Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Telos of the Creation

I'm currently rereading Al Wolter's Creation Regained (Eerdmans, 2005; second ed.), as it is a textbook in a class I'm teaching.  I chose it specifically because it was so instrumental in my becoming a Neo-Calvinist (or Reformational) in college and grad school.  I was a card-carrying Dooyeweerdian, fighting for the end of dualism, especially in theology (which, to tow the party line, was beholden to Platonic dualism or one sort or another).  Now that I'm teaching, I knew this was one book I wanted my students to read: it had been so formative for me, how could I resist?

You can never go home again.

Maybe it is the intervening years, maybe it is the changes that I went through in seminary, maybe it is my ever-deepening reading of the Fathers of the Church, I don't know.  But I find myself, over and over again, disagreeing with Wolters.  Some things I can heartily affirm: creation is good, even despite the ravaging effects of sin.  However, after that, things get dodgy.  Part of it goes to some of the tacit (worldview?) assumptions that go unexamined throughout the book.  One is that creation, as it stands, is meant to largely run as we experience it (not in its corruption from sin, but in its creational structure).  However, this opens Wolters up to the charge of an incipient deism, especially once we reach his thoughts on "salvation as restoration."  As he puts it, "redemption means restoration -- that is, the return to the goodness of an originally unscathed creation and not merely the addition of something supracreational" (69, emphasis original).  Redemption functions as a reset button, as it were, on creation.  However, this ignores the fact that the original creation was meant to run on "the addition of something supracreational," that is, God's Life.  God, who promises to be "all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28, Eph. 1:23, etc.), pours Himself out into His creation "deifying" it, to use the Patristic term.  Creation was meant to be filled by God from the beginning.  Salvation, then, cannot be about merely restoring the creation and then developing it along human lines (which is where Reformational thinking goes about its "culture making"); rather, salvation is about restoration and glorification.  Certainly, we can and should develop the creation to its potential, but if we do not realize that the point of its potential, the telos of its telos, is union with God, then we miss the point entirely.

I wonder, although I cannot prove this so do not take it as a rebuke or accusation, if all this might be the effects of the crypto-Nestoranism that plagues much of Reformed Christology (going back, some argue, to Calvin himself -- I cannot judge one way or the other).  In classical Nestorianism, the person of the Word takes on human nature without changing it or fulfilling it.  It is a "union of wills," at best.  Human nature is not raised up into theosis, or deification, or glorification (whatever you want to call it), but remains untouched by the indwelling of the Logos.  This means that, while Christ restores nature (for how could sin negatively affect His human nature after the resurrection), He does nothing else with it.  It is not a true, Chalcedonian union.  Rather, classical Christianity has held that creation is fundamentally incomplete -- and tends back to the nihil as both Sts Athanasius and Maximus the Confessor argue -- without the vivifying presence of God "everywhere present and fulfilling all things."  Creation is not enough; that doesn't mean it isn't good -- acknowledging creational limitation built into its very structure by God is not Gnosticism.  Restoration is not enough.

This gets to the second assumption that I must disagree with: sin is what is wrong with the world.  Don't get me wrong, though: sin is a problem.  But it is more of a symptom to the real problem, which is the corruption of death.  Again, St Athanasius speaks on this much more powerful than I can in his On the Incarnation.  God is Life, so to be separate from Him is to be in a state of death.  Mere biological existence (which is in line with the structural norms given by God) is now necessarily in death; something does need to be added back, which is God.  Now, death is brought into the world via sin, but, as St Athanasius says, you can repent of sin, you can't repent of death.  Christ, in His Incarnation (which includes the Cross, Resurrection, Ascension, and Session) not only defeats sin, but death as well.  It is only through His full union with human nature that this can be accomplished for us.  Death is the real problem.  Culturally, this means that mere "development" along the lines of redirected creational structures isn't enough; every discipline, every cultural endeavor, and so on must go through the Cross.  Each aspect of creation must partake of the death of Christ to be freed from the corruptive effects of sin and death.  This means that we will not, and cannot, "bring in the Kingdom" by our efforts, nor will we reach a sort of "principled pluralist" utopia.  Rather, we remain faithful in all aspects of life, bringing them again and again to the Cross, so that they might be raised on the last day (which is itself the fullness of the Crucifixion).  I haven't fully worked through the implications of this -- but it has changed the way I interact with cultural goods and norms.  One thing I know now, though, is that the fullness of the Kingdom will not be realized culturally or socially until Christ comes again -- I have officially left post-millennialism for a robust amillennialism.

More, of course, needs to be said and written.  But this brief introduction will have to suffice for now.

Apocalyptic Hopes

We will have the whole world fight against us
raise up a banner, bathe itself in our blood:
for what? to prove that it is strong, has reason
for its pride?  Oppressor and oppressed alike die;
from dust they come and to dust they return.
There is no hierarchy in the grave.

Let them beat the air, shadow-boxers all;
let us give ourselves bodily over -- the only power
they possess is to kill the body. When we cease to love
is when we kill the soul.  Fear that.  And repent.
Violence is the way of the world, the last dying gasp
and grasp upon a life we pretend to own:
filled to the brim with apocalyptic vision and heavenly hope
based on hate and subjugation.  This is not the Kingdom.

Let us dwell on the Cross, let us call out for the nails,
the scourge, the beatings -- call the thorns a true crown
true power, true prestige in mockery.  Conformed to his death
humiliation
so that after a brief rest, we might rise in his light.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Canonical Readings of the OT

One of the advantages of an ecclesial reading of the OT is that is frees the so-called canonical reading from dependence on any genetic theory of textual origins.  As it stands, the canonical method focuses most heavily on the texts as we have received them; however, it also pays some homage to the redaction and development of the text, hypothetically reconstructed.  The underlying assumption is that the older material is more authentic, but the final form is that with which we have to do, making it ecclesially binding, but not strictly primary in a textual sense.  This ignores the fundamental theotic character of the texts.  A reading in concert with the ecclesial goal of theosis allows the final form, the form passed on by the Apostles, to have a much deeper and richer character, especially as regards idiosyncrasies.  While I don't currently have time to delve into it, I imagine that an ecclesial reading would nullify the supposed findings of the Documentary Hypothesis.  More work will need to be shown on that.

Paradigms for OT Interpretation

These are some thoughts towards a project tentatively entitled: "The Icon of the Old Testament: Liturgical and Ecclesial Hermeneutics".

One of the great difficulties attendant upon interpretation of the Old Testament is its ostensible status as history.  Quickly, though, we find many problems in this, not least that 'history' and 'historiography' mean something different post-Enlightenment.  We read, fundamentally and almost by necessity, the OT differently than it was intended.  Argument abound, then, as to how much of the OT passes our modern canons of history, with predictable "liberal" and "conservative" results -- neither actually giving much knowledge, again, predictable.  Each side goes back and forth about the historical utility of, say, archaeology in determining whether or not some biblical event or another really happened, as if our interpretation of long-past events, whether found in strata of tells or lines of text, will give us an objective peek into this reality.

Part of the problem, possibly, is that we have confused literal meaning with historical accuracy (whatever that, in itself, might mean).  To read the Bible literally means to read it as a telling of history, of "what really happened" at certain points in time.  No doubt, the Scriptures do present history, a "what happened," but to claim that they are objective, post-Enlightenment historiography is to miss the point.  At the same time, to claim that since they come out of a certain nation's collective experience and confirm their deeply held beliefs that the Scriptures must therefore be either relativistic or propagandistic, separated from any historical mooring, is also to miss the point.  Both rely on a sense of history that the Bible, or her authors, seem to not be interested in.

Literal meaning, in the original sense of the term, has to do with the literary meaning: that is, how the story or narrative works.  But, to fully get to that meaning, another context needs to be taken into account.  In some ways, this upsets the whole understanding of how Patristic and Medieval interpretation takes place.  St John Cassian, in the Conferences, details what Dante will later call the "Allegory of the Theologians" or the fourfold method of Scriptural interpretation: literal, symbolic/allegory, moral, and anagogical.  The impression built, not necessarily by Cassian or others, is that this interpretive scheme function as a ladder, each rung leading (hopefully) to the next until theosis or the beatific vision is achieved.  However, this would be to ignore the more circular, or helical, nature of this schema.  All of the senses rely on the Spirit of God, on union with Christ, therefore all of this senses are liturgical and ecclesial: the Scriptures cannot be understood without participation in the life of the Church and her sacraments.  Evidence for this can be found all over the Patristic writings, from Cassian to Athanasius to Augustine and so on.  The context for the literal sense is the anagogical sense, in other words; the same for the moral and symbolic senses as well.  They depend on each other, and more importantly, they depend on the "pillar and ground of the Truth" that is the Church, who has received the "Deposit" of Faith from the Apostles.

This turns our attention, interpretively speaking, to the telos of the Scriptures, specifically of the Old Testament.  Why do we have these books?  What is the point?  It is only when we grasp the ecclesially anagogical underpinnings of the texts, that is their intended to be used in the life of the Church to bring people to theosis or the beatific vision, that the literal meaning can become clear.  When our Lord Jesus says in Luke 24 that "everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms," He is grounding all Christian interpretation of the OT in the reality of Himself, which includes the Church and the Theotokos.  All the Scriptures, in some way, shape, and form, point beyond themselves -- at the literary level and most importantly at the historical level -- to the Christ, the Logos of God the Father, for the salvation of the hearer and the reader alike.  In seeing the literal and the historical meaning as iconic, instead of as straight forward post-Enlightenment narrative or history, these senses become clearer.  First, they were not intended to bear the weight, historically speaking, that we have placed on them: the texts themselves are theological interpretation of the events "as they really happened."  We cannot, due to how history works, access the past in any sort of certain way -- historiography always involves a certain amount of educated guesswork and reconstruction.  Any history is a more or less tendentious and partial interpretation of events that are themselves enmeshed in an infinite number of contexts, all of which are necessary to grasp and ascertain for their full sense to objectively emerge.  If we clear away our expectation of objective history being conveyed by the texts, many (but by no means all) of the discrepancies between "liberal/critical" and "conservative/fundamentalist" interpretations disappear.

Second on the list of of iconic corrections, the texts can be freed from the suffocating restraints that some versions of "inspiration" put on the Scriptures.  We would do well to remind ourselves of what St Paul actually says about inspiration in II Timothy: "All Scripture is inspired and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness."  Notably absent is utility towards scientific endeavors and ancient historiography.  Could it be possible that, without losing the utility of the Scriptures to do exactly what Paul said they could do, the stories of Creation might be written in forms conducive to not only the time in which they were composed, but also in a form that remains conducive to our salvation today, without necessarily being a point-by-point breakdown of "what really happened"?  One objection that is often raised about this is that if Genesis 1-3 were written in a mytho-poetic style, then why didn't God just write (or have written) propositions which we are supposed to believe, i.e. what we should learn about God from this narrative, the moral of the story as it were.  To do so, though, is to mistake a certain understanding of what truth is for truth itself.  As Alasdair MacIntyre, among many others, asserts, we are storied creatures.  We generally do not learn by propositions, unless those propositions are themselves couched in a larger, sometimes hidden or subconscious narrative.  To reduce the Creation stories, whether in explication or in preaching, to a series of talking points and "lessons," is to rob them of their power.  Salvation is not composed of aphorisms, although as Proverbs shows, aphorisms do have their place.  Rather, it is the indwelling of the story, in the life and sacraments of the Church, that fully mature the believer towards salvation.

Enough for now, as it is late.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Wheat and the Tares

The wheat and the tares
both grow under the shining Love;
known early, early by the Farmer
but left to sprout until seed -- together.
Under the loving care the one
blossoms forth thirty-fold
sixty-fold, one-hundred-fold hallelujah;
the other bitters and resents the ground
the air, the early and late rains,
most of all the heat, damned heat,
of the Sun of righteousness.
So is revealed, before Harvest,
the presence in the heart
of Heaven and Hell.  Will the tare notice
the Fire, or see it as more of the same?
Doubtless the wheat threshed, crushed,
chaffed, stripped, ground into the Loaf
will be saved as through another Fire --
though He is truly the same.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

IC XC NIKA

While having a chat with a student and friend today, it started to dawn on me why the Christian life is necessarily cruciform, that is, why we must daily share in the death of Christ.

The power of the enemy (Satan and the demons, and by extension those who are under their influence) is death: they can kill the body through sin; this is what happened in the Garden and is the reason why our Lord calls Satan the "first murderer" (instead of Cain).  However, since Christ voluntarily took death onto Himself (instead of being under its dominion through sin), He was able to show who He truly was by destroying that power through resurrection.  We share in that death through baptism, as St Paul says in Romans: his means death has no power over us and, if this is the case, then neither does sin, since "sin is the stinger of death" (1 Cor. 15:56).  However, since we have only the first fruits of Christ's life, the Holy Spirit who is God, and God is not yet "all in all" (God has defeated death on the Cross, but defeat in war doesn't mean pacification: the last enemy to be destroyed is death), we can -- voluntarily -- come under the power and dominion of death once again through sin.

How shall we escape this body of death?  The Lord renews us in our baptismal death, in our sharing of His Cross, through repentance.  In other words, when we die to self in baptism or repentance, we defeat again in Christ the power of the enemy.  Death can have no claim on us who repent, but rather God "will shortly trample Satan under your feet" (Rom. 16:20).

Repentance is our freedom from the oppression of death, of demons, of sin; let us join again today in the death of Christ.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Range of Inspiration

One aspect of Evangelical and Protestant theology that is in desperate need of rethinking is inspiration.  This is, arguably, happening already through the work of Pete Enns and others.  The payout of this is yet to be seen: the work is in its very earliest days.

One of the questions that must be asked is: when did the work of the Spirit in inspiration stop?  The obvious answer is: when the last Apostle finished writing their last book/died.  However, it is not so easy.  Does the Spirit only inspire writing?  We might get this idea from 2 Timothy 3:16, but to do so would be to misread the text.

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

Where in this text does it say that only the Scriptures are inspired?  It doesn't.  Such is an assumption brought to the text.  Now, a rejoinder might be that nothing else in Scripture is explicitly called "inspired."  As is well known, an argument from silence is not ultimately convincing, to say the least.  (It is also worth noting that St Timothy is an apostolic legate, so this verse is not saying the Scriptures can do all these thing outside or without the Church:  Timothy, as the de facto bishop, is being given instructions on how to utilize the Old Testament in the context of his ecclesial work.). What can be learned from this is that while the Scriptures are inspired, that doesn't mean that nothing else is.  When  Paul tells Timothy or St Titus to "guard the deposit/that which has been entrusted to you," it is a safe, and historically accurate, assumption to believe that this Apostolic tradition was itself inspired.  What that Deposit consisted of, of course, is a matter of long debate.  At the very least we learn from early apologists such as Tertullian and St Irenaeus that it entails the Trinitarian regula fidei (which is the basis of my contention that the Trinity is the necessary assumption behind understanding the Bible: God Himself is the interpretive key, what Irenaeus calls the hypothesis and St Athanasius calls the skopos).

Back to the initial contention: inspiration ceased with the last writing of the last Apostle/their death.  It would seem that I've taken care, at least provisionally, of the first part. However, as the Deposit would have been completed by the death of the last Apostle (and, according to St Jude, much earlier: "the Faith once for all delivered to the saints"), then the initial definition still stands, even if slightly modified.  However, it seems that this understanding of inspiration was not held by Christians at all from their earliest days.  In the Counciliar Definitions, there is an appeal to the work of the Spirit in the deliberations: "Seven holy and ecumenical Synods which were directed by the inspiration of the one and the same Holy Spirit" (text from the so-called Eight Ecumenical Council of 879/880).  In some way, the Spirit continued to move and speak in the Church: not in the sense of adding to or augmenting or contradicting the ancient Deposit, but clarifying through the Fathers the language and the means used to teach it and apply it to the life of the Church.  Many, I know, would object to this line of reasoning, especially if they are traditionally Protestant (i.e., icons had been exonerated in the 7th Ecumenical Council).  There are disturbing questions that must be addressed if this is not the case, though.  Did the Spirit cease His work with the death of the Apostles?  The Lord Christ promised that the Spirit "would lead in all the Truth" in John 16:14 -- is this promise only for the Apostles?  If so, what guarantees do we have that we (or the Reformation, for that matter) have access to the unadulterated truth?  (Answer: none.).

And so, again, it comes down to which ecclesial tradition bears the Spirit?  As should be plain by now, I cannot confidently answer that question.

Some of the corollaries of all this (being the actual reason I started writing tonight) concern what might be called "later" practices of the Church.  To return to the Facebook discussion referenced in the last post, what about "prayer beads"?  Can this practice, which seems to have arisen in the Egyptian monastic movement, be legitimate even though it isn't Scriptural?  One Reformed who answered the question said a very interesting thing (paraphrased): we don't find prayer beads in the pre-Christian Jewish tradition, therefore they are a later pagan influence.  This sort of thing is certainly heard often, especially in some Reformed circles (those influenced by Theonomy, for example).  The assumption behind it is that the inspiration of the Spirit in praxis ceased with the Apostles.  To truly discern appropriate practice becomes, then, somewhat conjectural and certainly a form of archaeology.  It certainly runs the risk of Judaizing.  It also vaunts an unrecoverable past over the historical practice of the Church (interesting to note that this same critique can be applied to the textual theory that centers inspiration in the non-extant autographa).  However, there is no biblical reason to favor a reconstructed Jewish tradition over what actually happened historically: St Paul became a Greek for the Greeks, and so did the Church herself.  It has, and I think this is probably most true in Orthodoxy, retained many aspects of her Jewish heritage, but the Tree has not been stunted at the roots.  Rather, through the ingrafting that Paul mentions in Romans 12, the Tree is truly cosmopolitan: the standard by which praxis is judged is not by its Jewishness, nor even necessarily if it appears in Scripture (let us remember that Jesus did not condemn phylacteries, jus the enlargement of such), but by whether it accomplishes the goal of theosis, or becoming like Christ, or acquiring the Spirit (three ways of saying the same thing): inspiration, in other words.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Limits of Sola Scriptura

There is a very common objection, from Roman Catholics and Orthodox, to the doctrine of sola Scriptura: it makes each individual believer the official -- and potentially infallible -- interpreter of Scripture.  For some Protestants, of course, this is true.  It was true in my case, at any rate.  I remember a student, who is now a relatively well-known Lutheran apologist, talking to me once about my views on justification.  He asked how I could hold a certain position, since it didn't seem to jibe with the Westminster Confession.  My response, which was the same I gave my pastor at the time, was that I didn't particularly care if my interpretation lined up with the WCF, as that was a human produced document of only relative authority.  Rather, all I cared was whether or not my understanding agreed with Scripture.  What I didn't realize at the time was that I had made my own reason, and investigative powers, the benchmark of interpretation.  I was not necessarily any closer to what Scripture actually meant, but I was very close to what I meant.  This is not to say that my baseline critique wasn't valid, it just didn't go far enough.

Let me explain.

There is no reason to believe that my researches in history, philosophy, textual transmission, or even theology would lead me to a particularly proper interpretation of Scripture.  Using the historical-grammatical interpretive method (and this could be applied to most other "critical" methods) actually leads us into a quagmire: if we cannot understand the Scriptures without detailed analysis of the history and language behind them, then we will never truly understand the Scriptures.  Both fields, linguistics and archaeology, are fraught with human interpretive foibles.  Not to mention that those communities who, historically speaking, have not had access to decent scholarship are therefore put in an unenviable position: they may believe, but they cannot fully or truly believe.  They are relegated to an impoverished state in the Church.  (This is also a problem with holding that inspiration stops with the autographa, or original documents from the Apostles and Prophets -- they don't exist anymore, so any copy of the Scriptures is potentially riddled with errors; how can we confidently know what to believe, especially with scholars like Bart Ehrman telling us that the communities in charge of the manuscripts have emended them to suit their particular ideological needs?)  Not only this, but the sort of biblical interpretation as rational, scholastic endeavor means that those unable to engage on that level (children, the mentally handicapped, the uneducated) cannot fully benefit from the teaching of the Word of God.

To get around some of these individualist difficulties, there is the option to be a confessionalist: that is, the baseline interpretation of Scripture, at least theologically, is found in the WCF or the Three Forms of Unity, etc.  (There still is the option for grammatical-historical work here, of course; but at least it has boundaries around what is and isn't possible to ascertain from the texts themselves).  This does lead right into debates about how to interpret these documents and the various positions of "strict" v. "moderate" subscriptionism.  Supra- or infra-?  Paedo- or credo-?  And so on.  However, this isn't the problem that I had/have with the confessions.  That lies in the actual authority of them.  The reason my denomination holds the Confession in high regard is due to the belief that they are an accurate interpretation and application of Scripture.  But, who gets to decide that?  The authority of any confession becomes, quickly, circular.  "We believe the Confession to be adequately interpreting of Scripture; why do we believe this?  Because Scripture rightly interpreted produces the Confession."  This is, of course, a gross over-simplification of the issue; but the point remains.  As I've argued before, there is no "plain, clear, obvious" reading of Scripture.  Each reading arises out of a certain theology, out of a regula fidei that is necessarily foreign to the Scriptures themselves (in other words, there is no such thing as solo Scriptura).  The authority of the Confession, then, is a presupposition that cannot be adequately verified: it is an authority because it is an authority.  It reminds me, rather, of the Anarcho-Syndicalism scene in Monty Python's The Quest for the Holy Grail.

Both ways of engaging in sola Scriptura, the individual, academic route and the confessionalist route, both fail to provide an adequate authoritative base.  Both, in the end, must succumb to a form of fideism: we believe this to be the interpretation of the Scriptures because this is what we believe.  Maybe, in the end, this is where, epistemologically speaking, we must end up.  I hope not.

Again, the question becomes: where is the Spirit?  If there is any theme that runs through my thinking, it is this.  If we want to properly interpret the Scriptures, that is, if we want to read them towards the goal of salvation, then we must read them with and in the Spirit.  This assumes, though, that the Spirit is an actual reality (Gr: hypostasis) and not just a cipher for an emotional state.  We cannot say that we have the Spirit, and so are interpreting Scripture rightly, based on how we feel or on the presence of ostensible charismata, as both of those things can be engineered or manipulated (not just by preachers, but by our non-corporeal enemies).  How do we know who has the Spirit, then?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Certainty

A friend posted a question on Facebook about those who are Reformed and the use of prayer beads.  A discussion of those who were more or less committed to sola Scriptura ensued, with some Anglicans and Orthodox chiming in.  What was said isn't particularly relevant to what I'm writing right now -- the discussion proceeded down the same old talking points that are common to such things.  No real surprises at all.  For me, the important thing is once again how shaky it all is for us humans.  Either the Church fell into idolatry rather quickly (icons are being found earlier and earlier in the archaeological record, mosaics -- even of the Zodiac -- adorn Jewish synagogues; invocations of the saints are on record from very, very early, etc.) or the Reformation got it wrong.  I've tried, and maybe it is just my feeble mind, but I cannot see it any other way.  Of course, along the way, there were abuses: we shouldn't expect anything else.  But could the Church, whom Christ said He through the Spirit would lead into all Truth (Jn 16:13 -- or could our Lord be saying only the Apostles would be so led, with their descendants having to fend for themselves?), and which St Paul called the "pillar and ground of the Truth" (1 Tim. 3:15), have so monumentally failed in her dogma and worship (the twins that comprise the word "orthodoxy") that the Reformation (in its Calvinist and Zwinglian forms) was necessary to reset it?

And with the ongoing difficulties I've had in my faith, this question has loomed large.  The question is important, since being part of Christ's Body is tantamount to salvation (maybe this is why the Reformation developed the teaching of the "invisible Church"?): but which Church?  Which authority do we submit to that faithfully carries the life of Christ into the world still?  I've been told that I just need to have faith, by which seems to be meant blind belief: but the question of how I might be saved, how I might be healed and restored and glorified -- and the world along with me -- seems to need more than just "faith" in that restrictive sense.  It strikes me as more akin to Kierkegaard's "leap of faith" than what we see in the Gospels and Acts, which is predicated on the active presence of the Spirit.

While I flirted with a certain sort of ecumenism for awhile, I don't think in the end that it works: the mutually conflicting claims from all sides cannot jibe with one another.  We might say that many disagreements affect matters that are not important to salvation, such as a cappella music versus pianos/organs versus modern instruments.  However, if we believe there is any part of our doctrine and practice that does not lead us to or away from salvation in Christ, then we would do better to completely excise that thing.  I've heard, although I cannot confirm it, that Zwingli did not have singing in his churches.  If it doesn't matter how we worship God in song, then song is an unnecessary distraction from the real work of the Church.  If, however, how we sing helps to form us in Christ (and chanting of the Psalms, not metrical singing and certainly not praise bands, has the historical upper hand here), then we should hold firmly to it.  This doesn't mean, by the way, that there is an overly restrictive formula at work, an "if you sing like this, then God must save you" sort of thing: I cannot get into the theory behind the expansiveness of boundaries at this point, but let me point to Zeno and his paradoxes as a guide.

One way forward might be to ask, again, what the nature of salvation is.  If it is merely getting to heaven when we die, then there is no authority by which we might examine that claim.  All near-death experiences are unverifiable, even that little boy's from the popular book and movie, so there really is nothing but blind faith here.  The authority, I think, often lies with those able to be rhetorically astute in their (well-intentioned, no doubt) manipulation of fear.  In other words, sophistry.  We are all afraid of death, or at least have reservations about it, and these sorts of guarantees salve troubled souls.

Let's imagine, then, that salvation is becoming a 'good' person (whatever that means -- a problem with this possibility already).  Many of those who would be considered either heretical or pagan by ostensibly Christian groups produce impeccably moral people.  I'd even, and this is controversial, include atheists into this: I've met many who treat other human being respectfully and with love -- sometimes with greater earnestness and intensity than card-carrying Christians.  The objection might be made that those others are moral without stable reason.  That is, their morality is part of "common grace" but ultimately fails because it is irrationally held: it goes against their deepest held beliefs since only those who believe in the Christian God can be truly moral.  Understandable, but impossible to prove.  Plus, there is plenty of empirical evidence to show that, prima facie, the objection is false.  At any rate, the reality of the virtuous atheist shows up the theory that salvation is being/becoming moral.  This isn't to say that morality plays no part in Christian salvation, but it cannot be the be-all end-all.

Two down.  Maybe salvation is being made into a saint.  Now, you might think that I'm just repeating the "salvation as morality" claim, but I'm not.  A saint is not the same as a moral person, as any look at the history of saints will show.  Nor am I using the common Protestant definition of a saint as any one and every one who believes -- I've yet to see any Scriptural evidence to back up that particular understanding of sainthood (I've come to believe -- and I need to write this up -- that the differences between Colossians and Ephesians hinges on what a "saint" is).  No, a saint is one who has been healed of the corruption inherited from Adam, that is, who partakes of the Holy Spirit to such an extent that they can truly exclaim with St Paul "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me" (Gal. 2:20).  But again, how can this be shown?  Have I met any saints?  If this is the true definition of salvation, to be made a saint, what is the process by which this happens?  In other words, here is the crux of the matter: which ecclesial tradition allows for the possibility to become like the Apostles, like St Mary, like our Lord Christ Himself (albeit by grace, not by nature) in holiness?

And so, again, I'm stuck.