Thursday, April 10, 2008

Good Shepherd Sunday & the Role of Bishops

In the post below this one, we have a good discussion about the importance of belief in the historic, literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead - an article of faith at which the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Organization scoffs.

One of her defenders raises a very good question, "Why should everybody in church have to believe the same thing about the resurrection?" Let me give some perspective on that, as it connects with this Sunday's lessons (Revised Common Lectionary) and those read last Sunday in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

I. Not everybody will believe, but leaders must.

In Acts 2:42-47, we get a snapshot of the early church. There were tons of recent converts - clearly, not all of them understood everything in the same way. As we read in other parts of Acts, some joined out of warped motives and some required quite a bit of teaching to fix incorrect assumptions about Jesus.

But there were common things around which they gathered as they grew. One of these was "devotion to the apostles' teaching." Even if the members of the church were all over the map in what they understood, the apostles taught with one accord that Jesus rose from the dead. When Peter preached, he "stood with the eleven," all of the apostles joined in one proclamation of the risen Christ.

In Anglicanism, Bishops carry on the ministry of the apostles. It is essential that they affirm the great mysteries of our faith - even if church members harbor doubts about this or that. For a "Presiding Bishop" to publicly dismiss the resurrection is a failure of faith, leadership, and even morality. To take a title, position and perks and then show no responsibility for the well being of those who elected you is profoundly evil.

II. To play fast and loose with the resurrection of Christ is to place oneself and others in spiritual danger.

Christians are always under attack from "the world, the flesh and the devil." Powerful, selfish interests of this world have a vested interest in denying supernatural authority. Because they want us to be in their service, they need to cast doubts on unique Christian affirmations so they can enslave us to their agendas.

The flesh is sin at work within us. Each of us has unique ways of rebelling against God, but we all share the core sin of pride - of trying to push God out of the center of the universe so we can take His place. Extolling "our opinions" about the resurrection is one form of this. To say that there is no sacred teaching that is more important than our opinions is to idolize ourselves.

The devil is a liar. Because the resurrection of Christ is true, the devil needs to cast doubt. That simple.

In the 23rd Psalm, the Good Shepherd has a "rod and staff". The staff (Bishops carry one as a sign of their office) is used to pull and poke the sheep and keep them moving toward food, water and safety. The rod is a club - it is to whack predators.

This Presiding Bishop is misusing the shepherd's tools. She is pushing and pulling the flock into a wasteland where they will be food for predators, and she is using the rod to knock down good shepherds who would guide the flock to green pastures and living water.

III. Leaders who deny the resurrection are doing an "inside job" to help the devil destroy the church.

I Peter 2:25 speaks of Jesus as the "shepherd and guardian of your souls" (NRSV). The Greek word behind "guardian" is episkopos, which in other translations is rendered "overseer" or "bishop."

Because Christ entrusts his church to apostolic leaders, Bishops take on this responsibility to protect the souls of the people for whom Christ died to take away sin and rose to give new life. For the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church to ignore her duty as episkopos is to be like a bank guard who leaves the doors open for robbers. If she doesn't believe in the resurrection, she has no business guarding the treasure - souls beloved by Christ.

IV. Jesus rose from the dead to give life. To deny that is to "steal, kill and destroy."

John 10:1-10 affirms that Jesus' followers don't always understand him. But he keeps teaching them and points out that he has come so that people "may have life, and have it abundantly." And he is clear that this life will come only to those who hear his voice, follow his path, and make his life their own. His life is available to share because he is risen from the dead.

What of those who turn him into a literary symbol rather than a living reality? If they are religious leaders, he has harsh words: they are "a thief and a bandit...The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy."

Might faithful Christians wonder about and even doubt the resurrection? At points in life, we all run into doubts. As we see in John 10:1-10, when Jesus' followers don't understand him, he keeps reaching out to help them know who he is. God is patient and loving.

But those set apart to lead and teach in Christ's name must believe in the resurrection and proclaim it to the world. To do any less is to betray Christ, the people he comes to save, and even one's own soul.


Anonymous said...

Curiously the word 'evil' has become more associated with the PB's actions lately.

For me the Creed, although recited is central to my beliefs. When I stop believing I will be silent.

The Archbishop of Sydney said it very well for many of us. For Kate sadly it seems like a lipsync exercise.

TLF+ said...

Thanks for that great Sydney reminder, prairiewords.

How many times have we heard or taught that the Creed expresses the Church's faith, and that we recite it with all of our imperfect faith and understanding because the Church stands for it? (Now, the Apostles' Creed is different, because that is intended for use as a personal affirmation).

The New Testament describes apostolic leaders as guardians, shepherds, stewards and other roles associated with protecting the best interests of others (who might not act in their own best interest much of the time!)

For bishops to deny the Nicene Creed is a complete abdication - no, BETRAYAL - of all that they are suppossed to be.

David Handy+ said...

Well done, Tim+. As usual, I'm in total agreement with you. Or almost anyway. Actually, I'd say the Apostles' Creed reflects the faith of the Church too, even though it's not used as universally since the Eastern churches have never adopted it. But it's true that there is a close link in the Western Church between the Apostles' Creed and the baptism of adult converts, which is why we use it and not the Nicene Creed in our renewal of baptismal vows.

But that's a minor quibble. The main thing is that you're absolutely right; belief in the empty tomb is not OPTIONAL. Those who deny it, place themselves outside the Christian faith. And it really is that cut and dried, that black and white. And I say that as someone who is thoroughly familiar with the usual liberal equivocations, from Rudolf Bultmann on. They are simply wrong.

Anonymous said...

Despite what Dan Brown says to sell his fiction, the reason the church has opposed most of the classical heresies is because they deny the Incarnation. (Denying the Resurrection is one way of denying the Incarnation, of course, by claiming that Jesus did not rise from the dead because he was not God Incarnate.)

Ironically, if you deny the Incarnation, you deny the goodness of the Creation. Think about it like this: if someone important shows up at your home, your home is dignified by her presence. By analogy, if God shows up in our home, wearing skin like ours, our world and our skin are dignified by his choosing to do so.

To cash this out: if the church aims at any social or environmental goods, then denying the Resurrection is self-defeating, because it effectively claims that the world and its inhabitants are too base to be dignified by God. The irony: a church that hopes to do good in the world cannot easily do so if it effectively denies the God-ordained value of that world.

Your friend and parishioner,

Dr. Dave

TLF+ said...

Ya know, I'm really big on Paul's explanation of the church as the living body of Christ on Earth.

One aspect of this teaching is that each member (person) in the church is a special part with special strength for the body's work. The corollary is that each part has weakness or inability that requires the presence of other parts.

That being said, what does it mean when God appoints my parish with intelligent and lucid people like Dr. Dave?

Stoopid rector is a fair interpretation.

Dr. Dave's post reminds me that all of the faith affirmations in the Creed (and expressed via the liturgical calendar year) hang together. Heresies often take one truth about Christ and vaunt it to the diminution or exclusion of the whole truth.

And I rejoice in the "friend" part of Dr. Dave's post... to say he is merely a parishioner or just a smart guy is to lose the wonder of who he is and what he means in my life (exactly what heretics cost us when it comes to Christ.)