Friday, November 23, 2007

I, Sectarian

Reflecting over the past six or seven years, I have made the unsettling observation that in my striving to remain faithful I find myself potentially associating with an increasingly smaller and smaller number of colleagues and laity. Indeed the Lord has said that He will divide households, and so He has. Potentially dividing doctrines abound including the relationship between doctrine and practice, the role and work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's children, the nature of the Office of the Holy Ministry, etc. Even amongst those I consider my brothers, friends, and colleagues, a distressingly small group, I see more than the seeds of division already planted and growing. Does faithfulness necessarily lead to sectarianism?

Lurking on discussion lists of supposed like-minded brethren I am often reminded of the coliseum scene in Monty Python's - The Life of Brian: (click on the wanker above to see video)
  • REG: Judean People's Front. We're the People's Front of Judea! Judean People's Front. Cawk.
  • FRANCIS:Wankers.
  • BRIAN: Can I... join your group?
  • REG:No. Piss off.
  • REG: Listen. If you really wanted to join the P.F.J., you'd have to really hate the Romans.
  • BRIAN:I do!
  • REG:Oh, yeah? How much?
  • BRIAN: A lot!
  • REG:Right. You're in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f*#%#g Judean People's Front.
  • P.F.J.: Yeah...
  • JUDITH: Splitters.
  • P.F.J.: Splitters...
  • FRANCIS:And the Judean Popular People's Front.
  • P.F.J.:Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
  • LORETTA: And the People's Front of Judea.
  • P.F.J.: Yeah. Splitters. Splitters...
  • REG: What?
  • LORETTA: The People's Front of Judea. Splitters.
  • REG: We're the People's Front of Judea!
  • LORETTA: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
  • REG: People's Front! C-huh.
  • FRANCIS: Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?
  • REG: He's over there.
  • P.F.J.: Splitter!
  • The saddening thing about this is that I love the Church catholic! I don't want to see Her shattered, split, and splintered. I believe whole-heartedly in the one body of Christ, His Bride, consisting of all believers of all times and all places. And I certainly do not wish to contribute in any way to Her fracture. So, on the one hand, the Lord has told His Bride this would happen, and would continue to happen until the parousia, but on the other, we are to live together in the bond of peace as one body, breaking one bread and drinking one cup.

    Lately some earnest Lutherans have taken to interpreting the Ignatian model for the Church (Bishop - Eucharist - Congregation) in terms of the Orthodox and, perhaps, Roman communion's ecclessiology: where the Bishop is not the parish pastor / priest, but an ecclessial higher rank. This is foreign to Lutheran ecclessiology and the doctrine of the OHM which states that there is but one Holy Office ordained for the purpose of preaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. These earstwhile proponents of episcopacy share with me a love for the Bride of Christ, His Blessed Sacraments, the Divine Liturgy, an understanding of the value of tradition, and a high view of the OHM, understanding ordaination as a Sacrament (or, at the very least, sacramental). In comparisson to the rest of the c(C)hurch we would be seen as being in near complete agreement. Yet, this issue of ecclessiology is a seed of division planted deep in fertile soil.

    The problem lies in the interpretation of Ignatius' use of the title "bishop". The Lutheran church has traditionally understood bishop to mean the called and ordained pastor of the church. The Orthodox and Roman communions understand the bishop to be the pastor of pastors, or, a higher ranking ecclessial supervisor, himself serving as pastor. According to the latter interpretation, only the bishop is rightly said to serve "in the stead of" Christ. The parish pastor, then, stands in the stead of the bishop. According to the Lutheran interpretation, each called and ordained pastor - common parish or otherwise - stands in the stead of Christ to adminster His Sacraments and proclaim the Gospel to the congregation of His call. Common Lutheran pastors I know have, tongue firmly planted in cheek, called themselves bishop of (insert name of town or village), recognizing that there is but one ordained OHM.

    It is distressing that by simply, faithfully, remaining steadfast in the confession and faith I vowed to uphold, preach, teach, and confess in my ordaination vows, I am potentially being pushed further into seeming sectarianism. Perhaps those who view things differently will abandon the Lutheran confession of the faith; perhaps they will change the church body who holds to that confession. Either way, I, sectarian.


    Fr. J. Sollberger said...

    Fr. Ellingworth,

    Would this be the full course and result of your history of "Beginning at the End"?

    The roads of truth is not found in this world, though strangely it is travelled. It is therefore a lonely road; you will by necessity be a "splitter". But it's not you doing the splitting, either in action or intent. This is father against son, mother against daughter...

    The Affronted People's Popular Front

    Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

    Ah, methinks you credit me too much for consistency! I've long forgotten what I wrote in that post! Nevertheless, it seems that I do, despite my spongy brain, remain fairly consistent. It's just that, since I can't remember what I've thought or wrote about in the past, it seems that I'm always discovering something new! Ignorance is bliss after all!

    Sometimes I feel like a wedge, you know, used for splitting wood with a sledgehammer. Particularly, I feel like the narrow edge of a wedge pressed against some solid piece of wood that is destined to be split, and uncomfortably so, and then burned (hmmm, where could we take that analogy?). Now, before anyone jump to call me arrogant, hear me out..., I'm just the narrow edge of the wedge, the weighty bulk of the wedge that will do the work and provide the force for the splitting is above me, beyond me, in the dense, fat portion of the wedge, and in the hammer. When the hammer comes down, I'm going to be involved in splitting the wood, like it or not.

    Hmmm, as you said, "It's not you doing the splitting..."; but I am involved in it, and accountable for it.