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.


Jack Miller said...

Fr. Hart, I truly hope the words in your essay are both read and digested. The Anglican Church is in dire need of a modern reformation of sorts, and you have put up some of the needed sign posts that point the way.


Canon A. T. Cross said...

Fr. Hart, I am teaching a class of our clergy and will recommend this article heartily. You have hit many of the points in my lesson notes and have aided my work considerably. Hopefully after reading this essay they will seek the Grace that refreshes their lives and ministry. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I forwarded this to two Orthodox lists. Gospel preaching is a seeming paucity among Eastern Ortodox clergy. They tend to talk about the services rather than the Gospel and conversion.

Thank you for sharing, Fr. Hart!
Rdr. James Morgan

Anonymous said...

Thank you Fr Hart for your efforts to keep us focused.

Our beloved Bishop Trevor always reminded us of the dangers of Churchianity versus Christianity.

As long as we could all, in gratitude and humility, accept the eternal benefits of Salvation under the Cross, and practise what we preach, all will be well with our souls.

Too many people get snagged by church politics and expend far too much time and energy on issues that are of no value at all in the big scheme of things.

Dalene Gill

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart....
Again I have to admit that I am with you on this one.

This is the Fr Hart that is most rewarding to be 'at one' with, not the Fr Hart that is seemingly always on the attack against other good Christian people.

Thank you for this article, now can we build a 'Continuum'together?

Fr Christopher

Alice C. Linsley said...

"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."

Yes! Bless you for speaking the truth. The priest alone is given this unique work whereby he shares in the saving work of Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest.

Parishioners should recognize that this is so and not require the priest to be jack-of-all-trades, which is laziness and/or spiritual immaturity on the part of parishioners!

Diane said...

American Catholics leave the Church because they have not been educated (by family and Church) about what they have as members of the Catholic Church...if they knew that they were members of the original Church started by Jesus, if they knew that they were able to receive Body/Blood of the Lord, etc., then they would stay. If they realized that they are not to have Jesus on their terms but on His terms, they would stay.

That they leave due to not having their spiritual needs met is very telling...they are self centered and think the Church is about giving them an "experience" or meeting their needs....I suffer thru the most banal of liturgies, the goofiest music, scandal after scandal, etc because I need the Eucharist and I need to worship the Lord on His terms, not mine.

A rejection of authority is at the root of all issues plaguing American Catholics.

Confessor said...

Here is another article - this one by a Roman Catholic: "Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why." by Thomas Reese.

The poll listed 'worship' and 'the Bible' as the top reasons Catholics say they have left. One RC commentator on another blog wrote that Christian education, preaching and teaching were generally poor in the RC. The greatest number of those who left to become protestant were those in the 20-30 range. It could also be that marriage to a protestant might account for some of the loss of this age group. And, this is the age that questions, experiments, seeks answers...on the basis of evidence and trial.

While only 20 or so percent say they left because of the horror of the sexual abuse committed and covered up by clergy, the news of bishops ignoring their agreements not to cover for abusive priests has continued to this day and well after the Pew research was done. Indeed, the study done by the John Jay institute that denies that neither pedophilia nor homosexuality caused the abuse has been met with widespread criticism by the staunchest of RC writers, researchers and lay persons.

Recently, there has been a noticable increase in expressions of distrust and loss of confidence in those in authority in the RC with good reason. Perhaps the claims of papal supremacy, infallibility and other unbiblical notions of the See of Rome have also been cast into doubt as well as 'The Church' promoting and praising 'The Church' and basking in its perceived superiority have been exposed to scrutiny as well. It may be that the exaltation and status of 'The Church' and the clergy above the laity has probably given way forever, eroded by the waves and windstorm created by their own actions.

People were designed by God to be in communion with Him and in right relationship with each other (not dominated, manipulated, coerced, lorded over, deceived, exploited, violated). We were designed to want and need Truth, Love and Life (the characteristics of Christ) to function properly and to live by God's Word in His joy, peace and freedom. The people of the RC have not received these from their leaders. They have a choice to either suffer in silence, to object and demand the truth or to go elsewhere. Many have chosen the latter.

No surprise, for it was the same issues - clergy abuse, deception, coercion, manipulation, exploitation, decadence, worship and the Bible - that gave rise to the protest that became Protestantism in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Diane wrote:

"I suffer thru the most banal of liturgies, the goofiest music, scandal after scandal, etc because I need the Eucharist and I need to worship the Lord on His terms, not mine."

I agree on principle that we must gather under Christ's authority in spite of our personal tastes; but perhaps if you could see your way clear through the Romanist nonsense that Anglicans have no valid orders, ergo no valid Eucharist, then you wouldn't have to be subjected to such banalities. My not joining one of the Two One True Churches (Orthodoxy and Rome) is not principally aesthetics -- I really believe we possess the fullness of faith and authority as catholic evangelicals (Anglicans).

Steven Augustine
ACC Layman

Jack Miller said...

Not to be contentious, but I would hesitate to use this statement from an above comment: The priest alone is given this unique work whereby he shares in the saving work of Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest.

This implies, even if unintended, that the Anglican priest actually has some part in the saving work of Christ, which of course isn't true. The high priest of the O.T. was the one that represented the people before God. Christ Jesus, having been made High Priest (as well as the perfect sacrifice), alone represents the people before God...

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. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. [1 Tim 2:5-7]

Though the Anglican priest is not an apostle like Paul, he is indeed a preacher and minister of the gospel of salvation... one who offers Christ in Word and Sacrament.

As Fr. Hart wrote:
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."

In both the sermon and the Lord's Supper the priest dispenses, proclaims, and offers the completed work of salvation accomplished by Christ alone.

best regards...

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Diane wrote:

...if they knew that they were members of the original Church started by Jesus, if they knew that they were able to receive Body/Blood of the Lord, etc., then they would stay. If they realized that they are not to have Jesus on their terms but on His terms, they would stay.

As a Continuing Anglican in the ACC-OP I have every benefit of which Diane speaks.

suffer thru the most banal of liturgies, the goofiest music, scandal after scandal, etc because I need the Eucharist and I need to worship the Lord on His terms, not mine.

As a Continuing Anglican in the ACC-OP I suffer none of these problems of which Diane speaks.

I urge her to ask herself how she painted herself into so sad a corner, and why she imagines that God is the One Who demands it of her. Has her understanding of Christ become centered on one thing alone, receiving the sacrament on the terms of late 19th century Italians whose scholarship was, and is, an embarrassment to educated Roman Catholics everywhere.

That they leave due to not having their spiritual needs met is very telling...they are self centered and think the Church is about giving them an "experience" or meeting their needs....

Shall we blame the victims, or the perpetrators? Are the children at fault when the parents do not feed and clothe them?

Of course, if we speak about children at all, well, why should I bring that up again? It is the RC elephant in the living room that they can claim to be infallible, and the Onest and Truest, and yet have such a demonic and foul scandal in so many countries. They sure do not look anything like what they claim to be.

Fr. Wells said...

Jack: Contentious or not, your last comment was absolutely correct. Moreover, it is important. Thanks and Amen.

Diane said...

Father Hart,
1.If you are saying there is no scandal within the ACC-OP, I don't believe you are being honest with yourself.
2. Within my Church, there are liturgies with chant that better suit my traditionalist tastes but for other reasons, I attend my local parish.
3.I'm not in a sad corner...I try not to view the whole of my local parish based on the style of liturgy/music...the parish is much more than those 2 elements...I work hard at not being a liturgical snob.
4.I work even harder to submit my will to Christ and the authorities within my much stronger Christians of all denominations would be if they attempted the same.
5. I blame both perpetrator and victim, as both have been influenced by cultural trends that prioritize personal fulfillment.
6.That the Church contains scandal is nothing new...clergy have been letting us down since the beginning, when most of them abandoned, denied or sold the Lord on that night of trial and crucifixion.
Thankfully, we now have a good majority of clergy that are dedicated, decent and holy men.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I work even harder to submit my will to Christ and the authorities within my Church...

Considering all the things you say that you "suffer," such hard work amounting to a constant endeavor, to submit to those particular authorities, seems like it must be necessary.

1.If you are saying there is no scandal within the ACC-OP, I don't believe you are being honest with yourself.

Scandals in the ACC-Op have occurred over the last 34 years; but, instead of cover-ups and necessary police intervention, our own Canon Law was followed, and those few problems were dealt with.

But, you say that you "suffer through...scandal after scandal." That is because the scandals have been covered up when they should have been dealt with. Frankly, that repetition of, in your words, "scandal after scandal" is unlike anything that we experience.

Sadly, by going on the attack (with the obvious implication, in telling us what you suffer and why, that you regard our sacraments as invalid), you are making this about the relative merits of the RCC vs. those of the ACC. That was not the direction I went in with Dr. Armstrong's column. I asked our people to recognize how the lesson might apply to us.

It was not my intention to gloat over the RCC problems, because we recognize it as a church within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Sadly, they consider us, their fellow Christians, a mission field, which is the point of view you reflect. Of course we reject that as unfounded.

AFS1970 said...

I do think that there might be some shared blame here. While it is very tempting to blame the church for not providing a spiritual experience, more info is needed. What exactly is the spiritual experience that these former RC's are looking for? I have been to RC masses that were wonderful and those that were dismal. However I have been invited to non RC churches where I have been told how fun their services are. I have never looked for church to be fun and am more than a little bit worried about those that do.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the hemmorage of members from the RC church. I left there long ago.

My perception about certain continuing churches, which might, admittedly, be flawed by my own experience, is that to many, an Anglican churchb is less a Body of Christ with a missionn to evangelize and more a couintry club with a steeple.

Enough said,

Chip Bergeron

Diane said...

Fr Hart,
You don't have to post this...I was in no way attacking. I was just trying to answer the question as I saw it...why Catholics leave the church and why I (and others) remain in the Church given the negatives I brought up. My view of ACC-OP sacraments was not at issue.

Confessor said...

The Baptists who are fighting the battle against sexual abuse and sexual sin by clergy are asking for more openness and accountability, and studies documenting the statistical incidence of these offenses. However, no one seems willing to open that can of worms. The sin of sexual, emotional and physical abuse exists and is covered up in every denomination and occurs in schools and homes in greater numbers than in churches.

It is more than likely increasing because society as a whole is more, not less, promiscuous, inhumane, perverse and corrupted than in years past. The accumulated blood-guilt from decades of abortion and its consequences on the souls of the mothers, fathers, doctors, nurses, legislators has caused the devaluation of human life and has injured the humanity of children and adults all over the globe. Russia has committed so many abortions, they are now begging women to become mothers. Generations of poor parenting may make many of the men and women of this generation emotionally unable to be good parents.

Read how many women have killed their own children in the US in the last month...even using microwaves to do so.

The Church will need to learn to apply the healing Word and Spirit to restore souls like never before.

Surely the Holy Spirit who convicted hard Roman soldiers of sin and restored the list of miscreants and depravities in Romans 1 and I Corinthians 6, can do so again in a healthy church environment. Finding a healthy church body with confidence in God's ability to 'save us to the uttermost' is the difficulty.

People are wounded and dehumanized in the world and homes and families, they need a holy healthy healing church family to learn how to have healthy holy relationships in which to heal and be retrained in their emotional responses and behaviors.