “ways to live together faithfully in the midst of our disagreements” (5).

{read it all}

In effect, the allowance of local option means that TEC (and now the ELCA) have ceased to be churches in the fullest sense of the word, and have in fact–though in most cases without understanding the ramifications–taken the first practical steps toward dissolution of their ecclesial bodies. Such “solutions” to the disagreements we are experiencing do nothing but provide for further alienation and mistrust and put into practical and theological form the ideological dissonance that has existed for sometime between the various factions within these institutions. The fragmentation that we have seen over the past several years in The Episcopal Church has brought home the reality of this theological bomb.

The ambiguity and anxiety that people feel within the Episcopal Church is the result of the fact that they are actually paying attention to what is going on. People feel a distinct lack of direction and leadership because the institution that our forbears created to further the cause of the Gospel within the bounds of the Anglican tradition is breaking down and nothing new has yet emerged to take it’s place.

Is this necessarily a bad thing?

While this transition is certainly painful and is causing more stress now than any ecclesial conflict in recent memory, I don’t believe that makes it a “bad” thing. In fact, I believe it is the nature of human institutions to pass away–they, like the individuals who organize and support them–are dust and ashes. As an Anglican, I do not believe the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is co-terminus with any man made institution–institutions are created to further the cause of the Gospel–when they cease to do that in any meaningful way they need to be renewed or, when the spiritual gangrene is widespread, they simply need to die and be replaced.

Does this mean I am in favor of starting a new Church? Well–frankly, I don’t know that such is even a possible option. Either one is part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church or one is not. I don’t agree with the logic that says “because you (or your congregation) exists within he Episcopal Church and the institution of which you are a part is dying, you must ‘come out’ in order to be part of the Church.” If faithful Christians are part of the Body of Christ, and it’s into the whole Church that we’re incorporated in baptism, then there’s no reason to say that because the brick and morter institution, the money-sharing once-was-missional-denomination is dying, that the gatherings of the faithful associated with it are also dying (though certainly many are). That is not to say that there aren’t practical reasons that congregations have encountered which have led them to exit the institutional structures of TEC in order to fulfill their ministries in as faithful a way as they can.

If not death, then what is the alternative for those gatherings of the faithful that find themselves in stagnant or dying denominations?

As I consider the landscape of our current conflicts I have to wonder how much of them are shaped by a form of “American exceptionalism.” Sectarianism is, along with various forms of gnosticism, a besetting heresy in American Christianity. How often have faithful Christians sought to create holy communities by coming out of sick denominations only to succumb to the same sickness themselves in a generation or two–if not less. Such a view of the struggles of Churches fails to consider the fact that there have been moments of spiritual renewal as well as malaise in many denominations.

Indeed, there is something to be said for the faithfulness that stands and speaks truth to power rather than that which drives us to excise ourselves from the ailing institution in order to create one wherein “we” are the power. I have many friends who have left the Episcopal Church and either they or their congregations have sought some form of alternative Anglican oversight. I don’t begrudge them their decision in most cases. Indeed, there are many places in our nation where I would doubtless have been forced to make similar decisions. But that has not happened in the Diocese of Tennessee. What has happened is that those of us who feel strongly that we must maintain our communion at the international level, that we must be faithful to scripture and traditional Christian moral teaching–have become more and more irrelevant on the national scene. Thankfully, of course, it is not relevance we seek, but truth. And the truth is that discipline, if it is to mean anything must be imposed with some degree of broad agreement if not unanimity by the instruments that our Communion possesses, and others which it may form. If this does not or cannot happen, then fragmentation will occur as different bodies that can enforce discipline within themselves emerge, and the Anglican Communion will cease to exist in any meaningful way.

What this means is that calls for leaving the dead to bury their dead in the Episcopal Church are actually not serving the cause of discipline. They may be serving the cause of creating new ecclesiastical entities that can support discipline within themselves–but they are not actually calling anyone who declines to join them to repentance, nor do they seem to be serving the cause of discipline within the broader Anglican Communion. Indeed, the level of fracturing within the American Episcopal Church serves as a testimony not only to the fact that there are orthodox Christians who are seeking to remain faithful members of the Anglican Communion outside the bounds of The Episcopal Church, but also to the lack of ability the Anglican Communion has demonstrated to enact any sort of discipline. In an ironic twist, by departing the Episcopal Church for greener pastures in which they seek to remain part of the larger Communion, folks may simply be bearing witness to the fact that the Anglican Communion itself is unable to function fully as the Church.

The Discipline we can preserve

And yet, these questions of discipline do not make up the whole of the subject. To speak of calling to repentance and institutional correction is to talk about a limited form of discipline within the Church. There is another form of discipline that can be preserved even within an institution that has begun to cast off the designation of Church. This is the form of discipline represented by our worship, the sacraments and our practices of prayer.

Article XIX of the Articles of Religion states that “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

The visible Church of Christ is to be found then, in any congregation where the Word of God is preached and the sacraments are “duly ministered.” This says nothing of jurisdiction, affiliation or the like. And why should it? Anglicans have never claimed to be the entire church, alone. There has always been a recognition that the bounds of the Church and the bounds of the institution were not one and the same. This is something for us to be particularly thankful for, because, as Anglicanism has never claimed to be the entire Church, sufficient unto itself, it has also never claimed that the sacraments belong solely to her. Instead, the sacraments and sacramental acts are God’s gift to the world through the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church which Christ instituted, and which the Holy Spirit preserves and in which all faithful people and congregations may claim membership.

The first Bishop of North Carolina, John Stark Ravenscroft once preached a sermon on the subject of the Church in which he said:

We cannot help it, my brethren, if persons whose conduct is a scandal to all Christian profession, will call themselves Episcopalians: the discipline of the Church can be applied only to those who are known and received as communicants…1

I would go further than the good Bishop and say that we cannot control the beliefs or conduct of anyone who calls themselves by the name of Christ–and yet, as Christians we bear the repercussions of it, regardless of denomination. At the same time, we also bear a responsibility, not only to give glory to Christ, but to offer support and correction to those who claim to be part of the body.

In order to do this, however, we must “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers,” because this is the primary discipline of the Church, and it is only in this form of discipline that any other can find its grounding.

What say you?

  1. The Works of the Rt. Rev. John Stark Ravenscroft: his sermons and controversial tracts, p 101 []

Hauerwas quote of the day

Stan the manThe following quote is from Sanctify Them in the Truth, and the opening paragraph of the essay “In Defense of Cultural Christianity: Reflections on Going to Church.”

One of the most important questions you can ask theologians is where they go to church. For is theologians do not go to church, they may begin to think their theology is more important than the church. Theology can too easily begin to appear as ‘ideas,’ rather than the kind of discourse that must, if it is to be truthful, be embedded in the practices of actual lived communities. That is one reason I do not do ‘systematic theology.’ Systems can be quite beautiful but also easily subject to ideological perversions.

Positively Anglican Anglo-Methodist. Or Anabaptist. Or both? :-p

Web roundup

Some interesting things I’ve been reading from around the web:

From Christianity Today, “Amish Grace and the Rest of Us”:

We often assume that humans have innate needs in the face of violence and injustice. For instance, some who said that the Amish forgave Charles Roberts “too quickly,” assumed that Amish people had denied a basic human need to get even. But perhaps our real human need is to find ways to move beyond tragedy with a sense of healing and hope. What we learn from the Amish, both at Nickel Mines and more generally, is that how we choose to move on from tragic injustice is culturally formed. For the Amish, who bring their own religious resources to bear on injustice, the preferred way to live on with meaning and hope is to offer forgiveness—and offer it quickly. That offer, including the willingness to forgo vengeance, does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong. It does, however, constitute a first step toward a future that is more hopeful, and potentially less violent, than it would otherwise be.

{read it all}

From Covenant-Communion and Fr. Tony Clavier “A New Baptismal Theology?”

Most of the contents of the bishops’ findings should not take up our time. One is reminded of a Dan Brown novel in which a hidden document reveals that everyone has been wrong or ill-informed until now, or at least the Seventies when suddenly and in America new light bursts forth. Indeed there’s not much difference in method here than in that found in the justifications for any of the other “nativist” religious movements which emerged in America in the 19th Century. Golden tablets may seem rather more romantic than the findings of lawyer bishops, who note that entirely new interpretations of Scripture now suddenly burst forth and new concepts of just what a Christian is emerge from a re-appraisal of baptism.

{read it all}

Discussion of the Federal Vision and New Perspective on Paul controversey in the PCA and OPC by a Lutheran…some good insights:

Now, imagine you are a TULIP Presbyterianism, and you want baptism to actually do something to the baptized baby. You want baptism to really be a “washing of regeneration” as Paul writes to Titus. And you want the visible communion of Holy Communion today to be in some integral sense part of the future communion of the wedding supper of the Lamb. Now you want these things because the Bible obviously says them. They are expressed in both major themes and concrete proof-texts. Peter Leithart mentions for example 1 Cor. 6:11, Gal. 3:28-29.
Unlike an Augsburg Evangelical or Roman Catholic, however, you don’t have the category of genuine apostasy. (More on this here.) You can’t say: this baptism was indeed a true baptism of the Holy Spirit, but unfortunately as an adult she rejected God’s grace and became an atheist. Or that when he was with us he was truly enjoying today communion with Christ in Holy Communion, but then he began living in adultery and his conscience was seared. As a Reformed, you can only say, they seemed to be Christians but really weren’t.

[Note: I think I would add Armenian/Anglican/Wesleyan to his list of Augsburg Evangelical and RC.]

{read it all}

From Reformed Catholicism, “You have to believe *something* and take a stand…”:

Something happened after the Reformers were gone, something really tragically bad. We all split apart into a thousand perpetually warring sects, each one of us forgetting our common roots as we increasingly narrowed our respective visions of “Truth” so that the word became a simple synonym for “Whatever we think.” Nowadays we can’t even respectfully argue about what the Fathers meant because we’ve all inherited these vast polemical traditions that are purely self-justifying: Augustine is our guy, not yours, you filthy heretics. Nor can we even respectfully argue about what the Reformers meant: If Calvin was here today, he would certainly be a member of the PCA, you Institutes-twisting scum. Lift high the banner of Flacius, and let the very memory of Spener perish from the earth! Away with all cursed heretics!

Contrast this with theological discourse in the catholic Church before the Reformation. In order to become a master of theology you had to write a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, a work chock full of an astonishingly diverse array of patristic citations–not, I note, citations of post-patristic people whose undies were all in a twist about Some Big Burning Issue that supposedly only they and whatever meager band of followers they had correctly understood. A bit earlier than Lombard, even, Peter Abelard had compiled a book of patristic sentences (Sic et Non) in which he stated that because of the tremendous diversity of the Fathers

All writings belonging to this class are to be read with full freedom to criticize, and with no obligation to accept unquestioningly; otherwise the way would be blocked to all discussion, and posterity be deprived of the excellent intellectual exercise of debating difficult questions of language and presentation.

Now if “this class” contains Augustine, it surely must contain Luther and Calvin!

[Note: a very good post with good insights put humerously.]

{read it all}

I’m off to write a bit about discipline in the Church. Enjoy.

St. Bonaventure on faith and reason

I’ve been involved in an online conversation over at Thom Chittom’s blog about faith and reason which sparked a memory of my Medieval Philosophy course in college. Evidently Thomas Aquinas was condemned in 1277 along with the Latin Averroeists, though his condemnation was later lifted. Be that as it may, the condemnation of 1277 was based upon St. Bonaventure’s Conferences on the Hexaemeron.

This is what Bonaventure says about faith and reason:

Thus there is danger in descending to the originals; there is more danger in descending to the summas of the masters; but the greatest danger
lies in descending to philosophy. This is because the words of the originals are pretty and can be too attractive; but the Holy Scripture does not have pretty words like that. Augustine would not take it for good if I should prefer him to Christ because of the beauty of his words, just as Paul reproached those who wished to be baptized in the name of Paul. In the course of study, then, caution must be exercised in descending from careful attention in reading Scripture to the originals. There should be a similar warning about descending to the summas of the masters, for the masters sometimes do not understand the saints, as the Master of the Sentences, great as he was, did not understand Augustine in some places. Whence the summas of the master are like the introductions of boys to the text of Aristotle. Let the student beware, then, lest he depart from the common way.

Likewise, the greatest danger is in the descent to philosophy. “Forasmuch as this people hath cast away the waters of Siloe, that go with silence, and hath rather taken Rasin, and the sons of Romelia: Therefore behold the Lord will bring upon them the waters of the river strong and many” (Isaiah. 8, 6-7). Whence there is no going back to Egypt for such things.[…]

Again, take note of the sultan to whom the blessed Francis replied, when we wished to dispute with him about the faith, that faith is above reason, and is proved only by the authority of Scripture and the divine power, which is manifested in miracles; hence he made the fire which he wished to enter into their presence. For the water of philosophical science is to be mingled with the wine of Holy Scripture merely so that the wine is transmitted into water, which is indeed a bad sign and contrary to the primitive church, when recently converted clerics such as Dionysius dismissed the books of the philosophers and took up the books of Holy Scripture. But in modern times the wine is changed into water and the bread into stone, just the reverse of the miracles of Christ.

(From Hyman and Walsh Philosophy in the Middle Ages, 458-459)

I think this is interesting because it demonstrates the tension between those who consider reason higher than faith and those who considered faith higher than reason–a tension that I think broke out again in the Protestant Reformation with its largely Augustinian outlook. I once read that the Franciscans were the root of some tendencies in Evangelicalism… I think one can see that in Bonaventure in some ways… consider the way he talks about scripture… he sounds like the Baptist preachers I grew up listening to. :-p

The original post that this was written as a comment on, was about Pope Benedict XVI’s discussion of faith and reason. The position that Benedict takes is one that sees faith and reason as not being in competition, but rather, faith as–for lack of a better concept at the moment–the supreme reasonable response to the reasonable God revealed in Jesus Christ the incarnate Word.

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Worship, lecture or entertainment.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the appropriate thrust of the Sunday service. My thoughts were reignited recently by a comment this past Sunday at a congregational meeting. Someone noted that a few Sundays ago I made the comment “we’re all Christians here…”. Now, I may well have made the comment…it wasn’t in my notes, but then I don’t go verbatim from them and add quite a bit to certain parts of my sermons as I’m preaching. My wife also insists that I made the comment, and so, I did.

But the observation got me thinking. Certainly one should not assume that everyone listening to the sermon on Sunday morning is a Christian, but I wonder if sometimes our mistakes lie too much in the other direction. It seems to me that the problem with a great many evangelical worship services is that they are primarily evangelistic while a lot of liberal protestant services don’t see the need for evangelism at all. Maybe I’m exaggerating–but only slightly. Because of this I’ve consciously tried to gear my preaching and teaching on Sunday morning to the people who gather as believers in Jesus Christ… in other words, my sermon is meant to encourage discipleship and the worship is, well, worship.

All this made me remember an article I’d read several years ago in Touchstone Magazine by Gillis Harp entitled “Mall Christianity:

There is, in fact, no biblical warrant for turning Sunday worship into an evangelistic meeting (though there may well be evangelistic elements within the liturgy). This transformation of the main Sunday service actually began in the early nineteenth century. It was evangelists like Charles Grandison Finney and his successors who turned church worship into a revival meeting. In some respects, “seeker sensitive” advocates are simply extending the logic of this earlier innovation.

They are extending with considerable creativity and characteristic American energy this Arminian, market-driven model. Finney spoke about the need for what he termed “excitements.” What many American Evangelicals have discovered is that the old excitements no longer work; they have acquired churchy associations in the wider culture, and thus new excitements are needed. The oral culture of the nineteenth century could accommodate long lectures, but postmodern seekers have notoriously short attention spans. Victorian folk wanted earnest Evangelical didacticism; contemporary seekers want entertainment.

The New Testament Church did not, however, show this confusion about either the nature of evangelism or its proper setting. It did not provide “excitements,” other than the excitement of the Good News. In the New Testament, the ecclesia gathered together on the first day of the week to hear the Word of God, for corporate prayer (“the prayers”), and for the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42 and 20:7). Significantly, none of the evangelistic preaching in Acts occurs within the context of the church gathered for Sunday worship.

I did a little digging and found that Peter Toon makes a similar point in one of his essays for the same magazine entitled “Sunday Guests.” in which he notes that he recalls “the days when the Salvation Army called the Sunday morning service the ‘Holiness Meeting’ and the evening service ‘Evangelism Meeting.’ That is a careful and workable distinction between a service of worship, edification, and calls unto holiness for believers, and a service to which others were invited with a view to converting them to Jesus Christ. Many churches today, especially those much into “church growth,” have conflated, confused, and complicated the relation of evangelism to worship.” I recall reading similar sentiments somewhere by a former Episcopal Priest turned Eastern Orthodox from South Carolina, but I can’t remember where I read it.

All this is to say, that the Church has some real confusion going on about what our Sunday worship is meant to be. This isn’t the problem of one segment of Christ’s Church, but the whole body–I think we’re all guilty of missing something. In my own background as a Southern Baptist I became disenchanted with what I experienced as two Sunday Schools on Sunday mornings, with the second one being called “Church.” I was deeply concerned by the fact that so many people–especially the elderly in the congregation–would come to Church on Sunday, attend Sunday School and then not stay for the service–what’s more important? I think I’d rather give praise and worship to God myself. When I became Episcopalian I discovered a Church tradition that truly worshipped on Sunday, and it felt so good–still does. But what I eventually discovered is that while Episcopalians may worship on Sundays, they often haven’t set up good formation opportunities at other times either, so that in some (many perhaps) cases, people who want to go deeper into God’s word and reflect on his plan for thier lives are forced to study on their own…many don’t.

In my title I suggested that there are three sorts of services that vie for us: worship, lecture or entertainment. Perhaps another could be added, such as “social” or perhaps that could be rolled into entertainment. So which of these should we strive for? My own inclination (and the inclination of the way I’ve labeled them–sneaky I know…) is to emphasize worship first and foremost. The lecture doesn’t make sense because there are other forums in the Church for people to learn that are more suited to this type of teaching than the worship service. Entertainment–which can come in many forms and doesn’t just include one segment of the Christian population–is one that has become a major issue in the church.

Entertainment and the role of the people in worship is another thing that I’ve been thinking off and on about for several days, especially since I’ve been reading quite a few books targeted at church growth. One thing that kept setting off my “inner speech” was the number of times the authors referred to the people in Church on Sunday as the “audience,” and how many elements of the entertainment industry were pulled in. Don’t get me wrong, there were some good ideas and information. For instance, one thing that I might take into consideration is the fact that Sunday mid-Morning is the time when most seekers visit Churches. So no more comments about how we’re all Christians–at least not consciously. And I’m considering the advice that most formational studies, classes etc… for those who are already believers take place during the week, freeing Sunday up for worship and fellowship with newcomers. But I don’t think we’ll be incorporating lighting from a Celine Dion show anytime soon, or coaching our “worship leaders” on smiling, or making sure the camera shows their faces during worship *enter rant mode* (one of my greatest pet peeves with some mega-churches is the zeroing in on people’s faces during worship and putting them up on the jumbo-tron *shudder*–who can take any arguments against iconography from evangelicals seriously when that sort of blatantly idolatrous stuff is going on in some of their largest churches and no one calls them on it? Come one, put up a nature scene or something!).*end rant mode* [caveat: I consider myself evangelical, but of an older sort…]

There are obviously different understandings of what the worship service is supposed to be and to accomplish–and that’s fine. To a point. But at what point does an emphasis on entertainment or evangelism in the Sunday service supplant the whole point of the body coming together? I mean, folks, in the early church catechumens were sent out of the service before communion! Obviously the assumption of the Christian Church has been that Sunday worship–with communion as central to it (and that’s not Roman people, that was the goal of the early reformers who hated the idea that people were only receiving once a year)–is intended for the building up of the body, and there are other mechanisms for evangelism. But it’s late and I’m rambling… I’ll have to unpack it more later. Any thoughts?

Considering manducatio impiorum

I’ve come across several interesting discussions over the past several months debating the Reformed vs. the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper. Despite their differences however, I think it’s safe to say that many of the reformers were much closer to one another, despite their differences, than their supposed spiritual descendants, who oftentimes have rejected their foundational theologies without even realizing it. This especially seems to be the case in the United States where a sort of bastardized enlightenment rationalism runs deep and wide under much of our standard American Christianity. And I wonder if in looking at the way the Lord’s Supper was handled in Reformation days, we can offer some hope of rapprochement between the branches of the family in this portion of Christ’s vineyard.

At any rate, here are some of the things I’ve been reading regarding the Eucharist in the reformed tradition–and yes, I place Anglicanism primarily there, following Rowan Williams’ lead in his book Why Study the Past, and note the unique elements of the English reformation and it’s continuity with the medieval period, the development of its doctrine etc…

Below are the two Articles of Religion that relate most directly to the subject at hand:

Article XXVIII. Of the Lord’s Supper

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another, but rather it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was not by Christ’s ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

Article XXIX. Of the Wicked, which eat not the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord’s Supper.

The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

In the Lutheran view, i.e. manducatio impiorum, eating unworthily (as in the Roman Catholic and, I assume, the Eastern Orthodox), they believe in what is called manducatio impiorum, the view that those who receive the Lord’s Supper, even if unworthy (in the sense of being an unbeliever or unreconciled to their neighbor etc…, not in the sense of being a sinner), receive the Body and Blood of Christ. This is based upon their understanding in an objective, physical substantial presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

But those Churches originating from within the reformed tradition, either continental or English, also hold to a notion of real and objective presence, often if not always emphasized as a real spiritual presence. This doesn’t mean that the bread and the wine play no role, or that one can gain the benefits of the Eucharist through a purely spiritual experience, but rather, there is seen to be a link between the sign (the bread and the wine) and the thing signified (the body and blood of Christ) so that as one takes and eats the bread and wine after a physical manner, those that have faith also partake of the Body and Blood of Christ after a heavenly and spiritual manner. This is seen in Anglican Eucharistic thought, both in the Articles and in the communion service itself where the invitation with its optional longer ending says:

The gifts of God for the people of God, take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.

John Williamson Nevin, the German Reformed theologian of the 19th century who created such a stir among folks in his day with his attempt to reclaim Reformed orthodoxy talks about the objective presence in the Lord’s Supper and cites the Heidelberg Catechism (In my opinion one of the most interesting and beautiful of the Reformed documents):

In answer to Question 75, it is said that Christ, “feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life, with his crucified body and shed blood, as assuredly as I receive from the hands of the minister, and taste with my mouth, the bread and cup of the Lord, as certain signs of the body and blood of Christ.”

“Quest. 76. What is it then to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood of Christ?

“Ans. It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the pardon of sin and life eternal; but also, besides that, to become more and more united to his sacred body, by the Holy Ghost who dwells both in Christ and in us; so that we, though Christ is in heaven and we on earth, are not-withstanding, ‘flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone;’ and that we live and are governed forever by one spirit, as members of the same body are by one soul.”

Quest. 79. Why then doth Christ call the bread his body, and the [wine] his blood, or the new covenant in his blood: and Paul the communion of the body and blood of Christ?

Ans. Christ speaks thus, not without great reason; namely not only thereby to teach us that as bread and wine support this temporal life, so his crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink whereby our souls are fed to eternal life; but more especially, by these visible signs and pledges to assure us, that we are as really partakers of his true body and blood, (by the operation of the Holy Ghost,) as we recieve by the mouth of our bodies these holy signs in remembrance of him; and that all his sufferings and obedience are as certainly ours as if we had in our own persons suffered and made satisfaction for our sins to God.”

In his explanation of this section of the Heidelberg Catechism, and in way of comparison with Lutheran thought, Nevin says that:

The presence of Christ is not “in, with and under” the bread, but only with it; not for the mouth, but only for faith; and so of course, though this is not expressly mentioned, not for unbelievers but for believers only. It is however in this way, a true presence. The believer partakes of Christ, not only in figure, but in fact; not of his benefits simply, but of his actual life; not of his life as divine merely, but of the substance of his human life, as denoted by his body and blood. The signs not only testify to us the general truth that Christ is our life, but seal this truth to us as a fact actualized along with their exhibition and use. To say that by the participation of Christ’s body and blood the Catechism means only moral union with him, by faith and an interest in the benefits of his death is to charge it with the most wretched tautology…

Article 21 of the Old Scotch Confession (1560) is also interesting in this area:

And thus we utterly condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else but naked and bare signs; no we assuredly believe that by baptism we are engrafted into Jesus Christ, to be made partakers of his justice, whereby our sins are covered and remitted; and also, that in the Supper, rightly used, Christ Jesus is so joined with us, that he becometh very nourishment and food to our souls; not that we imagine any transubstantiation of bread into Christ’s natural body, and of wine into his natural blood… but this union and conjunction, which we have with the body and blood of Christ Jesus, in the right use of the sacraments, is wrought by operation of the Holy Spirit, who by true faith carieth us above all things that are visible, carnal, and earthly, and maketh us to feed upon the body and blood of Christ Jesus, which was broken and shed for us, which is now in heaven, and appeareth in the presence of the Father for us; and yet, notwithstanding, the far distance of place which is between his body now glorified in heaven, and us now mortal on this earth; yet we most assuredly believe that the bread which we break, is the communion of Christ’s body, and the cup which we bless, is the communion of his blood. So that we confess, and undoubtedly believe, that the faithful, in the right use of the Lord’s Table, do so eat the body, and drink the blood of the Lord Jesus, that he remaineth in them, and they in him; yea, they are so made flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bones, that as the eternal Godhead hath given to the flesh of Christ Jesus (which of its own nature was mortal and corruptible) life and immortality; so doth Christ Jesus his flesh and blood, eaten and drunk by us, give unto us the same prerogatives.

I find the phrase “do so eat the body, and drink the blood of the Lord Jesus, that he remaineth in them, and they in him…” because it is so similar to words spoken in Eucharistic prayer I in Rite I of the 79 Book of Common Prayer:

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves,
our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living
sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all
others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may
worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son
Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction,
and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and
we in him.

So, I think what is at play in the differences between the Lutheran and Reformed view isn’t so much a difference as to understanding of the effects or even, really the manner of the partaking of Christ’s body and blood, but rather a different understanding of what it means to partake of his body and blood. In this sense, the Reformed take the position that to partake of the Body and Blood is of necessity to receive the benefits of them, tied objectively to the elements of bread and wine. Since the “wicked” or “unbelievers” who take communion cannot recieve the benefits of Christ’s body and blood, but eat and drink judgement/condemnation, then they must not be recieving the Body and Blood at all.

In contrast, those traditions that hold to manducatio impiorum, state that the condemnation and judgment come because the wicked and unbeliever fundamentally do receive the body and blood of Christ, and it is the fact of their unworthiness that leads to negative ramifications. Much of this seems to be based upon what happens to Judas in John 13:26-27. Of course, I’m not sure why this has to support the view that Judas received condemnation through the Body and Blood and not instead of it…. that seems to be the primary distinction. Any thoughts?

Another one re: Justification

There is yet another interesting discussion regarding Justification over at Titusonenine. As often happens, a comment by Will Witt caught my eye. In this one he is referencing Prosper of Aquitaine:

# William Witt Says:

August 9th, 2006 at 5:14 pm


The above definition of semi-Pelagianism is inaccurate. What distinguished semi-Pelagianism from Augustinianism was that the semi-Pelagians believed that the initium fidei (beginning of faith) took place through the will�s own powers, and grace followed.

Against semi-Pelagianism, the 2nd Council of Orange insisted that the initium fidei was itself the gift of God. The Council also rejected negative predestination. The orthodox Catholic position is represented by Prosper of Aquitaine who affirmed that God wills all to be saved; that any are saved is the gift of God; that any are damned is their own fault.

The orthodox Catholic position (certainly affirmed by St. Augustine) is that �human free will is compatible with God�s sovereignty.� In fact, all who follow St. Augustine (including Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Hooker and Arminius) would say that human free will is compatible with God�s sovereignty because divine grace frees the fallen will, enslaved to sin. The issue of disagreement would be about how grace frees the will, and whether grace can be refused.

{Read the thread}

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