Friday, July 31, 2009

Eighth Sunday after Trinity

Readers of The Continuum, especially new ones, may wish to read what I wrote for this Sunday a year ago , as various situations it addresses have only intensified in the past year. Furthermore, it may be of interest to read what I wrote for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity in 2003, if only for the historic significance of that week.

Romans 8:12-17
Matthew 7:15-21

One of the finest images ever presented in a sermon that I was privileged to hear, was the simple image of drinking seawater. If survivors from a sinking ship are together in a lifeboat, no matter how thirsty they may be, the worst thing they can do is to drink seawater. The salt in each drink adds to thirst, rather than quenching it. Eventually they go mad before dying of dehydration. Each drink adding to the thirst, rather than quenching it, is a good image of addiction; but, at the end of the day it is a picture not only of addictions, but of all sins of the flesh. Each time the flesh is indulged it craves more: "Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied." (Prov. 27:20) Do not drink seawater, and do not try to satisfy lust.

"Brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Says today's Epistle. Looking back at the last two weeks, you may recall that this portion of the Epistle to the Church in Rome began with the reality of your new life given to you in the waters of baptism. And, in sharp contradiction to modern heresy taught by that other denomination (the one that embarrasses even the atheists), Baptism is not a license to sin, but the sacrament whereby you have died to sin and come alive with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13,14)

To drink of the Spirit of life in Christ is to find satisfaction that the seawater of sin cannot give. To walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh is to know God "whose service is perfect freedom." To let go the weight of sin, to cut yourself loose from the burden, is the great joy of freedom. It may hurt. Repentance may hurt so badly at first that our Lord compares it to plucking out an eye or cutting off a hand. He is not unaware of the pain it may involve to repent of some sins. He is not unaware of the pain some may feel even as they let go of bitterness and decide to forgive. He is not unaware of the agonies of "cold turkey," whether from real addiction, or from lusts of the eyes and of the flesh, or even "cold turkey" from a wrong romance outside of marriage. The Lord knows that some repentance hurts at first; but afterward it brings peace. Beside which, these sober words must be heard and taken to heart: "for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into Hell." (Matt. 5:29, 30)

These are things that the false prophets will not say to you. The Lord warns of them, coming in sheep's clothing, looking so very holy and good; but inwardly, he warns us, they are ravening wolves. They court your favor. They do not preach that we should repent and forsake our sins; they aid you only in deadly self-deception, just as enablers help addicts destroy themselves. And, they add to the deceptions and errors of modern society by presenting an image of God who has made no commandments, and who approves of sin, and so needs to forgive nothing.

On the first Sunday in July, the day following our Independence Day here in the United States, I told you of a startling statistic I had read in The Washington Times: A full 40 percent of all children born in this country are born out of wedlock, up from 25 percent four years ago. Have we really come to a time when people are so unconcerned about their children that they make no effort to provide stable homes and family life? Yes, we have. And, why not? Children are treated as throw-away objects while they are vulnerable and helpless, still growing in the womb, having no protection of law. This is a sin of our whole country. And, marriage is treated as an experiment, and something that may be redefined by the stroke of legislator's pens and the whims of their votes; as if marriage were man-made rather than ordained of God. And, as if human nature can and should be altered. Indeed, for forty years extreme feminists (both male and female feminists, since many men hold that ideology too) have told us that God made some big mistakes in creating human nature the way He did, and it is their crusade to change it, or destroy it trying to change it. Therefore, innocent children are offered in sacrifice to their god of convenience and egalitarianism, and marriage is offered in sacrifice with the innocents. People in our time increasingly display not only ignorance of the moral Laws of God, but increasingly they display their inability to comprehend morality at all. Sadly, churches are simply going along to get along, and often fail to teach their people what they need to know in order to live. They let them drink the seawater, and make little or no effort to guide them to the water that Christ alone gives; that alone satisfies thirst.

Yes, these are the things the false prophets will not tell you. They preach a different gospel, not heeding the warning of St. Paul:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. (Gal.1:6-10)

I said on that Sunday, July 5, that the alarming statistic I brought to your attention reveals the failure of the clergy above every other group in modern society. I have come to see that a clergyman may be a false prophet without ever teaching error overtly. All he needs to do, to present another gospel, is to so court your favor that he becomes one who pleases men, and cannot, therefore, be a servant of Christ. In an Anglican context, such a man may enter a pulpit with the intention of watering down the power and the wholesome effect of the Scriptures that are read, and of the Biblical truth that sounds clearly as a trumpet throughout the whole liturgy of Holy Communion. He need merely make it go down, as the song from Mary Poppins says, with "a spoonful of sugar."

I have advised men who study for Holy Orders as follows:

"It is not the duty of the clergy to blunt the sharpness, to soften the hammer, or to quench the fire. Woe to the preacher who protects the people from the word that kills, because he protects them also from being made alive- truly and forever alive. Woe to the preacher who acts as a buffer, deflecting the force of the scriptures to soften the blow, because in protecting from the stroke, he prevents the healing. If his labors in the pulpit amount to a lifetime of standing between the people and the word of God, reducing its effect, taming it and making it polite, presentable and harmless, he will have nothing to show for it in the end but wood, hay and stubble instead of gold, silver and precious stones.

"It far easier to preach if a man (informed by the Tradition of the Church) will ride the scriptures like a wave, letting them make their own point, and arrive at their own destination. If the passages that have been read speak of life and death, then elaborate on life and death. If they speak of repentance then preach that men should repent. When they encourage faith, proclaim faith. When they warn of Hell and the judgment to come, then blow the trumpet as a faithful watchman on the walls. When they comfort, speak as a pastor who feeds the sheep. Let the meaning of the scriptures be expounded to their full effect, proclaiming from them the truth that affects the eternal destiny of the souls in your care."

The reality is this: The message is the same as always. Repent and believe the Gospel. And, the Gospel is the same Gospel that was preached by the Apostles and that has been taught and "believed always, everywhere and by all." Jesus Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day as the scriptures foretold. After his resurrection he was seen by many witnesses. To be saved from sin and death you must repent of your sins and believe this Gospel. Some churches have a new message. We preach the old one, the one that came from the Living God.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Antiquity and Universal Consensus

Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est

A reader who posts comments as Canon Tallis, said this in a recent comment:

The question I would have for you is where do you find authentic 'Catholicism?' Is it to be found in the pronouncements of the bishops of Rome or in Holy Scripture as interpreted by the earliest bishops and Catholic fathers, the creeds and the theological decrees of the universally recognized General Councils? When the first disagrees with the second, on which side should we as Catholics come down?

Canon Tallis' hypothetical question makes a necessary point that honest observation must concede. The movement of thought in modern Roman Catholic circles, including some who write apologetics aimed at converting us to their denomination, is to reject the Vincentian Canon in favor of a convoluted twist that took place in the mind of John Henry Cardinal Newman. His once balanced Anglican concept of Doctrinal Development morphed, after he became Roman Catholic, into something as dangerous as an open Canon of Scripture. The idea of "progressive revelation" is abhorrent if we call it that, but it can sound acceptable when it is given a more academically impressive name. Initially, the Magisterium in Rome rejected Newman's peculiar theory of Doctrinal Development. But, under pressure from a pope who wanted to redefine his role even further than centuries of innovation had rendered it, they were forced to accept Newman's theory, howbeit unofficially. The new "ancient" doctrine of Infallibility was created in 1870 to augment the papacy. The papal office, in previous centuries, had been embellished by forced and awkward Biblical interpretation, selected readings wrenched from their historical and literary contexts, and well-established forgeries. But, even so, they resisted the theory of Doctrinal Development that ran counter to Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est, until they realized that Newman's rationalization was the only defense for their newest "dogma." The 1870 stretch (my proposed name for Papal Infallibility) would simply snap off and break under the strength of Vincentian tension. Bold measures were called for, and Newman's new DD fit the bill.

Contrary to this line of thought, as Anglicans, our so-called "450 year-old experiment" is not an experiment at all, but a sincere attempt at fidelity to Antiquity-above all Scripture as the Universal Consensus of Antiquity when the Church recognized the word of God, that is, the Master's voice (John 10:27).

What, then, are the real experiments?

1. Universal Jurisdiction is an experiment that failed the first time a Roman Patriarch tried to assert Roman authority in a functioning and perfectly well-established patriarchate beyond Rome's proper jurisdiction (Constantinople). That experiment failed when the Church's alleged seat of unity caused the Great Schism (1054). We are told this is a largely symbolic date; but, the symbolism was certainly a felt reality. Four of five patriarchs said no, and no one has patched the Church back together since.

2. The Crusades were another failed experiment. In the words of Pope Urban II (1042-1099):

"I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it."

He said also:

"God has conferred upon you above all nations great glory in arms. Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the kingdom of Heaven...All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested."

Of course, it is a foul with 15 minutes in the penalty box to remind anybody that this heresy (for that is what Pope Urban was teaching: Heresy) was once pronounced by a pope in Rome. Too bad the ignorant illiterate masses knew nothing of Scripture and of St. Vincent's Canon. I am not quite sure where this fits in with Development of Doctrine and Infallibility; perhaps all true developments require a wrong turn along the way, making this another proof of real infallibility, not your dime-store variety that any Baptist preacher might claim.

3. Required clerical celibacy is a failed experiment, dating no earlier than the 12th century (no matter what some unheard of councils lacking ecumenical status may have said: "The Council of Toledo, held in back of the local Walmart, taught..." Save it). The result would have been a real clergy shortage, enough to sink the whole ship, if not for the help of predatory sexual perverts and other psychological misfits swelling the diminished ranks a bit.

I could go on about new dogmas, which show, by their late definition, that "progressive revelation" rather than Antiquity and Universal Consensus has ruled the roost. There are many things in the Roman Catholic Church that are very good; and we pray for true unity in the whole Church. But, if we are going to weigh the Vincentian Canon against Newman's theory of Doctrinal Development, these facts are as glaring as ever, despite tons of wasted e-ink and other sophistry. And, if we are going to ask, just who has been experimenting with failed results? - the answer seems clear.

For now I am content that to say that quite a lot of what is taught and practiced in Roman Catholicism requires a kind of Doctrinal Development. But, wherever doctrine develops contrary to Scripture, or merely without Scriptural foundation, it is always in opposition to "what has been believed everywhere, always and by all."

Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bishop Chislett on being 'in communion' with Rome

I noticed on The Messenger website an article on this topic by Bishop Chislett of the ACCA (TAC). The sentence that jumped out at me was, 'The 2007 letter from the TAC bishops to the Holy See sought a way of moving to the next level, and signified our desire to continue the ARCIC process to full ecclesial reunion where the Anglican Communion as a whole effectively left off.' This is what I have tried to say in earlier comboxes. You can read the full article here. And, of course, you can comment here. Just remember, Bishop Chislett reads, and occasionally comments, on this blog, so comment as if he is in the room and can hear you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Contraception and the Informed Conscience

The question was recently raised:

"Can anyone tell me (authoritatively) whether or not artificial contraception is a sin?"

Since we are addressing this question in an Anglican environment, I must begin with the short answer, "No." There is no one who can answer that question "authoritatively", nor should there be, or at least not in the way the term is usually meant. Our larger sister church, that of Rome, tends to conflate the teaching role and the role of judgment, to the extent that, among them there is no inconsistency, for example, in adjudging the eating of meat on a summer Friday to be mortal sin one year and perfectly acceptable another, the sin being not in the eating, but in the denial of the authority that so defines sin. Our bishops and clergy do not (or at least lack the authority to) make pronouncements of this nature, but rather are commissioned to teach the Word of God as faithfully as their ability, guided by the Fathers, by the whole of Christian Tradition, and, of course, by the Holy Spirit, can enable them to do.

Obedience to divine Law is, of course, required of all Christians; but that is an entirely different matter from obeying whatever rules Bishop so-and-so or Father thus-and-such may put forth, simply because they have declared disobedience to be sin. What God requires of us is that we obey Him because it is His will, out of a desire to please Him. No lesser motive is even acceptable.

How, then, do we know His will, if not simply because someone in authority should tell us? There is that faculty that we call "conscience", that inner voice that gives us an awareness of right and wrong. Christians believe that God has given us this faculty to hear him and to know his guidance, but we also know that conscience can end up being very wrong indeed. It is probably true that the hijackers of 9/11 were very highly principled and flew those planes into those towers at the direction of conscience, and we firmly believe that they were tragically wrong. We know this, but how?

Conscience has the ability to hear God, but it also has the ability to listen to other voices. In Genesis, chapter 3, we see the First Couple, who have heard God's Word as to what is expected behavior, nonetheless listening to another voice, a voice that tells them that they can eat the forbidden fruit and come to be able to judge good and evil for themselves, thus, merely by their own desires. They took control of their consciences from their Creator and determined to set out on their own, without His instruction. That decision is the very nature of Original Sin.

Conscience needs to be formed. It needs to be fed with God's Word and brought into conformity with God's Word, and that is not an easy thing. How is a Christian conscience properly formed? God's law, ethics, and morality are taught and learned, in a variety of ways, all of which work together. It is the clergy's teaching of the Word of God, our own exposure to the written Word, the handing down of truth from parents to children, the life within the believing community, constant participation in truth-filled liturgy, commitment to personal prayer, and such influences that we need to submit ourselves to, to hear, learn, and inwardly digest. On the other hand, we are surrounded by voices we cannot heed, the world, the flesh, and the devil we promised, at our Baptism, to forsake. The tastes, desires, and common "wisdom" of secular society are, all too often, attempting to do the same thing the voice of the serpent accomplished back in Genesis - to lead us to hear them rather than the voice of God.

The Christian conscience is formed when we have determined to find God's will and to follow it because it is God's will, whether it seems pleasant, whether others (yes, even religious leaders) try to lead us otherwise, even should it lead to the bearing of a Cross. Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane points the way. He recognized in his humanity a desire to avoid the coming pain, and expressed that desire to His Father, but ended the prayer with, "Not my will, but thine be done," and that is just what He instructed us to pray, and just what we do pray (at least in words) in every service we attend.

As I wrote before: "I think it rather good that I, as a layman, have been asked to speak to such a serious issue. As such I do not speak with ecclesiastical authority, but with the conviction that I do not avoid sin because of the pronouncements of men speaking for the church, but out of a desire to know and do the will of God. At least that is what a Christian conscience is supposed to impel me to do. I need to know the Word of God, both by the teaching of the Church AND by my own learning and internalization of the Scriptures. As Anglicans and Catholics we know ourselves to be responsible for the formation (by the Holy Spirit) of our consciences from Scripture, with the guidance of the Church, not merely from directives from above."

Now, as a layman, I will attempt, very briefly, to show what it is that seems to inform my conscience in this matter of contraception. This will be a scriptural discussion, though I won't be larding it with quotes, but rather asking the reader to search the Scriptures and to internalize their assumptions, their way of thinking, more than looking for proof texts.

I approach the subject with questions. What, in Scripture, is the primary purpose of sexual intercourse? Is pleasure the main thing to be sought in such an act? Pleasure is certainly a major and God-ordained part of sexuality, but is it the reason for its existence? Is the purpose, perhaps, found in the very first of all commandments: "Be fruitful and multiply?" Is there any case in Scripture where a sexual act is spoken of with approval when a child is not desired? What is the Scriptural attitude toward children? Is it not one of fervent desire for the coming of new life? Where does the line come between preventing the inception of a new life moments before conception and killing it moments after? I know, the common "wisdom" of this society declares children to be a liability, and even looks on large families with a scorn that sometimes approaches hatred, but, when common "wisdom", even if it looks logical, points in a direction opposite to what God has revealed of His heart, which should be forming our conscience?

I have no authority to pronounce on such questions, and can only share what I have come to see, even against my own will. I believe that I speak in accord with the Scriptures and in accord with the unbroken tradition of the Church until very recent times. My position is the same that Anglicans held without question until the 1930s. There's something terribly wrong with engaging in this supremely creative act while at the same time attempting to prevent its intended fruit. I cannot manage to see how artificial methods of contraception can be compatible with a conscience formed by the Holy Scriptures, and, while unwilling to judge any individual, I simply cannot understand how such an act can be other than sinful. I am far from infallible, but I don't think I have failed in this. May God direct us all.

ed pacht

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sixth Sunday after Trinity

The Epistle. Rom. vi. 3 f
The Gospel. St. Matt. v. 20 f

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

A few years ago in Phoenix, while smoking cigars and drinking bourbon with some other priests, and a few laity to whom we deliberately gave so bad an example by this smoking and drinking- for their own good of course- a profound thought presented itself to me. This was in the course of joining with one of those other priests in answering questions. A young couple, expecting their first child, ignored our scandalous drinking and smoking in order to learn from our collective wisdom. At this point one priest waxed eloquent, and spoke of one practice of the ancient Church, as recorded by St. Justin Martyr, of baptizing converts who shed their outer clothes to enter the water, and clothing them in new vestments afterward. The old clothes were burned, as the old life was left behind, and a new life began.
And, I suddenly began thinking, at this point, about that rather strange question at the beginning of our Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer (almost identical with the first Office of Instruction). The question does not sound at all religious, and has no hint in it of theology, no sense of inspiration. It is rather mundane, almost enough to make one wonder if what follows can be at all interesting. The question is “What is your Name?” The first question and answer run as follows:

“QUESTION. What is your Name?"
Answer. (first name, or first and middle names)

"Question. Who gave you this Name?
Answer. My Sponsors in Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.”

Suddenly, the question of your name, or the question “Who are you?” becomes very theological, very religious, and quite inspirational. My name is Robert. I was given this name by my sponsors in Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, born again in water and the Spirit as a child of God, and made an inheritor of His Kingdom.
But, wait. Did not my parents give me that name a little earlier? The old Maryland Birth Certificates, photocopied in negative in the 1950s, were clear enough to reveal that my name was given more than a full month before I was baptized. But, to the Church I was dead until I was baptized, dead in sin. “In sin my mother conceived me” as a son of the fallen race called Adam. In baptism I was born again of water and the Spirit, because I was baptized into Christ’s death, buried with Him in baptism, and made alive again in the new life of His resurrection. Until then I had no name, because until then I was not alive. Who are you? In baptism you became a member of Christ. In Baptism you became the child of God. In baptism you became an inheritor of the Kingdom of heaven. Who are you then? Simply put, who you are is, you are In Christ. That is your identity.

The great movie, Life with Father starring William Powell, was a magnificent satire, even though a true story, of religious ignorance. A well to do New York, New York family of sincere people in the Episcopal Church of the late Nineteenth Century discover that the head of the family, Clarence Daye, has never been baptized even though he has been calling himself an Episcopalian for decades. In one scene he says, “I will be a Christian, and I won’t be baptized. I’ll be a Christian in my own way!” We hear thunder and see lightening- a touch of humor that might be lost on an audience today. In the end he is pressured, thanks be to God, to be baptized. Amidst all the humor, the movie makes a serious point. We cannot be Christians our own way. We must be born again of water and the Spirit in order to leave the life of sin and death, and enter into Christ and His life.
And, we cannot live our own way as Christians either. We must die to sin in every practical way, because with this new identity of being in Christ we have no room for a life of sin. Our identity as In Christ becomes very practical at this point. Because of who we are, we have no time for those dead things which many people feel so proud of, or to which they are enslaved. In Christ; that is the answer to the question Who are you? What is your name? Our somewhat new practice of issuing Birth Certificates began as a secular equivalent to Baptism Certificates, the original records of identity as kept by the Parish churches. In its wisdom the Church gave you your name, your identity, on the day you came to life in Christ. Being baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, you received a name as you received life. Until then you had no name because you were not yet a child of God. Who are you? Having been born again of water and of the Spirit, you are In Christ.
All of today’s scriptures remind us that we have entered into the New Covenant in Christ, and that the Law of God has been written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. At this time the new trendy error being taught in the Episcopal Church is the very opposite lesson from what Saint Paul taught us in the Epistle to the Romans. We need to understand how serious the issues really are. If we had separated from them simply over the language of the Prayer Book, we would be guilty of further dividing the Church militant in its polity and relations, not to mention, we would be very petty. The separation is over principles concerning which we obey our consciences; it is over matters of eternal significance. We are not in communion with the modern Episcopal Church; and this is because of substantive theological and moral issues.
And, nothing demonstrates the depth of their unfaithfulness more than their corruption of everything that baptism means. In 2003, when one of their bishops (a friendly man for whom I feel sorrow) was asked why he had voted in favor of consecrating the scandalously divorced and openly “gay” Gene Robinson to the episcopate, he answered that he had finally decided to vote "yes" based on the meaning of baptism. He meant that he could not take into account the fact of the man’s notorious immorality, because baptism somehow made it okay. I’m okay, you’re okay, and all that. In General Convention, their new Presiding Bishopette spoke about their new “radical commitment to the baptismal covenant.” In other words, the new heresy of the moment is that we wink at every kind of immoral life style, and accept everybody’s sinful practices, because of our common bond in baptism.
The Epistle we have read today is from Chapter six of Romans, and opens with these words: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” Then Saint Paul goes on to teach us that by baptism we have died to sin, that we have been made one with Christ in His death, buried in the waters of baptism, and risen to walk in the New Life of His resurrection. Here the words of Jesus Christ from the Gospel are given their context for our lives: “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” We are not to live in sin, but to consider ourselves dead to it. The lesson is not to accept every life style; we must not tolerate sin in our own lives, and we must help each other to become holy. That is the true essence of the highest of all virtues, namely charity, that love that comes from the Holy Spirit. The sacrament of baptism does not give us license to sin; rather the opposite is true. We are supposed to consider ourselves dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Who are you? You are in Christ, and, like it or not, you are called to become a saint.
Frankly, I am better at understanding sin than understanding saintliness. Saintly virtues are beyond me; I have to read, study and pray. One thing I do not need, and that nobody needs, is the example of clergy who openly practice immorality before the whole world, and who teach that we should continue in sin that grace may abound, because of their new “radical commitment to the baptismal covenant.” Who needs them? I already know all about sin, because I am in the same fight that the rest of you are in. But, the issue here is that we see it as a fight. I need an example of the effort to be holy in every area of life. I need such challenging examples, because I am bent in a sinful direction as it is- just like the rest of you. I don’t need to be encouraged to drink the sea-water in an effort to find satisfaction. And, I am troubled that children and young people are learning, in the name of some bland thing called “tolerance,” the art of making excuses to live carelessly, and to be dominated by those very forces, the World, the Flesh and the Devil, that the Christian is called to overcome by the grace of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The separation between orthodox Anglicans, and the new version of the Episcopal religion that has been invented over the last thirty to forty years, is no less than a difference between whether you believe we are baptized into Christ’s death so that we may walk in His resurrection Life, or whether you believe baptism simply gives you a license to give in to the World, the Flesh and the Devil. A church that teaches us to overcome everything- except temptation, and to rise to anything- except an occasion, is not the Church of Jesus Christ. He gave His apostolic representatives the power to forgive sins, not to approve them. None of us lives without the need for forgiveness. But, there is a big difference between seeking forgiveness and seeking approval, just as there is a difference between seeking grace to overcome, and surrendering without a fight.
"Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.” Ah, but it can! The Lord looks, as Isaiah has told us, to the one who is “of a humble and contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” The grace of humility leads us to confession and repentance, unlike the Pharisees who justified themselves. Also, it leads us to be grateful that we are in Christ, and that grace is given to us to live in the power of His resurrection. And, it in the spirit of the contrite and humble believer, we are given eyes to see that our whole identity is in Christ, without whom we cannot hope to please God, but in whom we are loved as dear children.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What was the Faith and Order of the Reformed Church of England?

What I hope will be the last installment of my essays defending the Catholicity of Anglican Catholicism. Previous installments were:

Catholic Ecumenism and the Elephant in the Room

Anglican Origins and Revisionism

Were we just wrong and was Rome just right?

Did we put up straw men?

Apostolicae Curae and our Orders

The Catholicity of Anglican Churches

Necessary Admissions

One of the characteristics of much modern historical scholarship on the English Reformation is the tendency to dismiss any claims to Catholicity on behalf of the Church of England based on close study of the recorded statements and actions by those largely responsible for the Reform. And so, whether it is correspondence with Continental Reformers expressing admiration and alliance, rejoicing in the expulsion of “massing priests” and “shavelings”, or iconoclastic purges by certain Reforming bishops in their dioceses, or other facts of similar significance, the heaping up of such evidence is put before us as a proof of deliberate discontinuity with a Catholic past on the part of the Church of England, and a thoroughgoing Protestantism rendering it fundamentally indistinguishable doctrinally from other churches of the Reformation.

Why is it that this evidence carries so little weight with Continuing Anglicans such as ourselves? Mainly because the personal opinions and behaviour of teachers in that (or any other) church, even if some were among the framers of its formularies, and even if they were common, notorious and manifestly heterodox, are irrelevant in themselves for establishing the position of nascent Anglicanism qua Church. How can this be? Basically because opinions and precedents cannot bind members of a Church (and thus become properly part of its faith and practice) unless the Church officially imposes them as a corporate body in some way. If heterodox persons' statements make it into the Church's official documents, even this does not mean those statements must be or even should be interpreted as those persons would, since the Church taking up the statement, unless referring concomitantly to the author's views more generally, only accepts and authorises the statement itself. Given that a corporate body can accept a proposed statement on its own merits even though some or many in it would not agree with all the related beliefs of the proposer, such statements must be interpreted based only on their objective content (and in the wider context of other official commitments). This is especially so with ecclesial teachings, where refusal to subscribe normally means exclusion, with presumed spiritual and eternal consequences. Indeed, framers of such statements will often shape them so as to gain maximal agreement, leaving out explicit inclusion of what they know to be their own most controverted or controversial opinions.

The above principle is virtually universally accepted among theologians and canon lawyers. So, for example, the Council of Orange in repeating (often verbatim I believe) Augustine's teaching on Predestination cannot be taken as authorising all his related beliefs. Indeed, it explicitly rejected double predestination, which St Augustine taught. Some Ecumenical Councils included bishops who participated in the Councils, signed on to their formularies, but nevertheless turned out to have heterodox interpretations of the relevant disputed doctrines. This does not mean that those Councils' teachings must be interpreted in agreement with these men.

This principle is particularly relevant when considering the formularies of the Church of England at the Elizabethan Settlement. It is a known fact that people of greatly differing opinions contributed either to their writing or authorisation. Queen Elizabeth I, bishops such as Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Parker, a group of traditionalist episcopi who probably assisted in the creation of the first English Ordinal [W. K. Lowther Clarke & C. Harris, Liturgy and Worship, pp.662, 1932.], Guest, Cheyney, Jewel, the Houses of Convocation with a conservative element, et al. These were anything but a theologically monochromatic group, some believing in the Real Presence, some not, for example, and with a number not leaving us detailed records of their precise opinions. Let me spell some of this variation out.

When it came to prayer for the dead, it was condemned (at least in its “Romish” form) in an early draft of Article 22, but then this condemnation was deleted. And such prayer had been encouraged in the Bidding Prayers of the Elizabethan Injunctions. In 1559 the Dirge for the Dead and a Solemn Requiem Mass in English were sung for the recently deceased King of France by Archbishop-elect Parker.

In the same era we have an Article condemning the “sacrifices of Masses” (note the deliberate use of the plural); a Homily warning against making a “memory” into a “sacrifice” in the Eucharist; but also subscription by most bishops to a mediaeval homily saying Christ's Passion was “daily renewed at the mass through mystery” and using the Old English word for sacrifice to describe the same thing; along with other theologically equivalent statements in the Articles, Prayer Book and apologetic works of Jewel, as discussed under the heading “Sacerdotalism and the Church of England at and after the Reformation” here. And we cannot forget the interesting fact mentioned in Saepius Officio, section XIII, that some official correspondence of Elizabethan bishops applied the term “High Priest” to other bishops.

The Articles say adoration, elevation and reservation of the Sacrament “was not ordained of Christ”, that is, commanded by him. But that this is not intrinsically a condemnation of these actions is not only clear from careful attendance to the words themselves, but also from the facts that reservation was known to be accepted as legitimate by authorities in Elizabeth's day, including the Primate, Archbishop Parker, and was sometimes practised. In fact, the Queen commissioned and subsequently authorised in 1560 a Latin version of the Book of Common Prayer which included provision for Reservation for the sick. Archbishop Parker revised a draft of the Reformatio Legum, which had in its Edwardine version forbidden reservation, to allow it for the remainder of the day on which it was consecrated in order to communicate the sick. (This set of Canon Laws, somewhat anti-traditionalist in other ways, was never finally approved.) [W. K. Lowther Clarke & C. Harris, Liturgy and Worship, pp.563,564, 1932.]

We know that many of the English divines of that time were Calvinists in their soteriological opinions. Yet the Articles and BCP do not reflect the distinctive soteriological affirmations of Calvinists, though they are quite Augustinian. For example, the Sixteenth Article say that Christians “ may depart from grace” and then “may arise again” [emphasis added]. Calvinists would say that true Christians “can neither totally nor finally fall away”, as they did in the Westminster Confession. Similarly, the doctrine of Baptismal Regeneration, explicitly taught in the BCP, is opposed to the Calvinist understanding of baptism and salvation. When Archbishop Whitgift with some other bishops attempted to add the strictly Calvinist (or Hyper-Augustinian) “Lambeth Articles” to the formularies in 1595, there was resistance in the Church (including from a respected priest who would become one of the great Anglican bishops, Lancelot Andrewes) and the Queen set them aside.

Whereas Cranmer and some other Anglicans held the opinion that episcopal consecration was not necessary to instituting bishops, this was not reflected in the Ordinal. When Bishop Bancroft publicly upheld the divine institution of Episcopacy as a distinct and superior order to the priesthood, a Puritan cousin of the Queen's tried to get her to silence him. Instead, she silenced her cousin and went on to promote the said bishop, who became Archbishop of Canterbury. A number of other Anglican bishops and other divines took up the same position against the presbyterian Puritans in the late 16th Century, appealing both to Scripture and Tradition. [Tavard, Quest for Catholicity, p.33.]

So, the personal opinions of men like Cranmer or Jewel, especially as expressed in private correspondence or conversation with European Protestants, are of no importance or authority when it comes to establishing the nature or teaching of the Church of England. Yet modern scholarship has honed in on data such as the “Zurich Letters” to prove that the Church of England was no different to the bodies established by the Continental Reformers. (Most of this data, by the way, was well known to the Anglo-Catholic 19th Century historiographers [e.g., Bp W. Forbes, An Explanation of the Thirty Nine Articles, pp.(xxi)ff, 1871]. The difference is that they were theologically adept and understood the principles explained above.) If some reformers saw no difference between no difference between the Church of England and the Puritans and other Calvinists, for example, others clearly did. Archbishop Parker said “God forbid that we should have such a reformation here as Knox hath made in Scotland.” The real question is whether the Church saw itself as the ancient Catholic jurisdiction in England keeping (and to some extent restoring) the ancient orthodox Faith, or instead asserted a distinct identity, established de novo. It undeniably did the former, not the latter, as seen not only from the uniform consensus of its public and official apologetics, but from its deliberate legal, institutional and structural continuity and in statements such as “The service in this Church of England these many years hath been read in Latin to the people, which they understand not” [emphasis added] in the Book of Common Prayer.

As for sentiments expressed that aligned Anglicans with the Continental Reformers and against the perceived common aggressor, Rome, such general statements, particularly in non-authoritative documents, mean little for our purposes. We don't want to know whether they were considered natural allies in a general sense, but whether their Faith and Practice was adopted in those areas that might definitely breach Catholic continuity and Orthodox Faith. Did the acknowledged sympathy for and alliance with other Reformers make the Church of England's divines commit it to the distinctive doctrines of the Zwinglians, Calvinists or Lutherans? No. Did these factors cause them to abandon jurisdictional succession or the three major orders? No. Did the association of a number of them with the Genevans mean there were no Anglican criticisms of the Genevan approach? No, Hooker's works containing good examples of such criticisms. And, where they excused the loss of episcopacy in the Reformed Churches, it was often by pleading the principle of “necessity knows no law” for them and by accepting the common Roman Catholic scholastic position that presbyters had, theoretically, the power to ordain, but that this was normally bound by ecclesiastical or apostolic precept, not by an absolute divine law.

While some individual Anglicans apparently thought in terms of almost pure discontinuity with the past and a reconstruction of the true religion, others did not, and the official position followed the latter.

For example, Archbishop Parker supervised the preparation of a respectful history of all his predecessors in the See of Canterbury. His first major magisterial act was to draw up Eleven Articles, required to be subscribed twice a year by the clergy. They included the following elements: The “authority of the keys” is mentioned as a necessary characteristic of the Church. The Pope is denied to be “supreme head of the universal church ... above all emperors, kings and princes” based on both Scripture and “the example of the primitive Church”. Nevertheless, rather than being called Antichrist, denied episcopal authority or written out of the Church, he is said to have “no more authority than other bishops have in their provinces and dioceses”. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church are repeatedly appealed to, and the BCP is called “catholic, apostolic”. Ancient baptismal rites and ceremonies such as exorcism, the hallowing of the water, and the use of oil and salt are said to be abolished, not because they are intrinsically heretical, but because they had been “of late years abused and esteemed to be necessary”.. In the last article, the “extolling” rather than the existence of images is opposed, exactly as it had been in the First Henrician Injunctions of 1536. (Interestingly, images of the First and Third members of the Trinity are expressly forbidden, but not of Christ. This accords with a literal understanding of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which some Eastern Orthodox still demand.) While practices such as praying the rosary are disallowed, this is by unfavourable comparison with “prayer with the affection of the heart, and not with the mouth only”, implying that it was mechanistic prayer that was seen as the essential problem. Regarding continuity, even the, in many ways, very Protestant Bishop Jewel declared of Anglican episcopal succession and jurisdiction, “we succeed the bishops that have been before ... We are elected, consecrate, confirmed and admitted as they were.” [G. Bray, Documents of the English Reformation, pp.349-351, 1994; A. L. Peck, Anglicanism and Episcopacy, p.15, 1958.]

A minority of individuals in the Church of England denied the Fathers had much use, since the Scriptures were supposed to be self-explanatory. So, Whitaker, an Oxford and Cambridge don of the Elizabethan age, argues that the unanimous exposition of Scripure by the Fathers is not necessary for correct interpretation, as correct interpretation must have existed before the Fathers wrote. As for the role of the Church a a whole as interpreter, he accepts this but limits the Church to “only the elect”, that is, the invisible, faithful Church known only to God. On the other hand Bp Jewel explicitly gives the Fathers the role of “interpreters” and implicitly denies their consensual teaching could be wrong in his famous Apology, which received a level of official approval. And William Fulke, an Elizabethan Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, posited the “necessary use of Scriptures, doctors, councils, learnings, languages, etc.” as opposed to papal infallibility, which he argued would make the rest superfluous. (He seems to be thinking of an oracular infallibility here.) Another clergyman of the time, James Calfhill, who was bishop-elect of Winchester when he died in 1570, said that after examination of Scripture, unless one was to be a “phrenetic person”, he could also resort “to the other kind of examination of doctrine, which is the common consent of the Church”. Similarly, John Philpot, made Archdeacon of Winchester under King Edward and burnt for heresy under Queen Mary, the standard was “God's word and ... the interpretation of the primitive Church”, the Church being “the pillar and stablishment of truth”. He mocks heretics who oppose this consensus and “cry, The Scriptures, the Scriptures”. [G. H. Tavard, Holy Writ or Holy Church, pp. 223, 235-240, 1959.] Even Cranmer appealed to the consensus of the Fathers and the consensus of a free, contemporaneous Ecumenical Council and said he was ready to submit to the Church's judgement, but not Rome's alone [W. Palmer, A Treatise on the Church of Christ, p.345, 1842]. In another of Tavard's books, The Quest for Catholicity, (p.26, 1963) an exchange between the Bishop and Dean of London and two Puritans is recorded as follows: (Bishop) “All the learned are against you; will you be tried by them?” (First Puritan) “We will be tried by the word of God ...” (Dean) “But who will you have to be judge of the word of God?” (Second Puritan) “Why, that was the saying of the papists ...”. Indeed.

And so it was that, on the question of dogmatic authority, the assertion that “the Church hath authority in Controversies of Faith”, despite being absent from the Articles originally composed by Convocation, was inserted, possibly though not assuredly at the instigation of the Queen. Then it was subscribed to by the Church in the 1571 Convocation, which made the Thirty Nine Articles obligatory at the same time it composed a canon demanding that the Fathers' interpretation of Scripture be conformed to in preaching what was to be “religiously held and believed” by the people. Though the body of canons containing this statement never received the Royal Assent, this canon is sufficient evidence of the fact that the authorisation of the Articles was concomitant with a commitment to the Patristic consensus by the authorising body. Therefore it is only appropriate to interpret the Articles in conformity with this consensus, to which the Church voluntarily submitted its teaching office at that key moment.

Therefore, we can be quite sure that we are not obliged to interpret the early Anglican formularies in accordance with the particular personal opinions or sympathies, known or guessed, of any of its composers, framers or authorisers, unless those opinions are unavoidably inscribed in those formularies. And, given the variety in these personal opinions on particular issues described above and the clear reticence evidenced in the formularies to commit the Church to any such idiosyncrasies, we cannot presume to find such opinions based on a cursory reading. Instead, we must pay careful attention to the words themselves, and only in the context of the formularies and other authoritative documents as a whole and the wider context of the Anglican submission to the Catholic Church's interpretive and doctrinal Tradition mentioned above. That also means as a corollary that any doctrinal hermeneutic or epistemology that rejects the principle of such submission or manifestly opposes the Consensus Patrum is ruled out. In practice, that means that only the Catholic approach to our formularies is permissible, the “liberal Protestant” and “Evangelical Protestant” approaches being excluded by first principles. In other words, if the Anglican formularies can be interpreted in conformity with the Catholic Faith, they may be interpreted no other way, according to their own internal logic.

What, then, was the precise hierarchy of authority for Anglican Churches, according to its first principles? The Book of Common Prayer, Thirty Nine Articles and the laws governing the Church were binding, so they are near the top. But they themselves refer us to the the higher level of the Scriptures first, then the Creeds, Ecumenical Councils and consensus of the Fathers and Catholic Church more generally as necessary interpretive authorities helping to apply the Scriptures doctrinally, through the Holy Spirit. The next level down includes documents with some level of authorisation and sanction, but that are not binding, and so must be “filtered” by and interpreted consistently with the first two levels. This would include the Homilies referred to in Article XXXV, and Jewel's Apology. But it might also include other official statements by the Church's Primates, her bishops acting corporately, or even by the Supreme Governors or those acting on their instruction when defending or explaining the Church's position. Examples of these are the affirmation by King James I of adhesion to the Vincentian Canon in his defence of the faith of himself and the Church of England (the first document given in More & Cross' Anglicanism) and, much later, Saepius Officio. The united statements of the bishops at the Savoy Conference to the Puritans in preparing for the 1662 revision of the Book of Common Prayer belong in this category as well, by showing us the mind of the revisers in the changes made and refused at this very significant point, the completion of the Reformation settlement. Finally, there would be the tradition of teaching of leading divines, again, only inosfar as they conformed to the first two levels. In summary, the Anglican doctrinal priority is first, Scripture interpreted in accordance with Holy Tradition; second, the BCP, Articles and canon law; third, other officially sanctioned (but not “enforced”) documents; fourthly, the tradition of Anglican teaching faithful to the higher levels.

This means that the Reformed Church of England can only be judged as to its identity and doctrine while respecting the above hierarchy. And thus only if elements in the second level could be proven manifestly heretical, with those purportedly heretical statements receiving no possible clarification, qualification or interpretation in an orthodox sense by the other levels, could the Church of England be deemed heretical at and after the Reformation. However, given that when such critiques have been attempted in the past, Anglicans have successfully shown that anti-Catholic interpretation of the problematic elements was not necessary but that orthodox interpretation was possible (and therefore mandatory: see above), and given that modern revisionist scholarship on the English Reformation does not even attempt to respect the identified hierarchy, we can safely say that the now common dismissal of the Catholicity of the Church of England at and after the Reformation period is invalid and without theological value. It is based on using admittedly large amounts of data but with false premises as to its significance and unjust exclusion of consideration of other more important evidence. Additionally, there is often evidence of ignorance of essential theological distinctions, such as the difference between denying any repetition of Christ's Sacrifice and denial of a Eucharistic sacrifice by way of sacramental representation, remembrance and thanksgiving. Or the difference between refusing to dogmatically unchurch presbyterian bodies and accounting episcopacy as an unimportant or superfluous custom. In each case, the English Church did the former but the opposite of the latter, and, in each case, there is no excuse in the context of ecumenical theological advances for ignoring these distinctions.

But, the reader might ask, are my “rules” for understanding the early Anglican Formularies just mine? Are they an arbitrary and convenient premise with no Catholic pedigree? No. They are in fact the very kind of rules used by Roman Catholic apologists to show that apparent inconsistencies between some present and some mediaeval RC teaching are not examples of dogmatic contradictions. Examples of such historical “paradoxes” are found in the teachings on freedom of religion and conscience, the evil of coercion and violence in Christ's name to defend orthodoxy, prayer with Protestants, usury and the worshipping with latreia of certain images, crucifixes and fragments of the “True Cross”. These apologists also set the bar very high for opponents to prove that any previous errors were actually fully authoritative and binding, or they allow a hermeneutic that rescues apparent past errors from being real ones through great elasticity and ingenuity.

For example, while the Papal Bull Unam Sanctam declared that “it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff”, Vatican II certainly seemed to recognise the possibility of salvation for those outside the Roman communion. “Absolutely necessary” literally means “without exception a requirement”, so the Bull does appear strictly to deny the possibility of non-RCs being saved, with no allowance even for the old exception given in moral theology of “invincible ignorance”. I have seen this apparent contradiction dealt with 5 different ways. First, it is claimed Unam Sanctam was not infallible anyway, as it is not addressed to the whole Church, and so fails to satisfy all the requirements for an infallible decree. Second, the Bull was infallible, but “absolutely necessary” can't possibly mean “without exception” because theologians of the time knew better than to ignore the possible exception of invincible ignorance, allowance for which must be assumed. Therefore, “absolutely necessary” actually meant “conditionally necessary”. Third, it is argued (and this is my favourite) that the Bull is infallible and means exactly what it says, but not what the pronouncing Pope or most people at first glance think it says. Since it requires that the saved “be subject to” not “submit to”, it strictly refers to the fact of objective placement under authority rather than subjective, willed submission to authority. Therefore, all Christians at least are under the Pope's authority by divine law, they automatically satisfy this condition! Fourth, Vatican II may have intended to teach that salvation was possible for non-Catholics due to the salvific reality of churches outside Rome's communion, but it is possible to interpret the words to mean that these churches are only salvific insofar as they can lead people indirectly back to the Roman Catholic Church. Fifth, some traditionalists argue that Vatican II was wrong and the earlier Bull, being infallible, trumps the confessedly non-infallible, non-dogmatic Council.

All the first three attempts at harmonisation share one feature. They deal only with the final decree (the purportedly infallible part) and virtually ignore the immediately preceding teaching that, among other things, the Pope's authority (to which it is absolutely necessary to be subject) includes the right to apply the civil sword by proxy, by directing earthly rulers (who must obey?). Given that “a text without a context is a pretext” one would think that the material preparatory to the decree needed special exegetical attention too.

However, I am far from saying none of the harmonising solutions above are reasonable. What I do say is that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Therefore Anglicans are quite justified in treating their own formularies with the same charitable exegesis, carefully distinguishing true dogma from lesser statements and allowing for all relevant qualifications to arrive at what is both coherent and orthodox.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pro and Con testantism

It is time to come clean. I must confess to indulging myself; I take a perverse delight in etymology (you can keep a secret I hope). Perhaps my attraction to linguistics goes back to my tongue-speaking Charismatic youth in the 1970s, having prayed oft in a tongue not understanded by myself. Oh, but how I love etymology; if it could be bottled I fear I would drink too much.

The etymology of the word "Protestant" clearly demonstrates St. Paul's point about the need for interpretation. Protestant is, most certainly, a word spoken in an unknown tongue that cannot edify the Church without the addition of five words with the understanding. Speaking this word into modern ears, without the gift (though not necessarily the χάρισμα) of interpretation, cannot be done decently and in order. Doesn't Protestant mean un-Catholic? Doesn't it mean "protest?"

One of the ironies of etymology is that sometimes, over centuries, a word may be used to mean or imply the very opposite of its root. When people today say (using it in the fashionable way) "protest," my vicious addiction to etymology provokes me to respond: "They ought to say Contest." This is what happens when an addiction dominates you, and you cannot break free of it. A sober man could just accept that "protest" means you are against it, perhaps the way that Professor Wagstaff summed up what some might call the quintessential protestant attitude:

I do not care what they say
It makes no difference anyway.
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it;
I'm against it.

The habit of etymology, from which I cannot escape, sees the irony, recognizes horsefeathers for what they are, and protests loud and clear: That is not the way of the Protestant, but rather of the Contestant. You bet your life it is.

One of our critics, urging us to fore swear our Anglican patrimony and denounce our Fathers in favor of the Tiberian path, asked the hypothetical question: "what are you protesting?" My answer is, "I protest the Gospel." I certainly do not contest it. You see ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dogs and cats, Jews and Greeks, pro means you are for it, and con means you are against it. To protest something in law was to sign a declaration of affirmation, that you were for the matter in a given document, or that you verified it, whatever the matter may be. I am for the Gospel, and for the Testaments of Scripture. This is pro-testamentism.

The Reformers of the 16th century used the word "Protestant" to declare that they believed in the Scriptures, and that they sought to be more Catholic than the Papists who obscured the Scriptures, failed to proclaim their meaning, and hid the Gospel under centuries of superstitious rubble. The phrase "more Catholic than the pope" may sound like an unfriendly challenge, a red flag waved in the face of a bull. But, the whole purpose of being a Protestant (and I believe the English did it best, by far) was exactly that: To be more Catholic than the pope and his religion.

Today we are more polite and ecumenical, and so are the people on the other side. The current Pope, Benedict XVI, the noblest German of them all, whose works I have long respected since the days when we called him Cardinal Ratzinger, is one of the finest Protestants to be published in modern times. Clearly he favors the Gospel and the Scripture just as we do (I wish I could say the same about his rather large denomination). Because he is such a Protestant, it is not easy to be more Catholic than he is.

I hope this gift of interpretation will help many to gain a historical perspective, opening that strange tongue we call English, and the language of that foreign country we call the past. The problem with too many Anglicans in our Continuing churches is the very opposite of the lady in Hamlet: "The lady doth protest too much." We protest too little.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Size matters

or does it?

In recent comments meant to denigrate and ridicule Continuing Anglicans, our numbers have been compared to the newborn Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) on one hand, and, on the other hand, to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), or, more boldly and daringly, to what the size of the Two One True Churches would be if only, alas, they were not Two, but one One True Church. That last category belongs to the world of fantasy, a unified disunity of Rome and Constantinople (allegedly unified because, at least, they are not Anglicans). Nonetheless, we have been assured that we could not possibly count for much because, as seems self-evident to our critics, Broad is the gate and wide is the way of that leadeth unto life, and many there be that go in thereat. Funny, that does not quite seem to match what Jesus said.

The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people. Deut. 7:7

Our numbers are not as small as many allege; and yet that is not really what makes anyone valid or invalid. Size should neither impress nor should smallness of numbers provoke derision.

Size matters to those who want to Stand Firm, even though it means that future colors for vestments may have to be pink and blue instead of seasonal, to tell the guy-priests from the gal-priests. And, to think: C.S. Lewis said that priestesses would make the Church less like a ball. Already, we are told, that the ACNA outnumbers the American portion of the Continuum; so, we ought to just fold on many important issues, except for homosex! and join the big party. Critics want to know why Archbishop Haverland of the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC) would not even attend the ACNA bash in Bedford Texas (as if he had not made all his reasons perfectly clear). One thing should be quite obvious: The presence of the Archbishop of the ACC would be interpreted as endorsement, and as a sign of full sacramental communion with a church body that "ordains" women. He just does not seem to be impressed by the big numbers.

On the One Two True side, size matters because they have it. This explains their boldness and daring. Also, size matters to them because they still cannot grasp the fact that we do not think the same way they do about the Church. They bewail our manifest heresy (in their eyes) called the Branch theory, because, obviously, if the Church is one Church, it cannot possibly be divided. In their thinking, this means that it must be unified politically, as in being joined by one earthly polity with one HQ. To them the Church is visible only insofar as it is reduced to a theory of Universal jurisdiction, reduced to a legal and juridical system; not visible in that people may actually see it and experience it.

Here we may once again refer to the Articles.

XIX. Of the Church. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

In practice, and in the only sort of experience human beings can appreciate and benefit from, the Church can be visible only insofar as it is local, and only insofar as it is faithful. The Roman theory of Universal Jurisdiction is not very helpful, or self-evident, outside of the city of Rome itself; it is not a guarantee of faithfulness. American Roman Catholicism, on average, is as dangerous to the soul as is the Episcopal Church; and the two are barely distinguishable. I am glad that Pope Benedict XVI is orthodox; but, that has very little effect, even now, in the United States (and the same may be said for many other countries). However, where the Church may be perceived for its faithfulness to Christ, it is visible, and visibly different from the world. As Anglicans, we are glad whenever and wherever that may be; whether among Roman Catholics, among the Orthodox or among us.

To understand one very important Biblical picture of the Church, we must see Apostolic Succession in terms of the Apostolic fellowship taught by St. John, fellowship that comes from the Incarnation of the Word:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. I John 1:1-4

Where the local Church is faithful this fellowship is to be found. Where the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments are duly administered, the Church is visible. Without these elements, whatever may appear is not visible as the Church; it cannot be the agent of the kingdom of God and of His salvation. In our ecclesiology, there is no room for competition against any church that communicates and makes visible the life of Christ. No juridical theory or legal consideration is a pastoral and evangelistic substitute for the visible Church. People can see it, or they cannot.

Compared to the reality of the Church in these essential manifestations, numbers count for nothing.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Trinity Five 2009 Sermon

1 Peter 3:8-15, Luke 5:1-11

[S]anctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” “Fear not”. +

I have deliberately quoted from both the Epistle and Gospel just now. In the Epistle we are told by St Peter to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts immediately after being told not to be afraid or troubled by those things feared or threatened by unbelievers: "be not afraid of their terror". In the Gospel that very Lord tells St Peter, later to be the author of the Epistle, not to be afraid.

But what has the instruction to “sanctify Christ as Lord” in the heart got to do with facing tribulation or fear? We are told not to fear what terrifies unbelievers, or not to fear their threats, as it can also be translated, “but” instead to sanctify or “set apart” Christ as Lord within. How is the latter the proper alternative to the former?

Well, to allow worldly fear to oppress us is to allow it lordship over us. It is to act like bodily pain or financial loss is the worst thing that can happen to humans, or that the opinion or respect of those in rebellion against God is paramount. In other words, it is to believe a lie and to “put stock” in the flesh rather than the Spirit.

On the other hand, if we set apart Jesus as the Lord and King within, we acknowledge, even in the midst of strife, that He and His promises to us are bigger than our negative circumstances. It may help to visualise it with the following symbolic picture. Many agents of fear would beat on the gate of our hearts and grimace through any openings they can find as they attempt to surround us, desiring entry and to cow us into submission and despair. But we must counter this by raising up the Cross above the surroundings, letting its light of truth and loving strength dominate the landscape. Thus we set Christ apart as Lord, lift Him up as King and honour Him as God.

To put it more prosaically, when tempted to fear as the world fears or fear the world itself, we can fight by remembering that Christ Jesus is in control in the final analysis and holds us in his heart and hand, that “all things work together for godd for those who love [the Lord]” (Romans 8:28), and that the courage of the Crucified One is available to us. We can fight terror by fixing our heart and mind on Him, reflecting on His beauty, and his omnipotent, compassionate sovereignty.

Another natural reaction to the world's threats and troubles is anger. This is dealt with by the Apostle earlier in the Epistle when he says, in modern language, “don't return verbal abuse for verbal abuse”. Instead, we are told in a quotation St Peter takes from Psalm 34 to “seek peace and pursue it”. In other words, it is not just a matter of attempting to avoid or suppress anger, but of actively praying and thinking about and working for God's peace: which is, again, to set the Prince of Peace apart as Lord and Master of ourselves and our circumstances, to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. Without this, merely fighting the emotion of anger is unprofitable and impossible. We can turn away from unrighteous anger and keep righteous anger righteous only by not allowing anger to dominate our intentions and thoughts. Rather, we re-focus on Christ and thus allow Him, as I said before, to dominate. (After all the word dominate comes from the Latin word for Lord, Dominus!)

An extra reason for comfort that St Peter reminds us of is that most of the time if we are obedient to God in good works we have little to fear even from sinners. The Greek conditional form used to introduce the exception, translated “But and if” in the AV, implies a relatively remote possibility. Yes, there are exceptions, as the many Martyrs and Confessors through the centuries demonstrate, but the norm is for good behaviour to be rewarded even on earth, in this life, not punished. And as long as we follow make Christ's Lordship real by actually obeying His commands, we end up winning whether or not we are persecuted or otherwise suffer here. For the eternal reward is infinite by comparison both to our temporary troubles and our temporary happinesses in this life.

The way to inner peace and away from the overweening, overpowering passions of fear and anger, is deep into the heart of Christ as we go deep into our own hearts. By consciously acknowledging the Lordship of the Crucified and Risen One in the midst of outward troubles we simultaneously crucify the passions and over-reactions and quicken hope and confidence that the final victory is already won. We can, then, bring our fears and angers before Him, to the foot of the Cross, so to speak, And then we can seek His will and receive of His love, wisdom and power so that, as St Paul says in Romans 8, we can “overwhelmingly conquer”. +

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Luke 5: 1-11

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man... and Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.

To come face to face with God, in such a way that we recognize Him, brings us to the realization of our own unworthiness, of our own sins. We know from the Gospel of John that Simon had already met Jesus, and was aware that He was a holy man. Andrew, Simon’s brother and partner in their fishing business, had declared his belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Simon was ready and willing, as we see, to defer to Jesus, to give Him use of his boat, and even to follow His instructions about a matter that must have been, as this fisherman would have thought, outside the expertise of a carpenter and rabbi. Nonetheless, at the Lord’s word, out of respect for Him, and perhaps out of affection for Andrew as well, Simon Peter went out and let down the nets, despite what a wasted effort it had proved to be only a little while earlier. In what happened next he saw that this Rabbi was in command of nature, and that even the sea and the fish obeyed Him.

The Old Testament has a companion text, in the sixth chapter (vs.1-11) of the book of the prophet Isaiah. Like Simon Peter, Isaiah was going about his daily routine. The vision he saw took him by surprise. As he wrote it,

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And He said unto me, Go and tell this people Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.

Upon seeing the Lord, and hearing, as the angels cried, “Holy, Holy, Holy”-three times crying holy for each person of the Godhead- Isaiah was aware of his own sins. “Woe is me. I am undone, for I am a man of unclean lips..” As Simon, centuries later, would fall down at the knees of Jesus, saying “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man,” we see that Isaiah was suddenly overcome by the knowledge that he was not worthy to be in the presence of the Holy God of Israel. Isaiah already knew, as later Simon also knew, that God is holy; and each of them knew of his own shortcomings; but in these passages we see that each of them was suddenly face to face with God. Face to face with the Holy God who is like a refiner’s fire- indeed, as everyone will be if only at the Last Day, when He comes again in glory to judge the quick and the dead.

It is important that the angels in the temple cried that “the whole earth is full of His glory.” We can go about our daily lives in great comfort, in a state of relative calm, because the idea of the Lord upon a heavenly throne keeps Him just a bit distant, maybe even too far away to notice the every day sins we allow ourselves to get away with- or so we think. But, Isaiah saw Him upon the earth, the earth that was, as he heard the angels say, “full of His glory.” That glory was not only an ethereal glory, for he saw God, present here in this world. The temple, as he knew, was the place of God’s presence, but hidden behind a veil in the Kadesh h’ Kadeshim- the Holy of Holies where only the High Priest could go, once a year and not without blood. With God in heaven and behind a veil, life feels safe. "God is in his heaven, All's right with the world." Even the temple must have felt comfortable as long as God kept His distance in the manner that Isaiah was used to, safely behind the veil. But, Isaiah was to see that He is not only the God of heaven. He was to see the Lord here on earth.

One might even say, what was God doing here where, surely, He doesn’t belong? It is most unsettling. So, with Simon Peter, the Lord is not any longer only behind the veil, or hidden away on His heavenly throne. He is here, present in the flesh, standing before Peter in his own boat. Into this little wooden craft- a whole world of daily work, sweating, toiling and all the anxieties of normal life, where Peter and Andrew were accustomed to their routine- comes the Shekinah, the visible presence of God, the Word made Flesh. Like Isaiah centuries before, it was terrifying for man to see that God is here, on earth, present in the world, and present in our own world. Like Isaiah of old, Peter knew one thing above all else at that moment. He was a sinner, a man of unclean lips, not worthy of this Presence before which he found himself.

And, that is a good place to begin. When people are influenced by New Age thinking, that, as they think, a thing called spirituality is better than a thing called religion, their outlook is clouded. A culture that cannot accept moral standards, with churches that no longer teach the commandments of God, exalts a morally neutral concept, a thing called “spirituality.” “Spirituality”- a word without definition and context- should ring hollow in your ears, as Christians. When you hear people speak of being spiritual, without the effort to be holy- if I may borrow a popular phrase from the movie world- they give in to the Dark Side. Simply to be “spiritual” is a morally empty term, especially if we consider that Satan has been a spirit far longer than any of us have been alive. We need to remember instead that Saint Paul, in his epistles, tells us that all Christians have one vocation in common. No matter who we are, we are all “called to be saints.” That is, called to become holy. Among some of the people on the Catholic and Orthodox side, that is, a few who do not really know what their respective Churches really teach, it is considered presumptuous to try to be a saint. On the other hand, some Protestants assume that every Christian is already a saint. But, what we read in First Corinthians and in Romans, in chapter one of each of them, is that we are “called to be saints”- that is, it is a calling, a vocation of every Christian. In comparison, it is the easy way out to choose a thing called “spirituality” instead of this revelation about the Christian life and vocation. And, as we see, the only way to start on the path to holiness is by seeing the truth about our own sins in light of the fact that God is present here on earth. The earth is full of His glory- therefore full of His presence- and if we do not see it, it is our own fault.

When Isaiah said “Woe is me” and when Peter said “Depart from me,” each man suddenly very aware God’s holiness, and each convicted of his own sin in the light of that holiness and awful Presence, the answer to each came in the call to ministry. Forgiveness was more than implied; cleansing and purification were also more than implied. We are reminded every time we have this service of Holy Communion, that the full price for our sins was paid by Christ Himself, and that forgiveness is no mere sentimental thing; it was granted to us by His suffering and death on the cross. But, also, we are called to ministry- that is, to service. Now, not all Christians are called to the Ordained ministry, obviously. But, as the Epistles of Saint Paul point out, we have all been given gifts by which we serve God, serve one another and both show forth and tell His word in the world around us. It is an old tradition to refer to the sacrament of Confirmation as the ordination of the Laity. That sacrament is not a rite of passage, or simply a ticket to Holy Communion. Based upon the Book of Acts, the theology of Confirmation is this: through laying on of the apostle’s hands the Holy Ghost is given, that is, through the hands of the bishops, all of whom belong to the apostolic college. In short, that means that when you were confirmed you were given gifts from Christ, concerning which you yourself may be unaware. You, each of you who have received that sacrament, are carrying precious treasure in an earthen vessel, each one bearing Christ Himself, to show forth by deeds, and in some cases by words, wisdom and power that do not come from your own strength. I do not say that to make you anxious. Indeed, do not be afraid.

For right now, here today we come face to face with God. The bread and the cup of which we will soon partake are the Body and Blood of Christ. We dare not approach them except we first, with hearty repentance and true faith, confess our sins, and hear the words of forgiveness. We need not say to Christ “depart from me” because we know that in confessing and forsaking our sins we find mercy. You all know that at this altar we are not simply going about a religious routine; we are about to take the Incarnate Christ into our very selves in a mystery beyond our understanding. He is not simply hidden away in heaven. He is here on earth, both in the little boat of your daily life as well as in the temple of our prayers. He has made known His presence, ultimately as He has come in the Flesh, died and risen again; as He has sent His Holy Spirit to empower His Church with gifts. And, He is coming here this morning in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, clothing Himself in gifts and creatures of bread and wine that become His Body and Blood.

And, when you return from the house of the Lord into the daily common places, the fishing boats of your life, remember that upon seeing His glory and receiving His cleansing, you have heard His call. By the life you live this week, among all sorts and conditions of men, you are going out to tell this people. As Christ our Lord said to Peter on his boat, we may hear Him say to us. Do not be afraid. We are henceforth going out to catch men.