Monday, February 24, 2014

A Clarification

A recent graduate of Nashotah House, whose opinion I value highly, has written in response to an earlier post to say that it sounds like I was impugning the orthodoxy of the three students who requested that Bishop Salmon invite Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach at Nashotah House on May 1.

So I want to clarify that it was not my intention to impugn the three students, and I have revised that piece in order to make this clear.  The point I was making is that, when you follow Bishop Salmon's strategy of reaching out to Episcopal dioceses where the Presiding Bishop's teaching and actions are viewed more favorably and less critically, you are going to attract students to Nashotah House who think it is perfectly all right to invite Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach in the Chapel.  My issue is not with the students but with the invitation.  Students ask deans for things all the time; and it is the Dean's responsibility to know when to say yes or no.

On a purely human level, I understand where these students are coming from.  Whether you are relatively new to the Episcopal Church or you have been brought up to respect Episcopal Church structures and leaders, and you have the opportunity to get to know the Presiding Bishop, I can understand that you might want her to approve of your career path and the seminary that you are attending.  If you love the seminary you are attending and discover that it is a place where she would actively discourage you from going, you would want to do something to remedy that situation, including inviting her for a visit.

So what would I have said if I were still the Dean, and these three students had come to me with the suggestion to invite her?  I would say this:

First of all, the Presiding Bishop spoke in Milwaukee just last year.  (All three of these students, whose identities I have since learned, and for whom I have deep respect, were students at the House at that time.)  There was an opportunity for students at Nashotah House who wanted to hear and and interact with the Presiding Bishop to do so then.

I would say to these students that while Episcopal Presiding Bishops have been getting progressively more liberal since Edmund Browning, Katharine Jefferts Schori in some ways represents a radical departure, actively engaging in false teaching about the nature of God, the unique divinity and saving work of Jesus Christ, as well as the authority of Scripture--an example of which is her handling the account of Paul's healing of a demon possessed girl in Acts 16 in a way that I am forced to conclude reflects a deliberately perverse interpretation of that passage.   

Further, this particular Presiding Bishop has deposed and sued (and is still suing) bishops on Nashotah House's Board of Trustees and numerous alumni and loyal supporters of this House.  Currently, she is engaged in lawsuits against supporters of the House in the Diocese of Quincy including suing the Bishop, the clerical and lay members of the Standing Committee, and the rectors of each parish personally and individually with an un-Christian and heartless disregard for their personal circumstances--all in an effort to get back buildings that the Episcopal Church does not need and cannot use.  (The Episcopal Church tried the same tactic unsuccessfully in its current lawsuit against the Diocese of South Carolina, headed by Bishop Mark Lawrence--another Nashotah Trustee.)

Indeed the Presiding Bishop has spent a reported $40 million on lawsuits against Christians, many of whom support this seminary and what it stands for.  If she would like to heed the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 and cease her un-Christian hostility toward our Trustees, alumni, and supporters, then we could perhaps discuss an invitation, not to preach in Chapel, but to come and see, and dialogue.  I doubt that will happen in the 16 months remaining in her term as Presiding Bishop, so let me say to you that, in the larger scheme of things, you really do not need this woman's advice or approval on your path as you seek to serve Jesus.

But there is one other thing:  During my time as Dean and President, this House has exemplified what one Trustee Bishop dubbed the "Pax Nashotah."  This term refers to the relative peace that exists in our community between those who are called to serve in the Episcopal Church and those who are called to serve in other jurisdictions.  We are not concerned with the jurisdiction our students come from or in which part of God's vineyard they will serve after graduation.  We are simply here to help our students become the best priests and ministers they can be.  Having a preacher whose teaching stands so clearly stands outside our Statement of Identity and whose actions have been so harmful to our trustees, alumni, supporters--and even to the parishes from which some of our students come--would cause great distress to your fellow students and to the peace and welfare of this community.  I am afraid I must say no to your suggestion that I invite the Presiding Bishop to preach here.

[I would pray that, if it were explained this way, the students themselves would understand the inappropriateness and potential harm of this invitation to the community.]

Finally, I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.  I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.  And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  (Acts 20:28-32).

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Phil Ashey: Why Our Seminaries are Strategic

I highly recommend the latest column by the Rev. Canon Phil Ashey of the American Council, reflecting on the importance of seminaries in the renewal of Anglicanism in the Gospel:
The struggle for Gospel truth in The Episcopal Church (TEC) was really lost many years ago when most TEC seminaries abandoned any faith in Christ as the one, unique Lord and Savior of all people everywhere, and lost faith in the Holy Scriptures as the divinely inspired word of God and the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and practice. This battle was lost long before the 2003 unilateral TEC innovation of consecrating a non-celibate homosexual as bishop and leader for the whole church, and the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster’s authorization of rites for the blessing of same-sex unions—both in direct violation of settled Biblical and Anglican teaching (Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10)
Read it all.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sarah Hey Responds to Bishop Salmon’s Video Explanation

On the Stand Firm website, Sarah Hey has written an eloquent response after watching a video in which Bishop Ed Salmon explains (defends) his invitation of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach at Nashotah House on May 1 of this year.  I invite you to read Sarah's whole response.  Below is a comment that I shared on Stand Firm, which also helps to explain my own deep concern and involvement in this matter.
“I have rarely been more heart-destroyed than tonight.”  Yes, Sarah.  Thank you for this.  I had the same reaction when I first read the news.  If my comments elsewhere have seemed somewhat impassioned, or if I have crossed the bounds of propriety in commenting on the actions of my successor, imagine spending the prime years of your adult life—age 46 to 56—leading the institution that has now done this. 
Why on earth would the House be concerned that the Presiding Bishop doesn’t like the House or desires people not to attend the House?  *Of course* she wouldn’t like the House! It favors the Gospel.  *Of course* she wouldn’t want seminarians to attend the House.
This is precisely the attitude I kept in mind throughout my deanship.  And one of the things that saddens me most about this whole affair is that students at the House are no longer being led to view the situation this way.  Instead of being taught to be valiant for truth and to take risks for the sake of the Gospel, they are being led by example to “go along to get along,” and that dialogue with heretics and even having them in your pulpit is a good thing if it promotes better relationships.
“Heartsick.”  “Heart-destroyed.”  Yeah, that describes it.

Claim: “Schori discouraged attendance at Nashotah”

As more information becomes available about the invitation of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach at Nashotah House on May 1 of this year, Bishop Salmon has made the claim that the invitation stems from a concern that the Presiding Bishop, either directly or through representatives, tried to discourage three students (a male deacon who serves on the Episcopal Church's Executive Council and two women students) from attending Nashotah House.  The thought seems to be that this invitation might improve relations between the House and Bishop Jefferts Schori and cause her to say nice things about the House in the future, or at least not discourage students from attending.

As I pondered this claim, several observations occurred to me:

1.  In 15 years on the faculty of Trinity and 12 years at Nashotah House, I met many postulants for holy orders who had been told by their bishops or Commissions on Ministry they would not be ordained because they were too conservative.  Most of those students moved to more conservative dioceses and succeeded in coming to seminary anyway.  (Many of them became very fine priests.)  There were others who were told they would be dropped from the ordination process if they chose to go to a conservative seminary (or refused to go to the liberal seminary where the Bishop or COM wanted them to go).  These, too, usually succeeded in being adopted by a more conservative bishop and coming to TSM or Nashotah anyway.  But, in 27 years, I never met a student who had directly or indirectly received career advice from the Presiding Bishop as to which seminary he or she should or shouldn’t attend. 

2.  Over the years, I met a lot of liberal bishops and COM members who said they would not send students or give money to the seminary I represented unless we ___________.  (Fill in the blank.)  The truth is that they were never going to send students or give money to the seminary I represented anyway.  They just wanted to put pressure on us to change to fit their liking.  Which leads to a third observation that governed my deanship at Nashotah:

3.  A seminary that is intent on being truly orthodox is never going to give Episcopal liberals the "warm-fuzzies" the way General, or Virginia, or any of the other TEC seminaries will.  So stop trying!  Stop trying to play the Episcopal game!  Try being a faithful evangelical and catholic seminary that honors our Lord and that can serve the larger Anglican tradition and beyond.  Go fish in ponds where conservative students can be found.  Go to the Forward in Faith Assembly, the AMiA Winter Meeting, the ACNA Assembly, and meetings of CANA, PEAR, the REC, and the continuing Anglican churches.  Recruit on the campuses of Wheaton College, Gordon College, Taylor University, Asbury, Biola, and other Christian colleges.  Reach out to those Evangelicals who are still on the Canterbury Trail.  Reach out to those orthodox Anglo-Catholics who can’t possibly find another seminary in North America that will meet their needs.

At the rate the Episcopal Church is shrinking, you aren’t going to have that pond to fish in much longer anyway.  So concentrate your energies on the vibrant Global South and those expressions of North American Anglicanism that are associated with them.  Think long term.  Think what your seminary is going to look like 20 years from now.  Think about whether it will still glorify God 20 years from now.  Because, realistically, a seminary that tries to appease the Episcopal Church will not only have a liberal PB preaching in the chapel 20 years from now, it will be performing same sex marriages in the chapel 20 years from now (or much sooner)—and engage in a lot of soul-destroying, heretical teaching along the way.

So “Schori discouraged attendance at Nashotah.”  That’s an outstanding recommendation if ever I heard one.

Friday, February 21, 2014

If I had it to do all over again

On August 1, 2001, I became Dean and President of Nashotah House Theological Seminary.  I had spent the previous fifteen years as a faculty member at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, where I had directed the library, been an associate dean in three different capacities, and gone from assistant, to associate, to full professor in Systematic Theology.  Trinity had been formed in 1976 because a growing number of both Evangelical Episcopalians and those who had been involved in the Charismatic movement were convinced that none of the existing Episcopal seminaries could ever be reclaimed from the heterodoxy into which they had fallen or produce biblically faithful clergy who were capable of leading congregations in spiritual renewal.

From the beginning, people associated with Trinity realized that, if they were to be part of a spiritual renewal in the Episcopal Church, they would necessarily have to be somewhat counter-cultural to it.  One could not seek to be part of renewing the Episcopal Church while buying into the status quo.  Although I never heard it explicitly articulated, I think there was an implicit understanding on the part of some that, if the Episcopal Church could not be spiritually renewed and returned to biblical orthodoxy, an alternative would have to be found--or created.  This explains why so many Trinity alumni were among the early members of the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), and John Rodgers, the Dean/President under whom I first served at Trinity (and one of the wisest and godliest men I have ever known), became one of the first two bishops consecrated for the AMiA.

During my years at Trinity, I happened to meet the professor who was then teaching Systematic Theology at Nashotah House (around 1994).  We were discussing which textbooks we used for teaching theology, and he remarked that he used John Macquarrie's Principles of Systematic Theology.  I gulped, and explained that, at Trinity, we treated Macquarrie in a separate course on Contemporary Theology where we did apologetics against him.  (I should add that this theology professor left Nashotah House before I began as Dean, and I had the opportunity to select his successor, who is thoroughly orthodox.)

Macquarrie was originally a Scottish Presbyterian who eventually became Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford (from 1970 to 1986), but who, in 1965, had become an Episcopal priest in the United States while teaching at Union Theological Seminary.  Timothy Bradshaw, writing in the Handbook of Anglican Theologians, described Macquarrie as "unquestionably Anglicanism's most distinguished systematic theologian in the second half of the twentieth century."

After I moved to Nashotah House I discovered that the House had made Macquarrie an honorary Doctor of Canon Law in 1986.  But the fact is that Macquarrie's understanding of God is best understood as panentheism, "the belief that the Being of God includes and penetrates the whole universe."1  Macquarrie is a bridge between the existentialism of Martin Heidegger, the pantheism of Paul Tillich ("God is being-itself, not a being.") and Process Theology.  This existentialist and panentheistic foundation underlies the metaphorical theology of Sallie McFague, quoted approvingly on a number of occasions by Katharine Jefferts Schori.  I mention all this merely to make the point, once again, that ideas have consquences; and the current state of the Episcopal Church and other Western mainline traditions is the consequence of academically respectable theology that has gone from speculative, to heterodox, to pagan.

Both prior to joining the faculty at Trinity and throughout my tenure there, at various times I studied with and had good collegial ties with a number of faculty in other Episcopal seminaries, some of them legends from whom I learned a great deal But these professors, all of whom are now retired or deceased, were the exceptions, and the Episcopal Church isn't likely to see their kind again.  If I may be excused a bit of hyperbole, theological education in Episcopal seminaries for most of the past 50 years has been like the Curate's Egg--excellent in spots, but, on the whole, rotten.  To be more precise, Episcopal seminary education has concentrated on preparing men and women for a career in the Episcopal Church (note my choice of words) but has been utterly incapable of equipping them for biblically-faithful, Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered ministry.  In short, I experienced first-hand, through my own studies and relationships, the precise reason why the founding of Trinity School for Ministry was necessary.

So, when I became Dean and President of Nashotah House, I had the same perspective.  It was not enough to prepare people for careers in the Episcopal Church.  It was vital to prepare them to be faithful to Holy Scripture and the Catholic faith and order of the Church, and to enable them to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Though I make no pretense to Solomonic wisdom, upon becoming Dean and President at Nashotah House, I did pray Solomon's prayer:
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (2 Kings 3:9)
To understand much of what happened during my time at Nashotah House, it is necessary to look at trends that have occurred in the Episcopal Church in recent decades and to understand some trends--what futurists such as John Naisbitt call "megatrends" that are having an inevitable impact on the Episcopal Church in the US and the larger Anglican Communion.   

There have been two competing (and irreconcilable) trends in the Episcopal Church for the past fifty years:  A growing spiritual renewal and a growing theological heterodoxy.

Most observers generally agree that the Charismatic movement in the Episcopal Church began with the Rev. Dennis Bennett's experience of the Holy Spirit while he was rector of St. Mark's Church in Van Nuys, California, in 1960.  The next thirty years saw a remarkable spiritual renewal that included leaders such as the Rev. Terry Fullam, from St. Paul's Church, Darien, Connecticut, and a list of other leaders and parishes that is much too long to list here.

Alongside that Charismatic renewal, Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, which had long been a small and beleaguered minority, began to find new life and strength, and a sense of their own identity.  They were aided in their self-discovery by Evangelicals from the UK, Australia, and elsewhere.  There were organizations dedicated to promoting renewal in the Episcopal Church, but there were numerous, seemingly spontaneous examples of spiritual renewal popping up all over the Church as well.  Several entire dioceses began to take on the character of the renewal movement.  Those who had been touched by the Charismatic renewal and the Evangelical resurgence came to grips with the realization that no existing Episcopal seminary was capable of training biblically faithful, Spirit-filled clergy to serve and lead parishes.  This realization led to the founding of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.  

Increasingly, those affected by spiritual renewal and those being led in the direction of theological heterodoxy began to diverge.  In large part, this divergence occurred as theological liberals in the Episcopal Church became even more radical and began to act in ways contrary to the biblical and historic faith and order of the Church.  The Rt. Rev. Thad Barnum chronicles the liberal trajectory of the Episcopal Church and the orthodox response in his marvelous book, Never Silent.

During the 1990's and 2000's, I was a Deputy to the General Convention five times and observed this trajectory first hand--a growing rejection of biblical authority, a growing acceptance of departures from historic Christian norms in faith and morality, and a complete unwillingness to discipline those church leaders who departed from these norms.  In addition, I witnessed the growing marginalization and persecution of orthodox Christians in the Episcopal Church.  In the space of a few years, it seemed as though the Episcopal Church had become an environment that was toxic for an orthodox Christian.  The formation of the Anglican Mission in America (in 2000) and the Anglican Church in North America (in 2009) were the inevitable result.

In 2008-2009 two things happened that affected Nashotah House: (1) The Great Recession; and, more significantly, (2) the departure from the Episcopal Church of four of Nashotah House's most supportive dioceses: Fort Worth, Quincy, Pittsburgh, and San Joaquin.  They would later be joined by another diocese that sent a considerable number of students to the House: South Carolina.  

During my time as Dean and President, I tried to make Nashotah House a place where Anglicans of whatever stripe could prepare for ministries in the Church.  Students from TEC, AMiA, ACNA, continuing Anglican churches and other jurisdictions worshiped and studied side-by-side.  Jurisdictions didn't matter; students were there to become the best clergy and lay leaders they could be and to prepare to serve wherever God called them.  The House was a wholesome and peaceful place.  It was a time one faithful Bishop referred to as the "Pax Nashotah."  But it was not to last.

In 2010, in response to a growing number of Episcopalians in the Milwaukee area who were feeling alienated from their parishes, I led Nashotah House to begin holding Sunday morning worship services that were open to anyone (as were all of Nashotah House's daily services).  Several parishes in our area had been decimated in the years following the consecration of Gene Robinson as a bishop in TEC.  One local parish went from an Average Sunday Attendance of nearly 300 to only 100 in the space of a few years.  The parish my family and I attended had gone from nearly 150 ASA to 35 in the same period.  Another local parish went from 160 ASA to 60.  The Diocese of Milwaukee didn't seem to care where these departing Episcopalians were going; they were just upset that a portion of them started worshiping at Nashotah House.

The Sunday morning congregation, which took the name St. Michael's (after the historic bell tower on Nashotah's campus) did not start out to be an ACNA parish.  Despite rumors to the contrary, it was never my intention for it to be an ACNA parish.  As with students who came to Nashotah House, I was not concerned about jurisdictions, I was merely concerned to create places for faithful worship and teaching; and I thought that a congregation that was, to some degree, integrated into the life of a seminary could be  beneficial for both students and congregants.  In fact, members of the Sunday morning congregation did not become an ACNA parish until after I stepped down as Dean and left St. Michael's to work with another congregation in the Milwaukee area.  It was only then that St. Michael's formally organized as a parish separate from Nashotah House, called another priest to be their rector, and affiliated with the ACNA Diocese of Pittsburgh.  

The opposition to my remaining as Dean was driven ostensibly by Bishop Ed Salmon's contention that I was getting Nashotah House in trouble by being too closely allied with those who were outside of TEC.  The reason I use the word "ostensibly" is that it should have been apparent to all concerned (and should be doubly apparent in retrospect) that Bishop Salmon was using his position as Chairman of the Nashotah House Board of Trustees to undermine my position as Dean and President and to take the job for himself.  

Bishop Salmon could point to the fact that in the period 2009-2011 we saw a downturn in enrollment and contributions.  In answer to this, it should be obvious that four of our most supportive dioceses in terms of students and contributions had left the Episcopal Church, experienced a reduction or even a freeze on new postulants for holy orders, had their parish and diocesan funds frozen by the courts, and were having much of their current income consumed by litigation costs.  In addition, the US was experiencing the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. 

In my last year as Dean and the year following, a majority of the student body at Nashotah House came from ACNA dioceses.  The downturn we were experiencing was a temporary one as the ACNA found its legs and began to take off.  The House could have weathered this period and emerged as a seminary that, while continuing to train any students from TEC who wanted an orthodox seminary education, was free from TEC's unwholesome influence.  As proof of this one only has to look at Trinity School for Ministry, which took Episcopal out of its name and the Episcopal shield out of its logo.  In  recent years, Trinity has had no students from TEC in their incoming classes.  Yet, they have not only survived, they are thriving.

My experience at both Trinity and Nashotah House has led me to conclude:

1.  You can be an Anglican seminary outside the control of the Episcopal Church and still survive.
2.  You cannot be a seminary in the Episcopal Church and remain orthodox.

In witness to that, I point to the following news I received today: Bishop Iker Resigns in Protest From Nashotah House Board (because Bp. Salmon has invited Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach in Nashotah House's Chapel), an event that is shocking and tragic to many alumni.

Just as my "getting the House in Trouble" by reaching out to the AMiA and the ACNA and starting a congregation in the seminary chapel may have been the low point (as some would reckon it) of my deanship, the scandal of inviting Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach in the seminary chapel will probably go down as the low point of Bp. Salmon's deanship.  I can only say that I would put the low point of my deanship up against the low point of Bp. Salmon's deanship any day.  (I would also gladly compare the high points of my deanship with the high points of his.)

In Bp. Salmon's first interview as Dean and President, Doug LeBlanc reported

Salmon said he plans to strengthen relationships, both among seminary faculty and staff and between the seminary and bishops of the Episcopal Church. (Emphasis added.)
Well, now we see where that has led, don't we?  Salmon is further quoted as saying, 
"The name of leadership is relationships - people connecting with each other and working together," he said. "Our broken relationships in the Church are a testimony against the Gospel." 
No, Bishop, the heterodoxy of the Episcopal Church, in general, and of Katharine Jefferts Schori, in particular, is a testimony against the Gospel.  We are called to separate ourselves from false teachers; and a shepherd, whether of a diocese, a parish, or a seminary, is called to protect his flock from wolves.  In the words of the ordination vows Bishop Salmon took:  “Are you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to do the same?”  To lead a seminary like Nashotah House in these days, and to fail to keep that ordination vow, is to see your seminary turn into another Seabury-Western, or General, or worse.

In conclusion, let me point to three overarching conclusions:

1.  There is no movement today in the Episcopal Church capable of sustaining orthodox Christians or fostering the growth of orthodox congregations.

2.  In the absence of any movement designed to promote repentance, renewal, resurgence, and revival among orthodox Christians in the Episcopal Church, those Christians who remain in TEC are fighting a holding action and will ultimately lose through attrition.

Which leads to a third conclusion (which I say with great sadness):

3.  You can have orthodoxy or you can have the Episcopal Church, but you can't have both.

"Wait," some will say, "I am still in the Episcopal Church and I am orthodox, so I have both."  If that is true, then you are part of the remnant that is involved in fighting a holding action (whether you realize it or not).  So while your present situation may be safe for the moment, apart from divine intervention, the faith you hold, and the parish or diocese to which you belong (if they are still orthodox) will be lost in the next generation, if not in your lifetime.   

There are some, like Bishop Salmon, for whom relationships are more important than orthodoxy; and, in their cases, my words will fall on deaf ears.  History and the Righteous Judge before whom we both will stand will have the final say.  But, if I had it to do all over again, I would gladly, proudly, do the same.


[Postscript:  I originally wrote the autobiographical part of the material in this post months ago but did not publish it because I was determined not to criticize my successor.  I wrote it mainly for my own journaling and reflection.  It is only this latest news of Bishop Salmon's decision to invite Katharine Jefferts Schori to preach at the House that has caused me to change my resolve.]

Saturday, February 15, 2014

"The Reconciliation Thing"

Recently, a longtime friend of mine, the Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum, Rector of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia, was named by the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of the Six Preachers of Canterbury Cathedral.  Tory is an outstanding preacher, pastor, and leader, and is worthy of this honor quite apart from any other accomplishments that might be mentioned.  However, this honor cannot be viewed apart from the fact that, as the press release from Lambeth Palace states, "his appointment is also recognition of his commitment to reconciliation, which is one of Archbishop Justin’s ministry priorities."

That set me thinking about the Archbishop's ministry priorities:  What is this reconciliation thing?  What does it mean?  And how should we view it?

At the time of Justin Welby's enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury, he was quoted as saying:
“We are struggling with very, very significant divisions, different ways of looking at the world coming out of our context, coming out of our history....  Learning how we deal with those differences — which are of themselves valuable things — is really significant.
Welby went on to say,
“It is the key theological concept for Christian faith: reconciliation with God and the breaking down of barriers between people,” he said. “And therefore for me, I have this sense that part of the church’s role is to be reconciled reconcilers.”
Reporters at the time noted that Welby's role as Archbishop of Canterbury, "will be no easy task."
For the past decade, the Anglican Communion has been in turmoil after the Episcopal Church consecrated two openly gay bishops and moved to approve blessings for same-sex unions.  Several African and Asian jurisdictions accused the U.S. church of heresy.  Some conservative American congregations have broken away from the Episcopal Church and aligned themselves with Anglicans from other parts of the world.  There have been a series of contentious lawsuits over church property, and bitterness still prevails in many quarters throughout the Anglican Communion.
In response to the challenges ahead of him, Welby attempted to clarify his view of reconciliation:
“Reconciliation is extraordinarily painful for those involved in the conflict,” he admitted.  He said his view of reconciliation is not a “fuzzy wuzzy tolerance, sort of fluffy, where it would all be nice if we were nice to each other sort of rubbish.”
Frankly, it is on this last point that I am going to need convincing.  And the longer I see Dr. Welby in action, the more doubtful I become.

First of all there was the conference at Coventry Cathedral last year.  Anyone who has been around what I call (for lack of a better term) "professional religious dialogue" for very long knows how this sort of conference works:  Learned papers are shared; there is a lot of "deep" discussion; everyone shakes hands warmly and goes home feeling good--and nothing really changes.  With all due respect to those who met in Coventry, it seems that it was precisely one of those instances "where it would all be nice if we were nice to each other."  I am still waiting to see any real outcome from that conference that can affect the problems in the Anglican Communion. 

Today, I read the following headline:

Archbishop of Canterbury appeals for 'gracious reconciliation' in divided Church

The article was about Dr. Welby's presidential address to the Church of England General Synod, in which he said, 
"There is going to have to be a massive cultural change that accepts that people with whom I differ deeply are also deeply loved by Christ and therefore must be deeply loved by me, and love means seeking their flourishing."
He called on the Church to exhibit a love of the kind described in 1 John 4:18, which says "perfect love casts out fear".
"We all know that perfect love casts out fear. We know it although we don't often apply it," he said.
He pointed to the importance of the Church staying together in the midst of disagreement and how this could be an excellent witness to wider society.
"A Church that loves those with whom the majority deeply disagree is a church that will be unpleasantly challenging to a world where disagreement is either banned within a given group or removed and expelled," he said.
What was that again about reconciliation not being a “fuzzy wuzzy tolerance, sort of fluffy, where it would all be nice if we were nice to each other sort of rubbish”?

As I commented in a 2009 post on this blog, "Rowan Williams, Meet Neville Chamberlain," what the Anglican Communion needs is a Winston Churchill; but instead we keep getting Neville Chamberlains who proclaim peace in our time while the world goes to hell in a handbasket.

The problem in the Anglican Communion is not that we don't know how to live together despite our disagreements.  The problem is that Anglican (and other religious) leaders in the West have been so influenced by secular values that they have replaced the Gospel with those values and are incapable of asserting a faith that differs from what the secular culture around them can accept.  This is seen most clearly in matters of sexual morality, but that is only a presenting issue--a symptom of a deeper problem.

The problem in the Anglican Communion is that its leaders in the West have allowed so-called "modern biblical scholarship" and contemporary theologies (influenced by the skepticism and rationalism of our age) to undermine their confidence in the Bible and the message it proclaims.  They are no longer capable of believing that the eternal Son of God truly became incarnate through the Virgin Mary, died an atoning death for our sins, rose bodily from the grave with a body like that which all who believe in him shall someday receive, and ascended into heaven, from whence he shall come again at the end of this age to judge the living and the dead and to complete the redemption begun in his first coming.

Those who have listened to the message of the secular world instead of the authentic Gospel are incapable of believing the good news that is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).  They are incapable of believing that, "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).  And they are incapable of believing Jesus' words: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).  

In short, they are lost, unbelieving souls, who should be the objects of evangelism, not partners in religious dialogue.  Which brings us to the biblical definition of reconciliation:

In Romans 5:6-11, we read:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.  More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Do we believe that we were sinners, enemies of God and objects of his wrath?  If not, then we cannot be reconciled.  Do we believe that Christ's death was an atonement for the sins that separated us from God?  Unless we do, we cannot be reconciled.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, we read:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.   All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Our ministry of reconciliation only exists because, in Christ, we have been reconciled to God; and this reconciliation is grounded in the fact that the Incarnate Son of God, who knew no sin, became sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  Do we believe in Jesus' substitutionary atonement for us, paying the penalty for the sins that separated us from God?  If not, then we cannot be reconciled.  Have we, in gratitude, submitted ourselves to Christ?  Do we follow his commandments (John 14:21)?  If not, then we cannot be reconciled to God, which is the only basis for our being reconciled to each other.

1 Corinthians 1:10 says, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment."  Reconciliation is not living together despite our disagreements.  The basis for reconciliation is agreement in the truth. 

Jesus said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand."  Friends, this is the sad state of the Anglican Communion--a house divided against itself.  And unless there is agreement in the truth, talk of reconciliation is meaningless.

This is what the Anglican Communion must have if it is to survive:  Not a leader who tries to hold a plurality of viewpoints together, but a leader who leads us in the truth revealed in Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures and who calls us to follow.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Advice to Priests

On her blog, Held By His Pierced Hands, Meg Hunter-Kilmer has some important and convicting things to say in a piece entitled, "Advice to Priests:"
I was stunned the other day to have a good man, 25 years a priest, ask me for advice.  Not with a specific situation either, just “Do you have any advice for me?”  I didn’t know what to say to this priest of God, this man who speaks and the Word is made flesh, who grasps the hands of sinners to drag them back from the edge of that unscalable cliff, who leads people to Christ in a more real way than I ever will.

“Pray,” I said.  “Love Christ and his Church and pray.”

But he wanted more.  And I always have an opinion, even when I have no right to.  So add this to the list of things I have no business giving advice on.1

Image courtesy of Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.If I could ask one thing of priests, it would be this: celebrate the Sacraments like you believe that they’re real.  I imagine that most of you do believe that they’re real.  And I’ve been privileged to know many priests whose love of the Lord is so powerfully evident in the way they lead their people in prayer.  But that’s not always the case.  Imagine if you celebrated Mass completely attentive to the fact that you were about to call God down to earth.  Wouldn’t it be slower, more reverent, more intense?  Wouldn’t you be awestruck, holding the host in your hand?  Would you really make do with a quick bow if you honestly believed—or maybe remembered is the word—that Jesus Christ was truly there?  More than just doing the red and saying the black (which is a great start), what if you treated the sacred mysteries like they are sacred and mysterious?

Via.In a sacristy in Avila, the words surrounding the crucifix on the wall say, “Priest of Jesus Christ, celebrate this Holy Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.”  If you can’t excite the emotions your first Mass stirred up, can you try to imagine how you would say Mass if you knew you were about to meet God face to face?  You are, after all.
I don’t mean to imply that all you really need is emotions—or that if you try hard enough you can manufacture pious feelings.  I just mean that your people don’t need good homilies.*  They don’t need good administrators.  They don’t need friendly guys.  Those things are all nice, but what they need are pastors who are showing them what holiness looks like.  They need to see you and wonder at your love of the Lord.  They need to believe that it’s possible to know Christ, and you can teach them that by coming to know him better yourself.
[ Go to Meg's blog to read the rest. ]

* This is the only statement of Meg's with which I disagree.  Christians do need good sermons.  We are fed by both Word and Sacrament--in precisely that order.  Clergy need to preach every sermon as though we are calling God down to earth as well as lifting souls to heaven.  To follow Meg's analogy, we need to preach as if every sermon were our first sermon, our last sermon, our only sermon.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Well, DUH???

A choice quotation from the late John Hick, well known (liberal) philosopher of religion and author and editor of such books as The Metaphor of God Incarnate and The Myth of Christian Uniqueness:
If Jesus was literally God incarnate, the second Person of the holy Trinity, living a human life, so that the Christian religion was founded by God-on-earth in person, it is then very hard to escape from the traditional view that all mankind must be converted to the Christian faith.
(John Hick, God Has Many Names. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1982, p. 19.)