Monday, December 30, 2013

Horus Ruins Christmas

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

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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The True Meaning of Christmas

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

Episcopal Priest Supports Polygamy

In an article entitled "How I learned to love polygamy," Episcopal priest Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio shares how she changed her mind: by watching the reality television show "Sister Wives."  Watching the show, she learned that polygamy is not necessarily abusive to women. She learned that the Brown family are nice religious people who care deeply about their children.  And she learned that, for the Brown family, "the goal of cultivating a community that together can reach heaven" is paramount. 

"Ultimately," she writes, "I support the decision to loosen restrictions on polygamy because families such as the Browns exist who endeavor every day to live kind, healthy lives that are not harmful, not abusive."  What's not to support, right?

She also links support for polygamy to support for same-sex blessings:

I also believe there are theoretical reasons why, as a Christian, it makes sense to support healthy polygamous practices. It’s a natural extension for those Christians who support same-sex marriage on theological grounds. But even for those opposed to same-sex marriage, polygamy is documented in the Bible, thereby giving its existence warrant.

Read it all.

A clergy colleague shared that when he recently attended a children's conference, Episcopalians there offered an extensive defense of polyamory and BDSM.  He asked them, "What do I say to my friends to whom we promised same-sex blessings are not a slippery slope?"  One Episcopal priest replied, "What's so bad about slippery slopes?"

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Presiding Bishop's Jesus-Free Gospel

Writing at The Sub-Dean's Stall, the Rev. Canon Robert Hendrickson highlights a troubling characteristic of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori: in her feast day messages, she rarely if ever mentions Jesus by name.  Fr. Hendrickson writes:

Whether it is time to consider the Incarnation or the Resurrection, the Presiding Bishop is consistent in her unwillingness to mention the person in whom our whole faith and hope rests. ... 
At this point, with repeated messages that omit reference to Christ, it can only seem intentional that she not actually reference the singular significance of the Incarnation and Resurrection of Christ let alone his saving action. ... 
The vagueness of the message communicates an unwillingness to proclaim the most basic tenets of the faith. Her opacity evinces a lack of comfort with the essential doctrines of the Christian faith and borders on gnosticism. 
I use the term gnosticism as her message is so densely worded as to be accessible only to those with an inside knowledge of contemporary theological obfuscative language. I long for a leader with clarity and theological acumen who can articulate the abiding power of the Incarnation such that all who hear might be drawn the the Living Christ.

Using Wordle, Fr. Hendrickson also offers a striking visual contrast between the Presiding Bishop's 2013 Christmas message and Pope Francis' encyclical Lumen Fidei.  

Read it all.

In a previous posting, I have noted the Presiding Bishop's failure to mention the name of Jesus in an Easter message.  There's also her denial of special revelation.  And then there's her May 12, 2013 sermon on Acts 16:16-34 in which she inverts the Gospel by equating the liberating power of Christ with the demonic and the demonic with the Holy Spirit (as one critic rightly notes, this is tantamount to seeing the devil as beautiful and holy).  The list could go on and on.

Given the consistency of her preaching and teaching over the years, it should come as no surprise that the Presiding Bishop continues to proclaim a Jesus-free Gospel.

Friday, December 6, 2013

What's Right with Orthodoxy

In the midst of mainline seminaries that are tanking financially and sometimes falling off the deep end theologically, Mark Tooley at Juicy Ecumenism writes about a seminary President that's going against the grain:

United Seminary President Wendy Deichmann’s column “What’s Right with Orthodoxy” offers a refreshing articulation of Christian essentials from one of United Methodism’s most important leaders. Across 5 years she has presided over the stunning revival of a once nearly dead school, a rebirth rooted in its transition from old line Protestant liberalism to classic Christian beliefs.

In response to the criticism that orthodoxy is old fashioned, unreasonable, regressive, and oppressive, Deichmann writes:

Although some will assume or argue that Christian orthodoxy is made up of an oppressively long list of doctrines used to subjugate and control people, history will confirm that Christian orthodoxy is most often expressed in a stunningly short list of beliefs that affirm the Holy Trinity and salvation offered in Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy as historically understood does not wed believers to a long inventory of theological, political, and social doctrines. Rather, orthodoxy as we are using the term here and as expressed in Christian history is made up of a relatively short list of core doctrines that have to do with the heart of the gospel. For example, orthodoxy is not even definitive on the nature of atonement. Rather, it generates conversation among believers in the gospel about the nature of Christ’s death and how we then should live. 
Contrary to the assertions of its adversaries that it is regressive and backwards-looking, a brief survey of Christian history indicates that orthodoxy has inspired some of the most forward-looking, prophetic movements in the life of the church. Great teachers and leaders come immediately to mind: Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Augustine, Frederick Douglass, Irenaeus, Richard Allen, Billy Graham, Jarena Lee, and Anna Howard Shaw, as well as Susanna, Charles, and John Wesley. These giants of the faith upheld orthodox Christianity and changed not only the church but the world in commendable ways. They also left their critics in the dust spiritually, theologically, and historically speaking. Speaking of dust, one needs only to dust off and reread one’s church history to be reminded of the triumphs of truth over corruption, the well-fought fights for good over evil and social progress over oppressive, status quo politics by Christians who held tenaciously to orthodoxy.

In addition to noting that Christian orthodoxy provides common ground for ecumenism, Deichmann also focuses on what's really at stake in affirming orthodoxy:

Why have fiercely apologetic Christians cared so much about orthodoxy that they defied kings, emperors, torture, and death in defense of the “faith once delivered to the saints”? Why did it matter so much? Why was it dearer than prestige, wealth, and even life itself? For those who have believed Christian orthodoxy to be true, it is truth itself, the foundation for all else. 
Orthodox belief for its adherents is an essential matter not only for this life, but for eternal life. In the midst of a world quickly fading away, it is the essence of what was, is, and will remain forever. The gospel truth expressed in orthodox Christianity is worth living for, worth giving away to one’s friends and enemies, and worth dying for. This is not just because it is orthodox, but fundamentally because it is true. 
Orthodoxy represents the message, identity, and mission of the Christian church through all ages. It is the heart of the gospel. It does not change with the seasons and cultures of humanity because it represents the core revelation of God in Jesus Christ in human history.

Deichmann's column offers an important articulation of why Christian orthodoxy is a necessary (if not sufficient) foundation for Church vitality.  And her column also helps us understand why the repudiation of orthodoxy undermines the Church's witness to the truth of the gospel.  As Deichmann notes, "what is right about Christian orthodoxy is the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ that it proclaims to us and to the whole world."  

Read it all.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Musical Interlude with Dustin Kensrue: "Come Lord Jesus"

Come Lord Jesus, come
Come Lord Jesus, come

Come again to claim your own
Come to reap what you have sown
All creation weeps and groans for you

It's to you that we belong
It's to you we lift our song
How our spirits look and long for you

Like a thief in dead of night
Come, our everlasting light
Let your brilliance shame the brightest day

With your voice like endless seas
Wielding swords and stars and keys
Bring the nations to their knees, we pray

For though fitful is our flame
You're from age to age the same
Jesus, faithful is your name and true

So until the sun does rise
Till your trumpets rend the skies
Help us keep our restless eyes on you

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Friday, November 8, 2013

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: "No doctrine without the backing of the holy Scriptures"

“No doctrine concerning the divine and saving mysteries of the faith, however trivial, may be taught without the backing of the holy Scriptures. We must not let ourselves be drawn aside by mere persuasion and cleverness of speech. Do not even give absolute belief to me, the one who tells you these things, unless you receive proof from the divine Scriptures of what I teach. For the faith that brings us salvation acquires its force, not from fallible reasonings, but from what can be proved out of the holy Scriptures.” 

 ~ St. Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 313-386)

h/t to Eclectic Orthodoxy

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Humility of Orthodoxy

"The humility of orthodoxy is to say, 'I'll stay where the Church is unless I'm sure that the Church has always been wrong about this.'"

Friday, October 25, 2013

N. T. Wright: "The world in its present state is out of tune with God's ultimate intention"

"The world in its present state is out of tune with God’s ultimate intention, and there will be a great many things, some of them deeply woven into our imagination and personality, to which the only Christian response will be ‘no.’ Jesus told his followers that if they wanted to come after him they would have to deny themselves and take up their cross. The only way to find yourself, he said, is to lose yourself (a strikingly different agenda from today’s finding-out-who-I-really-am philosophies). From the very beginning, writers like Paul and John recognized that this isn’t just difficult, but actually impossible. We can’t do it by some kind of Herculean moral effort. The only way is by drawing strength from beyond ourselves, the strength of God’s Spirit, on the basis of our sharing of Jesus’ death and resurrection in baptism." 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Francis Hall: "The Church overlooks much sin and error"

"The Church overlooks much sin and error lest it cut off souls from the means of recovery to righteousness and truth; but such toleration does not imply sanction of what is tolerated. It often happens that opinions which are widely exploited in the Church are not less contrary to the Church's mind because tolerated; and the proof is found in what the Church continues to require to be recited in official formularies and in public ritual." 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Jordan Senner: "Why Am I An Anglican - And What Difference Does It Make?"

I first came across a condensed version of this essay by Jordan Senner on The Anglican Digest blog.  It was originally published in the Spring 2013 issue of Via Media: The Newsletter of the Regent College Anglican Studies Program.  In it, Senner lays out eight ways he believes that "Anglicanism (at its best) faithfully expresses the fullness (breadth and depth) of the gospel."  I share it below because I believe it is an excellent essay that deserves wide circulation.

I am an Anglican because I believe Anglicanism (at its best) faithfully expresses the fullness (the breadth and depth) of the gospel. There are eight primary ways in which I believe this to be true: Anglicanism is biblical, historical, sacramental, liturgical, pastoral, episcopal, ecumenical, and global. I will briefly unpack each of these defining characteristics of Anglicanism.

First, I am an Anglican because it is biblical. I appreciate the great authority that Anglicanism gives to Scripture. Article 6 of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion states that the Bible is the ultimate and final authority in all matters of faith, and nothing should be taught as doctrine or necessary for salvation that is not clearly taught in Scripture. Moreover, I believe that Anglicanism rightly places Scripture at the very center of all its ministries (e.g., liturgy), devotion (e.g., Book of Common Prayer), and foundational documents. It wants to immerse God’s people in the Scriptures.

Second, I am an Anglican because it is historical. I appreciate Anglicanism’s respect for the history and tradition of the Church. While its official conception took place in the mid-16th century, it still identifies itself with the catholic Church of the centuries prior to the Reformation. It seeks unity with the historic Church. As such, it receives and affirms the Apostle’s, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds as authoritative summaries of what Scripture teaches and what the Church believes. Also, it follows the traditional church calendar and draws wisdom from many of the great theologians of the past (e.g., Article 29 mentions Saint Augustine).

Third, I am an Anglican because it is sacramental. I appreciate the Anglican belief that God uses his visible, tangible creation (water, bread and wine) as a vessel to communicate his invisible, spiritual grace to people. I believe that the Anglican emphasis on Word and Sacrament together is healthy and edifying for the Church.

Fourth, I am an Anglican because it is liturgical. I appreciate the depth and breadth of the liturgical worship. It immerses people in many important truths of the gospel in various ways: confession of sin and absolution; confession of faith through reciting the creed and reading Scripture; preaching the Word and receiving the Sacrament; gathering for worship and sending on mission; prayer. Moreover, I believe that the liturgy helpfully engages the whole person – body and soul – in communal worship.

Fifth, I am an Anglican because it is pastoral. I appreciate the Anglican emphasis on discipleship and spiritual formation. Historically, it has taken catechism and confirmation seriously as an essential part of discipleship. Furthermore, the Book of Common Prayer provides people with helpful structures and resources for developing spiritual disciplines: prayer (morning, midday, and evening) and Scripture reading (lectionary). The Book of Common Prayer also provides pastors and laity with a diversity of prayers for different situations and spheres of life. I deeply appreciate the Anglican desire to ensconce all of life (family, work, city, church) with prayer and Scripture.

Sixth, I am an Anglican because it is episcopal. I appreciate the Anglican desire to express and maintain visible unity. It is unique among most Protestant denominations in that it believes the visible unity of the Church is important. Additionally, I believe that the episcopal structure of the Anglican church is pastorally wise. At its best, it allows parishes to support one another in gospel ministry, and it guards against personality cults and false doctrine by providing a network of accountability.

Seventh, I am an Anglican because it is ecumenical. I appreciate the Anglican belief that it is not the only true Church, but that it is part of a much larger communion that is the one, holy, apostolic, catholic Church. As such, it seeks unity of faith and mission with churches of all denominations. It seeks to work with all those who are participating in the work of the gospel.

Eighth, I am an Anglican because it is global. I appreciate the fact that Anglicanism is a global communion. Although it was conceived in England, its identity has grown to include many nations and diverse cultures. It is a worldwide communion that transcends national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries, while embracing simultaneously the diversity of worship in its various locations (see Article 34).

As to the question, ‘What difference does it make?’. All of the above characteristics of Anglicanism shape the form and content of pastoral ministry, corporate worship, and discipleship. Instead of focusing primarily on administrative and managerial tasks, pastoral ministry should focus on preaching and teaching the Scriptures, personally engaging with God and helping others engage with God through prayer, and building up the Church through the faithful and frequent celebration of the sacraments. Instead of focusing primarily on personal feelings and needs, corporate worship should be rooted in a long liturgical tradition of Scripture reading, prayer, song, and sacrament. Corporate worship should focus on God and enable each member of the congregation to see their individual and corporate life in the context of the gospel. Even more, corporate worship should lead people into a deeper communion with God and with each other. Instead of focusing solely on personal conversion by grace through faith, discipleship should also focus on personal transformation by grace through faith within the context of the Church. Discipleship should be viewed as a communal ministry that focuses on learning to read Scripture, pray, love people, and participate in God’s mission in the world. Discipleship will be deeply person, but not individualistic; it will involve every aspect of a person’s life – social, professional, familial, political, emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.

Ultimately, I am an Anglican because I believe that the Anglican tradition faithfully expresses the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and thereby gives a God-centered, Scripture-saturated, prayer-immersed shape to all pastoral ministry, corporate worship, and discipleship.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Oliver Chase Quick on "the essential newness of the Christian revelation"

The Christian Creed sets before us as the object of our faith nothing less than the unsearchable love of God.  It affirms that that love was once for all revealed in Jesus, who died in every circumstance of shame and horror, and rose again for men.  And therefore it assures us at the same time that no experience, however terrible or repugnant, can be such that through it no fresh discovery of God's love is possible for one who has God's Spirit in his heart.  Here then is the gospel which provides the truly permanent object of faith.

Nineteen hundred years ago that gospel itself was new in time.  Then to say, "I believe in God the Father and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord" was indeed a new discovery, the discovery of a new world.  St. Paul writes at times as one bewildered by the novelty of the one new thing which the clever Athenians could neither tell nor hear, the thing which had shown the weakness of God to be stronger, and the foolishness of God to be wiser, than every work of man's hand and thought of man's brain.  But to-day, what we have to prove in thought and life is this, that the essential newness of the Christian revelation is not a temporal newness, which, as the centuries pass, passes itself into old age.  It is as true now, as it was when the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, that "that which waxeth old is near to vanishing away".  We believe in Christianity not because it is old but because it still is new.  It is the gospel of an ageless truth of which ever fresh discoveries are to be made; and in making them our faith itself must live.  Christ's call to union with himself through sacrifice will bring as fresh a revelation when the earth is becoming uninhabitable by the exhaustion of the sun, as it did when Mary cried "Rabboni" and Paul was blinded by the light on the Damascus road.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Richard Hays Summarizes the Gospel

"The God of Israel, the creator of the world, has acted (astoundingly) to rescue a lost and broken world through the death and resurrection of Jesus; the full scope of that rescue is not yet apparent, but God has created a community of witnesses to this good news, the church. While awaiting the grand conclusion of the story, the church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is called to reenact the loving obedience of Jesus Christ and thus to serve as a sign of God’s redemptive purposes for the world."

h/t Fr. Matt Gunter at Into the Expectation

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cognitive Dissonance and Liturgical Innovation in the House of Bishops

Bishop Martins' blog postings from the recent House of Bishops meeting in Nashville include some very interesting and at times troubling observations about how our bishops think and exercise leadership in the church.  As I write, all of Bishop Martins' postings from the HOB meeting are up on his homepage.

In the wake of the recent media buzz over things said by Pope Francis - and the ecstatic speculation of many on the Left that he's going to lead the Roman Catholic Church into a progressive promised land - Bishop Martins writes:

Many of my "progressive" colleagues in the House of Bishops seem to be all gaga over Pope Francis. Yes, he has a different personal style than his predecessors. I find him a remarkable man, and am both humbled and inspired by his ministry. He is frighteningly Christ-like. But I also happen to agree with most of his positions on controverted issues. And here's the deal: He isn't proposing any changes in either the theological or moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. None. If I were a supporter of same-sex marriage, or abortion rights, I could find nothing in the Pope's statements that would lead me to hope that a change in church teaching in these areas is imminent. So why the sudden triumph of style over substance? I not only agree with his views, I also agree with the need he has expressed to change rhetoric and reassess priorities. But many of the same voices that are raised in adulation of the Bishop of Rome still see Episcopalians who share his views as outliers, and benignly and charitably (more or less) consign us to the margins of TEC. Just sayin'. Bit of a mystery here.

A mystery, indeed!

Bishop Martins goes on to note the "cognitive dissonance" experienced between his own understanding of mission and what he often hears from his colleagues in the HOB:

I'm constantly laying our nascent missionary efforts in the Diocese of Springfield alongside the stories my colleagues tell, looking for connection, validation, new insights, and hope. But I'm also continually aware of my outlier status whenever I engage the larger church. I hear talk of mission, but I realize that while, for me, mission cannot mean very much other than evangelization, it means something very different to many if not most of my colleagues in the House. I hear talk of interfaith cooperation, and then I'm aware that many around me might be aghast at a notion that I--along with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, I might mention--take seriously: the universality of the gospel, that all people, everywhere and at all times, ought to come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ in the company of the Catholic Church, and be baptized; put baldly, that it is God's will that everyone become a Christian. I hear talk of righteousness and justice, but then realize that, for me, that includes the sanctity of unborn human life and marriage as a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman, while many around me find those values abhorrent. I should hasten to add that the overwhelming majority of other bishops treat me with utmost kindness and courtesy, and, at times, genuine affection; I have no complaints in that department. And I recognize in them authentic Christian faith and discipleship, despite our profound differences. I honor those who sometimes accuse me and others of "sleeping with the enemy," for not simply writing off most of the HOB as hopeless heretics. But that's not where I am. I couldn't begin to do that. And this is precisely why experiences like the past week are full of what my college psychology professors taught me to name as "cognitive dissonance."

Bishop Martins also touches on one of my personal pet peeves - tinkering with the liturgy:

I really do hate it that I find worshiping at meetings of the House of Bishops more alienating than uplifting. As a good Catholic, of course, I realize that it's not about how I feel. Indeed, if it were about how I feel, I would probably just silently absent myself. But it's not, so I go. Part of the alienation, no doubt, is my responsibility, and I need to own that. But I also need to name my irritation: It's just too laborious. Today the celebrant switched from English to Spanish and back several time--just during the Eucharistic Prayer! Prayer Book rubrics and texts are widely ignored or altered. Our musician, Dent Davidson, has talent oozing out of his pores; he is really good at what he does. But the music is a steady diet of the exotic with occasional smatterings of the familiar as a condiment. I would dearly love to see the proportions reversed: liturgies anchored in the center of the tradition, following Prayer Book texts and rubrics, seasoned judiciously with the exotic. I suppose others would then feel malnourished. What to do?

I've noticed in other contexts that when Episcopalians gather for diocesan and other events, too often the worship is innovative rather than faithful to The Book of Common Prayer. I've even attended conferences where the Prayer Book was hardly used at all.  And, of course, that can also happen on Sunday mornings with various instances of illegal liturgical revision "authorized" by a rector. 

Sadly, liturgy that once united us around "the center of the tradition" sometimes gives way to liturgy that aims to express how progressive, inclusive, and transformative we are.  That can veer liturgy dangerously away from a focus on God to a focus on us.  And when it means monkeying with or ditching the Prayer Book, it's an almost sure-fire way to alienate anyone in attendance who believes in conforming to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison: "We are susceptible to heretical teachings"

Trying to communicate this important material [about the Ecumenical Councils] led me to ask the question, "What happens to someone who follows heretical teachings?"  It became quickly and readily apparent how cruel heretical teachings are and how prevalent the heresies are in contemporary times.  Victims of these teachings have been encouraged either to escape the world and their basic humanity into some form of flight and death or to use their religion to undergird and isolate further their own self-centered self from the need to be loved and to love.

We are susceptible to heretical teachings because, in one form or another, they nurture and reflect the way we would have it be rather than the way God has provided, which is infinitely better for us.  As they lead us into the blind alleys of self-indulgence and escape from life, heresies pander to the most unworthy tendencies of the human heart.  It is astonishing how little attention has been given to these two aspects of heresy: its cruelty and its pandering to sin.  

The conviction that heresy is cruel has given me a growing awe of and respect for orthodoxy.  Unlike many contemporary scholars who seem increasingly to view these classical conciliar statements as irrelevant to the concerns of modern times, or worse, as impediments to be disregarded or obstacles to be overcome, I am convinced that seldom have these guidelines been more relevant than they are today.  Neither ignorance of the heresies nor belief in their irrelevance can guard against making the same mistakes.  Scarcely any ancient heresy can be found that does not have a modern expression; scarcely is there a modern heresy that we have not seen before.  

Some argue that we have now reached a point in education, evolution, democracy, science, and spiritual maturity at which these ancient and classical formularies are rendered irrelevant.  On the contrary, it is my conviction that not since the age of the councils have we needed them more urgently.  All modern or contemporary attempts to resolve the ancient dilemmas are rarely if ever an improvement on those of Nicaea or Chalcedon.  In fact, most of these attempts appear to be only slightly disguised version of the ancient heresies, and are frequently set forth without any attempt to deal with the original reason for their rejection.  

~ C. FitzSimons Allison, The Cruelty of Heresy: An Affirmation of Christian Orthodoxy (1994)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Verna Dozier on the Old and New Testaments

"If you think the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, then you don't know the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. If you think the God of the New Testament is a God of sweetness and light, then you don't know Jesus of Nazareth." 

Quoted in Minka Shura Sprague, 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Two Troubling Funeral Trends

I haven't done research to determine whether or not these truly rise to the definition of a "trend."  But over the course of the last few years, I've noticed a couple of things happening with funerals that trouble me.

The first is a tendency to have funerals in funeral homes rather than the church.  That seems to happen a lot in the area I currently live in.  A number of factors could be at play here, including things like cost and whether or not the deceased has a church home.  I get that.

But what really troubles me is when families decide to have the service at a funeral home even when their deceased loved one was an active, beloved member of a parish church for 30, 40, or 50 years.  That's happened several times now, and it just breaks my heart.  It's a decision that divorces the deceased from the place where so many important things happened in her life, including her own wedding and/or that of her children, baptisms of children and grandchildren, confirmations, funerals of other church members, and the weekly round of worship, fellowship, and service.  

The physical being of the church building - the nave, the sanctuary, the baptismal font, the altar, the cross, the reredos, the lingering aroma of incense - it all speaks to the ways in which our life stories are interwoven into the story of the faith so succinctly summarized in the catholic creeds.  The sterile, secular setting of a funeral home silences that story.  And while I've known many wonderful, helpful, pastorally sensitive people who work in the business, a service in a funeral home feels contrived and alienated from the core of the Christian faith.

People sometimes say that the building is not the church; the people are the church.  Having lived through the destruction of the church building in which I was confirmed and married, I understand the point being made only too well.

But like bodies, places matter.  The Book of Common Prayer acknowledges this when it says: "Baptized Christians are properly buried from the church" (p. 490; emphasis added).  And so, to me, the decision to bypass the church for a Christian's funeral feels deeply wrong, almost like taking a mother's baby and giving it away to a stranger.

The second troubling thing I've experienced is funeral services without a body or cremains.  That hasn't come up in my ministry as often as a family's decision to use the funeral home rather than the church, but I've seen it enough times to be concerned.  I note that the Burial Offices in The Book of Common Prayer assume that a body is present (or, arguably by extension, that cremains are present).  Again, bodies matter.

The Prayer Book's assumption that a body is present is particularly true of the Commendation.  As the Prayer Book rubric for the Commendation makes explicit: "The Celebrant and other ministers take their places at the body" (p. 499; emphasis added).  And yet, I've actually seen an Episcopal priest do a Commendation with no body or cremains in the church.  That makes about as much sense as performing a baptism without a baptismal candidate present, or celebrating the Eucharist on a bare altar without the elements of bread and wine.

Again, I don't know for sure if these two things rise to the definition of a "trend."  But they both strike me as rather Gnostic departures from the Christian understanding of bodies, death, burial, resurrection, and hope for the life of the world to come.  


In a posting at catholicity and covenant entitled "Silencing the story? Hope, funerals, and the Eucharist," BC cites my posting and adds important observations, particularly regarding the importance of the Eucharist for the funeral liturgy.  BC writes:

It is in the very physicality of the Eucharist in which we see and taste how "life stories are interwoven in the story of the faith". In the Eucharist the Church's self-understanding as the community centred on and given meaning by the Paschal Mystery is made visible - and is made real. When the funeral liturgy is celebrated within the Eucharist, we are proclaiming and showing that the death of the baptised is to [be] understood not within the sterile story of secularism but within the hope-filled Paschal Mystery of the Crucified and Risen One.

Read it all.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fleming Rutledge: "We do not have access to 'the historical Jesus'"

Writing in response to a Wall Street Journal review of Reza Aslan's book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and Géza Vermès' book Christian Beginnings: From Nazareth to Nicaea, Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge succinctly undercuts the idea that we can get "behind" the New Testament to the "real" Jesus.  She writes:

Many people have pointed out the limitations of these endless attempts to recast Jesus in light of what scholars think they can discover behind the New Testament, the so-called gnostic gospels, and other early texts, but these caveats do not reach the typical person who is either 1) reading about the books in the media or 2) actually reading them because (sigh) they have been recommended by their church leaders. We have an entire generation of churchgoing people who have been robbed of faith in Christ by these misbegotten searches for a "historical" Jesus.
It must be stated as clearly as possible: we do not have access to "the historical Jesus." Every single one of these attempts to discover the historical person behind the New Testament text is doomed from the start. All that is known of Jesus is in the New Testament, which was written by faith for faith. In that sense the entire Bible is indeed a unique document, because it simply does not yield its mysteries except to those who receive it in faith.

Read it all.

As I've noted in a previous posting entitled "Jesus Trumps the Bible," the Rev. Rutledge has made similar points before with respect to Jesus Seminar fellow Marcus Borg's false dichotomy between the "pre-Easter Jesus" and the "post-Easter Jesus."  Here's part of what she wrote about that:

... this often-heard distinction is based on a false assumption. We have no access to the pre-Easter Jesus. Every single word of testimony to him in the New Testament is refracted through the Resurrection. Therefore, any attempt to reconstruct a Jesus before anyone knew he would be raised from the dead are doomed to fail, because such projects, again, will always reflect the personal agenda of the interpreter.  
Like it or not, therefore, we must rely upon the Scripture as our only witness to Jesus. There is no other witness.

It is a rich irony that those who seek to usurp the authority of Scripture by painting a portrait of Jesus at odds with the Church's proclamation are forced to tacitly acknowledge Scripture's authoritative witness by citing New Testament texts among their principal sources.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Reggie McNeal: "Truth ultimately converges at one door, one path, and one life"

"We are currently in an ecumenism that celebrates 'people of faith' as if all faith is based in truth.  I am pleading with followers of Jesus to seize the moment and use this new spiritual openness to create conversations that will introduce people to Jesus, who is truth. ... Jesus said that God draws people to himself. And he also said that he was a part of this process ('I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself' John 12:32, NIV). God draws people to himself through Jesus, who is the way. People may and do begin their spiritual journeys from many starting points, but truth ultimately converges at one door, one path, and one life – Jesus. He is the only hope for salvation, for he alone is the Incarnation of God in human flesh. His nature as God, along with his sacrificial visit to this planet, gives him the right to set the rules. He says no one comes to the Father except through him. That is an exclusive claim, and it is offensive to people who are busy working their way to God on their own terms. The cross is always offensive, in every culture and in every generation, because it is the reminder that humans are in need of salvation and can’t do anything about it except on God's terms. This claim to exclusivity cost the early Christians their lives. It will stick in the throat of a religiously plural twenty-first century world just as it did in the first century."

~ Reggie McNeal, The Present Future: 

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Cat, a Hat, and a Eucharist!

If I was not already familiar with the so-called "Seusscharist" (see here and here), I might have thought that this video was a production of The Onion.  But sadly, this is footage of an actual service at St. George's Anglican Church in Guelph, Ontario on Sunday, June 13, 2010:

In the video, the rector says this about the service:

It's exciting to be able to do something a little different.  It's also a little daunting for a priest.  Some would say going to dress up as Cat in the Hat is bringing silliness into worship.

Yes, I can see how some would say exactly that!

The coordinator of family ministry offers this explanation for why St. George's did a "Seusscharist":

The intention of this service is to create an experience for children and give them the language to make sense of that experience.  So that's why we're doing the Dr. Seuss Eucharist.  And what I've learned in the past is we have a connection with the children at a younger age, and if they experience God at a younger age, they have a better experience of church, and the chances are when they're older they'll want to stay.

It's hard for me to get past how seeing a middle-aged man with a goofy hat on his head in church, flanked by "Thing 1" and "Thing 2",  is going to help anyone "make sense" of God.  

The rector sums it all up:

In our house we try to make room for everybody, and this is an intentional 'making room' for all generations to come, to play.  And we take the Eucharist at its center seriously, but we do so with humor, with love, and with invitation that we hope speaks across generations and to the child that's in all of us.

The problem, of course, is that this attempt to "make room for everybody" necessarily excludes anyone who believes (as I do) that dressing up like Dr. Seuss characters and substituting "Seusspeak" for the language of the Eucharistic prayer models a shocking lack of respect and reverence for one of the holiest things the Church does.    

I agree with C. Wingate at Tune: Kings Lynn: I Would Not, Could Not, in a Church.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

William Reed Huntington: "Let us press our reasonable claims to be the reconciler of a divided household"

If our whole ambition as Anglicans in America be to continue a small, but eminently respectable body of Christians, and to offer a refuge for people of refinement and sensibility, who are shocked by the irreverences they are apt to encounter elsewhere; in a word, if we care to be only a countercheck and not a force in society; then let us say as much in plain terms, and frankly renounce any and all claim to Catholicity. We have only, in such a case, to wrap the robe of our dignity about us, and walk quietly along in a seclusion no one will take much trouble to disturb. Thus may we be a Church in name, and a sect in deed. 

But if we aim at something nobler than this, if we would have our Communion become national in very truth, - in other words, if we would bring the Church of Christ into the closest possible sympathy with the throbbing, sorrowing, sinning, repenting, aspiring heart of this great people, - then let us press our reasonable claims to be the reconciler of a divided household, not in a spirit of arrogance (which ill befits those whose best possessions have come to them by inheritance), but with affectionate earnestness and an intelligent zeal.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Sunday, July 21, 2013

John Stott: "We should approach the Gospels with confidence"

Although there are a few scattered references to Jesus in contemporary secular writings, especially in Tacitus and Suetonius, the main source of our information about him remains the four "Gospels."  They are rightly so called.  For strictly speaking they are not biography, but testimony.  They bear witness to Christ and to the good news of his salvation.  Therefore their authors select, arrange and present their material according to their purpose as "evangelists."  This gives us no ground to doubt their trustworthiness, however.  On the contrary, we should approach the Gospels with confidence, not suspicion.  There are many reasons for doing so.

First, the four evangelists were certainly Christian men, and Christian men are honest to whom truth matters.

Second, they give evidence of their impartiality by including incidents they would clearly have preferred to omit.  For example, although by that time Peter was a highly respected church leader, neither his boastfulness nor his denial of Jesus is suppressed.

Third, they claim either to be themselves eyewitnesses of Jesus or to report the experience of eyewitnesses.  Although it seems likely that no Gospel was actually published earlier than AD 60, we must not imagine that there was an empty gap between the ascension of Jesus and that date.  This was the period of "oral tradition," in which the words and deeds of Jesus were used in Christian worship, evangelism and the teaching of converts, and so began to be collected in writing.  Luke says he drew on "many" such compilations (Luke 1:1-4).

Fourth, Jesus seems to have taught like a Jewish rabbi.  He gave his instructions in forms (for example, parables and epigrams) which a tenacious oriental memory would have had no difficulty in learning by heart, and in addition he promised that the Holy Spirit would stimulate the apostles' memory (John 14:25-26).

Fifth, if God said and did something absolutely unique and decisive through Jesus, as Christians believe, it is inconceivable that he would have allowed it to be lost in the mists of antiquity.  If he intended future generations to benefit from it, he must have made provisions for it to be reliably reported, in order to make the good news available to all men in all times and places.  What he decided to do was to present the one gospel in four Gospels.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Little Hope for Bridging the Anglican Divide

Back at the end of 2010, I posted some thoughts on two movements within the Anglican Communion that represent diametrically opposed approaches to the Christian faith.  Piggy-backing on a posting by Peter Carrell at Anglican Down Under, I noted that these two approaches can be termed "Jude 3 Anglicanism" and "John 16:13 Anglicanism."  

Jude 3 Anglicanism upholds "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" by appealing to unchanging norms and doctrine. As Peter Carrell put it in his original posting: "In this movement there is complete conviction that our theology and ethics were more or less settled with the final writings of the New Testament at the close of the first century A.D.  When proposals come forward which appear novel, such as endorsing faithful same sex partnerships through blessing or ordination, or softening the exclusivity of Jesus from 'the way' to 'a way' to God, this movement is unmoved.  What has been delivered once for all does not permit such endorsement or such softening."

By contrast, John 16:13 Anglicanism embraces an understanding of progressive or continued revelation that opens Christian faith and practice to change and at times even substantive revision.  Here's how Peter Carrell summarizes this approach: "In this movement there is complete conviction that our theology and ethics are not yet, perhaps never will be settled.  Novel proposals tend to be welcomed rather than rejected; the Spirit guiding into all truth, after all, is to be expected to catalyse such possibilities."

It is difficult to imagine two approaches to Christian faith that could be more incompatible!

In a recent posting at the Anglican Curmudgeon, A. S. Haley offers thoughts on how this incompatibility breeds division that may be unbridgeable.  And in ways that supplement Peter Carrell's observations about John 16:13 Anglicanism's commitment to ongoing revelation, Haley notes that the progressive majority in the Church of England, the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Church of Canada increasingly justify revising faith and practice on the grounds of "civil rights."  He writes:

There is clearly a division among faiths occurring, which is based on a similar division among cultures. The Anglican Communion, such as it was, was a brave attempt to bridge cultures under the banner of one faith, ultimately stemming from the Church of England. But with that Church now splintering over the issue of women in the episcopate, and the majority's treating the issue as one of straightforward "civil rights," can the admission of openly noncelibate gays and lesbians to the Church's episcopate be far behind? After all, that issue will be debated in the Church on that same ground of "civil rights," which the English Archbishops recently cited in Parliament to support the measure allowing same-sex civil marriages.

And there you have it. For America, Canada, Britain, and many other European countries, it all boils down to "equal civil rights" for all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and their country's churches feel bound to mirror, and thus to honor, in their own structures that which the legislatures (or judges, as in America) have decreed.

But for traditional Anglicans, including those in GAFCON, the Church is the keeper and guardian of the faith, and is not free to jettison Holy Scripture in an effort to accommodate the society in which it finds itself. For them, the concept of "civil rights" has no meaning in the context of the Church, where God's laws, and not man's, are paramount. No one has any "civil rights" before God, and consequently changes in Church doctrine and worship are not a simple matter of majority vote ...

More evidence that there may be little chance of bridging the Anglican divide comes with talk like this:

The Church of England knows it has a crisis on its hands. It thinks the crisis might be solved by gently persuading enough conservatives to overcome their convictions and vote yes for women bishops. I am convinced the problem is far deeper than that. I think we hold dramatically different understandings about the nature of God and they are irreconcilable. I believe in a God of love. They believe in a nasty, rule-bound, vindictive God who despite everything they say, hates gays. Until they overcome their prejudice, they will continue to drive the church towards a precipice. Until people, especially in Synod, have the courage and awareness to proclaim that God looks totally different from the conservative’s version of God, the majority of people in this country will treat us with disdain and many church members will continue to abandon the church.

This citation comes from post-General Synod reflections by the Rev. Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude.  Just as it is hard to imagine two approaches to the Christian faith that could be more diametrically opposed than Jude 3 Anglicanism and John 16:13 Anglicanism, so it is hard to conceive how it would be possible for people to stay in communion when they hold such beliefs about those they disagree with. 

Peter Carrell's thoughts in response (this time from a more recent posting) hit the nail on the head:

If one part of an Anglican church or of the Communion is running round thinking another part is 'nasty' and links that to believing in a 'vindictive God' and not believing in a God of love, then there is little hope of reconciliation, of truly partaking of communion together in which one bread is broken as the body of the one Christ. Even fellowship over a cup of tea is going to be difficult. 

Reconciliation and fellowship may not only be difficult, but also undesirable insofar as the other side is deemed not just morally deficient, but also morally vicious.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

G. K. Chesterton on Theologians Who Deny the Fact of Sin

"Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin - a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.  Some followers of the Reverend R. J. Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams.  But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street. The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat." 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Derek Rishmawy: "In the Bible we have THE normative, sacred story"

"We need to see that in the Bible we have THE normative, sacred story (made up of hundreds of little stories) of Creation, Fall, and Redemption that shines a light on all of our stories and experiences. Because we are sinful (fallen) and small (finite) we can’t even be sure of our interpretations of our experiences, but God gives us a new grid through which we learn to re-read our experiences properly. In a sense, when we submit to the Scriptures, what we’re saying is that God’s experiences and God’s story get the final word over ours. It is the one story that we can trust because God’s perspective is not limited or sinfully twisted like ours. Only his judgments are pure and wholly true, because only he knows the end from the beginning, and the ends for which he began all things."

 ~ Derek Rishmawy, Whose Experience? Which Story?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Quote of the Week

"The Eucharist is not a snack in honor of a nice guy who remained safely dead once he was taken down from the cross." ~ Joe Rawls

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Napoleon: "Everything in Christ astonishes me"

"Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me. Between him and whoever else in the world, there is no possible term of comparison. He is truly a being by himself. ... I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything which can approach the gospel. Neither history, nor humanity, nor the ages, nor nature, offer me anything with which I am able to compare it or to explain it. Here everything is extraordinary."

Quoted in Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew (1995)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Musical Interlude: "Pilgrim's Hymn"

Even before we call on Thy name 
To ask Thee, O God,
When we seek for the words to glorify Thee, 
Thou hearest our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love,
Surpassing all we know.
Glory to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit.

Even with darkness sealing us in,
We breathe Thy name,
And through all the days that follow so fast,
We trust in Thee;
Endless Thy grace, O endless Thy grace,
Beyond all mortal dream.
Both now and forever,
And unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Text: Michael Dennis Browne
Music: Stephen Paulus

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost

RCL, Proper 6, Year C 

It’s an odd fact that holiness of life and awareness of sin go together. St. Paul, for example, writes that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and I’m the biggest sinner of all" (1 Timothy 1:15 CEB). And St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said: "There is nowhere a more wretched and miserable sinner than I." 

It might seem strange that persons whose lives embodied heroic virtue could say things like that. But all of the saints share this view. Indeed, one of the marks of sainthood is having a keen awareness of the gulf that exists between God’s holiness and our sinfulness. The saints know that the biggest thing blocking us from God is believing in our own self-sufficiency. And so, as one writer notes, "the greatest of sins is to be conscious of no sin; but a sense of need will open the door to the forgiveness of God, because God is love, and love's greatest glory is to be needed" [William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke Revised Edition (Westminster Press, 1975), p. 95)].

In today's Gospel reading, Luke introduces us to a woman who is painfully aware of her sinfulness and her need for God's forgiveness. And acting on that need, she shows us what it looks like to fully grasp the amazing grace that is ours in Jesus Christ.

It all started when Jesus went to dinner in the home of a respected religious leader by the name of Simon. Suddenly, an uninvited guest showed up. It's a woman that Luke tells us "was a sinner" (Lk 7:37). We’re not told exactly what that means, but down through the centuries many have thought that the woman was a prostitute. And it's apparent from Simon's reaction that her reputation was well known in that city.

We don't know how this woman got the reputation of a sinner. Maybe she had a husband who died, leaving her penniless and without a home, thereby forcing her into a life of shame and degradation just to get by. Or maybe she brought it on herself by making one too many bad choices and now there's no returning to a socially respectable life. Regardless of how it happened, one can only imagine her feelings of desperation and fear. She was an outcast, a person living on the margins of society, someone that was shunned and looked down upon, someone that others used and threw away in disgust, someone with no hope for a better life.

Somehow, trapped as she was in this living hell, this woman knew about Jesus. Maybe she had heard the stories circulating about a rabbi who treats men and women with equal respect, a traveling preacher who shows mercy to sinners, and who reaches out in love to the lonely, the sick, and outsiders. Maybe she witnessed one of his miracles, like the raising of a widow’s son from the dead or one of the many people he healed. Or maybe she had heard him teach, saying things like, "Do not judge others, and God will not judge you" (Lk 6:37), or, "I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:32), or, "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" (Lk 6:21b)

However it happened, she encountered God's forgiving love in Jesus. He had touched her at the core of her being, reassuring her that she could not be reduced to her circumstances or the awful things she had done. Jesus had helped her accept that the label "sinner" was not her true identity, that she was, in fact, a daughter of Abraham, and a precious child of God worthy of love and healing grace. We don’t know how it happened, but Jesus changed her life.

And so when she found out that Jesus was at supper in Simon's house, she knew she had to get to him. She had to tell him how thankful she was that he had freed her from the prison of sin and social ostracism. She needed to let him know how grateful she was to be given new life and hope for the future.

And so she found the courage to risk what little she had left in her life by crashing a male-only dinner party. Words failed her and so she started sobbing. And with tears streaming down her face, she got on her hands and knees and let the tears wash over Jesus' feet. And then she dried the tears away with her hair, started kissing Jesus' feet, and anointed them with ointment.

If this sounds like strange behavior to us, it would have been absolutely scandalous in Jesus' day. A strange woman with a sinful reputation touching a purportedly holy man in public, letting down her hair, and kissing and anointing his feet?! It's outrageous!

But the woman doesn't care what anybody else thinks. Because what she's doing is an act of thanksgiving for the presence and the power of Jesus in her life. It’s an act of worship, of completely giving herself to the One who gave himself for us. Nothing else matters, because she once was lost, but now, thanks to Jesus, she has been found by a love that makes her worthy and whole. And in response to the woman's gratitude and love, in response to her willingness to quite literally lose herself in absolute trust in him, Jesus says: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Lk 7:50).

It may not be this dramatic, but we all have times in our lives when we reach the end of our rope, times when we find ourselves sinking in circumstances beyond our control or dealing with consequences for our actions that we'd rather not face. At those times, our need for God comes screaming to the surface.


Have you ever done anything that you feel so ashamed of that even the thought of others knowing about it conjures up fear?

Have you ever thought to yourself, "If people only knew what I really think and feel, they would reject me"?

Have you ever felt trapped by painful circumstances you can't change?

Do you know what it's like to be shunned by others, to feel the hurt and embarrassment of being brushed aside as unworthy of love and friendship?

Have you ever knowingly done something wrong and it's damaged relationships with people you care about?

If we find ourselves in those dark places, if we know what it's like to say with the Psalmist "my sins have overtaken me" (Ps 40:12), and if we find ourselves giving into fear and believing the lie that we don't matter and that we’re unworthy of love, then the woman in today's Gospel reading is our guide. She shows us what to do. No matter what it takes, no matter what boundaries need to be crossed, go straight to Jesus. Go straight to the One who loved us so much, that before we had even though about turning to him, he died so that we may live. And even if the words aren’t there, even if we don’t know what to say, let it all out. Let all of the pent-up pain and fear and frustration and anger come gushing out. Let the cleansing tears of repentance flow. Let Jesus touch your heart, forgive your sins, and so fill you with his grace that you know beyond any shadow of doubt the healing power of his love.

It doesn't matter what anybody else thinks. The only thing that matters is that Jesus loves us, that we’re safe from the condemning judgments of others in his presence, and that the past does not dictate our future. Change is always possible. God continually offers us redemption and new life. For in Jesus Christ, there is always hope, there is always forgiveness, and there is always a love that makes us worthy to be called sons and daughters of God.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tyler Blanski: "Jesus is a living, breathing, joyous Sabbath"

We read in Genesis that God made the world in six days, and on the seventh day he "rested."  This does not just mean that God went on vacation.  For six days, God made the heavens and the earth for his own enjoyment.  On the seventh day, when he had finished the job, he moved in.  Creation is God's temple, a place in which he lives.  Thus, from the Jewish point of view, the Sabbath is not a day for laziness.  It is a chance to savor time from a different perspective, to get human time into God time.  It is a day to put the busyness of daily life second and to put what history is all about into relief. ...

You know how Jesus was always breaking the Sabbath regulations?  It's not because they were legalistic and Jesus was antilegalistic.  It's because the Sabbath was a signpost pointing toward God's promised future.  When Jesus healed on the Sabbath or walked through grain fields on the Sabbath, it was not to make a statement about the law, but to express that all the Sabbaths, all the sevens, had come together in his ministry.  He was the moment, the new creation, the healing and feasting Sabbath itself, the fulfilled time that all of history had been waiting for.  Jesus is a living, breathing, joyous Sabbath.  He is "Lord ... of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28).  He is Lord of time.

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

Friday, June 7, 2013

Seeing the Devil as Beautiful and Holy

According to Fr. Robert Barron in the video below, "The commitment to inclusivity has become so great that Christians will listen even to the devil preach."

That observation serves as a jumping off point for Fr. Barron's look at the delusional exegesis in Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's recent gospel-inverting sermon on Acts 16:16-34.  Fr. Barron discusses the prevalent confusion between the gospel value of love and the cultural values of toleration and inclusion.  He continues by noting that the Presiding Bishop's sermon illustrates the "dangerous conflation between toleration and inclusion with love" because it shows how "you might begin to see the devil himself as something beautiful and holy."  

Watch it all:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Bishop Dan Martins responds to the Presiding Bishop's Acts sermon

It's been almost two weeks since Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached a sermon based on Acts 16:16-34.  I've previously written about the sermon, and I note that in it the Presiding Bishop basically makes the same charge against the apostle Paul that the scribes level against Jesus (cf. Mark 3:20-30).  By doing so, the sermon equates the liberating power of Christ with the demonic, and the demonic with the Holy Spirit. 

One would hope that such an inversion of the Gospel would raise sufficient concern among those charged with preaching, teaching, and guarding the faith of the Church that they would speak out.  But the silence from other leaders in the Episcopal Church has been deafening.  And that is perhaps more disturbing than the sermon itself.  

Having said that, I am pleased to see that last night Bishop Dan Martins of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield posted a response to the Presiding Bishop's sermon on his blog.  Here's some of what he wrote:

This is awkward. Because of my position in the system, Bishop Jefferts Schori is not an abstraction to me. She is someone from whom I have sat across a table in several meetings of the House of Bishops. She is someone who sends me a hand-written note on my birthday and the anniversary of my consecration. She is someone who very kindly checked in on me by email while I was recovering from heart surgery, for which I was immensely grateful.

Yet, I feel constrained by the vows I took when I was ordained a bishop--vows that she herself formally required of me--to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church of God." These vows do not permit me to remain silent, even as I also remain respectful and charitable. ...

To call Bishop Jefferts Schori's exegesis of Acts 16 "strained" or "eccentric" is too mild. It is utterly bizarre. But others have done an adequate job fisking the sermon. I'm going to cut right to what seems to me a rather larger and more fundamental issue, which is the duty of all Christians, but particularly those in ordained leadership, to operate from within the tradition, as an insider looking out, and not from a critical distance, as an outsider looking in. The Christian tradition (a term I use in what I think is an Eastern Orthodox sense, inclusive of scripture, liturgy, ascesis, and the mainstream of theology) is certainly an appropriate object of critical inquiry by detached outsiders, whether sympathetic or hostile. But such critical inquiry is not in the remit of a bishop; in fact, bishops pretty much surrender the option of engaging in that sort of work the moment they are consecrated. A bishop is, by definition, by job description, thoroughly a conservative, operating as a custodian of the tradition and articulating an insider's point of view. Is there room on the margins for prophetic voices that challenge the establishment, speaking words of truth and justice? Yes, there certainly is room for those voices. But they are not the voices of bishops. It is, rather, the job of bishops, speaking as consummate insiders, to equip the baptized faithful to listen to the voices from the margins and discern between true prophets and false ones. 

As an insider looking out, as an apologist and cheerleader for the establishment, a bishop sits under the authority of the tradition, particularly the authority of sacred scripture. There are interpretive roads that are open to others--outsiders looking in--that are properly closed to bishops (and, by extension, to priests and others who preach and teach). In Acts 16, the author (presumably Luke) portrays Paul and Silas as the good guys, the slave girl as the exploited victim, and her "owners," along with the demon that possessed her, as the bad guys. What Paul did, operating in the power of the Holy Spirit, was to liberate an oppressed person. There is a homiletical treasure trove available here without disturbing this essential dynamic. To stray outside it only tortures the text. And I suspect that Bishop Katharine's concern that we recognize the image of God in one another could have been well-supported by the readings for Easter VII without so straying. 

One of the great temptations for either a theologian or a pastor is to be original. It's a tonic to the ego. Under the right circumstances, a theologian can get away with it. St Paul certainly did! A pastor, by contrast, eschews originality. A pastor, a bishop, is a relay runner, handing along (para-dosis, the root of "tradition") the baton to the next runner, the next generation. Originality is not compatible with that job description. 

I applaud Bishop Martins for taking the charge to "guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church" seriously enough to speak out (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 517).  And I appreciate his noting that a bishop is "by definition, by job description, thoroughly a conservative, operating as a custodian of the tradition and articulating an insider's point of view."  That strikes me as consistent with the Examination and the Vows in the Prayer Book's rite for the ordination of a bishop.  

Ultimately, it comes down to this: will we who are ordained faithfully submit to the authority of Holy Tradition (which, as Bishop Martins notes, includes "scripture, liturgy, ascesis, and the mainstream of theology")?  Or will we arrogate to ourselves the right to sit in judgment on Holy Tradition, molding and manipulating it to support our agendas, and even setting it aside when it contradicts us?