Friday, March 21, 2014

Is This Worthy of a Bishop?

That's one of the questions Fr. Peter Carrell asks in a posting at Anglican Down Under regarding Bishop Gene Robinson's inaugural column for "The Daily Beast." Here's part of what Bishop Robinson writes:

Maybe you’re religious, and maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re one of many who claim to be spiritual but not religious—which I take to mean that you hold many of the values espoused by one religion or another, but you’re highly suspicious of organized/institutional religion and its failure to live out its stated values. It reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s famous line: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”... 
Much of what you will read here will be critical of organized religion, since along with Chesterton, I believe in Christianity but seldom see it put into practice. Love is the central theme of the Bible, and yet we find it so hard to live lives of love. The enemy of love is not hate, but fear. When confronted by those who seem filled with hate, I try to ask “What are they afraid of?” with as much sympathy as I can muster. Responding to hate with love is one of the most daunting tasks of those who claim to follow Jesus. 
This column will also go far beyond Christianity. God is infinite, and it comes as no surprise to me that there have developed, over time, many credible and faithful approaches to understanding God. In the end, no religion holds a lock on the reality of God. Each religion grasps only a part of the infinite God and offers insight into God’s reality, and we would do well to exercise a good measure of humility in claiming we know God’s will. Better to begin each pronouncement we make about God with “In my experience…” or “From my perspective…” or simply “For me….” At the end of the day, no matter how much we believe we know God’s will, we must acknowledge that each of us is only doing the best she/he can.

Fr. Carrell's response hits the nail on the head:

A bishop, intended within Anglican polity to be a teacher of the faith, belittles his own religion and its claim to have received the fullness of God's revelation in Jesus Christ by declaring 'Each religion grasps only a part of the infinite God.' Further, as a bishop authorised by the church to proclaim the Word of God, the best he can do is boil down all proclamation of God's truth to 'In my experience.'

This is not Christianity. Nor is it Anglicanism as a manner of being Christian which is both catholic and reformed.

And, I would add, in comparison to the fullness of the faith as received within Anglicanism, Bishop Robinson's post-Christian religion of personal opinion is just downright boring.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bishop Frank E. Wilson: The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the Mystery of Christianity

Sacraments are the vehicles for the conveying of divine grace.  Think, for a moment, of a medicine prescribed for one's physical health.  It consists of certain chemical elements which have been brought together.  Those elements taken separately are possessed of certain qualities, but when they are combined a new medicinal virtue is produced.  You may not be able to put your finger on that virtue but you learn from experience that it is there, underneath the chemical elements.  You take the medicine and dispose of the elements, but the virtue remains with you and acts upon your body.  It may not produce results until you take the medicine, but the virtue is there, whether you take it or not.

Something like this is meant by the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  The bread and the wine still remain bread and wine, but by combination with the spiritual act of Consecration they are invested with a peculiar spiritual virtue which is identified with the Body and Blood of Christ.  "This," said our Lord, "is my Body ... and this is my Blood."  Christ is spiritually present under the forms of bread and wine.  The virtue of His Presence produces its results when the Sacrament is received by the communicant, but the Presence is still there whether received or not.

There is a good deal of mystery in this, isn't there?  People have attempted to strip Christianity of its over-natural elements and reduce it to a purely logical system of living.  They have abolished most of the New Testament, discarded our Lord's nativity and resurrection, dispensed with the Sacraments - in short, they have amended His "Do nothing of the sort."  What they have left is a dull, unattractive residuum of rationalism. 

God cannot be measured with the yardstick of the human mind.  Human life consists of so much more than the human mind.  Man is not merely an animated brain.  He is also emotions, will, instincts, intuitions, and many other things.  God cannot be kept out of any of them.  Some of the most valuable factors in everyday living are entirely beyond the reach of straight logical analysis.  Who ever dissected friendship?  Yet we live by it every day.  Who ever charted, diagrammed, or card-indexed love and courtesy and good-will?  They cannot be even accurately defined, yet we all know what they are and we live with them daily.  They are mysteries just as Sacraments are mysteries - just as God is the greatest mystery of all.  Because the Christian faith is meant for the whole of a man, Christ made it colorful and interesting.  Drain the mystery out of it, and religion becomes flat and tasteless.

Moreover, men and women refuse to submit to an existence gone stale.  They will enliven it artificially with pomp and circumstance, spectacular theatrical productions, or the elaborate pageantry of innumerable fraternal orders and so make fictitious mystery.  It is a natural human instinct, and any religion which overlooks it is not true to the kind of life which God has created.  No one ever needs to apologize for the mystery that inheres in the Christian faith.  It is there because Christ put it there.  And He put it where it is because there is no other way by which God can be made real to the wistful souls of struggling humanity.

~ The Rt. Rev. Frank E. Wilson
taken from The Anglican Digest 56/1 (Spring A.D. 2014), pp. 29-30

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Abuses of the Pulpit

The Rev. Andrew Mead hits the nail on the head in a brief summary of what constitutes abusing the pulpit rather than faithfully proclaiming the Gospel.  AAK shares it at Sed Angli in a posting entitled "Abuses of the Pulpit."  Here's what Fr. Mead writes:

I also believe, and have since my seminary days, that clergy are ordained to deliver the Gospel and the catholic, apostolic Faith of the Church. Over the 40-plus years since then, three general abuses of the pulpit in churches have come in successive waves: 1) using the sermon to advance a political agenda; 2) using the sermon to engage in psycho-babble; and, more recently, 3) using the sermon to focus on the person of the preacher. Of course the Gospel often touches upon politics, or psychology, or the personal life of the homilist; and these can be useful introductions to the Gospel. But the subject is the Good News of JESUS. The Apostle has it, as ever, just right: 'We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake' [2 Corinthians 4:5].

I've heard all three of these abuses from the pulpit, including one on Easter Day in which the preacher talked about his spiritual journey for the entire sermon (not one single meaningful word about the resurrection of Jesus!).  Perhaps one of the more egregious instances was listening to a clergy colleague talk from the pulpit about his dog defecating while taking a walk in the rain.  If only that sermon had been about politics or psycho-babble instead!

Fr. Mead reminds us just how important it is that those of us entrusted with the authority of preaching God's word focus on Jesus and not ourselves.  It can be quite a challenge.  As one person commenting on Fr. Mead's thoughts put it on Facebook: "Perhaps the biggest challenge for the preacher, especially this one, is how to be appropriately personal in the process of attempting to apply the Scriptures to the challenge of being a Christian in today's world." 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Tyler Blanski: "Christianity is not safe"

Some people scoff at Christianity.  They think religion is a crutch, an emotional cushion for the timid and weak-minded.  "Faith is an easy out," this line of reasoning goes.  "Who wouldn't want the comfort of a loving God?"  But Christianity is not safe.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is anything but the high and easy road.  You cannot have salvation without damnation.  To accept Jesus as Lord and Savior is to accept a world where all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, all have gone astray, where each of us has warped and twisted the image of God impressed on us into a diseased, leprous narcissism.  There is no one righteous, not even one.  There is no one who understands.  No one who seeks God.  All have turned away.  To believe what Jesus is saying is to believe that the whole sweep of human history apart from God has culminated in the twenty-first century hipster: jaded, sarcastic, desperate for a teenage dream in the face of a yawning, cankerous vacuum.  The fruit of sin is ripe and rotting.  It produces nothing but isolation, fear, anger, the misuse of the earth and the abuse of other people, even ourselves.  Is it any wonder that the revenue of sin is death?

We might like to think we are the exception to the rule but only because we conveniently ignore our abuse of oil, our exploitation of international labor, and our endorsement of something as monstrous as a megamall.  We overlook what we do in dark rooms with a strong Internet connection and what we delight to watch on television.  Even Christians are proud to flaunt their healthy bodies and their manicured lawns yet timid to flaunt righteousness and truth.  If we are to take this wild and woolly God-man at his word, we are forced to admit that, like those in the days of Noah, we too deserve to die.  Death.  Death by water.

But there is hope in the horror.  The flood is not the end of the story.  Sin and death are not the last word.  "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.  He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit" (1 Peter 3:18).  We not only need to drown in the floodwaters; we need to be lifted up into a new life with Christ.  This is the gift of Baptism: we get to die to our old sinful selves and to be reborn in the light and life of Christ's boundless love.

~ Tyler Blanski, When Donkeys Talk: A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity (2012)

Friday, January 24, 2014

Reducing Ethics to An Overly Simple Rubric

"If one respects liberty and one respects a robust view of moral culpability, it seems very clear: A right of conscience, that is, if asked to do something that would be morally objectionable to a physician or a health care provider, them saying 'No, I won't participate,' should be defended. It should be convincing. However, in our increasingly secularist society, these concepts are under great attack. The movement that is afoot seems to be reducing ethics to an overly simple rubric: If legal, than ethical. If ethical, than a right to be demanded."

~ Dr. Ryan Samson Nash, Director of the Ohio State University Center for Bioethics

From a lecture entitled "Compassion and Conscience: Health, the Good Life, and the Good Death" delivered on December 3, 2013 at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary

Listen to the lecture.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Richard Hooker on Communion Without Baptism

"The grace which we have by the Holy Eucharist doth not begin but continue life.  No man therefore receiveth this sacrament before Baptism, because no dead thing is capable of nourishment.  That which groweth must of necessity first live."

~ Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity V.lxvii.1

Friday, January 10, 2014

Cherry Picking the Baptismal Covenant Promises

I am weary of the tendency in the Episcopal Church to cherry pick the Baptismal Covenant promises.  When that happens, the Baptismal Covenant often gets reduced to one line, typically: "respect the dignity of every human being."  It's as though that one line sums up the entirety of the Baptismal Covenant and nothing else really matters.

Detached from the Apostles' Creed and the foundational promise to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, the Baptismal Covenant can all too easily be used to justify bad theology and even heresy.

As I noted 5 1/2 years ago, we need all of the Baptismal Covenant.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Fr. Thomas Hopko: 55 Maxims for Christian Living

Just in time for a New Year, Orthodox priest Fr. Thomas Hopko offers practical spiritual counsel for how to live as Christians.  These maxims are worth reviewing daily as part of one's rule of life.  (Hat tip to David Jonathan Anderson at Orthodox Ruminations.)

1. Be always with Christ.

2. Pray as you can, not as you want.

3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.

4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.

5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.

6. Make some prostrations when you pray.

7. Eat good foods in moderation.

8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.

9. Spend some time in silence every day.

10. Do acts of mercy in secret.

11. Go to liturgical services regularly

12. Go to confession and communion regularly.

13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.

14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.

15. Read the scriptures regularly.

16. Read good books a little at a time.

17. Cultivate communion with the saints.

18. Be an ordinary person.

19. Be polite with everyone.

20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.

21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.

22. Exercise regularly.

23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.

24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.

25. Be faithful in little things.

26. Do your work, and then forget it.

27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.

28. Face reality.

29. Be grateful in all things.

30. Be cheerful.

31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.

32. Never bring attention to yourself.

33. Listen when people talk to you.

34. Be awake and be attentive.

35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.

36. When we speak, speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.

37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.

38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.

39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.

40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.

41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.

42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.

43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.

44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.

45. Be defined and bound by God alone.

46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.

47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.

48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.

49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.

50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.

51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.

52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.

53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.

54. When we fall, get up immediately and start over.

55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

St. Bernard of Clairvaux: "The Sweet Name of Jesus"

The sweet Name of Jesus produces in us holy thoughts, fills the soul with noble sentiments, strengthens virtue, begets good works, and nourishes pure affections. 

All spiritual food leaves the soul dry, if it contain not that penetrating oil, the Name Jesus. 

When you take your pen, write the Name Jesus. 

If you write books, let the Name of Jesus be contained in them, else they will possess no charm or attraction for me. 

You may speak, or you may reply, but if the Name of Jesus sounds not from your lips, you are without unction and without charm. 

Jesus is honey in our mouth, light in our eyes, a flame in our heart. 

This Name is the cure for all diseases of the soul. 

Are you troubled? Think but of Jesus, speak but the Name of Jesus, the clouds disperse, and peace descends anew from heaven. 

Have you fallen into sin? So that you fear death? Invoke the Name of Jesus, and you will soon feel life returning. 

No obduracy of the soul, no weakness, no coldness of heart can resist this holy Name. 

There is no heart which will not soften and open in tears at this holy Name. 

Are you surrounded by sorrow and danger? Invoke the Name of Jesus, and your fears will vanish.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Horus Ruins Christmas

Lutheran Satire pokes fun at those who seek to discredit the Biblical story of Jesus' birth by claiming that Christianity stole it from ancient pagan mythology.  Enjoy!

There's more in the article "Was Jesus a Copy of Horus, Mithras, Krishna, Dionysus and Other Pagan Gods?"

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The True Meaning of Christmas

"God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him" (1 John 4:9).