Saturday, February 26, 2011

More on Atonement: Did Jesus Come to Die?

Was a Blood Sacrifice Necessary?

Pieta, by Lorenzo Lotto 1508

Previous posts on the meaning of atonement can be found here, here, and here.

Previous ruminations on the elasticity of scripture can be found here and here.
God did not need the blood of Jesus. Jesus did not just come "to die," but God used his death to announce the end of death.
-- Richard Leonard, SJ in Where the Hell is God?
It's a pure, noble, and uplifting sentiment expressed by Father Leonard. It sounds very pleasing to our ears in 2011, but how often these days are we allowing our postmodern sensibilities to shape our way of looking at Jesus and in looking at faith, rather than the scriptures themselves? Are we drifting away from meanings more clearly relevant to the Bronze Age, when those books were written?

It is true that in Catholic theology, following St. Thomas Aquinas, we affirm that the satisfaction model of redemption was not absolutely necessary. In other words, God could have chosen some other way to redeem us other than way He did.

Nevertheless, it does seem like Father Leonard's assertion does take rather lightly our historical understanding of how important blood was as a symbol of life in Second Temple Judaism, and also how several biblical passages strongly emphasize the necessity of shedding blood for forgiveness, both in the Old Testament...
Since the life of a living body is in its blood, I have made you put it on the altar, so that atonement may thereby be made for your own lives, because it is the blood, as the seat of life, that makes atonement.
-- Leviticus 17:11
..and in the New Testament...
According to the law almost everything is purified by blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Therefore, it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified by these rites, but the heavenly things themselves by better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that he might now appear before God on our behalf.
-- Hebrews 9:22-24

They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed...
--Romans 3:24-25

Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree."
--Galatians 3:13
Father Leonard advocates for a much different view of atonement in Chapter 5 of his book Where the Hell is God? How well does he make his case? Of particular interest is the way he takes the hymn How Great Thou Art to task for its shaky theology... I've never been very fond of it myself. Whenever I hear it at Mass, I find myself looking around to see if Elvis has entered the building.

Excerpts from Chapter 5 of Father Leonard's book:
We should be very careful about what we sing. Spiritual songs and hymns are not part of our liturgy to fill in time, accompany a procession, or annoy the tone deaf who are pressed into making a noise. Hymns carry theology. We sing scriptural texts or a poetic version of a fundamental Christian truth to affirm our faith. Setting these texts to music makes them popular and memorable. That is why they can be so powerful and important, but also dangerous.

Hymns matter, and one verse of one hymn has more to answer for than most. “How Great Thou Art” takes its place in the top five of nearly every survey of the most loved hymns in the English speaking world. Written by the Swedish Lutheran lay preacher and later parliamentarian Carl Gustav Boberg in 1885, “O Store Gud” (O Great God) was translated into English by Stuart Hine. Hine was an English evangelical missionary in Ukraine, where he learned the hymn in Russian. In 1939, he returned to England and the following year published the first version of the hymn we now call “How Great Thou Art.” Its worldwide fame can be attributed to Billy Graham’s international crusade in London in 1954, during which time this hymn was sung over and over as it accompanied the altar call, and was broadcast and televised to an audience of millions. It did not hurt the hymn’s fortunes that it was the Gammy Award-winning title song of Elvis Presley’s 1967 hit record.

The Protestant pedigree of this hymn Is important. A little history first. Building on the earlier work of St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Anselm of Canterbury, an 11th-century Benedictine monk, wrestled with the question why God came into the world as one like us. In his famous treatise, Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Human), he developed a theory that Jesus came into the world to act as a substitute for us. We were the ones who had offended God, but rather than sacrifice us all, God sent Jesus to take our place in offering up his own life to the Father as restitution for our sins. He paid the ransom that God demanded to set us free.

This way of thinking relies heavily upon St. Paul, where on many occasions he calls Christ our Redeemer. The word redemption literally means, “buying back,” It comes from the practice in the ancient world where there were two types of slaves—those who were born or forced into slavery, usually for life, and those who paid off a debt or a crime by becoming a slave, usually for a period of time. The second type of slave could be set free when someone else paid their debts, or the ransom their master now demanded for them was settled. They would then either be the slave of the purchaser, or set free completely.

St. Paul introduced this metaphor into Christian theology to describe how we, who are enslaved by our destructive behavior, gained a liberator in Christ who entered into a sinful world, subjected himself to its violence and death, in order to set us free. At its best, the notion of Christ the Redeemer shows us that we do not have to live destructively anymore. Now claimed by the love of Christ, we are no longer slaves, but his friends; indeed, through the redeeming work of Christ we have been welcomed into God’s family.

The Protestant Reformers took up these substitution ideas and gave them a more biblical spin. Relying on a literal and tougher stand on the role of the Fall of Adam and Eve, John Calvin held that, because the first parents of humanity in the Book of Genesis rebelled against God, our whole human nature was corrupted forever. There was nothing we could do about it. God was so angry with us that, in time and in his mercy, and even though we did not deserve it, he decided to save us. However, because humanity could not do anything to save itself, to satisfy God’s wrath at Adam and Eve and all humanity’s subsequent ingratitude, the Word of God had to take our flesh, our place, and offer up the sacrifice of his own life in and through his suffering and death as atonement for our inherited and ongoing sinfulness. It is often called “satisfaction theology” because it was through the violent death of Jesus that God’s wrath was satisfied. It must be admitted that some elements of this satisfaction theology continue in Catholic theology as well, though we have never held that humanity was totally corrupt or depraved, and that God had only one option in appeasing his own anger.

There are libraries written on the stuff of the last couple of paragraphs, but for our purposes here, this wholly inadequate summary will have to do.

In its more stark form, satisfaction theology is given a full confessional expression in the third verse of “How Great Thou Art”:
When I think that God his Son not sparing
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the Cross my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Why does this matter? Well, if we keep singing hymns like this, then some people may think it is true, may remember it, and want it sung at all their family’s baptisms, weddings, funerals, and other rites of passage. And they do. But this hymn gives a very limited version of the truth it is trying to articulate, and the implications it holds in regard to where God is to be found in our suffering and pain cannot be underestimated. God’s will for Jesus affects everything about how we think God deals with us. If our God wants and sends suffering, even setting up a grizzly (sic) death for his only beloved son, then why should we complain when we get a disease, an illness, lose a child, or become a quadriplegic? We are getting off lightly in comparison to what some claim God wanted from Jesus.

For Christians, the paschal mystery—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—is the central paradigm around which our faith in God is constructed, It is the central story through which we explain our own origins, meaning, and destiny. This hymn concerns itself with this mystery, and I can scarcely take in that God simply sent Jesus “to die,” and to die a gruesome and bloody death, at that. If that were baldly true, then why did God spare him from the outcome of the most unjust theological story in the New Testament—the slaughter of the innocents (Matt 2:13—23)? If Jesus was murdered by Herod at two years of age, then God could have gotten his blood sacrifice over nice and early.

Alternatively, If all God wanted was the perfect blood offering (echoes of Zeus here) of his only Son for the sake of appeasing his anger, why did Jesus not leave Nazareth, stir up plenty of trouble around Galilee (as he did), and then march straight into Jerusalem and offend everyone and get crucified early on? It would not have been hard. If Jesus was simply sent “to die,” then what was the point of his hidden years and the public ministry? They were not there for God’s sake, but for ours.

The simple truth is that the third verse of this beloved hymn is wrong. Jesus did not simply come to die. Rather, Jesus came to live. As a result of the courageous and radical way he lived his life, and the saving love he embodied for all humanity, he threatened the political, social, and religious authorities of his day so much that they executed him. This is, I think, an easier way for us to make sense of the predictions of the passion. Jesus was not clairvoyant; he was a full and true human being and therefore had informed but limited knowledge. His full and true divinity cannot obliterate his humanity or else he would be play-acting at being human. His divinity is seen in and through the uncompromisingly loving, just. and sacrificial way he lived within the bounds of his humanity.

Many of the most morally courageous people in history knew that their personal life and liberty were threatened because of what they were saying or how they were living. They may not have known beforehand that they would be executed or murdered or assassinated, but they could read the signs of their times well enough to predict that there were serious consequences to the freedom they were embodying and to which they were attracting other people. Sometimes they spoke or wrote about the cost of the stands they took. In this regard, they reflect Jesus Christ.

Our martyrs are not Christian versions of suicide bombers. They do not go looking for death in any active sense. That would be the ultimate betrayal of God’s gift of life. They know, however, that they may die as a result of witnessing to their faith and the demand for justice that must flow from it. In their lives and deaths they follow the pattern of Jesus. He did not seek death for its own sake, but would not and could not live any other way than faithfully hopefully, and lovingly. In his day, as in our own, this is immensely threatening to those whose power base is built on values opposed to these virtues. The world continues to silence and sideline people who live out the Christian virtues and values now, just as Jesus was thought to be ultimately sidelined in his crucifixion. But God had the last word on the death of Jesus: Life.

For most of Christian history, the question that has vexed many believers seems to be, “W’hy did Jesus die ?“ I think it is the wrong question. The right one is “Why was Jesus killed?” And that puts the last days of Jesus’ suffering and death in an entirely new perspective.

This is how we can stand before the cross and listen to Jesus in John’s Gospel say, “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” This life is not about the perfect Son of the perfect Father making the perfect sacrifice to get us back in God’s good books, and thereby saving us. It Is the Trinity’s inner life overflowing to the world in Christ through the power of the Spirit.

Our God does not deal in death, but life. Everything in the New Testament shows this, even the grand apocalyptic narratives about the end of time, which show all the hallmarks of an inspired rabbinic teacher drawing big strokes on the largest of canvases. Jesus did not intend us to take this imagery literally. I assume the experience of judgment will not actually be a livestock muster of sheep and goats. However, the lesson behind the imagery is a real one for us to learn. God’s compassion and love will ultimately see that justice is done. He will hear the cry of the poor and we will be called to account in the next life for what we have done and what we have failed to do in this life.

In this context we need to look at one other gospel text. Some people quote Jesus in the garden saying, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink It, thy will be done” (Matt 26:42) or “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me ?“ (John 18:11) as conclusive proof that God wanted and even needed Jesus to suffer and die. It all depends on what we think the will or the cup of the Father is for Jesus. If it is, as the hymn sings, “to die,” then that is quite clear and final. However, if, as argued earlier, the will of God is that we are faithful, hopeful, and loving, then Jesus’ prayer is about the Father strengthening and emboldening the Son to stay on the Way, to speak and be the Truth, and to witness to the Life, even if it costs him his own. Such a life of transparent goodness is never easy; it always involves a cup of suffering. In the garden scene we have Jesus becoming aware of his impending doom and struggling to finally claim the power to confront death and destruction and sin head-on. Jesus’ anguish at whatever might be his fate is an entirely human response, one that consoles all of us as we face our own anxieties.

And think about what we have done to the cross of Christ. Many of us now wear small crosses and crucifixes in rolled gold. platinum, or sterling silver. They dangle around our necks or from our earlobes… This provocative and contemporary image brings home what Paul calls the scandal or “foolishness” of the cross (1 Cor 1:18—26). The cross of Christ is not a fashion accessory, no matter how many of them Madonna and Eminem wear. Looking upon it should still take our breath away, not only because it shows us how far Jesus was prepared to go in establishing his reign of justice and love in this world, but also because it spells out the cost for all of us who follow his Way, speak his Truth, and live his Life. This should be as radical and threatening now as it was in the first century. For those of us who put on a cross, and for everyone who carries one, we want to answer Christ’s question, “How far will you go out of love in following me?” with the same answer he gave the Father, and us, “I will go to the end. I will see it through, no matter the cost.”

I like creative and stirring arrangements of “How Great Thou Art.” I am very happy to sing strongly about how we can wander through the woods and glades and praise “all the worlds Thy Hands have made.” And in the final verse, I sing more loudly than anyone about “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation and take me home what joy shall fill my soul.” It is just verse three. Because I take popular theology seriously, I cannot and will not sing it because I hope the verse, and the bloodthirsty God behind it, just isn’t true. In fact, what makes God great is that he wants nothing to do with death.
Here is an Elvis version of How Great Thou Art. It leaves that third verse out...

Holding the Scorpions on the Street Accountable

Or, the Vampire Squids, as Matt Taibbi calls them

I know that the following quotes will seem a bit out of character for the nature of this blog, but muckraking journalist Matt Taibbi makes a blunt and important point in his Rolling Stone article Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail? Right off the bat he quotes congressional officials on how useless it has been for the SEC to try to police Wall Street, even in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown:
"Everything's f____ed up, and nobody goes to jail," he said. "That's your whole story right there. Hell, you don't even have to write the rest of it. Just write that."

I put down my notebook. "Just that?"

"That's right," he said, signaling to the waitress for the check. "Everything's f____ed up, and nobody goes to jail. You can end the piece right there..."

"You put
Lloyd Blankfein in pound-me-in-the-ass prison for one six-month term, and all this bullshit would stop, all over Wall Street," says a former congressional aide. "That's all it would take. Just once."
In her book Pivotal Decade: How the United States Traded Factories for Finance in the Seventies, Judith Stein describes the shift that began in the late 1970s when America started shedding its manufacturing jobs and shifted to an economy based on finance and consumption. It was deemed at the time to be more important to fight inflation than unemployment, but in her view it was a failed strategy that has increased income inequality, weakened the nation, and left us in a more precarious position than before.

As the controversy in Wisconsin drags on, much of the anti-union sentiment coming from the right reminds me of what I was hearing back in the 1970s. In the comments posted on the American Thinker article Why I Changed My Mind About Unions I found a litany of the kind of stories I was well familiar with hearing in those days. In fact, I'd venture to guess that most of the union horror stories in those comments were from the 1970s. They'd almost have to be, considering that less than 7% of the private sector workforce is unionized today.

I have to admit, I saw some of this myself. When I was in college during the 1970s, I worked a landscaping job on campus during the summers. The guys on the full-time landscaping crew could be interesting characters, to say the least. One guy, almost perpetually high, used to tell me about his union days working in the shipbuilding yards down South. The union-management relationship he described to me sounded contentious, if not outright vicious. What struck me was that he saw no apparent irony or contradiction between his stories about finding a secret place to sleep off hangovers on the ships they were building, and his stories about the petty-minded bosses "who wanted to take food out of the mouths of my kids." I wasn't shocked that the shipbuilding industry collpased in the USA as a result, and I told him so.

At any rate, 30-35 years ago? That's a long time. Did American union workers get fat and lazy by the time the 1970s came along? I suppose some did, but that is a far cry from saying that the unions, that people bled and died to form, by the way, were unnecessary then and are unnecessary now. Anyone who agrees that:

- Greed is associated with our fallen human nature and can affect any of us, whatever our state in life happens to be, and...
- Any human endeavor is best served by a healthy system of checks and balances ...

...should be able to see this. In any case, it's a mystery to me how so many people can be resentful over the size of a unionized teacher's pension, but are non-plussed over what gets raked in by a Lloyd Blankfein, or the rest of that den of thieves on Wall Street. I'm reminded of a quote by the late columnist Molly Ivins
The trouble with blaming powerless people is that although it's not nearly as scary as blaming the powerful, it does miss the point.
Not only does it miss the point, it's increasingly absurd. Through the paucity of their numbers combined with the pressures of globalization, unions have long ago been rendered largely powerless and toothless. Nevertheless, the right still uses them as their favorite whipping boys. They will tell you that the GM bailout was done at the behest of unions. They will even tell you that the SEIU was the main beneficiary of the Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision.

Rick Santelli and the guys on the trading floor at the Chicago Board of Trade want to talk about moral hazard... Sure. We can put some blame on people who got into houses over their heads and didn't read the fine print on their mortgage agreements. Shame on them. But let's put bigger blame on people who should have known better, people with MBAs who knew that these loans were crap but gave them AAA ratings and collateralized them and sold them as bogus assets anyway.

As far as union money goes, they can blame the people who work cleaning the bathrooms at night in our office buildings for all of this if they want to. After all, the Tea Party is a revolt of the "haves" against the "have nots." They can try to make the case that the unions have the same kind of lobbying clout as the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce in our political process, but I don't think rational people will think it's very convincing.

Then again, what does rationality have to do with it? Clearly, not much. It's hard to let go of some of our most cherished myths about America and the Horatio Alger stories we adore.

If we feel a need to assign blame, we can see that it has been next to impossible to assign blame where it properly belongs. Matt Taibbi, author of the recent book Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America, tries gamely to rectify this as he describes in Why Isn't Wall Street in Jail? the chummy, revolving door relationship between the Wall Street investment banks and the agencies that are supposed to be overseeing them.
The system is skewed by the irrepressible pull of riches and power. If talent rises in the SEC or the Justice Department, it sooner or later jumps ship for those fat NBA contracts. Or, conversely, graduates of the big corporate firms take sabbaticals from their rich lifestyles to slum it in government service for a year or two. Many of those appointments are inevitably hand-picked by lifelong stooges for Wall Street like Chuck Schumer, who has accepted $14.6 million in campaign contributions from Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other major players in the finance industry, along with their corporate lawyers.

As for President Obama, what is there to be said? Goldman Sachs was his number-one private campaign contributor. He put a Citigroup executive in charge of his economic transition team, and he just named an executive of JP Morgan Chase, the proud owner of $7.7 million in Chase stock, his new chief of staff. "The betrayal that this represents by Obama to everybody is just — we're not ready to believe it," says Budde, a classmate of the president from their Columbia days. "He's really f____ing us over like that? Really? That's really a JP Morgan guy, really?"

Which is not to say that the Obama era has meant an end to law enforcement. On the contrary: In the past few years, the administration has allocated massive amounts of federal resources to catching wrongdoers — of a certain type. Last year, the government deported 393,000 people, at a cost of $5 billion. Since 2007, felony immigration prosecutions along the Mexican border have surged 77 percent; nonfelony prosecutions by 259 percent. In Ohio last month, a single mother was caught lying about where she lived to put her kids into a better school district; the judge in the case tried to sentence her to 10 days in jail for fraud, declaring that letting her go free would "demean the seriousness" of the offenses.

So there you have it. Illegal immigrants: 393,000. Lying moms: one. Bankers: zero. The math makes sense only because the politics are so obvious. You want to win elections, you bang on the jailable class. You build prisons and fill them with people for selling dime bags and stealing CD players. But for stealing a billion dollars? For fraud that puts a million people into foreclosure? Pass. It's not a crime. Prison is too harsh. Get them to say they're sorry, and move on. Oh, wait — let's not even make them say they're sorry. That's too mean; let's just give them a piece of paper with a government stamp on it, officially clearing them of the need to apologize, and make them pay a fine instead. But don't make them pay it out of their own pockets, and don't ask them to give back the money they stole. In fact, let them profit from their collective crimes, to the tune of a record $135 billion in pay and benefits last year. What's next? Taxpayer-funded massages for every Wall Street executive guilty of fraud?

The mental stumbling block, for most Americans, is that financial crimes don't feel real; you don't see the culprits waving guns in liquor stores or dragging coeds into bushes. But these frauds are worse than common robberies. They're crimes of intellectual choice, made by people who are already rich and who have every conceivable social advantage, acting on a simple, cynical calculation: Let's steal whatever we can, then dare the victims to find the juice to reclaim their money through a captive bureaucracy. They're attacking the very definition of property — which, after all, depends in part on a legal system that defends everyone's claims of ownership equally. When that definition becomes tenuous or conditional — when the state simply gives up on the notion of justice — this whole American Dream thing recedes even further from reality.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pension Envy?

Maybe there is power in a union after all. Hang tough, Wisconsin! Don't back down!

To a certain extent, I've understood the common urge to bash teachers' unions around a bit. I suppose there have been ways in which they could have shown more flexibility over the years, and they could have shown more interest and effort in providing quality education to our kids over protecting their own tenure and benefits. I have even questioned in the past whether or not unions are even necessary in the public sector.

In today's political climate, however, especially in light of the recent events in Wisconsin, I'm willing to go to the wall and fight for them. I'd say it is more important to fight for the right to collective bargaining than ever before. With private sector unions beaten down and all but practically extinct, the public sector unions represent the last trench for worker's rights.

In speaking up for social justice on traditionalist Catholic blogs in the past, I have been accused of class envy and of advocating class warfare. To the accusation of envy, I say not so. I work for a Fortune 500 company. Our family is doing OK, but we don't necessarily need or want what the nouveau riche at the top of the economic ladder want. We certainly don't want it at the expense of our fellow countrymen. Those of us who are content to live simply should be left alone by those who'd put others out on the street because they refuse to live simply. As for class warfare, I'll just quote Warren Buffett on that. He's a rich guy who gets it.
There's class warfare, all right,but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning.
Thank you for stating it plainly, Mr Buffett. There has been a class war for three decades now, but it has been unilateral. Read Mike Lux today, in The Politics of Envy:
Conservatives love to write off progressive populism as "the politics of envy," saying we envy the rich instead of recognizing them for being the hardworking entrepreneurs they are. Given that, the current conservative exercise of attacking public employees for getting pensions, decent health care coverage, and occasional salary increases is irony on a scale rarely seen. Republicans and conservatives' basic argument is that since private-sector workers have been so thoroughly screwed on wages, health care, and retirement plans in recent decades, those same workers should be mad that teachers and cops and social workers have gotten a little more economic security than they have. If that ain't the politics of envy, I don't know what is.

Pitting workers against workers for the scraps of the economic system as a few people and corporations at the top rake in, and then hoard, most of the money is a tried and true tactic, and it sometimes works. But the movement revolt that started in Wisconsin and is spreading rapidly to other states is so far successful in turning the argument around. When 70,000 pro-union progressive protesters show up at the Capitol in Madison, and the numbers keep building day after day, and the kind of folks coming are just soft-spoken teachers and hearts-on-their-sleeve firefighters, it gets impossible to write these people off as a narrow special interest.....

There is no envy on our side of these demonstrations: people just want a fair shake. There are no tantrums about being unwilling to talk or compromise or sacrifice in hard times, they just want to have a voice through collective bargaining. And a majority of people in Wisconsin get it -- 65 percent support the right of public employees to bargain...

And speaking of envy: the Tea Party folks in all their ballyhooed hype have never been able to turn out these kinds of crowds, even with the enormous corporate money behind them....

The Democratic senators in Wisconsin are doing the right thing in staying away and showing solidarity with the attacked unions. Now the national Democratic Party is going to have to step up to the plate and show whose side it is on. They need to embrace the protesters and embrace this moment. There has been a widening gulf between establishment D.C. Democrats and grassroots progressives, as the latter have gotten more and more alienated from too many Democrats taking on the pro-big business and bankers ideology. In this movement moment, Democrats need to stand unapologetically with progressives, which so far too many seem to have been wobbly about doing...

This fight is for all of us; it is about preserving the American middle class and our ability to organize collectively. It is about human rights. It is about focusing the blame for the economic crisis where it belongs, on bankers and policy makers, not teachers and cops. And the fight isn't just in Wisconsin: All over this country, the conservative movement is trying to take away our rights, and everywhere in America, we should be showing solidarity with our embattled brothers and sisters in Wisconsin.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yves Congar on the Monarchical Episcopate and Tradition

Are priests and bishops necessary? Yes, and at least by historical necessity if nothing else

A theologian with the hands and wrists of a farmer. Yves Congar, O.P. (1904-1995)

One of my first jobs coming out of college was in the Audio-Visual Department at Polaroid’s corporate headquarters in Cambridge, MA. I maintained an image library, and assisted with product photography and the production of multi-projector slide shows. Great fun.

During my tenure there I became close friends with the staff photographer, who had about twenty years with the company. Among other things, he used to entertain me with stories about a year he once spent on hiatus, working as a “bodyguard” in Muhammad Ali’s extended entourage. We worked cheek-by-jowl every day and talked about all sorts of things, including religion. He was a Pentecostal at the time.

It would be more accurate to say that it was an internship rather than a job. I was getting paid peanuts. Even though it was a lot of fun, eventually I had to move on and do other things in order to earn a real living, but my friend and I stayed in touch periodically over the years.

A couple of years ago he called on the phone and informed me that he was no longer a Pentecostal, but was now a member of the Church of Christ, which, as he described it, “was the original church founded by Jesus Christ.” “Oh no, here we go,” I thought… When I demurred and mildly suggested that my church was the one that was actually founded by Jesus Christ, well, I was regaled with an earful about how the Roman Catholic Church was a man-made institution founded by Pope Boniface (which Pope Boniface, I’m can’t quite recall… perhaps it was a reference to Boniface VIII, on account of his bull Unam Sanctum, which declared “that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff”), and thus, no true church at all. We got into a long heated discussion about the primacy of Peter, praying to Mary and to the saints, purgatory, “thou shall not call any man father,” the sins of priests, etc, etc…

I actually felt rather badly for him, because I had the sense that he had been declared by his church community to be a “discipler,” which means that he had a certain quota that he needed to make in terms of winning converts. In having to deliver his speil to me, of all people, he must have been pretty desperate... When I told him in a later conversation that the Church of Christ was not the original church, but traces its origins to the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement in 1832, it didn’t go over too well with him.

In any case, one of the things we debated in the first call was the three-fold ministry of bishop, deacon, and priest, and what precisely was meant by the New Testament’s Koine Greek terms of “presbyteros” and “episkopos.” We discussed whether or not the Catholic priesthood was a biblically valid form of ministry.

The debates to be found over it on the web are lively to be sure, but a passage that I found particularly useful in discussing the question, and for that matter, how scripture, tradition, and church history interplay in general, was written by the great French theologian Yves Congar OP in his book The Meaning of Tradition.
We can look finally at the Church herself and her ministries. What has been handed down in writing on this subject is certainly considerable, and infinitely precious, but it is also fragmentary and sporadic. It is well known that the word “Church” itself occurs only twice in the Gospels (MT 16:18) and 18:17) and that 1 Peter, while it deals at length with the idea, does not mention the word once. As for the ministries, they are mentioned more from an ethical point of view, with regard to the binding nature of their exercise within the community, than that of their organization. It is significant and worth noting that the same is true of the ordination rituals. But the scriptural evidence is of a nature to provide endless discussion, and in fact there has been so much argument over its exact meaning that a critical reader of the Bible can always produce reasons for doubting a given piece of evidence, for dating it differently, for attributing it to another writer who was stupid or biased, and so on. What are the “presbyters” and the “episcopos”; what is the origin of their institution?

The Church could not wait until the critics were agreed among themselves; she had to live. She lived her own life, which had been handed down to her as such, before the texts and together with them, in the texts and yet not limited to them, independently of them. She did not receive her life from them. She was the Church from the time of the apostles and not the product of their writings; she used these writings, not following them word for word, as a pupil copies an exercise imposed from outside, but treating them as a mirror and yardstick to recognize and restore her image, in each new generation.

Tradition, as understood in this paragraph, is the communication of the entire heritage of the apostles, effected in a different way from that of their writings. We must try to define it more precisely and describe the original way in which it was done…. It could well be compared to all that is implied by the idea of upbringing as opposed to instruction. We do not bring up a child by giving him lectures in morality and deportment, but rather by placing him in an environment having a high tone of conduct and good manners, whose principles, rarely expressed as abstract theories, will be imparted to him by the thousand familiar gestures that clothe them, so to speak, in the same way that the spirit informs the body and is expressed by it.

Education does not consist in receiving a lesson from afar, which may be learned by heart and recited, thanks to a good memory, but in the daily contact and inviting example of adult life, which is mature, confident of foundations; which asserts itself simply by being what it is, and presents itself as an ideal; which someone still unsure and unformed in search of fulfillment and in need of security, will progressively come to resemble, almost unconsciously and without effort. A child receives the life of the community into which he enters, together with the cultural riches of the preceding generations (tradition!), which are inculcated by the actions and habits of everyday life.
This is erudite and very well-appreciated. The passages about maturity and upbringing as opposed to instruction are very relevant for today in particular. Those of us in the laity who are still engaged with the Church are no longer content to be treated like mere children, and the words “we do not bring up a child by giving him lectures in morality and deportment, but rather by placing him in an environment having a high tone of conduct and good manners, whose principles, rarely expressed as abstract theories, will be imparted to him by the thousand familiar gestures that clothe them, so to speak, in the same way that the spirit informs the body and is expressed by it” should be heard by the institutional church in this time of scandal, and well-heeded... It would certainly make arguing with people like my friend a little bit easier.

Recently over 200 German-speaking theologians issued a memorandum entitled Church 2011: A Necessary New Departure, advocating not only for a married clergy, but also serious reflection and calls for change on areas pertaining to: Structures of Participation, Community, Legal Structure, Freedom of Conscience, Reconciliation and Worship. It reflects a recognition by the representatives of the "threefold ministry," or "monarchical episcopate," of what they are hearing from responsible members of the laity. I think Yves Congar would have agreed that the suggestions contained therein would represent a healthy adult understanding and living out of the tradition, if followed through upon.

Excerpts from the intro... I urge you to read it all:
Many responsible Christians, women and men, in office and unofficially, have come to realize, after their initial disgust, that deep-reaching reforms are necessary. The appeal for an open dialogue on structures of power and communication, the form of official church offices, and the participation of the faithful in taking responsibility for morality and sexuality have aroused expectations, but also fears. This might be the last chance for departure from paralysis and resignation.

Will this chance be missed by sitting out or minimizing the crisis? Not everyone is threatened by the unrest of an open dialogue without taboos - especially since the papal visit [to Germany] will soon take place. The alternative simply cannot be accepted: the "rest of the dead" because the last hopes have been destroyed.

The deep crisis of our Church demands that we address even those problems which, at first glance, do not have anything directly to do with the abuse scandal and its decades-long cover-up…. The renewal of church structures will succeed, not with anxious withdrawal from society, but only with the courage for self-criticism and the acceptance of critical impulses - including those from the outside.

The Church does not exist for its own sake. The church has the mission to announce the liberating and loving God of Jesus Christ to all people. The Church can do this only when it is itself a place and a credible witness of the good news of the Gospel. The Church's speaking and acting, its rules and structures - its entire engagement with people within and outside the Church - is under the standard of acknowledging and promoting the freedom of people as God's creation. Absolute respect for every person, regard for freedom of conscience, commitment to justice and rights, solidarity with the poor and oppressed: these are the theological foundational standards which arise from the Church's obligation to the Gospel. Through these, love of God and neighbor become tangible...