Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Confirmation Class, week 2

Tomorrow, I will be leading week 2 of my confirmation reception class. Last week I gave the introductory session on "What is confirmation/reception?: A sacrament in crisis." My unofficial subtitle for the class was "The Episcopal Church: we argue about more than just sexuality." Luckily most people in the class have a good sense of humor.

I sort of gave the historical background on the rite of confirmation and where we stand now as a denomination in our understanding (or misunderstanding as the case may be) about confirmation. Those from the more protestant side of the church just want to get rid of it. I assume their logic (though I have yet to read a clear annunciation of this assumption) that if one believes that there is only 2 sacraments instituted by Christ (Eucharist and Baptism), then confirmation can be dispensed with. This is a very protestant notion, that I do not agree with. To quote a buzzword from a liturgical guru, the "ethos of the current prayer book" is that everything we do as Christians flows out of baptism.

Most people I was around in seminary (who largely came into or grew up in the church with the 1979 BCP) bought this (theo)logic hook, line, and sinker. I know that people who knew me in seminary will no faint with shock when I say that I disagreed with that. (Here's a kleenex to help wipe off that sarcasm.) People familiar with my blog know that I dance to the beat of a different theological drummer than that to which people in mainstream liberalism dance. In fact, I usually abhor groupthink, and the three years in the Seabury Pen instilled in me a healthy gag reflex to whatever liturgical nonsense was wafting out of the Seabury doobie room chapel.

I could conveniently blame my reticence on completely agreeing with the buzz phrase assertion that "our marching orders flow from baptism" on my time in England and Westcott House, but that would be a cop out on my part. (Ironically, I was always amused that this buzz phrase was most loudly asserted by people who had hissy fits if we wanted to sing Onward Christian Soldiers.) I would always grit my teeth in seminary when I heard this. Certainly this "baptismal ethos of the 1979 BCP" is not at all the norm in the Church of England or many other places in the Anglican Communion that I have visited. However, I never agreed with this "our marching orders flow out of our baptismal vows" even before I went to England. To be more accurate, I would say my pilgrimage to England only reinforced my views on the matter.

Let me get back to the issue at hand, for I fear I might have inadvertently chased a white (albeit a confirmed Anglo-catholic) rabbit down a hole. From those of us who have always had a more catholic understanding of the sacraments, I get really twitchy with the ecclesiology that says we small band of have on our own authority the power to add or detract from the sacraments with consulting the larger body of Christ. To me, if "marching orders" flow out of anything apart from the Almighty, then they flow out of our identity as Creedal Christians; that is to say that marching orders flow out of the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds. Baptism and Confirmation draw us into the Christian faith, both the larger corporate tree, our particular smaller branches, and our local bodies of leaves.

Okay, I will end here and get back to work. I have some leaves that need tending...


Stephen Newell said...

At the risk of kicking your nice neat pile of leaves, let me briefly expose just how deeply Protestant I am with a question:

Don't our "marching orders" come from Scripture alone? And as a corollary to that, wouldn't the historic creeds serve only to strengthen that, since they are derived from such?

The Archer of the Forest said...

Well, in what I can only describe as pure Anglican fudge, my response would be "yes" and "no."
I don't really hold to pure Sola Scriptura (I don't really identify as a protestant) because the logic behind such a doctrine is circular at best and inherently faulty at worst.

Holy Tradition must hold some place because Paul didn't just dig up the completed bible with the author's autograph under a rock.

I say this because it was only over several centuries that the Church came together and decided what would be the "canon" of scripture. There was a lot of interesting stuff that did not make it in.

To that end, we have to concede that only through tradition do we get the Bible. We rely on the tradition of the church to determine what is in the bible. So, therefore, we are relying as much on the Early Fathers as the "Bible" itself.

To that end, I think the Nicene and Apostles' creeds given to us from the same Church Fathers are likewise crucial summations of orthodox faith.