Saturday, April 04, 2020
Sunday, March 29, 2020
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Saturday, February 22, 2020
The article below was written as a response to an essay in First Things. I submitted it to that magazine, but they chose not to run it. And so I post it here.
I would like to apologise for the extreme infrequency of my contributions. For various reasons, including attaining a Masters degree by research, I have withdrawn from the 'blog for a long time. Also, since one of the main original purposes of this site was to bring Continuers closer together, the sacramental reunion of the G4 has made my participation less urgent, as my theological priorities are strongly ecumenical. Nonetheless, I hope this article is useful to our readers.
On another matter, I would like to commend the video address "False Choices" by Fr Hart, linked from a previous post. I have just watched it and urge you all to do the same if you have not already seen it. God bless.
In her recent article, “A paper church”, Julia Yost decries Pope Francis' leadership for forcing orthodox Catholics to engage in an elitist hermeneutics that explains away rather than explaining his statements. While St John Paul's catechetical adventures on the topic of capital punishment also come in for criticism, the rot that has purportedly set in is seen to have done so only “[i]n recent decades”. One might summarise her article as the heartfelt cry, “We can't become like those awful Anglicans!”
Too late, Julia, too late. In the need to interpret some teachings in minimalist fashion, or with heavy qualifications, or as temporary mistakes, or as conditioned by circumstances, Roman Catholics have long anticipated Anglo-Catholics.
Now, to be fair, I do have sympathy for her argument that the Catholic Faith should not be reduced to a “paper religion”, which would imply that the real, authoritative teachings are an esoteric, subtle refinement of official statements that are misleading if taken at their surface-meaning. And I fully accept that Pope Francis' “magisterial” musings and symbolical actions are sometimes, to put it gently, unnecessarily confusing.
However, despite these sympathies, and my firm belief that the average Christian does understand the essentials of the Faith to a sufficient degree not to be “superficial” in their confession, we all need to face reality. And the reality is that, not only among the hoi polloi but among their teachers in the Church, there have often been grave errors, misinterpretations, and unbalanced emphases, including some related to official teaching, partly because its wording can lend itself to misunderstanding on occasion. To put it another way, while God protects the church from outright error in dogma, he does not protect it from all the other foibles related to human documents and interpretation.
Indeed, this problem has become only more obvious since Vatican II among Roman Catholics (RCs), whether for traditionalists who heavily criticise the Council, “conservatives” who affirm it via the “hermeneutic of continuity”, or “liberals” who embrace the purported “spirit of Vatican II” and see the documents themselves as open-ended pointers to a trajectory of revolution. However, the problem for RCs clearly predates this Council, as I will show later. But let us first deal with the more recent examples.
The original article exhibits the belief that subtle, esoteric re-interpretations of past Church teaching were not the Roman way until Pope Francis, or, to a lesser extent, Pope John Paul II. But this is clearly contrary to fact. Ever since Vatican II, any attempt at a “hermeneutic of continuity” has required very subtle distinctions and re-interpretations indeed.
For some of the most popular examples of these apparent(?) discontinuities, the teachings on torture, slavery, usury and capital punishment, I leave the reader to other authors' discussions. Instead, let us just consider ecumenical dialogue, joint prayer with non-RCs, and the possibility of salvation outside the Communion of Rome.
For Pope Pius IX (in Mortalium Animos), the efforts of Protestants to “treat with the Roman church ... upon the basis of equality of rights and as equals” is something that Catholics “cannot in any way adhere to or grant aid to”. He also taught that: "… one who supports those who hold these theories and attempt to realise them, is altogether abandoning the divinely revealed religion." Whereas Vatican II’s Unitatis Redintegratio describes as “[m]ost valuable” “meetings of the two sides … where each can treat with the other on an equal footing”.
An instruction addressed to the Catholics of England by Cardinal Allen in a letter of 1592 said that praying with Protestants was “forbidden by God’s own eternal law” and “by no means lawful or dispensable”, a judgement he noted was confirmed to him by Pope Clement VIII. On the other hand, the same document of Vatican II mentioned above says that such prayer is “desirable”.
From the Council of Florence we have this: "The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church ... can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the Devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with her". At Vatican II the “separated churches” are “means of salvation”.
I will leave it to RCs to argue about whether each of these apparent discontinuities can be salvaged from contradiction by clever exegesis, or whether the resolution lies in simply admitting that the either the earlier or the later statements must be abandoned as non-infallible statements that also happened to be simply wrong. In either case, what is required of anyone arguing in good faith is frank admission both that there is apparent contradiction and that the only way out is via subtle distinctions regarding meaning or authority that will seem esoteric and surprising to ordinary folk.
But this problem did not start with Vatican II. Unam Sanctum (US) is a papal bull considered by many RCs to be infallible in its concluding definition: “Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Note the word “absolutely”. Quite apart from inconsistency with statements of Vatican II, this definition suffers from a syllogistic reductio ad absurdum, if taken at face value. The first premise below derives clearly from the common man's understanding of subjection to the chief religious teacher, the second is a logical corollary of the definition of US.
1. To disobey the Pope's commands or contradict his teachings is not to be subject to him.
2. One can not ever, under any circumstances, be saved (in a state of grace) if one is not subject to the Pope.
3. Thus, to disobey the Pope's commands or dispute his teachings in any way is to be unsaved, ungraced, i.e., outside Christ and his Church, and thus is always objectively evil.
But both before and after Vatican I, let alone Vatican II, RC theologians have consistently taught that there can be occasions when disobeying papal commands or contradicting (or withholding assent to) a papal teaching can be permissible and, in fact, virtuous. Among the clergy and theologians of old we have Lapide, Pope Pius IX, Pope Adrian II, Pope Paul IV1, Cano, Prieras, Cajetan, de Victoria, Suarez, and Bellarmine, et al. But in more recent times we have Bishop Christopher Butler and the Pope Emeritus himself, among many others.
So, it appears that subjection to the Pope is considered only conditionally or relatively necessary to salvation in terms of informed, long-standing RC theology, but that US says it is absolutely necessary. “Absolutely” and “relatively” are contradictory by definition. Now, wooden literalism is hardly ever wise but an “interpretation” that takes a word to mean its exact opposite is, at the very least, subtle and esoteric. I suspect ordinary RCs may have always had trouble squaring that circle, if it had been brought to their attention. It is perhaps fortunate that for much of the Middle Ages such interacting decrees and ideas probably remained an irrelevant “paper religion” to the average pious peasant.2
In all of these cases one might of course appeal to the “development” Newman so relied upon to defend Roman Catholicism. But at some point one risks justly receiving that famous reply from the classic comedy, The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Can there be a disconnect between educated believers and the rest in areas of ecclesial life outside explicit doctrine as well? Interestingly, Ms Yost doesn't actually deny the existence of superstitions among ordinary RCs. Instead, she accepts their reality and, surprisingly, says only positive things about them. But not all popular superstitions are to be winked at. Idolatry and obsession with material relics is spiritually degrading and enervating, as it takes the Christian's focus away from the true centre of his faith, the living Christ. That this was once a real problem for RCs needs no confirmation from Protestant authors, the evidence being easily found in Erasmus and Colet, for example.
But it was not just a case of popular abuses. Aquinas (S.T. P3, Q25, A3&4), in teaching that earned the imprimatur and nihil obstat, said that the worship of latreia was due to images of Christ and the Cross. But the Seventh Ecumenical Council says that only the honour of proskunesis is permissible to any image, including the Cross. Whatever gloss is put on the former kind of statement by apologists, it is undeniable that the effect on the common believer of such justification filtering down was deeply problematic. That the official dogma of the RCC is and was orthodox I do not deny. That the everyday religion of its members always matched this dogma during the late Middle Ages I do deny. The disconnect was real, and the doctrinal truth in this matter often remained a paper religion to the masses.
What is my point then? That the Catholic Faith has always been expressed in a way that must seem Pickwickian to ordinary Christians? That many magisterial acts and words can not be taken at face value or may even need to be rejected? That all doctrines are justifiably up for grabs due to past inconsistencies? No, yes and no.
The Creeds are genuinely understandable affirmations, though even here there are unavoidable metaphors and mysteries.3 And beyond the Creeds, there is much firm, consistent and clear teaching that is entitled to our deepest trust and certitude.
Nevertheless, some teaching that carries the label of infallibility for RCs will need to be accorded assent with qualifications that, while able to be exegeted as non-contradictory, show that the dogma as originally written was undeniably prone to misunderstanding. Teachings that were highly authoritative but not infallibly proposed nor universally consistent from earliest times may simply have to be admitted to be errors.
This will require a dogmatic theology that appears too critical or even minimalist to some. The fear that such admissions will give too much room to those who wish to conform the Church to the world, the flesh and the devil is perfectly understandable. After all, isn’t one of the favourite arguments of some “liberals” that none of the teachings on sexual morality they dislike has been or can be definitively taught?4 But the truth is that the best defence against such infidelity within will not come from unreflective approaches to dogmatic texts any more than it will come from unrestrained ultramontanism. Unfortunately, “liberal” criticisms of the “creeping infallibilism” coming from Rome have, even from a traditionalist viewpoint, validity.5 This creep not only undercuts present orthodox resistance to error, it has often been sending the Vatican in precisely the wrong direction for decades in response to the heterodox. To put it another way, this is a defensiveness that has now left the faithful defenceless.6
Where is safety to be found then, whether for the scholar or for the “vulgar”? Not in papal absolutism, not in a “magisterium of the moment”, not in textual rigidity or mere institutional loyalty. These facts have become increasingly clear but, taken as a whole, they will perhaps not please either the conservative or traditionalist RC. On what basis can they resist the genuine compromisers of the Faith, as opposed to faithful if speculative theology that challenges?
St John Paul showed the way forward in one of his most important and symbolical actions. In the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis he definitively ruled against the priestly ordination of women not by an act of the Extraordinary Magisterium, but by pointing to the “constant and universal Tradition of the Church”, as has been noted by Cardinal Ladaria on behalf of the CDF.
The broad, living stream of the Tradition, with its mutually interpreting currents and eddies across time and space is where all must look. The whole Church needs the whole Church, including the breadth of its history. Where the consensus is universal and clear, those rejecting it from within the Church need not be argued with nor need they be subject to new canonical or doctrinal statements, as if everything was uncertain till such “clarifications”. No, instead, the Church should simply have the courage to say “You have undeniably rejected the Faith, you have cut yourself off from the Church. The verdict is manifest, your attempts to obscure certainty have failed. Goodbye.”
And such a process would in fact be aided by appeal to the constant and continued teaching of the Eastern Orthodox and others. An ecumenical Catholicism that recognises, not just in subtextual actions7 but in official teaching, that those outside canonical boundaries may have been put there unjustly, such that they never really exited the Una Sancta spiritually, is a Catholicism that can accept a genuine scope for varied opinions in non-essentials, access resources deep and wide, correct internal errors and fight the good fight.8
So, as we have noted above, instead of issuing new decrees or looking for such, Rome and RCs could simply appeal to universal consensus, East and West, to prove that all who wish to overturn traditional moral teaching are manifestly heretical and self-excommunicate, and withdraw all communion from them without further ado. The same approach could be applied to those who push for the ordination of priestesses, and hence clarify that ecumenical Catholicism reveals the pointlessness of Rome or the Orthodox continuing their discussions with the Anglican Communion and the need to concentrate instead on the faithful remnant that is Continuing Anglicanism.
But benefits would also accrue in terms of dealing with the past. A Roman Church burdened with the history of a previous centuries-long magisterial consensus on the moral soundness of ‘coercion and torture for Jesus’ could then, for example, contentedly note the fact that the Eastern Orthodox part of the Church did not create an apologetics or doctrinal position to justify such acts as the Latin Church did, thus defeating the appearance of universality, even temporarily.
It could also recognise that the Anglican rejection of any suggestion that the Sacrifice of Christ was plural or repeated was a justifiable reaction to certain theories of the Mass that hypothesised a new, distinct immolation of Christ in the Eucharist, while noting that such theories have died away and that Rome also stresses that there is only one redemptive Sacrifice. As it is, Julia Yost’s article shows no appreciation of this historical context, and no understanding of the other evidence in the earliest Anglican formularies that gave not just Newman but many others legitimate reason to interpret Anglican teaching as supporting Eucharistic Sacrifice. Other of the Thirty Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and official apologetical texts from the Elizabethan period taken together affirm that the Eucharist sacramentally signifies the Sacrifice of the Cross and conveys its effects, which is exactly what is sufficient to make it a sacrifice, according to Aquinas.9
In any case, there is no getting around the fact that ecclesial teaching, whether Anglican, Eastern or Roman will sometimes contain statements that, while they can be parsed in conformity with truth or relativised as to authority, are problematic and leave plenty of room for doubt and misunderstanding. Admitting this rather than circling the wagons or throwing stones in glass houses is surely the best option. Theology can be difficult, including dogmatic theology. Just accept it.
1 See his Bull, Cum ex Apostolatus Officio, which teaches that a Pope who has deviated from the Faith can be contradicted.“In assessing Our duty and the situation now prevailing, We have been weighed upon by the thought that a matter of this kind is so grave and so dangerous [to the Faith] that the Roman Pontiff, who is the representative upon earth of God and our God and Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the fullness of power over peoples and kingdoms, who may judge all and be judged by none in this world, may nonetheless be contradicted if he be found to have deviated from the Faith.”
2 In case the reader thinks that a literal interpretation was never taken seriously by anyone, or that nothing else in the magisterial tradition could support such papal positivism to the ordinary follower, I give just two of many possible examples which would manifestly support such absolutism:
“[W]here there is holiness there cannot be disagreement with the Pope” [Address to the Priests of the Apostolic Union, Nov. 18, 1912, Pope Pius X]
“Thus, it is an absolute necessity for the simple faithful to submit in mind and heart to their own pastors, and for the latter to submit with them to the Head and Supreme Pastor.” [Epistola Tua, Pope Leo XIII]
3 Obviously, for example, “light from light” does not refer to photons, “ascended into heaven” could be misunderstood as a long astronomical journey, and what “everlasting life” means in detail is confessedly unknown (1 John 3:2).
4 E.g.: “There is virtual theological unanimity that concrete moral norms do not pertain to the church’s infallible teaching competence.” R.A. McCormick, S.J., in Readings in Moral Theology No.6: Dissent in the Church, Curran & McCormick (eds), p.426, 1988.
5 Giving the liberal Romans their due is a necessary part of honestly dealing with the crisis. Unless the real problems that existed before Vatican II in the RCC are admitted – against which RCs understandably reacted and for the purpose of dealing with the Second Vatican Council was called – those who wish to throw out the baby with the bathwater will succeed in portraying the orthodox to the ordinary faithful as dishonest or spiritually blind.
It shouldn’t be a a great strain, for example, for any RC to accept that the official papal condemnation of the statement that “[i]t is contrary to the will of the Spirit that heretics be burned” in Exsurge domine was an objectively evil act that undermined the RCC’s moral credibility. Or that Pope Pius IX forcing the Melkite Patriarch to place his head under his foot in retaliation for qualifying his acceptance of Vatican I was the very kind of leadership against which Christ warned (cf. Matthew 20:25f, 2 Corinthians 1:24). Likewise, it shouldn’t be difficult for the orthodox to admit that sometimes the critics have helped the Church to correct itself.
Admitting old errors or misplaced emphases, along with an overarching weakness for authoritarianism, will allow the orthodox to be taken seriously. Otherwise, in the face of an idealisation of the Latin Church’s past, merely quoting or citing the more egregious examples will be enough to discredit Catholicism itself for an honest enquirer. Also, unless the reasons for modern over-reaction are understood, the orthodox will not be able to communicate effectively to persuadable liberals: those who are perhaps not critical enough of innovation, but are not revolutionary in spirit or intent either.
6 While the CDF in its Instructions on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian did try to carve out a space for dissent by theologians from non-infallible teaching, it was a non-public, minimal space that appeared to have nothing to do with ordinary Catholics. If this is not an elitist approach to hermeneutics, what is? One cannot help but ask the question, if a mediaeval theologian or ordinary RC had vociferously objected to Inquisitorial torture as plainly wicked and anti-Christian, would they have sinned according to these standards?
7 E.g., recognitions by Rome of Saints who were outside the communion of Rome, such as St Meletius of Antioch, St Isaac the Syrian and St Gregory of Narek.
8 Some will respond angrily to such suggestions with the cry “extra ecclesiam nulla salus!” or start scoffing at the manifest absurdity of Anglican “Branch Theory”. I have dealt with these objections here. Basically, to believe that the Church must be both one and visible does not require belief that its integral unity is perfectly visible. Especially since it almost never is.
9 Knowledge of the historical and theological context reveals that the significance of the plural terms in Article XXXI relates to an aversion to any concept of repeated or supplementary sacrifice, an aversion clearly referred to in the same article where it says “there is none other satisfaction for sin” than the Sacrifice of the Cross. The same point is specifically reiterated in Anglican Canon Law in the next century where there is an affirmation of the term “altar” for the “Lord's Table” but a denial Christ is “again really sacrificed” (cf. Hebrews 6:6, 10:10), which Rome was thought to teach. Also, the very same Articles affirm that the Eucharist is a sacrament of Christians' redemption by the Cross (XXVIII), while defining a sacrament as an “effectual sign” in a previous Article (XXV), a theological term of art meaning that it effects what it signifies. So, the Articles on their own teach that the Eucharist signifies Christ's sacrifice and conveys its effects. The authorised apologist for the Church of England at the English Reformation, Bishop Jewell, also accepted openly in those apologetics that the Sacrament was an “image” of the One Sacrifice. This combination of sacramental signification and conveyance of the sacrifice in its effects is, as noted above, exactly what Aquinas says makes it a sacrifice (S.T. P3, Q83, A1).
Similarly, the service is termed a “sacrifice of praise” in the classical Anglican liturgy (a phrase taken straight from the Gregorian Canon) in the same sentence in which intercession is made for “the remission of sins and all other benefits” of Christ's Passion for the “whole Church”. So, Newman was perfectly justified in interpreting the Anglican formularies as teaching a doctrine of Eucharistic Sacrifice, albeit one rejecting any repetition of the Cross, any renewal of Christ's actual suffering and death. More to the point, this was not some weird innovation of his, but a reflection of the explicit teaching on the Eucharist of many Anglican bishops and theologians before him, as one discovers in Tract 81. That he later renounced this eirenic approach does not change the facts outlined above.
Sunday, February 09, 2020
Thursday, January 30, 2020
Saturday, January 25, 2020
Friday, January 24, 2020
For the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
Short and to the point, the Blessed Virgin Mary preached her only sermon. It is a classic. But, many modern Christians confuse what Jesus tells us to do with the instructions that come from the world, the flesh and the devil.
For example, many modern American Christians attend seminars or study teaching on how to become “leaders.” The great emphasis on leadership has been attracting Christians for over thirty years now. Everyone wants to be a leader.
But, Jesus said, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28)
For another example, in the great parable of the Sheep and the Goats before the throne of judgment (Matt. 25:31-46), our Lord told us how to treat the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison; indeed, to treat each one of the least of these as we would treat the Lord Jesus Himself. He tells us that He will take personally how we treat each one of the least of these, and that it will be the criteria for the final judgment. But, we ignore Jesus in ignoring them. We think the Final Judgment will be a final exam in theology, or about whether or not you have been in the Onest and Truest of the all the One True Churches.
Meanwhile, desperate asylum seekers are imprisoned as if they were all dangerous criminals at the border of our country, and their children are taken away. The poor in our country are denied healthcare and medicine. Children are murdered in the womb for convenience as a big business with lots of profit. Poor people face greater danger of incarceration due to corporate (for profit) prisons that corrupt the legal system. Great amounts of American wealth go to the weapons industry, providing such countries as
the means to commit mass murder of
noncombatants. I am glad that many American Christians are concerned about one
of those categories (the child in the
womb). But, it is wrong that they merrily accept and even enable the evils done
to those others, endorsing and parroting rationalizations that dehumanize so
many ones among the least of these His brethren – His brethren by means of His
Incarnation; “The Word was made flesh.” (John 1:14) Saudi
Furthermore, when the poor and destitute call churches, or ask Christians for help, many merely provide rationalizations, worthy of the most greedy Libertarians, to silence the voice of the Lord in their consciences. Instead of being concerned about those who suffer needlessly and face premature death from poverty, they concern themselves only with their own advantages. The world, the flesh and the devil have arguments to provide rationalization. But what did Jesus say?
“Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matt. 6:42)
For another example, Jesus told us to patiently suffer the persecution of an unbelieving world.
“…they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name's sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony. Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends; and some of you shall they cause to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. But there shall not an hair of your head perish. In your patience possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:12-19)
But, many modern American Christians are sure that they know better than Jesus. They embrace and support political strength as a means to be delivered from the cost of taking up the cross to follow Christ as His disciples. In choosing political power to this end, many of them have been deceived already. This is why their love is waxing cold in the face of Christ among us as hungry, thirsty, a stranger, sick or in prison. Especially, many choose to hate the stranger because they have swallowed the political propaganda of fear.
“Perfect love casteth out fear.” (I John 4:18)
“Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the
(Deut. 10:19) land of Egypt
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (II Cor. 13:5)
“If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
As the Blessed Virgin Mary said in her one and only, and very profound, sermon: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Part of the ministry of www.saintbenedicts.net
Jill faces possible amputation of her only remaining leg (Doctors are deciding). Her S.S.I. case remains in seemingly endless appeal hearings. She is a mother of two with no income. When she is out of the hospital she will need to buy medicine and food. Please help if you can. Click on the link. https://www.gofundme.com/f/1vkvdzp4k0?utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_na+share-sheet&rcid=4398194b746e4ed68091e1bafde0aef7
Monday, January 20, 2020
The following was delivered during the G4 Joint Synods in Atlanta GA. on Jan. 15, 2020
Talks About Mission for the 2020 Provincial Synod of the Anglican Catholic Church
Talks About Mission for the 2020 Provincial Synod of the Anglican Catholic Church
The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C Scarlett, Bishop Ordinary, Diocese of the Holy Trinity
|Bishop Stephen C. Scarlett|
I. The Main Challenge We Face
I want to thank Archbishop Haverland for the opportunity to talk for a few minutes about the mission of our church. The topic of mission needs to occupy a larger and preeminent space on our agendas. We have been encouraged over the last few years by our movement towards unity. Unity is important and essential to our mission. We've been handicapped by both external and internal disunity and acrimony. In his high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus linked unity and effective mission (17:21). However, while our unity is a necessary foundation, it will not, in and of itself, create an effective mission. Thus, organic unity within the G-4 is not our most pressing challenge. Our most pressing challenge is to discover and develop our mission.
We are facing significant challenges. Many of our churches are aging and are not reproducing themselves with new spiritual offspring. However, when we gather as a church to do our organizational business we do a rather efficient job of ignoring this challenge. I want to urge and exhort us to change our priorities and place prayer for mission and dialogue about mission at the top of our agenda from now on.
II. The Origin of Our Challenge
It is easy to misinterpret our mission challenge as a criticism of the ministries of our churches. We have good and godly people in ministry who are doing good and godly work. Our problem is that the mission we started with as a movement is no longer our mission. We have not adjusted to the changed cultural environment. Our original mission was to define and defend Anglican Catholic orthodoxy and differentiate ourselves from the heresy that arose in the mid-twentieth century within the Anglican tradition. The heroes of our movement took a stand and paid a price for the Truth. Because of that heroism, there was a church for me to return to when I went through a conversion in college in 1981. Because of that heroism we have a church and movement to sustain us as we wait for the fulfilment of our blessed hope (Titus 2:13).
But this cannot be our primary mission any longer. We now know who we are, and we are who we are. The question now is: How are we going to bear witness in more effective ways in the new world in which we find ourselves? This new world is dramatically different than the world we started in. How are we going to develop an effective ministry in it? How are we going to reach the lost and wounded of our culture? How are you going to reach at least some of the lost and wounded in the neighborhood or region of your church? They don’t know what an Anglican Catholic is and they don’t really care—unless an Anglican Catholic will love them and introduce them to Christ and to the community of Christ’s church.
When I began my ministry in the 1980’s, you could still develop a church by advertising our unique strengths to people who were looking for a church. You cannot do that in most places anymore. Fewer and fewer people are looking for a church. For many, church is either irrelevant to their lives or, worse, is a source of a deep wound because they have been hurt by a church. How do we reach out to people in this new setting?
III. A Modest Proposal for a Starting Place
If we are honest, we will admit that we don’t know what to do. This can be a good thing if we embrace our vulnerability and our need to trust God in new ways. Moses did not know what to do when his back was to the Red Sea and his eyes were on the thundering herds of approaching Egyptian soldiers. But he found a new pathway forward for his people because he listened to God, prayed to God, and trusted God (Exodus 14:10-15).
I want to make a modest proposal for a starting place. Because we do not know what to do, we need to establish a corporate practice of fasting and praying for the mission of our church. In Acts, the early church waited and prayed in the upper room before the Holy Spirit came and led them into ministry (Acts 1:12-14). We need to enter into an extended season of church-wide prayer and fasting for the development of our mission.
About seven or eight years ago, Bishop Wilson visited our diocese. He told us, “If you want your churches to grow, you must fast and pray.” We listened and established Wednesday as a day of fasting and prayer for the mission of our church. We ask our people to fast in some way on Wednesday and to pray a "Litany for Mission" that we developed. I propose that we make this a practice of our entire church; a day a week on which we fast and pray for our mission. The activity of fasting and prayer for mission will put the topic of mission on the map of our church. It is a way to begin; something we can really do. If we cannot commit to regular prayer and fasting for our mission, it means we are not serious about it.
As we fast and pray, we need to listen for God’s voice and guidance and discuss the new things we might do; the new doors we might open into our churches; the new ways we might reach out to those who are not now our members; the new good works we might do. Prayer for mission and discussion about church renewal and mission need to be regular, weekly activities of our church. And these need to be the central focus of our energy when we gather for synods.
I. A History of Our Discussions and the Error of Our Approach
It is not as though we have never discussed the topic of mission. We used to have what were called “Evangelism Congresses.” These met in the off years between our synods. They were reasonably well-attended for the three or four times we met. They were based largely on the church growth literature, which had some applicable points, but they failed to ignite any significant renewal of our mission. One problem with these discussions was that the church growth literature is too deeply and subtly enmeshed with the consumer and marketing culture.
Part of the problem is the motive. Why do we want our churches to grow? My unscientific research has observed a sort of overarching attitude, which might be summarized in this way: We want our churches to grow because we like our churches and want them to continue. I was at one church where a vestry member said, “We need some new members to help us pay the bills.” The problem is that no one wants to join our churches to help us pay our bills.
Of course, we want people to know Christ. But there is a subtle way in which our mission has been informed, the unspoken truth that we want people to come and help support this thing that is really valuable to us. We want them to help us. However, true mission works in the other direction. In authentic mission, we want to share Christ with others. Christ has changed our lives, forgiven our sins, made us members of his Body, and given us a meaning, purpose and a goal or telos for life. We want others to know him as we know him. We want others to have these things also. True mission is a desire to share Christ with others, not merely the recruitment of members to help sustain us.
II. Some Foundational Questions.
Before we can share our faith with others, before we can give what we have, we must first ask: “What do we have?” We tend to answer this question theologically. We have the faith defined by the councils and creeds. We need to begin to answer this question experientially. How do we experience the redeeming and sanctifying presence of Christ as a community? What is the experience of Christ that we want to share? As Alexander Schmemann says, “Of what are we witnesses?” (For the Life of the World, Ch. 1, p. 21).
An honest assessment of our churches reveals that before we can develop a mission, we must develop our own spiritual life as a community. If we are to be witnesses to the power of Christ in our lives, then we must have a communal experience of that power. If we want people to come, there must be something powerful and compelling to invite them to come to. It won’t work to develop a great marketing campaign to get people to come to church if, when they come, they find a small group of discontented people who seem mostly to complain about the world and each other, and whose mission is mainly is to keep the doors open.
III. A Reorientation of Ministry Around the Theology of the Remnant
Many of our churches need a reorientation of ministry. We need to start by focusing on our own spiritual formation. The truth is that while our church has its holy people, even its saints, we have been handicapped by spiritual and emotional immaturity among our clergy and lay leadership. Our greatest need is for clergy and lay leaders who are willing to reorient the ministry of our churches around spiritual formation. We need to develop ourselves in order to develop our witness and mission.
This is a reorientation we began four years ago at St. Matthew’s Church and in the Diocese of the Holy Trinity after some profound experiences of missionary failure. I realized that our mission efforts had been undermined by the emotional and spiritual immaturity of our missionaries. Rather than being witnesses to Christ in the world, they tended to succumb to the pressure and anxieties that came upon them in the church. This is a church-wide issue.
We began to reorient our ministry around developing our life of prayer and focusing on emotional health. Our new approach is heavily indebted to the Anglican writer Martin Thornton, especially in his book, Pastoral Theology, A Reorientation (with needed adaptation because our setting is different from his) and to something called Family Systems Theory, which is having a growing impact on many churches. It turns out that other churches are facing the same issues. We have channeled our energies away from marketing campaigns and promotion and towards the spiritual formation of what Thornton calls, “the Remnant.” The Remnant is not the grumpy core of traditionalists who are mad at the world. The Remnant is the core group in the church that is willing to be serious about its own life of prayer and spiritual growth. According to Thornton, this Remnant has a vicarious and leavening impact on the larger church and the world. It is the foundation for authentic mission.
We developed a year-long class that is focused on two things. Developing one’s life of prayer in the community in the church and cultivating emotionally healthy ways of interacting with other people—developing healthy ministry. The year-long class leads into a second year and a third year and culminates in membership in our diocesan “Order of the Holy Trinity.” We currently have sixty people participating at one stage or another and nine members of our diocesan order. I’ve never made any public announcement in church about these classes. All participants have been personally invited to participate. I’ve been influenced by a seminary professor who said, “Jesus did not ask for volunteers. He called people to, ‘follow me.’”
This approach has substantially reoriented our church around interior spiritual formation leading to outward oriented mission. Though the details of this approach may vary depending on the local setting, I believe that this framework fits our tradition as a way to reorient our ministry towards mission. It creates a parochial Benedictine spirituality in which mission is focused on hospitality and building relationships.
IV. A Mission Retreat Next Year
We want to share with others what we have learned because we believe that these themes are essential to developing the mission of our church. We are looking for conversation partners. We are not interested in starting a campaign to get the whole church excited about it. If it sounds unattractive to you or inapplicable to your situation, that is fine. In keeping with theology of the Remnant, we are only looking for those who are serous about mission and are willing to dedicate the time and effort that will be necessary to change their church culture. If you think you might fall into the category, talk with me.
We want to have a mission retreat next year, at around this same time, that focuses on this approach. We would like this retreat to be held at a location that is accessible to people across the country. We would like this retreat to become a regular gathering every other year when we do not have a synod. Let us know if you are interested in participating with us or if you have any questions. Thank you.
Part of the ministry of wwwsaintbenedicts.net
Litasha Louise is severely disabled for medical reasons and has three children to feed. They are out of food. Like so many others, her family’s food stamps have been cut back to the bone. Please donate to help us get them food right away. CLICK HERE TO HELP
Litasha Louise is severely disabled for medical reasons and has three children to feed. They are out of food. Like so many others, her family’s food stamps have been cut back to the bone. Please donate to help us get them food right away. CLICK HERE TO HELP