Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: December 2006


Hey folks, I just added an Amazon book store to the site… check it out by clicking “Book Shelf.” These are all books that I have read, own or are by authors that I like. Enjoy.

The New Atlantis: Beyond the Right to Life

The AnnunciationThe New Atlantis has posted Wilfred McClay’s good review of Ramesh Ponnuru’s The Party of Death:

Of course, future shock is nothing new, and there is some comfort to be found in the unchanging fact that change has always seemed threatening. Yet such comfort may be a delusion. A great many of our own era’s innovations have clear and profound implications for the meaning of human life itself, as journalist Ramesh Ponnuru forcefully argues in this compact and eminently readable book. In particular, Ponnuru contends that the various “life” issues now preoccupying us—the unlimited abortion license, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, infanticide, prenatal testing, cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, and others yet to come—are all interconnected, and are best understood as part of a single phenomenon and a single moral challenge. Although few of the specific details provided in his book will be news to informed readers who follow these matters, his manner of gathering and framing the facts is both arresting and suggestive.

What all of the practices at issue have in common, in his view, is their wanton disregard for the basic rights and fundamental dignity of the human person. Such practices are consciously promoted by political and professional forces that he refers to, a little vaguely, as “the party of death.” That term points toward a functional unity underlying disparate movements, arising out of a shared willingness to sacrifice the lives of the marginal and vulnerable—the very young, the elderly, the disabled, the inconvenient, and others whose “quality of life” is deemed insufficiently weighty to deserve protection—when doing so is thought to further the cause of individual well-being (among those in the healthy adult majority) and general progress. Ponnuru pushes back hard against these forces, insisting that we should not allow ourselves to abandon our culture’s longstanding commitment to the unique and transcendent value of each human life, from conception to natural death, and that we should not countenance any social practices that systemically diminish the value of human life. These are admirable sentiments, admirably expressed.

{read it all}

Will G. Witt offers a word

From Dr. Will G. Witt’s page:

Others, however, have left Anglicanism, and look back with either the hurt of disappointed lovers, or the anger of those who seem to believe themselves betrayed, who have been sold a bill of goods. The message I too often hear from these people is that not only is the ship sinking, but it was never anything but a leaky tub anyway, and the damned thing deserved to sink. Sometimes I detect even a note of gleefulness that the useless hulk is going down, and those who stay aboard deserve their fate. But whether they’re hurt, or angry, or gleeful, the message is the same. Anglicanism was a bad deal from the start. But it’s not too late to get aboard the real ship, the one ship that will never sink.

I understand the hurt and resentment, because I feel it myself. But not the dismissal. If I were ever to leave Anglicanism, it could only be with a sense of loss, that a noble vision of what it meant to be Christian had been tried for a few centuries, had produced some remarkable successes, and had brought much good to the world. Sadly, it had come to an end, and its loss would be much like that of those parts of the Byzantine Empire that were obliterated by Islam, or the Celtic Christians who faded after Augustine of Canterbury. For me, this would mean that the Church of Cranmer’s liturgy, and Hooker’s theology, and Donne’s preaching, and Herbert’s poetry, and Traherne’s meditations, and Shakespeare’s plays, and Butler’s keen intellect, and Jane Austin’s novels, and Wilberforce’s and Gore’s social vision, and Westcott’s and Hort’s and Hoskyn’s biblical scholarship, and Arthur Michael Ramsey . . . . and Evelyn Underhilll . . . and . . .C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Austin Farrer . . . This Church would be gone forever. But wasn’t it a glorious thing while it lasted!

So why not leave? I can only give my own reasons.

So, first. Leave for what? Rome or Orthodoxy would be the obvious choices. At least they are the ones that are usually offered. When as a young man I left the Evangelical denomination in which I was raised, I became an Anglican because I believed that the Reformation was a reforming movement in the Western Catholic Church, and I was convinced that Anglicanism had come closest to getting that job done right. For the Roman Catholics, Vatican II was successful just to the extent that it incorporated many of the changes that had taken place at some time or another in Anglican history. Liturgy in the vernacular? Check. Communion in both kinds? Check. Renewed emphasis on Scripture? Check. In good critical translations? Check. Religious liberty? Check. Focus on salvation by grace alone and reconsideration of justification by faith? Check. Married clergy? Well . . . Vatican II didn’t do everything.

At the same time, one thing has not changed. As I have always understood it, one only has two choices about the Roman Catholic Church. One either must become a Roman Catholic, or one can not. There is no maybe about becoming Catholic. To become a Catholic, one is required to accept all of that Church’s claims, including its claims about itself. If one accepts those claims, then one has no choice but to convert. But if one does not, one also has no choice. In that case, one cannot become Roman Catholic. And the Roman Catholic Church itself says that one cannot.

I am unable to bring myself to believe Rome’s claims. Without going into details for now, as someone trained in theology (at a Catholic University, no less), I am convinced that the choices here are between Newman’s understanding of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and Barth’s. And I think Barth was right, and Newman wrong.

Well, then? What about Orthodoxy? I want to claim the Greek Fathers for my own, of course—Athanasius, Cyril, the Cappadocians. I am even excited about learning from such lesser known lights as Leontius of Byzantium and Maximus the Confessor. And I recognize that the Eastern Church never accepted the authority of the bishop of Rome in the way in which Rome came to understand it. And I think they were right in that.

However, as with Rome, there are a number of things that Orthodoxy demands that I cannot quite bring myself to accept. Some are doctrinal niceties, for example, the somewhat abstruse distinction between the divine essence and energies. Or the doctrine of the filioque. I think the Western view is correct on both points. But at bottom, as I said above, I became Anglican because I believed Anglicanism was a reforming movement in the Western Church, and I am a Western Christian.

Mine is the tradition of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, but also of Hooker, and Luther, and Barth. A Western Orthodoxy that was able to embrace and incorporate this Western tradition (including the Reformers) as well as its own would be an Orthodoxy that I would find attractive, perhaps irresistible. But, to the contrary, Orthodoxy often seems rather to be suspicious of this entire Western tradition, including Augustine, and all who followed him. And, of course, such a Western Orthodoxy would look a lot like . . . historical Anglicanism.

{Read it all}

Hat tip to Stand Firm.

I find that Dr. Witt puts into words many of my own reasons to remaining an Anglican as well as my reasons for being unable to become a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. The dogmatic pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church–whether papal infallibility, the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary etc… make too great a claim for themselves with too little biblical support. I don’t dispute that someone could believe in the assumption of the Blessed Virgin and be an orthodox Christian, but in contrast to Roman Catholics, I believe that one can be an orthodox Christian and not believe it. It’s that simple really–Rome has made salvation issues out of far too many things without clear biblical mandates. On the Orthodox side, I have experienced the same wariness on the part of Eastern Christians toward the Western tradition that Dr. Witt mentions–and this is particularly palpable among those Orthodox who are converts to the Eastern Church having fled the liberalizing elements in their own tradition and determined that for them, the corruption is so deep seated as to negate the beauty of a few thousand years of western Christianity. On the other hand I would be hard pressed to go to the other side of the scale and join a more radically protestant tradition.

Having been raised in a Baptist family, I recognize the strengths of that tradition, but I feel compelled to accept the historical and theological claims of those churches that have maintained the three-fold order of ministry. Out of the reformation Churches, while I have great respect for the Reformed Churches and Lutheranism, I feel that in different ways they tend to be too provincial in their outlook and many Reformed bodies are–ironically like the Roman Catholics–too willing to frame a theological disagreement in absolutes and make mandatory beliefs that scripture is not clear on–in effect they have raised systems of interpretation over scripture itself. I feel that Orthodox Anglicans likely have the most in common with orthodox Lutherans of the Evangelical Catholic variety as well as some Methodists who feel the call of the tradition.

So where will we end up once all the reorganization falls out? In our lifetime, I don’t know, but as believers in Jesus Christ, we know the ending. Thanks be to God.

Eugene Peterson: Christmas Shame

But I do remember a Christmas when there was no tree. I was eight years old. My mother, an intense woman capable of fierce convictions, was reading the prophecy of Jeremiah and came upon words she had never noticed before:

Thus says the Lord:

“Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens

because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are false.

A tree from the forest is cut down, and worked with an axe by the hands

of a craftsman. Men deck it with silver and gold;

they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move” (Jer. 10:2- 4)

There was no doubt in her mind that the Holy Spirit, through the prophet Jeremiah, had targeted our American Christmas in his warning satire. Every detail fit our practice.

{Read it all}

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Rene Girard on the coming Christian Renaissance

PhilosophersVia T19:

In the book, the French professor states that “religion conquers philosophy and surpasses it. Philosophies in fact are almost dead. Ideologies are virtually deceased; political theories are almost altogether spent. Confidence in the fact that science can replace religion has already been surmounted. There is in the world a new need for religion.”

In regard to moral relativism, defended by Vattimo, René Girard writes: “I cannot be a relativist” because “I think the relativism of our time is the product of the failure of modern anthropology, of the attempt to resolve problems linked to the diversity of human cultures.

“Anthropology has failed because it has not succeeded in explaining the different human cultures as a unitary phenomenon, and that is why we are bogged down in relativism.

Hat tip: Whitehall

{Read it all}

A Note for the Third Sunday of Advent

Mary TheotokosIn honor of the third Sunday in Advent–a day set aside to honor Mary in the midst of the Advent season–MM, over at Theology of the Body has posted the following words from what I initially thought was an unlikely source:

(Let us) rightly and profitably repeat the angelic greeting ‘Hail Mary’ . . . God esteemed Mary above all creatures, including the saints and angels. It is her purity, innocence and invincible faith that mankind must follow.” -Huldreich Zwingli

Veni Sancte Spiritus…

Holy SpiritAs of 4:55 pm today, I became the newest (and youngest) priest in the Diocese of Tennessee through the imposition of hands of the Rt. Rev. William Sanders, Retired Bishop of East Tennessee in a wonderful service at Trinity Church, Winchester TN. Unfortunately, Bishop Herlong was not feeling well and could not conduct the service–I ask that you remember he and his wife in your prayers.

The service was fantastic and I really appreciated the support of my fellow clergy, especially those who have gone through various stages of this process with me. Fr. Bill Midgett preached a rousing sermon focusing on the idea that being a shepherd of the flock requires a shepherds heart and that being made a priest does not (unfortunately) a shepherd make. Her additionally focused on the need today for “warrior shepherds” who, like David, are willing to confront the evils that imperil the lives (physical or spiritual) of their flock.

It was a wonderful experience, the Holy Spirit was certainly present, and I’m still processing the full weight of all of this.

Something else from American Evangelicalism

A Family at Cross-Purposes –

Billy Graham Library under constructionThe Washington Post is reporting that the family of evangelist Billy Graham is conflicted over where his final resting place will be.  Franklin, heir to the Billy Graham Evangelistic association and the founder of Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that has done tremendous work of its own, is reportedly on one side of the divide–wanting his parents buried in the midst of the Billy Graham library, a structure designed with the help of consultants with some sort of Disney connection that appears to be more theme park than library.  Franklin’s brother Ned (who has evidently spent much of his own ministry time involved with ministry in China) and his mother Ruth are evidently opposed to the idea, with Ruth maintaining that she wants to be buried–along with her husband–close to The Cove: The Billy Graham Training Center outside of Asheville NC.  Recently, according to Beliefnet, Franklin has stated that his parent’s burial place is a private matter and he doesn’t want to debate it in the media–good for him as far as that goes–but this whole thing, as well as what I can read of the Billy Graham library is a pristine example of the propensity American Evangelicals have for turning holy milk into so much cheese.

Ordination. . .

Elijah's CallThe date of my ordination to the priesthood is fast approaching. December 17th will see me in Trinity Episcopal Church in Winchester TN preparing to receive the laying on of hands by a Bishop in apostolic succession, making me a Priest in Christ’s One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Needless to say this has inspired increased reflection on my part as to what ordination means…not that I haven’t been reflecting for quite some time about what this event actually means. I spent three years in seminary reflecting a great deal of the time about what it would mean to one day reach this point. My classmates and I talked about it amongst ourselves and with professors–we prayed about it–we wrote about it (you can see one of my attempts at explanation of the priesthood here). The current state of the Church in general and the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion in particular certainly lead to a great deal of reflection upon the meaning of ordination, of being called out and set apart as leader within and for the Body of Christ. Indeed, one would have to live in a dream-world not to see that the meaning of the oaths that we take as clergy are becoming more and more hotly debated as the tensions of our conflict increase (just consider the recent exchange of letters between Bishop Schori and Bishop Schofield in San Joaquin). In these times of uncertainty though, I take heart first in the words of scripture. In bible study last week, these words from 2 Timothy stood out to me:

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,

2 To Timothy, my beloved child:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…

I highlight two sections of this passage, the first leads me to reflect anew on the idea of an “ontological” change involved in ordination, the second to the charge given to every Christian to not be ashamed of the gospel, the “testimony about our Lord,” without which all our efforts are pointless. Does God convey his spirit through the laying on of hands in ordination? Certainly I believe so, though I also believe that this is not a mechanical act and that, inasmuch as we seek God in faith and ask for more of his spirit, we will receive it, each of us in accordance with our needs and callings. For some it will come in the form of the laying on of hands in the act of ordination wherein God has promised to equip those whom he calls.

Finally, given the state of the Anglican Communion, some would rightly question what it is that I’m being ordained into at this time. Needless to say I take great comfort in the preface to the ordination services which says, among other things, that:

It is also recognized and affirmed that the threefold ministry is not the exclusive property of this portion of Christ’s catholic Church, but is a gift from God for the nurture of his people and the proclamation of his Gospel everywhere.

This preface, which has been a part of the ordinal since the very first Book of Common Prayer, is of great comfort
to me, and I’m sure others who have concerns about where some would take the Episcopal Church and what their interpretations of the churches doctrine and discipline are. This preface affirms the understanding that, no more than a person is baptized into one denomination or sect–baptism being a universal mark of faith–can they be ordained into one small expression of the Christian family…rather they (we) are ordained into the order shared by Martin Luther, Thomas Cranmer, St. Augustine and many others… in other words the ordination service is not and cannot be made sectarian, and our own ecclesiastical conflicts cannot affect that. I (and the other three deacons who will be ordained on the 16th at St. Bartholomew’s in Nashville) will be priests in the One Holy Catholic and Apostlic Church fulfilling our ministries within the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee, but we will not be priests by virtue of the Episcopal Church, but rather by virtue of the Church universal–and that is a blessing.

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