Musings of an Anglican/Episcopal Priest

Month: July 2008 (Page 2 of 2)

Dual Allegiance | Christianity Today

Christianity Today has published the following story relating to a Nigerian Pastor jailed for using a severed (human) head in an occult ceremony.  The article talks about some interesting contextual issues related to African Christianity.  It is commonly stated that before the Rwandan Genocide up to 98% of Rwandans self-identified as Christians.  And then the genocide happened.  Similarly, many people who claim to be Christian maintain pre-Christian allegiances as well.  Some of it might be folk religion akin to superstitions not uncommon in parts of the US (like throwing salt over one’s sholder, making an X ten times when a black cat crosses your path, painting window sills blue, believing that deaths come in threes and that certain birds at the window fortell the death of a family member etc…) but much of the folk-religion/superstition we encounter has been largely sapped of its power and cannot be thought of as a unified belief system.  Not so with African indiginous beliefs and practices–many of them still have a strong hold.  In fact, I once had a Nigerian Christian of Igbo background tell me that while they respected certain Christian leaders from the Yoruba tribe, he would not want his children marrying into a Yoruba family because “so many of them practice old religions” along with Christianity.  That was one persons opinion, but there it is.

From reading this story we can see that Americans aren’t the only ones turned on by the preaching of “prosperity” nor are we the only ones willing to pimp our spiritual selves out to whomever or whatever will provide what we want.  We may rail against the commercialization of faith and consumerism in the west, but I wonder if we’re really looking at the deep pit of idolatry that motivates it.

“One out of 10 self-named Christians in this region practices only Christianity,” says Benjamin-Lee Hegeman, a former missionary in West Africa who now teaches at Houghton College. “Some people call it syncretism, but it may be more like dual religious allegiance, where Christianity is practiced in the daytime and occult [practice] is done at night. Many of the pastors will preach from the pulpit that this type of thing is wrong, but secretly take part in it at night. There is the mentality, especially in African Initiated Churches, where the prosperity gospel is preached, that you do what you’ve got to do to get ahead. You rely on the powers available to you. You are hopeful that Christ will help, but when he can’t come through on Sunday, you may take out a different insurance policy at night.”

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Check out this poster campaign highlighted by Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah in the “Soul Struggle” section of his blog:

From Adam Hamilton: Why Mainline Worship has a future

In the midst of all the Lambeth stress and worries about the future of the Anglican Communion it is easy to get discouraged. When coupled with the particular issues facing congregations and pastors of all denominations, the seemingly psychopathic desire of denominational institutions to impale themselves on the swords of their own irrelevance, self-obsession, and agenda-driven politics it is very easy to get discouraged.

But while I may not be very hopeful about the long-term health or even survival of the mainoldline denominations, I am encouraged by the possibilities available to those who unashamedly preach the gospel while at the same time maintaining a generosity to those who are seeking or even disagree. “Generous Orthodoxy” has become nearly a cliche phrase, but I believe it is what we ought to shoot for, and that at it’s heart it is what C.S. Lewis meant by “mere Christianity.”

Recently two blogs I read regularly have brought up two issues that could play out in favor of whatever remnant keeps the faith and resides within/emerges from the oldline denominations. One is from Adam Hamilton, the pastor of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, a UMC mega church that has as part of its mission “The renewal of the mainline:”

On the weekend of June 28-29 our worship team met on retreat at Glen Eyrie Retreat Center in Colorado Springs (this is a fabulous place – owned by the Navigators – it is adjacent to the Garden of the Gods). We spent 3 days together praying, hiking, eating, discerning, studying and planning as we developed worship ideas and plans for the next twelve months. It was a great blessing. Each year, as a part of this retreat, we worship together at two or three churches. The aim of these visits is both to experience worship and to see what we can learn from others (in the corporate world this is known as “bench-marking”).

This year we visited two churches – a large non-denominational church in a “conservative-evangelical” tradition and a small “alternative” service that was a part of a mainline denomination’s cathedral in Denver.

After worshiping at both congregations our worship team was unanimous in saying they felt they had experienced a deeper and more profound sense of worship at the alternative mainline service than at the non-denominational mega-church. This was true not only for the “traditional” worship team members, but for the “contemporary” worship leaders and even, or perhaps especially, for the four “young adult” members of the team.

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The other comes from a commenter over at Michael Spencer’s InternetMonk, via the Boar’s Head tavern:

I’ve been teaching an adult Sunday School class for a couple of years now. I’ve got a great group of people, people who love, accept, pray for, and support each other. They say they appreciate my teaching, but I feel I’ve learned far more from them than they have from me. I’ve also taught a number of Discipleship Training classes at my church, and I’ve been a leader in the FAITH evangelism training. I’ve been doing sound for services and special events at the church for 16 years now. I say all of this to show that I deeply love and am deeply involved with my Church.

But some members of the church, none in my SS class, have some problems with me, and would like to see me removed as a SS teacher. The first incident occurred a couple of years ago when I was teaching a DT class on Revelation. Someone in the class made an offhand comment about how they didn’t see how anyone could believe in evolution, and that anyone who believed in evolution must be an atheist. I pointed out that I accepted the evidence for evolution, and that Christians had many different views on the subject of origins and the interpretations of Genesis one. I then moved back on topic to Revelation. The following day I received a call from the associate pastor saying that he and the pastor wanted to meet with me. A few members of the class had gone to the AP to complain about what I said re Evolution. Note that they didn’t come directly to me, as Jesus commands. The meeting with the Pastor and the AP went well, but half of the class didn’t show up for the rest of the sessions. (Interesting side note: it was the younger members of the class that dropped out. The older, 50+, people stayed on.)

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From the Prayerbook Project: Church shopping goes to a whole new level

I was checking out some of Anna’s links and I came across the Prayerbook project blog. I thought I would direct your attention toward his recent post on Church shopping (especially given one of the subjects of last Sunday’s sermon).

Just in case you’re struggling to find that new church of the week you can now check out the new blog, Can I Wear Jeans? It has inspired me to start my own new blog called…
the sarcasm is dripping off my fingers as I type this. The very
questions being asked by this blogger indicate that theology has very
little to nothing to do with how many people view their idea of the
“perfect church”. (Which in and of itself is a fallacy.)

{read it all}

On the Church of England's General Synod Vote and the Process of Reception

UPDATE: The dialogue is now up on Covenant.

Note: The following is my contribution to an ongoing dialogue among the Covenant Communion authors regarding Women’s Ordination–specifically the vote of the Church of England’s General Synod to allow women Bishops.  Some might well ask why the vote in England has attracted so much attention, after all there are plenty of Churches within the Communion who ordain female priests (and once women were admitted to the Presbyterate it was only a matter of time before they were admitted to the Episcopate–it became a fait accompli at that point)  Not only that, but a majority of provinces now allow for women’s ordination to the Diaconate.  So all the fuss might seem a little strange, lot least to Episcopalians who have moved in a universe where women have been ordained as Priests since the 1970’s and to the Episcopate not long thereafter.  Yet, this *is* a big deal, at least ecumenically because–for example–it has a dramatic impact ecumenically that the decisions to ordain women priests and consecrate women bishops in say, the US or New Zealand did not have.  This impact is related to the fact that the Church of England, as the mother church of the Anglican Communion as a whole, has been seen as the “bell weather” church for the whole communion, especially by Rome.  Some have suggested that this particular concern for the Church of England on the part of the Roman Catholic Church has had a lot to do with the perception in Rome of the Church of England as a wayward province of the Western Catholic Church, and therefore one that could concievably be brought back–whole and entire–into union with the Holy See.  Hence the fact that the Roman Catholic Church in England was very careful not to reproduce sees (the head of the RCC in England is the Archbishop of Westminster, not the “Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury”, for example).  Whatever the underlying reasons are, the Roman Catholic Church (and to a lesser extent the Orthodox) have always taken more heed of what the Church of England has done, noting that until something is done in England the question cannot be said to be settled, and if it is done in England it is a foregone conclusion elsewhere.  So all of this led to a discussion among us of the General Synod vote, women’s ordination as well as the notion of a “process of reception” for changes in practice within the Communion.  I am addressing some particular objections to the idea of a process of reception in the comment below.  The whole dialogue will be posted on Covenant shortly and I hope you all will take time to read it when it is up.

I have a few thoughts I would like to add to the discussion regarding reception and the questions raised by Sam above.  Any discussion of women’s ordination, particularly the ordination of women to the episcopate would seem to be incomplete without some reflection on how the issue of reception can be seen in the evolution of the episcopacy in general.  (Of course part of the issue that has to be raised is whether or not one believes there was a time when the ministry of Bishops, strictly speaking, did not recognizably conform to our contemporary expectations, i.e. one has to allow that there were a diversity of practices locally that eventually developed and coalesced into the three orders of ministry with the mono-episcopate that we recognize today.  Once one has answered that question allowing for development, the next question is whether such development was guided by the Holy Spirit or not.

I agree with those who assert that the biblical record is clear that there was no single definitive way of organizing the early Christian communities that arose from the missionary activities of the Apostles and other disciples but that it emerged and became uniform over the first two centuries especially.  Indeed, the only Church that is spoken of in the New Testament as being under the authority of a single residential leader is the Church of Jerusalem of which James was the single episcopos, perhaps serving as a model upon which later individual episcopacies would be founded (this observation connects, I believe, with +Rowan Williams’ recent observation in his paper–read in his absence–to the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius, that, with the exception of Jerusalem, all churches are daughter Churches).  In the case of other local churches, it seems that the situation was rather more diverse.  In some instances it appears as though there was indeed a single overseer for the entire community, while in others it appears  as though councils–alternatively referred to collectively either as councils of presbeuteroi or episcopoi–exercised as a collective the authority that would later be ascribed to one of their number as Bishop.  Largely this distinction seems to have been geographic in nature, with the eastern churches developing the episcopate as we now understand it at an earlier date (understandable given their closer proximity to the Mother Church in Jerusalem).

In his book, From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church, Francis A. Sullivan, S.J. argues persuasively that there were differences in the authority structures of local churches.  Specifically he maintains the the mono-episcopate seems to have developed earlier in the churches of the east (think Syria-Palestine and Ignatius).  On the other hand, in comparing the letters of Ignatius and Clement, he shows that the episcopal authority at Corinth in Clement’s day (and, he argues, in Rome as well) seems to have been held collegially by a council of elders, in contrast to, at the risk of using a biased term, the more developed episcopacy evidenced in Ignatius’ writing.

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New House pics…

Anna has posted some more pics of our new house!  Check them out

Hopefully we’ll be moving in before long… high month to month rent does not go well with construction loan payments.  I’m becoming more and more claustrophobic in the apartment (two dogs might have something to do with that) and can’t wait to actually live in the house with it’s two porches and deck.

By the way, the house on the cover of this book is ours (well, built with the same plan).  The book was written by the same architect who designed our house, Christian Gladu of The Bungalow Company:

University Flashback: The Poisonwood Bible Review

I wrote the following review of The Poisonwood Bible for a Humanities course in college. I post it now in honor of Anna’s reading of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, vegetable, miracle. I may come back later on and add in the specific citations to the essay, but that will take more time than I’m willing to put in at the moment.

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is extremely effective in its use and illustration of some of the defects present in liberal capitalist society. The book illustrates the critiques advanced by several modern critics of the liberal experiment, including communitarians, feminists and theologians. These critiques are exemplified very well in the dynamic that exists in the development of various characters within the work. Focusing mainly upon the characters of Rachel, Leah and Nathan this paper will demonstrate that they each of them seeks to negotiate a different aspect of modern culture even as they are supposedly outside of its grasp.

In order to understand the problems facing our culture it is necessary to understand the two theses inherent in enlightenment dialogue that have shaped the formation of subsequent forms of government; as Alisdair MacIntyre explains in After Virtue: “It is clear that the Enlightenment’s mechanistic account of human action included both a thesis about the predictability of human behavior and a thesis about the appropriate ways to manipulate human behavior.” The history of the ideologies arising out of the enlightenment has been the story of attempts to focus and implement this manipulation. Communism and socialism, totalitarianism and liberalism differ in their assumptions about how to satisfy the desires of human nature yet agree that control is a necessity.

At its heart, the justification for any government is how effectively it protects it citizens. No longer is the responsibility of government protection limited to protection from foreign militaries and invasion however, instead, that protection has been continuously extended.

Evidence of our changing view of government is clearly seen in the new responsibilities we place upon it. Today it is not uncommon to place the blame for an economic slowdown on the government and ask what the “government” is going to do about it-as though the government were some “other” unit of society and wasn’t occupied and controlled by citizens. We speak also of a universal “right” to healthcare, of the “right” to bodily integrity and so forth. The common thread behind all these rights, from the ridiculous to the sublime, is the empowerment of the individual, often morally, usually economically. This is an extension of what it means to be free in the Anglo-American school of thought, which John Dewey articulates in Freedom and Culture:

In the American and English liberal tradition, the idea of freedom has been connected with the idea of individuality, of the individual. The connection has been so close and so often reiterated that it has come to seem inherent [. . .] in the continental European tradition the affiliation of the idea of freedom is with the idea of rationality.

The problem has not simply been how to control human behavior, but to determine what human nature is. Dewey’s belief was that majority of attempts to explain human nature have fallen prey to the tendency of becoming little more than abstractions of the problems observed. During the Enlightenment, freedom was seen to be the goal inherent in human nature while in his own time this goal was thought to be the love of power.

The common assumption iterated by both Anglo-American and Continental schools is that people desire safety or security. There are a few routes chosen to help accomplish the goal of making people feel safe and secure. The first is to make them feel empowered, the second to make them forget about death with the two routes intersecting naturally at various intervals.

Consider the stark contrasts exhibited in the Poisonwood Bible between the American interlopers and the native Congolese. The closeness of death in the minds of the native people juxtaposed with the sterile lives lived by the Americans helps further the story’s goal of humanizing the Congolese while simultaneously addressing many of the injustices inherent to and the detachment bred by modern capitalist culture. The items that the family takes to the Congo with them help to illustrate this detachment and sterility as well. Rather than being concerned about the basic necessities of life in such a place, the family chose to take cake mix and deviled ham. The interesting thing is that-the mother at least-viewed these things a necessary and basic. Their concern was with Betty Crocker, not clean water.

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Anna: Unattended children will be traded for donuts… (or sold as slaves)

Just wanted to point your attention to Anna’s latest post:

I saw this sign at Elder’s Bookstore, a happy little used and rare bookstore near Centennial Park here in Nashville, that said “Unattended children will be traded for donuts” and then a second one that said “Unattended children will be sold as slaves.” I thought the first one in particular was funny, but didn’t think much else of it until today.

I was at our local Home Depot, picking up a few things on the recommended cleaning list from Green Housekeeping when I became aware that there was a message playing over and over again over the speaker system in between songs and such. “Parents do not let your children climb on shelves. Keep an eye on your children as there are many hazardous items…” And so on and so forth.

And I thought, what parent in their right mind would let their child do any of the things that the message was warning against? I mean, I know kids will be kids and all and would definitely do everything on the message and then some if left to themselves, but the warning was to make sure that parents didn’t let their kids do any of it.

{Read it all}

USA: not much of a Christian Nation

Just in case anyone doubts that the USA is thoroughly secular in its policies and agenda–with only a few scraps thrown to providence when it is suitably politically beneficial–check out the following article about the persecution of Christians (as well as other smaller religious minorities) in US-occupied Iraq (HT: PSA+):

In Iraq the “surge” is working, but at the same time the Iraqi Christian community is dying. Hardly anyone seems to know, and those who know don’t seem to care. In former times, the violent persecution of Christians in a country effectively under the rule of a Western, Christian power would have been unthinkable. But not, it seems, in the enlightened 21st century.

The names may be complicated. The facts are not. The Chaldo-Assyrians constitute what remains of the original, non-Arab, population of the area. Iraq’s principal Christian communities today belong to the Chaldean (Catholic) Church, Syrian Orthodox Church, and the Assyrian Church of the East. All use Aramaic, the language spoken by Christ. Despite successive persecutions and constant pressures, Christianity has continued in Iraq since, according to tradition, it was brought there by St. Thomas the Apostle.

But Christianity now faces extinction. The 1987 census recorded 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Numbers began to drop as conditions deteriorated after the first Gulf War. There were, though, around 800,000 at the time of the U.S-led invasion of 2003. Of these, about half have now left the country altogether, while more than 100,000 are internally displaced persons.

There is no mystery as to why. With other (still smaller) religious minorities, such as Yazidis and Mandaeans, Iraq’s Christians are suffering sustained persecution. While constituting less than 4 percent of the population of Iraq, Christians constitute 40 percent of the refugees leaving the country. Most of these have found refuge in Syria and Jordan, where they are living in utterly degrading conditions. The current rate of Christian exodus is estimated at about 2,000 a day.

Members of all religions have been affected by the violence since the toppling of Saddam Hussein. But Christians are in a worse position since they suffer directly because of their Christian faith. Targeted by Islamist extremists, they are confronted by demands to convert, death threats, looting of their homes and businesses, systematic intimidation, abductions for ransom, bombings, and frequently murder. Because Christians are known to be weak they and their property are also prey to gangsterism. Churches and church leaders are particular targets for Islamists. The 65-year-old Chaldean archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul was abducted and murdered in March. Numerous priests and deacons have been tortured and shot or beheaded. At least 40 churches have been burnt.

The Iraqi Christian community has disappeared altogether from many areas of the country. Baghdad is rapidly emptying of its once flourishing Christian community, whose members have fled north to the traditional Christian homeland in the towns and villages of the plains of Nineveh. But here too they are hugely vulnerable. The regionally dominant Kurds, with whom relations have historically been bad and occasionally bloody, have little interest in offering protection. The Shia-dominated government in Baghdad is distant, unsympathetic, and has its own interests and problems. Even the relative success of the U.S. surge strategy has brought difficulties for the Christians, because the struggle with al-Qaeda is now focused on the regional centre Mosul, where Christians had hoped to find security. The Christian population itself is unused to bearing arms. It has no militia to defend it. It has no regional protectors. It is subject to pressures of illegal land confiscation and annexation, aimed at pushing it out of its last refuge…

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A couple books on the topic:

Faith & Doubt

I wrote the following reflection for the June edition of The Canticle, the newsletter of St. Francis Church, which you can download in PDF version here.

Faith in the Midst of Doubt

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
–Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)

The context of the great commission is interesting. Here we are in the last chapter of Matthew’s gospel. The task is accomplished, the resurrection has occurred and Jesus has been lifted upon the cross in expectation of his exaltation at the right hand of the Father. (John 12:32).

Here, we have one of the great moments of Christian history, the drawing to a close of Christ’s earthly ministry and the inauguration of the Church as the sacramental and missionary body of Christ on earth.

As our reading begins, we find the disciples doing as they were instructed and returning to Galilee to await the Risen Lord. Because of this, we also know that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” (the mother of James and John), did as they were instructed by the Lord himself at the empty tomb where he greeted them saying, “Do not be afraid: go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matt. 28:10).

In the first part of chapter 28 we see the resurrected Christ coming to his disciples in the midst of the fear brought about by the presence of the Angel and the sight of the empty tomb. In the second half we see the response of the eleven to Jesus’ resurrection appearance to them on the mountain in Galilee.
And yet, in spite of these experiences—and perhaps in part because of their amazing and unbelievable character—they still doubted.

One of the most difficult things many Christians struggle with is doubt. Sometimes we believe that our doubt makes us bad Christians; some have even gone so far as to doubt their salvation because they’ve experienced moments or even seasons of doubt.

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