Friday, March 21, 2014

Is This Worthy of a Bishop?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Abuses of the Pulpit

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

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

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

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