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?