Tuesday, May 31, 2011

From Touchstone archives

“Sabbath Shift” first appeared in the November 2008 issue of Touchstone.


Robert Hart on Sunday Marathons & New Savages

If someone wants a picture of mankind without religion, I suggest the first twenty minutes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. That image would be perfect if the apes were naked rather than furry, and used human speech rather than chimpanzee shrieks. Otherwise, it is just about right, and far from the ethically sensible and civilized non-religious world envisioned by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

At church one Sunday morning in Fountain Hills, Arizona, about fifteen minutes before service time, I was told that a man wanted me to come outside and speak with him (rather an imposition for a priest who is trying to put on vestments and concentrate). I went out into the Phoenix valley sunlight and was approached by the man, a rather busy-looking fellow visibly stressed. “We want to spray-paint the new office building next door. Could you ask everyone to move their cars far away from your parking lot and walk back to church?”

Even if everyone in my congregation had been young and athletic, I would have answered the same way. But the fact that a couple of parishioners made a great effort to walk even a short distance, leaning on their walkers and panting—such was their determination to be in church for Holy Communion—made his request all the more silly. “Absolutely not. Under no circumstances will I ask them to do any such thing.”

“But we need to get this job finished, and I have my crew here, and I have to pay them.” I thought about the big sign that said “Church,” clear for all to see, under a huge cross, and considered that this was, after all, Sunday morning. Only one reply seemed appropriate. “You should have known better than to schedule a spray-paint job next door to a church on a Sunday morning.” I went back inside and turned my attention back where it belonged.

Running over Religious Freedom
Back in the 1970s we were all so busy fighting the major issues, especially for the pro-life cause, and trying to evangelize in the face of the major social upheavals introduced in the previous decade, that defense of what were mockingly called the “blue laws” seemed a bit archaic and counterproductive. In fact, even many Christians were probably glad that stores previously closed on Sundays were now open seven days a week, and that the world had finally given us non-stop shopping. By 1983 nearly everything was open everyday.

But look where this has led. All too often now it is simply assumed that religious liberty and rights can be sacrificed for a public occasion. On March 24, 2002, Washington, D.C., held a marathon race that hindered many people from attending church. Adding insult to injury, that day was Palm Sunday. The mayor, Anthony Williams, had the nerve to say that all the churches should get together in some public arena for an interfaith service, and leave the roads clear for the marathon runners. This insensitivity to and violation of people’s cherished rights are intolerable on any Sunday, but doubly offensive on Palm Sunday.

And Washington’s 2002 race wasn’t an anomaly. In Pittsburgh, for instance, five or six downtown churches must close on one Sunday every year because of the Pittsburgh Marathon. No one is permitted to drive or even walk on the streets around these churches because such activity would “interfere” with the race. Sunday-morning marathons that block access to churches are annual events in Stamford, New York; Evansville, Illinois; Los Angeles, California (despite claims of improvement in 2006), and so many other cities that we have not the space to list them all. The First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion is blatantly curtailed by cities and towns without penalty.

Burdensome Liberation
“Liberation” from the blue laws has become a burden especially to the poor, who need the Sabbath rest even if they do not go to church. They nowhaveto go to work on Sunday, even if they are troubled by their conscience for missing church, or simply hurt because they miss it. This progressive, bold step away from the shackles of the past, promising freedom and prosperity, has taken its toll on the people who suffer the greatest economic need, making them choose between their religious observance and their paycheck.

That is the very opposite of expanded freedom. Perhaps those “silly” blue laws, and other social norms and mores, provided a kind of freedom of their own, especially for people in the working and laboring classes.

I learned that one business in that Arizona town, a diner near the church, had traditionally closed every Sunday until shortly before my arrival. But then a local clergyman, my predecessor, convinced the owner to open every Sunday for the convenience of the congregation. Many liked to go there after the early Mass (8:00 AM) each Sunday and have breakfast together. One waitress there, I learned, had been a member of the church, but was no longer.

I remember the sight of that waitress looking at her former fellow church members, serving them breakfast, missing the services every Sunday. I suppose it was very convenient for the people who could now hop over to the diner after church, but at what cost to that waitress? Is this what a Christian clergyman should have asked for?

Just this past Sunday here in Easton, Maryland, about half an hour before our principal Holy Communion service, I heard what sounded very much like machine-gun fire out in the street. It turned out to be one of those hand-held jackhammers that tears up a street or sidewalk and deafens all passers by. I walked through the front doors of the church into the street, and got the attention of the crew. They were contractors working by the schedule of their boss, who was not of the town.

“You can’t do this here this morning,” I said. We are about to have a church service.” I pointed to St. Andrew’s, a historic (former Roman Catholic) church building that dated from about 1860. They all looked up at the steeple with the cross, and at the signs with clearly visible words like “St. Andrew’s Anglican Church,” “Holy Communion Sunday morning at 10:00,” and other subtle clues.

“Do you want us to stop?”

Just then our bishop walked right up, smiling, and asked them in friendly tones if he needed to call the mayor. Easton is civilized, and the crew knew that they were not going to be drilling for quite some time. But what if they had arrived during a service? They would have been stopped, but only after creating an inexcusable interruption of a sort no one would have dreamed of making several years ago, during a time when work crews and their bosses simply did not need to be told.

False Paradise
In 2006, a town councilman in Scottsdale, Arizona, introduced a bill that would make it illegal for churches to hold services except on Sunday, on the grounds that some of the church parking created an “inconvenience.” No Holy Week services, often no Christmas services, no Saturday weddings, no weekday funerals, no midweek Masses in liturgical churches, no Wednesday Bible studies, no prayer meetings, no revival services in Baptist churches. Sunday was enough.

Even if that bit of insanity had passed, the courts would have been obligated to strike it down. But what has happened in our day and age that makes such lunacy conceivable at all?

Pure capitalism, without ethical or even legal restraints to protect the freedom of the lower classes to worship God, is no wonderful Utopia. We have moved away from those protections hardly noticing what we were doing, and sometimes even cheering for all the wrong reasons as we welcomed the alleged convenience and liberty.

We have, however, been taking a step forward into the world of those first twenty minutes of Kubrick’s movie. Not as hairy, ape-like, pre-man creatures, but rather as businessmen, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs, contractors, and politicians, all living down to the call of the wild in a non-religious “paradise” of savagery.
Robert Hart is rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

Monday, May 30, 2011

David B. Hart wins the 2011 Michael Ramsey prize

(OK, so some of you may say that my brother keeps questionable company sometimes. But, that's who gives the Michael Ramsey Prize- Fr. Hart) 

London, May 27 (ENInews)--Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, today awarded the 2011 Michael Ramsey prize to "Atheist Delusions," by David Bentley Hart. The book, said Dr. Williams in a news release, "takes no prisoners in its response to fashionable criticisms of Christianity."
...In the book, Hart outlines how Christianity transformed the ancient world in ways we may have forgotten: bringing liberation from fatalism, conferring great dignity on human beings, subverting the cruelest aspects of pagan society, and elevating charity above all virtues. He then argues that what we term the "Age of Reason" was in fact the beginning of the eclipse of reason's authority as a cultural value. Hart closes the book in the present, delineating the ominous consequences of the decline of Christendom in a culture that is built upon its moral and spiritual values.
In a news release, Dr. Williams described David Bentley Hart as "a theologian of exceptional quality, but also a brilliant stylist. This book takes no prisoners in its response to fashionable criticisms of Christianity. But what makes it more than just another contribution to controversy is the way he shows how the most treasured principles and values of compassionate humanism are rooted in the detail of Christian doctrine."
Born in 1965 in Maryland, Hart has degrees from the University of Maryland, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Virginia. He was most recently a professor at Providence College in Rhode Island. He specializes in philosophical theology, religious studies, Asian religions, patristics, and aesthetics. He is also a writer on cultural issues, with an emphasis upon aesthetics.
Hart will receive am award of 10,000 pounds. The Michael Ramsey Prize is intended for theological writing in which freshness and originality change the theological landscape and reinforce the Church’s institutional life.
Needless to say, I have always recommended this book to our readers, and would recommend  it even if it were not my brother's work. Everyone interested in the subject should read it.

Muslim persecution

We have been given permission to publicize this portion of an email from an Anglican Communion bishop in Nigeria, the Right Reverend John Danbinta. After the personal greeting it needs no editing and no commentary from me. 

Have just received this from the Bishop of Gusau, Nigeria.  Please pray for him and his desperate situation....Lord, how long?

... it has not been easy for us here after the general election that we just had last month. Over one hundred churches were burnt in Northern Nigeria. Thousands of people were killed and property worth millions of Naira were lost. It all happened after the announcement of our Presidential elections. The Muslims in the north started killing Christians and burning our churches. 

Our church and the Vicarage was burnt and our Pastor almost being killed. He has now been discharged from the hospital.

The Muslims were not happy because a Christian has been elected the President of Nigeria.. They want to continue to lead Nigeria even as they are not the only ones in Nigeria. Muslims are the majority in the Northern parts of Nigeria while Christians are the majority in the East and South.

Once more, please, continue to pray for us. 



Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fifth Sunday after Easter

Commonly called Rogation Sunday

James. 1:22-27  *  John 16: 23-33

On this day our attention ought to be focused on the right hand of God, to which the Lord Jesus was going to ascend. And, we are supposed to be thinking about that in terms of prayer, asking- rogation (from the Latin verb rogare, meaning "to ask"). And, we ought to be focusing on what it means to ask in this new way that our Lord Jesus teaches here. Why are we told to ask what we will of the Father in the name of Jesus Christ? In Genesis we see that there came a time when men first called upon the Name of the Lord. That is during the life of one named Enos, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, verse 26: “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” When I read this in Hebrew I saw that it really should be translated: “then began men to call in the Name of the Lord.” It was quite unmistakable; (בְּשֵׁם יְהוָהB’Shem Adonai. So, in using the words, “ask in My Name,” the Lord Jesus is again letting us know that he and the Father are One.

And, beyond that, we are told to pray to the Father in the human Name of the Person who is the Eternal Word, the nature He took into His uncreated eternal Person when “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” We do not pray to the Father without coming in the Name of the Son of God, specifically, the human Name of Jesus Christ. We could speak of Him as God the only begotten Son, or as the Word (or λόγος Logos). These are Names that speak of Him as God; and yet, in His human nature He is still One with the Father, while He shares our nature; fully God and fully man. Can we not simply come to the Father without this Man acting as our Mediator? Are we not good enough? The answer is no. We are not good enough to come to the Father, because we are sinners. If you are looking for a religion that flatters you, affirms you, and tells you how wonderful you are, you have come to the wrong place. Here we are all self-confessed “miserable offenders.” We spend a great deal of our time when we pray together, asking the Lord to have mercy upon us. So, no, we are not good enough to come to the Father without a Mediator.

Saint Paul wrote, in the first Epistle to Saint Timothy, the second chapter:

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

This passage speaks of prayer and God’s will that people will repent and be saved. And, in speaking of both of these things, salvation and prayer, Paul is moved to remind us that we have as our only Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus who gave Himself a ransom for all. He overcame the separation between the uncreated God and human creatures by taking created nature into His uncreated Person, becoming fully man while remaining fully God. He overcame the separation between God and man due to sin by dying for our sins on the cross. He overcame the separation between the Living God and our death by overcoming death. As one Person complete in two natures, Himself both fully God and fully Man, Jesus Christ is our Mediator. No man comes to the Father but by Him. That is true of our salvation, it is true of our worship, it is true also of our prayers.

This is why you must read the Epistle to the Hebrews. In that Epistle we are told all of these things very clearly. In addition, we are told that the Lord Jesus, seated even now at the right hand of God, ever lives to make intercession for us. Using the Old Testament picture of the High Priest who once a year took the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of Christ’s once for all sacrifice, that is that he died once for all sinners, and of His ascension to the Father’s throne as the true offering of the true High Priest into the true Holy of Holies, of which the temple was merely a picture, a shadow or type. The blood of the sacrifices in the Old Testament were sprinkled on the Mercy Seat before the Ark of the covenant, inside the veil, in the Holy of Holies- the קֹדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים (Kadesh h’kadeshim). This type was given to teach of the true offering in which the Son of God would offer Himself, and His blood would be the true Atonement, the true כָּפַר (Kippor). And, that he would rise from the dead and present His own death and sacrifice, the shedding of His blood, the pouring out of His soul unto death, upon prolonging His days by rising to life again. And, that he would ascend back to the Father to be our Mediator, pleading for us with the scars from those wounds from which His blood was shed.

To pray in the Name of Jesus reminds us of these things. It reminds us that we need a Mediator, because we are sinners. It reminds us that He died for our sins, rose again and ascended into heaven. It reminds us that He is the one Mediator between God and Man because He is fully God and fully man, unique as the one whose Name alone is given under heaven among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4;12) “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my Name,” He said. “Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” As the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it:

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.  (Heb. 10:19-24)

And, what are we to ask for? Above all, in this text, we are to ask for the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter.)

On this Rogation Sunday, as we prepare for the day of Ascension, and then for the Day of Pentecost, hoping for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in power, let us have these words as frontlets between our eyes: “Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”

Some people believe that the name of Jesus Christ will work like a magic charm if only we have faith. I suggest it has more to do with the words of St. John in his First Epistle: "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us." (I John 5:14) On one hand, some may say, we have these words from Jesus: "And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." (John 14: 13) and, "that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." (John 15:16) Some may interpret the words from the Gospel of John to indicate that all we need to do is ask in his Name, and others may interpret the words from the Epistle to mean that we may ask nothing with real confidence, because how could we know the will of God? Yet, John writes this about why we may have confidence. It is understandable, therefore why some would be confused.

Some will make the problem worse by telling you that if you really have faith, you will always be healed, miracles will happen everyday, and you will enjoy wealth and prosperity as a sign of God's favor. They twist a simple greeting from Scripture and make a doctrinal statement out of it, namely these words, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." (III John 2). But, that was not a revelation from God containing a promise for all who have faith; it was, for anyone who knows how to read with comprehension, a greeting from John himself, no more significant than saying, "Godspeed." John was being polite and friendly, and that is all there is to it (the Epistle is Scripture and therefore inspired by the Holy Spirit; but, it was also a letter from a man to someone specific, and has a human element, namely a simple greeting).

But, it is equally wrong to assume that we cannot pray with faith that God will intervene for good in the lives of those we love, and to meet our needs. God's will is not some clouded unknowable mystery, so that all we can say is "thy will be done," with no real substantial petitions for those in need. Rather, the issue of God's will is partly an attitude of heart that we must have, that is, the resolution that by the grace of God at work through the Holy Spirit, we will walk henceforth in newness of life in obedience to the will of God as he revealed it by his commandments. It is no good trying to know the will of God unless we accept the commandments that contain the revelation of what his will most certainly is.

In this light, to pray in the name of Jesus is not merely to be a name dropper, to impress the Father by claiming to know Someone in the ultimate Who's Who directory. How can we presume to think we have asked anything in the Name of Jesus Christ merely because we have spoken his Name? Anyone can say his Name, and say say it as if it were merely the magic words. Invoking the Name of Jesus Christ carries with it the implication of asking according to God's will, and of living according to his revealed will, as revealed in Scripture through those things he has commanded us.

I would like to pray that the Baltimore Orioles win the world series (still a Marylander where that is concerned), but I cannot ask such a thing in Christ's Name. You cannot ask, in Christ's Name, that you win out over the competition in business; but you can ask, in the name of Jesus Christ with full confidence and assurance of faith, that He provide your every need. Certainly, we cannot ask God to do evil to others, or to assist us in an immoral cause; and it would be blasphemy to do so, double blasphemy to do so in the Name of Jesus Christ.

Asking in the Name of Jesus Christ has everything to do with the doctrinal revelation I have drawn out from Scripture for your edification in this sermon. It also provides a check within our hearts about what we may ask with faith.

Fr Wells' Bulletin Inserts


On the Gospel for the Day:

This fifth and last Sunday after Easter Day is in our Prayer Book “commonly called Rogation Sunday,” and the next three week-days are called “Rogation Days.” This unusual word “rogation” derives from the Latin verb rogare, which means “to ask.” In today's Gospel, Jesus speaks twice of “asking the Father ... in His name.” This is all about prayer, both of the supplicatory and intercessory types. To explain those tongue-twisting words, supplication is asking for ourselves and our own needs, while intercession is asking for the needs of others.

Rogation-tide (that is today and the next three days) took its origin in a time and place when farmers were putting in their crops about this time of the year. In a more reverent age, this had powerful spiritual meaning, when devout hard-working people acknowledged their dependence on God and begged His merciful blessing on all their endeavors. Rogation-tide was celebrated by outdoor processions around the fields. These eventually came to serve a secondary purpose of walking the property lines once each year to mark off every farmer's real estate.

Today's Gospel begins with what surely sounds like an extravagant promise: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” (That sounds almost as extravagant as the concluding words, “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”) On the face of it, it sounds as if the Saviour promised that we will get whatever we ask for, if we only say “in Jesus' name, Amen” at the end of every prayer.

Practically every prayer in our Prayer Book concludes with the formula “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In those words we acknowledge that He is our great high priest, our advocate with the Father, who speaks on our behalf and intercedes for us at the Father's heavenly throne. We should not dare to pray at all but for that fact. Without Jesus, we would have no right to pray. Without Jesus, any prayer on our part would be a presumptuous intrusion into God's throne-room.

But there is more to praying or asking “in His name” than merely reciting a well-worn formula at the end of every prayer. Praying in the name of Jesus means praying with His spirit and attitude. Jesus was a Man of constant prayer. His most sublime prayer was uttered in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, let this cup pass from me, but nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.”

Praying “in His name” is praying, as He did, in humble submission and total surrender to the Father's Will. Not to manipulate God or to gain our own selfish ends, but to set forth His glory. That is the prayer God will bless and answer in His own time and His own way.

And more on the Gospel:

"But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." John 16:33b.

Whether we think of these words as something said by a Man about to sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane or the pronouncement of One just raised from the dead, they constitute a truly audacious claim.

In John's Gospel, the term "world" is interesting in itself. We are surely familiar with the statement which should never cease to startle us, "So God loved the world." Superficially we might suppose that since God created the world, it was only natural that He should love it. At the outset of his Gospel John tells us "the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not." It was not just the Jewish people who rejected him; the very creation repelled Him. The cosmos itself was in rebellion against its Creator. That is why a Virgin Birth was necessary. Like a man who is obliged to break into his own home, the Creator must behave as an intruder.

Now the Man (I keep using the uppercase M for a reason) who as Son of Man had no place to lay His head announces a victory. The creation which He made at the beginning out of nothing, the creation which rebelled against its Creator, the creation which rebuffed and murdered its Redeemer, has been subdued, overwhelmed and pacified. Jesus claims a victory over sin, death and hell, over the world, the flesh and the devil.

There is a strange distortion of the Gospel which talks of a great battle at the end of earthly history at a place called Armageddon, a final show-down between the forces of good and the powers of evil. That seems to mean that for the present time, the world is still an evil unredeemed place. It might even mean a terrible uncertainty about the final outcome. Who will win the last battle, Jesus or Satan?

A better reading of the Bible seems to tell us that we live "between the times." We live between the decisive battle in which the outcome has already been determined and the final battle is yet to be waged. Military historians can supply many analogies. Think of that period between the Yorktown surrender of Lord Cornwallis in 1781 and the Peace of Paris in 1783.

In that verb "I have overcome" we hear a wonderful finality, a new and irreversible state of affairs. This sheds a brilliant light on its context, a context which is our world, "In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer." This bold announcement of victory concludes a long discourse which began, "Let not your heart be troubled."

As we come to the end of Eastertide, the Gospel tells us that the victory of our Saviour was no temporary or transient episode. His victory was irreversible. That is the kind of victory we are invited to enter and to share.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

About the Great Exodus


Dr. John Armstrong writes, in a post today entitled "The Great Catholic Exodus," the following (Of course, he means by "Catholics" Roman Catholics, though the author is a Protestant.):

"Rarely do I hear Catholic commentators and apologists admit that the Catholic Church in America is losing people/communicants in very large numbers. The reasons for this exodus are complicated and rarely discussed by Catholics, the very Christians who ought to be profoundly concerned...One out of every ten Americans is an ex-Catholic. If these people formed a separate denomination they would become the third largest denomination in the U.S. after Catholics and Baptists. One of three people who was raised a Roman Catholic no longer self-identifies as a Roman Catholic. But the U. S. Catholic bishops have not spent a single dime trying to understand 'why' this has been happening...The primary reason Catholics leave their church is that their spiritual needs are not being met. Read that statement again. 71% said this was their reason in the Pew Research. Simply put, the Catholic Church has failed to give its people a deeply satisfying spiritual experience. Put another way the evidence indicates that doctrine has very little to do with why a person chooses a congregation. The real reason is rooted in a growing and maturing spiritual experience."

It is important to note that the author is not a gloating and gleeful Protestant happy with decline among "the competition." He says: "Again, I have no horse in a race here. I am concerned, as most of you know, for the whole of the church; thus I take no delight in the problems that American Catholics face. " And, neither do we here at The Continuum.

The Lesson for us
Is there a lesson in this to be learned by Continuing Anglicans? I believe there is. For although we see significant growth in other countries, especially in Africa, throughout the United States and other western countries the number of Continuing Anglicans in general has not grown as it should have after 34 years since the St. Louis congress. We need to ask why, and see if we can learn something from the research about the decline among American Roman Catholics.

The need for "a deeply satisfying spiritual experience" should not be dismissed as merely an expression of existentialism. In spite of the many criticisms justly aimed at the Charismatic movement of the 1970s, one thing I learned in my youth among those very people, is that every individual needs to have Christ Himself at the center of his own life. This can be treated with too much emotion, and turned into mere sentimentality. Or it can become the kind of religious excitement that burns out because too many elements were generated by the flesh, or even because demonic powers took advantage of people who sought visions and revelations for the sake of experience itself.  

The very term "spiritual experience" needs, therefore, to be taken seriously both for the legitimate need as well as for the dangers it invokes. But, we need to look at the legitimate need. After all, the problem that Dr. Armstrong has mentioned is not a Roman Catholic problem; it is a human reality that can be a problem, or a benefit, for everyone.

Simply put, overall, are we offering "a growing and maturing spiritual experience" to our people? In some ways it appears that we must be, for after 34 years we would have died out if we had not attracted new and younger members. However, if a healthier percentage of people, who, having at one time joined one of our churches, remained in Continuing Anglicanism our numbers might be at least twice what they are. 

Therefore, let us ask three relevant questions: What is healthy spiritual experience? What produces it? What hinders it?

What is healthy spiritual experience?
Healthy spiritual experience has been the topic of Christian writers throughout the entire history of the Church. (In fact, not to promote a book simply because a friend and fellow Continuum blogger is the author, but because it is a good book, I recommend a modern resource by our own Fr. Nalls, Prayer: A Field Guide.) Frankly, weekly attendance at church on Sunday is not enough. The old saying, "Give God one hour of your week" suggests not even the minimum life of prayer, but rather something that is far, far less than a healthy minimum standard.

Healthy spiritual experience for believers is the whole life of faith, in which encouragement of regular attendance on Sundays requires no special effort, inasmuch as wild horses would not keep them away. Frequent Communion and Daily Prayer were great and practical spiritual recoveries of the English Reformers. We have a most excellent tool in our offices of Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, which are of great importance in the Book of Common Prayer

What produces healthy spiritual experience?
Deep down, at the center of an individual's life, which the ancient Hebrews spoke of as "the heart" (associated with much more than mere emotion) something very real and radical must live. And, this is why I urge even the most High Church of Anglo-Catholic clergy to learn to preach good Evangelical sermons. After all, such preaching was very important throughout the history of the Church It is the Catholic Tradition, even though some Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics have turned from it in an equal and opposite reaction to the reaction against sacramental grace and practice by some Protestants. 

Anglican clergy have the resources to help everyone grow into rich and mature spiritual experience. Wise Anglican clergy draw on the best of the best in the whole Catholic Tradition, including every good thing recovered in the Protestant and Evangelical side of our heritage, as well as all the rest of it.

Healthy spiritual experience is knowing Christ Himself (John 17:3), which each and every person needs. It may involve a deeply felt conversion experience, or it may simply grow from earliest childhood; it may involve emotion, or it may be quiet. But, without that personal attachment to Jesus Christ Himself, on a level far deeper than one's religious preferences, spiritual experience is, at best, a meaningless term. It is not enough to know all the right liturgical steps, rubrics or Ritual Notes. 

Finally, What hinders healthy spiritual experience?
To begin with, among Continuing Anglicans, every time some new church has been formed from an existing church body, although some fellow got to wear a purpler shirt and bigger miter, several lay members have been lost, perhaps to wander off and be devoured by the wolf, or perhaps simply to find some kind of church free of petty, power grabbing Pharisees. The horror stories of shameless sinful behavior by clergymen, without any regard for the needs of people, defy belief. My reaction is twofold: I am glad that the concordat churches appear to have been cleansed of deadly influences, but I am disgusted that certain priests and bishops proved to be such wolves themselves. Infighting and politics, spiritual gunfights and brawls, always produce a depressed and dead feeling even among the most well-meaning, that is the faithful remnants who have suffered such ravenous shepherds. They need to be gathered (קָבַץ) from the places to which they have been scattered (Isaiah 40:11)

Ignorance is another factor, as the Bible says so plainly: 

"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children." (Hosea 4:6)

"And wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times, and strength of salvation: the fear of the LORD is his treasure." (Isaiah 33:6)

Clergy who are experts on liturgy, but ignorant of theology and lazy in preaching, do more harm than good. They need to get honest jobs and do something less dangerous. Every priest has been ordained to do more than celebrate the sacraments: Over every priest, at his ordination, the bishop has said: "And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments." The priestly ministry is essentially about two major duties: The word of God and the sacraments. If you are a priest, and you foolishly choose one at the expense of the other, you are failing.

We should encourage learning and make sure that the Bible is studied in our churches. And, the study of the Bible must not be about trying to satisfy curiosity. What the Lord said to His disciples just before His Ascension represents a principle:

"When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, 'Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?' And he said unto them, 'It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.'" (Acts 1:6-8)

Recently, the whole world was laughing at a preacher who attempted to predict that day and hour. The principle here is bigger. Whatever has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God, including His rule in one's own heart (where it all begins) is not worth asking about. 

"Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, 'Lord, and what shall this man do?' Jesus saith unto him, 'If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.'" (John 21:21,22)

Ignorance, of the kind that is deadly, cannot be cured by opening the Bible merely to satisfy speculative curiosity. It is cured by learning the word of God so as to promote faith in Christ, to live by God's general will (i.e., to know His commandments), and to be changed within by hearing. Ignorance is often accompanied by superstitions, legalism, unhealthy scruples, presumption, and many other details that a truly pastoral priest will recognize as a doctor recognizes symptoms. 

The worst thing, of course, is unrepentant willful sin. The answer is simple and should provoke fear: "They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:21) Of course, if the teaching and example of clergy promote the dangerous general ease felt by those who fall prey to the error of Universalism (that everyone will be saved no matter what), a doctrine concerning which the weight of Scriptural evidence is to the contrary, more will be lost than healthy spiritual experience. Eternal life, the only true and lasting life, could be entirely forfeited. 

Rather than dismiss Dr. Armstrong's articles as a RC problem, let us take lessons to heart for the good of our own house.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lex Credendi

It is a favorite expression of many, Lex Orandi Lex Credendi. Literally, it translates "The law of prayer is the law of belief." It means, in practical terms, that as people pray, so they believe. At its best it supports the idea that the Book of Common Prayer is a Formulary, and that by liturgical prayer the Church passes on its teaching through practice. This is why our service of Holy Communion is one of the best evangelistic and catechetical tools we have. It teaches the whole Gospel every time it is celebrated. Every part of it, the Creed, the Canon of Consecration, etc., is at one time prayer, worship, evangelism and catechesis. The offices of Daily Morning and Evening Prayer also instruct as they are practiced.

Nonetheless, it is not wise for clergy to depend so heavily on this concept that they fail to teach diligently. The Canon Law of the ACC requires, in full consistency with the practice of the Church from earliest times, that at the very least every Sunday the priest shall preach, or cause to be preached, a sermon in the church. This is the minimum standard for carrying out his work as a minister of God's word, not the maximum. A sermon is not a seven minute homily carried out as a necessary evil; it is the preaching of God's word with preparation and prayer, carried out with diligence, produced by true work of the most responsible kind. Yes, the truth is well expressed in the liturgy, but somehow the human mind cannot comprehend it without teaching and preaching. 

Repetition has both an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage is that it enters the long term memory and stays there. Every priest who visits the elderly in nursing homes to bring Communion to them, when dealing with those who are barely able to speak and whose eyes can no longer read, sees that people raised on the Book of Common Prayer are joining in, praying from memory, moving their lips. It works. 

But, the disadvantage is that people who recite the words can shut out the meaning. One elderly woman, greeting a rector after a service in the Episcopal Church in 1980, unhappy with their 1979 book, complained: "If Jesus could hear that new book, he would roll over in his grave." She had said the words, "On the third day he rose again" thousands of times; but, somehow, she had ceased to hear those words. Lex Orandi is not enough, by itself, to produce Lex Credendi; the teaching and preaching ministry remains a chief responsibility of all priests.

Finally, at its worst, Lex Orandi Lex Credendi can be misused in theological debate. Individuals may insist that they can raise pious opinion to the level of dogma, or perhaps even argue erroneous opinion, by treating all approved or allowed prayers as if they were equal to the Canon of Scripture; though the latter may involve twisting the meaning of prayers or failing to think them through. This approach does not work, however, on orthodox theologians. 

For me, the slogan is more accurate if we reverse it: Lex Credendi Lex Orandi: As I believe, so I pray. After years of reading and studying the word of God, by which I mean the holy Scriptures, I am able to pray only according to my convictions. Eventually, for every student of theology, this must become the case. And, this too is a strength of our Book of Common Prayer tradition. Those who really know the Scriptures have no qualms about saying "amen" to the prayers in that book. C.S. Lewis pointed out that this is an advantage to having a proper liturgy instead of public prayers composed by a minister or improvised: No one fears to say "amen." Our Book of Common Prayer is so good and sound, that the more we know the Bible the more easily and readily we use our liturgy, and the more readily we say "amen" to it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fr Wells' Bulletin Inserts


Concerning the Epistle:

For most of the year, the readings from the Epistles are from the letters of St Paul. But during Eastertide (specifically from Easter I through the 3rd Sunday after Trinity), Paul is shelved and instead we read from John, Peter, and James. During the “great forty days” when we focus intensely on the Resurrection of our Lord, we turn to those whom Paul himself considered the primary witnesses of the that great event. Paul, an apostle “born out of due time,” did not meet the Lord Jesus until long after the others, until after the Ascension. Peter, John, and James had followed the Saviour almost from the beginning of His earthly ministry and saw Jesus soon after His Resurrection.

We know Peter's story well. He was the one who had boasted that he would die for Jesus, then denied Him, but was still commissioned to “feed my sheep.” There is an entire chapter (John 21) devoted to Peter's restoration to office by the Risen Christ. What Jesus did to, in, and with Peter (that sounds like a three-point sermon coming on) is clear in the book of Acts. It is eloquently set forth in the two epistles which Peter authored. When we read those two letters, we must remember that every line was composed by a man who had experienced deep sin and our dear Lord's pardon.

John (whom we read exclusively in the Gospel lessons during Eastertide) was the “beloved disciple” who sat close to Jesus at the Last Supper, stood with the Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross, and was the first to believe when he saw the empty tomb. He was apparently the youngest of the apostles and the last to die. Our final picture of John is that of the elderly man in the penal colony on the Isle of Patmos, with visions of Christ in glory and the new heavens and new earth.

James (whom we read today) was the step-brother of Jesus, whom the Eastern Orthodox Christians audaciously but correctly call the “Brother of God.” (If you truly know Who Jesus really is, that does not shock you.) He was not a believer until after the Resurrection. After all, it is not easy to believe that the Person you played ball with as a kid is God Incarnate, the Saviour of the world. According to I Cor. 15, James was granted a special Resurrection appearance, of which we have no details. It was a family matter. Even the Holy Family is allowed some privacy. But this James became the first bishop of Jerusalem and died as a martyr.

All three were close to Jesus, close to the first Easter Day, powerful witnesses to the event itself. The inspired Writings, of which they were the human authors, invite us also to behold the Risen Saviour and to become witnesses to His glory and partakers in His victory.

Concerning the Gospel:

“It is expedient for you that I go away.” We are in that series of Gospel readings from John 16, a passage thrilling for meditation yet maddening for those who must prepare sermons. Sermons are supposed to be practical, down-to-earth, relevant somehow to our daily lives. But in this long Farewell Discourse, a conversation between Jesus and the Twelve Apostles in the Upper Room just minutes before their going forth to Gethsemane, the Arrest and the Trial, the words of Jesus sound distinctly mystical, impractical, other-worldly. We identify with the complaint of the Twelve: “We do not know what he means”

The last words of great men make a fascinating study. The conversation in the death-room of a loved one can be tense and emotionally fraught. So the final exchanges between Jesus and His closest followers naturally takes on special significance.

Of all the many things He might have discussed with them, Jesus carefully set as His topic the doctrine of the Trinity, the overwhelming mystery of the inner reality of the Godhead as three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. For us, this doctrine seems dry, abstract, of no particular value to the business of life. For Jesus, the Trinity was an urgent and compelling issue. He did not offer the disciples consolation; He gave them catechesis.

How is it to our advantage for us that He go away? He was speaking (and we know more now than did the little gathering in the Upper Room) not only of His departure at His death, but moreover of His departure at His Ascension. On the Cross He prayed, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” This makes death no longer our “last enemy,” but our return to the Father. That is the advantage of His death for us.

In His Ascension He made good on His promise, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Jesus has carried our flesh and blood, our very nature into the most exalted presence of God the Father, when He ascended “to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God.” His Ascension was a down payment, or a pilot project, pointing out our own final destination.

But for the immediate present, the advantage of His “going away” is that it triggered the coming of the Comforter, the Holy Ghost. During the years of His earthly ministry, the God-Man was present only in one tiny corner of the world. But now He is with us “in all times and in all places” in a manner even more powerful and effective than His face-to-face presence with the Apostles themselves. Because of the Spirit Who was about to come, Jesus could say, “Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fourth Sunday after Easter

James 1:17-21 * John 16:5-14

“EVERY good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” writes Saint James in today’s Epistle. 

These words are more than a profoundly beautiful piece of prose; these words speak of the unchanging and unchangeable will of God. In God is no variableness, and not only no turning, but not even a shadow of it. “God is not a man that he should lie, neither a son of man that he should repent.” God wills, God speaks and He acts. But never does He react. The revelation that God has given of Himself in scripture has been given through language that can speak to the human mind, and as such that language is inherently iconographic. The limitations of the human mind cannot comprehend God, and so we are given words about God that must come short of a full description. We read of Divine mercy, or we read of Divine wrath, and we picture these things in human terms; we imagine how the mercy or wrath of men comes across. Such things come across as emotion, as reactions which must, by their nature, be both variableness and a shadow of turning. For that is how we experience such things.                                   
But where man comes closest to God, and where His image is most clearly perceived in the very nature of what we are, is the highest of the virtues, namely charity. This is that love that never fails, that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. With or without the element of reaction, always with the constancy of feeling but never dependent on the whims of emotion, this love motivates us to labor for the people most dependent on our untiring efforts. Even anger does not erase this love, because it is deeper than any passing emotion. Saint John told us that “God is Love.” So, the words “no variableness neither shadow of turning” naturally move into the next phrase in today’s Epistle of James: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.” The love of God for us, the love of the Father that begat us, never depended on how He felt at the time, how He reacted, on whim, fancy or any changeable thing.
......That God is Impassible, not subject to the changes and reactions of emotion, is the guarantee of our sure and certain hope. His will for us runs deeper; it is the true Love itself; love that takes human nature into the Godhead, so that Jesus Christ is that one Person both fully God and fully man, who suffers and dies for our sins. The old problem of whether or not God could have suffered on the cross is answered for us by saying that Jesus Christ suffered for us, and that He did so as One Person in two complete natures. And, in that depth that is love, stronger because it is deeper and higher, beneath and above all we know of mere emotion with its changing whims and reaction, we see the will of God carried out. In Christ we die to sin, and in Christ we rise to new life, born again because we are begotten from above by the Word of Truth.        
The will of God is not capricious. For a mere human being, the will is subject to what side of bed he rises from in the morning. God’s will, however, does not change, unlike the unstable will of a man who, upon getting bored, undergoes a change of tastes; or who, upon being taken by emotion at a given moment, changes his mind. In the news a few years ago, I heard of a family suing some well-known sex symbol celebrity, because a rich man had married her and had rewritten his will. If I heard it correctly, the rightful heirs, that is, the children, were left desolate because the rich man had, in what passion he could muster or in what vanity had taken him, married a woman several decades his junior; and his children no longer could expect his promise, which was the expectation of their rightful inheritance.                        
Unstable behavior takes place among sinful men; but our Father in heaven cannot be moved to forget us. He will not break His promise. We are in Christ; we are never forgotten. In the words of the prophet Isaiah: 

“But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.” -Isa. 49: 14-16

Understand that when we speak of Divine mercy or of Divine wrath, we are not speaking of some reaction in God. God remains constant. Whether we experience mercy or wrath depends upon where we decide to stand, what side of that unmovable line he has laid down in His commandments. His love for us will not be satisfied, however, with our laxity. He demands that we grow in holiness and virtue because that is part of His will for us in Christ. He knows what he wants to make of us, the kind of people we are meant to be. Whatever Hell is, that place of darkness and the loss of all hope, about which our Lord Jesus Christ warned us many times over, it is not a place we might enter due to God’s reactions. It is a place we may enter by choosing to stand on the wrong side of His love, the side where we shut out His will for us in favor of any wilful sin. God does not change, and so, if we refuse to turn from our sins, we will be lost. For God cannot compromise: it is against His very nature. God does not negotiate or bargain. He does, however, forgive when we turn to Him.     
In today’s Gospel we see that Jesus said, about the coming of the Holy Ghost- that event we will remember shortly on Pentecost:

“And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.”       

Look at these things closely. The world remains in sin because it refuses to believe in Jesus Christ. This is put in very personal terms. The choice to be given over to sin and death is the refusal to believe in this one Man: Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Why? Because, He alone is the remedy for sin and death. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)                       
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of righteousness by Christ’s ascension into Heaven. He must sit on the throne of God with the Father; as long as the world is fallen and sinful, His presence here as the Incarnate God was extraordinary, something that the world could not long endure. Until the world is made new by His coming, His presence remains hidden and mysterious. His ascension to the throne of His Father vindicates His righteousness, even though the world treated Him as a sinner and a criminal.       
The Holy Spirit convicts the world of judgment because the prince of this world is judged. The cross appeared to be the condemnation of Jesus; but it turned out instead to be the condemnation of the whole order of sin and death. Christ bore the wrath of God, and this was in fact the mercy of God at work. The one who was cast out and defeated was the Devil, the serpent’s head bruised when the Man, the Seed of the Woman – the Son of  the Virgin, suffered a bruise to His heel (Gen 3:15, John 19:26). The entire system of sin and death was judged. The prince of this world was cast out. Now, the Holy Spirit convicts the world that its evil ruler, the prince of darkness, has been condemned.       
How does the Holy Spirit convict the world? He works through the Church. So the Lord continues, in today’s Gospel, with these words: “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.” Indeed He has guided the Apostolic Church into all truth.      
It began with the writing of the New Testament, by bringing to mind after His resurrection and ascension the words of Jesus, including His words they could not hear before He had risen again and sent the Holy Spirit. It began with the teaching we find in the four Gospels, and in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, in Epistles by the Apostles, Saints Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude. His guidance took hold as they understood what Jesus had done in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. And, the same Holy Spirit remained in the Church throughout long early years of persecution; He was still with the Church when she emerged from persecution in 313 AD. He was with the successors of the Apostles who met in Ecumenical Council during the first millennium, giving them grace to remain faithful to the Word of God for all people for all time.       
This ministry of the Church, to speak with the voice of the Holy Spirit to the world, is the will of the Father who has begotten us to new life in the Person of His Son, Who guides and empowers us by His Holy Spirit, sending down every good gift and every perfect gift. In Him is no variableness neither shadow of turning.