Sunday, June 29, 2008

Welcoming Christ

7th Sunday after Pentecost
RCL, Year A, Proper 8: Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42

Some things simply cannot be done alone. Just imagine trying to play baseball on your own. Or facilitating a Sunday school class in an empty room. Or performing an Allman Brothers blues tune on just the bass guitar. We can’t do this stuff by ourselves. We need other people to get the job done.

The same thing is true when it comes to the work of proclaiming and building the coming Kingdom of God. It’s too much for any one person. Even Jesus can’t do it alone. So in the verses preceding today’s Gospel reading, he gathers his apprentices – the 12 disciples – and commissions them to do the work he’s been doing: proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand; cure the sick; raise the dead; cleanse the lepers; cast out demons. Jesus gives the disciples his very own authority. So when persons accept the disciples into their homes and when they embrace the good news of the kingdom they are welcoming and embracing Jesus himself. And by welcoming Jesus, they welcome God, the One who sent Jesus.

The differences between 21st Century Jackson and 1st Century Palestine are enormous. But there is one common denominator that we share with the 1st Century church for which Matthew was writing: Baptism. Regardless of where or when we live, Baptism makes us heralds of the Kingdom of God and ambassadors for Jesus Christ. It charges us with representing Jesus in our words and deeds among our co-workers and friends, in our homes and in our communities, in our church, in how we vote, and in how we spend our time and our money. In Baptism, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be extensions of Jesus himself. Like the twelve apostles, we have the authority to do the things that Jesus did – things announcing that a new order of peace and justice is coming into the world – God’s order that turns the world’s taken-for-granted, commonsense acceptance of coercive power and unjust wealth on their heads in favor of the little ones for whom even a drink of cold water is like winning the lottery. We are the ones charged with proclaiming and acting on the revolutionary vision of the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, a vision in which the proud are scattered in their conceit, the mighty cast down from their thrones, the lowly lifted up, the hungry filled with good things, and the rich sent away empty.

This may not sound like good news to the powerful and the prestigious. But for anyone who longs for justice, who thirsts for spirituality, and who hungers for relationships that give genuine meaning, purpose, and direction to life, this is good news, indeed. The Gospel is a clear message that in Christ, God desires to save and transform sinners and to embrace the lost and the lonely, the powerless and the poor, the marginalized and the voiceless, the sick and the seekers.

If that’s really what God desires – and the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ underscore with power and passion that it truly is – then it’s critically important that the Church do what every dismissal from the liturgy exhorts us to do: go in peace to love and serve the Lord. There’s a mission field right in our backyards. Right here in Jackson there are hungry stomachs and hungry souls crying out for real food, the kind of food that God in Christ gives us in abundance. We can afford to be generous with it, because the more we give it away, the more we receive.

This is also why it’s crucial that we welcome and embrace every single person who walks through the doors of this Cathedral parish, befriending them, inviting them to wade more deeply into the waters of our common life, and showing them in our words and especially in our deeds the saving, transforming love of God revealed in Jesus Christ so that they, too, may follow him as Lord and Savior. That’s the work of being a missionary and an evangelist, work we voluntarily commit to doing every time we renew the Baptismal Covenant. And it’s really not as difficult as it might sound. Let me share a couple of my own personal experiences to illustrate.

Many years ago, I was a homesick college student starting a year abroad at the University of Exeter in England. At that time, my connection to the Church was tenuous at best. But my loneliness pushed me to seek a connection with God and with other people. And in spite of my spiritual distance, I still knew in my bones that somehow, the Church could help me make those connections I so deeply longed for. So one evening I attended a meeting of one of the University’s Christian groups – sort of their equivalent of Canterbury Club, for those of you familiar with our diocesan college campus ministries. From the time that I arrived until the end of the meeting, not a single person acknowledged my presence. There were no hellos or handshakes, not even so much as eye contact and a nod saying, “I see that you’re here.” I cannot begin to tell you how that felt. It was devastating. Needless to say, I never returned.

Fast forward several years later to Nashville, TN. After drifting spiritually for some time, I finally was looking for a church to belong to, a place to call home. I found it at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church. The rector at that time was Lisa Hunt, a gregarious, energetic, and caring woman who preached outstanding sermons. She was so gifted as a preacher that she didn’t even need notes – she just stood at the top of the chancel steps, weaving the scripture readings of the day with contemporary needs and concerns into a beautiful tapestry that inspired us all to live lives of deeper, more committed discipleship. And yet, after several years of being fed by her sermons, to this day I cannot tell you what any one of them was about.

What I do remember with absolutely crystal clear clarity was what happened the very first time I walked up the steps and into the nave of St. Ann’s. I was met by an elderly couple: Frank and Isabella. Looking me in the eye, they introduced themselves while shaking my hand. They spoke kindly and warmly to me as they told me how happy they were to meet me. And then they escorted me to a pew.

Frank and Isabella didn’t know me from Adam. For all they knew, I could have been a troublemaker, or a murderer, or (even worse in some people’s eyes) a graduate student in religion at Vanderbilt. And yet, they still gave me one of the most authentic welcomings that I’ve ever experienced.

I can’t remember the specifics of Lisa’s wonderful sermons, but I’ll never forget Frank and Isabella. And there’s no doubt in my mind that how they, as the greeters assigned for that Sunday, responded to my arrival as a visitor, played a significant role in my impression – not just of St. Ann’s – but also of what it might mean to become an Episcopal Christian. And fortunately for me, the worshipers in the nave picked up where Frank and Isabella left off, welcoming me, inviting me to meet others and to attend the coffee hour, and encouraging me to stick my toe in the waters of possibly becoming more involved in the fellowship and ministries of a parish church serving the poor and marginalized in east Nashville. And it worked.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Mt 10:40). Those words of Jesus are not only about what it means when people accept our outreach and evangelism work out in the world. They’re also about what it means when we who belong to St. Andrew’s welcome visitors who join us for worship and for other activities. Our visitors are not only our honored guests. They are also the presence of Christ among us. How we welcome them is how we welcome Christ. And how we welcome Christ says everything about how truly committed we are to bearing witness in word and deed to the transforming vision of God’s kingdom of peace and justice.

We can’t do that all by ourselves. We need each other. And we need the presence of Christ in the poor and needy, and among our honored guests, to remind us of why we exist as the Church in the first place: to be Kingdom-bearers whose words and example boldly proclaim the Good News of God’s redeeming and transforming love in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Where The Streets Have No Name

The video accompanying this U2 song is very powerful. It can't be posted directly on this blog, but you can watch it here. I think it shows the Gospel of Jesus Christ in action very well, indeed.

How Not to Be a Heretic

Jason Scully's review of Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why It Matters What Christians Believe is intriguing and makes me want to read this book. Here's an excerpt from the review:

When Jesus says, "The Father is greater than I," are we supposed to think that he is inferior to the Father? Does Jesus' prayer, "Not my will but yours be done," imply that Jesus is subordinate? Today, and throughout history, some people have concluded from such statements that Jesus is not fully God. In the fourth century, the Council of Nicaea condemned the teachings of Arius, a priest who had tried to make sense out of these perplexing questions by claiming that Jesus was a created being inferior to God. Heresies and How to Avoid Them: Why It Matters What Christians Believe (Hendrickson, 2007), a collection of essays edited by Ben Quash (professor of Christianity and the Arts at Kings College) and Michael Ward (chaplain at Peterhouse College in Cambridge), attempts to prevent modern Christians from stumbling upon ancient heresies by showing how the church dealt with these problems in the past.

The book is based on a series of sermons on the contemporary relevance of ancient Christian debates. Each chapter covers a different heresy on either the person of Christ, the nature of the church, or Christian living. Topics range from Docetism (the belief that Jesus only appears human) to Donatism (the belief that Christian ministers need to be flawless in order to administer the sacraments).

The contributors, who include both pastors and scholars, keep the tone practical by focusing on the lasting implications of each heresy covered. So, for example, we learn more about the dangers that the heresy of Arianism presents to modern Christians than we do about Arius himself and his condemnation. Each chapter ends with advice on how to avoid the contemporary forms of heresy. Suggestions range from participating attentively in worship to reconsidering the way one thinks about salvation.

According to the contributors, heresy is attractive because it appears to solve a specific problem, but it does so at the expense of the coherence of the Christian faith. Orthodoxy, on the other hand, protects the faith in its entirety. Each new heresy about the person of Christ, the church, or Christian living has caused the church to further refine its understanding of Christ's saving work.

A guiding principle of this book is that heretics are not villains but genuine truth-seekers. Gone is the usual list of theological errors and reasons to reject them. Instead, each essay begins with a sympathetic presentation of the heretic's position. According to Ben Quash, who authored the prologue, we "have reason to be grateful to heresies because they have forced us to think our belief out more deeply and thoroughly." By understanding the logic and motivation behind heresies, we can more fully appreciate the orthodox answers.

Remembering 'The Ox'

Yesterday marks the 6th anniversary of the untimely death of John Entwistle (October 9, 1944 - June 27, 2002), bass player for The Who. Nicknamed "The Ox" and "Thunderfingers," and named by Guitar Magazine in 2000 as "Bassist of the Millennium," Entwistle is widely regarded as one of the greatest, and certainly most influential, bass guitarists in rock and roll history.

In the clip below, you can get a feel for his bass work by listening to John in an isolated audio track on "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Jumping ahead 22 years to a Who concert in 2000, John thunders out a bass solo for the song "5:15."

Also, check out these tributes to 'The Ox':

Find out more about John Entwistle here and here. And check out the John Entwistle Foundation which provides music education for underserved children.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cookie Monster Sets the Record Straight

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Cookie Monster
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Okay, so this doesn't have anything directly to do with the sorts of things I usually post about. But I can't resist sharing Cookie Monster's recent appearance on "The Colbert Report."

According to Stephen Colbert, "It's an outrage that cookies are no longer the number one snack for children under six. Fruit is un-American." And Colbert blames Cookie Monster because he now balances his cookie consumption with "anytime food" - fruit. Watch and see how Cookie Monster sets the record straight.

The Power of Negative Thinking

When Jesus calls on us to repent, He is calling on us to say no to sin because we have said yes to God in Christ Jesus. We hear a lot today about the power of positive thinking. Let me tell you one thing: There is just as much power in negative thinking, especially when it is directed against sin and evil. Negative thinking is the ability to say no to evil and wrong.

Anthony M. Coniaris

Traces of the Trade

Last night I watched a powerful documentary film about slavery and its ongoing legacy in America. It aired on PBS' P.O.V. and is entitled Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North. Here's an excerpt of the film's synopsis from the P.O.V. website:

Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North is a unique and disturbing journey of discovery into the history and "living consequences" of one of the United States' most shameful episodes — slavery. In this bicentennial year of the U.S. abolition of the slave trade, one might think the tragedy of African slavery in the Americas has been exhaustively told. Katrina Browne thought the same, until she discovered that her slave-trading ancestors from Rhode Island were not an aberration. Rather, they were just the most prominent actors in the North's vast complicity in slavery, buried in myths of Northern innocence.

Browne — a direct descendant of Mark Anthony DeWolf, the first slaver in the family — took the unusual step of writing to 200 descendants, inviting them to journey with her from Rhode Island to Ghana to Cuba and back, recapitulating the Triangle Trade that made the DeWolfs the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history. Nine relatives signed up. Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North is Browne's spellbinding account of the journey that resulted.

In addition to exploding the myth of Northern innocence, the film also touches on the Episcopal Church's complicity in the slave trade.

I haven't yet checked to see when the film will air again, but in the meantime, you can watch a trailer for Traces of the Trade at the film's website.

You can read an excerpt from the book Inheriting the Trade by Tom DeWolf.

And you can watch an interview with the filmmaker Katrina Browne, and also read a P.O.V. interview with her.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thomas Merton on Salvation

In the following reflections, Trappist monk Thomas Merton reminds us that salvation is not merely a one-time event in the past, but also an ongoing way of life.


What every man looks for in life is his own salvation and the salvation of the men he lives with. By salvation I mean first of all the full discovery of who he himself really is. Then I mean something of the fulfillment of his own God-given powers, in the love of others and of God. I mean also the discovery that he cannot find himself in himself alone, but that he must find himself in and through others. Ultimately, these propositions are summed up in two lines of the Gospel: “If any man would save his life, he must lose it,” and, “Love one another as I have loved you.” It is also contained in another saying from St. Paul: “We are all members one of another.”

The salvation I speak of is not merely a subjective, psychological thing – a self-realization in the order of nature. It is an objective and mystical reality – the finding of ourselves in Christ, in the Spirit, or, if you prefer, in the supernatural order. This includes and sublimates and perfects the natural self-realization which it to some extent presupposes, and usually effects, and always transcends. Therefore this discovery of ourselves is always a losing of ourselves – a death and a resurrection. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The discovery of ourselves in God, and of God in ourselves, by a charity that also finds all other men in God with ourselves is, therefore, not the discovery of ourselves but of Christ. First of all, it is the realization that “I live now not I but Christ liveth in me,” and secondly it is the penetration of that tremendous mystery which St. Paul sketched out boldly – and darkly – in his great Epistles: the mystery of the recapitulation, the summing up of all in Christ. It is to see the world in Christ, its beginning and its end. To see all things coming forth from God in the Logos Who becomes incarnate and descends into the lowest depths of His own creation and gathers all to Himself in order to restore it finally to the Father at the end of time. To find “ourselves” then is to find not only our poor, limited, perplexed souls, but to find the power of God that raised Christ from the dead and “built us together in Him unto a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22).

This discovery of Christ is never genuine if it is nothing but a flight from ourselves. On the contrary, it cannot be an escape. It must be a fulfillment. I cannot discover God in myself and myself in Him unless I have the courage to face myself exactly as I am, with all my limitations, and to accept others as they are, with all their limitations. The religious answer is not religious if it is not fully real. Evasion is the answer of superstition.

This matter of “salvation” is, when seen intuitively, a very simple thing. But when we analyze it, it turns into a complex tangle of paradoxes. We become ourselves by dying to ourselves. We gain only what we give up, and if we give up everything we gain everything. We cannot find ourselves within ourselves, but only in others, yet at the same time before we can go out to others we must first find ourselves. We must forget ourselves in order to truly become conscious of who we are. The best way to love ourselves it to love others, yet we cannot love others unless we love ourselves since it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” But if we love ourselves in the wrong way, we become incapable of loving anybody else. And indeed, when we love ourselves wrongly we hate ourselves; if we hate ourselves we cannot help hating others. Yet there is a sense in which we must hate others and leave them in order to find God. Jesus said: “If any man come to me and hate not his father and his mother … yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciples” (Luke 14:26). As for this “finding” of God, we cannot even look for Him unless we have already found Him, and we cannot find Him unless he has first found us. We cannot begin to seek Him without a special gift of His grace, yet if we wait for grace to move us, before beginning to seek Him, we will probably never begin.

The only effective answer to the problem of salvation must therefore be to reach out to embrace both extremes of a contradiction at the same time. Hence that answer must be supernatural.

No Man is an Island (1955)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cartesian Anxiety and the Search for Certainty

Just for fun, I’m publishing this section of a much longer paper I wrote back in my graduate school days. Re-reading it, I am struck by the way in which Descartes’ “Cartesian anxiety” and the search for certainty is alive and well, perhaps above all in the Church.

Writing around the time of Galileo’s skirmishes with the Inquisition, René Descartes (1596-1650) appropriated the scientific concern for method and its reliance upon mathematics for philosophy. In his Discourse on Method (1637), Descartes discloses his lifelong search for “clear and positive” knowledge, a search that led him through the study of classical languages and literature to theology and philosophy, and finally to the resolution to adhere to “the plumb-line of reason” alone [Discourse on Method and The Meditations, translated by F. E. Sutcliffe (Penguin Books, 1968), pp. 29 & 37]. Early in life, Descartes was fascinated by mathematics “because of the certainty and self-evidence of its reasonings” [ibid., p. 31]. But no such apodictic knowledge could be found in theology and philosophy. Descartes prudently avoids detailed discussion of the limitations of theology, preferring instead to confess his own inability adequately to understand revelation.

He does, however, launch a frontal attack on philosophy. In particular, Descartes faults philosophy for its speculative diversity. Instead of securing certain knowledge (episteme), philosophy tends to exalt mere opinion (doxa) to a privileged epistemological status it cannot possibly maintain. Since no two philosophers reach agreement with each other, a mere glance at the history of philosophy suffices to prove that it has failed to provide self-evident truths. The philosophers’ speculative endeavors are just so many “magnificent palaces built on nothing but sand and mud” [p. 31]. Descartes concludes that such “shifting foundations” can never prove adequate to the task of obtaining certainty [p. 32]. So if one cannot rely upon the authority of philosophy or theology (and, by implication, the Church) to obtain secure, objective knowledge, how can anyone ever know anything with certainty?

Descartes’ answer consists in the attempt properly to ground knowledge in a “true method” [p. 40]. Such a method must take its point of departure in the very state of uncertainty in which Descartes finds himself as he reviews the inadequacies of philosophy and theology. And so Descartes begins with the proposition, “I doubt.” He turns this proposition into a rigorous ascetic program of self-denial. Maintaining doubt as a regulative methodological principle entails denying the temptation to indulge in unwarranted beliefs as though they constitute knowledge.

In principle, nothing is exempt from radical doubt. Descartes writes that this methodological starting point means “reject[ing] as being absolutely false everything in which I could suppose the slightest reason for doubt” [p. 53; emphasis added]. The outcome of methodically subjecting everything to doubt, Descartes finds, is the realization that there is someone doubting. Descartes cannot doubt this without self-contradiction. Hence, he adopts the proposition “I think, therefore I am” as “the first principle” from which all other certain knowledge may be deduced [pp. 53 & 54; Descartes’ emphasis]. This proposition merits the status of a first principle because it meets the criteria of knowledge for Descartes: it is clear and distinct, and thus beyond doubt.

Descartes’ rejection of the external authorities of Church teachings and scholarly opinions as determinative of knowledge leads him to turn to his own subjectivity as the locus of authority. Through the introspective gaze of radical doubt, he uncovers the first principle that allows him, in accordance with the model of mathematical demonstration, to deduce the further certainties of thinking, being, and by extension, the existence of God. Each subsequent step follows carefully and logically from the preceding step. If the first step in the chain of reasoning is apodictically certain, then the conclusions are likewise apodictically certain. So the chain of reasoning as a whole is only as strong as the first link in the chain. Only that first link guarantees secure foundations for knowledge.

The very strength of Descartes’ demonstrative method embodies its weakness. This accounts for why the American pragmatic philosopher Richard J. Bernstein detects what he calls a “Cartesian Anxiety” in Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy [Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis (University of Philadelphia Press, 1988), p. 16]. Bernstein observes that Descartes’ quest for certainty embodies an irresolvable tension. On the one hand, Descartes’ arguments revel in the confidence of someone who has, indeed, found grounds for certainty. But on the other hand, his prose style and rhetoric imply that the dogs of radical doubt unleashed by the flight from authority never seem to stop nipping at the philosopher’s heels. Bernstein is worth quoting at length on the lingering anxiety at the heart of Descartes’ method:

If we practice these spiritual exercises earnestly, as Descartes urges us to do, if we follow the precarious stages of this journey without losing our way, then we discover that this is a journey that is at once terrifying and liberating, culminating in the calm reassurance that although we are eminently fallible and subject to all sorts of contingencies, we can rest secure in the deepened self-knowledge that we are creatures of a beneficent God who has created us in his image. The terrifying quality of the journey is reflected in the allusions to madness, darkness, the dread of waking from a self-deceptive dream world, the fear of having “all of a sudden fallen into a very deep water” where “I can neither make certain of setting my feet on the bottom, nor can I swim and so support myself on the surface,” and the anxiety of imagining that I may be nothing more than a plaything of an all-powerful demon. ... With a chilling clarity Descartes leads us with an apparent and ineluctable necessity to a grand and seductive Either/Or. Either there is some support for our being, a fixed foundation for our knowledge, or we cannot escape the forces of darkness that envelop us with madness, with intellectual and moral chaos [pp. 17 & 18].

Bernstein argues that Descartes never fully overcomes this anxiety. In the absence of any other authority, the correct method for grounding knowledge should insure the integrity and soundness of inquiry by exorcising the demonic side of radical doubt. But perhaps the demons are only held in check. If the first link in the chain of reasoning and the following steps are certain, then the conclusion carries more authority than all the combined voices that have ever uttered mere opinions. The true method keeps the demons of radical doubt on a leash so that they cannot turn on their master, overpowering the rational faculties and casting the mind into the abyss. But doubt’s radical character can always raise the lingering uncertainty of having made a mistake somewhere along the chain of reasoning, or even (God forbid!) at the very outset.

Given the time in which Descartes wrote, a period in which the safest way to reason publicly about truth meant starting with dogmas and the existence of God, his method of starting with radical doubt and concluding with God was revolutionary. Even if subsequent thinkers found his method problematic, Descartes had at least raised the possibility that one could legitimately doubt inherited traditions and still achieve the certainty of knowledge. Indeed, Descartes bequeathed to subsequent generations the permission to doubt. Instead of conventional authorities, the “natural light of our understanding,” or the exercise of internal reason, would suffice [Descartes, p. 34]. And so Descartes believed that he had reconciled the mathematical mode of demonstration so central to the new science with belief in the soul and in God.

In company with Francis Bacon, his empiricist counterpart in England, Descartes held that the proper method of inquiry would guarantee genuine knowledge and truth. Significantly, however, Descartes’ methodological revolution does not extend to his basic conception of truth. He still views truth in classical terms. Truth is simple. Truth is perfect. Truth forms a unity. Like the conclusion of a geometrical proof, truth is self-authenticating. Thus, Descartes declares that “as there is only one truth of each thing, whoever finds it knows as much about the thing as there is to be known” [p. 43]. And so the Cartesian project shifts the locus of authority away from external authorities to the internal authority of human reason. Instead of truth being imposed from without, truth is imposed from within by the individual’s use of reason.

Viewed through the lenses of mathematics’ aesthetic qualities of elegance and simplicity, this conception of truth complements and provides rational grounding for Descartes’ acceptance of the classical Simplicity Doctrine of God. This doctrine holds that God’s existence and God’s essence form a unity such that God does not merely possess attributes such as goodness, mercy, justice, love, etc.; God is good, merciful, just, loving, etc. Furthermore, all of these properties form a unity. Thus, God always acts with one will for the good of human beings. Descartes’ reliance upon a mathematical model of deductive reasoning confirms the Simplicity Doctrine, which in turn reaffirms that God cannot deceive human beings like some kind of demon.[1]

The difference between Descartes and the classical view is that now human beings must provide unassailable evidence for this doctrine on their own without recourse to authorities external to the individual’s reason. This includes appeals to official doctrine and to scripture (although Descartes would probably insist that his views do not contradict these authorities). Inadvertently, this opens the door to the possibility that if the powers of human reason cannot meet the task of providing this evidence, then belief in such a God will be swept away beneath the demonic currents of unmitigated doubt and skepticism, drowning human beings in the sea of uncertainty.

[1] Descartes’ acceptance of the Simplicity Doctrine is clearly stated in Meditations on First Philosophy when he writes: “ … the unity, simplicity, or inseparability of all the properties of God, is one of the principal perfections that I conceive to be in him” [p. 129]. Of course, it is a different issue as to whether or not Descartes’ God, affinities with classical theism aside, merits worship or warrants any confession of faith.

Archbishop of Canterbury's Reflections on the Church and the Episcopate

Below is a message from Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Dean and Community of St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary gathered for a conference. “Rome, Constantinople, and Canterbury: Mother Churches?” was the title of the conference held June 4-8 at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Westchester County, N.Y., sponsored by the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius to celebrate the 80th anniversary of its founding in Great Britain to work and pray for greater understanding and cooperation between Anglican and Orthodox Christians. In his message, Williams offers some brief but thoughtful reflections on the meaning of the Church and the role of the episcopate.


The Archbishop is Patron of the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius and wrote the following message for those attending the conference in New York in June '08:

Dear Friends in Christ:

I very much regret that I shall not be able to join you for this conference; its subject matter could hardly be more timely, and I hope that your discussions will be creative in a way that can help take forward the whole Church's understanding of this many-layered issue.

At the most basic level, every local church has a 'mother church' except for Jerusalem, where the Risen Jesus first directly establishes the company of witnesses to his resurrection and pours out upon them the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. From this point on, the church's mission moves outwards, and, as we see in St Paul's epistles, local congregations are equipped by the apostles with the essentials of belief and practice that allow them in turn to become in their own context communities of witness to the Risen Christ.

And one consequence of this is something to which St Paul more than once makes appeal: the life of the local congregation is founded on something received – not discovered or invented. The assembly of Christ's people, Christ's Body, in this place is the result of the active communication of tradition, in its widest and fullest sense (I Cor. 15). For a local church to come into being is for a community to arise that is part of a continuous stream of life being shared.

This may serve as a corrective to the idea that somehow each and every local church is complete and self-sufficient in a narrow and exclusive way. Understandably, the ecclesiology of recent decades, especially among those influenced by the brilliant work of Orthodox thinkers like Nicholas Afanasiev and John Zizioulas, has positioned itself in strong reaction against centralised models of ecclesial life and authority, against a picture of ecclesial unity that is ultimately somewhat secular – the unified organisation controlled from one focal point.

But the pendulum has swung too far if this means we lose sight of the interdependence of local churches and their bishops. The life of the local churches is constituted not only by internal communion, but by the giving and receiving of the gift of the Gospel between them and by the grateful recognition of each other as gifted by Christ to minister his reality to each other (as St Paul insists in II Corinthians). And the fundamental acknowledgement of having received the Gospel from elsewhere is a reminder to each and every local church of this dimension of its life, this gratitude for having heard and received and for being still involved in the economy of giving and receiving in catholic fellowship.

Hence the relation of local churches to a 'mother church' or a 'primatial church' is not a purely antiquarian matter. From very early in the church's history, certain local churches have been recognised as having had a distinctive generative importance. In the ancient Welsh and Irish churches, the great monastic houses from which missions went out were the mother churches for the 'family' of the saint who had founded the monastery; before the continental diocesan structures had arrived in Britain and Ireland, this was the usual form of church life. But this is only a more vivid example of something just as true across the Christian world. A local church is indeed at one level a community to which is given all the gifts necessary for being Christ's Body in this particular place; but among those gifts is the gift of having received the Gospel from others and being still called to receive it. Relation with the history of mission is part of the church's identity.

This, of course, has many implications for our understanding of the bishop's ministry. If it is true that, as Tertullian said, 'one Christian is no Christian', then by the same token we should be able to say, 'one bishop is no bishop', and so 'one local church alone is no church '. A bishop is not an individual who 'represents' the local church as if he is empowered to speak for its local identity like a politician for his constituency. The bishop is above all the person who sustains and nourishes within the local church an awareness of its dependency on the apostolic mission, on the gift from beyond its boundaries, of the Church established by the Risen Lord – and he does this, of course, primarily and irreducibly as the celebrant of the 'Catholic oblation'. Hence, again from the earliest days, the clustering of local churches and their bishops around metropolitan sees which represented the channels through which the Gospel came to be shared; and hence the insistence (an insistence that might almost be called fierce in many instances) that bishops received ordination from their neighbours in the metropolia under the leadership of the local primate – and hence too the seriousness of communicating episcopal election by letter to the region and the severity of the sanction of removing a bishop's name from the formal intercession list.

All of this gives some background for thinking about the character and exercise of primacy today. As this brief sketch suggests, the identification of primacy with a charism of a different order from that of the episcopate at large does not sit easily with this emphasis on the grateful receiving of the Gospel. And the idea that primacy in this sense conferred strictly individual powers on a metropolitan or even a patriarch, independent of his role as convener of the episcopal fellowship or independent of his relation to his own local church, is bound to be questionable. But this model gives little comfort to those who understand the theological equality of all local churches as dictating a structure of 'monadic' communities coexisting without acting upon each other.

Primacy needs to be seen as a sign of the continuing reality of active tradition—that is, the sharing of the gift—as the foundation of each local church. So it should be exercised in the service of the further sharing of the gift; this is why it is problematic if a local church so interprets the gift it has received that it cannot fully share it beyond its own cultural home territory – an issue for both 'left' and 'right' in our churches, I suspect. And a primatial initiative in challenging or seeking to limit local development on these grounds becomes intelligible as part of the service of the 'mother church' to the local – not ignoring or making light of local pressures and needs, but reminding the local assembly and its chief pastor that it must not lose its recognisability or receivability to other communities – across the globe and throughout history.

The problems that in different ways face the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican communions at present show how difficult it is to frame this issue constructively. Roman Catholics are still labouring to discover how to disentangle the missionary apostolic charism of the See of Peter from juridical anomalies and bureaucratic distortion. Orthodox have often 'frozen' the concept of primacy in an antiquarian defence of the 'pentarchy' as the structure of the church, thus allowing non-theological power struggles rooted in nationalism and ethnocentrism to flourish with damaging effect. Anglicans have failed to think through primacy with any theological seriousness and so have become habituated to a not very coherent or effective international structure that lacks canonical seriousness and produces insupportable pluralism in more than one area of the church's practice. All need to rethink the meaning of primacy in relation to mission and in relation to what episcopal fellowship really means. In this connection, the discussion in the recent Anglican-Orthodox Agreed Statement, The Church of the Triune God (2006), especially paragraphs 19 to 23 of the chapter 'Episcope, episcopos, and primacy', is a helpful orientation in tracing the complementary connections between primacy and conciliarity and reception, and merits development in the light of the 34th of the Apostolic Canons, a text increasingly significant in ecumenical dialogue.

This event, reflecting on the meaning of the 'mother church', should clarify something of the dynamic centrality of tradition and the life-giving strangeness of the good news of Jesus as it judges and transfigures our local realities. I wish those gathering at St Vladimir's every blessing in their deliberations; may all that is said and done be for the health and healing of Christ's Body.

+ Rowan Cantuar:
From Lambeth Palace, London
St Boniface, apostle of Germany, 5 June 2008

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Slavery By Another Name

Last night I watched a Bill Moyers interview with Douglas Blackmon, the Atlanta bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. Blackmon's website says this about him:

Over the past 20 years, Douglas A. Blackmon has written extensively about the American quandary of race, exploring the integration of schools during his childhood in a Mississippi Delta farm town, lost episodes of the Civil Rights movement, and, repeatedly, the dilemma of how a contemporary society should grapple with a troubled past. Many of his stories in The Wall Street Journal have explored the interplay of wealth, corporate conduct and racial segregation.

Moyers interviewed Blackmon about his new book Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (Doubleday, 2008). Blackmon argues that slavery did not end in the United States with the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation, but rather that it continued by other means up until the 1940s. Here's a summary of the book (again from Blackmon's website):

Based on a vast record of original documents and personal narratives, Slavery By Another Name unearths the lost stories of slaves and their descendants who journeyed into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation and then back into the shadow of involuntary servitude.

It also reveals the stories of those who fought unsuccessfully against the re-emergence of human labor trafficking, the modern companies that profited most from neoslavery, and the system’s final demise in the 1940s, partly due to fears of enemy propaganda about American racial abuse at the beginning of World War II.

The interview with Blackmon was powerful and quite disturbing. It's the sort of thing that most of us don't like to think about. But without confronting this reality head-on, I really don't see how genuine racial reconciliation is possible.

Watch the Bill Moyers interview with Blackmon here.

You can also listen to Blackmon interviewed on NPR's "Talk of the Nation" here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

N. T. Wright on "The Colbert Report"

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Bishop N.T. Wright
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionFox News

Stephen Colbert tells Bishop N.T. Wright his idea of heaven is getting a harp, drinking a mint julep and asking Ronald Reagan questions. But Wright holds his own, making the key points from his book Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.

Way to go Bishop Wright!

Waging War Against Myself

I have waged this war against myself for many years. It was terrible, but now I am disarmed. I am no longer frightened of anything, because love banishes fear. I am disarmed of the need to be right and the need to justify myself by disqualifying others. I am no longer on the defensive, holding onto my riches. I just want to welcome and to share. I don't hold onto my ideas and projects. When we are disarmed and dispossessed of self, when we open our hearts to the God-Man who makes all things new, then he takes away past hurts and reveals a new time where everything is possible.

-- Athenagoras I

Archbishop of North and South America, 1931-1948,
Patriarch of Constantinople, 1948-1972,
and a major architect of the World Council of Churches.
In 1965, with Pope Paul VI, he jointly lifted the anathemas of 1054.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

All of the Baptismal Covenant

For some time now I've noticed that when most Episcopalians talk about the Baptismal Covenant, we're almost always referring to the "Questions of Promise":
  1. Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
  2. Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
  3. Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
  4. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
  5. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

Actually, the more I've noticed how most of us talk about the Baptismal Covenant, the more aware I've become that when we invoke these promises, it's usually only the last two we reference. Indeed, with the exception of our more conservative brothers and sisters, rarely do I hear anyone passionately invoking our need to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship; or exhorting us, when we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord; or challenging us to be evangelists by proclaiming the Gospel in word and example.

Such a minimalist approach to the Baptismal Covenant reduces it to less than half of its content. For in addition to the five "Questions of Promise," the other full half of the Baptismal Covenant consists of three "Questions of Trust":

  1. Do you believe in God the Father?
  2. Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
  3. Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

The answers to these questions takes the form of the Apostles' Creed, one of our two statements of the Church's faith. Before we say what we promise to do as Christians, we first say what we believe as Christians. The doing follows from the believing. And it's no accident that the very first thing we promise to do is to "continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship," and there's no better summary of the apostles' teaching than the Apostles' Creed. So while the doing of our faith may take "progressive" forms, we only get to that by first giving ourselves in faith and trust to the orthodox faith of the Church.

Phil Snyder, an Episcopal deacon who blogs over at "The Deacon's Slant," puts it well in a recent posting:

First, we subscribe to the orthodox faith by naming God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Part of the Covenant is to believe (the Greek is pisteuo) certain things. That doesn't mean simply that we intellectually assent to them or accept that is true. That is just surface belief. The Greek pisteuo actually denotes more than simple mental assent. It denotes trust and confidence. We don't just say that these things are true, we place our trust in them. We have confidence in them. We risk ourselves that they are true.

And in voluntarily taking that risk of faith, we also voluntarily embrace the practical implications spelled out by the five "Questions of Promise." Deacon Snyder teases out just a few:

So, if a member of the clergy denies the Virgin Birth, he is violating his Baptismal Covenant. If a member of the clergy denies the physical resurrection - either of Jesus or of us, she is violating her baptismal covenant. If a person uses names for the Holy Trinity other than "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or the older language of Holy Ghost), he is violating his baptismal covenant.

I would also add that if a member of the clergy practices communion without baptism, he/she is also violating not only his/her ordination vows, but also the Baptismal Covenant, since it is part of the apostles' teaching that we gain admittance to the Eucharistic table only through the waters of Baptism.

So in addition to the commitment to serve as advocates for the poor, the vulnerable, the sick, and the voiceless - an advocacy which can take many forms, both "progressive" and "traditionalist" - our Baptismal Covenant entails a strong commitment to the orthodox faith of the Church.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Predestined for the Fold

This is a sermon I preached a few years back based on John 10:22-30.


For years, I didn’t really know what that word meant. I thought it might have something to do with being a Presbyterian. That maybe John Calvin had invented it way back in the 16th Century Reformation and that our Puritan forbears had used it to scare people with hellfire and brimstone sermons.

Growing up in the United Methodist Church, I never heard much about it. What I did know was that it sounded scary.

As the years went by, when I heard the word “predestination,” I associated it with the idea that before the creation of the world God foreordained everything that would ever come to pass – good, bad, and indifferent. Everything from that parking ticket you got last week, to the pizza you had for lunch yesterday, to the “War on Terrorism.”

Besides the fact that it sounds repugnant, such a view of predestination is also easy to ridicule. I’m reminded of the difference between the Episcopalian and the Presbyterian who both fell down a flight of stairs. When the Episcopalian came crashing to the bottom of the stairs he said, “Good Lord! I should have watched where I was going!” But when the Presbyterian crashed to the bottom, he said, “Thank God that’s over!”

During graduate school I learned that this isn’t really what predestination is all about – as if God is the cosmic micro-manager mapping out everything that happens to every person every moment of their lives. Instead, predestination refers to God’s will with respect to the eternal destiny of human beings. Sometimes this idea is called “election.” It refers to those whom God chooses or elects to inherit eternal salvation and those whom God elects to inherit eternal damnation. God’s election has nothing to do with whether or not the persons in question deserve heaven or hell. God’s will is absolutely sovereign. God is accountable to no one. It’s like what we read in the prophet Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8 NRSV). For His own inscrutable reasons, God can choose an unrepentant axe-murderer for heaven and Mr. Rogers for hell. God’s will always trumps the human will.

It would be easy to just dismiss this whole business of predestination and election by saying, “That’s cruel and crazy. I’ll have no part of it!” But there’s a problem. Far from being something cooked up by cooky Calvinists, ideas of election and predestination are all over the Bible. They’re biblical through and through, from God’s call to Abraham, to his election of the people of Israel, to His sending Jesus as the Messiah.

We hear echoes of God’s predestination and election in today’s gospel reading when Jesus says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29 RSV). Jesus is referring to his sheep, to those persons who hear his voice and follow him. It’s one of many instances in John’s gospel of a great divide between those who belong to the light and those who belong to the darkness, between those who live inside of God’s fold and those who are outsiders.

But here’s the kicker. Jesus says that it’s not we who give ourselves to him. It’s God the Father who gives us to Jesus. It’s God’s choice, not ours. We Christians are a part of God’s flock, not because of anything we’ve done, but solely because of what God has done. It’s like what Jesus says later in John’s gospel: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (John 15:16 RSV). God’s will in Jesus trumps our wills.

So we seem to be on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, if you’re like me, you may find the theology which says that, regardless of their merits, God chooses some and not others to inherit eternal life morally repugnant. But on the other hand, John’s gospel calls into question the view which insists that right now, at this very moment, you are completely free to decide for yourself whether or not to give your life to Jesus, to accept him as your personal Lord and Savior.

In John’s gospel, Jesus insists that we are not the ones who choose him. We’re not in the driver’s seat. God is. God is the agent of our salvation. God gives us to Jesus. On the surface, John’s gospel appears to say that God arbitrarily chooses some for heaven and some for hell. So, for instance, in spite of all of Jesus’ wonderful signs that testify to his intimate connection with God, Jesus’ enemies entrench themselves in disbelief and hatred. It appears that John gives biblical support to a hard-line understanding of predestination and election.

But appearances can be deceiving. This is why it’s so important that we remember one of the basic rules for reading scripture: "Always read any part of scripture in the light of the whole of scripture." If we do that with John’s gospel, we have to read those passages which suggest a strong theology of predestination in conjunction with passages like this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 RSV).

“God so loved the world.”

According to John, God’s election to salvation is directed towards everybody, and even creation itself. God doesn’t pick out a few lucky individuals. In Jesus Christ, God chooses the whole world. And so John’s gospel repudiates the idea that God is picky or arbitrary, opting instead to accent God’s extravagant generosity.

Our Anglican forbears were right when they wrote: “Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God” from “before the foundations of the world were laid” [“Articles of Religion” in the The Book of Common Prayer, p. 871]. But that doesn’t mean that we are computers that can only act according to a program God downloads into our hard drives. Nor does it mean that everybody will be saved regardless of how they respond to the gospel.

Paradoxically, we are free, but we are also not free.

We are free in this crucial respect: we can either accept or reject God’s prior decision to save us in Jesus. We can choose to either stand in the light of God’s grace or remain hidden in the darkness of this world’s sin and evil (cf. John 3:20-21).

But we are not free to change God’s prior choice of electing each and every one of us for salvation in Jesus Christ.

So here’s the bottom line: You have been chosen by God. As baptized Christians, you are part of Jesus’ flock. You are God’s sheep. And nothing can change that.

Sure, you can run away from it. You can deny it. You can live as though God doesn’t love you or as if God is out to get you. But you can’t change the truth. Your salvation depends not on your faith, your love, or your knowledge. It depends solely on God’s gracious will revealed in Jesus Christ. You are God’s chosen. You belong to Jesus’ flock.

So when you hear His voice, don’t run away. Don’t hide behind doubt. Don’t throw up a smokescreen of shame, wallowing in unworthiness. Before you were even born, God found you worthy - worthy enough to send His Son into the world to suffer and die for you.

So remember: God has given you to Jesus. God is stronger than anything in the world. And nothing and no one can ever snatch you out of His hand.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Collect for Father's Day

O Lord our God, creator of heaven and earth, through your Son Jesus Christ you have revealed yourself as a heavenly Father to all of your children: Bless, we pray, all earthly fathers. Strengthen them to nurture, protect, and guide the children entrusted to their care. Instill within them the virtues of love and patience. Make them slow to anger and quick to forgive. And through the ministrations of your Holy Spirit, may all fathers be strong and steadfast examples of faithfulness, responsibility, and loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Countercultural Discipleship

The following excerpts come from a December 2004 essay by Ken Myers, producer and host of Mars Hill Audio Journal, which exists to assist Christians who desire to move from thoughtless consumption of modern culture to a vantage point of thoughtful engagement. The essay raises troubling and challenging questions about the meaning of discipleship in a post-Christian culture, and the gaps between the faith we profess with our lips and how we actually live our lives.


If someone was a stranger to Christian belief and asked you to explain what is meant by the “Great Commission,” what would your short answer be? If I were a gambling man, I would bet that the answer of most American Christians would focus on the necessity of evangelism: Christians have a mandate from their Lord to make converts.

Of course, Jesus said no such thing. He said to make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey everything he ever taught. Obviously the first step to making disciples is to encourage conversion, but the Church has not honored the Great Commission if it has failed to nurture obedient and baptized disciples.

Disciples are those who have accepted certain disciplines. Disciples of Jesus are those who are following him instead of following something else. Far too much contemporary American evangelism encourages people to follow Jesus as a religious explanation for following something else they are already following (self-fulfillment, the American Dream, commitment to family values or social justice, spirituality, etc.). That is not at all what New Testament discipleship looks like.

It’s not even true to the meaning of conversion. My dictionary lists several synonyms for the verb “convert.” Metamorphose. Transform. Transfigure. Transmogrify. Transmute. Alchemical words all, with decisive and substantive changes in view. This list reminds me of an observation in Peter Leithart’s recent book, paradoxically entitled Against Christianity: “To be a Christian means to be refashioned in all of one’s desires, aims, attitudes, actions, from the shallowest to the deepest.”

Leithart’s book is a brief against the assumption that “Christianity” is just a set of doctrinal positions that one is encouraged to take, essentially apart from any particular way of life. “Christianity” is thus an abstraction that may or may not make any difference in the lives of those who assent to it. The New Testament (and the Old), Leithart argues, is not interested in advancing a bare belief system, but in calling into being a new people, the Church. In being called to discipleship, to faith, one is called to more than (but not less than) an inner commitment to certain propositions. …

As long as the Great Commission is understood only as a matter of somehow getting our contemporaries to assent to our message, Christians will be tempted to recast the message in likable, plausible terms. But the more post-Christian our culture becomes (and it is quite far down that path already), the less plausible the message of the Gospel (and the transformation it requires) is likely to be. Stanley Hauerwas has complained that “Christians in modernity thought their task was to make the Gospel intelligible to the world rather than to help the world understand why it could not be intelligible without the Gospel.” This echoes the wonderfully wise counsel of Lesslie Newbigin in Foolishness to the Greeks, a book about how a truly missionary encounter of the Gospel with every culture (including our own) always requires confrontation, a repudiation of those assumptions that are regarded as the wisdom of the age, but which are finally folly. …

That radical work of God in conversion and discipleship is nothing less than the making of a new creation, and to the extent that our cultural lives are extensions of our engagement with creation, the patterns of our cultural conventions require transformation as well. Jesus did not die, rise, and ascend to change something in our hearts and leave it at that, but thereby to change everything.

One way that Christians have escaped the ramified demands of discipleship, especially in the shape of our cultural lives, is to assume that the sphere of Creation and the sphere of Redemption are intrinsically separate. So our salvation is understood as a “spiritual” matter, an inner transformation, while our social and cultural lives can continue to be lived in accordance with the allegedly neutral, value-free, mechanical principles established by economists, sociologists, and other scientific experts. We thereby assume that we can escape worldliness by ignoring the hard questions about economics, art, politics, and technology by concentrating on inward concerns. …

But embracing a faith that is “world-less” is, of course, a recipe for worldliness. It means that we accept the world’s explanation about Creation even as we cling to our message about Redemption, however gnosticized it has become. Many Christians, in fact, seem eager to embrace the world’s understanding of life in the material world if it will serve the cause of evangelism.

In Europe, modern secularism has meant that almost no one goes to Church. Americans have been much more clever about negotiating with modernity. We have maintained market share by allowing our secular assumptions and practices to order the Church’s life. Our understanding of history and tradition, of youth and maturity, of leadership and authority, of beauty and desire, of language and truth, of family and fidelity, of the self and moral order is increasingly conformed to the spirit of the age.

In consequence, the settings for our gathered worship have been transformed from sanctuaries, portals of mysteries and arresting awe, into loud, throbbing Skinner boxes of engineered stimulus and response. The divorce rate among theologically conservative Christians is as high as the rate in the population at large. Christian women suffer from eating disorders to the same extent as do non-Christian women. From my own informal research, it would seem that the prevailing attitudes among Christians toward art and beauty, toward work and the modern ideal of efficiency, toward the ordering of time and the valuing of place, are statistically no different from those of non-believers. …

I realize that these are overstated generalizations, and I will rejoice with you if you insist that none of this is the case in the church you make your home. But I believe that the general pattern of American churches at this time is characterized more by accommodation of the disorders of contemporary culture than by a commitment to be truly counter-cultural communities in all areas of life. …

If you’ve heard me lecture in the past five years, you’ve probably heard me quote James 1:27 as a charter for Christian cultural engagement: “Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Paul’s injunction in Romans 12:2 is making the same point: “Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” That will has something to do with cultural life, not just our interior life.

Read it all.

Four Priests Make a Joyful Noise

And we do it by playing blues and rock in a band called Rubrixx. It's captured in an article in this morning's Clarion Ledger:

BRANDON — With his electric guitar slung over his Hawaiian shirt, the Rev. Charlie Deaton slammed out the opening chords of the classic Allman Brothers tune about being trapped in a bedroom with another man's woman.

"Ain't but one way out baby," sang his friend the Rev. Scott Lenoir. "Lord I just can't go out the door."

The music spilled out of the parish hall at the otherwise quiet St. Peter's-by-the-Lake Episcopal Church, where the ministers' rock band practices.

Called Rubrixx, the band is made up of four Episcopal priests who say playing blues and classic rock together fulfills a spiritual need.

"All of us have a deep connection to music," said Deaton, St. Peter's rector. "Part of who we are is that we can't have a deep connection to one thing and it not have a deep connection to our faith somehow.

"We're not necessarily having to play religious music, but there's something about music that conveys something holy. It's more than just fun, it's joyful."

Rubrixx formed a year and half ago when Deaton and Lenoir, vicar of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Lexington, teamed up with two friends who also happen to serve nearby churches.

"We didn't set out to start an all clergy band," said bassist the Rev. Bryan Owen, canon for parish ministry at St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral in Jackson. "But it sort of captures people's attention to find out there are four priests playing rock and blues."

The ministers have all been playing music since their teens, when rock music first stirred something in their souls.

For drummer the Rev. Alston Johnson, rector of Chapel of the Cross Episcopal Church in Madison, it was the sound of U2.

"It was spiritually formative," the 39-year-old said. "It gave me a vocabulary for an experience of God I had not found before. And not just in the lyrics, but in the music itself."

Deaton, 37, found transcendence in Led Zeppelin.

"I remember the first time I listened to the entirety of the fourth Led Zeppelin album," he said. "I listened to it on a six-hour car ride looping it all the way around, and by the time I got out of the car I said that's it, I got to play guitar."

The Who album, Who's Next, inspired Owen, 39, to play the bass.

"To this day, with the opening synthesizer of Baba O'Riley, if I hear it on the radio it just takes me right back when I was a kid and that sense of feeling like you're called to play music," he said.

Lenoir, 53, counts John Mayall and other blues singers among his influences.

"All the blues guys," he said, "I listen to them all."

Rubrixx plays a mix of rock and blues songs by artists including the Allman Brothers, Wild Cherry, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Crowes, Stevie Wonder and Delbert McClinton.

The band's name is a play on the word rubrics, which are the italicized instructions in the Episcopal prayer book that give directions for a church service.

So far, most of the Rubrixx's gigs have been at church events and fundraisers, though the band is also eager to play beyond the church circuit.

The priests say church members have been supportive of the ministers' second calling, and the music has provided another way to connect with parishioners.

"I think they enjoy seeing us having a good time," Lenoir said. "We make a good sound, and they get up and dance and all have a good time too."

Rehearsals also provide a support group of sorts for the priests.

"It's almost like any other clergy get together you would schedule for weekly check-ins," Deaton said. "I've personally taken lots of things away from our meetings that have helped to inform things that I've been able to do in the parish."

Though Rubrixx's songs may seem more profane than sacred, band members say the music is just another reflection of the human condition.

"Music covers the whole gamut of joyful and sad stuff," Lenoir said. "In human life there's sin, there's redemption."

St. Peter's parish administrator Ginger Perdue enjoys Rubrixx's music every week during the band's three-hour practices at the church.

She said she thinks it's cool that her rector plays in a band.

"If I'm alone you might catch me dancing in the office," she said. "Last week they were practicing Purple Rain and I thought it's pretty funny that my priest is singing Purple Rain."

The story is available on-line here.

Plus, the Jackson Free Press published a brief profile on me this past Friday, giving me another opportunity to plug Rubrixx. We seem to have arrived at our "15 minutes of fame"!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rubrixx Live

Gearing up for tonight's Sudanese Ministry Benefit Concert, a clergy friend passed along a video he shot of our band Rubrixx performing at out annual Diocesan Council meeting in Natchez last January. I think we've improved in the months since, but it was a lot of fun playing at Council, and we're very excited to be playing in downtown Jackson tonight at Hal & Mal's.

Rubrixx lineup:

Check out the video.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Sufficiency of Anglicanism

Some thoughts from the 17th Century bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613 - August 13, 1667), in which he gives what I think are excellent reasons for regarding what would eventually come to be called "Anglicanism" as a more than sufficient way to live the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith.

A reading from a Letter to a Gentlewoman Seduced to the Church of Rome, written by Jeremy Taylor in 1657.

For its Doctrine, [the Church of England] is certain it professes the belief of all that is written in the Old and New Testament, all that which is in the three creeds, the Apostolical, the Nicene, and that of Athanasius, and whatsoever was decreed in the four general councils or in any other truly such; and whatsoever was condemned in these our church hath legally declared to be heresy. And upon these accounts above four whole ages of the church went to heaven; they baptized all their catechumens into this faith, their hopes of heaven were upon this and a good life, their saints and martyrs lived and died in this alone, they denied communion to none that professed this faith. “This is the catholic faith,” so saith the creed of Athanasius; and unless a company of men have power to alter the faith of God, whosoever live and die in this faith are entirely catholic and Christian. So the Church of England hath the same faith without dispute that the church had for four or five hundred years, and therefore there could be nothing wanting here to saving faith if we live according to our belief.

And after this, what can be supposed wanting [in the Church of England] in order to salvation? We have the Word of God, the faith of the apostles, the creeds of the primitive church, the articles of the four first general councils, a holy liturgy, excellent prayers, perfect sacraments, faith and repentance, the ten commandments, and the sermons of Christ, and all the precepts and counsels of the Gospel. We teach the necessity of good works, and require and strictly exact the severity of a holy life. We live in obedience to God, and are ready to die for him, and do so when he requires us so to do. We speak honourably of his most Holy Name. We worship him at the mention of his Name. We confess his attributes. We love his servants. We pray for all men. We love all Christians, and even our most erring brethren. We confess our sins to God and to our brethren whom we have offended, and to God’s ministers in cases of scandal or of a troubled conscience. We communicate often. We are enjoined to receive the Holy Sacrament thrice every year at least. Our priests absolve the penitent. Our Bishops ordain priests, and confirm baptized persons, and bless their people and intercede for them. And what could here be wanting to salvation?

Quoted in They Still Speak: Readings for the Lesser Feasts, edited by J. Robert Wright (Church Hymnal Corporation, 1993), pp. 149-150.

Not Becoming Orthodox

Over the years (and, interestingly, starting around the time I was ordained), I’ve been attracted to Eastern Orthodoxy. I admire its ancient character and the beauty of its liturgy, churches, and icons. I consider the Jesus Prayer as one of the Church’s greatest gifts for the Christian journey. I routinely recommend Bishop Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Way as one of the best, most readable and succinct introductions to the dogmatic core of the Christian faith. Plus, my brother converted to the Greek Orthodox Church, receiving chrismation back in 2005. Orthodoxy is now "in the family" (so to speak), so this is not a merely intellectual or academic deal for me.

And yet, in spite of all that I find admirable and attractive about Orthodoxy, I have no desire to renounce Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church for it. There are many reasons why (some of which include disagreements when it comes to the ordination of women and points in moral theology). But perhaps the overriding one is that I continue to believe that, at its best, Anglicanism is the purest form of the catholic faith in the West, and that the essentials laid down in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral are more than adequate.

All of this may, in part, explain why an essay I recently came across caught my eye. Entitled “Why I Am Not Orthodox,” it’s written by Protestant evangelical theologian
Daniel B. Clendenin. In addition to many other teaching positions, Clendenin spent four years as a visiting professor at Moscow State University. He’s published many books and articles, including Eastern Orthodox Christianity: A Western Perspective 2nd Edition (Baker House, 2004). In “Why I Am Not Orthodox,” Clendenin writes about the uniqueness of Eastern Orthodoxy in its history and theology. And he compares and contrasts evangelical Protestant theology with Orthodoxy, explaining why – in spite of what he knows about Orthodoxy and its claim to be the one true Church – he remains “committed to key distinctives of the Protestant evangelical tradition.”

Even for those of us who do not subscribe to Protestant evangelicalism wholesale, it’s a fascinating essay. Below are a few excerpts.

… what Protestant converts to Orthodoxy have often sought is not only a conscious continuity with the historic, apostolic past, but also a richer experience of God's majesty and mystery through a more liturgical worship setting. These are worthy pursuits that can be fulfilled in the Orthodox Church. But about this pursuit we can make several observations.

Liturgically, the Orthodox ethos of a formal worship setting will attract some Christians, but to many other vibrant movements within evangelicalism it will have little if any appeal. One thinks, for example, of those committed to full ministerial status for women, the centrality of lay ministry and spiritual gifts, charismatically inclined groups, seeker-sensitive churches attempting to reach baby boomers or Generation X'ers with novel worship formats, and so on. Evangelicals focused on social ethics may also find little comradeship in Orthodoxy, as there is nothing in Orthodoxy comparable to the body of Catholic social teaching, for instance. These Protestant movements, important in their own right, are liturgical light years from Orthodoxy.


… Protestants like Thomas Oden, Donald Bloesch, and others have shown that one need not join Orthodoxy to immerse oneself in the patristic past with joy, gratitude, and a sense of accountability to that "great cloud of witnesses" of the last two millennia. Oden, for example, who delights in referring to his theological method as "paleo-orthodox," is now working on a comprehensive patristic commentary on the whole Bible to be published by InterVarsity Press. Thumb through Calvin's Institutes or a volume of John Wesley's Works and you will see our Protestant forebears thoroughly engaged with patristic tradition. As with liturgy, conversion to Orthodoxy is hardly a prerequisite for a renewed engagement with apostolic tradition.


Theologically, just what is at stake in the differences between Protestant and Orthodox theology? In fact, much of what is basic to Christianity: the nature, sources, and interpretation of God's revelation to us, the meaning of the church and its sacraments, the doctrines of sin and salvation, and even how one enters the kingdom of God. On these points evangelical and Orthodox thinking diverge in significant ways.


To be Eastern Orthodox is, above all, to stake a bold and unapologetic theological claim as the one true church of Christ on earth, which alone has guarded right belief and true worship in absolute identity and unbroken succession with the apostolic church. It is precisely this exclusivistic assertion that some Protestant converts, in search of the "true, New Testament Church" have found so beguiling. Inherent in this claim, of course, is the charge that both Catholics and Protestants have lapsed from the true faith into error, if not outright heresy.

One can find people who interpret this ecclesiological exclusivity more leniently; in fact, some would argue that the best Orthodox scholars—George Florovsky and John Meyendorff, to name two—would allow for such leniency. But the claim to be Christ's one, true church remains the clear Orthodox position. This should trouble evangelicals (as well as other Protestants), especially when it is combined with the Orthodox idea of who constitutes the church and how one enters the church.

Is the church made up of those who have been "regenerated" by infant baptism in an Orthodox church institution, or by those who have experienced new birth and been justified by grace through faith? True, Luther and some other Protestants have not viewed baptismal regeneration and justification by faith as mutually exclusive. But whether a non-Orthodox person can even be saved is an open question in Orthodox ecclesiology. Over coffee one day I asked an Orthodox priest whether I, as a Protestant theologian, might be considered a true Christian. His response: "I don't know."


There are many basic beliefs that Orthodoxy and evangelicalism hold in common: the inspiration of Scripture; the two natures of Christ, the finality and uniqueness of Christ's death on the cross, the resurrection, and our future hope of eternal life. It is no small thing for us to hold in common all the early, Christian creeds.

Moreover, evangelicals have some important lessons to learn from Orthodoxy. For example, it is understandable that evangelicals feel that the Orthodox doctrine of the church is too "high." But perhaps our theology of the church is too "low," much lower than our Protestant forebears would have it. In the opening pages of Book IV of Calvin's Institutes, for example, Calvin refers twice to the famous words of Cyprian (d. 258)—so Catholic-sounding to our ears—that "you cannot have God as your Father without the Church as your Mother" (IV.1.1, 4).

Or again, it is one thing to guard the doctrine of sola scriptura, but quite another to ignore or disdain two thousand years of tradition; surely there is a dangerous arrogance in imagining that we do not need to listen to the wealth of biblical wisdom from the patristic writers.

Put another way, we must invoke the spirit of irenic disagreement in the formula: "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity." The genius of this principle is that it allows us to disagree with other believers, even vehemently so, yet in an edifying fashion with a degree of theological modesty and a perspective that seeks a deeper consensus within the bounds of true faith.

But this really begs another question: "Essential" for what? Do we mean essential for salvation? For church membership? For employment at a seminary? For taking Communion together? Essential for clergy to pray together, to talk, and to encourage one another in Christ? When we realize that every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle or a matter of conscience, then we are freed to engage fully people with whom we actually have profound differences without compromising our own theological commitments.

Read it all.

[1] This article first appeared in January 6, 1997 issue of Christianity Today. Used by permission of Christianity Today International, Carol Stream, IL 60188.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On the Way to the Quadrilateral

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral outlines the basis on which the Episcopal Church—and more broadly the Anglican Communion—seeks reconciliation and communion with other Christian bodies. As with any major church document, the Quadrilateral did not just fall out of the sky. Numerous historical, cultural, and theological sources contributed to the articulation of the principles by which Episcopalians and Anglicans seek to transcend denominational divisions in the body of Christ. The Quadrilateral construes the essential identity of the Church in terms of scripture, creeds, sacraments, and the episcopate. This is because the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral represents the crystallization of centuries of Christian thought into a concise statement of principles that, insofar as they undergird ecclesial identity, provide the basis for ecumenical dialogue. In this posting, I will provide a brief (!) outline of theological sources that made possible the formulation and acceptance of the Quadrilateral by the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States in 1886 and the Lambeth Conference of 1888.


Early Church Fathers
“In some form,” writes theologian Charles P. Price, “the four Lambeth Articles lie deep in the development of the Christian church” (1988, 85). Holy Scripture, the Creeds, the Sacraments, and the Episcopate—time and again in the history of Christian thought, theologians and church councils appeal to these four aspects of the Church to maintain and defend orthodox Christian faith. This can be seen in the writings of the early Church Fathers. Price argues that while the early Church Fathers do not group them together in the systematic way of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, their writings are nevertheless full of references to the four articles of scripture, creeds, sacraments, and episcopate. He notes that Ignatius understood the Eucharist as “a sign of unity” intrinsically connected to the episcopate, Tertullian and Irenaeus articulated a rule of faith that anticipated the Apostles’ Creed, and Irenaeus pointed to the bishops as “an outward indication of the unity of the Christian faith from the beginning” (ibid., 82).

Church historian J. Robert Wright agrees. He notes that the Church Fathers “developed a Christian ‘orthodoxy’ that centered for the most part around four points that happen to be the same as those of the Quadrilateral” (1988, 43). In opposition to the Gnostic claim that the Hebrew Scriptures depict a different God from that revealed in Jesus Christ, the Fathers appealed to the unity of the canon as a warrant for the continuity of creation and redemption in salvation history (ibid.). Likewise, the Fathers opposed heretical claims to truth by pointing to the creeds as the summation of the apostle’s teaching, a teaching “uniform throughout the whole Christian world” (ibid., 44). The Fathers also fought against the Gnostic view that matter is evil by turning to the church’s sacraments as a warrant for “developing a sacramental view of the universe” in which the material and the spiritual are intrinsically related rather than mutually exclusionary (ibid.). Wright also notes that the Fathers appealed to the episcopate—the public succession of bishops whose teachings are in continuity with each other—to counter the Gnostic claim to possess secret knowledge leading to salvation. “These four institutions [of Holy Scripture, creeds, sacraments, and the episcopate],” writes church historian E. Glenn Hinson, “were the cardinal ways in which the (early) church ‘constructed’ itself—that is, drew its boundaries and articulated itself in relation to its source in the gospel” (quoted in Wright 1988, 44).

The patristic appeal to scripture, creedal formulas, sacraments, and the episcopate served both negative and positive functions. Negatively, it provided a way to rebut heretical claims to truth. Positively, it helped to define the fundamental parameters of the true Church and the orthodox faith for succeeding generations. This positive and negative legacy finds expression in the Quadrilateral insofar as the document provides grounds for rejecting certain bodies as possible candidates for communion (e.g., Christian groups that reject any possible role for the episcopate) even as it forms the basis for Anglican self-understanding in ecumenical dialogue.

Classical Anglicanism
Classical Anglican theologians maintained continuity with the patristic emphasis on scripture, creeds, sacraments, and the episcopate in their efforts to define the Church in England against radical Protestant reformers and Catholic traditionalists. Writing to the authorities in Rome in An Apology of the Church of England (1562), John Jewel (1522-1571) argued that, in spite of reforms, the Church in England remains continuous with the apostolic fathers and Holy Scripture. Much of the work is polemical in nature, but in the second section of the Apology Jewel lays out what he regards as the characteristic beliefs of Ecclesia Anglicana (cf. Price 1988, 82). Jewel introduces the discussion of “our faith wherein we stand” by affirming its confirmation “by the words of Christ, by the writings of the apostles, by the testimonies of the catholic fathers, and by the examples of many ages” (Jewel 1963, 21). Among the many articles of Anglican belief highlighted by Jewel, several warrant attention as background sources for the succinct formulation of the Quadrilateral.

Jewel begins by noting the Anglican belief in the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The language he uses echoes that found in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. Jewel also affirms Anglican belief in “one church of God” that is “catholic and universal and dispersed throughout the whole world” (1963, 24). Because of its catholic and universal character, Jewel maintains, “there is now no nation which can truly complain that they be shut forth and may not be one of the church and people of God” (ibid.). In intention if not rhetoric, Jewel highlights the inclusive nature of the Church’s catholic and universal character. Foreshadowing the language of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, Jewel also maintains that Anglicans regard baptism and Eucharist as the two primary sacraments of the Church that “were delivered and sanctified by Christ” (1963, 31).

Jewel asserts the Anglican belief in the three-fold order of ministry. In the Church “there be divers degrees of ministers … whereof some be deacons, some priests, some bishops, to whom is committed the office to instruct the people and the whole charge and setting forth of religion” (Jewel 1963, 24). Jewel rejects the idea of the papacy on the grounds that “no one mortal creature … is able to comprehend or conceive in his mind the universal church” (ibid.). And although he does not explicitly say that the fullness of Christian ministry resides in the episcopate, Jewel defends the legitimate ministry of bishops by appealing to the writings of the apostolic fathers of figures like Jerome, Cyprian, and Augustine, as well the councils of Nicea and Carthage (ibid.).

With regard to scripture, Jewel maintains that Anglicans gratefully “receive and embrace all the canonical Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament” as the light of revealed truth that overcomes “errors and lies” (1963, 30). Jewel is worth quoting at length on this point. He writes that in Holy Scripture we hear

… the heavenly voices whereby God hath opened unto us his will; and that only in them man’s heart can have settled rest; that in them be abundantly and fully comprehended all things, whatsoever be needful for our salvation, as Origen, Augustine, Chrysostom, and Cyril have taught, that they be the very might and strength of God to attain salvation; that they be the foundations of the prophets and apostles whereupon is built the church of God; that they be the very sure and infallible rule whereby may be tried whether the church doth stagger or err and whereunto all ecclesiastical doctrine ought to be called to account; and that against these Scriptures neither law, nor ordinance, nor any custom ought to be heard; no, though Paul himself, or an angel from heaven, should come and teach the contrary (ibid., 30).

Several points are worth noting from this passage. First, in good Protestant fashion, Jewel propounds a very high doctrine of scripture. Scripture not only reveals the will of God; it also forms the foundation on which is built the Church, as well as “the very sure and infallible rule” for testing the Church’s truth claims. By laying out “whatsoever be needful for our salvation,” Scripture takes priority over the Church. Jewel’s language foreshadows the language found in Resolution 11 of the Lambeth Conference of 1888 which affirms the “Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith” (1979, 877). Furthermore, as the discussion to follow will suggest, Jewel’s appeal to the principle of antiquity—for which the authority of the apostolic and patristic eras overrides the innovations of later theologians—discloses a defining mark of Anglican thinking about the Church.

The writings of Richard Hooker (1554-1600) also show a reliance on the four principles articulated in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Hooker is often credited with formulating the so-called “three-legged stool” of Anglicanism: scripture, tradition, and reason. While it may be true that Hooker does not explicitly state that scripture, tradition, and reason are the founding principles of his theology, he does invoke these principles on almost every page of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1593, 1597, 1648, 1662).[1] It is worth noting, however, that the Anglican understanding of “tradition” covers two of the principles outlined in the Quadrilateral. “In the broadest sense,” writes church historian Lee W. Gibbs, “‘tradition’ in the Anglican communion has included the canons and creeds of the early ‘ecumenical’ councils, including the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and, until recently, the so-called ‘Athanasian’ Creed” (1991, 8). In addition to the teachings of the Church Fathers, one could also add the liturgical forms associated with the sacramental rites of Eucharist and baptism as components of tradition. Considered one of the most important sources of Anglican theology, Hooker provides extensive discussions and defenses of the authoritative role of scripture, creeds, sacraments, and the episcopate in the Church.

Space precludes detailed discussion of Hooker’s rich discussions of these matters, but a few points should be made. Like other Anglican theologians, Hooker regards Holy Scripture as the supreme authority in the life of the Church. While Hooker explicitly acknowledges the role of reason in interpretation—maintaining, for example, that exclusive reliance on scripture is demeaning to human reason and dangerous to the order of the Church—he also maintains that Holy Scripture is the final word on matters about which it speaks (1990, 94ff). Like Jewel, Hooker teaches that scripture contains all things necessary to salvation (ibid., 81). “Scripture,” writes Hooker, “teacheth all supernatural revealed truth, without the knowledge whereof salvation cannot be attained” (ibid., 117). Hooker only adds that reason provides “a necessary instrument” for rightly reading scripture, for the proposition that “the Scriptures are the oracles of God” is not self-evident but dependent upon prior knowledge as to the character of holy writ (ibid.). Likewise, Hooker rejects private interpretation of scripture, arguing that “when we know the whole Church of God hath [a certain] opinion of the Scripture, we judge it even at the first an impudent thing for any man bred and brought up in the Church to be of a contrary mind without cause” (ibid., 118).

Hooker’s subordination of the individual’s use of reason to the authority of the Church provides a transition into his views on the episcopate. In response to Puritan attacks, Hooker defends the office of bishop on several grounds (cf. 1990, 185-190). First, Hooker appeals to the principle of antiquity when he notes that bishops have been present in the Church from the time of the apostles. Indeed, Hooker observes, the apostles themselves governed over the early Church as bishops. Second, the authority of the episcopate has provided a bulwark of unity against the corrosive evils of heresy and schism. In the third place, Hooker affirms the constraining power of episcopal authority. “Authority is a constraining power,” he writes, “which power were needless if we were all such as we should be, willing to do the things we ought to do without constraint” (ibid., 187). Bishops exercise the authority to enforce the constitutions and canons on which sound Church order and governance depend. Without the “vigilant care” exercised by the episcopate, Hooker argues, the Church would fall prey to the human tendency to neglect Christian duty (ibid.). And finally, Hooker defends the episcopate as the institutional guarantor of the legitimacy of Holy Orders. While he concedes possible exceptions to the rule under extreme circumstances, Hooker insists that “none may ordain but only bishops” since “by the imposition of their hands … the Church giveth power of order, both unto presbyters and deacons” (ibid., 189).

No sustained discussion of the creeds occurs in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, but what Hooker does say about them is consistent with the intentions of the Quadrilateral. Hooker notes the importance of the creeds for maintaining a repository of orthodox faith in the face of heresy. He mentions the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, but gives a special place of honor to the Athanasian Creed. Hooker understands the creeds as “catholic declarations of our belief” handed down by persons closer in time to the origins of Christian faith (1863, 182). He continues by noting that, because “these confessions [function] as testimonies of our continuance in the same faith to this present day, we rather use [them] than any other gloss or paraphrase devised by ourselves, which though it were to the same effect, notwithstanding could not be of the like authority and credit” (ibid.). In other words, Hooker appeals to a principle of antiquity as the warrant for the authority of the classical creeds in the Church.

Hooker also responds to the Puritan elevation of word over sacrament by invoking the Anglican via media. He insists that all Christians “have the seed of their regeneration by the ministry of the Church which useth to that end and purpose not only the Word, but the Sacraments, both having generative force and virtue” (1990, 149-150). Word and sacrament are both necessary components of the Christian life. Neither can be privileged over the other. “Sacraments,” writes Hooker, “are the powerful instruments of God to eternal life” (ibid., 150). Indeed, they are instituted by God and function as necessary means to “life supernatural” due to their nature as “moral instruments of salvation” by which human beings obediently respond to and cooperate with God’s grace (ibid., 157; Hooker’s emphasis). Therefore, sacraments cannot be dismissed or relegated to an inferior place of honor in the Church. Significantly, Hooker highlights two sacraments as primary for the Church in Book V of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity: Baptism and Eucharist (ibid., 160-176).

The Nineteenth-Century
Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872) was perhaps the greatest Anglican theologian of the nineteenth century. Writing during the cultural and social transformations created by the English Industrial Revolution, Maurice is often remembered as a pivotal figure in the development of the Christian Socialist Movement. Central to his theology is the conviction that the gospel of Jesus Christ calls for more than mere personal holiness. The gospel demands “social redemption” and transformation (Gibbs 1991, 60).

Many regard The Kingdom of Christ; or Hints Respecting the Principles, Constitution, and Ordinances of the Catholic Church (orig. 1838; rev. 1842) as Maurice’s theological magnum opus. Indeed, according to J. Robert Wright, some regard this work as the principle influence on the articulation of the principles informing the Quadrilateral (cf. Wright 1988, 24).[2] Wright points out that arguments for a British origin for the Quadrilateral are not widely accepted among historians. However, it can hardly be denied that Maurice gave expression to ideas that were “in the air” at the time. In particular, Maurice’s discussion of the signs of a spiritual society may have helped pave the way for the positive reception of the Chicago Quadrilateral at the Lambeth Conference of 1888.

By the term “spiritual society,” Maurice means “a real kingdom of heaven upon earth” whose principles and moral character can be discerned in the midst of the changes and chances of history (1843, 239). The Christian Church provides the best institutional expression of this spiritual society in history. Indeed, one could perhaps argue that, for Maurice, the Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom of God. The Christian Church, he writes, “is a divine society … existing by virtue of God’s presence acting through the divinely instituted ordinances of baptism, Eucharist, and ministry” (Woodhouse-Hawkins 1988, 63).

According to Maurice, there are six signs that identify the spiritual society of the Church. These signs include baptism, the creeds, forms of worship, the Eucharist, the ministry, and the scriptures. These signs, according to Lee W. Gibbs, “are explicated [by Maurice] in the order in which human beings are drawn into communion with Christ” (1991, 68). The community that embodies these signs in its spiritual life provides the grounds for realizing a central petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Maurice’s list of spiritual signs is important because it articulates principles which previous Anglican and patristic writers did not consciously group together or systematize.

Baptism provides ritual admittance into the “common society” established by the union of “the visible and invisible world” in the person of Jesus Christ (ibid., 241). The creeds—by which Maurice means the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds—provide a repository of truths that have outlived the rise and fall of civilizations, making it possible for persons to say “I believe” anew in succeeding generations. Forms of worship provide the necessary means by which persons may corporately adore God. In spite of the controversies and misunderstandings surrounding the sacrament, Maurice argues that the Eucharist dramatizes the truth of Christianity as both “transcendent and practical, surpassing men’s thoughts, independent on men’s faith and opinions, and yet essentially belonging to man, the governing law of his being, [and] the actuating power of his life” (ibid., 312). Furthermore, the Eucharist provides the sacramental grounds for the Church’s “permanency, coherency, [and] vitality throughout all generations” (ibid.).

With regard to forms of ministry, Maurice extols the importance of the episcopate against critics who impugn the office as morally bankrupt. The very nature of the episcopate, Maurice notes, lies in maintaining fellowship with persons who live in different places, speak different languages, and observe different customs (1843, 344). Exercised for the sake of creating and maintaining fellowship, the office of bishop is a force for unity. The episcopate seeks the creation of a universal fellowship of believers. At the same time, Maurice defends the episcopate as an order of ministry intrinsic to the Church. He writes:

And yet this episcopacy has not been merely an accidental addition to, or overgrowth upon other forms of priesthood. In those countries where it is recognised, it has been the root of all other forms, and has been supposed to contain them within it (ibid., 344-345; emphasis added).

Other orders of ministry, such as the diaconate and the priesthood, derive their authority from the bishop. The episcopate, in other words, contains the fullness of Christian ministry. Maurice goes even further. He argues that, if the Kingdom of Christ is a reality “for the sake of men” and dependent upon “the agency of men,” it must have officers who “bring before men the fact that they are subject to an invisible and universal Ruler” who came into the world to serve rather than to be served and to absolve persons from the sins that bind them (ibid., 347). The office of the bishop exists, Maurice maintains, for this very purpose.

And finally, Maurice turns to Holy Scripture as a sign of a spiritual society. Scripture, he argues, contains “a spiritual and universal constitution” for the ordering of human life “revealed first to a particular family, then to a particular nation, then, through that family and nation, to mankind” (1843, 392). The components of this “divine constitution for man” include the other five spiritual signs: baptism, creeds, forms of worship, Eucharist, and ministry (ibid.). Scripture, in other words, simultaneously contains the signs of an authentic spiritual society while being itself a sign of that very society. Maurice implicitly invokes the Anglican via media against Protestantism’s elevation of scripture over the Church and Roman Catholicism’s elevation of the Church over scripture. Scripture and Church are inseparably intertwined and mutually illuminating for Maurice. “The Church exists as a fact, the Bible shows what that fact means,” he writes (ibid., 416). Conversely, “The Bible is a fact, [and] the Church shows what that fact means” (ibid., 416-417). Maurice’s meaning is clear: no Bible, no Church; no Church, no Bible.[3]

Writing in the United States around the same time as Maurice in England, Thomas H. Vail (1812-1899) published The Comprehensive Church; or, Christian Unity and Ecclesiastical Union in the Protestant Episcopal Church (1841). At the time, Vail was rector of Christ Church in Westerly, Rhode Island. He was later consecrated the first bishop of Kansas on December 15, 1864 (Armentrout and Slocum 1999, 535).

As the title of Vail’s work suggests, he was deeply committed to ecumenism and the struggle for achieving visible unity among Christian churches. In this respect, Vail’s work prepares the ground for that of William Reed Huntington. In The Comprehensive Church, Vail proposes that the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of American embodies a sufficiently “comprehensive system” of ecclesiastical organization and theological conviction to accommodate the multiplicity of Christian denominations into one body (1879, 35; Vail’s emphasis). The basis for Christian unity, he argues, lies in antiquity. Unity must be based upon a maxim inherited from the Church of apostolic times. This maxim includes three principles that ground a truly catholic, and thus universal and comprehensive, Christian Church “‘In necessariis unitas; in non necessariis libertas; in omnibus caritas’—unity in essentials; liberty in non-essentials; love in everything” (ibid., 36). The principle of unity in essentials points to the bottom line of belief that defines a truly Christian Church. Only with respect to these essential points must the Church enforce conformity in worship and doctrine. The principle of liberty in non-essentials refers to the willingness of the Church to compromise on the “thousand comparatively unimportant particulars” of different preferences and proclivities for the sake of unity (ibid., 61). And the principle of love in everything underscores Christ’s mandate that Christians love one another as He loves them, a mandate that reinforces Christian unity.

Based upon the three principles of this maxim, Vail offers the following definition that differentiates the true Christian Church from all forms of sectarianism:

What is a Church? It is an association of all the true disciples of Christ, acknowledging His gospel for their rule of faith and practice, of every variety of personal opinion and talent and temperament and condition. To our mind the very name of a Church suggests the most comprehensive idea. … The object of a Church is a continuing and extending of the worship and service of God, according to the gospel; and when this, the only object of an ecclesiastical system, is effected, all other things should be left in the liberty of nature. A Church founded upon these principles is the only one, we confess, which commends itself to our sympathies; and we cannot acknowledge one which rests upon a narrower foundation as illustrating the true idea of a Christian Church (ibid., 39; emphasis added).

Vail’s understanding of the comprehensive nature of the Church as grounded in the bare essentials of Christian faith foreshadows the emphasis on simplicity and succinctness found in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Like the Quadrilateral, Vail’s conception of comprehensiveness eschews attempts at a full statement of Christian faith. Paradoxically, comprehension means minimalism if not reductionism.

It is important to note that Vail defends the idea of a Comprehensive Church by turning to the authority of Holy Scripture. In particular, Vail cites the Pauline idea of the Church as one body of Christ in I Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians. Indeed, Vail takes as his scriptural motto a verse from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “‘There is one body’”(1879, 42; Vail’s emphasis). Insofar as Holy Scripture recognizes “but one Comprehensive Church,” Christians in the present day must do likewise (ibid., 43).

On the basis of these reflections and arguments, Vail proposes that, out of all the existing ecclesial bodies in the United States, the Protestant Episcopal Church offers the best hope for Christian unity. In other words, the Episcopal Church is the most adequate embodiment of the idea of a Comprehensive Church. For present purposes, it is important to note that Vail defends this thesis by appealing to the normative status of scripture, creeds, sacraments, and the episcopate in the Episcopal Church. “The basis of all religious doctrine and practice in the Protestant Episcopal Church,” writes Vail, “is Holy Scripture” (1879, 140). Likewise, Vail affirms the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds as foundational for the doctrine of the Comprehensive Church. While other aspects of belief and worship may be revised, Vail maintains that “the creeds can never be changed, because they lie at the foundation of the Church as a teacher of doctrine” and they testify to the faith of “the universal Church, from the days of the apostles to the present time” (ibid., 142). Furthermore, Vail argues that the doctrines enshrined in the classical creeds affirmed by the Protestant Episcopal Church are “strictly Scriptural and practical, rather than philosophical and abstract” (ibid., 147). With regard to the sacraments, Vail accents baptism and Eucharist as the two that are central to the Comprehensive Church. And with respect to the matter of ordained ministry, Vail affirms the three-fold order of bishops, priests, and deacons. Concerning the episcopate as a model of comprehensiveness, Vail is careful to note that, while they exercise the authority of overseers in the flock of Christ, “Bishops [in the Episcopal Church] are as much the subjects of ecclesiastical discipline as the clergy or the laity” (ibid., 128).

In the wake of the twentieth century, Vail’s argument that the Protestant Episcopal Church best embodies the traits of the Comprehensive Church that can unite all Christians into one ecclesiastical body seems, at best, to smack of untenable nineteenth-century optimism and naïve faith in the inevitability of progress. Indeed, his contention that all Christians should recognize it as their “bounden duty” to immediately unite themselves with the Episcopal Church sounds downright totalitarian in the aftermath of the evils done in the name of God and country during the twentieth-century (1879, 243; Vail’s emphasis). Nevertheless, Vail’s lifelong commitment to ecumenism suggests that, while his rhetoric and his arguments may have been overblown, he was a well-intentioned man.

The fruit of centuries of Christian thought about the essentials necessary for the Christian Church find practical culmination in the writings and work of William Reed Huntington (1838-1909). While Huntington was the rector of All Saints Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, he published The Church-Idea: An Essay Towards Unity (1870). In this work, Huntington laid the groundwork for the formulation of the Chicago Quadrilateral at the General Convention of 1886. To this day, The Church-Idea remains an outstanding American contribution to Anglican thought on ecclesiology and ecumenism.

Like Vail in 1841, Huntington opens The Church-Idea lamenting the divisions that separate Christians. He holds that “union is God’s work, and separation devil’s work” (1928, 2). As a foundation on which to propose a practical plan for Christian unity, Huntington proposes to explain the meaning of the Church-Idea. The Church-Idea, he writes,

… is this, that the Son of God came down from heaven to be the Saviour not only of men, but of man; to bring “good tidings of great joy” not only to every separate soul, but also to all souls collectively. He died, not only to save the scattered sheep, but to gather them that they might be scattered sheep no longer. … “The Gospel” ought to be regarded as the entire blessing resulting to the world from the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this aggregate of blessing, the interests both of the one and the many have a place (ibid., 3, 4; Huntington’s emphasis).

Huntington clearly believes that the Gospel is universal and comprehensive in scope, i.e., catholic. The community called together by this Gospel must, therefore, embody the intention of the Gospel to save “all souls collectively.” And this means that the Church on earth must form a visible unity.

In order to realize the intention of the Gospel, Huntington proposes an “Anglican basis for an ecumenical ‘Church of the Reconciliation’ in America” (Armentrout & Slocum 1999, 256). In doing this, Huntington claims to be providing an answer to the question of “what Anglicanism pure and simple is” (1928, 124). According to Huntington, “the absolutely essential features of the Anglican position” on the Church of Reconciliation in American entails four points (ibid.). They are:

1st. The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God.
2d. The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith.
3d. The two Sacraments ordained by Christ himself.
4th. The Episcopate as the key-stone of Governmental Unity (1928, 125-126).

In good Anglican fashion, Huntington leaves the nature of the Bible’s inspiration open to interpretation, preferring instead to affirm that “Holy Scripture … is the treasure-house of God’s revealed truth” (ibid., 127). The primitive creeds, by which Huntington means the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, are necessary for rightly reading and interpreting Holy Scripture. “It is simply a trifling with words to say that the Scriptures are in themselves an all-sufficient creed” because the Scriptures are such “a vast field of research” and “as inexhaustible as Nature” (ibid., 127, 128). For this reason, the classical creeds serve as the rule of faith for reading scripture.

Like predecessors in the Anglican tradition, Huntington regards baptism and Eucharist as the two necessary sacraments of the Church. In contrast to the many other possible contenders for the title “sacrament,” baptism and Eucharist have uncontested roots in the apostolic age and in scripture. The conform, in other words, with the principle of antiquity. Consensus in this matter, Huntington suggests, makes baptism and Eucharist the sacramental basis for Christian unity. In addition, these sacraments embody the fundamental character of the Christian life. Huntington writes:

The Two Sacraments of Christ’s appointment image forth to the eye his two all-comprehensive sayings, “Come unto Me,” “Abide in Me.” The one is the Sacrament of Approach, the other the Sacrament of Continuance. Baptism answers to the grafting of the branch; Holy Communion to the influx of the nourishing juices that keep the graft alive (1928, 142-143).

Huntington notes that these two sacraments provide an essential and “constant safeguard” against reducing Christian faith to speculative theologizing (ibid., 143). Baptism and Eucharist serve as reminders that Christians live “in the body and on the earth,” and that Christian faith must take visible, material shape (ibid.).

Huntington argues that the episcopate as the keystone of governmental unity provides “an essential condition of oneness in the Church” (1928, 152). As a warrant for this claim, Huntington appeals to a principle of headship discernible in the orders of creation. From the constitution of families to nation-states to churches, headship provides the organizing principle. “Headship is God’s law,” argues Huntington, for “Double and triple-headed creatures are monsters that exist only in fiction, or, if born, are only born to die” (ibid.). “From its fountain in the bosom of the Holy Trinity,” the principle of headship “flows downward through all the ranges of created life” (ibid., 152-153). Grounded in the Trinitarian life of God, the principle of headship provides theological justification for hierarchical social organization because this principle is inscribed in the very orders of creation.[4] Based on this reasoning, every social institution requires embodiment in a central figurehead.

In addition to purported laws of nature, Huntington also defends the necessity of the episcopate by appealing to antiquity. In the Christian Church, the principle of headship has taken form in the episcopate since apostolic times. This gives the episcopate “a strong historical presumption in its favor” (1928, 156). Indeed, Huntington regards this presumption as so strong that he goes so far as to say that “Anglicanism stands or falls” by the episcopate (ibid., 157). Huntington is worth quoting at greater length on this point:

Indeed, … if the Episcopate have no more claim on our regard than any other form of ecclesiastical polity, then the sooner Anglicans in America shut their church-doors and burn their prayer-books, the better; for they are only adding, upon insufficient grounds, one more to the sectarian divisions under which the land groans. But if they have in the Episcopate that which links them by an actual historical connection to the Church of the primitive times, then ought they to thank God and take courage, and do all they can by the removal of misapprehensions and disabilities and needless partition walls of prejudice, to make their inheritance available for the enrichment of the whole scattered flock of Christ (ibid., 157-158).

Clearly, Huntington holds a high doctrine of the episcopate. Indeed, given his rhetoric on the issue, one wonders if the historic episcopate ranks higher in value and importance for Huntington than the other three articles of the Church-Idea.

Huntington’s four-fold explication of the Church-Idea was included in a report of the Commission on Christian Unity and adopted by the House of Bishops at the thirty-fifth General Convention meeting in Chicago in 1886. In its formulation of the Chicago Quadrilateral, the House of Bishops altered the language used by Huntington. Instead of “The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God,” the Chicago Quadrilateral reads: “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God” (Armentrout and Slocum 1994, 226). With regard to the creeds, the Chicago Quadrilateral replaces Huntington’s “The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith” with “The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith” (ibid.). The House of Bishops also specifically name baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the two indispensable sacraments. And finally, Huntington’s description of the episcopate as the keystone of governmental unity is replaced with the language of the “Historic Episcopate” and the recognition that it must be “locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church” (ibid.). Interestingly, the formulation of the Quadrilateral by the Lambeth Conference of 1888 changes the language of the first two articles while retaining the language of the Chicago formulation in articles three and four. As J. Robert Wright notes, Huntington’s contribution to the Chicago and Lambeth formulations of the Quadrilateral was “deepened and developed” such that “whatever he had intended, was now superseded by what the bishops voted” (1988, 14).


In spite of diversity in historical setting, temperament, methods, and aims, this brief survey of Christian thought from the early Church Fathers through classical Anglicanism to the nineteenth century work of Maurice, Vail, and Huntington supports the thesis that the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral articulates principles of ecclesiology and ecumenism that lie deep in the Christian tradition. From an Anglican point of view, Holy Scripture, the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, and the historic episcopate are necessary components of any valid Christian Church. Again and again, figures in the Anglican tradition turn to the principle of antiquity to provide a warrant for these four cornerstones of the Christian Church.

Obviously, not all Christians are prepared to accept these four components as the bottom line for defining the true Church and for engaging in ecumenical dialogue, especially as defined by Anglicans. In particular, the Anglican insistence on the historic episcopate as a necessary component of the true Church has proved a barrier to possible union with many Christian bodies. In spite of its problems, however, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral succinctly articulates central aspects of catholic thinking about the nature of the Church. For this reason, it remains one of the most significant contributions of the Anglican tradition to the ecumenical cause.

[1] Lecture by The Very Rev. Dean Lytle on September 21, 2000 at The University of the South’s School of Theology in Sewanee, Tennessee.

[2] See, for example, William J. Wolf, “Maurice and Understanding of ‘Ecumenical’,” Anglican Theological Review 54/4 (October 1972): 273-290. See also Michelle Woodhouse-Hawkins, “Maurice, Huntington, and the Quadrilateral: An Exploration in Historical Theology,” in Quadrilateral at One Hundred: Essays on the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/88 – 1986/88, edited by J. Robert Wright (Cincinatti: Forward Movement Publications, 1988), 61-78.

[3] New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson makes this point with clarity when he writes: “The canon [of Scripture] and the church are correlative in this sense: Without the community regarding them as addressing it in an authoritative and normative way, these ancient writings would not be Scripture. On the other hand, without such a fixed frame of understanding, which mediates the identity of the community from age to age, there would not exist any historical community identifiable as the church in the first place. It is an expression of the church’s faith to regard these writings as prophetic for every age, and therefore as speaking God’s Word.” See Luke Timothy Johnson, Scripture and Discernment: Decision Making in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 31.

[4] Since the principle of headship is grounded in the Trinity, Huntington’s reasoning seems to imply a hierarchical ordering among the persons of the Trinity such that the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Son who is, in turn, subordinate to the Father. If so, Huntington’s defense of the episcopate may be charged with a heresy first condemned by the Council of Constantinople in 381 C.E.: Subordinationism, or the view that the persons of the Trinity are not co-equal.

Armentrout, Don S. and Robert Boak Slocum. Documents of Witness: A History of the Episcopal Church 1782-1985. New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1994.

An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, no publication date.

Gibbs, Lee. The Middle Way: Voices of Anglicanism. Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1991.

Hooker, Richard. The Works of that Learned and Judicious Divine Mr. Richard Hooker. Arranged by the Rev. John Keble. 4th Edition. Volume II. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1863.

Hooker, Richard. Ecclesiastical Polity: Selections. Edited by Arthur Pollard. Manchester, England: Carcanet Press, 1990.

Huntington, William Reed. The Church Idea: An Essay Towards Unity. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1928.

Jewel, John. An Apology of the Church of England. Edited by J. E. Booty. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1963.

Maurice, Frederick Denison. The Kingdom of Christ; or Hints Respecting the Principles, Constitution, and Ordinances of the Catholic Church. New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1843.

Price, Charles P. “Whence, Whither, and What?: Reflections on the Hundredth Anniversary,” in Quadrilateral at One Hundred: Essays on the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/88—1986/88. Edited by J. Robert Wright. Cincinatti, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1988. Pages 79-97.

Vail, Thomas H. The Comprehensive Church; or, Christian Unity and Ecclesiastical Union in the Protestant Episcopal Church. New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1879.

Woodhouse-Hawkins, Michelle. “Maurice, Huntington, and the Quadrilateral: An Exploration in Historical Theology,” in Quadrilateral at One Hundred: Essays on the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/88—1986/88. Edited by J. Robert Wright. Cincinatti, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1988. Pages 61-78.

Wright, J. Robert. “Heritage and Vision: The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral,” in Quadrilateral at One Hundred: Essays on the Centenary of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886/88—1986/88. Edited by J. Robert Wright. Cincinatti, OH: Forward Movement Publications, 1988. Pages 8-46.