Saturday, August 17, 2013

Egypt: Islamists hit Christian churches

From the AP, where there is more:
After torching a Franciscan school, Islamists paraded three nuns on the streets like "prisoners of war" before a Muslim woman offered them refuge. Two other women working at the school were sexually harassed and abused as they fought their way through a mob.
In the four days since security forces cleared two sit-in camps by supporters of Egypt's ousted president, Islamists have attacked dozens of Coptic churches along with homes and businesses owned by the Christian minority. The campaign of intimidation appears to be a warning to Christians outside Cairo to stand down from political activism.

Christians have long suffered from discrimination and violence in Muslim majority Egypt, where they make up 10 percent of the population of 90 million. Attacks increased after the Islamists rose to power in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that drove Hosni Mubarak from power, emboldening extremists. But Christians have come further under fire since President Mohammed Morsi was ousted on July 3, sparking a wave of Islamist anger led by Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood.
Read it all.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Urgent Prayers Needed for Egypt

A Message from Archbishop Mouneer Anis

14 August 2013

Dear Friends,

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

As I write these words, our St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez is under heavy attack from those who support former President Mursi.  They are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the church and have destroyed the car of the Rev. Ehab Ayoub, the priest-in-charge of St. Saviour’s Church.  I am also aware that there are attacks on other Orthodox churches in Menyia and Suhag in Upper Egypt (see photo), as well as a Catholic church in Suez.  Some police stations are also under attack in different parts of Egypt.  Please pray and ask others to pray for this inflammable situation in Egypt.

Orthodox church under attack
Orthodox church under attack
Early this morning, the police supported by the army, encouraged protestors in two different locations in Cairo, to leave safely and go home.  It is worth mentioning that these protestors have been protesting for 6 weeks, blocking the roads.  The people in these neighborhoods have been suffering a great deal—not only these people, but those commuting through, especially those who are going to the airport.  The police created very safe passages for everyone to leave.  Many protestors left and went home, however, others resisted to leave and started to attack the police.  The police and army were very professional in responding to the attacks, and they used tear gas only when it was necessary.  The police then discovered caches of weapons and ammunition in these sites.  One area near Giza is now calm, but there is still some resistance at other sites.  There are even some snipers trying to attack the police and the army.  There are even some rumors that Muslim Brotherhood leaders asked the protestors in different cities to attack police stations, take weapons, and attack shops and churches.

A few hours later, violent demonstrations from Mursi supporters broke out in different cities and towns throughout Egypt.  The police and army are trying to maintain safety for all people and to disperse the protestors peacefully.  However, the supporters of former President Mursi have threatened that if they are dispersed from the current sites, they will move to other sites and continue to protest.   They also threatened to use violence.  There have been a number of fatalities and casualties from among the police as well as the protestors, but it seems that the numbers are not as high as expected for such violence.  However, the supporters of former President Mursi claim that there are very high numbers of casualties.  The real numbers will be known later on.

Please pray that the situation will calm down, for wisdom and tact for the police and the army, for the safety of all churches and congregations, and that all in Egypt would be safe.

May the Lord bless you!


The Most Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis

Bishop of the Episcopal / Anglican Diocese of Egypt

with North Africa and the Horn of Africa

President Bishop of the Episcopal / Anglican

Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East

Friday, August 09, 2013

Postmodernism: A Dangerous Mood

In his book, Recapture the Wonder, Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, summarizes the decline of Western society over the past 60 years:
In the 1950s kids lost their innocence.  They were liberated from their parents by well-paying jobs, cars, and lyrics in music that gave rise to a new term—the generation gap.

In the 1960s, kids lost their authority.  It was a decade of protest—church, state, and parents were all called into question and found wanting.  Their authority was rejected, yet nothing ever replaced it.

In the 1970s, kids lost their love.  It was the decade of me-ism dominated by hyphenated words beginning with self.  Self-image, Self-esteem, Self-assertion....  It made for a lonely world.  Kids learned everything there was to know about sex and forgot everything there was to know about love, and no one had the nerve to tell them there was a difference.

In the 1980s, kids lost their hope.  Stripped of innocence, authority and love and plagued by the horror of a nuclear nightmare, large and growing numbers of this generation stopped believing in the future.

In the 1990s kids lost their power to reason.  Less and less were they taught the very basics of language, truth, and logic and they grew up with the irrationality of a postmodern world.

In the new millennium, kids woke up and found out that somewhere in the midst of all this change, they had lost their imagination.  Violence and perversion entertained them till none could talk of killing innocents since none was innocent anymore.”
What caused these losses of innocence, authority, love, hope, reason, and imagination?  And how did our society get to this point? 

The late jurist Robert Bork, in his book Slouching toward Gomorrah, identified the two chief cultural influences of the past 60 years as being "radical individualism" and "radical egalitarianism."  In a nutshell, radical individualism means, "I can do whatever I want;" and radical egalitarianism means, "...and you don't have the authority to tell me otherwise."

These two influences have combined powerfully in the cultural movement of postmodernism, which is a mood—a dangerous mood—of skepticism in our interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, and religion.  Zacharias comments, "A mood can be a dangerous state of mind, because it can crush reason under the weight of feeling.  But that is precisely what I believe postmodernism best represents - a mood.”

Most Christians are keenly aware of the way in which postmodern skepticism seems to be aimed particularly at Christians.  It is all right to express almost any religious idea as long as you do not bring Jesus Christ into it.  Zacharias notes: "If a spiritual idea is eastern, it is granted critical immunity; if western, it is thoroughly criticized. Thus, a journalist can walk into a church and mock its carryings on, but he or she dare not do the same if the ceremony is from eastern fold."  And the immunity from criticism being given to Islam, even by those who are quick to denounce Christianity as misogynist or homophobic, is glaring.

Truly the spirit of this age is the Christian apologist's greatest challenge.  We who know Jesus Christ to be "the way the truth and the life" are confronted with the fruit of a diabolically-sown seed.  To the assertion that "Jesus is the Way," we are told that there are many ways to God, many spiritual paths.  To the assertion that "Jesus is the Truth," we are told that there is no absolute truth that is valid for everyone.  To the assertion that "Jesus is the Life," we are offered many ways that our society calls "life," but the end of these paths is destruction.

A chief characteristic of those who are now looking at the world through postmodern eyes is that, for them, truth is no longer seen as the outcome of rational discourse but, rather, as a sympathetic identification with a point of view.  Something is true for them because they choose to believe it—they identify with it in a subjective or even emotional way.

So, while we might wish to see people come to Christ on the basis of a rational argument, my experience as one who has done apologetics for many years is that I never saw anyone persuaded to become a Christian on the basis of rational argument, and this was even prior to the rise of postmodernism. 

Rather, people must come to Christ because they are attracted to him.  "If I be lifted up..., I will draw all people to myself."  This means that we do not necessarily hold up Christianity as a superior philosophical system, even though we should commend the truth it teaches at every opportunity.  We do not necessarily hold up the Church as a more perfect society, although there should be something about the love among Christians that is compelling.  It means that we hold up the Savior and tell of what he has done for us and means to us.  And if we are authentic in our reflection of Jesus and his love, especially to those who are hurting in the midst of a lost world, he can use us to draw others to himself.

Ravi Zacharias, despite his own considerable experience in making persuasive arguments for Christianity, explains his own Christian perseverance this way:
“I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn.  I remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn.  I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade.  I came to Him as a stranger.  I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships.  I came to Him unsure about the future.  I remain with Him certain about my destiny."  (Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message.)
This does not mean that our witness to Christ is devoid of rational appeal.  Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland cites the danger in an approach that is based solely on feelings or on presenting Jesus as the answer to human need:
"Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs.  We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that Jesus is their answer.  This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons.  First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings.  Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.”  Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner?  In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe.  He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus."  (Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, p. 25.)
So our witness must be intelligent but, above all, winsome.  As theologian Alister McGrath puts it:
"Apologetics is to be seen not as a defensive and hostile reaction against the world, but as a welcome opportunity to exhibit, celebrate, and display the treasure chest of the Christian faith, and to explain and commend it to those outside the church.  It aims to set out the intellectual, moral, imaginative, and relational richness of the Christian faith—partly to reassure believers and help them develop their faith, but primarily to enable those outside the community of faith to realize the compelling vision that lies at the heart of the Christian gospel." (McGrath, Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith.)
" enable those outside the community of faith to realize the compelling vision that lies at the heart of the Christian gospel."  That is our task.  How do we enable those to whom we witness to realize the compelling vision?  By first making it clear that the vision at the heart of the Gospel is compelling to us.  1 Peter 3:15 admonishes us: "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy; always be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect...."

Making it visible that we honor Christ the Lord in our hearts as holy is the first step in demonstrating to others that we find the Gospel to be compelling.  This does not mean making an exaggerated  display of our piety in front of others.  The world will only be reached by people who genuinely honor Christ in their hearts as holy (who display his enormous worth), not by those who make a show of being "holier-than-thou."

Why does Peter say, “Always be ready?”  Because Peter is looking back on his life and reflecting on a time when he denied he even knew Jesus three times in the space of one night.  But he also remembers the day of Pentecost when the Spirit of God came falling down on him and the other disciples, and they saw three thousand people come to the Lord in one morning.  It happened through the power of the Holy Spirit and because Peter had become a man who was ready to give an answer for the hope that was within him.

The dangerous mood of postmodernism is not giving people genuine answers.  People you know, people you meet, people who live next door to you, people who work with you are dying, both physically and spiritually.  It is only in the good news of Jesus Christ that people can find true life, hope, and peace.

Do you have the love of Jesus to share?  Are you empowered by the Holy Spirit?  And are you ready always to give an answer for the hope that is in you?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Tens of thousands rally to oust Tunisian government

It seems that the "Arab Spring" has become the winter of their discontent.  Pray for Tunisia and for the freedom of the Arab world.

From here:
Tens of thousands of Tunisians crowded the streets of downtown Tunis on Tuesday to demand the transitional government's ouster, in the largest opposition protest since the country's political crisis began two weeks ago.

 The secular opposition, angered by two assassinations in its ranks and emboldened by the army-backed toppling of Egypt's Islamist president, is trying to topple Tunisia's government led by the moderate Islamist party Ennahda.
It also wants to dissolve the Constituent Assembly, which is weeks away from finishing a draft constitution and election law.

In a surprise move that could tip the balance in the opposition's favor, the head of the Constituent Assembly suspended the body, saying it would not resume work until the government and its rivals held talks. Assemblyman and ruling party member Najib Mrad called the move an "unacceptable coup."

Tunisia is facing the worst political turmoil since autocratic ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled. The crisis has been compounded by growing instability as Islamist militants step up their attacks.

"The people want the fall of the regime," shouted crowds crammed into Bardo Square, using the same slogan they popularized when Tunisians ousted Ben Ali in 2011 and sparked a wave of uprisings across the Arab world.

"This proves the desire for liberation from Brotherhood rule will not be broken," Belaid's widow, Basma Belaid, said, comparing Ennahda to Egypt's elected Muslim Brotherhood.
Read it all.

Friday, August 02, 2013

FIFNA, Anglicanism, and the Seventh Ecumenical Council [UPDATED]

David Virtue's website, VirtueOnline, recently reprinted a blog post by Joel Wilhelm, entitled "FiFNA vs. Anglicanism."  Readers of Anglican blogs may remember that, in June, the Stand Firm website ran an article: "What is Going on With the ACNA and the Filioque?" which cited another post by Wilhelm, entitled, "ACNA Vs. the 39 Articles," in which he challenges the ACNA for considering returning to the original form of the Nicene Creed, which does not contain the Filioque.  I don't know about you, but I am beginning to sense a theme with these "versus" articles:  Take an organization that is part of the Anglican Realignment and try to make the assertion that some adopted position of theirs is un-Anglican, or even un-biblical and un-Christian.  

What should we think of Mr. Wilhelm's latest assertion?  Here's the background:  Forward in Faith - North America (FIFNA) recently issued A Declaration of Common Faith and Purpose at their annual Assembly in Belleville, Illinois, which includes this statement for members to affirm:
I believe all Seven Councils are ecumenical and catholic on the basis of the received Tradition of the ancient Undivided Church of East and West.
Wilhelm then calls our attention to the Seventh Ecumenical Council, one of whose canons states:
Let relics of the Holy Martyrs be placed in such churches as have been consecrated without them, and this with the accustomed prayers. But whoever shall consecrate a church without these shall be deposed as a transgressor of the traditions of the Church.
Of course, the  Seventh Ecumenical Council, also known as the Second Council of Nicaea (because it was held in that city), affirmed a great many things, including the character of Christ's human nature, the Christian view of matter, and a fuller understanding of Christian salvation and the redemption of the material universe.  The Council also condemned the selling of ecclesiastical offices for money (simony) and declared ecclesiastical appointments by political rulers to be void.  But the Council is chiefly known for affirming the use of icons and relics--chiefly known because of the controversy that attended these matters--a controversy that continues to divide low-church and high-church Anglicans.

It is the controversy concerning relics to which Wilhelm seeks to call our attention.  Having quoted one of the canons from the Seventh Council (above), he goes on to assert:
This canon assumes that *every* church must contain 'relics' and that if it is not consecrated with relics, then whoever consecrated the church is a transgressor of tradition.  How is this in any way Scriptural?  It is an unnecessary binding of the conscience and makes most Anglican churches in the world illegitimate.  Has your parish been consecrated without relics?  If so, your priest should be deposed as a transgressor of the traditions of the Church according to FIFNA’s logic.
Next, Wilhelm quotes the Council's anathemas against those who condemn icons or misstate the Church's position regarding their use:
We salute the venerable images.  We place under anathema those who do not do this.  Anathema to them who presume to apply to the venerable images the things said in Holy Scripture about idols.  Anathema to those who do not salute the holy and venerable images.  Anathema to those who call the sacred images idols.  Anathema to those who say that Christians resort to the sacred images as to gods.  Anathema to those who say that any other delivered us from idols except Christ our God.  Anathema to those who dare to say that at any time the Catholic Church received idols.
Finally, Wilhelm asks, How does this match up with our Articles of Religion?  For example:
General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes.  And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God.  Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.  [Article XXI]
The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God. [Article XXII]

And he concludes by saying:
The Seventh Council and the Anglican Reformation cannot coexist.  FIFNA chooses the Seventh Council, so be it, then have the honesty to take the Articles on head on, rather than working your way into leadership positions and subverting Reformed Anglicanism from within.
What are we to make of Joel Wilhelm's assertions?  Can the Seventh Council and the Anglican Reformation (as represented by the Articles of Religion) coexist in our understanding?  And is FIFNA's position an attempt to subvert Reformed Anglicanism from within?

First a little background:  In the centuries prior to the Reformation, there was a use of images (mostly statues in the West, not icons) along with saints' relics that, especially among poor and illiterate people, was the cause of superstition to the extent that it could be said to be idolatrous.  Statues and relics that were intended to remind the faithful of their connection to great Christians of ages past were instead treated as though they were magic. The response of some in the Reformation was to destroy these images. 

As in this photo, numerous statues in churches were smashed or beheaded.  Imagine a hundred little alcoves like this one, with the statues within all beheaded, and you will have what the walls of the side chapel in Ely Cathedral look like following vandalism by those who considered themselves to be acting on the principles of the Reformation.  This happened all over England.

The superstition that had arisen regarding images and relics is what Article XXII is referring to when it speaks of "the Romish Docrine...."  To be fair, the term "Doctrine" could be applied more accurately to Purgatory, Pardons, and the Invocation of Saints, but the Article lumps all these items into one category. 

But, "the Romish Doctrine" or idolatrous misuse of images and relics is not what the Seventh Council is endorsing in its canon.  In fact, the Seventh Council is saying that images or icons should not be viewed or treated as idols.  This canon applies as much to those who would be tempted to regard images and relics as idols as it does to those who would regard their proper use as idolatrous.

Consider the words of St. John of Damascus: 
Concerning the charge of idolatry: Icons are not idols but symbols, therefore when an Orthodox venerates an icon, he is not guilty of idolatry.  He is not worshiping the symbol, but merely venerating it.  Such veneration is not directed toward wood, or paint or stone, but towards the person depicted.  Therefore relative honor is shown to material objects, but worship is due to God alone.
We do not make obeisance to the nature of wood, but we revere and do obeisance to Him who was crucified on the Cross...  When the two beams of the Cross are joined together I adore the figure because of Christ who was crucified on the Cross, but if the beams are separated, I throw them away and burn them.
How should we regard the Council's injunction about relics?  The answer lies in the very Articles of Religion that Wilhelm cites:
[Councils] may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God.  Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.
In addition to the many other matters covered by the Seventh Council, it commends the use of icons and relics, which should not present a problem, as long as they are not being made into idols--which the Seventh Council regards as being just as wrong as the Articles of Religion do.   But when the Council goes on to say: "But whoever shall consecrate a church without these shall be deposed as a transgressor of the traditions of the Church," it is going beyond Holy Scripture, and we need to regard (or disregard) it accordingly.  

This is a different matter than saying we reject the Seventh Council.  Rather we affirm the Seventh Council, but we read its conclusions in light of Holy Scripture and other theological developments that refine our understanding--such as the Articles of Religion.  This is the constructive way to do theology.  It is synthetical rather than polemical.  We read Scripture in light of other Scripture--and in light of the consensus of the faithful as to its meaning.  We read theology, not taking one Church Father, Council, theologian, or theological movement in isolation, but in light of Holy Scripture and the same catholic consensus down through the ages.

The Seventh Council also forbade clergy from serving more than one parish simultaneously; it forbade women from serving as housekeepers in a bishop's residence or monastery; and it forbade the establishment of "double monasteries"--monasteries of both men and women.  Do we follow these injunctions today?  And if we do not, does it mean that we are rejecting the Seventh Council?  The fact is that a number of the Seven Councils issued canons containing details that we do not follow today, but instead, temper in light of the other sources that contribute to our theological understanding.  It does not mean that we are rejecting the Councils.

As a further example, many of those who object to the Seventh Council are Calvinists.  Does that mean they adhere to Calvin's Regulative Principle of Worship?  Do they use only Psalms, sung with no musical instruments, in their worship?  After all, Calvin closely associated his opposition to icons with his opposition to musical instruments.  And one of the things the Reformers (and the Puritans a century later) did after smashing images in churches was to board up or destroy the pipe organs.  My guess is that these modern-day Calvinists do not sing Psalms exclusively in their worship or forbid the use of musical instruments.  Yet they still consider themselves Calvinists.  How is that?  It is very simple:  they adhere to Calvin, but they temper his words and apply them in the light of other theological influences.  That is precisely how we read the Councils in the light of the Articles of Religion and other Anglican formularies, and, above all, Holy Scripture.

So can the Seventh Council and the Articles of Religion coexist?  Yes, as we read and apply them both in the light of Scripture.  Is FIFNA's position an attempt to subvert Reformed Anglicanism from within?  Frankly, that is a dangerous and divisive assertion, and one that should not be recklessly thrown at our brothers and sisters who are coming together in the Anglican Realignment.  Are there continuing differences between Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical Anglicans?  Yes, and we will only resolve them for the glory of God if we stop listening to those who, it seems, only wish to sow division instead of working for genuine theological understanding and the unity of the Church for which our Lord prayed (John 17).

UPDATE:  Three additional point I would like to mention.

1.  It should be noted that the FIFNA declaration does not call for subscription to every canon and anathema from all Seven Councils, it merely calls on its members to acknowledge that "all Seven Councils are ecumenical and catholic on the basis of the received Tradition of the ancient Undivided Church of East and West."  This is simply an accurate historical statement.  The churches of the East and West have always acknowledged all Seven Councils to be "ecumenical and catholic," that is, to have been participated in and accepted by representatives of the universal church as it existed at that time.  With regard to the Seventh Council, it was convened under the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople, two Roman legates representing the Pope, and representatives of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.  Whatever else may be said about the Seventh Council, it was definitely ecumenical and catholic.

2.  Regarding the canonical status and authority of the Seven Councils, consider this statement as to how the Councils are viewed by the Eastern Orthodox:
The canons of the Ecumenical Councils are regarded within the Orthodox Church as universally authoritative, though not in a strictly constructionist sense.  Their canons have often been repealed or revised by the decisions of local synods or even of later Ecumenical Councils.   Nevertheless, their legislation is central to the Orthodox canonical tradition, and appeals to such canons are more frequently made than to any other source of canonical legislation.
 This statement as to how the canons of the Councils may be repealed, or modified in light of subsequent theological understandings comes very close to how I believe the Councils are viewed by FIFNA and other traditionalist Anglicans.

3.  Regarding FIFNA's new Declaration of Common Faith and Purpose, in general, I highly recommend the article, "A Hasty, but Comprehensive Response to Critics of the New FiFNA Declaration" by the Rev. Nathaniel Kidd on the Sed Contra blog.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Canterbury Sidestep

It must be terribly embarrassing for the Archbishop of Canterbury to open the International Business Times and read a headline like this:

Archbishop of Canterbury: Church Investment in Porn is Life in the Real World 

But that is what happens when you try to defend the indefensible, which is what the Archbishop did when confronted by a radio interviewer about the fact that the Church of England has invested portions of its $8 billion in endowments in companies that produce pornography and engage in other unwholesome (not to say un-Christian) business practices.  The National Catholic Register described the episode this way:
It came out that the Anglican Church has been investing its money in companies that profit pornography and gambling--  Yes, porn and gambling.  Further, the investment rules of the Church specifically allowed for such investments stating "The Church's fund can invest in a company which holds up to 25% investment in industries such as pornography, gambling and pay-day lending, as well as 10% in weapons."  Well then, its only 25% sinful I suppose.
Ok, so the investments were handled poorly.  To say the least.  But the real death-knell of Anglicanism came from the Archbishop's initial response to something absolutely repugnant to the Christianity they purport to preach.  The Archbishop's response: "We've got to live in the real world and that means life is very complicated and you cannot sidestep the complexity. We've also got to be involved in day-to-day life and ask 'how do you actually live in the reality of the complexity of life today?'"
Try having this conversation with someone who is involved in a sexual relationship outside marriage or in other ways not living according to standards of Christian morality, and you'll probably get the same response:  "You're not living in the real world.  In the real world, everybody's doing it.  Life is more complex than your simple morality.  This is what the real world is like, and you'd better just get used to it."  Only now, we're hearing this same argument being used by the titular leader of a major branch of Christianity.

It seems that,in this and so many ways, such as his support for civil partnerships in the UK, this Archbishop is more interested in following "the real world" than the real Gospel.

[Sigh.]  And to think some conservatives were so hopeful over his election....