Marshall Montgomery’s blog, called “Communion in Conflict,” had a recent post entitled “Doctrine, Discipline and worship” where he raised the question, “Who gets to decide false doctrine?” and “what kind of doctrine reinforces schism?”
I said to him in the comments section:
At its heart, I would think a doctrine that reinforces schism would be something that in some way reinforces a type of exclusion from other members of the body of Christ … For example, some Protestant churches ask that, unless you are a member of that particular church, you do not take communion for the sake of the purity of the table. Others may require a baptism by immersion for membership, claiming that baptism of infants is invalid.Regarding false doctrine, that’s a tough one. At some point, someone has to decide which doctrine is true to the Gospel witness and which isn’t. I would think that the validity of a given doctrine would be determined by its consistency with the witness of Scripture and Tradition, as well as the application of our reason.Sorry if this sounds a bit vague, but it’s a good starting point i think for conversation. If you want specific examples, let me know. Two that come to mind are the question of gay marriage and the issue of celebrating/partaking of the eucharist in a cross-demoninational setting.
Marshall then asked for me to elaborate, which I am pleased to do so here as I don’t want to be rude and take up any more space on his blog with verbose comments (that’s what this blog is for!). These are things which I am rather opinionated about, so I think it is only fair that I mark this post with my Corkscrew of Anglican Infallibility, which I’ve been DYING to use. 😀
The Eucharist: Each church’s practice of administering of the Eucharist is on some level is schismatic. Even The Episcopal Church, where the only requirement is to have been baptized, more or less excludes those who identify as Christian but have not been baptized. I don’t think one needs to be baptized in order to be called a Christian, though I think it’s something that should be done, even if one only attaches some symbolic level to the act. That being said, while I believe that TEC’s requirement of baptism is quite broad and inclusive in the grand scheme of things, it should be expanded further to say “all those who identify as Christians are welcome to participate in Holy Communion.”
It is ironic that the rite that is supposed to bind us all together across sects and denominations is potentially highly schismatic. As I said above, some Protestant Churches (mostly of the low church variety) require you to be member of that particular denomination or sometimes, that particular congregation. This is called “fencing the table” and the premise is to guard against “eating and drinking damnation to your soul” or some such nonsense where they took Paul a little too literally. To use a different example on the schismatic implications of the Eucharist, we can look at the examples of the House of Bishops or the most recent Primate’s meeting in Tanzania where some did not partake of the Eucharist because of the supposed lack of holiness of the celebrant or those who were partaking. In both instances, whether you deny someone communion or whether you choose not to participate for reasons of purity, one party is in effect saying to the other “you are not a Christian … you are not part of the Body of Christ.” It doesn’t get any more schismatic than that!
Gay Marriage: I said in my comments to Marshall that at some point, someone has to decide where a proposed doctrine is true to the Gospel witness. What I think has gotten the church in such an uproar is that with the advent of non-traditional families (i.e., gay couples with or without children), we are corporately and institutionally being challenged with rethinking the validity of certain ways of living, or to quote one General Convention resolution, “manners of life.”
The Church views marriage as a sacramental relationship. In order for us to come fully to an understanding of marriage as sacrament, I believe that we should provide for the inclusion of same-sex couples as marriage, not as a blessing of a union. On a justice level, having a rite for same-sex couples that is other than marriage is basically another case of apartheid (see my post civil unions = apartheid for a rant on that subject). On a doctrinal level, however, if we were to have a rite for the blessing of same-sex couples, what would be the rational for denying a blessing to cohabitating heterosexual couples? Who says the couples regardless of their gender makeup need to be living together in the first place in order to receive a blessing? The inclusion of a “blessing” rite more or less creates a menu of options based on commitment level, and in this instance the commitment level carries a connotation that it is not life-long, but at best a long-term temporary. I think there is a much greater disconnect between blessings of unions and the Gospel witness/Tradition than with gay marriage. While I am certainly no theologian, I would think that blessing of unions (which is basically blessing cohabitation) is much closer to false doctrine and history would find us wanting were we to go forward with that idea.
On a side note, the Liturgical Committee (I forget what their full name is) recently came up with a rite of betrothal, which I think would be something that is worth considering a good look. I would think that in the long-term, a rite of betrothal would better serve justice and not be a departure from Scripture or Tradition. Acutally, it would only serve i think to strengthen the institution of marriage.
Questions, comments and snide remarks are welcome in the usual space below. Tomatoes and other things for throwing at me should be sent to the care of my Personal Atheist. 😉