FrJody.com

Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: August 2007 (page 2 of 2)

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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The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. – Why Theology Should Precede Change

The following is a very interesting article by Dr. Jacqueline Jenkins Keenan about the trajectory the study of human sexuality in the Episcopal Church has taken. Many of her observations align with my own. I went to a liberal arts university with a pretty active GLBT presence, both among students and faculty and can attest to the fact that the “queer studies” (their term, I’m not bashing) folks in the academy talk about homosexuality and gender identification much differently than people in the Church. Honestly I was shocked at the arguments being advanced in the Episcopal Church in favor of blessing same-sex relationships etc… because it was largely based on a genetic determinism I had seen debunked and attacked by liberal, sometimes homosexual professors. I recall making the point that it didn’t seem like the Episcopal Church was really up to date on the current thinking about gender and sexuality in a discussion forum in Seminary–at which point I was berated by a past-middle-aged female seminarian who assured me that after her evidently deep and profound experience of the dialogue in the Episcopal Church, that was simply not the case…in addition to the fact that she was very condescending, she displayed a total ignorance of any thinking about human sexuality except that which has for so long been presented in the press– something I like to call genetic/biological predestination.

Ahh well… so it goes. Enjoy the essay

In the ongoing debate about sexuality The Episcopal Church (TEC) has consistently looked to the medical and scientific community in order to understand human sexuality. This tradition was continued when TEC presented a theological statement in 2005 to the worldwide Anglican Communion in order to explain its consecration of a homosexual bishop in 2003. This theological document, To Set Our Hope on Christ, stated that “Altogether, contemporary studies indicate that same-sex affection has a genetic- biological basis which is shaped in interaction with psycho-social and cultural-historical factors. Sexual orientation remains relatively fixed and generally not subject to change. Continuing studies have confirmed the 1973 decision of the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from their diagnostic manual of mental illness.”

Unfortunately, the bibliography that was cited in this document consisted of scientific articles that were written between 1970 and 1995. In fact none of the TEC documents on homosexuality include any studies after 1995. But research on homosexuality has continued, and later studies have produced new data in the areas of genetics, prevalence rates, and mutability of homosexual attraction. These studies also show that data regarding homosexuality in men does not apply to women.

{read it all}

New spam blocker tool

I’ve added a new tool to the site that will replace the “math question” plugin. It’s called “reCaptcha” and is administered by Carnegie Mellon University. Normally I wouldn’t devote a whole blog post to a spam fighter, but this one is interesting. You see, every time you post a comment on a site that uses this, and type out one of the word images, you’re helping to digitize a book for the Open Library. Ain’t that cool?

You can learn more about reCaptcha here.

Or you can take a look at the Open Library project .

Worship, lecture or entertainment.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the appropriate thrust of the Sunday service. My thoughts were reignited recently by a comment this past Sunday at a congregational meeting. Someone noted that a few Sundays ago I made the comment “we’re all Christians here…”. Now, I may well have made the comment…it wasn’t in my notes, but then I don’t go verbatim from them and add quite a bit to certain parts of my sermons as I’m preaching. My wife also insists that I made the comment, and so, I did.

But the observation got me thinking. Certainly one should not assume that everyone listening to the sermon on Sunday morning is a Christian, but I wonder if sometimes our mistakes lie too much in the other direction. It seems to me that the problem with a great many evangelical worship services is that they are primarily evangelistic while a lot of liberal protestant services don’t see the need for evangelism at all. Maybe I’m exaggerating–but only slightly. Because of this I’ve consciously tried to gear my preaching and teaching on Sunday morning to the people who gather as believers in Jesus Christ… in other words, my sermon is meant to encourage discipleship and the worship is, well, worship.

All this made me remember an article I’d read several years ago in Touchstone Magazine by Gillis Harp entitled “Mall Christianity:

There is, in fact, no biblical warrant for turning Sunday worship into an evangelistic meeting (though there may well be evangelistic elements within the liturgy). This transformation of the main Sunday service actually began in the early nineteenth century. It was evangelists like Charles Grandison Finney and his successors who turned church worship into a revival meeting. In some respects, “seeker sensitive” advocates are simply extending the logic of this earlier innovation.

They are extending with considerable creativity and characteristic American energy this Arminian, market-driven model. Finney spoke about the need for what he termed “excitements.” What many American Evangelicals have discovered is that the old excitements no longer work; they have acquired churchy associations in the wider culture, and thus new excitements are needed. The oral culture of the nineteenth century could accommodate long lectures, but postmodern seekers have notoriously short attention spans. Victorian folk wanted earnest Evangelical didacticism; contemporary seekers want entertainment.

The New Testament Church did not, however, show this confusion about either the nature of evangelism or its proper setting. It did not provide “excitements,” other than the excitement of the Good News. In the New Testament, the ecclesia gathered together on the first day of the week to hear the Word of God, for corporate prayer (“the prayers”), and for the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42 and 20:7). Significantly, none of the evangelistic preaching in Acts occurs within the context of the church gathered for Sunday worship.

I did a little digging and found that Peter Toon makes a similar point in one of his essays for the same magazine entitled “Sunday Guests.” in which he notes that he recalls “the days when the Salvation Army called the Sunday morning service the ‘Holiness Meeting’ and the evening service ‘Evangelism Meeting.’ That is a careful and workable distinction between a service of worship, edification, and calls unto holiness for believers, and a service to which others were invited with a view to converting them to Jesus Christ. Many churches today, especially those much into “church growth,” have conflated, confused, and complicated the relation of evangelism to worship.” I recall reading similar sentiments somewhere by a former Episcopal Priest turned Eastern Orthodox from South Carolina, but I can’t remember where I read it.

All this is to say, that the Church has some real confusion going on about what our Sunday worship is meant to be. This isn’t the problem of one segment of Christ’s Church, but the whole body–I think we’re all guilty of missing something. In my own background as a Southern Baptist I became disenchanted with what I experienced as two Sunday Schools on Sunday mornings, with the second one being called “Church.” I was deeply concerned by the fact that so many people–especially the elderly in the congregation–would come to Church on Sunday, attend Sunday School and then not stay for the service–what’s more important? I think I’d rather give praise and worship to God myself. When I became Episcopalian I discovered a Church tradition that truly worshipped on Sunday, and it felt so good–still does. But what I eventually discovered is that while Episcopalians may worship on Sundays, they often haven’t set up good formation opportunities at other times either, so that in some (many perhaps) cases, people who want to go deeper into God’s word and reflect on his plan for thier lives are forced to study on their own…many don’t.

In my title I suggested that there are three sorts of services that vie for us: worship, lecture or entertainment. Perhaps another could be added, such as “social” or perhaps that could be rolled into entertainment. So which of these should we strive for? My own inclination (and the inclination of the way I’ve labeled them–sneaky I know…) is to emphasize worship first and foremost. The lecture doesn’t make sense because there are other forums in the Church for people to learn that are more suited to this type of teaching than the worship service. Entertainment–which can come in many forms and doesn’t just include one segment of the Christian population–is one that has become a major issue in the church.

Entertainment and the role of the people in worship is another thing that I’ve been thinking off and on about for several days, especially since I’ve been reading quite a few books targeted at church growth. One thing that kept setting off my “inner speech” was the number of times the authors referred to the people in Church on Sunday as the “audience,” and how many elements of the entertainment industry were pulled in. Don’t get me wrong, there were some good ideas and information. For instance, one thing that I might take into consideration is the fact that Sunday mid-Morning is the time when most seekers visit Churches. So no more comments about how we’re all Christians–at least not consciously. And I’m considering the advice that most formational studies, classes etc… for those who are already believers take place during the week, freeing Sunday up for worship and fellowship with newcomers. But I don’t think we’ll be incorporating lighting from a Celine Dion show anytime soon, or coaching our “worship leaders” on smiling, or making sure the camera shows their faces during worship *enter rant mode* (one of my greatest pet peeves with some mega-churches is the zeroing in on people’s faces during worship and putting them up on the jumbo-tron *shudder*–who can take any arguments against iconography from evangelicals seriously when that sort of blatantly idolatrous stuff is going on in some of their largest churches and no one calls them on it? Come one, put up a nature scene or something!).*end rant mode* [caveat: I consider myself evangelical, but of an older sort…]

There are obviously different understandings of what the worship service is supposed to be and to accomplish–and that’s fine. To a point. But at what point does an emphasis on entertainment or evangelism in the Sunday service supplant the whole point of the body coming together? I mean, folks, in the early church catechumens were sent out of the service before communion! Obviously the assumption of the Christian Church has been that Sunday worship–with communion as central to it (and that’s not Roman people, that was the goal of the early reformers who hated the idea that people were only receiving once a year)–is intended for the building up of the body, and there are other mechanisms for evangelism. But it’s late and I’m rambling… I’ll have to unpack it more later. Any thoughts?

Question for my Lutheran friends

I’ve been watching events in the ELCA with a mix of interest and sadness as I see the same conflict that has so hamstrung our Church breaking out more and more in that Christian body. What I’ve been wondering is how those of us who are orthodox and traditionalists in matters of human sexuality, but support the growing closer of our traditions can work together to support one another through this difficult time and encourage each other in mission. Any thoughts?

Good news…

Our house in Winchester has sold and after a few postponements we will close on it tomorrow afternoon at 2 pm. It will definitely feel good to get the mortgage off of our backs. We’re thankful we were able to sell so quickly given the slow-down in the market.

A look back: What's a Protestant? Time article on 1964 General Convention

I was doing a Google search for something to get ready for an upcoming inquirers class when the following article from Time Magazine’s web site caught my attention:

Are Episcopalians Protestants? Yes, say Low Church evangelicals; no, answer High Church Anglo-Catholics. Last week delegates to the Episcopal General Convention in St. Louis tried to resolve this debate over what’s in a name with a typically Anglican compromise: letting each faction in the church decide for itself what it wants to be called.

{read it all, it’s interesting}

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UC Berkley comes up with a "moral compass"

{HT: Whitehall}

Some folks at the journalism department at UC Berkley decided to develop a “moral compass” application to inform people of where different faith groups fall on different questions. Unsurprisingly the most liberal voices within the Episcopal Church were given “official” weight. The following are some comments I left on the site which are still awaiting moderation from last night, so I thought I’d go ahead and post them here so the wouldn’t be completely lost to posterity:

# Jody+ Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
July 31st, 2007 at 7:36 pm

This is an interesting and informative web site. However, as an Episcopal Priest, I think it is important to point out that the response as to homosexual relationships are blessed by the entire Episcopal Church, thereby making it an official position is incorrect. At the most it should be listed as “varied” or “discerning,” since the item you refer to as indicating official blessing was merely a resolution indicating that some Episcopalians are exploring this as a legitimate position and we are not sufficiently of one mind to condemn them. That is hardly a unified and official position, and I would hazard a guess that while the majority of the Episcopal Church voted not to reject such practices at General convention, a majority of Bishops have not approved such rites, nor would they encourage priests in their dioceses to use them. A little more clarity about our confusion would be appreciated :-p

# Jody+ Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
July 31st, 2007 at 7:44 pm

Ditto for several other answers… perhaps you need an Episcopalian “fuzzy” label. Most dioceses would require that homosexuals be celibate in order to be ordained, there are several dioceses of the Episcopal Church that will not ordain women. I understand why some statements must be sweeping when you will find individuals in any faith group that disagree with official teaching, but when official teaching is clearly unclear and/or conflicted while in the process of change you should probably have a way to indicate that for honesty’s sake.

Now, while the folks at Berkley aren’t technically correct in how they have presented the matter, I don’t share the illusions of some of the folks who voted for Gene Robinson or local option for Same Sex blessings at General Convention that these decisions somehow didn’t change our doctrine. They changed them through practice, and it’s sad that people weren’t able to grasp that before they hit the big red button that has almost destroyed our church and communion. Be that as it may, the issues are more nuanced, and I certainly don’t think it’s fair to list those as the “official position” of the Episcopal Church when we are in a struggle over that very thing at the moment.

Perhaps they need to spend some time over at the “Get Religion” blog to straighten them out.

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