Monday, September 10, 2007

Do the Work of an Evangelist

Not of an underwriter.

"
Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine...do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry."
II Timothy 4:2,5

The insurance business has that dreaded class of gate keepers who study every new application sent by an agent, examining it thoroughly to find whatever reason they may to reject it. The agent has worked hard to sell a policy, only to have it fall into such hands, those who are trained to be suspicious, to protect the company's assets and reserves, and to this end to show no pity on a would be customer. The truth is, the insurance companies do need these menacing figures in order to control losses. They are necessary in insurance, but not in the priesthood.

A while back I listened to a priest, a man with little experience but generous with unsolicited advice, describing how he had protected his church from the wrong kind of people. A couple, both Episcopalians, were moving to his area, and wanted to find what they called a "Bible believing church." The alarm bells went off in his head, since he took the expression "Bible believing" to indicate that they were Protestant in their thinking, Low Church in their tastes, and just not the right sort for his "Anglo-Catholic" parish. He was practically boasting about how he had scared them off by arguing over who was and who was not orthodox, and by his firm refutation of women's "ordination." Yes, he manged to keep the wrong sort of people away, and they did not even come by on Sunday morning to visit and see the church for themselves. He had scared them off just fine over the phone.

The man should have been an underwriter.

The famed Barrister of fiction, Horace Rumpole, once said about a colleague, "It's no great trick getting people into prison. How good is he at keeping them out?" The opposite applies to the sacred ministry in the Church. It is no great trick keeping people out of the Church. Just decide, O' Priest, that you shall be a gatekeeper instead of a fisher of men. It's much easier, and you get to play the role of the Bad Vicar. None of that nasty business of being patient and kind, none of that drag on your time. And, you get to cater to the desires of the most fussy and effeminate contributors who think it is more important to observe all of the choreography of Ritual Notes than to tend to the salvation of souls. Golly! You can even console yourself as your congregation remains stagnant, or drops off to nothing, that you had done well by keeping it pure. You can concentrate on the gossip and who's who of the bitter Continuing divisions, and treat everything to do with learning as a matter purely theoretical.

But, guess what my friends; we don't need underwriters among the clergy. So, if you are the type who examines visitors to see whether or not their "application" is solid, please go do something else. The world always needs good waiters and janitors, and insurance companies could use very fussy people as, you guessed it, underwriters. Get an honest job.

This is a time of opportunity for us. At this point in history, the Anglican world is exploding. When it falls back down it will be resorted and reconfigured. Many of the people in official Cantuarian Anglican churches are fleeing for their lives; and they are looking to African Primates, or going to Rome or Orthodoxy, because for too long the Continuing Churches have been choking the supply of the Gospel, and of the power to save souls through the pure preaching of God's word; they have been squeezing the hose shut instead of allowing the water to flow through it. The Spirit has been quenched for too long among a people who, having the truest and best of orthodox doctrine, nonetheless have made evangelism the lowest priority, if a priority at all.

When I say, "evangelism" I do not mean, first and foremost, church growth. Church growth is a consequence of evangelism; but the purpose of evangelism is the salvation of souls. When all is said and done, we will not answer on the Last Day for how well we performed the Ritual Notes (not even for the Shrove Tuesday Pancake Procession); but we will answer for whether or not we had been moved by charity to become vessels meet for the Master's purpose, pliable to the Holy Spirit for the work of evangelists. How much have we cared about the eternal destiny of lost souls in a fallen world? How much have we sought to welcome them, in fact to "compel them to come in?"

Now, if this couple had asked me if my church were A "Bible believing church," I would have said, as every true Catholic, including Catholic Anglicans, should say: "Yes, we most certainly are." I would have urged them to come, to taste and see that the Lord is good. We can deal with ignorance. In fact, dear priests, expect ignorance since you are supposed to be the teachers, and you cannot teach people what they already know. Welcome people whose minds are Protestant, and learn to speak in and interpret tongues enough to communicate in terms they receive. If such faithful Christians think in terms too foreign for your understanding, how do you hope to win the nations for Christ?

"O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling,
to tell to all the world that God is Light;
that he who made all nations is not willing
one soul should perish, lost in shades of night.
Refrain:
Publish glad tidings: tidings of peace
tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.


"Proclaim to every people, tongue, and nation
that God, in whom they live and move, is Love;
tell how he stooped to save his lost creation,
and died on earth that man might live above. Refrain

"Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious;
give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;
pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious
till God shall bring his kingdom's joyful day. Refrain

"He comes again! O Zion, ere thou meet him,
make known to every heart his saving grace;
let none whom he hath ransomed fail to greet him,
through thy neglect, unfit to see his face. Refrain"


O' Zion Haste, hymn 261 in the 1940 Hymnal
Words: Mary Ann Faulkner Thomson, 1870

26 comments:

PrayerBookCatholic said...

This is a similar point to what I've been trying to make regarding clerical education. If we wait until we've created the one, pure, "truly Catholic" seminary or clerical education program, we'll end up with nothing. Or rather, we'll end up with clergy who are undereducated and untrained in many of the things needed to build viable Continuing Anglican parishes today: in-depth knowledge of the Bible, hermeneutics, preaching, counseling, evangelism, etc. In fact, the clergyman you refer to is representative of what we can and should expect if we continue with the status quo.

poetreader said...

Whew!

Father Hart, yours are blistering words, but true, and necessary.

"My Church," says the Lord, "Is a house of prayer for all people. Yes, we have an obligation to preach and teach accurately the saving Word of God. Yes, our practice must be in accord with that Gospel, but we are custodians of all that, not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of the lost and sinful world for whom Jesus died. We are part of that world, but only a small part after all.

I used to belong to a Pentecostal denomination that taught firmly and conscientiously (though wroingly) that all jewelry is sinful. As a loyal member and pastor I bought into that, but when some of my mebers began making people with jewelry to feel unwelcome in our services, I lost my temper. Even though ignorant of our standards, they were among those the Lord was calling. They were to be welcomed, freely and enthusiatically. Whatever teaching they needed was secondary to that and would follow.

I no longer hold to those particular standards, but the same applies quite fully to those who do not understand Catholic standards, who in their respect for Scriptures misunderstand their precise role, who are disturbed by the elaboration of our worship and fail to understand our view of sacraments. If our faith is correct (and it is) then it is to the Catholic Faith that they are called, and sending them away id an act of supreme contempt for their souls.

Will the influx of partially educated Christians make life more difficult for our clergy? Of course it will, but who ever said it was supposed to be easy?

ed

poetreader said...

prayerbookcatholic,

It's not a very close comparison. We are talking here about receiving people into our fellowship to be taught.

You're talking about sending our candidates somewhere else to be taught, perhaps wrongly. How can we teach them what is right if we have only really heard it their way?

We aren't going to come up with a perfect program. That's clear. But, if we can't be aware of what dangers we are exposing ourselves to, we end up with nothing to teach but what is learned imperfectly elsewhere.

I submit that if the main part of our clergy education is received under Evangelical auspices, and our unique Catholic viewpoint is merely supplementary, that our men will be woefully underecated in what a Catholic priest needs.

A Patristic view of Scripture interpretation is actually not very similar to a Protestant view, and if we assume this is not so, we basically agree to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage.

Sorry to come on so strong, but I am convinced that our Continuing movement is placed in mortal danger. unless we are training our own.

I do agree that we must move beyond the status quo. That, indeed is what the thread on education is all about. And that, not this, is the proper place for that discussion.

Can we return this thread to consideration of the welcome uneducated sinners must receive in our churches?

ed

Sandra McColl said...

It's not really a training issue so much as a discernment issue. What we need in our clergy is maturity.

Good post -- I quite agree. First, we are bible believing folk. Second, not all people who come into our congregations from different backgrounds are necessarily trying to impose their former practices and current beliefs on us, and might decide they want to stay and learn more. Third, in the very rare case that people come into Continuum parishes insisting on implementation of their bright ideas such as happy clappy BCP-free worship, or theological and sacramental novelties, politely maintaining our lex orandi et credendi, along with some gentle explanation as to why it is meet and right, will either win them over or convince them their home is elsewhere--but at least they will have tried it.

Fr. D. said...

A thought provoking post Fr. Hart. Would I be misinterpreting your seeming Toonist, Virtuist dislike for Anglo Catholics? I am reasonably certain that most continuum rectors, etc. have had differing experiences regarding entry level communicants. My experience is summed up as follows: having spent the first half of my life as a militant Protestant I have conscienceously sought after Protestants for the entire 16 years of my priesthood. Thankfully, many have come in to the Church. Most have had one thing in common; they are inteligent and well read. It is with former Episcopalians that I have the least success. Those who remember and identify with the traditional prayerbook blend in nicely and add much to our communal life together. Those who have spent much time in the post St. Louis Episcopal Church have often adopted mind sets that, whether they realize it or not, place them in opposition to the Faith once delivered. Devout, thinking Protestants are much more open, in my experience, to the claims of Anglicanism, than are latant Episcopalians. Also, many older and younger Roman Catholics make good, sound communicants.
If our fervor is directed toward churchmanship IE: high/low,"Ritual Notes", etc. then we miss it entirely and deserve to dry up and wither.
FWIW,
Fr. D. (ACC Priest)

Laurence K. Wells+ said...

I share Fr Hart's disgust with this priest, whose pastoral and evangelistic skills are so slight.
Possibly, a year or so of good mentoring would have taught him how to respond to people who ask, "Is this a Bible-believing church." But this is a long-time problem in Episcopalianism. Remember the churches which had little blue-haired dragons in the narthex who slapped prayer caps on any visiting females?
But I believe there is another problem with this priest, and that is he apparently has a defective view of Biblical authority. I have met too many CC clergy whose view of Scripture is hardly different from that of John Spong. In fact, I can name a website which illustrates this. Too many of us are fundamentalists with regard to Ritual Notes or the Parson's Handbook, but actually modernists with regard to Scripture. When I once served as an Examining Chaplain I once asked a very sharp candidate, "Is it your belief that the Bible is the Word of God?" His response was, "I believe the Bible is a subset of the Word of God."
I knew at that moment that a CC John Spong was about to come on stage. So this "Protestant" couple was highly astute in their question, and they were probably wise to keep on seeking.

John A. Hollister said...

Mr. Pacht said, about the notion of educating Continuing Church clergy at "evangelical" Protestant seminaries:

"A Patristic view of Scripture interpretation is actually not very similar to a Protestant view, and if we assume this is not so, we basically agree to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage."

Let me share an experience that impressed on me how true it is that the self-described Evangelicals are not hospitable to the Patristic view of the Church.

In medical school, my wife became friendly with an adjunct instructor in psychiatry, a woman who was a practicing clinical psychologist in Erie. This woman had obtained her Psy.D. from Fuller, which she entered as a Protestant and where she was doing so well in her graduate program that she was offered a faculty appointment, to be taken up upon her graduation.

Because Fuller incorporates some of the seminary courses into the clinical psychology curriculum, she was cruising the theology parts the library stacks when she came upon a section just filled with books that appeared to be completely unvisited and unread. These were the Fathers of the Church and, one suspects, were in that library just to meet some accrediting commission standard.

She asked some of the faculty about them and was told, "Oh, we don't pay any attention to those, but you can read them if you want to."

She did and thereby read herself into Catholicism. As the only Catholicism of which she was aware was the Roman brand, she became a Roman Catholic.

Well, one can just imagine how well that went down at Fuller. She did manage to graduate and get her degree, although I gather that was touch-and-go, and the promise of a faculty position was summarily revoked.

Oh, and how did she get to Erie? She's become so thoroughly Catholic that she felt she needed a Spiritual Director. The one she chose happened to be a nun whose Order is headquartered in Erie. When the nun was recalled to the mother house, this doctor followed her spiritual director to Erie and set up a private practice there.

But even told at second hand, I could get a strong sense of Fuller's hostility to any deviation from the Revelation handed down by God, not on the slopes of Mt. Sinai but on the shores of Lake Geneva. So would our men be truly welcome in a place like that, or would our doctrinal requirements really be tolerated, let alone adequately catered for? Judge for yourself.

John A. Hollister+

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

I agree with Fr Hart's recommendations, however I tend to disagree as to the prevalence of the "gatekeeper" mentality amongst Continuing clergy. Far from trying to scare people away, I think most of us get so excited if a visitor or enquirer comes our way -- which is not very often in my part of the world -- that we pull out all the stops and try to be as positive as possible. Especially since our congregations are often small and struggling. However, it is also true we should be more proactive and not wait for them to come to us. I personally perceive my failure to be in this area.

As for why those fleeing the mainstream Anglican Communion are more likely to go to Rome, the East or for African oversight rather than us, I think that this has little to do with how evangelistic we are or aren't. Think about it: are most RC and EO parishes very evangelistic? No, the main reasons we are not the first port of call are our smallness (numbers attract numbers), our being less well known, and the fact that Catholic-minded Anglicans would find it easy to believe now that all Anglicanism is a lost cause, while antiCatholic Anglicans would normally avoid us even if (especially if?) they knew of us. Or so it seems to me. I tend to agree with Fr D., many of those already Christian we will attract will not have been Anglicans. Like me! My background was Methodist (Uniting Church of Australia), Charismatic and then Pentecostal.

Primary evangelism is the key. We must reach out to the unchurched and unbelieving through apologetics, preaching the gospel and doing good works.

And yet it may be that the seeds we plant and the souls we bring into or closer to the Kingdom don't always end up increasing our congregation -- sometimes other churches will reap where we have sown. At least, that is how it seems to me at times. I have, for example, effectively encouraged some people (not my parishioners) to return to the Church with which they are already affiliated, the RCC, however weakly, as it seemed pastorally appropriate. Or have lost parishioners because of the tyranny of distance and their desire for a larger fellowship, yet they were grateful for the ministry they had received in the ACC. Then there is the type of person who comes out of nowhere, seeks counsel or answers from you, you cheerfully minister to them spiritually or practically, and never see or hear from them again. But that doesn't necessarily imply failure.

To tell the truth, I'm more worried about Continuers not even getting the chance to be stupid enought to "gatekeep" much, because their whole approach may only encourage ultraconservative middle-class aesthetes to come in the first place! The "boutique church" mentality is the one I fear.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Fr.D wrote?
Would I be misinterpreting your seeming Toonist, Virtuist dislike for Anglo Catholics?

Well, I am an Anglo-Catholic, I suppose (sort of, kind of). But, I fear we have two kinds: Those who believe in the Catholic theology of the Church, and those who simply like the theatrical element of liturgical performance. The latter need to be converted to the Catholic Faith itself; they are easy to spot because of the fussy, effeminate approach I mentioned, along with "majoring in the minors."

agrarian said...

Ever since reading that "clergy education" thread a few days ago through to reading this thread today, I have had the same words blaring over and over again in my head: "People of the Way vs. People of the Book. People of the Way vs. People of the Book...." The earliest Christians called themselves "People of the Way" and, thus, Christians are People of the Way. "People of the Book" is a post-Reformation perversion of the concept of Christians, and a term shared by Jewish and Muslim apostates. Christianity concerns Life itself, Being itself, Everything, and cannot possibly be confined to a book. The fullness of the faith is found in the Way, and the Way, which passeth human understanding, to the extent it can be comprehended, has been preserved in the Church, faithfully passed down from the Apostles. It cannot be grasped from a book in isolation, so it could not be preserved in any other way but through the Church and its unbroken Tradition.

prayerbookcatholic wrote this (emphasis added):


If we wait until we've created the one, pure, "truly Catholic" seminary or clerical education program, we'll end up with nothing. Or rather, we'll end up with clergy who are undereducated and untrained in many of the things needed to build viable Continuing Anglican parishes today


It should be rewritten with the following substitution (emphasis added):


If we wait until we've created the one, pure, "truly Evangelical" seminary or clerical education program, we'll end up with nothing. Or rather, we'll end up with clergy who are undereducated and untrained in many of the things needed to build viable Continuing Anglican parishes today


Christians are People of the Way. The Book applies to the Way but is not the Way itself. Thus, evangelical seminaries have nothing to offer us. On the other hand, we have everything to offer evangelicals. This should be a non-starter.

It is time that we dispensed with the theological schizophrenia which has predictably and unavoidably produced the current rampant heresy in the "official" Anglican world. Excise the cancer and let's commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the Catholic faith of the Apostles as People of the Way. It is the only possible path for future Christian unity founded upon Truth. Any other basis for unity (i.e. innovative and opportunistic WCC ecumenism) will ultimately not be of God.



Fr. Hart makes an excellent point. No one should be turned away without first seeing, tasting, experiencing our worship. But I don't think Fr. Hart will disagree with me that there is an opposite extreme which is equally perilous and needs to be addressed in the context of this essay. We can be so accommodating to those of other faiths (i.e. radical Protestant) that we begin to surrender our own faith until a parish becomes, in effect, a non-denominational church, unrecognizable as being Anglican.

I have personally experienced this in a mission setting. A couple, radical Protestants, clearly felt some sort of "call" to "Christianize the Catholics" and went to work on our mission. The vicar, out of misplaced charity, acceded to their constant demands every step of the way, even placing one in teaching positions, strangely as a newly "confirmed" Anglican. Good Anglicans, good Catholics, were then repeatedly instructed to rely upon "personal interpretation" and the "personal inspiration of the Holy Spirit" as open heresy began to flourish unchallenged, most notably Messianic Judaism. By then, the vicar had painted himself so far into a corner that he could do nothing to reverse the situation without destroying the mission. In the end, it cost him all of his "under 40" parishioners. Of course, this being a continuing Anglican mission, that left only an "over 65" crowd, the baneful status quo of so much of the Continuum.

So, yes, turn no one away. Ensure that they experience our worship, no matter what. But at the same time, don't compromise the faith. By all means, "speak the truth in love," but just make sure that you never neglect to speak that truth, no matter what. The "inquirers" may not stay. So be it. That's in God's hands. But we must, all of us, conform ourselves to the Catholic faith of the Apostles. We must never conform ourselves to the post-Reformation traditions of men. The former leads to Life while the latter leads to chaos and destruction.

agrarian said...

Fr. Kirby wrote:

No, the main reasons we are not the first port of call are our smallness (numbers attract numbers), our being less well known, and the fact that Catholic-minded Anglicans would find it easy to believe now that all Anglicanism is a lost cause, while antiCatholic Anglicans would normally avoid us even if (especially if?) they knew of us.


The main reasons we are not the first "port of call" are our disunity (alphabet soup) and the perception that we are just a bunch of "single issue" reactionaries (WO or liturgical revision), not first and foremost faithful and charitable Christians. This is the nearly universally accepted line in ECUSA/TEC/(or whatever it is today). In short, we appear as a spiritual cul-de-sac.

Upon leaving ECUSA in 2003, I myself first went to the Orthodox Church. Later, I even returned briefly to my Presbyterian roots (suffering without the weekly Eucharist!) before receiving a call from an "orthodox" ECUSA priest friend who told me that he had attended the nearest continuing Anglican parish (something he thought he would never do, based upon the hype) and had such a powerful experience that he was actually going to go to work for the jurisdiction. With that surprisingly good review, I went myself and finally found my new church home. But it possibly never would have happened but for that fortuitous intelligence report which came through the phone line.

Frankly, I thank we have already attracted pretty much all the recovering ECUSAns we are ever going to get at this point. They came in after GC 2003. The ones who have remained in ECUSA will never feel sufficiently conflicted to leave; or if they do, they will only be able to handle a '79 PB parish.

What we need to concentrate on is that unity. It is a sin. It must end. It should have ended a long time ago. Let the "alphabet soup" promptly come to end such that we might be taken seriously by all the non-Anglican Protestants who so desperately hunger for what we have to offer, but do not yet know it. "Unite the clans!" Let's deal a blow to the evil one and get this divisive demon off our back.

poetreader said...

Agrarian,

Thanks for a clear and direct statement. All should be welcome, but they should be welcomed to hear what is good and true and holy, and to hear correction of what is not.

No church is free to hold back on preaching truth just because some might not like it (though tact and gentleness should be the norm, whenever possible).

No member or visitor is free to subvert the preaching of truth, and, regrettably, it is sometimes necessary to send someone away rather than to let them do so over a long period.

But there is no one, either inside the Church or outside who has it entirely right. Everyone needs teaching.

ed

agrarian said...

Ed,

My heart goes out to the vicar in the situation which I described. I am a layman, but if someday I should find myself in his shoes as priest, I would hate to have to "disappoint" an inquirer by not honoring his/her every request. A priest can only learn to master such situations through the trial and error, often fiery, of experience.

That was a learning experience all the way around, and what I ultimately got out of it was a heightened respect for the sacrament of Confirmation. Only with confirmation can a Christian assume all the privileges of serving in whatever capacity in the parish, including teaching as a layman. Prior to confirmation, the inquirer can say and request anything, and clergy need only cite the church canons, in all charity, when a "limit" is reached. Ergo, all the more reason for the fish to pursue confirmation!

But this is where the sacrament of Confirmation must be jealously guarded. It must not be treated as a mere formality. Confirmation should be strictly withheld until the inquirer demonstrates a genuine conversion to our faith. Here the priest can fall back on the gravity of the sacrament while instructing the inquirer and not honoring his every request. It greatly lessens the danger of losing the fish prematurely and makes things more comfortable all the way around. Confirmation is the ultimate evangelistic saving grace when applied in its traditional sense.

poetreader said...

Agrarian,

Best argument for delaying Confirmation Western style that I've heard yet. I tend to be of two minds on the matter, having enormous respect for the Eastern custom of confirming infants and communing them immediately -- but yet never quite sold on it as something that should be done.

I'm also dismayed by the abuse of the Western custom, wherein Confirmnation becomes relegated to a coming-of-age ceremony, and tends to signal the lack of necessity to attend Sunday School and a consequent freedom from church attendance. That's a truly horrid abuse.

To see the Sacrament as the blessing of a moment of commitment, as you've outlined it, is not to describe the essence of the sacrament, but certainly does vest the spiritual reality with a practical significance also. If we see the reception of confirmed people from other communions as a reaffirmation of Confirmation and as expressive of the same sort of commitment, we will have strengthened our fellowship immensely, while leaving an obvious place for inquirers to learn.

Thank you.
ed

PrayerBookCatholic said...

While I very much appreciate the comments of Ed and agrarian and am not unsympathetic to the matters they are sensitive to, I can only say that I speak as someone who has been an active confirmed communicant of one of the Continuing Churches for nearly 30 years. I have also helped start two CC parishes. I find the exclusionary and ignorant pastoral approach to the Bible-believing Episcopalian couple by the priest to be eerily reminiscent of the exclusionary and head-in-the-sand approach I’ve often seen by many in the CC toward clerical education.

I don’t want to carry on this off-topic dialogue, but I think we do need to be careful about using terms like “a Patristic view of Scripture interpretation” and “a Protestant view.” I do not find the “Catholic” vs. “Protestant” paradigm at all helpful in our context. Both terms mean such different things to different folks and seem to be used most often to demonize what is perceived to be the other side.

I also don’t believe there was “a [single] Patristic view of Scripture interpretation” since many of the Fathers disagreed with one another (i.e., Antioch vs. Alexandria).

As to Fuller and the Fathers, a review of the Fuller School of Theology website reveals the offering of a quite substantial course in Patristic Theology. While I’m sure “the Fuller perspective” on the Fathers will not be what we would prefer, the idea that no one in the Theology Dept. there reads or cares about the Fathers is simply preposterous.

poetreader said...

"I also don’t believe there was “a [single] Patristic view of Scripture interpretation” since many of the Fathers disagreed with one another (i.e., Antioch vs. Alexandria)."

Precisely true, and that's really my point. Evangelicals take a view of Scripture that effectually does not require the input of the Fathers. Some will pay a certain amount of lipservice to them, but, ultimately the view is one foreign to both schools of early expositors, the view that the supreme authority is the Bible as read by the individual Christian. This is the classic Reformation viewpoint, and, in my estimation, a wrong-headed one ultimately destructive of Catholic Christianity.

In cases such as were mentioned here, instead of an unjustly exclusionary posture toward newcomers, we are lijkely to have produced clergy who do not know how to answer this kind of issue, having been saturated in a contrary viewpoint.
ed

Laurence K. Wells+ said...

This word "Patristic" can be a nose of wax, like "Celtic spirituality."
True enough, there was more than one type of Biblical interpretation; any first year seminarian should know that Antiochene exegesis differed from Alexandrian. But different types of Biblical interpretation to NOT equate to different views of Biblical authority! I cannot think of a single figure of the Patristic period (save the gnostics) who would have tolerated the modern notion of a less than inerrant Bible, engendered by skeptical higher criticism and naturalistic world-views. Paul said clearly that all Scripture is Theopneustos, and in this he was echoing the teaching of Our Lord Himself. No orthodox Patristic theologian believed otherwise. But they had a word for those who do!

PrayerBookCatholic said...

Thank you, Fr. Hart, for a wonderful and timely post and for blowing the whistle on a severe problem in some of our Continuing Churches. I do not really blame the priest who turned away the Episcopalian couple; after all, I'm sure he thought he was merely protecting the Faith. The ones who should be blamed are the bishops and diocesan commissions on ministry who continue to ordain and promote such ignorant and unpastoral pastors. As an old Latin saying puts it, you cannot give what you do not have.

rev'd up said...

I have to say, I am dissappointed with this post and the continued haranging of the inexperienced priest, who was not able to present his own side of the story or defend himself.

To then equate his alledged behaviour with "fussy, effeminate" adhearence to the ancient ritual of Holy Mother Church is sophmoric at best. The phrase "non sequitur" comes to mind.

I personally think this post is way below Fr. Hart's potential.

Sandra McColl said...

Fr Kirby, do we really live in the same country? In my experience, the aesthetes still frequent the 'society churches' of the Cantuarian mainstream, the well-endowed fleshpots of Egypt with their sanctuaries, organs and musical and ceremonial budgets, as well as their reputations for once having been shrine-church bastions of Catholic orthodoxy. Meanwhile, Continuum congregations pitch their humble tabernacles in rented premises and make do with what little they can find in the way of resources to beautify worship. Admittedly, in most cases the Continuum worship is more intrinsically beautiful because it is founded on a superior and deeper liturgical text, but the aesthetes content themselves with the window dressing. Those who have gone into the Continuum (or even into Forward in Faith parishes, for the most part) have made an clear choice to prefer orthodoxy over aesthetics.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I have to say, I am dissappointed with this post and the continued haranging of the inexperienced priest, who was not able to present his own side of the story or defend himself.

What makes you think he cannot defend himself, or present his case right here, right now? he can do so with a handle, and remain anonymous.

After all, I e-mailed the link to him.

poetreader said...

"protecting the Faith"

Does the Faith need protection? Are Christians so weak that the only thing we can do is to cower in the corner in fear?

"Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world," says the apostle. Truly we are weak in our flesh, but He is strong. Though we labor on as a sometimes oppressed minority in a fallen world, we are assured the victory at the last.

The faith doesn't need to be protected. It needs to be taught, firmly and clearly and without fear.

ed

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Sandra,

You have misunderstood my point, but that is probably due mostly to my overly terse presentation of it. I was not making an observation about our present membership as such, especially in Oz, nor even criticising very conservative members of the middle class who love beauty who may in fact be members. Many would put me in that category! No, my point was more to do with the way we present ourselves to outsiders generally, not just in Australia.

Now, I may be worrying about nothing. But it does seem sometimes that factors such as our strong devotion to the old BCP and its somewhat archaic language, deeply critical attitude to all non-liturgical forms of worship (forgetting that the primitive Catholic Church had extemporaneous prayer, prophets, etc), and pervasive political conservatism might make it difficult for us to reach out effectively and sympathetically to all people. Those impoverished either materially or culturally should feel attracted to us too.

I know I am not expressing this very well, and some may think I've lost my mind or veered towards liberal or even "Liberation Theology". But I do worry about this sometimes. Are we, like the NT Church, a Church for the poor? I know we can be and often are, and that good liturgy and Anglican Catholic teaching can enrich anybody, high or low, but I do wonder whether we sometimes allow ourselves to be defined too much by what we are against, as noted by Agrarian.

And, yes, Agrarian is right to say our disunity does not help our witness, but it does not really explain why people choose the RCC over us, as their internal divisions, though not institutionally expressed, are even more extreme than ours. The four contributors here are each loyal to their own jurisdictions and critical of aspects of the others (and their own at times). But we have much more in common than a Spong-admiring revisionist RC (and there are an awful lot of them) has with a member of Opus Dei, for example. Also, we tend to overestimate how well any of us (or our divisions) are known anyway.

Fr Wells,

While it is true the Fathers overwhelmingly agreed about the Bible's authority and inerrancy, they did so often in a nuanced way that often did accomodate contemporary and secular scientific and historical knoweledge. Origen and his Alexandrian followers interpreted many passages non-literally depsite them not being obviously non-literal according to internal evidence. External crieria related to reason were utilised to determine which passages "had to be" taken as allegorical. In other words, the scriptures were inerrant when taken in the sense the divine author intended, which sense it was admitted may often be difficult to discover.

Similarly, even the more sober hermeneutics of St Augustine explicitly allowed that biblical interpretation should not contradict what is known by reason, lest we look ridiculous. Other Fathers, such as Ss Basil and Chrysostom were suspicious of such an attitude. So, the Church has always had this kind of tension within it. It is not new.

PrayerBookCatholic said...

Fr. Kirby,
Thank you for your thoughtful post. You are clearly thinking hard and well about the very issues that I am also concerned with. I think some on this blog have misunderstood my promotion of a few select conservative evangelical seminaries as one way of giving our postulants a decent background in the Biblical languages, interpretation, hermeneutics, preaching, counseling, and so on. I have not done this to undermine our tradition; quite to the contrary.

What I’m actually most concerned about is the Continuing Church “going out of business.” There has been stagnation at best in terms of CC communicant strength in the US for the past 28 years, and if you take into account the 35% increase in population, real decline. (I don’t know what the situation is in Australia, but suspect it may not be all that different.) I personally know of states and cities in the US where the CC used to be strong (or at least have a presence) and now has disappeared or shrunk greatly.

All of the Churches which are historically based and follow traditional Christian faith, practice, liturgy, etc. have lost ground over the past two or three decades. The Orthodox Churches, for example, are facing similar problems to ours in the CC. Fewer and fewer people are going to church in our radically postmodern age. For us to simply “march in place,” let alone grow, will require highly aggressive missionary approaches. We are in fact a missionary Church in a highly missionary setting.

The benefit of some of the conservative evangelical approaches is that they have been following a missionary model for a long time. Many of the things they have discovered and perfected would be useful to us (and I don’t mean seeker-friendly worship, which many of them abhor). Of course these techniques and insights must be adapted, modified, and tailored to our unique Catholic and Apostolic framework. This may be more difficult than I stated. It does assume a thorough grounding in our Anglican, Catholic, and Apostolic framework.

One huge reason the Roman Church appeals to people while we don’t is simply their size and infrastructure. They have large parishes in every city and town whereas we are lucky to have any parishes at all within a 200-mile radius (and those are mostly tiny). I have seen time and again people who were good Continuing Anglicans move to places where there was no Continuing Anglican church—and they were forced to become Roman Catholics, or Lutherans, or Evangelical Presbyterians, or Orthodox if they wanted to attend and be part of an actual local church.

If we can start planting churches and growing by having our postulants read for orders or go through St. Joseph of Arimathea or the equivalent, I’m all for it. But I haven’t seen that happen very much over the past three decades. And the longer we wait, the smaller we’re going to become. Meanwhile the “new” Continuing Anglicans (AMiA, CANA, Southern Cone, Bolivia, etc.) will be growing and filling in the gaps. Those looking for “orthodox Anglicanism” will quite naturally turn to them rather than us. Maybe that’s the way it should be. But I would rather it not.

agrarian said...

prayerbookcatholic:

I am intrigued by your posts because they are obviously so well thought out, yet always leave me with the sense that you are missing the forest for the trees. More precisely, it is my perception that your prescription may well have met the needs of the day a few short years ago, but cannot begin to meet the new demands of today. There are two completely different worldviews at work here. I suspect that yours applies to an older generation and mine a younger.

Let me demonstrate our differences by addressing points you made in your last post:


I think some on this blog have misunderstood my promotion of a few select conservative evangelical seminaries as one way of giving our postulants a decent background in the Biblical languages, interpretation, hermeneutics, preaching, counseling, and so on. I have not done this to undermine our tradition; quite to the contrary.


And I would say that it completely undermines our tradition or, more precisely, the Tradition to which we should be adhering today. Take even the Calvinists among your evangelicals. From this pool, we are attracting the "under 45" crowd who now find themselves completely alienated from the established American Presbyterian theology. This is because they have actually taken the time to read Calvin in his own words, and found a good Catholic whose views on the main points are completely irreconcilable with the "ism" which currently bears his name (which really originated in the Second Great Awakening, as best as I can tell, along with a heck of a lot of other heresy). I am speaking of course of the Federal Vision. These types still identify themselves as Calvinists, but they seek Catholic continuity and hunger for the Fathers. They are leaving Presbyterianism as they discover Anglicanism to be Calvin's "true heir," if you will. Of course, I suspect that most of them will eventually end up identifying themselves as "Augustinians" rather than "Calvinists." But no matter, this is the segment of evangelicals which we are currently reaching and the last thing we should want to do is try to throw them into one of those "evangelical" seminaries they left behind, or subject them to clergy who have picked up their old "bad habits" there. Better Nashotah House than that. But then this is the new generation we must evangelize, not the preceding one of even a few short years ago.


What I’m actually most concerned about is the Continuing Church “going out of business.” There has been stagnation at best in terms of CC communicant strength in the US for the past 28 years, and if you take into account the 35% increase in population, real decline. (I don’t know what the situation is in Australia, but suspect it may not be all that different.) I personally know of states and cities in the US where the CC used to be strong (or at least have a presence) and now has disappeared or shrunk greatly.


And again, there is a new generation on the scene. The old rules no longer apply. Get set for tremendous growth in the Continuum (has it not already started since 2003??), so long as strict "orthodoxy" and Tradition is adhered to.

The preceding Baby Boomer generation could/can all too often be characterized by an unhealthy degree of self-absorption. The evangelical churches boomed in recent decades because they catered to this. Worship became more about "Me" than "God" as rock bands and praise music replaced organs and classical hymns. Church became about entertainment, not worship. These churches had to keep coming up with new gimmicks to provide this generation with their "fix" lest they burn out and leave.

But all that has changed now. Those evangelical churches have seen the end of their boom as they can no longer come up with any new gimmicks; and the new rising generation generally wants nothing at all to do with any "gimmick" or anything else artificial in an ostensibly sacred setting; anything that is not authentic, genuine, orthodox, traditional, real.... Unlike the preceding generation, this new generation is not looking to feel good or to create their own religion (or to worship themselves). They simply want the truth, even if it hurts, as a bedrock of stability. That means that the evangelical churches are on their way out while Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Traditional (high church) Anglicanism are on their way in. Numerous recent articles and studies indeed attest to this fact.


All of the Churches which are historically based and follow traditional Christian faith, practice, liturgy, etc. have lost ground over the past two or three decades. The Orthodox Churches, for example, are facing similar problems to ours in the CC. Fewer and fewer people are going to church in our radically postmodern age. For us to simply “march in place,” let alone grow, will require highly aggressive missionary approaches. We are in fact a missionary Church in a highly missionary setting.


I do not think we have been looking at the same data. The Orthodox Church and Continuing Churches are now suddenly experiencing growth, are they not? Again, this is because a new generation is on the scene, one which has little patience for anything artificial, any manmade religion du jour as one finds in evangelical churches. What they seek is a Truth revealed from outside man, verified in its authenticity by having stood the test of time. This can only be found in Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and high church Anglicanism.


The benefit of some of the conservative evangelical approaches is that they have been following a missionary model for a long time. Many of the things they have discovered and perfected would be useful to us (and I don’t mean seeker-friendly worship, which many of them abhor). Of course these techniques and insights must be adapted, modified, and tailored to our unique Catholic and Apostolic framework. This may be more difficult than I stated. It does assume a thorough grounding in our Anglican, Catholic, and Apostolic framework.


Again, you speak of "techniques," which are merely "gimmicks." This simply will no longer work. We are no longer talking about a generation that would like to fit God into their schedule and meet Him on their terms, but one that would like God to fit them into His schedule and meet them on His terms. For this, one must go to the Fathers and the unbroken Tradition of the Church and pursue holiness. The resultant direct illumination of the Holy Spirit will then resolve all "missionary difficulties." We are talking about a generation that would like to know that there is something more, something better than what this miserable world has to offer (a decidedly different outlook from that of the previous generation). If we appear set apart and "not of this world" (as we are supposed to anyway), then we will have succeeded in this missionary enterprise.

We in the Continuum are set for the greatest explosion in growth if we will only teach and do what the Church has always taught and done for 2000 years, free of all novelties, innovations, and gimmicks. And simultaneously, tumultuous events await the Continuum, the Orthodox, and the Roman Churches. By contrast, the evangelical churches are rapidly fragmenting into nothingness while orienting themselves almost exclusively toward this world instead of the world to come. Their time is past. They cannot and should not be a guide to anything we do.

Laurence K. Wells+ said...

Fr Kirby writes:

"Fr Wells,

While it is true the Fathers overwhelmingly agreed about the Bible's authority and inerrancy, they did so often in a nuanced way that often did accomodate contemporary and secular scientific and historical knoweledge. Origen and his Alexandrian followers interpreted many passages non-literally....."

Father, you have captured exactly what I believe and precisely what I was attempting to say--although I apparently did not make this clear to you.

Whenever we attempt to assert Biblical authority, the first obstacle we must deal with is the naive assumption that Biblical inerrancy equals fundamentalist literalism. That is simply not the case and never has been. I do hope you did not impute that error to me!

Many people (perhaps you are one)think that a "literal interpretation" means a literalistic interpretation, e.g., 6/24 creation. A truly literal interpretation is trying to discover what the original human authors intended to say, in whatever genre or medium they were using. I suppose that is what you mean by a "nuanced way." A sound literal interpretation avoids fanciful allegorizing or other strange interpretation which lose their grip on what the human authors, writing under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, meant to convey.

I believe we are on the same page on this issue.