Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mother Church?

Rochester Cathedral Nave

There is the story of a mother nursing her growing baby.  He bit her on the nipple, so she whacked him on the head, so he bit her on the nipple, so she whacked him on the head.  What was missing on both sides was respect born of love.

When you criticize the Church remember the plaint of the Psalmist, “Your servants love her very rubble, and are moved to pity even for her dust” (Psalm 102:14, BCP).

But what is the Church?  The Church is the Body of Christ.  It is the Church within the church.  We make a mistake in not understanding that The Episcopal Church and every other denomination is by nature a “communion” of sinners.  Therein lies a problem.  Unity within the church is not based on kneeling at the altar rail together; we actually invite to that altar rail all who are baptised and believe that Christ is truly present in the sacrament.  But be aware that there is a movement to make baptism unnecessary for membership.

Unity within the Church is not based on kneeling at the altar rail.  It is based on three things:  “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Saviour? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?” (BCP).  The answer is very personal, “I do.”  

Unity within the Church is based on what Jefferts Schori has called a Western Heresy.  If she believes what she has said in a mood of irritation, her declaration leaves her outside of the Church even while she remains the titular head a branch of the Church.  That is a tragedy both for the Church and for her, which is one reason why all Episcopal Churches should pray for her at the altar rail every Sunday. Have compassion on her.  For her to surrender to the only true God, she, like all of us, will have to surrender every pretension.  That is a very painful challenge.  Our God is a consuming fire!  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Purple Fever: A Retrospect

The honour I never almost had:

Purple Fever is an awful disease, it was candidates night, and the next day was the election of our Suffragan Bishop.  I who was never nominated, and did not desire to be nominated, am somewhat chagrined that not only will I not be elected, but I will not even have bragging rights; “Back in 2008 I was nominated for Suffragan Bishop.”  Even the possibility of a small self-glorifying exaggeration is  clean cut off, “I was almost elected.”

“It’s a terrible thing, this irony of not being nominated for a job I wouldn’t want and wasn’t even nominated for. It’s somewhat akin to being a guardian cherub desiring ultimate enthronement and then being summarily forced out of heaven by those insufferable angels.  I, the Morning Star, I have fashioned for myself a coat of many colours, I do not have to dress in white.  I do not want to be dressed in white kowtowing to His royal goodness YHWH, and I almost seized the heavenly throne; a throne I could have had if only, so at least I have bragging rights.”

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The World in the Church

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.[i] 

The culture of the Weimar Republic in the 1920’s was hedonistic, immoral, and degenerate, and the emergence of new artistic movements added to the malaise.  We find today some of those same elements in full flower in our media driven culture.   The collapse of the economy in 1929 ushered in a Great Depression.  Unemployment, crime, and despair rose sharply.  We find echoes of that in our own economy with rising unemployment and undisciplined crowds occupying city centers with mixed approval and disapproval from the rest of us.

It was during the early 1930s that Bonhoeffer, in a lecture given at the University of Berlin, said the following:

“The old world cannot take pleasure in the Church because the Church speaks of its end as though it had already happened--as though the world had already been judged.  The old world does not like being regarded as dead.  The Church has never been surprised at this, nor is it surprised by the fact that again and again men come to it who think the thoughts of the old world--and who is there entirely free from them?  But the Church is naturally in tumult when these children of the world that has passed away lay claim to the Church, to the new, for themselves.  They want the new and only know the old.  And thus they deny Christ the Lord.” [ii]

                In the Church of today the “children of the world that has passed way lay claim to the Church, to the new, for themselves.  They want the new and only know the old.  And thus they deny Christ the Lord.”  That denial is clear, specific, and oddly self-righteous.  They tell us that Jesus is only a way for Christians, and that other ways are of equal or greater value.  They tell us that the acceptance of Jesus Christ as a personal Saviour is a Western Heresy, being obviously ignorant that Eastern figures like St. Cyril of Jerusalem taught the same “heresy.”  They tell us that we must accommodate to the culture of the world.  For them the Church is the not the salt of the world, but the world is the salt of the Church.

                A new thing has emerged.  In the past history of the Church, heretics left the church and attacked it from without, but now the heretics stay in the Church and attack it from within.[iii]  Integrity would demand that they leave the Church that in fact they hate, but they are driven by selfish ambition and the lust for personal power over others.  We are in the midst of a spiritual warfare that is increasingly less and less subtle.

The solution is not cowardly flight, but courageous fight.  Once more we need to strongly embrace the declaration, “I will live with integrity.”[iv]  Rather than cringing with fear at the accusation that we are narrow minded (the insult being that we are Fundamentalists) we must with boldness declare that there is an objective Truth, the universal Tao, and that moral and ethical standards have an eternal origin and value. 

Once more we must confess that not only do we believe in Jesus Christ as an intellectual proposition, but that we have in fact undeniably met him, and him alone will we serve.

[i] Ecclesiastes 1:9
[ii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall, translated by John C. Fletcher.  (New York: Macmillan, 1959), 11
[iii] Peter Kreeft in a Question and Answer period at the Stanton Lecture Series, in Dallas, Nov. 12, 2011
[iv] Psalm 26:11, BCP

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Egypt’ Land

I ran into a disturbing text this morning and immediately thought of the continuing attempts to accommodate the Church to the standards of the world.  Certainly the opening sermon of the last diocesan convention invited us into such a process of transformation.  The process was called smoltification.  Smoltification is the process of transformation in the young salmon as it adapts to the sea and becomes a mature fish. 

But what for us is the sea if not the world itself?  "The waters that you saw, . . . are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues (Rev. 17:1). Creation is a wonderful gift, and when we are invited to set our minds on “whatever is true,” we are also invited to set our minds “whatever is pure” (Philippians 4:8).  You know the old axiom: We are called to be in the world, not of the world; and there is a difference.

Here is the disturbing text:

"Ah, stubborn children," declares the LORD, "who carry out a plan, but not mine, and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction, to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!  (Isaiah 30:1-2).

“When Israel was in Egypt’ land,
Let My people go!
Oppressed so hard they could not stand,
Let My people go!”

All of us were once in Egypt’ Land, why would we want to go back there again?  We already know that “If anyone loves the things of the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Why on middle earth would we want to transform the standards of the Church to the standards of the world?  Middle earth exists between Heaven and Hell, and those are both options.  I think I would rather take C. S. Lewis’s bus to the elysian fields of paradise than accommodate myself to the endless Shadowland that ultimately goes you know where.

Let my people go?  That’s not really an option.  I would much rather fight than switch!

For a further reflection on the sermon at convention see:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Soft Cudgel

Did you see what I saw, the preacher high and lifted up above the peoples?  He was courteous and even smiled appropriately, but there was a subtle undertone.  He didn’t know us, he just assumed that he did.  As a result he was supercilious, talking down to the gathering before him.  A few were enraptured because they agreed.  A few were enraptured because he was important and they enjoyed his finely judged interjections of humour, after all a preacher needs to be entertaining?  Many were initially open and enquiring, but as he wielded his soft cudgel they drew farther and farther away, and some of them didn’t even realize why.  Some were just angry that he had even been invited to preach.  Perhaps they needed a cudgelling, but one more forthright and planted on the Rock.

The preacher used the gospel instead of preaching the gospel.  He had an agenda that was not the agenda of the living Word but the agenda of the culture that he had adopted as his own spiritual agenda.  Just because something is spiritual doesn’t mean that it represents the balance of the written word of God; even though that is not determinative for those who hold the agenda of whatever is the current culture.  Truly all men before God are equal, and that as a principle is fair enough, but it’s not the whole Truth; there are other truths and only one Truth can govern them all: Jesus Christ is Lord; not the teachings of the current culture.

To be quite fair the preacher was being as honest and as fair with us as he knew how, but a lack self-knowledge is often one of our limitations.  By his own admission the message of the soft cudgel was not the one he grew up with.  He had grown up with the hard cudgel and that was just as bad with its intolerant attitudes.  If you grow up with a hard cudgel it’s hard not to cudgel others even when you reject the hard cudgel . What he didn’t know was that it wasn’t necessary to throw out the baby with the bath water. 

Oh what a style!  No hard cudgel here, not the least, but a cudgel nonetheless, softly cudgelling with a smothering stroke; self-righteous, possessing the only truth, such as it was.  Part of the problem was that he was blind to his audience and couldn’t see that he wasn’t addressing a hard cudgel audience but many moderate, temperate people who would not enjoy being cudgelled with a truth out of the context of the larger Truth.  Such cudgelling polarizes people who don’t even realize they are being cudgelled.  On reflection most thoughtful people can tell when the cudgel is the preacher’s agenda and not an agenda of the Spirit of God. People tend not to like being cudgelled no matter how soft the cudgel.