Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pentecost (Whitsunday)

Acts 2:1-11
John 14:15-31

Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children. Isaiah 66:8

We could say rightly that Zion's labor was brief, for, after only ten days of prayer, the Church came forth as a nation born in a day. Christ, as touching his human body as Jesus of Nazareth, had stepped behind the veil when a cloud took him out of their sight. Then, on the Day of Pentecost, the infant Church was born in what we might rightly call the second chapter of the Incarnation. God the Word (λόγος) came into the world on the Day of the Annunciation, and showed himself in his Nativity when he was born in Bethlehem. He walked the earth as a man, and "went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil." (Acts 10:38) On the Day of Pentecost, the Church that waited so short a time in the womb, as they were together in prayer, was born to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ. He still goes about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil, this time through the Church which is his Body. Make no mistake about it; when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples, the Church was born just as truly as Christ was born in Bethlehem. Our ministry as the Church is his ministry, as he extends his Incarnation through us, and goes about doing good not only as far as one man may travel, but into every place on earth, preaching the Gospel in all the world as a testimony to all nations, gathering out of all nations those who are his disciples. The Church, his bride and his Body, believes and does works greater in number, just as the disciple Elisha did twice the miracles of Elijah the prophet, when a double portion of the same Spirit rested on him. (II Kings 2:9f, John 14:12)

Among the many people in Jerusalem, who had come for the feast, were pilgrims from various nations, that is the God-fearers and proselytes who were born as Gentiles, and either had begun to convert to Judaism, or had fully converted. Also, there many Jews of the Diaspora who lived most of the time in foreign countries. Although just about everyone in the Roman Empire spoke enough Greek to get by, as it was the international language, these pilgrims heard the disciples speaking in the languages of their own distant homelands. Anyone with genuine experience of such things knows fully well that this was not something uncontrollable, not the result of a trance or ecstasy, and certainly not emotionalism; the speaking was subject fully to the self-control of each one who spoke in these other tongues; but the words themselves were known only to those foreigners who heard the word of God each in his own native tongue.

Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, where in we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judæa, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome. Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.

What were these tongues (γλῶσσα, glōssa) that we read about? How did they serve as a sign for unbelievers? Why did God choose a thing that seemed so weak and foolish that onlookers were filled with derision expressed in mocking words: "Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine." The Scripture goes on to say, "But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: For these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day." (Acts 2: 13-15) The many disciples spoke mysteries to God (I Cor. 14:2), understood by none of the local men. But to those who heard the truth spoken in their own tongues, by men who never learned to speak them, but were simply given utterance of praise and thanksgiving for "the wonderful works of God," this was not a thing to be treated with contempt, but with fear. It was a sign. The division of mankind into different nations through the confusion of tongues at Babel, was a curse that is undone within the Church. In Christ we are one Body, gathered by one Spirit from the four corners of the earth.

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. (Rev.5:9,10)

Peter had no trouble identifying what had happened, and doing so from Scripture:

But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:16-18 quoting Joel 2:28)

Peter had changed. He had been a natural man (ψυχικός psychikos-soulish) unable earlier in his life to understand why the Christ, the Son of the Living God, was ready and willing to take up the cross; later he was afraid and denied the Lord three times. But, now he stands on his feet boldly, not afraid of death, having his mind focused on the truth, able to understand and know from Scripture everything that had unfolded and was unfolding. He had been a disciple for more than three years, but now was closer to Christ than at any time when he beheld him with the eyes; for he was now part of the Body of which Christ is the Head. Many a time Peter had stumbled and tripped over his own tongue, and had failed to speak the right words on the night in which his Lord was betrayed. But, now he spoke with more clarity, more power and more authority than any prophet of the Old Covenant. He delivered the first Christian sermon, as he was now the fisher of men Christ had foreseen; his dragnet of words brought in about three thousand souls. The young Church, born in a day thrived with healthy vital signs.

None of this was man-made. The best efforts of organization could not have produced it; the most detailed planning could not have pulled it off. No human effort could have brought it forth in a day, because the nation born on the Day of Pentecost was chapter two of the Word made flesh. The Body of Christ now came into the world.

What is the life of the Church? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. What is the strength of the Church? It is the power (δύναμις) of God by his Holy Spirit, present within us. Who is it that takes fallible and failed human beings, lifts them up from the ground and sets them on their feet? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who is is that puts his word of eloquence and power on their once unclean lips? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who is it that fulfills his own purpose and will with flawed human instruments? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who makes Christ known among all nations of the earth to people of every race and tongue? It is the Holy Spirit present within us. Who has unlimited power, and works most effectively through us after we have come to the end of our own strength, and can go no further? It is the Holy Spirit present within us.

We know from the end of the Gospel of Luke that the disciples were forbidden to take this work on themselves prematurely, as if it depended simply on human power and wisdom.

Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. (Luke 24:45-49)

Frankly, in light of the foolishness of sinful men, it is very obvious that God's power and grace have never depended on anyone less than God himself. Never think that we, as the Church, have succeeded in anything simply by our own human cleverness, or our best laid plans, or our own strength. We have an organized structure, but the permanent shape of that structure was revealed and enacted by the Holy Spirit. The whole life of the Church is charismatic (χάρισμα); from the receiving of Scripture to the Sacraments, from the Apostolic Succession to the faithful service of each member.

Indeed, St. Paul, speaking in the context of spiritual gifts, even goes as far as to call the Church by the name of Christ himself: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ...Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (I Cor, 12:12, 27) So, I have not spoken carelessly in saying that the Church is part two of the Incarnation. The Jesus who goes about now doing good and healing is none other than the Body of Christ and members in particular. He does his work through you, through his Body the Church, by the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter who is with us and in us.

The day of Pentecost was a feast in the Law of Moses when the first sheaf of the harvest was waved before the Lord. It was also the same day that the Lord had descended on Mount Sinai, when the whole nation of Israel heard the voice of God as he spoke his ten commandments. Therefore, it is quite fitting that the Lord Jesus foretold the outpouring of the Spirit in terms of his commandments. "If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth." Therefore, if we remain faithful to him, we continue to take part in his Incarnation as the Church, the Body of Christ. For his Spirit not only comes upon us, but abides within us always.

Welcome Sandra McColl

Readers should be familiar with the name of Sandra McColl, whose comments have always demonstrated a commitment to classic Anglicanism combined with serious thought and education. We are happy to say that she has agreed to join us as a member of the team here on The Continuum. Sandra is a member of the TAC and lives in Australia. You may read her profile from the link in her picture.

Welcome aboard.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Letter to Bishop Robert Duncan from the ACC Acting Primate, Archbishop Haverland

20 May 2009. Vigil of the Ascension


Dear Bishop Duncan,


I thank you for your invitation to attend as an observer the inaugural Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America, which is to gather in Bedford, Texas, from June 22nd to 25th. I congratulate those who will assemble on their movement out of the Episcopal Church. Whatever else we agree or disagree about, we believe that that movement is correct.


Those of us who left the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion a generation ago believe that the ordination of women was then the central problem in the Canterbury Communion. The notion that women can receive the sacrament of Holy Orders in any of its three parts constitutes, in our view, a revolutionary and false claim: a claim false in itself; a claim destructive of the common ministry that once united Anglicans; and, finally, a claim productive of an even broader and worse consequence. That worse consequence is the claim that Anglicans have authority to alter important matters of faith and order against a clear consensus in the central tradition of Catholic and Orthodox Christendom. Once such a claim is made it may be pressed into service to alter any matter of faith or morals. The revolution devours its children. Many of the clergy represented at GAFCON and now joining the ACNA seem to us to accept the flawed premise and its revolutionary claim in one matter while seeking to resist the application of the premise in the matter of homosexuality. This position seems to us to be internally inconsistent and impossible to sustain successfully over time.


In brief, then, we would suggest that the only sound basis for Continuing Anglican life is something akin to that already established in the Affirmation of Saint Louis with its clarity concerning the subordination of all Anglican authorities to the central tradition of Christendom.


We make this suggestion with a strong recognition of our own personal and ecclesial failures. But the failure of the Continuing Churches to unite and grow sufficiently does not at all alter the cogency of our observations about your own fundamental principles. Our own history teaches us that anything other than clear agreement on all significant doctrinal issues at the outset will lead eventually to division and decline.


To put matters another way, already now at the beginning of your enterprise, your dioceses and bishops are only in a state of impaired communion with each other. Some of your bishops do not recognize the validity of the priestly ministry of a significant body of clergy in other dioceses. Such divisions and problems at the beginning will not resolve themselves in time, but rather will grow. Ambiguity, or local option, or silence cannot undo the damage of essential disagreement concerning Holy Orders and authority in the Church.


In summary, then, we see in the ACNA the fundamental alterations in traditional Anglican faith, worship, order, and practice that led to the formation of our own Continuing Church in 1978. We would be glad to establish conversations with your ecclesial body in hopes that you may, having freed yourselves of the Episcopal Church, continue further on the same path by decisively breaking from a corrupt Anglican Communion and by returning to the central tradition of Christendom in all matters, including the male character of Holy Orders, the evil of abortion, and the indissolubility of sacramental marriage. We recommend to your prayerful attention the Affirmation of Saint Louis, which we firmly believe provides a sound basis for a renewed and fulfilled Anglicanism on our continent.


We suspect that any Anglican body that permits the ordination of women, or otherwise fails to return to the central tradition of Christendom, will soon move from what we might call neo-Anglicanism, which is already removed in ministry and worship from classical Anglicanism, and will eventually merge into the general stream of evangelical Protestantism. While faithful Protestantism of that sort is far preferable to what the Episcopal Church has become, it is not the Catholic Faith which we hold, it is not the Anglicanism that formed us, and it does not seem to us to have a bright future.


We have already communicated with persons in the ACNA about the Anglican Catholic Church's prior use of the name you have adopted (ACNA). We are certain that this matter can be successfully resolved to our mutual satisfaction, but pending such resolution we do note our prior use.


I fear that this letter in response to your kind invitation may seem somewhat abrupt. I do not mean it to be such. I wish instead to indicate clearly that our first principles seem to be very different. A fruitful dialogue would need to begin with those principles, and the plans outlined in your letter for the Bedford meeting do not seem to encompass such fundamental questions. I would be happy, however, to assist in the establishment of such dialogue in the future if the ACNA is not wedded to its position on the ordination of women and the authority of Anglican bodies to alter matters of faith and order.


With all good wishes, I am,

Faithfully yours in Christ,


(The Most Reverend) Mark Haverland, Ph.D.

Acting Primate, Anglican Catholic Church

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Prayer of Humble Access defended

This post is the result of genuine provocation. One of the comments that followed Fr. Kirby's erudite article about the use of Missal and Prayer Book, ruffled my feathers. They were not ruffled by the writer of the comment, but rather by what he described:

I've often thought that the continuing Churches (at least in the UK) 'talk' a lot about the BCP and but rarely use it. You always see it mentioned on websites but of the three continuing Churches I've been to in the UK none of them use the 1662 or 1928 (UK) BCP for Mass - it's all been English Missal. One Priest told me that he'd reluctantly printed the Prayer of Humble Access for devotional use in the Mass booklets but refused to say it himself. Personally, I find this disappointing.

Well, at least this priest is good enough to let the prayer appear in print, even if he feels compelled to denounce it as, no doubt, "too Protestant." Inasmuch as the content of the Prayer of Humble Access was drawn largely from prayers said by the priest in older Latin Missals, prayers of the same kind as "Lord Jesus Christ...regard not my sins, but the Faith of thy Church..." the burden of proof weighs heavily on anyone who thinks its content to be an innovation of the 16th century.

To some degree this seems like a problem more intense in England than in other countries. The Anglo-Catholics in that country have reason to feel that their Book of Common Prayer (1662) is not quite as rich in its Eucharistic expression as it ought to be. The same comment closed with these words: "Knowing the American BCP, I can't think why you'd want to use anything else." Indeed, the Eucharistic celebration from the Missal in the United States is, in practice, simply an embellishment of the Book of Common Prayer 1928 edition. Nonetheless, I cannot understand why some of the English Anglo-Catholics inflict the Novus Ordo on their congregations, as if selecting an inferior liturgy is the solution; and for that matter, one with all the charm we might well imagine from a revision of Shakespeare produced by a committee. In such a nightmare, "Even a dog is obeyed in office" (King Lear) is replaced with, "The barking dog gets his way." How much more serious the real life problem of replacing "And with they spirit" (Et cum spritu tuo) with, "And also with you." If the English Anglo-Catholics want a richer liturgical expression, they need not abandon the Book of Common Prayer tradition altogether, especially not in favor of something about as uplifting as the financial page of the Times of London.

That is, unless the idea is to reject Anglicanism itself in favor of a Roman brand of Christianity that does not "out-Catholic," but merely "out-Romans," Rome. I fear such to be the case even in the thinking of a man as learned and accomplished as Fr. John Hunwicke, whose theories on the most important aspect of the Mass I have criticized. Just as many converts to the Orthodox Church have deluded themselves into thinking that they have found a way to cut themselves off from all stain of their western ancestry, I fear such Anglo-Catholics are self-loathing Anglicans, due no doubt to the failure of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion. The solution, however, is to Continue with us, not to cultivate Roman affectations. And, as my Orthodox brother, David Bentley Hart, has observed about the converts to the Orthodox Church, that they labor so industriously to reject anything western that they end up rejecting the actual teaching of Orthodoxy, these self-loathing Anglicans finish their endeavors by rejecting what is truly Catholic by the standard of Scripture and Antiquity. As we have observed many times, Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est, is replaced with the Doctrinal Development theory Newman espoused. "The Faith once delivered to the saints" is not good enough for them, so they embrace innovations, some of which Rome itself discarded in recent decades, having learned from us.

For the Prayer of Humble Access to be treated with either contempt or embarrassment by any Anglican is, however, a new low in theological illiteracy. Perhaps this prayer is considered to be lacking in decorum, like celebrating the Masse 1 in a surplice-the unforgivable sin for which any priest is, no doubt, condemned to everlasting Hell (that, and failure to wear black socks). That is, maybe the UK cleric mentioned in the comment is embarrassed by the Prayer of Humble Access the same way I would be embarrassed by my crazy Uncle Ernest, but simply because it is not in the Tridentine Mass rather than for its content. However, to defend the prayer, it must be looked at for its theological meaning, which is very deep and truly Catholic. Therefore, we will assume that the embarrassment this cleric has expressed (which makes me embarrassed for him), has to do with his own want of theological understanding rather than a matter of his own bad taste.

Let us analyze the Prayer of Humble Access and see the richness of the theology contained therein.

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy...

Anyone who seeks a religion that is affirming of his life style and choices, or even of himself, cannot appreciate our service of Holy Communion at all. Neither can he appreciate our Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Throughout all our public prayers we confess that we are sinners, and supplicate to be forgiven. Often, it takes even more of God's grace for the religious person to know he is a sinner than it does for a notorious backslider or completely unchurched man who is suddenly converted. Too often, the religious man can be like the Pharisee in the parable, and actually think the same way. "God, I thank Thee I am not as other men are." (Luke 18:11) What C.S. Lewis once wrote rings true:

But are we really to believe that on each of us there lies something which if not taken off us, will in fact break us? It is very difficult. No man has any natural knowledge of his own inner state and I think that at the beginning we probably find it much easier to understand and believe this about other people than about ourselves. 2

In addition, that expression, "We are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under thy table," is from the Gospel of Matthew.

And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matt. 15:22-28)

Although we are no longer Gentiles, but children of the Covenant baptized into Christ, we do not forget that we are here by grace rather than merit. In terms that John the Baptist would approve, we say these words to remind ourselves "that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." (Matt. 3:9) Only by his mercy do we come into his presence, never by any righteousness of our own.

I hope the English cleric in question does not consider the realistic appraisal of our sinful state to be "too Protestant" for him; if so, he does not stand alongside the great saints of the Church, East and West. If so, he distances himself from St.Paul who wrote, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." (I Tim. 1:15) Nor does he stand alongside any of the true believers in the Communion of the Church of Rome today; he distances himself from Pope Benedict XVI, who knows himself to stand only by God's mercy and grace. If this is "too Protestant" for the English priest, so is all Christianity throughout all time.

...Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

The words "so to eat...and to drink" have everything to do with why we, as Anglicans, call the Mass "Holy Communion." The Anglican emphasis on receiving the Sacrament must not be thought of in terms of the worn out charge of Cranmer's apparent "Receptionism," which later was repeated by Richard Hooker. As we have seen already in posts on this blog, what these men wrote was not a rejection of the Real Presence, but rather the view that it is immaterial when and how the elements are fully consecrated; when they are received, having been consecrated at the altar,3 they are the Body and Blood of Christ. This adds to the guilt of those who receive them in an unworthy manner; but for those who receive them with "hearty repentance and true faith" they are eternal life and health.

Here I quote from my sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity written in 2007.

"But, this other part they [contemporary Episcopalians] cut out, '…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…' [this] offends the modern mind, because the modern mind cannot comprehend- as well I understand and sympathize- how the body could be sinful...The general resurrection of the dead on the last day will destroy that last enemy to be destroyed, death. So says the Bible, as we find in St. Paul’s first letter to those in Corinth...The Law of Moses teaches us that if a man so much as touched the dead body of any person, he was unclean and had to bring his sin offering to be cleansed...

"The body, as it is now, is affected by sin because it will die, and death itself is unclean. Death is not natural at all in the philosophical and theological sense. Death is the consequence of sin, not a good and natural part of God’s creation, but the last enemy of God and man that will be destroyed at Christ’s coming. So, how do we understand those words from our Prayer of Humble Access? '…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…' We must think about what we are about to do. After the sermon you will confess that you are a sinner like everybody else. The General Confession is the opposite of the proud Pharisee’s prayer. He thanked God that he was not like other men, like the sinners; that is because he deceived himself. But we will confess the very opposite: We will confess the truth, seeking to be cleansed by God through the Absolution (if we come with 'hearty repentance and true faith'), and so will approach, will draw near to take into ourselves the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember his words:

"Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever (John 6: 54-58).”

"By eating this bread and drinking this cup our sinful bodies are made clean by his body, and our souls are washed through his most precious blood of the New Covenant. Springing from his Incarnation, from the Word made flesh, is this sacrament by which we feed on Christ, the Bread of Life, the food of eternal life"

This Sacrament that is "generally necessary to salvation," as taught in our Catechism, gives us this food and drink, His Body and Blood to cleanse us from our mortal uncleanness; so when saying these words, we ought to look to his coming again on the Last Day when we rise pure from the defilement of sin and death.

When we say the Prayer of Humble Access, let us say it boldly and in strong voice for all the world to hear. It is good, solid, Biblical and quite Vincentian. It expresses our sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day, the Divine promise that comes to us through the salvation Christ purchased for us on the cross when he gave his life, poured out his soul unto death, and thus took away the sins of the world; so that, at his rising, he could overcome death, and at his coming again destroy it forever. I am not ashamed to say these words, but grateful that I may pray them and mean them.
_________

1. And remember, whereas the term "Holy Communion" is from the Bible and is rich in theological meaning, the word "Mass" means, to translate it freely, nothing more significant than "time to leave." Middle English masse, from Old English mæsse, from Vulgar Latin messa, from Late Latin missa, from Latin, feminine past participle of mittere, -to send away, dismiss. But the term "Holy Communion" is from I Cor. 10:16. I insist, there is no comparison. For Heaven's sake, call it the service of Holy Communion-we are Anglicans after all.

2. Miserable offenders from God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, C. S. Lewis, Walter Hooper (Editor), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Reprint edition (October 1994; original copyright 1970 by the Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis).

3. The actual issue is settled in the rubrics themselves, commanding reverent treatment of whatever "remain of that which was consecrated."



Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sunday after Ascension Day


Click on the icon for a link to the sermon for this Sunday (I have had not the time to write a new one this week, dealing with one pastoral crisis after another).

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Corinthian Problem

The disarray, foolishness and sin that St. Paul addressed, when writing his first extant Epistle to the Church in Corinth, has been turned to our benefit inasmuch as it gave rise to teaching in the Scriptures that has been needed throughout the subsequent history of the Church, and that we need today. As the selling of Joseph into Egypt was used by God to save Israel from famine, God can use anything for good. This is one aspect of Providence. So, the sins and foolishness of the Church in Corinth give us more words of Holy Scripture.

Nonetheless, it takes effort to understand this Epistle. The difficulty we have in seeing what St. Paul addressed in the Epistle comes from the familiarity we have with some of the external issues affected by the Corinthian foolishness, and in other cases their supernatural and mystical gifts, the manifestation of which were equally affected. This puzzles the modern mind: How can what is good and holy be so sinfully practiced?

Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

This opening comes across as out of place with everything that follows.

The essential problem in Corinth is, for many, difficult to discern, even by intense reading of the Epistle, for one major reason. We have a bias in our time that blinds us to the reality that the same people who "come behind in no gift" (which means equally that they possess every grace), of the Holy Spirit can be, at the same time, "carnal, babes in Christ." The same people who have the gifts to work miracles and to prophesy, can, at the same time, be guilty of creating and perpetuating sinful divisions within the Body of Christ. The same people who truly discern spirits, able to test and know which spirits are not of God, can at the same time be proud to have a notorious fornicator among them, allowing him to receive the Communion of Christ's Body and Blood along with all of the rest. The alarming fact we must glean from the Epistle is that neither mystical and supernatural gifts nor orthodox doctrine are enough to keep people from being carnal, childish, divisive and utterly selfish. And, indeed, selfishness is the most apparent symptom of their carnality, addressed over and over again in several places. And, in terms of Providence, it is that very selfishness that gave the occasion for St. Paul to write his most famous passage, the chapter on charity (chapter 13).

Before proceeding, it is necessary to define the term charisma (χάρισμα). The word can be translated "gifts" or "graces." When I read the words of Bishop Iverach, that he considers the charismata to be essential to our ongoing mission, I assumed he used the word charismata in its larger sense. For, indeed, that word encompasses more than simply the "spectacular" gifts (as some term them), and includes all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Scripture, including the Sacraments themselves. That means that the word charismata includes the "Institutional gifts" mentioned in the Pastoral Epistles of Paul to Titus and Timothy, which includes the sacramental gifts that work in Holy Orders and that come to the rest of the Church through Holy Orders. Therefore, we see in those Pastoral Epistles that Apostolic Succession is the pattern set forth in Holy Scripture, and regard that as both a matter of order and the continuation of charismata unique to the episcopal office.

It is necessary also to consider that within that larger grouping of gifts are all of the things given that name by St. Paul in his Epistles, along with scenes described by St. Luke in the Book of Acts. The words of Christ himself teach us that no gift, no matter how impressive it may appear to be, is an indication that the minister of that gift is holy.

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Matt. 7:21-23

Therefore, the words of Article XXVI apply:

XXVI. Of the unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.

Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometime the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the word and sacraments; yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

This was always understood within the Catholic Tradition of the Church, and rejection of this teaching was an element essential to the heresy of the Donatists. More than twenty years ago, when I was serving as a church organist, a curate who was very popular in that congregation was arrested, and eventually convicted, of notorious crimes involving young boys. Several people there were concerned about the baptism of their children, wanting to know if it had been valid; others, if they had really received Communion from his hand over the years. To an informed mind, aware of the teaching of the Church, those questions would not have arisen.

This fact is indeed relevant to solving the apparent mystery: The apparently less spectacular gifts of the charismata, such as the regular administration of Holy Communion, do not indicate that the minister is truly a holy and godly man. Gifts of the Holy Spirit, whether "spectacular" or "institutional," whether astounding or seemingly normal, say nothing about the minister's character. Eventually the false prophet might teach error, or perhaps he may never teach error. He may be able to say all of those things our Lord has predicted, and more. He may be among those who say, quite truly, "have we not prophesied in thy name?" But, this will not save him. The sheep's clothing will have come off, exposing the wolf beneath.

Although the Corinthians were not accused of being wolves, that is false prophets, they were corrected sternly for being carnal, selfish and chaotic. Nonetheless, St. Paul had told them that they come behind in no gift, and that each of them was called to sainthood. This is not self-contradictory at all. It demonstrates two things: 1) God's work does not depend on man's worthiness, and 2) it is right and the practice of hope to place before the eyes of carnal people their calling to become holy.

Recently, we had a long discussion about chapters 12-14 as they relate to the charismata. Different people are sure they see that long text accurately, but they disagree. Those who actually have allowed various charismatic expression into the context of liturgy have long treated chapter 14 as a kind of Robert's Rules of Order regarding how and when to exercise these gifts, while others are sure that Paul was contemptuous of the very gifts he himself had identified as coming from the Holy Spirit (an impossibility). But, the overall text of the Epistle shows that his words about the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not centered on the gifts themselves, but rather on the same problem he was addressing from the very first chapter on.

I will glean from places in this Epistle that seem to repeat a very noticeable refrain.

Although Paul places before the Church in Corinth, at the start of his letter, his high estimation of their gifts, their knowledge and understanding, and of their faith, stating his confidence that God will hold them by his grace and sanctify them according to the common vocation of all Christians ("called saints"), he quickly changes his tone. He admonishes them, chastises and rebukes them, for being divided. Somehow, they had developed into parties, and had claimed to be followers of various apostles.

Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.

Interestingly, those who said "I am of Christ" are rebuked with the others. Their pretense to moral and spiritual superiority did not fool the Apostle: They too were just as partisan, just as carnal, and perhaps a little worse as they might have thanked God that they were not as other men are. And, despite this outward display of chaos and division, these same people came behind in no gift, but were enriched by God in all utterance and all knowledge. They were both orthodox and learned. Indeed, the problem in Corinth was not scriptural illiteracy, theological ignorance or false doctrine. They were very knowledgeable.

Indeed, look at chapter 8:

Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.

Yes, they knew the right doctrine about idols. Their knowledge and orthodoxy was not questioned by the Apostle. However, their lack of charity was rebuked in the clearest of terms. Why, for such learned people, should it have been necessary to write these words in the same chapter?

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak...And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

How, in their knowledge so enriched, with their utterances so gifted, did they miss this obvious point? How could they have been so blind to the simple rule of putting the needs of their brothers and sisters ahead of their own desires? They were orthodox. They were learned. They were gifted. They were also carnal.

Look too at how they approached the Supper of the Lord:

When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken. What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.

The evidence from this text is that the Agape feast was connected somehow to the Eucharist in this very early period, perhaps even coming before in imitation of the Last Supper. How correctly or not we may be able to sort out the facts of history, it is clear that even as they approached the Body and Blood of Christ, they were selfish. Their actions indicated that even in this they were carnal.

It is this same theme, that of selfishness, that truly dominates the most "Charismatic" portions of chapters 12-14. Their treatment of the Lord's Supper, each one looking after himself and no one else, came from the same selfishness we see here as they treat various gifts of the Holy Spirit in a completely self-indulgent manner, with no regard for each other's needs. In Chapter 12 Paul has mentioned various gifts known to operate among them, all of which he affirms.

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

In this Trinitarian passage he identifies the working of the Spirit, of the Lord and of God. He never even hints that any of these manifestations might have come from any lower source.

But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.

Rather, he goes on to explain to them that these gifts have been given so that each member of the Body of Christ may help others in the same Body. The text is not about tongues, or prophecy or miracles. It is about the Body of Christ, and the care each member should have for all the rest, and that the rest should have for even one member who suffers. He mentions the gifts as another way of saying to them the same thing he has been saying all along. He speaks to them about unity that ought to overcome partisanship, and care for others that, as in the 8th chapter, should be placed ahead of their own desires, even their own perceived needs.

This is why he writes about tongues and prophecy in the 14th chapter.

Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

Already, back in chapter 12, he has identified both tongues and prophecy as coming from "the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." Here, however, he appears to exalt one of these above the other. But, it is not that the gift of prophecy is exalted above that of tongues; it is that serving the needs of others is placed above serving one's own needs. He is teaching them not to be selfish anymore, and simply using this example as yet another way to say it. The beautiful chapter 13, about charity, has come between these chapters as part of the same long text extending back deeper into this letter. That beautiful chapter was a rebuke, meant not to inspire but to correct. It was written not to move with poetic sublimity, but to admonish with prophetic indignation. It was a fire lit to melt their frozen unloving, selfish hearts. Those hearts had taken good and holy things, the very gifts of God, and used them for selfish ends.

Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth.

These words were not addressed to holy men and women crowned with the virtues, but to carnal, selfish, partisan, squabbling babes. They teach what should have been clear and obvious, especially to those who come behind in no gift, those who are in every thing enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge.

The Corinthian problem was simple: They possessed all things richly, but had not charity. When I consider this I must confess that Christ came to save Corinthians, of whom I am chief.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Balance (2)

My religious "pilgrimage" has been various indeed, and had to end with Anglicanism. Why? because I have gone all the way to the logical extreme of one position or another so many times that remembering it all makes me dizzy. It has been my experience each and every time that the further one follows a particular line of logic, the less workable, less realistic, and ultimately less true it all becomes. Extremes always lead either to a crash against a solid wall or over a precipice.

God is indeed rational, but this may be said because rationality is an expression of His inner nature, and not because He is bound to keep to what we may see as rational. God is too vast to fit into a system of logic, and, in fact, a completely reasoned and self-sufficient logical structure always excludes much of God.

The genius of Anglicanism is that it has always refused to be constrained to any such system. Our Anglican divines, like most of the ancient Fathers, are far more pragmatic than that. Our theologians have typically been quite comfortable with seemingly opposite sets of propositions, seeking to walk the path where they intersect, between the extremes, avoiding the extremes on either side. It is an approach that delivers us from excesses in any direction and leads us to seek the center. This is what is meant by Via Media - not compromise, but the ability to find the truth of seeming opposite lines of thinking, to find balance, and in Luther's marvelous phrase (which he seems seldom to have heeded) to stay on the horse as it goes toward the objective, rather than, like the drunk man, falling off, first to one side, then to the other.

The recent discussion on the charismata, like many of the other disputes we get into, has shown how easily we fail to keep this standard. We spend so much time trying to prove one point or disprove another that we forget to seek God where the ideas intersect. In this case we have an excess of rigidity opposed to an excess of freedom, where we should have an honest seeking for just what God would have us do with such ideas and phenomena. If we truly listen to Him and to each other, we'll neither smash into the wall nor fall off the precipice, but will joyfully walk the road that leads to God's purpose.

Let's bathe all these questions in fervent prayer.

ed

Today

as you scroll down, you will find a link to a sermon for Ascension Day, and for those in the ACC (though all may read it), wise words from your Archbishop that bring balance to recent issues raised here. Have a blessed Ascensiontide one and all.
RH+

Go West

"Go West young man."
-Horace Greeley, 1865

No one should want to come across like the east end of a west bound horse. But it happens, and all too often it happens in debate. Even theological debate can lead to this when anyone fails to heed the maxim of our blog founder, Albion Land: "Robust if polite, discussion of matters theological and ecclesiological." The problem with ignoring this rule, even more than that of causing offense, is the appearance of heading east while the horse goes west; or as a Pennsylvania Dutch farmer once observed: "Vy ist der more horse's asses dann horses?"

Therefore, I want to present Robert's Rules of theological blog debate for the benefit of young men who need to go west, provided that is where the horse is pointed. Breaking these rules causes one to lose points; not to lose them by any referees call, but in the eyes of onlookers.

Each of the following violations results in a loss of ten points.

1. No ad hominem attacks

Example:

Voice of Reason said:

I must disagree with Theocrat's interpretation of the commandment. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" cannot possibly mean that we should not fry our food in anything but "pure unadulterated vegetable oil."
2:41 AM

Theocrat said:

You are ugly and your mama dresses you funny.
2:42 AM

Notice, the response fails to actually answer the objection. Therefore, the ad hominem attack does nothing to argue one's point.

2. No repetition of a disputed point without first answering the challenge.

Example:

Voice of Reason said:

I must disagree with Theocrat's interpretation of the commandment. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" cannot possibly mean that we should not fry our food in anything but "pure unadulterated vegetable oil."
2:41 AM

Theocrat said:

As I was saying, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" means that we should not fry our food in anything but pure unadulterated vegetable oil.
2:42 AM

The weakness of this approach is that it does not fool anybody. The challenge has been evaded, not refuted.

3. No Bulverism.

For the definition, I quote from "Bulverism" by C.S. Lewis, an essay in the collection entitled God in the Dock. 1

You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it "Bulverism". Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third — "Oh you say that because you are a man." "At that moment", E. Bulver assures us, "there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall." That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.
Example:

Voice of Reason said:

I must disagree with Theocrat's interpretation of the commandment. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" cannot possibly mean that we should not fry our food in anything but "pure unadulterated vegetable oil."
2:41 AM

Theocrat said:

Well, that is exactly what we would expect to hear, coming from you.
2:42 AM

The weakness of this approach is explained in the quotation of C.S. Lewis, with this one additional observation of mine: Bulverism only works if those who observe the non-argument it produces happen to be outrageously stupid. Therefore, the loss of points may be doubled.

4. No attempt at diagnosis.

This breaks down into two kinds.

a) Psychological.

Example:

Voice of Reason said:

I must disagree with Theocrat's interpretation of the commandment. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" cannot possibly mean that we should not fry our food in anything but "pure unadulterated vegetable oil."
2:41 AM

Theocrat said:

Are you nuts?
2:42 AM

b) Spiritual (or moral)

Example:

Voice of Reason said:

I must disagree with Theocrat's interpretation of the commandment. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" cannot possibly mean that we should not fry our food in anything but "pure unadulterated vegetable oil."
2:41 AM

Theocrat said:

I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.
2:42 AM


Like Bulverism and repetition, the attempt to diagnose is also an obvious evasion of the actual challenge posed by refutation.

In closing

You may have noticed that we see in these rules that points are taken away and none given. I may actually write Robert's Rules for gaining points in theological blog debate, but only if I ever figure out how that can be acheived.

1. God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, C. S. Lewis, Walter Hooper (Editor), Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Reprint edition (October 1994; original copyright 1970 by the Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis).

Ascension Day

Click on the icon for a sermon on the Ascension.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Balance

Before I post this, I want to make it clear that of three bloggers, one of us is in the ACA. That one of our furry-chinned crew is Ed Pacht (indeed, it must seem apparent that the only requirement we hold is that a blogger must be a Continuing Anglican who lost his razor and has not bothered to replace it, not a member necessarily of the ACC. In some circumstances we might be willing to wave the beard requirement). The Archbishops and all the bishops of the Continuing Church bodies were notified several years ago by Albion Land, that their input would be given priority. The only Archbishop to communicate with us in this way, and through us to you, has been Archbishop Haverland of the ACC. But, all of them have had the invitation, including Archbishop Hepworth of the TAC; the invitation stands.

I consider it wise to post again the e-mail I received from Archbishop Haverland, but to do so as a new article to make it more visible.


Dear Father Hart,

The Continuum might or might not be interested in some thoughts of mine about neo-pentecostalism.

First I would like to say that I very much admire Canon Kirby and Father Wells. While I know both are not unduly perturbed by vigorous theological exchange, I sometimes regret that they don't seem to appreciate one another as much as I appreciate them both.

On neo-pentecostalism, my own views on the subject were shaped early by an unforgettable lecture that I heard in about 1980 by Carmelite Father William McNamara. One of McNamara's basic ideas was that the neo-pentecostalist movement has to be judged in the context of the Church in which it arises. When a religious body is dead or dying, neo-pentecostalism may be a sign of relative health or possible hope. When the Catholic faith is alive and well, however, neo-pentecostalism tends to be at best unnecessary and at worst divisive.

So, for instance, in the context of the post-1976 Episcopal Church, a body in which Catholic faith and order were either dead or under attack at almost every level, the neo-pentecostlist movement could be a sign of hope. As Bishop Mote of blessed memory used to say after doing jail time with pro-life 'Charistmatics': 'They believe in the reality of God, the power of God, and the goodness of God.' Those are three very important beliefs.

However, the premium that neo-pentecostists tend to put on personal religious experience tends in turn to lead to division, whether in 1st century Corinth or among the ancient Montanists or in 21st century America. While the defenders of neo-pentecostalism writing to the Continuum are well-aware of this fact, perhaps they underestimate how very often the danger seems to arise. The tendency may not be inevitable or even intrinsically connected to the experiences in question. However, the tendency is common enough to give any bishop or pastor pause.

About tongues I vividly remember McNamara saying of the gift of tongues that the most important recipient of that gift of whom he knew was Fulton Sheen.

About the Pauline evidence, I believe it was McNamara who pointed out that, while S. Paul in the epistles to the Corinthians may emphasize more personal, ecstatic charismata, the later Pauline epistles tend to emphasize more official, institutional gifts. I think the observation is correct and significant. I am inclined to agree with those who note the general turbulence of the Corinthian church, and from that fact conclude that whatever Paul's own personal gifts, he certainly was concerned to control and limit severely 'tongues' and the like. Personal religious experience is vital, and when hearts grow cold in the Church God may well send a S. Francis or S. Teresa or Padre Pio to work in ways that supplement the graces poured upon the Church through the normal means of grace. But as my wise predecessor, Brother John-Charles, often observes: 'Normally God behaves normally.' Normally God uses the objective, known means of grace, and the charisms and experiences that accompany our own non-sacramental prayer lives are usually individual, personal, private, and of their nature rather incommunicable.

I am not a 'cessationist'. I believe in miracles and do not doubt that God can infuse knowledge of unknown tongues or prophecy. I do not presume to judge any man's personal religious experience, except by the proper standards of charity, of consistency with the known and authorized teaching of the universal Church, and of the spiritual fruit of Christian living. But I also believe that where the faith is truly taught and the sacraments are rightly administered, personal religious experience is mainly of private significance.

+MDH

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Conscience and cults

The conscience, as the inherent knowledge of right and wrong, cannot stand alone as a sovereign arbiter of morals. Every Christian is obligated to form his conscience by the Divine Moral Law and the Mind of Christ as revealed in Holy Scriptures, and by the teaching and Tradition of the Church. We hold that when the Christian conscience is thus properly informed and ruled, it must affirm the following moral principles...
-From The Affirmation of St. Louis

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable (λογικός) service (λατρεία). And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
-Romans 12:1,2

Recently a TV documentary about the tragic cult of Jones Town caused me to wonder, once again, how grown people can give themselves to the control of human devils who lie, manipulate and dominate. Why do they surrender their minds and their wills to lunatics who make wild claims? What is it about facing life as responsible adults that so frightens them that they flee into the clutches of the worst kind of wolves in sheep's clothing? Anyone with proper moral sense would have been revolted by Jim Jones simply upon hearing his message.

I saw also a program in which a man told his story from prison, how he had been ordered to murder an entire family by a fringe group Mormon "prophet" who led his own cult. One by one he killed the children, the mother and the father, because this "prophet" had the authority to give him orders directly from God. It made me think as well why the first two commandments are separate. The first is against false gods, and the second is against idols; these are not the same exactly, for a false god need have no idol to represent it, no image to bow down to. But, even without an image, these gods are not the God we know; and their "prophets" never teach the conscience of man.

It is this very thing, the conscience, that some people are too cowardly to form. They take refuge in letting someone else tell them everything that they should do, choosing a substitute for true moral reason, or an ideology in place of morality. In the name of conscience they kill the conscience, so they may obey orders without question. A cult leader gives orders about various details of life, and so the person who follows him does not take the responsibility to form his conscience. An ideology takes the place of morality, and the effort of thought as well as the work to meet the ethical challenges thrown at us in a world of constant change. Some cult leaders are political and religious at the same time, such as Hitler whose followers treated him like a god.

Ideology is incompatible with moral theology in most every way. For example, a racist's ideology turns evil into good, so that racists feel virtuous when they commit grievous sin. They know who to hate, and how to hate, and actually feel self-righteous for thinking, saying and doing things that disgust any person whose conscience has been properly formed. I have heard people who call themselves "conservative" say things that are every bit as horrifying as what the people who call themselves "liberal" say. Only, their words of hatred are aimed at illegal immigrants at the desert border between Mexico and Arizona, instead of unborn children in the womb.

The Affirmation of St. Louis lays on every Christian the light burden to form his conscience according to God's word:

Every Christian is obligated to form his conscience by the Divine Moral Law and the Mind of Christ as revealed in Holy Scriptures, and by the teaching and Tradition of the Church.

This is part of the First and Great Commandment, where we are commanded "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy...mind." Part of walking through this world as "a living sacrifice" requires "the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."

The Affirmation of St. Louis boldly goes on:

We hold that when the Christian conscience is thus properly informed and ruled, it must affirm the following moral principles...

(You may read these principles for yourself by clicking the link to the Affirmation of St. Louis that we provide on this very page, on the right near the top.)

Whereas cult leaders do not want their followers to form their consciences, but rather to be obedient to their leaders without regard to higher principles of any kind, the Catholic Tradition has always demanded more than simply knowing how to rehearse rules, or to obey orders. One essential component of the New Covenant is that the Law of God is written on the heart of every believer. So says Jeremiah the prophet:

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Jeremiah 31:31-34

Having the Law of God written on our hearts is as essential as receiving the forgiveness of sins and knowing God. It comes at the price of Christ's shed blood, for he said "This cup is the new Covenant in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me." (I Cor. 11:2) The Law of God written on the heart is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit in each child of God. The work that is required, however, is the work of
learning; "Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them..."

It is a mystery to me why any Anglican priest would try to think of something to teach in Confirmation classes, inasmuch as the Book of Common Prayer requires us to use the Catechism and the Offices of Instruction; and part of that includes the two tables of the Law, assorting the Ten Commandments into the two categories of the Summary of the Law, the Two Great Commandments. In the process we begin to build the foundation of moral theology as each one is prepared for Confirmation.

In general, however, people today face ethical problems that require some thinking. Modern technology, especially in the medical realm, produces challenges never dreamed of in centuries past. We could try to have established rules, but it may be difficult to keep up with the new questions in time for someone's crisis. Yet, if the Christian conscience is properly formed, which involves the effort of learning, much of the problem faced by any unexpected question should be mostly answered, and the rest should become clear as we walk the path of that properly formed conscience.

We could make a list of Mortal Sins and Venial Sins, as the Church of Rome has done. The weakness of labeling things in this manner should be obvious: A person may commit what is listed as a mortal sin in complete innocence, due of course to ignorance. However, a person may commit what is listed as a venial sin with such malice that it becomes "a sin unto death," (I John 5:16) that is, a mortal sin. Such a list fails to take into consideration the disposition of the heart.

Anglicanism esteems and values the mind, and acknowledges the responsibility Christians have to use it. As Christians we do not have the luxury to let some cult leader do all our thinking for us. Each of us must daily renew the mind so that the conscience is free to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is because when we form our consciences by Scripture and the teaching of the Church, then are we truly free.