Sunday, August 26, 2007

Yesus zhiv

I recently started reading a book entitled Windows to Heaven: Introducing Icons to Protestants and Catholics (Brazos Press, 2005) by Elizabeth Zelensky and Lela Gilbert. (Zelensky is Russian Orthodox, Gilbert has a Protestant background.) It’s a very readable introduction to the theology and use of icons in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, with a particular focus on the following: Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity, the Vladimir Theotokos, Theophanes’ Transfiguration of Christ, the Dormition of the Virgin, the Sinai Pantocrator, and the Iconostasis in the Russian Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist in Washington, D.C.

I find myself drawn to the beauty and much of the theology of Orthodoxy (although I have reservations about some of the moral theology and I do not accept a male-only priesthood). So I welcome this book’s effort to correct some of the misperceptions that many Western Christians may have about icons, as well as its rich reflections on the implications of the Incarnation for Christian faith and practice.

Early in the book, I came across a passage (written by Gilbert) that especially moves me. It’s a powerful illustration of how a common faith can bridge the divisions caused by differences in language and tradition. And it puts into proper perspective the meaning that wearing a cross around our necks should have as an outward and visible sign of our faith.

Here’s the passage:

Many signs of perestroika and political change marked my 1990 trip to Kiev. Still, after hearing countless stories of religious persecution in the U.S.S.R., I was both surprised and delighted to find a tiny amber cross for sale among the clutter of tourist souvenirs in the hotel lobby. It was inexpensive, so I bought it and immediately strung it onto the gold chain I wore around my neck. I promptly forgot about it.

Two days later, I was invited by a young Russian girl to visit a nearby convent. The girl wanted to practice her English on me, and I wanted to see whatever sights I could, so off we went. It was late in the day, and as we entered the convent’s dimly lit chapel, I soon found myself alone among the innumerable icons, surrounded by bouquets of garden flowers and blazing candles.

All at once an elderly woman approached me, a tiny Orthodox nun, clearly a resident of the convent. She was emphatically telling me something in either Russian or Ukrainian. Every few words, she pointed at the little amber cross around my neck. And she didn’t look especially happy.

I shook my head. She shook hers, frowning even more deeply.

Embarrassed and wondering if I had somehow managed to cause an international incident, I scanned the sanctuary for my “interpreter.” Naturally, she was nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, the nun seemed to be repeating herself. She looked distressed. I shook my head again and shrugged. I couldn’t imagine what was bothering her so much.

Finally, she took me by the arm and led me across the chapel to a triptych, about two feet high. There was Jesus on the cross, with Mary his mother standing at his right and St. John the Baptist on his left.

I looked at the icon, at the fragrant roses that had been placed so lovingly next to it, and at the candles that represent the prayers of the faithful. All at once, I understood. The elderly nun – who, old as she was, had surely survived seventy years of Soviet atheism – did not want me to wear a cross around my neck without clearly recognizing its meaning. The icon was, for her, a glimpse into the reality of Christ’s sacrifice for humanity’s sins. The Son of God had suffered and died for her, for me, for the whole world. Did I understand what that meant?

Somewhere along the way, I had learned to say “Jesus lives” in Russian. I nodded, placed my hand over my heart, and whispered the Russian phrase: Yesus zhiv.

For the first time, a smile lit up the old woman’s face. She nodded, took both my hand in hers, squeezed them, then walked away without another word, satisfied that I knew enough about the Christian gospel to wear a cross around my neck.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Rethinking the Creed

There's an interesting panel discussion up on the BBC's "Religion and Ethics" site about the Apostles' Creed. The panel includes:

  • Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University, and Principal of Wycliffe Hall
  • Alison Webster, Director for Social Responsibility in Worcester Diocese in the Church of England, and herself a Methodist
  • Akhandahi Das, a Hindu teacher and theologian, and a regular contributor to Radio 4's Thought for the Day
  • Fergus Stokes, a psychotherapist, and formerly a Baptist minister before he rejected Christian beliefs

Plus, you can also hear the opinions of some folks in a south London neighborhood about the Creed.

Listen to it all here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bible Study

When it comes to studying and knowing the Bible, we Episcopalians have a bad reputation. Some of it is unfair, but there’s enough truth to the stereotypes to give some credence to a joke I heard several years back that goes like this:

An elderly cradle Episcopalian was invited by friends from another church to attend their Bible study. She did. After several weeks, she went up to her rector and, with great excitement, said: “Father Bob, I never knew how much of the Prayer Book is quoted in the Bible!”

Actually, that joke makes an important point. Not only do we hear several readings of scripture read in a typical Sunday worship service, but almost every page of the Prayer Book quotes, paraphrases, or alludes to specific passages of scripture. We Episcopalians take scripture so seriously that we don't just hear scripture read and interpreted in preaching. We pray scripture in our worship.

As critically important as that is, it’s no excuse for failing to regularly read and study the Bible. There’s no legitimate reason why we Episcopalians should not be as well-versed in the stories and teachings of the Bible as our Baptist and Methodist friends.

Which is why I commend an essay posted over at Episcopal Café by the Rev. Will Scott, associate pastor at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, CA, who encourages all of us in our home parishes to offer Bible study groups.

Here’s an excerpt from his essay:

The truth is that we Episcopalians could stand to learn a thing or two from our evangelical Bible thumping brothers and sisters. Even when we know quite a bit about what’s upon those pages, we are bashful about sharing our knowledge in a way that communicates strength, agility and comfort with these strange stories in which our faith is rooted. This is not to say that our approach to scripture needs to lack sophistication or nuance, but rather than castigate literalists we would do well to engage the narrative and offer more varied interpretations that are accessible to all. There are likely lots of reasons why we Episcopalians are so often accused of not knowing the Bible, some of which are completely unfair, but as the late Tammy Faye Messner said, “if life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

As Christians, we read and study the Bible, not just for information, but for formation - and for transformation. And that's a journey that takes a lifetime.

Here are some final thoughts from Marjorie J. Thompson's Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life (Westminster John Knox Press, 1995):

Scripture has been compared to a lake whose depths have never been fully plumbed. On the surface it looks like any other lake; that is, we see human words like those in other books. But when we jump into the lake and begin to swim downward, we may be unable to find the bottom. It is as if those human words become transparent to some mysterious and infinite depth we can never fully grasp. Perhaps that is why one writer can say, "Sounding in and through the human words of scripture, like the sea within a conch shell, is another reality, vaster than mind or imagination can compass. God has chosen to be bound to the words of scripture; in and through them, the Holy One comes near (pp. 19-20)."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Alister McGrath on the Atheism of Richard Dawkins

There’s an interesting interview with Anglican theologian Alister McGrath up on the National Catholic Register website. McGrath wrote a book (coauthored by Joanna Collicut McGrath) in response to scientist Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) that’s entitled The Dawkins Delusion?: Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine (InterVarsity Press, 2007).

In this interview, McGrath briefly summarizes some of his key objections to Dawkins’ militant atheism. Here are a few excerpts:

One of my concerns is that Dawkins seems very, very reluctant to concede radical theory-change in science. In other words, this is what scientists believe today but we realize that tomorrow they might think something quite different. He seems to think that science has got everything forced out and that’s it, whereas my point is that as we progress we often find ourselves abandoning earlier positions.

So my question, therefore, is: How on earth can Dawkins base his atheism on science when science itself so to speak is in motion, in transit?


… certainly I believe in the Nicene Creed, but I don’t believe it because someone has rammed it down my throat. I believe it because I’ve looked at it very closely and I believe it to be right. I am very happy to be challenged about that because I believe in being open and accountable.

But Dawkins seems to think that believing in God or believing in the Nicene Creed automatically means you’re a very dogmatic individual. I think one has to say that the process of questing for truth might actually arrive somewhere, and for me that’s a position where I’ve actually arrived.


Dawkins speaks to us as a man of faith, a man of conviction who’s very happy to critique other people’s convictions and show us what his are. So he really raises this question not of belief and unbelief but really of what convictions are right. And in this post modern age I think Dawkins is making a very important point: that all beliefs are not equally good, that we must have evidential basis, we must have rational defense. That, it seems to me, is an enormously important point to make, particularly in the Catholic tradition where you have Chesterton and, going back to Thomas Aquinas, a very strong tradition of a rational defense of faith.


Nobody can object to Christianity being critiqued, but I do object to it being misrepresented.

Read it all.

Divorce and Remarriage

It’s just my luck that in the daily Eucharistic lectionary for this Friday, the Gospel reading is Matthew 19:3-12 – one of the five passages in the New Testament that deals with divorce and remarriage. That’s not a topic that regularly pops up in sermons (I’ve never preached on it until today’s noonday service), and the relevant passages rarely surface in the Daily Office and Sunday Eucharistic lectionary cycles. It’s not the sort of thing I’m eager to preach about.

Fortunately for me, Biblical scholar Richard B. Hays’ discussion of the relevant biblical texts in his book The Moral Vision of the New Testament (HarperCollins, 1996), provides a nice summary of what the New Testament says about divorce and remarriage – and thus gave me a way to address this topic in a brief homily.

Here’s the gist of Hays’ summary (and what I said for the 3 persons attending today’s noonday Eucharist):

Relevant Texts
1. Mark 10:2-12
2. Matthew 19:3-12
3. Matthew 5:31-32
4. Luke 16:18
5. 1 Corinthians 7:10-16

New Testament Diversity
1. Mark and Luke categorically prohibit divorce.
2. Matthew and Paul allow for possible exceptions to the norm of life-long marriage in cases calling for pastoral discretion.
3. In Matthew and Luke, only the husband can initiate divorce.
4. Mark and Paul recognize the right of women to initiate divorce.
5. Matthew maintains that divorced women can only remarry as adulteresses, while men may possibly remarry without sin if their former wives were guilty of unchastity.
6. Luke excludes the possibility of remarriage after divorce.
7. Paul advises against remarriage, but acknowledges that options for remarriage may exist for Christians divorced by unbelievers.
8. Mark does not address the problem of remarriage in special circumstances.

New Testament Unity
1. Normative vision: marriage is a permanently binding commitment in which a man and a woman become “one flesh.”
2. Divorce is always an exceptional and tragic deviation from the norm.
3. Rules out no-fault divorce and serial monogamy.

Given this summary of New Testament diversity, it simply will not do to say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” when it comes to divorce and remarriage. There is no single biblical rule here. Instead, there is a moral argument internal to the New Testament canon. So it is not appropriate to make categorical judgments about particular cases of divorce and remarriage on the basis of isolated biblical texts. The entirety of the New Testament’s diverse witness must be taken into account.

This is particularly important given the fact that none of the New Testament writers address issues such as spousal abuse as a legitimate reason for divorce. In cases calling for moral and pastoral discernment, other factors may also require appeal to additional authoritative resources in tradition and reason to supplement the diverse biblical witness.

At the same time, the points that unite the New Testament’s diverse voices must also be taken seriously. In particular, the summary third point – that the New Testament rules out no-fault divorce and serial monogamy – strikes very close to home in virtually every Christian congregation. Serial monogamy has displaced lifelong unions as the norm in our culture, and in light of the high divorce rate among Christians, the Church has followed suit. Sober assessment of the Church’s accommodation to our culture ought to make all Christians who claim to take biblical authority seriously think long and hard before we throw stones at others we perceive as sinners.

I think that the New Testament texts on divorce and remarriage need to be read, not only in relation to each other, but also within the larger context of the entire biblical story of God’s grace in creation and covenant. We do well to remember that the Bible is a love story that begins with a divorce and ends with the union of heaven and earth in the New Jerusalem.

Yes, repentance is necessary. But redemption is always possible.

The Need for Creeds

There's an interview with the late Jaroslav Pelikan (about whom I've posted before) on creedal Christianity over at the "Speaking of Faith" website.

You can listen to it here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Why Liturgy?

I recently returned from the 32nd Mississippi Conference on Church Music & Liturgy. Spending almost six days immersed in music, singing in a choir, and learning about liturgy made it a fantastic continuing education experience.

On the faculty this year was the Rev. Dr. Paul Westermeyer. He’s an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and he is professor of Church Music at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. Among his books is Te Deum: The Church and Music (Augsburg Fortress, 1998).

It’s unusual to find someone who has the training and experience to be both a pastor and a church musician. But Dr. Westermeyer very gracefully and intelligently bridges these vocations in ways that address the needs and concerns of both clergy and organists/choirmasters/choristers.

In the course of his presentations, Dr. Westermeyer said one thing that really struck me (I’m paraphrasing his words from memory):

“The reason we have set forms for prayer in the Church is to protect us from each other.”

There was quite a bit of laughter in response to this statement, and for precisely that reason, I think that most of the conferees understood what he was driving at.

What are some of the dangers of worship without liturgy? What exactly do we need protection from?

I’m moving beyond (but hopefully not contradicting) Dr. Westermeyer in offering some brief reflections of my own on three interrelated dangers of worship without liturgy.

One danger of worship without liturgy is the tyranny of taste. If I’m presiding over worship and there are no set forms for what we do and say and in what order, then it’s awfully tempting for me to just do what I like. I say prayers I want to say about things I want to pray about. I read and preach on my favorite passages of scripture (neatly avoiding all of those passages that are difficult or that I’m not sure I really understand). And I allow only the music I personally like, whether the congregation knows it or not. This is tyrannical because it makes the presider’s personal likes and dislikes the ultimate arbiter of truth, beauty, and goodness.

Another danger that is related to the tyranny of taste is the cult of personality. Instead of the focus being on God, worship becomes all about the minister or the presider. If I put on a good show, if I’m entertaining and say things that people want to hear, then maybe they will love and adore me. And I’ll not only feel good about myself, but perhaps even come to believe that my role as the presider at worship is indispensable for everybody else’s relationship with God (when, in actuality, I’m consciously or unconsciously cultivating dependency on a certain kind of relationship with me rather than with God). Note, also, that this elevates the status of the presider/preacher/priest at the expense of the laity, thus slipping in through the backdoor a clericalism that undermines the equality and ministries of all the baptized.

And finally, worship without liturgy runs the risk of reducing worship to a consumer commodity – the idolatrous pursuit of entertainment and “religious experiences” as substitutes for praising and giving thanks to God. Eugene Peterson offers some illuminating comments on this in his book The Jesus Way (William B. Eerdmans, 2007). Expounding on Elijah’s prophetic denunciation of the worship of Baal as a form of harlotry, Peterson is worth quoting at length:

While the prophetic accusation of “harlotry” has a literal reference to the sacred prostitution of the Baal cult, it is also a metaphor that extends its meaning into the entire theology of worship, worship that seeks fulfillment through self-expression, worship that accepts the needs and desires and passion of the worshipers as its baseline. “Harlotry” is worship that says, “I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.” A divine will that sets itself in opposition to the sin-tastes and self-preoccupations of humanity is incomprehensible to Baalism and so is impatiently discarded. Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant, exciting – that I “get something out of it.” [p. 110]

A frequently used phrase in North American culture that is symptomatic of Baalistic tendencies in worship is “let’s have a worship experience.” It is the Baalistic perversion of “let us worship God.” It is the difference between cultivating something that makes sense to an individual, and acting in response to what makes sense to God. In a “worship experience,” a person sees something that excites him or her and goes about putting spiritual wrappings around it. A person experiences something in the realm of dependency, anxiety, love, loss, or joy and a connection is made with the ultimate. Worship becomes a movement from what I see or experience or hear, to prayer or celebration or discussion in a religious setting. Individual feelings trump the word of God. [p. 111]

Peterson’s warnings are particularly important as churches – all churches, both liturgical and non-liturgical – seek to draw people into the way of Jesus in an increasingly post-Christian, Baalistic culture. If we’re not careful, we can so accommodate ourselves to this culture in how we evangelize and conduct worship that we end up eradicating the distinctive and counter-cultural message of the Gospel.

In conclusion, I hasten to add that just because a church’s worship is liturgical, it does not necessarily follow that it is free from the dangers outlined above. For example, I’ve been to an Episcopal church where the ego of the celebrating priest was so big that he would consistently talk about himself from the pulpit rather than preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve also been to an Episcopal church where the priest was so adored by the congregation that people would literally stay away from worship if they found out that she would not be preaching on a particular Sunday.

And, of course, there’s always the danger that using set forms for prayer can hinder rather than facilitate worship if it becomes a mere matter of rote recitation from memory rather than an intentional engagement of the whole person in relation to God.

So the point is not that liturgical churches always get it right or that non-liturgical churches don’t really worship God. Hardly.

The point, rather, is that liturgy provides (imperfect, to be sure) checks and balances against the three dangers of the tyranny of taste, the cult of personality, and the reduction of worship to a consumer commodity. And for that reason, liturgy offers a means of keeping ourselves – our egos, our agendas, our likes and dislikes – in check so that there’s sufficient time and space for us to corporately keep company with God ... and be transformed.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Journey of Faith

Sermon for Proper 14, Year C
Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40

Sometimes it seems that few words have come to mean so many different things to so many different people as the word “faith.” We hear this word used all the time. Preachers, politicians, and pop stars can’t seem to get enough of it. But what does it mean?

For some, faith is exclusively about “belief.” It’s primarily a matter of the mind. It’s about giving intellectual assent to a set of propositions about God and the world.

Others talk about faith as though it has more to do with the heart than the head. For them, faith is a kind of feeling, a warm reassurance that, in spite of evidence to the contrary, everything’s alright in the world.

Others appeal to “faith” as a way to identify with those who hold the same political and moral values. And so talking about “faith” is code language for identifying with those who share the same ideals and lifestyle preferences. And perhaps it’s also a way to earn our vote.

There’s some truth in each of these ways of using the language of “faith.” But from a biblical perspective, no one of these uses is really adequate.

The letter to the Hebrews gives a helpful and famous definition of faith “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Hebrews underscores the future-oriented character of faith. Faith is about hope, and hope always looks to the future for its fulfillment. But fulfillment of what?

Here’s where Hebrews invokes an impressive roster of predecessors. These forebears in faith received promises from God that made them discontent with life as they knew it. These promises inspired them to take great risks in their search for abundant life in communion with God even when everything in their experience cried out that such a life can never be found. This is faith, not as intellectual belief, warm fuzzy feelings, or club membership. This is faith as trust in God: trust in God’s promises made in the past and trust that God will fulfill those promises in the future. And so Biblical faith lives in the tensions between past promises and future fulfillment.

There’s no better exemplar of this biblical understanding of faith than Abraham. You’ll recall that on several occasions, God promises to make Abraham’s descendants as plentiful as the stars in the sky and as numerous as the sand on the seashore. God promises to make Abraham’s descendants a great nation, a nation through which all the peoples of the earth will be blessed. All Abraham has to do is leave his country and kindred – everything and everyone he’s ever known – and head out for the land of Canaan.

Incredibly, Abraham obeys God. As Hebrews puts it, Abraham “set out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). It was a daring and courageous act of trust in God’s promises.

But there was a problem. Abraham and his wife Sarah were in their 70s with no children. How, then, could God’s promise to Abraham possibly be fulfilled?

In the rest of the story, we find out that God wasn’t kidding when he told Abraham and Sarah that nothing is too hard for the Lord (cf. Genesis 18:14). If God can create everything that is out of nothing, then it’s no problem for God to insure that Sarah gets pregnant and gives birth to a son named Isaac. That much of God’s promise comes true.

But there’s a deeper point made in the letter to the Hebrews that we don’t find in the book of Genesis. While Abraham and Sarah see the partial fulfillment of God’s promises, they never experience the final consummation. They never get to see their descendants made into a covenant people when Moses receives the Law from God on Mount Sinai. They don’t get to see Israel as a regional superpower under the leadership of kings like David and Solomon. They don’t get to experience God’s triumph over evil in the liberation of the Israelites from slavery and the return of the exiles from Babylon.

To this very day, God’s promises to Abraham still await final fulfillment. For even though Israel has been a state since 1948, the ensuing years have proven that far from being received as a blessing, Israel’s enemies abound and continue plotting her violent destruction. And to be fair, just as in the days of the great prophets, the modern state of Israel has not always acted in ways that live up to the ethical ideals of the Jewish faith.

What does it take to survive – much less to flourish – under such conditions? What does it take to come to terms with the tensions and ambiguities and uncertainties of living between past promises and future fulfillment?

It sounds almost trite to say that it takes faith. But that is the answer.

It takes faith, not merely faith as a mental exercise or the indulgence of warm, fuzzy feelings. No, living into our identity as God’s people in a hostile world and being willing to repent when we get it wrong takes a kind of faith that can only be described as radical trust. It’s trusting in a God who – despite all appearances to the contrary – remains faithful to the covenant promises.

It’s the kind of faith that keeps persons diagnosed with cancer and other diseases in the fight for their lives. It’s the kind of faith that pulls a family closer together in the wake of an unexpected loss. It’s the kind of faith that motivates a spouse to seek help for a struggling marriage. It’s the kind of faith that keeps us sharing our time, talents, and treasure in Church whose future in the world-wide Communion remains uncertain. It’s the kind of faith that keeps us committed to the path of peace even in a time of war. It’s the kind of faith we see in these words scrawled on a cellar wall in Cologne, Germany by Jews hiding from the Nazis:

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.

I believe in love even when I do not feel it.

I believe in God even when God is silent.

In so many ways, each of our life stories is similar to Abraham’s story. We, too, are called by God to take the journey of a lifetime. Baptized into Christ, we set out on the journey of leaving behind all that binds us to the powers of fear, sin, sickness, and death. We’re headed for what Hebrews calls the “better country” – God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven (11:16). It’s a country where God’s promises to eradicate pain, grief, and death find their final consummation (cf. Rev. 21:1-4).

At many points along the way, we will feel like Abraham. We won’t really know where we’re going or how we’re going to get there. Sometimes we won’t be able to see the forest of God’s ultimate purposes for the trees of our temporary troubles. We may even question why we ever set out on this journey of faith to begin with.

But no matter where we find ourselves along the way, God’s promises still stand.

The God who speaks to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” continues to love us (Jeremiah 31:3). God proves that this love includes not just Israel but the whole world by giving His only Son to die so that we may live (cf. John 3:16). And so the God who promises Abraham a future promises one to us, as well.

As much as we may sometimes feel like we don’t where we’re going or how to overcome our problems, our faith assures us that Jesus Christ is the Way. Jesus is the Way to the Truth. And Jesus is the Way to the Life.

It's true that we don’t know when we’ll reach our destination in the coming kingdom of God. But we do know what Jesus says to reassure us: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). And coming from Jesus, we know that those are words we can trust.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Reformed Catholicism: The Via Media Church

Browsing around the library at our diocesan conference center the other day, I came across an interesting old book. Written by John Henry Hopkins, the Rector Emeritus of the Church of the Redeemer in Chicago and published in 1941, it has the rather dry title of Practical Confirmation Instructions: Thirteen Lectures (Morehouse-Gorham, 1941). [I’m not sure if this Hopkins is related to the John Henry Hopkins (1792-1868) who was the 8th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.]

Hopkins also wrote a life of his wife, Marie Moulton Graves Hopkins, which you can read here.

The dry title notwithstanding, Hopkins’ Practical Confirmation Instructions is worth pondering – even if parts of it sound abrasive to our 21st Century ears (I think, for example, that his use of the language of “Romanism” and “Romish” is problematic and might be offensive to Roman Catholics). In particular, some of the claims he makes about the character of the Episcopal Church that differentiate it from Roman Catholicism and from Protestantism are important, if not always worded with ecumenical sensitivity. I think that Hopkins wants to say that, as part of the Anglican tradition, the Episcopal Church is the Catholic Church – not Roman Catholic, but not Protestant, either. Rather, we are a genuine via media between the two.

In short, Anglicanism is a distinctive tradition that upholds the ancient catholic faith. The Episcopal Church thus belongs to something much bigger and more ancient than itself.

Hopkins might not agree, but if we were to call ourselves something other than Episcopalians, perhaps we could call ourselves Reformed Catholics.

Here are some excerpts from Practical Confirmation Instructions (emphasis is in the original text).


Page 59:
One point about this lecture should be carefully guarded, namely that it is given not in any unkind or supercilious criticism of other kinds of Christians, whether they be Protestants or Romanists, but simply as plain, important facts which all true Church people ought to know, even if some of these facts are regrettable, as they certainly are.

Page 67:
And, to repeat, this study must be carried on in a spirit of friendliness and humility, not at all in that of arrogance and snippy superiority. The adults will understand that there are two sides to every quarrel, and that much fault is to be found with our ancestors of the historic Church for having allowed the conditions which brought on the Protestant schism in the Church of England.

Pages 67- 68:
This supplement … shows –
1. that the Church of England and, therefore, our own American “Episcopal” Church, her daughter, both have the primitive Faith of early, original, world-wide (Catholic), Christendom;
2. that No new Church of England was “founded” at the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century;
3. how the three branches of the Catholic Church, namely, the English, the Greek or Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Russian Church, and the Romans agree;
4. that the English Church did not separate from the Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation, but only purified herself from the accretions of Romanism, and went back to its original Catholic Faith;
5. that the Romanized branch as added to the primitive Faith, by itself, and therefore unlawfully, the features which constitute “Romanism” as distinguished from Catholicism;
6. the dates of the Romish Councils in Europe that are not accepted by the other branches of the Catholic Church, but which have unlawfully set forth the main additions to the original Catholic Faith which, to repeat, constitute “Romanism” as distinguished from Catholicism.

Pages 73-76:
Comparing the Prayer Book branch of the Holy Catholic Church with some of the Protestant communions started during or since the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century, we note as follows:

1. While the Church of England, and, therefore, our own American Church, her “daughter,” maintain:

a. The ancient Ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons;
b. Clings to the ancient Faith, Sacraments and Liturgy;
c. Continues the old historical Church in the British Isles;
d. Dates back to Pentecost, fifty days after Christ’s Resurrection.

The other religious groups which are non-Roman, a few of which are mentioned here, have only a recent origin, claim only human founders, often name themselves after human leaders, and all reject some or more of the ancient, original, Biblical, world-wide Faith and Order of the Church.

Some reject a good deal. Others reject not so much.

2. Consider, therefore:
a. The Church. She was founded by the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, He Himself being “the Chief Cornerstone,” A.D. 33. She was introduced into England certainly in the Second Christian Century, and tradition says in the First Century.
b. The Congregationalist, also called “Independents.” Also called “Brownists.” Founded by Robert Brown, and introduced into England as a separate group or denomination in 1568.
c. The Baptists, originally called “Anabaptists.” Founded by a German minister in 1523, and introduced into England in 1633.
d. The Quakers, or Friends. Founded by George Fox in England, in 1644.
e. The Presbyterians. Three kinds: German, founded by Martin Luther; French, founded by John Calvin; and Scottish, founded by John Knox, in the years 1520 to 1561. Introduced into England as a denomination in 1649.
f. The Wesleyans or Methodists. Founded by John Wesley’s followers in England, in 1795. John Wesley was a wonderful man. He was a priest in the Church of England. He died in 1791. Before he died, he said, “I live and die a member of the Church of England.” He begged his followers not to leave the Church of England. They did so within five years after his death.

3. There are more than 175 different Protestant denominations of Christians in the United States at present, the great majority of them having come into existence since A.D. 1800. Some have been started since 1850. All of them have, of course, some of the original Christian religion in their teachings. Some have more, some less, none of them have it all, in its primitive and Catholic completeness.

In God’s mysterious Providence, we of the Prayer Book have it all. We should struggle to deserve it. We should greatly desire to share it and spread it.

4. At present we are called the Protestant Episcopal Church. [Note: The General Convention voted in 1967 to add a preamble to the Constitution that says, “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church) …”] That is our legal title. It is found on the title page of the Prayer Book. We are the lineal daughter of the Church of England, inheriting all of her gifts, history, and credentials.

Our present title is misleading, unless carefully understood.

It does not mean that we are “one of the Protestant denominations started at the Reformation.”

It means that we “protest” against the Roman additions to the Catholic Faith set forth in the Prayer Book, but it also can and should mean that we “protest” against the denominational subtractions from that complete Faith, which are found all through the 175 Protestant denominations.

These “protests” are only incidental. We do not exist chiefly to protest.

They are incidental to our position, as we hold firmly the whole Faith of the whole ancient, original, world-wide, Catholic Church.

Of course we honor all of the devotional life and active discipleship of our Lord shown by the earnest members of any and all of these groups, but we do not share their additions or subtractions.

Our title is thus confusing, and should be carefully understood.

It will probably be changed some day for one which will clearly express our historical position and credentials as the American Branch of the Holy Catholic Church.

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Our present title is “Protestant Episcopal,” meaning that we “protest” against both Roman additions to and Protestant subtractions from the original, universal Catholic Faith. We will probably change this title some day for one stating clearly our world-wide or Catholic inheritance.

Our “Mother Church,” the Church of England, was not founded by Henry VIII. She was founded by our Lord Jesus Christ and God the Holy Spirit, on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:1, 2), fifty days after our Lord’s Resurrection.

Our most practical name is “the Church,” or “the American Church.” Of course, we are in fact “the American Catholic Church.”