World Council of Churches

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Response by Peter C. Bouteneff

The Vocation of the Laity in Church and World: Towards an Inclusive Community on Different Levels" - a response by by Peter C. Bouteneff to the paper "Baptism, Ecclesiology and Vocation"

10 May 1997

Le Cénacle, Geneva, 7-10 May 1997

Response by Peter C. Bouteneff to the paper "Baptism, Ecclesiology and Vocation"

To begin with, I am grateful for Dr Schwartz's paper, in all its richness and depth, for all the honesty and care put into its preparation. There is so much in this paper with which I resonate, particularly in my experience as an Orthodox Christian. I am honored to be participating in this discussion, together with Rev. Fritzon and Dr. Back. I will be seeking to respond to different facets of the paper in a way which places the focus chiefly on baptism, but through baptism also towards issues of ecclesiology, and the search for the most constructive and consistent definition possible of the term laos in the Christian context. But first, three things arising directly out of Dr Schwartz's paper:

A. Once again, the general attitude towards the laity, and towards the concept of the 'priesthood of the faithful', is something with which I felt quite at home. Dr Schwartz at times hints at quite different approaches towards laity between the Protestant churches on the one hand, and the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches on the other. Myself, I am not sure that there is so much disagreement in our theology of the laity, and if that disagreement does exist, it probably does not conform to popular stereotypes (the stereotypes being something along the lines of an elaborate clericalism within the Orthodox Church and a much freer and more open approach to the laity in the Protestant world...). But this can only be mentioned here.

(As a side point, one of the unfortunate similarities I think we all share in our churches is a discrepancy, brought out well by Dr Schwartz, between theory and practice. The more elaborate our theology of the laity is, the more shameful it is when that theology is distorted by de facto clericalism and by power games in church life.)

B. At several points, Dr Schwartz discusses the diversity that is built in to a multi-cultural world in general and a multi-cultural Christianity in specific. It is natural to expect different practices and different approaches to virtually all aspects of Christian life as a result of simple human diversity as well as cultural and socio-economic diversity. We heard no mention here though of the idea of limits to diversity -- the question of how diverse can faith or practice be, the question of how different can two faith positions be, where can one say that there is a healthy, blessed, joyous diversity, a creative pluralism and where can one say there is an actual difference, a substantial difference which needs to be addressed, a difference which would justly divide us.

These questions could be applied, for example, to baptismal practice. What of baptism that is not in the name of the Trinity, but in the name of, e.g., the Father, the Son, and the Lord Montanus (3rd cent.)? For that matter, possibly a less easy question to answer is what of Baptism in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier? (Anyway, this just to raise the question of the limits to diversity, and the question of what the criteria are for these limits. This is far from a new question, of course but it needs to be raised and faced responsibly.)

C. I have some comments with regard to the closing paragraphs, in the way in which they bring in the liturgical function of the priest, suggesting (1) that the liturgy, and ministers who preside over ministry, merely constitute an historical phenomenon, and nothing outside history, and (2) that together with "theological service", liturgical service is the defining role and mark of the clergy.

Regarding (1), For the Orthodox, liturgy (and perhaps particularly the eucharistic celebration) is something that is an eternal, cosmic reality. We often describe the Kingdom of Heaven as one great divine liturgy. We often describe the angels as eternally serving a liturgy. Indeed, the liturgy is, like all truly sacramental reality, precisely the parahistorical, the eternal. Furthermore we perceive that even in the Kingdom that is to come there is a kind of hierarchy, though by no means a hierarchy of the distorted kind we know here in this age, where we "lord it over one another".

Regarding (2), we do not regard theological service, or theological study and teaching, as the domain only of clergy. The lay theologian, the lay professor, teacher, writer of theology, has been and continues to be an Orthodox commonplace. A high percentage of Orthodox theologians are laypeople. The priest is ordained to be the proxy of the bishop, and in this to preside over the eucharist, the liturgy, certainly, but also to lead the flock, as a shepherd. Just to say, then, that limiting the clerical role to liturgy and theology doesn't jibe with Orthodox experience.

But I certainly am in complete accord with the close of the paper, which sees baptism as the ordination of all faithful to be members of the body of Christ, which also sees the ordained ministry as one among the multitude of charisms given by God's Spirit.

At this point, I would seek to touch on some questions that either were not explicitly addressed by Dr. Schwartz, or were only touched upon in his paper, regarding Baptism and its effect first on ecclesiology and then on the Laos, and the meaning we might ascribe to that term.

Baptism and ecclesiology. Baptism is entry into the body of Christ, or the Church. But what is the Church? What is it that one is baptized into: a particular church (Lutheran, Orthodox, Catholic)? -- this certain. But is one baptized into The Church?

Dr Schwartz's paper, suggests both, and in this he points to the difference between the two basic kinds of ecclesiology we find in our different churches: Branch ecclesiologies -- each of the different churches constitute a part of the Una Sancta, and Orthodox and Roman Catholic ecclesiologies (as well as perhaps some Protestant groups), wherein one's own communion is identified with the Una Sancta, and ecclesial bodies outside that communion are not fully a part of the Una Sancta.

This difference in self-understanding and in ecclesiology has to be kept before us in all honesty if we are to get anywhere in our ecumenical discussions. For the present purposes specifically, it raises the question of baptism and the limits of the Church.

The Orthodox understand Orthodox baptism as an entry into the Orthodox Church, and therefore an entry into the Una Sancta. How do the Orthodox understand baptism outside the Orthodox Church? An answer to this question can be gleaned from our practice of receiving converts. Two things happen to someone seeking to become Orthodox, provided he/she has been baptized in their own tradition in the name of the Trinity: they are anointed with holy chrism, and they are asked to confess the faith, renouncing all previous errors. These acts indicate (and make up for) what are perceived as incompletions in the non-Orthodox baptism: (a) ritual incompletion -- for us, the anointing with chrism is part and parcel of the sacrament of entry, and (b) real differences in faith, which must be accounted for and corrected. But in addition to these two things that happen, it must be noted that one thing significantly doesn't happen, and this is "rebaptism." This means that there is a recognition that baptism outside the Orthodox Church is still an entry into Christian life. So baptism outside the Orthodox Church is an entry, but something which requires a kind of completion for entry into the Orthodox Church.

The question raised then is: if the person baptized outside the Orthodox Church is not considered as having entered in a full way the Una Sancta, then how can we say that this person is still a Christian, a member of the Laos? The fact is that we do, and this illustrates that however rigid Orthodox delineations and boundaries might seem, they are also significantly permeable. After all: how can one not recognize ecclesial reality and the activity of the Holy Spirit outside the Orthodox canonical boundaries?

Baptism and the Laos

Our view of baptism means drawing a distinction between the baptized and the non-baptized, and therefore between the Laos of the Christian church and the whole of humankind. This is not the same as the distinction between who is saved and who is not, which of course is completely unknown to us. Salvation is the universal human vocation, not only that of the Christian. We are speaking here about the distinction between who is a baptized Christian and who is not. And this distinction is a clear one, for at least two reasons.

1. The sacrament of baptism, even while of course it is dependent upon response and enacting, does happen in a once-for-all way and is an unerasable event. It has meaning on an objective, ontological level - it has happened, ex opere operato (despite the minister), whether or not it was "felt" or even acted upon by the baptized. (This is Orthodox sacramentality - a balance between subjective human response and objective ontological reality.) So this is the first reason that we clearly distinguish between the baptized and the non-baptized, because the baptism is an undeniable and unerasable event where God ACTS.

2. The Church has always been a community called out, "set apart" from the world. The Church is of the world and yet not of the world. It has always had members and non- members, and from Pauline times it has received members and even expelled them (I Cor. 5). Baptism is the entry into the Christian Church, and therefore into the Laos.

And this is the key point within my remarks this afternoon: a member of the Laos is a baptized Christian. It is only in linking Laity to baptism that we maintain some kind of meaning for both concepts. Otherwise, Laos simply means "human persons", and baptism simply means membership in a worshipping congregation - both of which are good things, but they dilute and reduce the meaning of 'baptism' and 'Laos' ad absurdum.

As an Orthodox, then, I believe a certain clear distinction needs to be kept between, (1) "all humankind" (who are all of course in the image and likeness of God, and all the objects of God's saving love), and (2) the Laos, when this term is properly used to refer to Christians baptized in the name of the Trinity. Again, baptism is entry into the community of the Laos.

This is why baptism is such a useful topic for this meeting, and such a useful concept to have been taken up in the paper to which I am responding, precisely because baptism can be seen as the entry into what the Laos is. Furthermore, as we consider the depth of the concept of Laos, baptism can be seen as the great equalizer, making us all the Laos, making us all priests as well (even as it respects the singling out of some for that particular ministry). This too shines clearly from Dr Schwartz's paper. Baptism emphasizes, then, our membership in the Christian Church, rather than our place within a hierarchically ordered community or institution.

I will close with saying now more fully something I only touched upon earlier - lest we think that baptism is nothing but this magical ticket of entry into Christian life and the "club" called the Laos: Baptism is an ongoing commitment and responsibility; so is being a part of the Laos. And it is no coincidence that this is so, for that is the whole point. It is the responsibility to be a real Christian, to seek the truth, to be in communion with each other and with God, to believe in and praise God and his Christ and his Spirit, to be the good Samaritan, to love and serve one another (regardless - Christians and non-Christians, baptized and unbaptized), to teach, make disciples of and baptize one another, to reject injustice, to reject Satan, and finally I would mention the classical "priestly" vocation, which is the vocation of the whole Laos, to offer up ourselves, each other, and the whole creation up to God.

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