Tag Archives: Ecclesiology

FIRST THINGS: On the Square>>Anglican, or Episcopalian?

By Jordan Hylden

“Are you Anglican, or Episcopalian?” As an Episcopalian interloper studying at a Methodist seminary, I get the question a lot from my puzzled friends. Each time I’m asked, part of me wants to launch into a mini-primer on Anglican ecclesiology–to wit, that Episcopalians are Anglicans, since the Episcopal church is just the American province of the global Anglican communion. Which means that, technically, the question shouldn’t even make sense–it’s sort of like asking, “Are you American, or Texan?” But, of course, I know just what the question means; it does make sense, because it reflects the sad divisions that have roiled the church over the past five years. Quite simply and sensibly, my Methodist friends want to know whether I’m a member of the liberal Episcopal church, or one of the conservative Anglican groups that broke off. And as saddening as it is to admit, I’ve come to think that their common-sense perception is more accurate than my attempts at ecclesiological theory. Their question can only be asked, and answered, because of the reality on the ground in the United States: Episcopalians are one thing, and Anglicans are another.

Popular understanding is usually much wiser than theoretical wishful-thinking, and nowhere more so than here. The divisions in the church have led the American public to attach the meanings to the words Episcopalian and Anglican that they actually bear in their usage–namely, that to be an Episcopalian means to be a member of an pro-gay, autonomous American denomination, more liturgical than most churches but firmly within the theological orbit of liberal Protestantism. To be an Anglican, by contrast, means to be part of a conservative evangelical church with bishops, connected somehow with Africa and opposed to homosexuality. The definitions have by now become quite distinct and firmly fixed in the national lexicon–ask almost any church-going American what the words mean, and you will get an answer something like the above.

Some Episcopalians and Anglicans (myself included) strongly dislike these characterizations…

{read it all}

The New Shape of Anglicanism? | Liveblog | Christianity Today

Timothy Morgan offers the following post about Anglican Happenings at Christianity Today’s live blog.  My comments follow.

The New Shape of Anglicanism?

Leaders of 1,300 Anglican/Episcopal churches seek status as new North American Province.

Timothy C. Morgan

Less than 1 week after the official opening of the Lambeth conference in the UK, the conservative Common Cause Partnership has issued a press release, declaring their joint intention to request that leading Anglican primates recognize their 1,300 congregations as the new North American Province.

Granted, this was a widely anticipated move. But this effort puts the fat in the fire on a day when Lambeth attendees are having tea with the Queen at Buckingham Palace following their very public march through official London for adoption of the Millennium Development Goals to fight global poverty and improve the standard of living for the world’s 3 billion poor people.

{Read it all}

There are, of course, some practical issues to deal with in the request of the Common Cause Partnership.  For instance, how can GAFCON, which claims to be a fellowship and not a Church unto itself, recognize Common Cause as a “province.”  A province of what exactly, if not the Church of GAFCON?  That, coupled with the issue of the GAFCON leaders being self-appointed smacks of the same sickness that has brought down the American Episcopal Church, i.e. a willful desire to go one’s own way.  The only difference are their opinions.

The second practical issue to clear up is the fact that not all of the various ecclesial bodies within the Common Cause partnership enjoy the same degree of fellowship with one another.  Some members include Dioceses that are still within the structure of The Episcopal Church, various bodies that have left at different times over issues as varied as the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, Women’s Ordination and now the sexuality controversy.  Because of their differences on these matters (save sexuality issues) there is no inter-changeability of ministries within the members of the Common Cause Partnership, which is, of course, one of the first issues to be dealt with on the road to unity.  How can anything calling itself a province of a Church include within it groups that don’t recognize one another’s ordination?  This issue is heightened in the case of the Reformed Episcopal Church, which joined Common Cause while the Anglican Province of America, with whom they are merging, declined to do so for these very reasons (why would you join in fellowship those whom you believe to be wrong in regards to women and the Prayerbook just because you agree on issues of human sexuality, when it was those other issues that drove you to separate from TEC to begin with?)

I’m afraid all this talk of “realignment” within Anglicanism sans Canterbury is little more than the self-deception of conservatives who are doing as much to turn a Church that has been growing and evolving into an international Communion, into little more than a partisan fellowship of the like-minded, as the liberals are on the other end.  What they fail to realize is that unless their is a solution that emerges from an evolution of the Communion, such as many are working toward through the Covenant, the hopeful future establishment of an Anglican Faith and Order Commission etc… then they are doing nothing but establishing sects that may or may not achieve and maintain any recognizable form of unity–and it certainly won’t be recognizable as a global communion.  And if indeed that does happen, and fragmentation continues, it begs the question of what it has all been for.  After all, aren’t there any number of ways to be protestant and use the prayer book liturgy without all the fuss and bother of the current politics in the Anglican Communion?  It boggles my mind.  If one isn’t willing to work for a solution that leaves a stronger international communion, then why wouldn’t you simply form an independent Bible Church that happens to use the BCP (whichever version you prefer)

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National Workshop on Christian Unity

I have arrived in Chicago for my first National Workshop on Christian Unity. I’ve already had some interesting conversations with a Roman Catholic Priest, a Lutheran Pastor and an Armenian Orthodox Bishop. And that was just the shuttle ride over to the hotel.

More to come…

The Rev. Dr. George Sumner: Convention Address, Diocese of Tennessee, January 26, 2008, St Bartholomew’s Church Nashville

I found Dr. Sumner’s address to convention to be very interesting and inspiring during these times. I’m glad they posted it on the Diocesan website.

In the spirit of the past as prologue to the future, and of reclaiming the rich treasure of our Anglican past, let us begin this morning by asking what clergy life and ministry were like at the parish grassroots two centuries ago in merry old England. If we listen to the commentators of the time, the answer is often very, very odd. One priest, we read, would give a normal homily in the morning, but at evensong insisted on preaching only about the Empress Josephine. An historian named Brendon tells us that another parson in the West Country did not enter his church for 53 years, and kenneled the local foxhounds in the vicarage. A neighboring priest refused to do any services, but would greet the parishioners in the Churchyard wearing a flowered dressing gown and smoking a hookah. Yet another drove his flock away, replaced them with wooden and cardboard images in the pews, and “surrounded his vicarage with barbed wire behind which savage Alsatians patrolled.” Another spent his whole ministry searching for the number of the beast while the rector of Luffincott devoted all his time to calculating the date of the millennium. Yet another installed his own sanitary arrangements in his choir stall, while a nearby priest declared himself a neo-platonist and sacrificed an ox to Jupiter on the church grounds.

But my personal favorite is one Joshua Brooks of Manchester. During a burial service he abruptly left the church, went nearby to the confectioner’s shop, bought some gumdrops, and came back to finish up the service. One Easter Monday, the traditional day for marriages in the parish, he had a number of couples to marry at once, got the names confused, married several to the wrong spouses, and so at the end of the service declared imperiously “just sort yourselves out when you leave…” All this inspired the archdeacon to tell the new bishop ‘your clergy, my lord, may be divided into three categories: those who have gone out of their minds, those about to go out of their minds, and those who have no minds to go out of.” And then there was Montague who hung the coat of his late dog Tango in the sacristy closet …maybe that is enough! So good news, Bishop John, our little history lesson makes even your most vexing priest and parish of the diocese of Tennessee look pretty good! My point, brothers and sisters, is simply this: if you have your days when Episcopal church life seems to you confused and deformed, right you are, and if you think this is unprecedented, think again!

And it was into just this sort of a church, a church so moribund that many commentators did not suppose it could survive another generation, that Charles Simeon had, by the grace of God, a most fruitful and groundbreaking ministry. My topic this morning is mission, but I want to get at that topic through the historical lens of this one parish priest in the town of Cambridge, diocese of Ely, Church of England. You might call this a bit of missiological hagiography, since Simeon finds a place in the list of saints in Lesser Feasts and Fasts of our Church on November 12. As a young man Simeon came to Cambridge in 1799. He was not a particularly religious sort, and in that time evangelicals were looked down upon. Six had recently been expelled from Oxford for Methodist practices, and many bishops frowned on what they called “the serious clergy,” far too earnest, and their sermons far too long. At matriculation Simeon was told that as a student at Cambridge, he had to prepare for, and make his communion, three times a year. He was a dutiful young man and so set about reading what he could find about a holy life, concluding his own lack of that quality, which in turn disturbed him. During lent he heard in university church the story of the scapegoat in the Old Testament, and became fascinated with the idea that one could bear away the wrong of another- all this on his own, not bad for a freshman! On Easter morning, the Holy Spirit touched his heart, as he writes: “Jesus Christ is risen today, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul, and at the Lord’s Table (of king’s chapel), I had a sweetest access to God through my blessed savior.” He held to this, the insight of a moment, the core of the Gospel, throughout his whole life. He was ordained soon thereafter, and was offered a struggling old parish in the heart of the town called Holy Trinity.

{Read it all}


Being Salt: A Theology of an Ordered Church

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Rowan Williams and the real tensions between Islam, Christianity and Western liberal secularism

Archbishop Rowan Williams certainly stirred the pot with his speech at the Temple Church, in which he discussed the possibility–indeed the desirability–of certain elements of sharia being recognized in British law. Some have seen this as evidence of Williams’ failure to stand up for Christian convictions. I think quite the opposite is true, and that Williams is doing something that needs doing in western liberal societies: standing up for the desirability, even the necessity of recognizing the ability of a religious community to police itself in certain areas. In particular he was referring to Islam because that was the subject of the lecture series to which he had been invited to participate in. But, as some commentators have noted, he might just as well have been talking about Christian minority groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church and their recent conflicts with the state over homosexual adoption.

I think Theo Hobson of the Tablet has a good understanding of what motivates the Archbishop, and he offers a good analysis of this in his reflection for The Tablet:

Above all, he refused to combine Anglo-Catholicism with a general liberal agenda. Indeed he revived the Anglo-Catholic suspicion of secular liberalism that dates back to Newman. The liberal state, in this view, offers itself as an alternative community of salvation; it tempts us into supposing that we can dispense with the Church, or at least water it down, and develop a more progressive form of Christianity. This leads to weak forms of Christianity that are unable to resist dangerous ideologies: most obviously, the liberal Protestants of Germany embraced Nazism. It is Williams’ anti-liberal ecclesiology that is the root cause of the present controversy. In a sense it’s not really about sharia law, or Islam: it’s about the relationship between a Catholic conception of the Church and liberalism.

For Williams, authentic Christianity occurs within a clearly defined social body, an “ethical community” as he has sometimes put it. Without this, Christian culture will be dispersed by the cold winds of secularism. There is a need for strong resistance to the various negative spirits of the age: consumerism, celebrity, hedonism and so on, and this resistance can only occur within an alternative social world, walled off from mainstream culture.

Only from within a religious subculture can secular modernity be seen for what it is: dehumanising. He has referred to secularism’s “unspoken violence”, and to modernity as “an atmosphere in which people become increasingly formless, cut off from what could give their lives … some kind of lasting intelligibility”. He sees secular liberalism as a quietly nihilistic force that robs human life of full significance, as a demonically subtle tyranny that looks and feels like freedom.

This theme was prominent in the Dimbleby Lecture that he gave almost exactly five years ago: it is perhaps the key to understanding his agenda last week. He argued that secular culture always serves material agendas (someone’s desire to sell you something, someone’s desire for your vote); it shuns comprehensive visions of human good. Religion addresses the whole human being, it puts all short-term concerns into perspective. A religious tradition “makes possible a real questioning of the immediate agenda of society, the choices that are defined and managed for you by the market”.

N.T. Wright has also written some insightful thoughts on these issues and published them on his new blog at the Newsweek site. I share part of them with you below:

the fundamental issue he was addressing is the relation between the law of the land and the religious conscience of the citizen. For 200 years it has been assumed that these operated in separate spheres: the law regulates my public life, faith or religion operate in private. This was always a dangerous half-truth, since many of the great world faiths, including Christianity itself, actually claim that all of life is included within religious obedience. As some of us used to be taught, if Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. In recent years various governments, including our own, have pushed the other way, to suggest that the secular state is itself master of all of life, including religious conviction. That’s why we’ve seen an airline worker sacked for wearing a cross, while in France the government has tried similarly to ban Muslim women from wearing their traditional head-covering. Because we haven’t had to address these issues before, our society has tended to slide round them by emphasizing words like ‘multiculturalism’, which often doesn’t actually mean that we celebrate our different cultures but rather that we subordinate them all to whatever the secular state wants. That is as much a problem for Catholic adoption agencies, as we saw last year, as it is for Muslims who want to follow their traditional teaching about (for instance) the prohibition of interest on loans while living within a society where the mortgage system is endemic. Rowan was going to the roots of these problems and coming up not only with fresh analysis but fresh solutions, particularly what he calls ‘interactive pluralism’. The question of how we live together as a civil and wise society while cherishing different faiths is a deep and serious one and can’t be pushed away just because people take fright at certain misunderstandings. His point was precisely that neither the secular state nor any particular religion can ‘monopolize’.

Third, Rowan was very clear in his lecture to rule out exactly those points which the screaming tabloids have assumed he was affirming. We all know the standard images of Sharia law – beatings, beheadings, oppression of women, etc. He distanced himself completely from all that, though you’d never know it from the media. He knows, just as well as do his critics, that Sharia is complex, that it varies from place to place, that it demands interpretation, and so on. His point was, rather, that there are some elements of Muslim law which can and should be accommodated within our legal structures. Ironically, Gordon Brown, who was quick to offer a knee-jerk rejection against the lecture, himself altered the law last year to enable devout Muslims to obtain mortgages. That’s the kind of thing Rowan was advocating in similar spheres.

While I agree with what both Hobson and Wright have said here, we shouldn’t allow our criticisms of the enlightenment and our distaste for the hysterical reactions to the Archbishop’s lecture to lessen our appreciation of the real, if sometimes poorly understood, concerns expressed. There are good reasons for western democracies to be concerned about the manner in which Muslims are welcomed and brought within the bounds of our common civil life. In this sense the Archbishop’s speech may well have been a gift if it has truly blown the lid off of a stifled debate people seem to have been fearful of.

During this conflict, I have seen some people compare fundamentalist Christianity, which sometimes maintains a reverence for the Bible apart from an understanding that the Word of God written has authority because it testifies to the Word of God in the Flesh, Jesus Christ with Islam with its reverence for the Qur’an as the Word of God in physical, written form. (As has been pointed out before, the parallel for the Qur’an in Christianity is not the Bible, but Jesus Christ.) While helpful from an ideological point of view, such comparisons only go so far when one is considering radical Islamists (which are the root cause of the negative reaction to Williams’ lecture). Have people over-reacted? Perhaps. Many certainly do not seem to have reacted in the most beneficial way–but there is time enough for that. I would argue, however, that while we have not yet turned the corner to helpful reactions, this is not in any sense an over-reaction.

Consider the state of Islam today. It is true that Archbishop Rowan has made relations with Islam a high priority, but I would submit that the Islamic scholars he is in dialogue with (such as at Al Azhar University) are no longer those who influence the worldview of many in the Muslim diaspora. They were once the centers of ideological and intellectual power, but that is no longer the case. Several years ago I watched a question and answer period on Book TV discussing Bernard Lewis’ books (I’m sorry, I cant remember whether it was From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East or What went wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response), during which time the question of Islamist radicalism came up. The questioner was confused as to what Dr. Lewis meant by traditional Islam. His response was that in his earlier books he was referring to Islamists understanding of themselves as “traditionalists” but that in reality they were the innovators, Islamic fundamentalists who claimed a spiritual lineage for legitimacy, but actually had none. The questioner then asked another question to the effect of “where did this go wrong?” To which Lewis replied that the problem started first with the defeat of the Hashemites by the Al Saud’s who founded Saudi Arabia and gained the influence over Muslims that only the custodians of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina could have and that the problem was exacerbated when oil was discovered in the Arabian Penninsula, turning what would have been a social, political and religious backwater into a financial and spiritual powerhouse. (You can hear much of the same in Book TV’s in depth interview of Lewis, which is available online. I suggest it highly.)

Why is this true? It’s true because Muslims, like immigrant communities throughout history, have a desire to maintain their traditions in the midst of a new and largely alien culture. The fault-line they are navigating has been traveled by immigrant communities from many ethnic groups: German, Italian, Irish, Polish, Chinese, Hispanics, Greeks etc… each of these communities have established their own civic and educational institutions to help maintain their cultural identity–it would be foolish to expect anything less or different of Muslim immigrants. But of course, the establishment of such institutions cost money and must be financed somehow. In the case of the Muslim diaspora this financing has come from Saudi Arabia. The effects of this are important. In the past the centers of Islamic scholarship and culture had been Egypt (Cairo and Al Azhar as the prime example) and Turkey. But with shifting political and economic realities, the center has become Saudi Arabia. What are the ramifications of this? Lewis gave a memorable example by discussing the way religious education is approached in Germany. Germany has a period of the school day set aside for religious education, wherein the various faiths divide up and are instructed in the history and beliefs of their respective religions. Because many of the Muslim immigrants in Germany are of Turkish origin, Turkey offered to provide the same text books to German schools that are used in Turkish schools. However, because Germany wanted to ensure that instruction was carried out by the faith group and not by a government, they refused the Turkish offer. Instead the classes were taught by an independent group… a group funded by Saudi oil. In the aftermath of the September 11th attack, of the ethnic Turks arrested, none were raised in Turkey, all had been educated in the German educational system. This is simply one example of a number of reasons why immigrant Muslim communities in the west seem to be producing radicals, particularly in the second generation, it’s a matter of who pays the Imams and provides the Qur’ans and what brand of Islam–and indeed what version of Islamic law–they espouse.

It would be a mistake to assume that these issues which are causing so much conflict in the West are not also present in Islamic societies. Indeed, as Dr. Lewis notes, the primary Jihad of Wahabists is the Jihad against those Muslims who-in their view–are apostates. One need only look at the resurgence of Islamism in Turkey and the concern of those who are invested in their secular experiment, or at the conflict in Chechnya, where it wasn’t simply Muslim against Russian, but instead a three way conflict between Wahabist fighters vs. those who followed the indigenous Sufi-derived form of Islam (which is seen as corrupt and pagan influenced), or were secular vs. Russia. If we truly want to have a positive impact on the integration of and respect for Muslim communities in the west, we cannot simply assume that the more friendly and palatable forms of Islamic thought coming from places like Al Azhar or the more modern and secularized variety that is struggling to maintain itself in Turkey, will be the predominant forms in the West. If we hope to have any positive impact we must help them move back to the center of their communities from the periphery they have been pushed to, and see to it that theirs is the voice heard in the mosques and fellowships of the diaspora… otherwise talk of allowances for sharia are not only pointless, they become dangerous.

Of course, all of this leaves aside the very important question of whether or not Islam is able to exist in a pluralistic setting. That’s a question of another post, but the answer will most probably be found in secular paradigm of Turkey vs. the contention of Sayyid Qutb that Islam is itself a political philosophy. For myself, I’m not sure we can see the Turkish flirtation with western-style secularism as anything but an experiment–at the moment, Qutb seems to have had the right of it. In which case the allowance of Sharia for a minority could become the imposition of Sharia on others if and when that minority becomes dominant in an area–we can already see that happening in Northern Nigeria and other places in Africa where dominant Muslim communities that once handled their disputes locally and among themselves with sharia have been pushing for codification of Sharia in the constitutions of their northern states–imposing their beliefs on religious minorities who, until recently, also handled their disputes in their own local and often unofficial ways.

So there’s my take… here’re some books to think about:

The Charleston Mercury: an interview with Bishop Mark Lawrence

It has been more than an interesting few years for those Episcopalians who uphold historic Christian teaching, but with new Bishops like Mark Lawrence and, I believe, our own Bishop John Bauerschmidt, perhaps we will begin to see the tide turn as orthodox Christians unashamedly proclaim the truth in love and engage with those who disagree with us both in the culture and even in the church without defensiveness, but with assurance.

The conservative Episcopal Church in America has no reason to be defensive because we have done nothing wrong, and no reason to believe we are a minority because we are not.

— Mark Lawrence

We who believe in true Christianity as passed to us over 2000 years, said the Reverend Mark Lawrence to the Mercury two weeks before his consecration as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, are like a struggler against the tide in a rowboat. Our duty is to continue rowing to home port, never stopping, because in time the tide will turn and again we will be in that majority in our country who will join the current of sound doctrine. The Diocese of South Carolina seems to be in the Episcopal minority in our view of God’s plan for mankind, Jesus’ mission and human salvation. We are in the minority in the U.S.A., he said, but we are in the majority in the worldwide Anglican Church and in worldwide Christianity. We have no need to be defensive. In the end we will prevail as the Christian church has done for two millennia.

A Crisis Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

The current crisis in mainline Protestant denominations in the U.S. involves not only Episcopalians but also Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, even a small portion of Baptists and others. Bishop Lawrence says we now have an opportunity to become more global in our ecclesiology (the study of church doctrine). Never in history have so many Christians populated the world as today, and never before have we had so great a proportion of Christians to non-Christians. If we keep rowing against the tide, which is now flowing toward the sea of liberal theology, the tide in time will turn toward correct conservative theology and take us toward the safe harbor for which we long.

As we man our oars, he suggested, we need not be reactionary, only to act like Christians, not to react fractiously to liberal interpretations but to spread the true faith as always, to “preach the word in season and out of season,” as St. Paul commands Timothy. The need now is to have faith, to be optimistic, he said.

{read it all} (HT: Kendall)

Covenant: At the Altar of Truth

[Note: I posted the entirety of this post at Covenant as it regards an ongoing discussion going on there.]

I once had a very odd dream wherein I found myself in the side balcony of a large church. Unlike normal balconies, this one was divided in the middle and rather than having the pews facing the nave, half faced the front of the church and half the rear. At each end there was an altar. The strangeness of the dream came from the fact that there was a service going on at the time and I found myself in the balcony pews that faced the rear altar where a priest was celebrating–and yet not. The thing was, somehow (it was a dream after all) I knew the priest at the rear altar was merely miming the priest at the front altar and yet I could not turn around. At the same time I knew that even if I turned toward the front I would not be in the true service, for that was taking place in the nave.

Sometimes I feel like our approaches to ecumenism and inter-faith relations are a bit like this dream: we find ourselves going through the motions without the substance, mimicking each other in things that are already less than authentic while the real work of the Church goes on elsewhere.

This issue was recently brought back to the forefront of my mind by the reports of a “Hindu Rite Mass” celebrated in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. This was not the first I’ve heard of such a service. In fact, the first time I heard of a service that blended elements of Christianity and Hinduism in a way that seemed to me to be syncretistic, I was a seminarian at the University of the South (Sewanee) where I had the opportunity to hear Roman Catholic theologian Elisabeth Johnson (author of She who is) describe a Roman Catholic service in India where the Bhagavad Gita was read in the place of the Old Testament reading. There were some additional similarities between the two services–I seem to recall the use of flowers–but I cannot recall Dr. Johnson’s descriptions well enough to comment beyond the general chord of similarity the Los Angeles Times story struck.

These examples raise very important questions about the appropriate boundaries of inculturation verses syncretism–indeed, is syncretism even a possibility? And they also serve to demonstrate the fact that these issues must be dealt with by all Christians who want to engage our world in a meaningful way–just as sexuality issues cannot be ignored because our society is so awash in them.

There is an additional question raised by the written statement of Bishop Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles which was said to be “a statement of apology to the Hindu religious community for centuries-old acts of religious discrimination by Christians, including attempts to convert them.” The story continues by quoting from Bishop Bruno’s statement:

“I believe that the world cannot afford for us to repeat the errors of our past, in which we sought to dominate rather than to serve,” (you can read the whole story here).

Of course, there is nothing at all wrong with that portion of his statement–not having seen the rest, I hesitate to comment on it, other than to say that apologies for past abuses should also come hand in hand with acknowledgment of and repentance for current abuses (Hindu nationalism anyone?), especially given the irritating tendency of some stripes of liberals toward a sort of non-constructive chastised worldview.

But the real question is whether Christians ought to apologize for “proselytism”, which for the purposes of this post, we’ll refer to by the less loaded term evangelism. I would argue that while Christians might apologize for the manner in which evangelism has been pursued in some cases, we cannot and dare not apologize or regret evangelism itself. It even seems appropriate to say that a Church that does not evangelize can no loger claim to be faithful. In The Open Secret Leslie Newbigin puts into words something that has been the heart of much Christian activity in history, namely that “a church that is not ‘the church in mission’ is no church at all.” (Leslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 2) This statement is not so much condemnation as observation; that it is possible for us to hear it as condemnatory speaks volumes about our particular shortcomings as contemporary Christians.

{read it all}

Below are the books referenced in this post.  I was critical of Elizondo, but he does make some good points, even if I believe he goes too far.

What rock in the Wilderness…

[Note: I’ve held onto this for a few days, hoping to smooth it out in places or expand on some of what I’ve written, anticipating some of the questions my musings might bring…but honestly I don’t have any more time to put into it right now. We’ll see about the future, though with Lent coming up, I somehow doubt I can sustain a long and extremely in-depth conversation. Oh well… maybe it will inspire some thoughts.]

Many questions have been raised recently about the motivations of clergy and laity who decide to depart from or remain within the Episcopal Church. Since I am a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee and two priests and congregations with whom I have close relationships with have decided to affiliate with other Anglican bodies, several people have asked me why I have remained. Sometimes the comments have not been so much questioning as accusatory. (I do want to say, that no one actually associated with these two congregations has acted negatively toward me-we know and love each other too well for that I believe). I want to caveat my comments by saying that, in this moment in time, because of the stage and degree of conflict the Episcopal Church is experiencing, it is wrong for people to cast aspersions on those who come to different conclusions than they do. This is a sketch of my personal reasons for remaining where I am, and no one else should assume this is a demand that they agree or come to the same conclusion.

At times I am tempted to classify myself as an “ecclesiastical cynic.” What prevents me is that such a terminology might indicate that I do not have hope for the Church, which of course I do as a follower of Christ. But what I believe is expressed in that joking moniker is the fact that I don’t expect very much of the Church as an institution because I don’t expect very much of people in general. There are times I have been disappointed, certainly, but whenever I feel that way (or worse, feel as though someone has done something negative to me personally) I try to take a breath, think about it and remember they are sinful people just like me. Perhaps because such an experience of equality in sin and brokenness lies at the heart of my call, I strive to recognize the great capacity for the good and the bad within all of us and by extension the institutions we inhabit. But because I don’t expect very much of the Church, I suppose many of the failures of the Episcopal Church have struck me somewhat less deeply than some of my friends and acquaintances—especially those who grew up in the Episcopal Church and can remember the “good old days” before heresy and…for lack of a better descriptor, silliness, became the rule of the day.

I can understand the desire of my friends to disaffiliate from TEC and move on to a better place. Where I believe I part company with them is that I’m not sure such a place truly exists. Oh, I’m sure that they don’t waste their time fighting some of the battles that are now being fought within the Episcopal Church, but I’m confident they will find other things to argue over eventually. I’ve seen it happen already in a few congregations, if not on a broader scale yet. And while I may personally prefer some of the possible disagreements within some of the newer Anglican formations in North America, God has not placed me there. I am where I am, and to not deal with that unless and until I am called out would, as I see it, be unfaithful.

But what, some might ask are my underlying assumptions that would enable me to have a clear conscience while being an orthodox priest in what appears to be an increasingly heterodox body? The list below is a summary which I will expand on in greater detail and explain their interrelation:

  1. We have unity with all baptized Christians, and share communion with them based upon their word.
  2. Leaving the Episcopal Church doesn’t separate us from our errant brothers and sisters, remove the stain of guilt from us or lessen our responsibility to call them back to faithfulness.
  3. I have not been hindered in preaching the Gospel and don’t feel a practical need to depart.
  4. The only other reason I would have to leave at the moment is bad press.
  5. That may border on idolatry. It’s part of an economy of Icons where people gain worth from something other than their identity in Christ and as people made in the image of God.

I. We have a unity with all Baptized Christians (whether we want to or not.)

Within Anglicanism—particularly the Episcopal Church—we practice what in the 19th century was termed “open communion.” That’s not the same as the contemporary discussion of whether or not to commune the unbaptized, rather it refers to the practice of allowing all Baptized Christians to receive, regardless of denomination. This Eucharistic sharing is rejected by some denominations because, in their understanding it portrays a unity that doesn’t exist. The flip side of the argument, which is the basis for open communion among Christians, is that there is already a unity that cannot be denied.

On a related note, the only real form of discipline available to Anglicans is Eucharistic discipline. This is why I do not think it wrong for orthodox to refuse to commune with those with whom they are not in love and charity or vice versa. At the same time however, the only way this can be discipline is if we recognize we are part of the same body. Otherwise it is simply personal piety and has no real effect, just as it wouldn’t really have an effect if a Roman Catholic chose not to commune at an Episcopal Church–it simply serves as a testimony to what is.

II. Leaving the Episcopal Church doesn’t separate us from our errant brothers and sisters, remove the stain of guilt from us or lessen our responsibility to call them back to faithfulness.

Someone left the following comment on my website recently:

“Wasted time, wasted breath, wasted money. Goodbye Episcopal Church.”

I suppose one could say that about any denomination if the denomination where what one was concerned about. The question really is what makes any alternative a true alternative? I believe the whole Church (or at least the greater part of it in the west) is under judgment at the moment—we’re in a wilderness as Christians—and a failure to recognize that simply leads one to exchange one set of problems for another in most cases when one changes institutions. What we need to recognize is that no human allegiance can give the security of allegiance to Christ. Another way to look at it is whether the sacraments can be rightly administered and the Word proclaimed faithfully anywhere within the Episcopal Church. At the moment I think the answer to that is yes, though the number of places it is becoming more difficult has increased. What has also increased is the level of mental and spiritual anguish on the part of those of us who can’t support the false teachings of some in our national leadership. But the reality of the unity of the Church is that I should be equally offended by their false teachings and statements regardless of whether I am an Episcopalian, Baptist, Methodist etc… to say nothing of a fellow Anglican, whether we share an institutional framework or not. The question of institutional affiliation should really only come up when such falsehoods prevent or hinder our ministries. At the moment I cannot see how my ministry would be any different in a body other than the Episcopal Church. My sermons would be the same, my counsel to my congregation wouldn’t change, and indeed I would have the same set of worries that I do now.

I used to be very concerned that in bringing people into the Episcopal Church and preaching the Gospel to them I was perhaps “setting them up” to move on later on and be taken in by some wacky theology at another Episcopal Church. What I realized is that most people no longer have the same “brand loyalty” that clergy have. My experience has been that the most faithful Christians I’ve met in the Episcopal Church don’t really care so much about the denominational accretions as they do about the Eucharist and being part of a believing community. Many share my conviction that the three-fold ministry is the most faithful way of forming the church and have a deep affection and love for the prayerbook tradition, but as far as “the Episcopal Church…” that’s just the name on the letterhead. They want a place where they can worship and receive the sacraments.

At the same time, while in prayer about this issue I had the realization that my primary concerns would be the same if I were in an independent Bible Church or a Baptist Church or what have you. I come from a Southern Baptist background, and I know there is theology there that is at least as bad as some that comes out of corners of the Episcopal Church (though obviously with different tendencies). So in any case, my responsibility to my people is to preach the Gospel faithfully and give them the tools to recognize crap whenever and wherever they hear it, whether it comes from someone in a pointy-hat or a televangelist etc…

III. I have not been hindered in preaching the Gospel and don’t feel a practical need to depart.

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Unity Cannot be Created, it can only be Recognized.

Over the years of conflict in the Episcopal Church, we have often heard the statement that “what unites us is greater than what divides us.” If that is the case, then our unity is a foregone conclusion. If it is not, then our institutional unity is a lie. Carl Braaten, in the book Mother Church: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism says this about unity, and I think it’s something important for our Bishops and the rest of us, to keep in mind:

Mother Church: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism

Bishop James Pike I hope we won’t let any feelings of negativity toward Bishop Pike to hinder our appreciation for what Braaten says. was once attacked by certain conservative Anglo-Catholics For not regarding episcopal succession as essential for the validity of ministry and sacraments. He quipped back that while Episcopalians have apostolic succession, other churches seem to be having apostolic success. To have apostolic success, it would seem that emphasis on evangelical truth must take priority over ecclesiastical unity, as important as unity is. A reunited church of the future that subordinates the truth of the gospel to the unity of the church would only set the stage for a new rupture as severe as the Reformation schism. Christian faith seeks unity in the truth of Christ and refuses to be indiscriminately joined with those who seek unity merely for the sake of convenience and who have become indifferent to the question of truth. The unity of the church is something that must derive from unity in truth. A visible continuity in the structure of the church is not sufficient compensation for any lack of unity in the gospel of Christ. Community can only be founded on unity of faith. […] Consequently, in a certain sense we cannot create unity, we can only recognize it. How do we do that? We don’t do it by looking at each other but by looking toward the gospel. If it is the same gospel we see, then the church is already one. Carl Braaten, Mother Church: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism, 32

If this goes in one direction, i.e. seeing the same gospel leads to unity in fact, then isn’t it safe to assume that not seeing the same gospel leads to disunion in fact? So…what gospel are we looking toward in the Episcopal Church?

Comment on "Why Men Hate Going to Church"


I’m currently reading–and enjoying–the book Why Men Hate going to Church by David Murrow. I think he makes a lot of points that need to be made and he does it in a way that doesn’t reject the importance of women in the Christian community (at least as far as I’ve read). I think some of his thinking about worship services needs to be adapted to liturgical model and it doesn’t really take into account that the Eastern Church with a longer liturgy doesn’t seem to have the same issues keeping men involved as does the Western Church, both Roman Catholic and Protestant.

That being said, I want to comment on something I’ve seen quite a bit in the book. Here’s an example:

Christianity is still growing worldwide, but it is losing ground to two aggressive competitors: secularism and Islam. At the risk of sounding alarmist, I believe the church has at most 250 years before it is totally overrun by this duo–unless we reengage men.

Now this might be something that we can see when looking at the situation pragmatically, which we should always do on one level. But when I read things like this I think they display a profound lack of faith. Jesus himself said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church (Matt. 16:18). One of the great strengths of Christianity has always been that we know the ending of the story–we don’t know how it’s all going to play out in the interim, but we know how the plot is going to be tied up. It irks me then, when I hear Christians talking about Christianity dying–conservatives and liberals.

Whether they are ranting about so-called fundamentalism like John Spong or sounding a warning about secularism or Islam like many conservatives, or warning people about the decline in real evangelism like Dan Kimball, whenever a Christian makes a case for something by saying that if the Church doesn’t do X it will die, they are simply lying and being unfaithful and we should call them on it. That doesn’t mean denominations won’t come and go–they are simply the institutional mechanisms to convey the faith–when they stop doing that, they deserve to die and Christians should be willing to kill them and start over when the time comes–our loyalty is to Christ after all. But regardless of what happens to the various human institutions which we have created to aid in the proclamation of the Gospel, the Church itself will never die–that’s a central tenant of our faith and people need to remember that.

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