Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Anglican Revivalist

I began this blog, To All the World, in December 2004 with the aim of discussing news and issues pertaining to the Christian world mission. However, since I am an Anglican—more specifically a member of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America—it has been easy to be distracted by the controversies that are affecting the Anglican Communion. In a sense, these controversies also affect world mission, or at least the part that Anglicans play in world mission. But they have been a distraction, nonetheless.

Minneapolis pastor and author John Piper, in his book, Let the Nations Be Glad! has written:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Mission exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

But until the worship due to God resounds among people of every nation, tribe and tongue, missions must be the pre-eminent work of the Church. The love that we are to give to God and to our neighbor is incomplete until every one who draws breath has been given the chance to own and express that love.

Increasingly, the western Church is being distracted from its most important task. Inroads of immorality and unbelief have reduced many once-vibrant Christian traditions to a position of being semi-Christian or pseudo-Christian on the way to becoming post-Christian. The news (and the blogs) are replete with illustrations. The energy that ought to go into the Church's mission instead goes into merely trying to keep it sound.

Bishops of the Church were charged, historically, with the responsibility to drive out error and false doctrine (as Scripture admonishes us to do in several places), so it is not surprising that countering error within the Church should be just as much a part of the work of the faithful as engaging in apologetics to win the unconverted. However, countering error should not occupy the entire attention of the Church any more than patching holes in the hull should occupy the entire attention of a ship's crew. Ships don't exist to be repaired, they exist to sail and to accomplish their mission.

This illustration carries an inherent warning: When a the hull of a ship becomes too riddled with holes; it is fit for nothing else but to be scrapped or scuttled. So various expressions of the Christian tradition have departed from the Faith; and the Church in various countries through the ages has waned, until God, through the working of his Holy Spirit has brought it to vibrant life again.

I will digress for a moment to answer the objection of some of my catholic-minded brethren who might point to the apparent stability and longevity of the Church of Rome as evidence that the Church has no need of revival. One need only point to the examples of the Borgia Popes, the sadistic excesses of the Inquisition, and the incidences of pedophile priests today to demonstrate that no expression of the Church, comprised as it is of fallen sinners, is immune to this trend.

Indeed, if one thinks of the examples of Benedict, Francis, Dominic, and Ignatius Loyola (to name only a few), it might be said that the foundation of every religious order was an effort to bring renewal and revival to the Church. And what has been the most recent response by Pope Benedict to the problem of pedophile priests? —a movement of prayer to cleanse the Church of pedophile priests. The Pope realizes that a spiritual problem can only ultimately be solved with a spiritual answer. Prayer that the Holy Spirit would come in and cleanse the Church of sin has been the key to virtually every revival in Christian history.

Not only can the Church not accomplish its mission without the Holy Spirit's cleansing, it cannot accomplish its mission without the Holy Spirit's power. Jesus made this clear at the beginning: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The disciples were powerless to leave Jerusalem (and were commanded not to) until they had received power from the Holy Spirit.

So just as the greatest work of the Church is Christ's Great Commission to carry the Gospel to all people, so the greatest need of the Church is continually to be renewed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The need is always for revival.

With a view toward presenting resources and stimulating prayer and discussion for revival, I have created a sister blog to this one: Anglican Revivalist. One of the first resources I have posted is a video address by the late Professor J. Edwin Orr on what God has done in the great revivals in history (and what we should pray God does again in our day). I hope you will take a look.

Martin Luther on the Relevant and Prophetic Use of Scripture

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point. (Luther's Works. Weimar Edition. Briefwechsel [Correspondence], vol. 3, pp. 81f.)

Martin Luther on the Relationship between Scripture and the Church

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

[It] is an accursed lie that the pope is the arbiter of Scripture or that the church has authority over Scripture. This is what the canonists and commentators on the Sentences have wickedly declared, on the following basis: "The church has approved only four gospels, and therefore there are only four. For if it had approved more, there would have been more. Since the church has the right to accept and approve as many gospels as it wishes, it follows that the church is superior to the gospels." What a splendid argument! I approve Scripture. Therefore I am superior to Scripture. John the Baptist acknowledges and confesses Christ. He points to Him with his finger. Therefore he is superior to Christ. The church approves Christian faith and doctrine. Therefore the church is superior to them. To refute this wicked and blasphemous doctrine of theirs you have here a clear text and a thunderbolt. Here Paul subordinates himself, an angel from heaven, teachers on earth, and any other masters at all to Sacred Scripture. This queen must rule, and everyone must obey, and be subject to her. The pope, Luther, Augustine, Paul, an angel from heaven — these should not be masters, judges or arbiters, but only witnesses, disciples, and confessors of Scripture. Nor should any doctrine be taught or heard in the church except the pure Word of God. Otherwise, let the teachers and the hearers be accursed along with their doctrine. (Luther, "Lectures on Galatians," in Luther's Works, vol. 26, translated by Jaroslav Pelikan [St. Louis: Concordia, 1963], pp. 57-8.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sanctus fortis, sanctus Deus

Many thanks to a fellow Anglican blogger in Georgia for his gracious mention of Nashotah House, and in particular, the Nashotah House Seminary Hymn on his blog.

I found this blog to be well worth checking out also (and not merely because he says good things about "The House").

A Blessed Epiphany!

I gave myself a Christmas present this year and took a vacation from blogging for the entire Christmas season.

Now that it is after Epiphany, I'm back with almost nothing to say about two events in December that most Anglican bloggers found noteworthy: (1) the Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent letter, and (2) the vote by the Diocese of San Joaquin to disassociate from the Episcopal Church and to affiliate with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone (of South America). I didn't feel compelled to write about either of these events for one main reason: Both "events" are merely words.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent letter contained the strongest language to date that the Episcopal Church violated Anglican Communion norms in consecrating a non-celibate homosexual bishop. These words from Abp. Williams were cheered by conservatives and decried by liberals. Yet the reality is that the situation in the Anglican Communion has progressed (or one could say deterioriated) to the point that no words, even those of the Archbishop of Canterbury are of any real significance. What will happen to those who have violated Anglican Communion (not to say Christian) norms? Will there be a Covenant that defines membership in the Anglican Communion in terms of adherence to a common understanding of Christian faith and morality? Will there even be an Anglican Communion after Lambeth 2008? And, if so, what will it look like?

Oh, sure, one could make guesses about the answers to those questions by saying that the two "events" of December portend one thing or another. But as far as I am concerned, there is a lot of "sound and fury, signifying nothing" going on these days. And until something actually happens that gives clear enough answers to my questions to be worth writing about, I am going to keep my digital ink in the bottle (with a few inevitable exceptions, of course).

Meanwhile, the news that really matters:

"The Lord has shown forth his glory: Come let us adore him."

(BCP, 1979, p. 81)