Tuesday, April 11, 2006

God’s Healing Embrace in Crucifying Times

God’s Healing Embrace in Crucifying Times
[A Palm Sunday Sermon]
by the Reverend J. Edwin Bacon, Jr.,

All Saints Church, Pasadena

The Christian Faith invites us to contemplate the crucifixion of Jesus for one full week every year – a holy week of seeking the meaning of the cross for our life. I have serious questions about two traditions of meaning and want to offer a third meaning for our times.

The media have been full of one meaning of Jesus’ execution this past week through articles and TV programs about the discovery of the Gospel of Judas. The meaning that the Gospel of Judas elucidates for Jesus’ crucifixion comes from a belief central to Gnostic religious practice – that death was an opportunity for people to escape the prisons of their material bodies and return to the spiritual realm from which they came. The account in the Gospel of Judas relates that Jesus refers to the other disciples, telling Judas "you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me." By that, scholars familiar with Gnostic thinking said, Jesus meant that by helping him get rid of his physical flesh, Judas will act to liberate the true spiritual self or divine being within Jesus. (NYTimes article)

Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton who specializes in studies of the Gnostics, said in a statement, "These discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion, and demonstrating how diverse — and fascinating — the early Christian movement really was." (NYTimes op-ed piece, April 8, 2006) I agree with Professor Pagels that now is a time when we need to have some fresh air breathed into our understanding that Christianity never was and cannot be now a monolithic religion where everyone believed the same thing about Jesus.

Read it all on the Claiming the Blessing website


Chip Webb said...

I constantly am disappointed (though no longer surprised) that the traditional (as Rev. Bacon himself admits) view that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of humanity is seen as barbaric (not too strong a word, I think) by progressives. That theology is upheld throughout our BCP, even the 1979 BCP. Instead, progressives replace that theology with a universalism that is most assuredly not traditionally Christian.

"Everyone is in God’s family. Every human being is sacred." Sadly, no. Everyone is loved by God, yes. Everyone has dignity from being created in the image of God, yes. Absolutely to both of those points. But not everyone is a member of God's family. Otherwise, what are we to make of John 1:11-13, or Jesus' words to the Pharisees in John 8, to name just a few verses from recollection? Rather, we become a member of God's family when we turn in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ.

"Christianity never was and cannot be now a monolithic religion where everyone believed the same thing about Jesus." But the early councils were assembled precisely to define what Christians believed against variant beliefs. To have such definition is not to be unloving; rather, it is to point the way to the one who truly is love, Jesus himself. (Would the Arian view have been considered heretical by today's progressives? Judging from writings by Borg and others, I would think not. And if we can "cross our fingers" while saying the creeds, then there really is no common theology for Christians ... and that's what Rev. Bacon seems to want.)

The recent document by the special committee studying the Windsor Report argues that we find our unity in mission. However, we can't have any unity even in mission without some common theology. For example,the document closes with an exhortation to seek the "empowerment of every man, woman, and child." That may be a stirring call to mission from the progressive POV, but it misses the mark greatly from the orthodox POV. To the orthodox, that's not the mission of the church -- the mission is to call people to come in repentance and faith to Jesus Christ.

I'm all for the Lambeth Quadrilateral as our common source of unity, but even there, we must have some level of agreement on what we believe about the Holy Scriptures, the creeds, the sacraments, and the historic episcopate -- so that all Christians can indeed bring people to "the knowledge and love of God." But it'll do no good if we have radically different beliefs concerning what constitutes that "knowledge and love."

(Lest I be mistaken for arguing for complete uniformity among Christians, yes, of course there's room for differences between Christians -- see the Vincentian canon. But we must be united over the essential elements of the faith.)

Peace of Christ,

Anonymous said...

It seems that for ECUSA's progressives, sin may only be applied to politics with which the progressives disagree. The rest of the time, the progressives' message seems to be "God wants you to enjoy doing whatever it is you feel natural doing."