04/19/14

THE SPIRIT AND THE CHURCH

Pentecost

It is not always so easy to come to terms with the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, as Christians. Sometimes our understanding seems to be «lofty», to the point of being vague. In the following little meditation I will try to elucidate the role of the Spirit through three questions: Who is the Spirit? What does the Spirit do? What is the relation between the Spirit and the Church?

The Holy Spirit

The Apostle Paul explains how the Spirit «searches everything, even the hidden depths of God’s purpose… only God’s Spirit knows all about God» (1 Cor. 2:10f). The Apostle Peter clarifies this further stating that «God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit» (Acts 10:38). However, in the history of salvation, the presence of the Holy Spirit is depicted, not in a personal way, but with the help of symbolic images. When Jesus was baptized, the Spirit came down like a «dove» (Matt. 3:16, John 1:32). At Pentecost the Spirit was present like a «strong wind» and in form of «tongues of fire» (Acts 2:2f).

What does the Spirit for us?

These shifting metaphors help us to understand that the Spirit is not acting on its own. The Spirit remains somewhat «anonymous» as he comes to us pointing to Christ as the Saviour of all men. St. John quotes Jesus saying, «He does not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears» (John 16:13). In this way we can tell who the Spirit is by what he does. The Spirit is the light wherein Jesus is seen as the Son of the Father. The Spirit receives from the Father the authority and power to communicate the Son. In the economy of salvation, the Spirit is at the same time God’s Spirit and the Spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9).

The Spirit and the Church

Serving our salvation, the Spirit comes to us as our Advocate proving the world wrong about sin and reminding us of what Christ taught the apostles (John 14:26, 16:7f). Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness interceding for us with sighs too deep for words (Rom 8:25). Moreover, the Spirit guides the Church in her ministry to the world (Acts 10:19f, 13:2).

As the Spirit works and prays for us, we are at the same time called to put ourselves in the service of the Spirit. St Paul instructs us bluntly: «Let the Spirit direct your lives» (Gal. 5:16). And elsewhere he admonishes us, that we, filled by the Spirit, are to sing to one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and offer praise to the Lord (Eph.5:18f). If the «inexpressible groanings» of the Spirit are «too deep for words», he instead inspires us to speak for him. Thus, in her witness and praise the Church shall give voice to the Spirit.

Addressing the Lord

In the final words of the Bible the relationship between the Spirit and the Church is expressed as a dialogue, when the Spirit and the Church jointly address Christ in his glory: «The Spirit and the Bride say, Come» (Rev 22:17). At the end of our time the Spirit speaks words of comfort assuring us: «Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord» (Rev 14:13).

Joyous Pentecost!

03/19/14

ECCLESIAL CULTURE

There is no news that the Scandinavian countries are secular. Still, it is a strange fact that the crisis of faith emerges also from the churches themselves as theologians and church leaders reinterpret the faith in secular categories.

Under the keywords “bureaucracy”, “politics” and “desacralisation” I deplore this process in the piece below called Den kirkelige kultur (“Ecclesial Culture”), emphasising that the lines of demarcation between faith and unbelief is a necessary aspect of Christian life.

Den kirkelige kultur

Ordet «kultur» ble i sin tid meislet ut av den franske filosof Rousseau for å betegne hvordan vi som fornuftsvesener skal omgåes hverandre i fremtidens lykkesamfunn. Siden den gang er bruken av ordet utvidet til å betegne hvordan individer, grupper og nasjoner finner sin identitet gjennom felles språk, skikker og forestillinger. I et slikt perspektiv kan vi også etterspørre hva som preger vår samtids kirkelige kultur.

Svaret vil selvfølgelig variere fra fellesskap til fellesskap, men det nye i situasjonen er at mange kristne miljøer på ulike måter synes å ville forankre ikke bare deres virksomhet, men også deres selvforståelse i lys av storsamfunnets kultur. Prisen for denne åpenhet har vært høy. Den åndelige krise som har rammet også norsk kristenliv avspeiler at man har utvisket skillet mellom kirken og verden. Jeg vil anføre tre belegg på dette med stikkordene – kirkelivets byråkratisering, politisering og avsakralisering. At jeg henter eksemplene fra statskirkeligheten, betyr ikke at frikirkene går fri!

Byråkratiseringen tydeliggjøres ikke minst ved at presten er blitt en funksjonær i den kirkelige organisasjon. Ikke bare er «presterollen» fratatt åndelig autoritet i forhold til øvrige ansatte, men rådsstrukturen synes å ha mistet bevisstheten om at finnes høyere autoriteter enn det selv. To fremtredende geistlige i Den norske kirke fastslo sist sommer, at for å gi rom for mangfold og uenighet «tegnes kirkens profil av ansatte, råd og medlemmer i fellesskap» (VL 24/6 2013). I klartekst fremstår Den norske kirke som en ideologiproduserende institusjon der avgjør hva som er teologisk forpliktende, på basis av skiftende flertallsvedtak i egne organer.

Politiseringen følger blant annet av den såkalte kontekstuelle teologis forståelse av kirkens budskap. Målsetningen er å «oversette og tilpasse troen til det som gir mening på et bestemt sted og på et bestemt tidspunkt». I praksis betyr dette at teologien skal begrunne oppgjøret med «rasisme, mannsdominans og den rike vestlige verden» (VL 9/ 1 2006). Disse prioriteter har ført til et kirkelig handlingsprogram som til forveksling er lik dagsordenen hos visse politiske partier. Slik er Den norske kirke sarkastisk blitt karakterisert som «SV med sakramenter».

Avsakraliseringen gir seg av tanken om «kulturkirken». Tenkesettet er nylig anskueliggjort i en svensk avis under overskriften – «När Gud blir sambo med kulturen». Ettersom få kommer til kirke for å møte Gud, forklarer skribenten som er ‘kulturarvssamordnaren i Svenska Kyrkan’, må «kyrkan bli en resurs för alla som bor där, oberoende av religion, härkomst eller inkomst». Denne «utvidgade användning» avspeiler «ett skifte från religion till kultur med en ny sorts helighet i byggnader och plätser.. Kulten har helt enkelt bytt föremål» (SvD 23/2 2014). – Det er ikke vanskelig på finne norske eksempler på hvordan kirkebygningen anvendes til kulturformål istedenfor gudstjenestefeiring.

Idéhistorisk sett utspringer de tre ovennevnte prosesser fra Rousseaus forestilling om «sosialreligionen». Som bindemiddelet i det nye samfunnslegemet kan religiøse sannheter kun begrunnes utfra deres sosiale nytte. Det er derfor fornuftens oppgave å avgjøre hva som er Guds vilje; tanken om en guddommelig åpenbaring er utelukket. En selvutslettende teologi som mer eller mindre innordner seg i dette tenkesett, må nødvendigvis miste sin åndelige kraft. Kirkesamfunnenes oppgave er gi det verdslige samfunn noe nytt og annerledes. Kristentroens budskap hviler ikke i samtidens tenkesett og levevis, men utspringer av misjonsbefalingens budskap om Den oppstandne frelser og Herre. Det gies faktisk et kulturelt skille mellom kirken og verden.

 

03/13/14

FOOD FOR THOUGHT DURING LENT

As we enter Lent, it is helpful first to clarify what is the meaning of what we do. It is evident that the purpose of Lent is not to be found in what we eat and do not eat. In the revelation called «The Shepherd» from the middle of the second century fasting is characterised in military terminology as «station», i.e. being on guard duty.

Thus fasting is understood as spiritual discipline through which we open ourselves to God’s grace. The Shepherd tells the seer: «God does not wish a vain fast … But fast to God in this way: Do nothing evil in your life, but serve the Lord with a pure heart, keep his commandments and walk in his ordinances …»

In other words, Lent is a voyage of self-discovery, a spiritual discipline in which we learn to open ourselves to Christ’s presence in our lives.

02/13/14

KIRKE OG MENIGHET

Peter og Paulus - reduced size

At a conference in Oslo last month between the Nordic Catholic Church and traditional Lutherans on Ecclesiology and Ministry I gave a lecture on conciliar ecclesiology. A resumé of the main points follows below, as published today under the title Kirke og menighet (Church and Parish) in my monthly column in DAGEN, a Christian newspaper in Norway.

Kirke og menighet

Når vi bruker ord som «kirke» eller «menighet» om de kristnes sosiale liv, må vi ta i betraktning at ingen av ordene er opprinnelige bibelske begreper, men betegnelser som i tidens løp er vokst frem for å oversette ett og samme ord – det paulinske begrep «ekklesia». Den ordgranne oversettelse ville i begge tilfelle være «forsamling».

I Det nye testamente forekommer ordet «ekklesia» særlig i det paulinske forfatterskap og i miljøer forbundet med apostelen. Paulus har hentet ordet fra den greske oversettelse av Det gamle testamente hvor «ekklesia» i betydningen «folkeforsamling» anvendes for å gjengi det hebraiske uttrykk «qahal» som betegner Israel som Guds eiendomsfolk (2 Mos 19:6, 5 Mos 7:6; jfr Heb 12:23). For å forstå den nytestamentlige ordbruken er det viktig å merke seg at apostelen anvender begrepet i tilsynelatende ulike sammenhenger. «Guds ekklesia» brukes om den enkelte menighet som adressat for hans brev (1 Kor 1:2). Samtidig finner vi «ekklesia» brukt også om hele kirken i betydningen «samtlige menigheter» (1Tess 2:14, Gal 1:13, 1 Kor 15:9). Likeledes karakteriserer Paulus de kristne med uttrykket ”Guds ekklesia” som den tredje menneskehet ved siden av jøder og grekere (1 Kor 10:32). Videre brukes ordet «ekklesia» også i betydningen «den gudstjenestefeirende forsamling» (1 Kor 11:18, 1 Tim 3:15) og om endetidens gudsfolk (Ap gj 9:31, 20:28).

Meningsfylden i ordet «ekklesia» utviskes imidlertid i våre bibeloversettelser som gjengir «forsamling» snart som «kirke», snart som «menighet». En slik differensiering letter nok lesningen, men gir også rom for alvorlige misforståelser. En saksvarende oversettelse av «ekklesia» ville være at man – avhengig av kontekst – istedenfor skjelnet mellom «storkirke» og «lokalkirke».

Det problematiske ved bruken av ordet «menighet» er at ordet strengt tatt kun betyr «fellesskap» uten at det angies hva som binder felleskapene sammen. Derved kan man komme til å tilsløre hva det vil si å være kirke i verden. Begrepet «menighet” kan lede til at man forstår helheten – «kirken» – som sammenslutningen av de ulike menighets-fellesskapene.

Derved står man overfor problemet om hvordan man skal tenke seg menighetenes innbyrdes forhold. Den enkleste løsning er en form for kongregasjonalisme, idet selvstendige menigheter samvirker når og hvor det måtte være ønskelig. En annen løsning er å forstå lokalmenigheten som en slags underavdeling i forhold til en sentralinstans på lignende måte som filialene i DnB forholder seg til hovedkontoret i Oslo. Kirkens enhet fremkommer da som summen av de ulike virksomhetsområdene slik de er forenet gjennom organisasjonens regelverk.

Dette er ikke den paulinske forståelse av kirkelivet. Apostelens bruk av nettopp det samme ord «ekklesia» både på storkirken og lokalkirken gjør det urimelig å definere «menigheten» som en slags underavdeling av «kirken». Fellesbetegnelsen innebærer at storkirken utgjør en enhet som gir seg uttrykk på ulike steder i form av mange lokalkirker som alle er bærere av den samme åndelige fylde. Derved er «den verdensvide kirke» tilstede i alle delkirkene i kraft av at alle lokalkirkene har den samme identitet som storkirken. Det er altså ikke summen av delene som skaper enheten, men helheten kommer til uttrykk ved at hver del for seg og tilsammen er Guds ekklesia – den nye pakts eiendomsfolk.

02/3/14

STANDING TOGETHER

Canon Kevin Donlon, Bishop Roald Nikolai and Canon Geoffrey Neal

At a conference at the end of January 2014 in Oslo between the Nordic Catholic Church and traditional Lutherans from Norway and Sweden were distinguished guests from England’s Anglican Association, Canon Geoffrey Neal, and The Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), Canon Kevin Donlon. The meeting also gave occasion to further the realignment between Anglo-Catholics, Nordic Catholic Church and Mission Province.

The high point for our visitors came when they were able to attend the Feast of the Presentation in the Church of St. Michael and All Saints in Fredrikstad (see photo: Kevin Donlon, left, and Geoffrey Neal, right). Addressing the parishioners at the church coffee they conveyed greetings from their respective organisations and underlined the importance for Christians to come together in these difficult times.

01/18/14

ECUMENICAL CONVERSATIONS

The Nordic Catholic Church has strong bonds with Anglicans. However, the liberalising innovations in the Church of England have complicated our ecumenical relations with them and at the same time made many Anglicans who cherish the Catholic heritage look for a new home.

In response, the Nordic Catholic Church has, together with our Mother Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, explored ways which could provide a new realignment for non-Roman Catholics, using the Union of Scranton as a means of achieving this. In this endeavour, we were encouraged by our affinity with the Free Church of England and conversations were initiated during 2012.

These talks have proved to be constructive and the following statement has been issued:
Official Statement from the International Catholic Bishops Conference of the Union of Scranton On September 15, 2012 the International Catholic Bishops Conference (ICBC) of the Union of Scranton made the following motion:

The ICBC authorizes Bishop Flemestad to begin a dialogue with the Free Church of England on behalf of the Union of Scranton based upon the ‘Requirements for Communion with the Polish National Catholic Church’ (October, 2010) with the eventual goal of membership in the Union of Scranton.

Since then Bishop Flemestad has met on several occasions with representatives of the Free Church of England. At a meeting in Scranton, Pennsylvania on 11-12 February, 2013, Bishops of the Polish National Catholic Church, the Nordic Catholic Church and the Free Church of England met and had a very fruitful discussion during which documentation was presented and discussed. In light of this meeting the International Catholic Bishops Conference anticipates being able to work with the Free Church of England to build up a Catholic jurisdiction in the United Kingdom.”

The next stage is for the conversations to be reported to the International Catholic Bishops Conference in April and to Convocation of The free Church of England at its meeting in May.

01/18/14

A SHORT PRESENTATION OF THE NORDIC CATHOLIC CHURCH

The Nordic Catholic Church was established in Norway in 2000 under the auspices of the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC). Today the Nordic Catholic Church is led by Bishop Roald Nikolai Flemestad as a member Church of the Union of Scranton.

The following is taken from the preamble of the Statutes of the Union of Scranton:

The Union of Scranton is a union of Churches – and their bishops governing them – that is determined to maintain and pass on the Catholic faith, worship, and essential structure of the Undivided Church of the first millennium. The Union of Scranton finds its origins in the development of the Union of Utrecht established on September 24, 1889, in Utrecht, Holland (…) the full communion of the Churches found its expression and was evident in the bishops uniting to form a Bishops’ Conference, which other bishops later joined. Since the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) continues to hold the Declaration of Utrecht as a normative document of faith, the development of the Union of Scranton follows a similar design.

The Union of Scranton emerged because certain member Churches of the Union of Utrecht unilaterally began to ordain women to the Priesthood and to bless same-sex unions in opposition to Holy Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Undivided Church. Since November 20, 2003 the PNCC is neither in communion, nor affiliated with the Churches of the Union of Utrecht.

Within the context of the Union of Scranton the Nordic Catholic Church has its orders and has received apostolic succession from the PNCC. Additionally, the theology reflects the doctrinal dialogue between the Chalcedonian Orthodox patriarchates and the Old Catholic churches as agreed in the consensus document Road to Unity from 1987. Thus, like the PNCC, the Nordic Catholic Church adheres to the teachings and praxis of the undivided Church.

Furthermore, the Nordic Catholic Church emphasises in its Statement of Faith that it adheres to its Scandinavian Lutheran heritage to the extent that it has embraced and transmitted the orthodox and catholic faith of the undivided church.

The Nordic Catholic Church has presently five parishes in Norway, one in Sweden and developing communities in both countries. The activities outside Scandinavia take place in cooperation with the PNCC within the framework of the Union of Scranton.

01/18/14

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THE WORD “CATHOLIC”?

Colloquial use gives the impression that the adjective “catholic” designates the Roman Catholic Church as opposed to other church bodies such as the Orthodox or the Lutherans. In the perspective of history, though, using this term to refer to particular denominations is actually a relatively new practice. Moreover, the Orthodox and Old Catholic Churches have never forgone the right to call themselves catholic. Not until the late the seventeenth century did people in the lands of the Augsburg Confession begin to use the words “Lutheran” and “Catholic” as mutually contradictory terms. Till then Lutherans had quite consistently referred to themselves as catholic. Their unwillingness to use the term “Lutheran” about themselves other than in a colloquial sense shows how reluctant they were to appear as somehow sectarian adherents of Martin Luther.

Their concern was, on the contrary, to retain the faith of the Catholic Church. Luther himself maintained that his faith was catholic, and that he confessed the credal article of faith concerning the “Catholic” Church  (WA 8. 96). Melanchton likewise emphasized that “we must all be catholic” (CR 24.399). In the Augsburg Confession of 1530 we also read that the doctrine of the Reformation “does not deviate from that of the Catholic Church (ecclesia catholica) in any article of faith, but only renounces a few misuses, that are new and have erroneously been included against the intention of church law”. When discussing papal innovations, Reformation theologians claimed to hold a doctrinal standpoint that “neither deviates from Holy Scripture nor the Universal Church nor the Roman Church as we know it from the Fathers”. (CA XXI:1)

This understanding of catholicity hails from the definition given by the Church Father Vincent of Lerins: “Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold THAT WHICH HAS BEEN BELIEVED EVERYWHERE, ALWAYS, AND BY ALL—quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.” (Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd edition, p. 84). This definition is based on the assertion that there exists a common tradition of East and West that is binding for the spiritual life of the Church. The term “catholic” (first used by St Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans, written between AD 107 and 115) is derived from the Greek word combination kata (according to) + holos (complete). The word thus denotes “what is in accordance with the fulness of faith and order”. Thus “catholic” refers, first of all, to the inner wholeness and integrity of the Church’s life.

The point is therefore not that the Church shall be “universally present” in terms of space, but “complete” in all spiritual respects. In this way the word describes an ideal situation—“what is as it should be”. Consequently, the term “catholic” does not designate a particular denomination, but specificies a quality that should mark all church bodies. In order for it to be called “catholic”, the spiritual life  of a church or ecclesial community must be in accordance with the fulness of faith and order. In the same way as the other qualifying marks of the church—“one”, “holy” and “apostolic—the attribute “catholic” expresses an aspect of the life of the church that cannot be relinquished and politely handed over to become a monopoly of Rome. Everywhere spiritual life, that is, ecclesial life in Christ, must appear as it should be. The real opposite of catholicity, then, is self-chosen, arbitrary religiosity. In the end, every one of us must make the fundamental choice whether I want to be truly catholic or declare myself to be my own supreme spiritual authority.

In this perspective, not only individuals but also churches and religious communities must likewise place themselves under the norm of catholicity and self-critically ask how they transmit the faith in any given situation.

 

Bishop Roald Nikolai

(translated from Norwegian)