I’ve just posted the audio of my first Epiphany sermon on my sermons page. Have a listen and let me know what you think.
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Christianity Today has this hillarious response of Archbishop Williams to reports that there is a plan for Anglican-Roman Catholic union.
“What’s this we hear about the end of the world?”
—Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in an uncharacteristically sarcastic response when asked, “What’s this we hear about you guys joining up with the Roman Catholic Church?” Williams went on to dismiss the widely circulated report of Catholic-Anglican union as overblown and garbled.
The following is a reflection I wrote for my first year “Spirituality for Ministry” class in Seminary. My professor didn’t like my understanding of the over-use of the word spirituality, but I stand by the gist of it. 😉
What is Spirituality
The term spirituality is amorphous and defies definition, especially as concerns the individual experience of the divine. Despite this we are called as a community to define what spirituality means in our tradition. While we may not be able to specifically define what spirituality means for every individual, we must come to a consensus as to the meaning of spirituality in general and Christian Spirituality in particular. I want to suggest that spirituality refers to the way and manner that people seek, respond to and understand the experience of the divine in their lives and that this process in its fullness is best described as a lived or living spirituality.
Though there is an understandable reluctance to define spirituality there is a danger inherent in using spirituality in an undefined way. As illustrated by Marjorie J. Thompson in her book Soul Feast as she discusses the terms piety and devotion. Thompson argues that piety “now suggests to many a saccharin sentimentality or the delicate, easily shocked conscience of moral rigidity” and that “devotion has suffered a similar though less damaging fate.”1 Thompson wrote Soul Feast in 1995 and it is to be expected that terms have altered in their popular usage since then. Because of this it is hardly surprising that spirituality, once turned to as “the contemporary word of choice for expressing how we live with God in this world”2 has begun to suffer a similar fate as the terms piety and devotion in the popular mind, especially among growing numbers of young people. Words like piety and devotion are rarely used at all in popular discussion of religious or spiritual issues but in an ironic twist, spirituality–because of overuse and abuse–has reclaimed much of the baggage that it carried during the seventeenth century when it was “used in a negative fashion to describe elite forms of subjective religious practice.” 3 A growing number of people view the sloppy use of the term spirituality—when its use is detached from any particular tradition—as a warning sign that a heavy dose of pop-psychology, “feel goodism” and “self-helpism” is on the way. In short they look for the Amway card. For many people who are either still in or just out of college much of popular spirituality is viewed as another form of mid-life crises as experienced by the 60’s generation and, to use a good postmodern word, is viewed as inauthentic.
In defining spirituality the authentic or lived spirituality must be separated from the inauthentic and the sleekly packaged which can be termed dead spirituality. Dead spirituality can best be seen as referring to the grab-bag that exists, along with other more materialistic options, as a way of constructing a false identity while a lived or living spirituality is an outgrowth of an already stable and healthy identity. Because of its attachment to identity, a lived spirituality cannot be experienced apart from tradition and the faith community. Just as the basic “definition of spirituality is generic, but there are no generic spiritualities,” so people do not experience spirituality in a generic way, but instead rely upon some socially constructed lens through which the experience is filtered.4
Christians are blessed to have such a rich spiritual tradition with a multiplicity of ways in which to better their spiritual lives and interpret their experiences of the divine. As Thompson says, these traditions are a “feast for hungry hearts.”5 In seeking to better our spiritual lives we must not loose sight of what is important. “God’s spirit is continually challenging, changing and maturing us,”6 we must not begin to focus on actions or spiritual disciplines for their own sake or we risk failing to follow where the spirit leads. “Spiritual disciplines are those practices that help us consciously to develop the spiritual dimension of our lives,”7 and they are very much a part of a living spirituality. There is also a danger that people may become attached to the discipline or activity and loose sight of its purpose.
Just as Sufis do not dance simply for the sake of dance, Christians must realize that we do not walk the labyrinth for its own sake but because we have lost Jerusalem; we cannot become so attached to a mode of doing spirituality that we forget that the purpose is to come closer to God. Another good example of how attachment can change meanings is found in Cunningham & Egan, page 18: “To follow St. Francis of Assisi, for instance, does not mean that one must acquire sandals, a brown religious habit, and a rope for the waist. Such garb [. . .] might symbolize religion and not poverty. As a person who is deeply concerned by materialism, false identity and detachment from tradition it is easy for me to fall into the other extreme of tradition for traditions sake. Just as it is important for spirituality to be authentic, it is important that it truly be spiritual. Currently I think there are many people who lack respect for and understanding of the many spiritual traditions within Christianity; likewise there are those—myself included—who are uncomfortable with individualistic spirituality. We need to recognize the need for both or our spiritual lives will suffer.
I’m still taking my time and formulating my response to the Tanzania communique, but I can say that I was very encouraged by its final form, and I pray that its stipulations can be implemented and provide a way forward for the orthodox in the American Church. In the mean time, I thought I would direct everyone’s attention to the excellent analysis of Jordan Hyldan from First Things:
This new council could act as a significant check on the Episcopal Church’s internal authority, and it has been given great leeway to negotiate its own terms. In an especially telling line, it is given authorization under paragraph 157 of the Windsor Report to consider whether the Episcopal Church’s future actions merit further steps toward the withdrawal of the Episcopal Church from membership in the Anglican Communion. In essence, the new church-within-a-church stands ready to become a new American Anglican province in its own right if the Episcopal Church should decide finally to revoke its own current status in the communion.
In addition, the primates have encouraged but not required those who have already left the Episcopal Church to return under the new pastoral scheme, and they have left the door open for their inclusion in more-or-less their present form. The primates have also requested that all legal action currently pending against breakaway parishes come to an end, a significant repudiation of the Episcopal Church’s well-publicized strategy of filing as many lawsuits as possible. It remains to be seen whether the national church office will comply, but one certainly hopes that it will.
Timothy George offers the following reflections on why Evangelicals ought to pay more attention to Mary. It’s a wonderful article; I especially like his ending–but I won’t post it here, you’ll have to go and read it for yourselves.
Timothy George is an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention and dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University in Birmingham Alabama.
Evangelical retrieval of a proper biblical theology of Mary will give attention to five explicit aspects of her calling and ministry: Mary as the daughter of Israel, as the virgin mother of Jesus, as Theotokos, as the ?handmaiden of the Word, and as the mother of the Church. Consider Mary’s first title, Daughter of Israel. Mary stands, along with John the Baptist, at a unique point of intersection in the biblical narrative between the Old and the New Covenants. When Mary cradles the baby Jesus in the Temple in the presence of Anna and Simeon, we see brought together the advent of the Lord’s messiah, and the long-promised and long-prepared-for “consolation of Israel.” The holy family is portrayed as part of a wider community, namely “all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
Mary appears in the infancy narratives as the culmination of a prophetic lineage of pious mothers: Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah-together with Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, who appear in the Matthean genealogy. There is a sense in which any of them could have been the mother of the messiah. According to one interpretation of Genesis 4:1, when Eve exclaims at the birth of Cain, “I have gotten a man from the Lord,” she supposes that her first-born son was already the fulfillment of the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, the seed of the woman who would bruise the head of the serpent.
The second common title of Mary is Virgin Mother. The doctrine of the virgin birth emerged in America as one of the badges of evangelical orthodoxy during the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. J. Gresham Machen, professor at Princeton and later founding president of Westminster Theological Seminary, published in 1930 a major treatise on the virgin birth of Christ. Machen was concerned to support the ancient Christian conception against the anti-supernaturalistic views set forth at a popular level by Harry Emerson Fosdick and supported in academic circles by scholars at the University of Chicago and elsewhere.
Though he was a straitlaced Presbyterian and could never be accused of “cozying up to Rome,” Machen rightly recognized that evangelicals had much more in common with Catholicism on this than they did with what he disdainfully called that “totally foreign religion-liberalism.” “Let it never be forgotten,” he wrote, “that the virgin birth is an integral part of the New Testament witness about Christ, and that that witness is strongest when it is taken as it stands. . . . The blessed story of the miracle in the virgin’s womb is intrinsic to the good news of the Gospel. Only one Jesus is presented in the Word of God; and that Jesus did not come into the world by ordinary generation, but was conceived in the womb of the virgin by the Holy Ghost.” Machen did not go so far as some in claiming that no one could be a Christian without believing in the virgin birth. He recognized that the biblical accounts may not have been known in some circles of earliest Christianity. But while one might conceivably be a Christian without affirming the virgin birth, there could be no true Christianity among those who denied it.
The virgin birth continued to be a celebrated point of difference between mainline Protestants and their more conservative counterparts during the neo-evangelical renaissance after World War II. In 1958, Christian Century published an editorial denying the historicity of the virgin birth: The virgin birth, the editorial said, presents Jesus as some kind of tertium quid, half God and half man. In reply, the Lutheran theologian Arthur Carl Piepkorn snapped: “To account so materially, so biologically, so cellularly for the uniqueness of Jesus is to land dead center on what is precisely not the point.” Such disdain for Jesus’ “miracle of entrance,” as Karl Barth called it, obviously belonged to the trajectory of theological liberalism, from Schleiermacher through D.F. Strauss to Paul Tillich, who wrote in the first volume of his Systematic Theology: “Apollo has no revelatory significance for Christians; the virgin mother Mary reveals nothing to Protestantism.”
For all their fervent advocacy of this doctrine, evangelicals may have missed two important aspects of this teaching. Modern evangelical preoccupation with the virgin birth arose in the context of post-Enlightenment skepticism and reductionism: Evangelicals were concerned to defend the miraculous character of the virgin birth because they saw it undergirding the deity of Jesus Christ. The prominence of the virgin birth teaching among the Apostolic Fathers, however, arose from a different Christological concern: as an affirmation of the true humanity and genuine historicity of the Son of God. “Away with that lowly manger, those dirty swaddling clothes,” Marcion had cried. Against all docetism and anti-materialism, Ignatius of Antioch declared in one of the early creedal expressions of the Christian faith that Jesus was “truly born, truly lived, truly died.” The adverb resounds like a gong through the writings of the second century.
It is a subject of the utmost importance to our souls. If the Bible be true, it is certain that unless we are “sanctified,” we shall not be saved. There are three things which, according to the Bible, are absolutely necessary to the salvation of every man and woman in Christendom. These are justification, regeneration, and sanctification. All three meet in every child of God: he is both born again, and justified, and sanctified. He that lacks any one of these three things is not a true Christian in the sight of God, and, dying in that condition, will not be found in heaven and glorified in the last day.
It is a subject which is peculiarly seasonable in the present day. Strange doctrines have risen up of late upon the whole subject of sanctification. Some appear to confound it with justification. Others fritter it away to nothing, under the pretense of zeal for free grace, and practically neglect it altogether. Others are so much afraid of “works” being made a part of justification that they can hardly find any place at all for “works” in their religion. Others set up a wrong standard of sanctification before their eyes, and, failing to attain it, waste their lives in repeated secessions from church to church, chapel to chapel, and sect to sect, in the vain hope that they will find what they want.
The following is a response I posted at On the Wittenberg Trail in regards to a question that was asked about who communicates at Baptism. The author of the Blog, Eric, argues that:
Disagreements over Baptism ultimately hinge on the answer to one crucial question: Who is communicating?
If Baptism is a symbol (and it is), and if a symbols are communication devices (and they are), who is communicating in the symbol of Baptism?
Matthew 28:16-20 gives us the unequivocal answer: In Baptism the Church is communicating to sinners on behalf of Jesus Christ. When we get the answer to this crucial question wrong, taking the view that in Baptism sinners made righteous by faith are communicating their faith to God and the world, then sacrament becomes sacrifice. And without restoring a correct understanding of who is communicating in its symbolism, there is no way to recover a Scriptural understanding of Baptism.
I wonder if this has to be an either/or. Certainly Baptism as a sacrament of God’s grace has been entrusted to His Church, and as such should ordinarily be administered by the ordained in an assembly of the faithful–though my tradition teaches, and I happen to agree, that any Baptized Christian can in turn Baptize in an emergency since what is ordinary is done for good order and not necessarily to ensure efficacy. So, on the one hand, the Church is “communicating” the good news of forgiveness of sins through the grace of God in the washing of the waters of Baptism.
On the other hand, I don’t think one can deny that in Baptism the person being Baptized (as an adult) or the family of the person being baptized (as an infant or young child) is communicating their faith in Jesus’ Christ’s saving action. So in Baptism the confession of the individual believer(s) is joined with that of the Church as a sign of God’s faithfulness towards us and to glorify his name.
I’m also not convinced that seeing Baptism as a sign of a person or family’s faith–at least not in addition to that of the entire Body–is somehow making it an action of sacrifice, at least not in any different way than the Eucharist is a sacrifice by virtue of the fact that we remember Christ’s saving act on the Cross for us and offer the only acceptable sacrifice of Praise and Thanksgiving and “our selves, our souls and bodies” in thanksgiving for what Christ has done.
I’m always amazed at the ability of Americans to be morally outraged about events in other countries but look with a completely blind eye on the actions of our own nation–and the cultural self-hatred of the left doesn’t count as true self reflection and critique.
In a truly stomach-turning report, CNN notes that a bag containing the skeletal remains of at least six babies was found on the grounds of a Christian missionary hospital in India. CNN notes that the bones could be from stillborn babies who were not buried properly, or they could be the remains of sex-selection feticides or infanticides.
This is hardly an Indian-specific problem. Would that we could blame such things on a “backward” civilization bereft of “progress” and “Enlightenment.” India is a rapidly industrializing country, a nuclear power with a cultural heritage and a Hollywood commerce that is surpassed only by our own. In the United States of America, the only reason we so rarely find such bones is not because of our moral “progress.” It is instead because our abortuaries have the technical “progress” to grind the babies to more unrecognizable bits.
I’ll have a fuller discussion of the recent events in Tanzania soon, but I wanted to comment on something I just read in an AP story over here. I don’t know if this is simply ignorance of the issues showing through, or willful misrepresentation, but it deserves comment:
Anglican leaders demanded Monday that the U.S. Episcopal Church unequivocally bar official prayers for gay couples and the consecration of more gay bishops to undo the damage that North Americans have caused the Anglican family.
In one sense the author is perfectly correct…the Episcopal Church was asked to bar “official prayers for gay couples…” but not any prayers they were asked to cease the specific act of blessing (which, at least tacitly provides the Church’s moral imprimatur) same-sex unions, which is a completely different thing. Everyone deserves prayer, and no one has said anything to contradict this.
I can’t wait to see what else is reported. Before long the press will be borrowing those UCC commercials to illustrate what the Anglicans are doing…
One of the reasons I love Church history and historical theology is because it helps put things in perspective. Recently I have been more and more interested in the responses of the Reformers and their immediate successors to the ecclesial upheaval they experienced. In reflecting on the ways they reacted to what was in many ways a time similar to our own, I find their thoughts reassuring. Additionally, the more I pray and reflect, the more I study, the more I see that I am not nor do I want to be a sectarian. Indeed, even as I am more and more categorized as a “conservative” in the current conflicts in the Episcopal Church and recognize the kinship I and other orthodox or traditional Episcopalians share with other more conservative Christian bodies, the more I understand there is a vast gulf between where I stand and where many of the more conservative among the general American milieu of evangelicalism stand. I have expressed this concern before over the seeming flippant attitude some evangelicals display in questioning whether “so-and-so is saved” or is really a “Christian,” even if they claim to be one. In fact, I believe I’ve caught more than a whiff of gnosticism and perfectionism repackaged. Most recently among such experiences, Anna and I were looking into the background and thought of a particular camp she was considering taking the youth group to.
Because the camp didn’t have a statement of faith, Anna called them to see if she could get a statement from them or have them direct her to another resource (articles, blog etc…). The man she talked to wasn’t very helpful but he did direct us to the site of a school at which one of the presenters works. The school had a statement of faith so we read it…and something caught my eye:
We believe that the true Church is composed of all such persons who through saving faith in Jesus Christ have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and are united in the body of Christ of which He is the head.
We believe that only those who are members of the true Church should be eligible for membership in the local congregations of the Church.
It was, of course, the second half of this statement that made me think. As Anna and I talked about the statement of faith–particularly this part–and discussed whether we thought the camp inspired confidence (we decided it did not and she would look for another camp for the yoots…), it occurred to me that this understanding of the Church is fundamentally at odds with Paul’s own, and indeed with the consistent testimony of scripture regarding the people of God. This sort of doctrine denies the need for there to be wheat and tares growing up together…as Richard Hooker put it:
[…] there are two kinds of wicked men, of whom in the fifth of the former to the Corinthians the blessed Apostle speaketh thus: “Do ye not judge them that are within? But God judgeth them them that are without.” There are wicked, therefore, whom the Church may judge, and there are wicked whom God only judgeth; wicked within and wicked without the walls of the Church.*
The Church is not, nor was it ever intended to be a comfort to the perfect, it was to comfort the afflicted, including the wicked–that’s all of us. And at the end of the day, we know that–despite our best efforts at discipline–the tares will grow up amongst the wheat. It seems to me that the role of the clergy is not so much as to pull up the tares (because we will inevitably pull out some of the wheat as well, and God desires none to perish…) but rather, to insure that the tares that inevitably show up don’t choke out the good, strong and vibrant growth of the wheat.