Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Divine Impulses: Katharine Jefferts Schori

From a video interview on washingtonpost.com: "The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church talks about homosexuality as a gift and the future stability of her church."



(Golly! And to think I could have been watching Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge instead.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What is Jesus Doing?

WWJD?

Unless you have been living on another planet for the past few years, you know that these letters mean: "What Would Jesus Do?"

WWJB?

I saw these letters a few weeks ago on a website. It was Christian gift shop website asking its customers to ask the question, "What Would Jesus Buy? (I looked at the kitsch they were selling, and I thought, "I don't think Jesus would buy any of that stuff!)

As Christians we are in the season of Advent—a time when we prepare our hearts to celebrate once again the first coming of Jesus, when the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son, became incarnate and was born in Bethlehem, lived as one of us, but without sin… died on the Cross for the sins of the world and rose bodily from the grave, "the firstfruits of them that sleep." That is the GOOD NEWS: because if Jesus is the "firstfruits," we will someday be raised in a resurrection body just as Jesus was raised.

We also prepare ourselves for that time when Jesus will come again in power and great glory, and so we get ready—-we "red up" (Bishop Duncan reminded us of that Pittsburgh colloquialism in his sermon in Wheaton the other night. We "red up," we get ready for that time when Jesus will come again. It is not just ourselves we get ready; we are to get the Church ready as a bride to receive her bridegroom. And if we are going to do that, there is another question we need to ask:

WIJD?

What Is Jesus Doing?

"What Would Jesus Do?" is a question to ask when we are confronted with choices, especially of a moral or ethical nature? "What Is Jesus Doing?" is a question to ask when we are concerned about mission priorities. Because if we know what Jesus is doing, we can perhaps get an idea of what we ought to be doing.

"What Is Jesus Doing?" is a challenging question to answer: Jesus is fully human and fully God, so he is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent—-that carries “multitasking” to a whole new level! He can do everything, know everything, and be everywhere—all at the same time!

But if we looked in Jesus’ DayTimer, or Outlook, or Blackberry for Tuesday, December 9, 9:00 a.m., Jesus’ "To Do List," would not say: "DO EVERYTHING." I believe Scripture gives us two things that would be at the top of Jesus’ To Do List:

Hebrews 7:23 [contrasting the priestly ministry of Jesus with the ministry of the priests his Jewish readers would have known, he says:] "The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he [Jesus] holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." Jesus, now in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father intercedes for us, His people and for His Church.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16, Paul says, "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

In these closing instructions to the Thessalonian believers, Paul is here simply laying on them the same ministry he says he has for them in his opening greeting:

1 Thessalonians 1:2 -- "We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul is telling them of his ministry of intercession for them.

Later this week, I am going to spend a few days at the International House of Prayer, in Kansas City. In case you aren’t familiar with IHOP, it arose out of a community of believers who began praying around the clock 24/7 in September of 1999—and they have been doing it continuously ever since. There are churches I know who have done something similar. I think of Bishop John Guernsey’s parish in Virginia—offering prayers around the clock, interceding for the Church and the world—and giving back to God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that is rightly his.

In the nine years since the IHOP was formed, IHOPs have been formed in other major cities around the world. They have formed a school of ministry—a seminary. They are really doing what religious communities and religious orders have always done: perpetual adoration and devotion—and intercession. Religious communities have always been formed when the Church whole church ceased to do all that it should in a given area. A group of individuals, called by God, would form a community to do what needed to be done—preaching (Franciscans, Dominicans) missions (Jesuits) acts of mercy (done by many orders) contemplation and devotion (Cistercians and others). They are doing what the whole church ought to be doing but isn’t.

One of the things I believe God is doing among Anglicans who have been forced through circumstances to form closer ties with overseas provinces is that He is making the Communion what it ought to be. I believe that these circumstances have given us new insight into what the body of Christ is meant to be internationally. We have been given a fresh opportunity to take seriously the need to intercede and pray for our overseas brothers and sisters and to enjoy the life of the body as Christ meant it to be.

Now, if we were to look on Jesus’ calendar again and ask: "What Is Jesus Doing?" we would see a second thing. And we find it in a passage of Scripture that is familiar to us:

Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (NIV) The second thing Jesus does is to be with His people, always, to the very end of this age in which we are living, empowering His Church for mission.

Another reason why I am studying the IHOP is that I am a student of revival. Numerous great movements of God have occurred throughout church history, when individuals were called out of society to follow God in devotion and service. The religious orders I have mentioned are examples. Celtic monks took Gospel across northern Europe. Benedictines planted the Church many places, including the See of Canterbury. Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits—their founding was just as much a God-sent revival as the First and Second Great Awakenings were among churches in America and the British Isles. As Archbishop Henry Orombi has stated on numerous occasions, the strength of Anglicanism in East Africa is largely due to the East African Revival, as missionaries who were themselves a product of earlier revivals in England and Australia came to East Africa, and revival broke out there that transformed entire nations such as Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania—and now, through these churches, the revival is coming full circle back to us in the West.

Many of us who are orthodox Anglicans are here because of a renewal movement that began in the Episcopal Church in the 1960’s. That was a genuine revival. How do I know that? Because it resulted in a flowering of interest in mission that led to the founding of Episcopal/Anglican mission societies in the 1970’s and 1980’s—agencies that are now part of the Anglican Global Mission Partners.

Every revival—every movement of God that was true and genuine—has resulted in an outpouring of interest in missions. Why is that? Because when the Church is truly renewed and revived, God’s priorities become the Church’s priorities.

When we ask the question "What Is Jesus Doing?" we see his burden for his people and for the world, and we begin to intercede, just as he ever lives to make intercession for us. When we ask, "What Is Jesus Doing?" we see his burden for the lost, both in our neighborhoods and cities and those around the world who have no way to hear the Gospel, and we go, and we give, and we send, and we pray.

As Bishop Duncan said last week, what better time for a new Anglican province to be born than the first week of Advent? It is time for us to get ready, to be the body of Christ in a new way—-a body that floods Heaven with our intercessions, even as Jesus intercedes for us—-and a church that hurts for the lost, as Jesus hurts for the lost, and reaches out in missions, according to Christ’s Great Commission, to wherever the Gospel needs to be heard. When our hearts connect with Jesus’ heart and his burdens and priorities become our burdens and priorities, then the Church will get ready for that day when Jesus will return and gather those who have come from every nation tribe and tongue to be a kingdom of priests for our God--to whom be glory and honor, majesty and dominion, now and forever. AMEN.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Falling numbers

Over at Stand Firm, they are having fun on two threads [one] [two] regarding the latest statistics released by the Episcopal Church showing declines in membership and average Sunday attendance. Here is my take on the situation:

In 2001, the Rev. Charles Fulton, the evangelism officer for TEC, wrote an article in which he mentioned that the average age of an Episcopalian was 57 years of age.

Specifically, he said:
The average age of a person in the United States is estimated to be 34.6 years old. The average age of an Episcopalian is estimated to be 57 years old. In twenty years many of the “average Episcopalians” won’t be around to know if “2020, A Clear Vision” succeeded. The gap between 34.6 and 57 is often our own children. A big part of the real high-risk challenge is to reach out and negotiate how we worship with other generations who aren’t going to grow up to be like us.

If the average life expectancy is just over 77 years, then the average Episcopalian living at the time Fr. Fulton wrote his article will be dead 20 years later. In other words, roughly 50% of the members of the Episcopal Church will die in that 20 year period; and, to the extent that TEC has not replaced these members through evangelism and retention of its own children, TEC will decline by that same percentage.

Given that families of childbearing age are only a portion of TEC’s membership, and that those families that do have children have a birthrate of 1.3 children per couple, even if TEC succeeded in retaining 100% of its own children, it would still decline substantially. Coupled with the lack of evangelism among Episcopal congregations, one is left with looking at a patient who is quickly becoming terminal.

The latest set of statistics from TEC merely illustrate this demographic decline. It is not so much that the numbers reflect an exodus from the Episcopal Church (although that is the case where individuals and congregations have, in fact, left), the numbers primarily reflect the inability of TEC to replace its members who are dying by retaining its own future generations and evangelizing the unchurched so that they become members.

Thus, the decline is greatest in the North and Midwestern US, where younger generations have moved away. It is not the case, for instance, that Episcopalians left TEC in Springfield or Quincy (to cite two dioceses with which I am most familiar); the children of Episcopalians in Springfield or Quincy either did not remain Episcopalians or else moved away, and the congregations were not capable of evangelizing to the extent necessary to reverse the demographic decline as the older remaining members have died. “2020, A Clear Vision” was intended to promote strategies what would result in growth. But (in a nutshell) the whole program was diverted from evangelism to “inclusion,” and the result is becoming obvious.

Given the trajectory away from a theology that believes that all people need to be converted to faith in Christ, and the lack of a compelling message that will retain young people, it is difficult to see the trend toward decline being reversed.
But you and I, we’ve been through all that,
and this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now,
the hour is getting late.
~~ Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower

(Just thought I’d toss in a fitting Dylan quote to make Baby Blue happy.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Surging shoppers kill New York Wal-Mart worker

Now I know why they call it "Black Friday!"

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man working for Wal-Mart was killed on Friday when a throng of shoppers surged into a Long Island, New York, store and physically broke down the doors, a police spokesman said.

The 34-year-old man was at the entrance of the Valley Stream Walmart store just after it opened at 5 a.m. local time and was knocked to the ground, the police report said.

The exact cause of death was still to be determined by a medical examiner.

Four shoppers, including a 28-year-old pregnant woman, were also taken to local hospitals for injuries sustained in the incident, police said.

[...]

The Friday after America's Thanksgiving holiday is known Black Friday and marks what is traditionally the busiest retail day of the year, kicking off the Christmas shopping season.



Then [Jesus] said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Response to Ephraim Radner's piece on "A New 'Province'"

The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner has written a piece entitled, A New "Province" in North America: Neither the Only Nor the Right Answer for the Communion, in which, as the title suggests, he gives six reasons why he does not believe an alternative, orthodox province of Anglicans in North America is a good idea.

Let me be clear about my own position at the outset: I am still a priest in TEC, but I have many friends who are now in one of the entities that will comprise a new Anglican Province. And, as I read Dr. Radner's remarks, I could not help but put myself in the position of my Common Cause friends, who I believe will regard his comments as both unfair and unhelpful.

So I would like to make a few comments (in bold, below) on Dr. Radner's six points, as I imagine someone who is a part of Common Cause might respond to them:

1. The new grouping will not, contrary to the stated claims of some of its proponents, embrace all or even most traditional Anglicans in North America. For instance, the Communion Partners group within TEC, comprises 13 dioceses as a whole, and a host of parishes and their rectors, whose total Sunday membership is upwards of 300,000. It is unlikely that these will wish to be a part of the new grouping, for some of the reasons stated below.

True, a new Province will not, for various reasons, be able to include all traditional Anglicans in North America, but how does that constitute a reason not to do it? A great many orthodox Anglicans, including overwhelming majorities in four former TEC dioceses, attest that, due to conscience over the growing departures from orthodoxy and the political pressures being brought upon them, they cannot remain in TEC. Why should these who are determined to remain faithful Anglicans not constitute an Anglican Province that seeks to be in Communion with as many other Anglican provinces as will recognize them?

God willing, this new Province may well come to embrace all or most orthodox Anglicans if it proves to be a preferable alternative. It will also be of tremendous benefit and a fulfillment of Christ's high-priestly prayer if this new Province can succeed in uniting the members of an Anglican diaspora that stretches back to the separation of the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873. How is this not a good thing?


2. The new grouping, through some of its founding members, will continue in litigation within the secular courts for many years. This continues to constitute a sad spectacle, and is, in any case, practically and morally unfeasible for most traditional Anglicans.

I agree that litigation is a sad spectacle. But we need to remember who started the litigation and who continues to pursue it. The martyrdoms in the reign of Bloody Mary were a sad spectacle too. But this is like blaming the Reformers for that spectacle.

No one who has ever left TEC desired to be involved in a lawsuit. The lawsuits are a regrettable consequence of their following their consciences. Many Episcopalians, either because they are too intimidated or because they do not see leaving as the correct solution, may not leave. But if you are going to make a case that those who have left TEC should not have done so, you are going to have to demonstrate how their consciences could have been assuaged in remaining, and not merely claim that they should not have left because it resulted in lawsuits.


3. The new grouping is, in the eyes of many, representative of diverse bodies whose theology and ecclesiology is, taken together, incoherent, and perhaps in some cases even incompatible. The argument can be made that this is no different than historic Anglican comprehensiveness as a whole; but under the circumstances of a new structural distinction and the challenges this brings, the incoherence constitutes a burden that not all traditionalists believes is prudent to assume. This warning bell has been sounded repeatedly by traditionalists.

As you anticipated, it must be pointed out that the diversity of theology and ecclesiology is no greater than that which already exists in the Anglican Communion. And, in some important respects, the diversity in theology is notably less than that which has brought the Anglican Communion into crisis. If Anglicanism has held together for nearly five hundred years, a Province united in its commitment to the authority of Scripture and Gospel-centered mission and ministry will have even less trouble doing so; and it may, in fact, succeed in healing some of the theological divisions that have troubled Anglicanism in the past.

If GAFCON can embrace Sydney evangelicals and Society of the Holy Cross Anglo-Catholics, the diversity among those who are included in the proposed North American Province is far less than that. To see this situation as "incoherence" and "a burden [that it is not] prudent to assume" strikes me as being either phenomenally nearsighted or timid to the point of paralysis.

It could be argued (and is being argued by those forming a new Province) that this is an opportunity to begin a remarkable new chapter in Anglican history--one in which an orthodox Anglicanism that shares the commitments I have mentioned above can move forward in mission, unshackled from many of the elements that have impeded its mission in the past.

In any event, the challenges you mention may be a reason why some Anglicans may choose not to join a new Province. They do not constitute a reason for those who embrace the challenges and the opportunity willingly not to proceed.


4. There is a host of irregularities regarding ordination, representation, consent, and so on that is included among the members of this new grouping. Some of these are both understandable and inevitable under the circumstances. But they nonetheless constitute barriers for future reconciliation with other Anglican churches.

The same could be said (and was said) regarding the ratification of Called to Common Mission (CCM) (providing reciprocal sharing of ministries between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America). An even greater degree of "irregularities" had to be embraced in the formation of the Church of South India and the Church of North India. This is almost inevitable whenever breaches are healed through ecumenical union. The irregularities make things messy for one generation, but are usually resolved by the second generation of ordained clergy. Compared with the opportunity of fulfilling the call to unity for which Christ prayed, many Christians have found it to be worth the price.

5. Will the new grouping actually be a formal “province” within the Anglican Communion, whatever name it assumes? Surely, it will be recognized by some of the GAFCON Primates. However, it will probably not be recognized at the Primates’ meeting as a whole or even by a majority of its members, and will be yet another cause for division there. Nor will it be recognized at the ACC. Thus it threatens to be yet another wedge in the breakup of the Communion, even while there have been signs of coalescing efforts to restore the integrity of our common witness.

It can be argued that the establishment of an orthodox North American Province (even if it is initially recognized only by some of the GAFCON primates) is the best way to deal with the crisis in the Communion. (a.) The orthodox will be able to look after themselves, so "border crossing" for episcopal oversight by overseas bishops and primates can cease. (b.) Instead of being a beleaguered minority within TEC, the orthodox can be treated as equals in a dialogue intended to resolve the crisis of authority in Anglicanism. (c.) TEC will have greater incentive to respond to the calls of the rest of the Communion to return to Anglican norms, lest they lose credibility compared with the new Province. TEC's leadership fears the realization of this last point, which is the main reason why they are working so hard to prevent establishment and recognition of a new Province.

6. Such division on this matter among the Primates and the ACC will likely strengthen the position of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. They will move forward as continuing and undisciplined members of the Communion. All of this will merely hasten the demise of our common life, even among Global South churches themselves.

While some may argue that the best way to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion is to preserve the unity of the American Church (or, failing that, not to recognize any group that splits off from the American Church), I would argue the exact opposite. The best way to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion is to allow the American church to divide (which is happening anyway, whether anyone likes it or not) and to recognize two North American provinces. Some overseas provinces will relate to one of the North American provinces more than the other. But there will not be the present level of vigorous advocacy (and border crossing) that now threatens to divide the Communion. And there will not be any reason why the other provinces of the Communion should be impaired in their relationships with each other or with Canterbury. However, if the present situation continues, and Canterbury does not recognize the new North American Province, it will eventually (and sooner rather than later) force some Global South provinces to end their relationship with Canterbury, and the Communion will be lost.

Finally, on a personal note: I am very appreciative of the work of the Anglican Communion Institute and especially the work being done with the Communion Partner dioceses and rectors. I have not criticized and would not want to see anyone criticize the work the ACI is doing on an "inside strategy" to the same degree that they apparently feel obliged to criticize those who are working on an "outside strategy." I can imagine the frustration that members of the ACI feel with those who are leaving existing Anglican structures while they are trying to save them. But I believe the ACI's efforts would win the support of a greater number of people if they spent more time telling us how they propose to save the ship and less time knocking holes in other people's lifeboats. It remains to be seen whether the ACI's strategy can be successful; and, if not, there may come a day when we are glad the lifeboats are there.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What can we learn from Mars Hill?

No, not the Mars Hill in Athens, in the Book of Acts--Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA USA.

History

Early Days
Mars Hill Church began in 1996. At the age of twenty-five, Mark Driscoll gathered a core group of twelve people in the living room of the Wallingford rental house where he and his wife, Grace, lived. For the next seven years, Mars Hill met in various locations throughout the city until, in 2003, the church (one thousand strong) (emphasis added) moved into a renovated hardware store between Fremont and Ballard. Within three years, however, the church had outgrown its new home.

Multi Campus
In early 2006, Mars Hill became a multi-campus church with the opening of the Shoreline Campus. The concept of meeting in separate locations was nothing new. Throughout its history, size and other factors compelled Mars Hill to hold services in various places throughout Seattle [That's not in the church-friendly Bible Belt, but in the unchurched Northwest]. And hundreds of Community Groups (small Bible studies) gather weekly throughout the entire Puget Sound region. As a people, Mars Hill Church was used to spreading out.

Video Venue
The difference this time around, however, was the implementation of video sermons and other resources that made the strategy more efficient and sustainable. Later in 2006, Mars Hill acquired two new properties, in West Seattle and Lake City, further facilitating a growth that has yet to stop—including the more recent expansion to Bellevue, Downtown Seattle, and Olympia.

Sundays
On Sundays, Mars Hill gathers in several locations and multiple times, and during the week they meet in homes all over the regions surrounding each campus. Mars Hill Church lives for Jesus as a city within the city—knowing culture, loving people, and seeing lives transformed to live for Jesus.

Here's proof you don't have to compromise biblical truth (in fact, the more you teach it, the better). You can be relevant—even hip, cool, whatever—without selling out to the culture.

Anglicans might want to learn from this. Liberals might want to look at this and repent.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A brief response to the Diocese of Sydney's consideration of "lay presidency"

David Ould has posted a piece over at Stand Firm entitled, "Anglicanism Upside Down Down Under? - Understanding Lay Administration," dealing with the Diocese of Sydney’s consideration of lay presidency. I am very thankful to David for posting this piece, given the seriousness of the issue as it pertains to the present and future unity of orthodox Anglicans, and I wish I had time to write a more comprehensive response.

However, I did make some comments on Stand Firm regarding that piece, and I will offer those same thoughts here, beginning with the Articles of Religion and the 1662 and 1552 Ordinals.
Article XXIII. Of Ministering in the Congregation.

It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.

The article is wonderfully Elizabethan in its use of language, and perhaps not as direct (or written with a view toward the possibility of misinterpretation) as a confessional statement, church canon, or policy would be today. However, the article is saying that only those who are lawfully called and sent may engage in preaching or ministering the sacraments in a congregation, and that only those who have public authority to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard can do this calling and sending.

In other words, this is talking about ordination. How can we be sure it is talking about ordination? Because of the way those who wrote the Articles applied them. The uniform practice of the Church from that time to the present was that the Ministers (clergy) did the preaching and the administration of the sacraments. (See “Article XXXVI Of Consecration of Bishops and Ministers” where the context demonstrates that here and in every instance in which the term “Ministers” is used in the Articles, it means the clergy, functioning in such manner as pertains to their order.)

Regarding the application of these Articles, we notice this language from the 1662 ordination service from the Deacon:
The Bishop says:
IT appertaineth to the Office of a Deacon, in the Church where he shall be appointed to serve, to assist the Priest in Divine Service, and specially when he [i.e., the Priest] ministereth the holy Communion, and to help him in the distribution thereof; and to read Holy Scriptures and Homilies in the Church; and to instruct the youth in the Catechism; in the absence of the Priest to baptize infants; and to preach, if he be admitted thereto by the Bishop. And furthermore, it is his Office, where provision is so made, to search for the sick, poor, and impotent people of the Parish, to intimate their estates, names, and places where they dwell, unto the Curate, that by his exhortation they may be relieved with the alms of the Parishioners, or others. Will you do this gladly and willingly?
Answer. I will so do, by the help of God.

Further, note these differences in the services of ordination for a deacon and a priest:
(From the Ordination of a Deacon)
Then shall the Bishop deliver to every one of them the New Testament, saying,
TAKE thou Authority to read the Gospel in the Church of God, and to preach the same, if thou be thereto licensed by the Bishop himself.

(From the Ordination of a Priest)
Then the Bishop shall deliver to every one of them kneeling the Bible into his hand, saying,
TAKE thou Authority to preach the Word of God, and to minister the holy Sacraments in the Congregation, where thou shalt be lawfully appointed thereunto.

(These words are virtually unchanged from the earlier 1552 book, favored by many evangelicals.)

Most significantly, perhaps, in the Preface to the Ordinal we read:
IT is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Which Offices were evermore had in such reverend Estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by publick Prayer, with Imposition of Hands, were approved and admitted thereunto by lawful Authority. And therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in the Church of England, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in the Church of England, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted thereunto, according to the Form hereafter following, or hath had Episcopal Consecration, or Ordination.

Finally,
Article XXVI. Of the unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.

ALTHOUGH in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometime the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the word and sacraments; yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.

From this Article we see three things:
1. the Sacraments have an effect;
2. unworthiness of the ministers does not diminish or hinder that effect, and
3. the sacraments are administered by the ministers.

Another thread on Stand Firm dealing with this issue is entitled: Dan Martins on the Sydney Stance: Evangelicals to Liberals: “Psst! Meet Me in Back of the Barn”. There is one sense in which I fear this comparison of Sydney Evangelicals with western Liberals is apt: Both seem to be saying (1.) “we know more about how the church should function than our Anglican forebears did” and (2.) “we believe that what we are doing (be it lay presidency or same sex blessings) is a ‘Gospel imperative’.”

While the Diocese of Sydney asserts that its position is based on a Gospel imperative,” it does not actually or convincingly demonstrate how that is so. There is also a tendency in the Sydney position to attribute too much to the bogeyman of Anglo-Catholicism and a supposed sacerdotal conception of the priesthood, when all we are really talking about is Church order as it has been traditionally understood by Anglicans and as reflected in the 1552 and 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

If we wish to remain consistent with the 39 Articles as an expression of our Anglican identity, the burden of proof must fall on those who wish to implement lay presidency to show that laity or even deacons were ever authorized to administer the Lord’s Supper. And, if the language I quoted from the Preface to the 1662 Ordinal is correct, it cannot be shown from the Scriptures or the whole history of the Christian Church that this was ever the case.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Proposition 8 and anti-religious bigotry

It it appalling to think that, in the days prior to the vote in California on Proposition 8, opponents ran ads that depicted religious people in false and hateful ways. But it happened.

Here is a very well done response by Professor Michael Barber of John Paul the Great Catholic University to the public media attacks by "gay rights activists" against Mormons. As Professor Barber says, Roman Catholics and members of the Mormon faith have longstanding theological disagreements. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see this expression of support.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Reflections on the morning after

As an update to my previous election eve post, I heartily recommend Sarah Hey's article over at Stand Firm on where we go from here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sometimes we get the leadership we deserve

I don't claim to be a prophet, so I cannot be certain who will be the President-elect of the United States when I wake up in the morning. But, driving home from the polling place a few moments ago, I was overcome by a feeling of great sadness--not merely because of how this election might turn out, but because of how God's people have wasted the past eight years.

From the perspective of a conservative Christian, we have had good Supreme Court Justices appointed. In virtually every state where same sex "marriage" has been placed on the ballot, it has been defeated. The situation has been marginally better, compared with the previous 20 years, for those who believe that life is a sacred gift from God to be protected from conception until natural death.

And yet: over a million babies still die from abortion each year. Same sex "marriages" are legal in three states and gaining ground in several others. Same-sex "marriages" are not recognized by federal law due to the Defense of Marriage Act. However, since this is merely an act of Congress, and not a Constitutional amendment, it can be overturned just as easily as it was passed. After today's election, we may find ourselves with a Congress and a President who are committed to doing exactly that and to passing and enacting the Freedom of Choice Act, overturning restrictions on abortion in all 50 states.

Sometime in the past 30 years we should have extended Constitutional protection to all living humans, born and in utero. When something as basic as the definition of marriage came into question, it should have been protected by Constitutional amendment also, but it was not.

While it is perhaps easy to blame secularists and liberals for what is happening to our society, the real blame lies with those who should have known better and who should have done more—Christians who have been content with the status quo, complacent in the face of threats to all that they should have held dear, and seduced by materialism into thinking that, as long as they have an adequate "quality of life," nothing else really matters all that much. It is these who will have to give account for opportunities lost and time squandered. For if they did not work while it was day, what will they do now that night has come?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

KJS : No Anglican Covenant--not now, not bloody ever!

From Episcopal Life Online:

If a proposed Anglican covenant is released in mid-May for adoption by the Anglican Communion's provinces, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will "strongly discourage" any effort to bring that request to the 76th General Convention in July.

Jefferts Schori briefly discussed the covenant process during her remarks to the opening plenary session October 21 on the second of the Executive Council's four-day meeting in Helena, the seat of the Diocese of Montana.

Anglican Communion provinces have until the end of March 2009 to respond to the current version of the proposed covenant, known as the St. Andrew's Draft. The Covenant Design Group meets in London in April 2009 and may issue another draft of a covenant. That draft is expected to be reviewed by the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) during its May 1-12, 2009 meeting. The ACC could decide to release that version to the provinces for their adoption.

If the ACC decides to do that, "my sense is that the time is far too short before our General Convention for us to have a thorough discussion of it as a church and I'm therefore going to strongly discourage any move to bring it to General Convention," Jefferts Schori told the Executive Council. "I just think it's inappropriate to make a decision that weighty that quickly," she added.

Of course, since the Episcopal Church continues to maintain that no interim meeting by either the Executive Council or the House of Bishops can speak for the whole Church, any action will have to wait until the next General Convention meets. So that means, if they don't consider it in 2009, it will be at least 2012 before the Episcopal Church could respond to the Anglican Covenant.

My advice: Don't hold your breath.
 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Barack Obama, Jewish-Americans, and Israel

Have you noticed the interesting thing about Barack Obama's speeches? He has a way of speaking about "hope, change, progress," etc. in platitudes--yes, platitudes--that make people believe he has said exactly what they want to hear. Yet, if you look and listen closely, and ask yourself what he has actually committed to do, you will find that he has said virtually nothing.

What exactly, would Barack Obama do regarding Israel? A lot of American Jews (and Christian and secular supporteres of Israel as well) have been led to think that this son of a Kenyan Muslim father would be Israel's loyal friend. But would he?

From the Philadelphia Bulletin comes this piece on Barack Obama and the only indication we have of Obama's real attitude toward Israel.

Barack Obama, Jewish-Americans And Israel
By David Bedein, The Bulletin
10/15/2008


From a personal and professional perspective, this is the sixth American Presidential campaign that I have covered from Israel, concentrating on the "Israel aspect" of the story.

This time I not only have covered the campaign from Israel - This time, I was assigned by The Bulletin to fly over and cover the Obama campaign at the time of the Pennsylvania primary in April.

My observation of the "Jewish American view of Sen. Obama" was that there was an atmosphere of unreality surrounding Jewish advocacy and Jewish opposition to Sen. Barack Obama.

Both pro-Obama and anti-Obama forces in the Jewish world related to the senator with an attitude of superficiality, paying more attention paid to the company that he keeps than to the policies that he stands for.

Yet here is the rub: None one has really heard where Sen. Obama stands on Middle East issues.

When I interviewed three of Sen. Obama's staffers who specialize in Middle East issues, I presented them with 18 questions. Besides the issue of Palestinian incitement, which his staffers said that he abhors, they could not provide any answers whatsover to basic questions put forward by The Bulletin last April.

With the multi-billion dollar arms package to Saudi Arabia about to reach the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Sen. Obama is a member, his staffers could not even say what his position was on arms to Saudi Arabia, which remains in a state of active war with Israel.

Indeed, Saudi Arabia currently funds Hamas, the Popular Front For The Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), all of which are Palestinian terror organizations that actively engaged in planning operations against the Jewish state

After Sen. Obama's formal nomination as democratic candidate for president in late August, The Bulletin resubmitted these 18 basic questions.

Sen. Obama's staffers promised answers this time. None were forthcoming.

Yet there is a way to gain insight into Sen. Obama's policies towards Israel. Not by tabulating votes on the Senate floor and not by counting how many superlatives that he uses on Israel.

Instead, by paying attention to the three high ranking former U.S. State Department officials whom the Senator has hired: Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross and Daniel Kurtzer. The policy which characterizes all three of them is their consistent promotion of the PLO as a supposed peace partner with Israel for the past 20 years, no matter what the reality was.

This is the threesome that defined the PLO as a peace partner even after the PLO would not ratify the Oslo "declaration of principles" in October 1993.

This is the threeesome that attested to the fact that, in 1996, the PLO had cancelled its covenant to destroy Israel, when it had not done so.

This is the threesome who insisted on arming the PLO to fight Hamas even though the PLO made it clear from the outset that it would never engage Hamas in any full-scale war. And this is the threesome who promote a PLO state, come what may.

And this is the threesome who main committed to mobilizing Jewish Americans to support a PLO state, come what may.

From Sen. Obama's appointment of Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross and Daniel Kurtzer, it is easy to discern where the Senator stands - for the renewal of the Oslo process once again, this time with the teeth of an American administration that would impose a Palestinian state, even though it remains at war with the State of Israel.

[...]

Read the whole article.

 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Faith's Dwindling Following

More than 20 years ago I remarked that if I could choose to be anyone other than who I am, I would be George Will. His insightfulness, penetrating logic, and command of the English language are among the greatest of this age in which we live. This column, in the Washington Post, is not a display of his finest talent, by any means—the subject matter does not lend itself to that. But he has turned his attention to the current crisis in the Episcopal Church, and his conclusions, as I have always found them to be, are irrefutable.
The Episcopal Church once was America's upper crust at prayer. Today it is "progressive" politics cloaked -- very thinly -- in piety. Episcopalians' discontents tell a cautionary tale for political as well as religious associations. As the church's doctrines have become more elastic, the church has contracted. It celebrates an "inclusiveness" that includes fewer and fewer members.

Read it all.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Diocese of Michigan Seeking Plan for Revitalization

Stand Firm posted this piece about the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan's efforts to come up with a plan for revitalization of the Diocese in the face of "declining church attendance and dwindling income."

Here's a plan I read somewhere. It is definitely not original with me. But I have heard (and observed) that it has worked everywhere it has been sincerely tried:

1. "Go into all the world" (every town, street, house)
2. "Make disciples" (of everyone, even those of other religions or no religion at all).
3. "Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" (not the creator, redeemer, and sanctifier, or some politically correct idol created by the culture, but God as He has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture. Oh, and do this BEFORE you admit them to Holy Communion, so they understand the difference between their life before Christ and their life after they came to know Him whose atoning death is celebrated at the Altar.)
4. "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." (ALL THINGS, like the power of prayer, life in the Holy Spirit, evangelism, biblical morality, etc.)
5. Where do we get the resources to do this? "And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Cost in dollars: minimal. Cost in commitment: total.

War on God

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New York election mixup: 'Osama' on ballot

Hundreds in upstate county get absentee ballots with ‘Barack Osama’
TROY, New York - Who is running for president? In an upstate New York county, hundreds of voters have been sent absentee ballots in which they could vote for “Barack Osama.”

The absentee ballots sent to voters in Rensselaer County identified the two presidential candidates as “Barack Osama” and “John McCain.” In the United States, the best-known individual named Osama is Osama bin Laden, leader of the al Qaida terrorist group behind the 2001 attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City.

The typographical terror error was first reported by the Times Union of Albany.

Read it all.

My good friend Bubba says, "That's not mistake, that's a prophecy!"

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Slam Dunk!

As predicted:

Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh Changes Constitution, Joins Anglican Province.

191 laity voted. 119 voted in favor (62.3%). 69 voted against (36.1%), 3 abstained.

160 clergy voted. 121 voted in favor (75.6%). 33 voted no (20.6%). 3 abstained. 2 invalid ballots were cast.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Postcard from Pittsburgh

The other night I had the joy of attending the installation of the Very Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry as Dean and President of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. The preacher for the service, Canon Michael Green, prefaced his sermon by paying tribute to Bishop Robert Duncan, whose recent deposition by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has been the subject of controversy.

Canon Green could scarcely finish his remarks before a resounding standing ovation for Bishop Duncan (who was seated in the chancel) erupted from the congregation which lasted for at least five minutes. Bishop Duncan's wife, Nara, was escorted from her seat in the congregation to the front to stand with her husband while the ovation continued.

There can be no mistake: Bishop Duncan is much loved by the people of Pittsburgh--the group calling itself the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) not withstanding.

As London Times religion columnist Ruth Gledhill has written:
It has crossed my mind recently that Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is secretly one of the "orthodox". That can surely be the only reason that she has created a martyr who is now being venerated by evangelicals worldwide, and who is poised to become the sanctified leader of an orthodox movement that is demanding, and might well get, its own province.

Gledhill goes on to mention the new website that has been created to catalogue all the expressions of support from around the world for Bishop Duncan.

One thing is sure: the PB's actions have only strengthened support for Bishop Duncan both inside and outside the Diocese of Pittsburgh and virtually guarantee that the Diocese's vote to leave the Episcopal Church (scheduled to take place tomorrow) will be a "slam dunk."

There is another sports expression that applies here as well: "own goal," and the PB has most certainly scored one just as phenomenal as any of these.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The most underreported story of the past week...

A.S. Haley, an attorney from California who blogs under the name, the Anglican Curmudgeon, has posted a most interesting column in which he demonstrates that at the same time the Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor were telling the House of Bishops meeting in Salt Lake City that “a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote" means a majority of those present and entitled to vote, David Booth Beers’ firm submitted a brief on behalf of the Presiding Bishop in the Virginia property case asserting that the virtually identical language in the Virginia statute (“a majority of the whole number entitled to vote”) meant a majority of the members of a congregation who are entitled to vote, whether or not they were present.

Anyone, including the media (hint) can check the facts for themselves. But it appears to me that the House of Bishops has, at the very least, been misled; and an injustice has been committed against the three bishops (Duncan, Cox, and Schofield) who have been deposed under this (intentionally???) erroneous interpretation of the Canons.

Read the whole thing and decide for yourself.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bishop Michael Nazir Ali: Duncan deposition shows need for "structural solution" and "immediate relief"

Ruth Gledhill's latest column in the Times (London) on the reaction from British bishops to the deposition of Bishop Robert Duncan is a 'must read.'

The second part of that column is particularly significant--a transcript from an interview with the Bishop of Rochester, Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali on the growing demand for a new Anglican Province in North America and the potential for the division that has been worsened by the deposition of Bishop Duncan to affect the Church of England.

Here is an excerpt of what Bishop Nazir-Ali had to say:

'The first thing is to express huge admiration for Bishop Bob, because for so many years he has borne the brunt of the anger of those who want to make changes in The Episcopal Church. He has stayed loyally within that Church.

'I have quite often watched him in the American house of bishops or general convention, taking flak. So given all of that, I am very sad and very shocked that he's been treated in this way.

'Quite a few American bishops had come to Lambeth, knowing that nothing would change afterwards. I do not think we can take seriously what they agreed at Lambeth. This is of a piece with other meetings where they have beehn present, have agreed things and where nothing has happened afterwards.

'This does show that a structural solution is needed for the orthodox in the American church. There must be immediate relief. No talk about panels doing things in the future. We need, they need more importantly, immediate relief from this kind of action taken against them. I hope that a province in due course of the orthodox in America will be recognised in the Anglican Communion.

'Here are loyal Anglicans whose only fault is not wanting to change what they have received.

Ruth Gledhill continues:
But a robust statement this evening from Bishop Wallace Benn of Lewes and others at Anglican Mainstream gives some indication of how serious the problems remain on the home front.

They said: 'The Jerusalem statement from almost 1200 confessing Anglican leaders urged the Archbishops of Nigeria, Kenya, Southern Cone, Tanzania, Uganda, West Africa and Rwanda to recognise a new Anglican province for North America.

'This has now become more urgent due to the aggressive liberal and unprincipled behaviour of The Episcopal Church house of bishops towards the Bishop of Pittsburgh whose currently moderator of the orthodox Common Cause Partnership.

'The behaviour of The Episcopal Church house of bishops shows that the promised moratorium at Lambeth is dead and their integrity in wishing to bring peace must now be questioned.'

Read it all.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Worthy to Suffer

For all who follow Christ, but especially for my friends in Pittsburgh—
27Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel 28without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

worthy of the gospel (vs. 27). Here the Apostle Paul is exhorting his readers to live lives that are in keeping with the standards and character of the Gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ. That standard, as we read elsewhere in the Scriptures, entails the characteristics of holiness and righteousness—two words we Christians like to throw around a lot without ever stopping to define them. The result is that many people don't know exactly what they mean, or sometimes view them as interchangeable or synonymous. They are complementary, but they are not synonymous.

Holiness means "set apart," and there is a two-fold connotation: set apart from the world by our integrity and purity, and set apart for God by our complete and total dedication—thoroughly and unreservedly belonging to God.

1 John 2:15-16 says,
"Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever."

This is the essence of holiness, not loving those things that our fallen nature (our flesh) craves, nor those things that are alluring to our eyes, nor those things that appeal to our egos (the pride of life) but instead having our hearts totally fixed on God.

Righteousness (vs. 27) is related to "rightness"— letting God's priorities and values be our thoughts and values, and letting His Word and His will direct our thoughts and actions to the exclusion of all else.

in one spirit... (vs. 27). Having a common disposition and purpose with other members of the Body of Christ so that we are one, even as Christ and the Father are one (John 17:20-22).

contending as one man... (vs. 27). Particularly where the Gospel is being attacked, Christians need each other. They must stand together and let their unity in the Truth be a witness to the world.

without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you (vs 28).   "...for greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).

This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed... (vs. 28). Persistent opposition to the Gospel is a sure sign of eventual destruction because it is a rejection of the way of salvation. By the same token, when Christians are persecuted for their faith, it is a sign of the genuineness of their faith.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

granted... to suffer (vs. 29). Given as a gift or privilege, suffering identifies the Christian with Christ, who suffered for our salvation, and with the prophets and saints who have suffered for the Truth of God's Word in every age.

same struggle... (vs. 30). The Philippian believers (and all who suffer today) are undergoing the same opposition Paul faced in his ministry.

Finally, from 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12,

3We ought always to thank God for you, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. 4Therefore, among God's churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
5All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.

11With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. 12We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Cost of Not Following the Canons

Over at Stand Firm Sarah Hey has a great piece on this week's vote by the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops to depose Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, entitled: Why It’s A Great Day To Be A Traditional Anglican.

Here's just a sample:

No, there are two other reasons why an Episcopal bishop would not want to support the deposition of Bishop Duncan. First, some bishops -- obviously 30% of the House -- care about following the canons, not convenience or political advantage. And second . . . and make no mistake about this . . . some bishops know just how very bad this looks to the rest of the Communion: to the bishops that they sat in indaba with, to fair-minded liberals, to Rowan Williams, and to moderates everywhere who have tried to be fair-minded with TEC.

Katherine Jefferts Schori and her advisors had two choices. They could violate the canons flagrantly and hang 'em high now, further shattering TEC's global reputation . . . or they could attempt to follow the canons scrupulously. They chose the former -- and I think they knew the cost within the Communion.

The cost is TEC's further distancing from the rest of the Communion. And Bishop Jefferts Schori was willing to pay that cost.

Read it all.

Friday, September 05, 2008

General Convention adopts Ubuntu as 2009 Theme

I think I have figured out the problem with this General Convention thing: Part of us are spinning to the left, while part of us are spinning to the right.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Choose to Trust

From the work of author James MacDonald:

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10

Trust is the antidote to anxiety; it's the resolution of worry and the destruction of fear. Trust is the act of my will to give my burdens to God. It's like a muscle--as you exercise it, trust gets stronger.

Trust is walking forward moment by moment, having rolled your burden onto God. You've no doubt said, "I gave it to God once, but here it is again in my grip." When you sense that you've taken it back again, get back on your knees, get the burden back on God, get on your feet again, and continue to trust.

When you off-load your burden on God, you can pick up a promise from His Word. Second Peter 1:4 tells us that "he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world." There are literally hundreds of promises that apply to your specific burden. God's Word is filled with treasure.

I'm claiming Isaiah 41:10 right now for a burden I leaving at God's feet. "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." There it is! God is doing this whole thing with one hand tied behind His back. He's not stressed or strained. He's not worried about what to do. He has absolutely no capacity limits!

Isaiah continues, "Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish. You shall seek those who contend with you, but you shall not find them; those who war against you shall be as nothing at all. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you'" (vv. 11-13).

Take a moment to read that awesome promise again. Trust means you anchor your heart in the reality of God's awareness of your situation. He sees more than you can ever see. God, who loves you and is committed to you, will not disappoint you now or in the future if you put your weight fully on Him.

For more information on MacDonald's book, 10 Choices, visit 10Choices.org to engage in one of the ten choices with book excerpts, questions, and comments.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Seen on a Church sign this morning:

"We don't change the message.

The message changes us."


Now can you imagine what would happen if more churches said that and really meant it!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Pointy Hat Club

Once upon a time in a far away place called Dar Es Salaam there was a party attended by boys and girls who liked to wear pointy hats, including one girl who liked to wear a pointy hat, but who sometimes wore a rainbow-colored oven mitt on her head instead. The other boys and girls were very polite and never used the words "oven mitt" in front of the one girl because they knew it would make her very cross.

Some of the folks at the party weren't having a very good time. It seems that in some places there were boys who wanted to live with other boys (the way Mommy and Daddy live together) who had been allowed to join the Pointy Hat Club. The people at the party murmured as how this wasn't a good thing, and agreed that boys who wanted to live with other boys and girls who wanted to live with other girls (the way Mommy and Daddy live together) shouldn't be allowed to join the Pointy Hat Club. The girl who sometimes liked to wear an oven mitt nodded her head and said that was all right with her too.

When all the boys and girls got home from the party, the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt said that she had not nodded her head along with the others who wore pointy hats and that, furthermore, she thought there ought to be more boys who lived with other boys and girls who lived with other girls (the way Mommy and Daddy live together) in the Pointy Hat Club.

When the other folks who had been at the party heard this, they were very cross. Other boys and girls who were neighbors of the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt said that they would go elsewhere to play. The girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt said that that was okay with her, but that they had to leave behind their balls, bats, gloves, hockey sticks, tennis rackets, croquet mallets, badmitton rackets, shuttlecocks and nets, and any other game equipment, because it all belonged to her.

When some far away members of the Pointy Hat Club heard what happened to all the boys and girls who refused to play with the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt, they were sad. They said to those boys and girls, "It's okay, we will still play with you. And, even though we are poor and do not have many toys or games, we will still be your friends and treat you as loyal members of the Pointy Hat Club."

The next time the Pointy Hat Club met, it was a Grand Party. Members from all over the world were there--except that nearly one third of the members of the Pointy Hat Club refused to come, because they said that the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt and her friends refused to play according to the rules and could not be trusted.

When the Grand High Poobah of the Pointy Hat Club saw and heard what was going on, he held his head in his hands and wondered why he had ever become Grand High Poobah. When the Grand Party commenced, he got a group of his friends to propose new rules. The rules went like this: The girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt and her friends had to give a really, really solemn promise ("cross your heart and hope to die") that they would not let any more boys who lived with other boys and girls who lived with other girls (the way Mommy and Daddy live together) join the Pointy Hat Club.

The rules also said that those who had refused to play with the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt had to stand in a corner until someone let them out. Those who had become friends of the ones who refused to play with the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt could not let any of the members of the first group out of the corner in which they were forced to stand; and they had to agree to stay home and play in their own yards.

When the boys and girls who had refused to play with the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt heard the new rules, they were quite upset and murmured as to how it was the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt and her friends who had broken the rules in the first place and asked how they could play with someone who could not possibly be trusted. Their friends from far away said that they had only tried to be friends in order to give these boys and girls someone to play with and asked why they should have to give up their new friends.

But the Grand High Poobah averred as to how the new rules were good rules, and how they had taken a lot of hard working boys and girls a long time to come up with, and since every club had to have rules, they might as well use these. The girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt and her friends disliked the new rules, but finally agreed to give a solemn promise ("cross your heart and hope to die")--and only those who looked closely could see the twinkle in their eyes as they promised and the fingers of their other hands crossed behind their backs.

So in the end, the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt and her friends played according to one set of rules. The boys and girls who had refused to play with the girl who sometimes wore an oven mitt said that if the Grand High Poobah was going to talk about rules, then they really preferred The Old Rules best of all, and they would continue to play according to them. But the Pointy Hat Club was never, ever the same again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash

From The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis (Book 7 in The Chronicles of Narnia):

"Please, please," said the high voice of a wooly lamb, who was so young that everyone was surprised he dared to speak at all.

"What is it now? said the Ape, "Be quick."

"Please," said the Lamb. "I can't understand. What have we to do with the Calormenes? We belong to Aslan. They belong to Tash. They have a god called Tash. They say he has four arms and the head of a vulture. They kill Men on his altar. I don't believe there's any such person as Tash. But if there was, how could Aslan be friends with him?"

All the animals cocked their heads sideways and all their bright eyes flashed toward the Ape. They knew it was the best question anyone had asked yet.

The Ape jumped up and spat at the Lamb.

"Baby!" he hissed. "Silly little bleater! Go home to your mother and drink milk. What do you understand of such things? But you others listen. Tash is only another name for Aslan. All that old idea of us being right and the Calormenes wrong is silly. We know better now. The Calormenes use different words but we all mean the same thing. Tash and Aslan are only two different names for you know Who. That's why there can never be any quarrel between them. Get that into your heads, you stupid brutes. Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash."

You know how sad your own dog's face can look sometimes. Think of that and then think of the faces of all those Talking Beasts--all those honest, humble, bewildered birds, bears, badgers, rabbits, moles, and mice--all far sadder than that. Every tail was down, every whisker drooped. It would have broken your heart to see their faces.

[...]

Up till now the King and Jewel had said nothing. They were waiting until the Ape should bid them speak, for they thought it was no use interrupting. But now, as Tirian looked round on the miserable faces of the Narnians, and thought how they would all believe that Aslan and Tash were one and the same, he could bear it no longer.

"Ape," he cried, "You lie. You lie damnably. You lie like a Calormene. You lie like an Ape"

He meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved. If he had been allowed to speak, the rule of the Ape might have ended that day; the Beasts might have seen the truth and thrown the Ape down. But before he could say another word two Calormenes struck him in the mouth with all their force, and a third, from behind, kicked his feet from under him. And as he fell, the Ape squealed in rage and terror:

"Take him away. Take him away. Take him where he cannot hear us, nor we hear him. There tie him to a tree. I will--I mean, Aslan will--do justice to him later.


From an NPR interview, by Robin Young, with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

RY: TIME Magazine asked you an interesting question, we thought, "Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?" And your answer, equally interesting, you said "We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box." And I read that and I said "What are you: a Unitarian?!?" [laughs] What are you-- that is another concern for people, because, they say Scripture says that Jesus says he was The Light and The Way and the only way to God the Father.

KJS: Christians understand that Jesus is the route to God. Umm-- that is not to say that Muslims, or Sikhs, or Jains, come to God in a radically different way. They come to God through... human experience... through human experience of the divine. Christians talk about that in terms of Jesus.

RY: So you're saying there are other ways to God.

KJS: Uhh... human communities have always searched for relationship that which is beyond them.. with the ultimate.. with the divine. For Christians, we say that our route to God is through Jesus. Uhh.. uh..that doesn't mean that a Hindu.. uh.. doesn't experience God except through Jesus. It-it-it says that Hindus and people of other faith traditions approach God through their.. own cultural contexts; they relate to God, they experience God in human relationships, as well as ones that transcend human relationships; and Christians would say those are our experiences of Jesus; of God through the experience of Jesus.

RY: It sounds like you're saying it's a parallel reality, but in another culture and language.

KJS: I think that's accurate.. I think that's accurate.


Here is what I wish the Presiding Bishop had said.

Friday, July 18, 2008

I really never thought it would come to this...

I first attended an Episcopal Church a little over 30 years ago. I joined the Episcopal Church 22 years ago, and I was ordained 19 years ago. Looking at the developments that have occurred over this period, someone might draw the analogy that I was a newly commissioned officer who sailed out in a fast speedboat to catch my ship that had already left port; and I took my place as a crew member on the Titanic just moments before it hit the iceberg.

George Conger has written a piece today in which he asks the question: "Is this the end of the Communion?":
The long foretold crack up of the Anglican Communion appears to be at hand, as political wrangling and media posturing mark the final days before the start of the 14th Lambeth Conference. Though the programme of the 20 day conference in Canterbury is designed to avoid position statements or divisive outcomes—the agendas brought to the conference by the 600 some bishops present will likely push the Communion farther apart, effectively ending the Anglican project. [Please read the whole article.]

While I may wish that this were not true, I fear that Dr. Conger may be right.

Certainly, the Episcopal Church has been in a state of declining membership and increasing departures from historic, biblical Christianity for virtually the whole time I have been a member. But I always thought that the Anglican Communion would be the Episcopal Church's salvation, not that the Episcopal Church would be the cause of the Anglican Communion's destruction. I really never thought it would come to this.

Why did I think it would never come to this? Here are four reasons:

(1) I thought that efforts to renew the Episcopal Church from within, combined with the missionary imperative of the worldwide Communion, would overcome the pernicious influence of liberal theology and western decadence. Thirty years later, the missionary imperative still exists in the Anglican Communion, but only in the Global South and among a few constituencies in North America and Great Britain that are committed to world mission. But the overwhelming tendency has been for those in the liberal church structures of the Global North to subvert any parts of the Global South that they can win, seduce, or buy. I have seen countless times what 30 pieces of silver can pay for when measured in rice, maize, potatoes, clinics, schools, episcopal preferments, project grants, opportunities to study abroad, appointment to international commissions, etc.

I spoke just today with a candidate for bishop in a Global South diocese. I mentioned that it was odd that none of the bishops from dioceses in his province had attended GAFCON, when only a few years ago, his province was looked on as soundly orthodox. He said sadly that his was a poor province and its bishops were "easily bought." In the months prior to GAFCON, each of the dioceses in his province "had been visited." (It was clear he was referring to visits by representatives of the western churches eager to see that bishops there distanced themselves from GAFCON.)

The missionary imperative in the Anglican Communion remains strong. But that is chiefly the case in those dioceses and provinces that are associated with GAFCON, and these are being driven out of the Communion by an agenda with which they realize, for the sake of their souls, they cannot compromise.

(2) I believed that the leadership of the Anglican Communion, most particularly the Arcbishop of Canterbury, would resist and even rebuke the western churches for their departures from historic Christian norms in faith and morals. Why did I believe the ABC would do this?

(a) Because common sense demands it. When the bonds of fellowship have been strained to the breaking point, it is only logical that the one who has strained them should be restrained, disciplined, rebuked, etc. It is not logical that the well being of the whole should be sacrificed in order to indulge the misbehaviors of a few.

(b) Because it is expected. While liberal activists in the west would protest, no one could seriously claim to be shocked that the leadership of a Christian body would hold its members to the standards that Christians have always held.

(c) Because it is easy. The Archbishop of Canterbury only needed to have issued the mildest of rebukes to the western churches in his rhetoric over the past three years and to have disinvited those bishops who were responsible for the consecration of the present bishop of New Hampshire to have made sure that the Global South participated fully in the Lambeth Conference. If Rowan had disinvited a couple of dozen American bishops and the Bishop of New Westminster, Canada, the nearly 300 bishops who have stayed away from Lambeth would have come. A show of strength and conviction on the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury, while unpleasant for the moment, would have insured that American and Canadian churches were a great deal more respectful of the consensus of the Communion in the decades ahead. It would have been an exchange of short term pain for long term gain. It should have been a no-brainer.

(3) I believed that the leadership of the Anglican Communion would be sufficiently concerned for the survival of the Communion not to allow the advance of a controversial agenda that can only divide and weaken it. The (London) Times ran an article this week, which Stand Firm excerpted under the humorous title, "Perhaps the Bishops Are Eating Their Parishioners," which contrasted the decline of active attendance in the Church of England over the last 150 years with the increase in the number of bishops. A conclusion not emphasized by the article (but one that should be obvious) is that, if the current rate of decline continues, there should not be a single practicing Anglican left in England in another 50 years. (Although the signs are not yet as apparent, the situation in the American Church is not much better.)

While, for various reasons, there may still be some practicing members of the C of E in 50 years, it is nevertheless undeniable that the decline in membership and attendance has turned into a nose dive. Divisions within the Church of England over the lack of adequate episcopal oversight for traditionalists will only hasten the Church of England's demise.

Faced with such a graphic reminder of the tenuousness of the Church of England's existence, one might think that the Archbishop of Canterbury would make a greater effort to secure the survival of the Communion as a whole. Instead the same lack of leadership which has hastened the Church of England's demise is now threatening the survival of the Anglican Communion as a unified body.

(4) I thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury's role as the occupant of a historic see would have compelled him to act more strongly for the preservation of the catholic and apostolic faith in his own Church and the preservation of ecumenical ties with the other historic sees of the Christian Church. Instead the apparent sympathies of the present Archbishop of Canterbury have so weakened his loyalty to catholic teaching and practice that he refuses to utilize the instruments open to him (even that of the "bully pulpit") to secure the adherence of the Communion to the same catholic teaching and practice.

It remains to be seen what will come from this Lambeth Conference. But all indications so far are that the Archbishop of Canterbury will do nothing; the assembled bishops will decide nothing; the American Church's publicity steamroller will roll on; and the various churches of the Communion will follow the American Church's slide into apostasy--as, indeed, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales already seem poised to do. Somehow, I really never thought it would come to this.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Moshing for Jesus at "Christian Woodstock"

MOUNT UNION, Pa (Reuters) - A music festival with heavy metal, punk, hip-hop and pop music might seem like an unusual place to get baptized, but Creation is a festival with strict rules: no alcohol, no drugs and no sex before marriage.

"It's like the Christian version of Woodstock, basically, except it's neat and clean," said Victor Gibson, 37, from Manheim, Pennsylvania, who brought his wife and five children aged from five to 14 to the four-day festival.

"Take a look back at the crowd," he said, as thousands of fans held their arms in the air, pounding out the beat of a song by Christian band Kutless, whose sound Gibson likened to Metallica. "No rioting, no fighting, nobody getting beat up."


And from another report:

Dozens of young people at Creation, a Christian music festival in Pennsylvania, wore green T-shirts with the slogan "Young Single Available."

They weren't looking for a date. They were proclaiming their willingness to spend a year as a missionary in Asia.


Read the articles here and here.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Church Times: "Has GAFCON changed the Communion for the better?"

The Church Times (UK) has an overview article on GAFCON with a poll asking the question: "Has GAFCON changed the Communion for the better?" Read the article, then vote here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jesus in China: Important Television [Updated]

A massive wave of Christianity has been sweeping across China in recent years, and the ruling Chinese party, officially atheist, has been struggling to figure out how to control it. In "Jesus in China," a joint project of PBS' Frontline/World and the Chicago Tribune, reporter Evan Osnos investigates one of the fastest growing Christian populations in the world, and how it could possibly transform China at this explosive moment in the country's history.

While I am always somewhat cautious about the coverage of Christian subjects by secular reporters, this program offered a very objective and revealing look into a powerful movement of God in the world's most populous nation.

This program, which originally aired on Tuesday, June 24, 2008, can be seen in its entirety on the website, here. The reporter's video diary, an interview with a Chinese pastor, and other background material can be found here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Confessional or Conciliar: the GAFCON dilemma

If you read GAFCON's "The Way, the Truth, the Life" (484kb PDF) and Bishop Duncan's opening address, "Anglicanism Come of Age: A Post-Colonial and Global Communion for the 21st Century" (100kb PDF), you will encounter what can be regarded as one very significant contradiction: The writers of "The Way, the Truth, the Life" state, "The Anglican Church has always been a confessional institution..." whereas Bp. Duncan says, "Anglicanism is neither papal, nor confessional, it is rather apostolic and conciliar."

GAFCON's detractors may well see this contradiction as an opportunity to allege that those who are busily involved in crafting a new global Anglican future cannot even agree on the nature of Anglicanism's past and present identity. And, of course, there are those, from both the liberal and Anglo-Catholic camps, who have never liked the idea of Anglicans being a confessional people. It was considered a virtual article of faith in the Confirmation class I attended that the Articles of Religion (the 39 Articles) were in no way to be viewed as a confession of faith, such as the Augsburg Confession is for Lutherans or the Westminster Confession is for Presbyterians.

Such a view denies the obvious role that the Articles of Religion have played in both defining and describing the nature of a Reformed Catholicism that was no longer Roman. The fact that assent to the Articles is still required of those being ordained in the Church of England, and that, until 1824, assent was even a requirement for holding civil office in England, makes the Articles the nearest thing to a confession of faith possessed by the Anglican tradition.

But what about the future? Is the future of orthodox Anglicanism to be seen as confessional (as suggested by the authors of "The Way, the Truth, and the Life") or should it be viewed as conciliar, as articulated by Bishop Duncan in his plenary address?

I would argue that this apparent contradiction need not be an actual one. There is a strong case to be made that the two views can be reconciled, and the future identity of orthodox Anglicanism will be stronger and more complete if this happens.

Anglicanism should be seen as confessional in this sense: Can anyone imagine an orthodox Anglican future that is not grounded in the 39 Articles? If a movement is to be recognizably Anglican, it must stand in the theological tradition of historic Anglican norms. Those norms should then be expected to form the boundaries that determine who may participate in the councils of Anglicanism and what subjects may be considered.

To draw an analogy from history: Can anyone imagine that someone who did not subscribe to the doctrinal outcomes of the First and Second Ecumenical Councils (Nicea [325] and Constantinople [381]) would have been invited to the Third Ecumenical Council (Ephesus [431])? Would those who failed to assent to the previously established consubstantiality of the Son with the Father have been permitted to engage in further discussions of the nature of Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Trinity? Neither were later councils free to reopen these decisions or go beyond the boundaries (in the sense of straying from the confessional declarations) set by the earlier councils.

Thus, the two models of being both confessional and conciliar worked together in a complementary fashion as godly leaders, united in the confession of one Faith, led the Church in its Gospel mission.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

China needs our help (again)

My very first post on this blog was on December 10, 2004; and it was entitled, China needs our help. Three and a half years later, we have come full circle as a new report has emerged indicating that, in advance of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese Government is cracking down on unregistered Christians, including funding of a campaign to eradicate house churches throughout China. A full report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide can be found here. A related story from Voice of the Martyrs can be found here.

What can Christians do? CanaAnglican, commenting on the Stand Firm blog had this to say:
The May issue of National Geographic is completely dedicated to China. It states that Christians comprise 8.4% of the population, roughly the same proportion as Buddhists at 8.5%.

That amounts to over 109,000,000 Christians in China !!
[...]
If a million in the U.S. would pray for our Chinese brothers each day for 110 days, we would have prayed for each of them once.

Actually, as I said in my December 2004 post, there are three things Christians can do:

Pray. Chinese Christians need our prayers for spiritual growth, the raising up of leaders for the Church, the growth of their witness to Christ in spite of persecution, and protection from persecution and temptations that would lead people away from the faith. "The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results" (James 5:16b NLT). OMF International provides two guides entitled, How to Pray for China and China 30 Day Prayer GuideThe Voice of the Martyrs also provides information that is useful in praying for the Church in China.

Write. While carrying out a crackdown with one hand, China has been reaching out to form new trade alliances with the other. Write your elected officials to insist that concern over human rights violations are a part of all trade and diplomatic negotiations with China.

Go. There are many ways to meet and support the Chinese people. Below are just a few organizations that can help.