Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Missional Church: A New Identity or a False Dichotomy?

In defining Missional, Alan Hirsch creates a false dichotomy between what he calls the missional church and the attractional church.  The concept of the missional church, if it is not placed carefully in the larger context of the Great Commission, runs the danger of being a partial truth.  The underlying question is, “What exactly is the mission of the church?”  Hirsch says,

Many churches have mission statements or talk about the importance of mission, but where truly missional churches differ is in their posture toward the world. A missional community sees the mission as both its originating impulse and its organizing principle. A missional community is patterned after what God has done in Jesus Christ. In the incarnation God sent his Son. Similarly, to be missional means to be sent into the world; we do not expect people to come to us. This posture differentiates a missional church from an attractional church.

The attractional model, which has dominated the church in the West, seeks to reach out to the culture and draw people into the church—what I call outreach and in-grab. But this model only works where no significant cultural shift is required when moving from outside to inside the church. And as Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, the attractional model has lost its effectiveness. The West looks more like a cross-cultural missionary context in which attractional church models are self-defeating. The process of extracting people from the culture and assimilating them into the church diminishes their ability to speak to those outside. People cease to be missional and instead leave that work to the clergy.[i]

Hirsch has failed to recognize that the culture in the Book of Acts was pre-Christian, and that there was a tremendous shift as the Church at its outset reached out to the Gentiles and incorporated them into what originally was a Jewish church.  Hirsh’s analysis seems to assume that the history of the Church started with the Protestant Reformation, and if applied to moribund Protestant Churches in the West it is at least partially correct.  As a Benedictine my experience is very different.  Our monastery, St. Scholastica, has planted over forty schools and five hospitals.  To this day sisters, who are able to, work outside of the monastery in a variety of pastoral roles.  It is perhaps “missional” to a fault and as our sisters age the monastery community is shrinking. 

The early Church was both attractional and cross-cultural.  In Africa and other places where the Church is growing the model hasn't changed.  If the model has lost its effectiveness in the West it is not because it is wrong, but rather because the fire of the Holy Spirit is missing from the Western Church.

In the Great Commission Jesus proclaims:

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.[ii]

What Hirsch misses is that properly conceived the Great Commission is both “missional” and “attractional.”  His rude expression “in-grab” misses the true purpose of the “in-grab”.  That may be due to the common weakness of many contemporary protestant churches.  The Pentecostal Scholar Simon Chann of Singapore has made some surprising statements, surprising because they come from the Pentecostal expression of the Christian Faith. The statements are:  “Worship is not just a function of the Church, but the Church’s very reason for being;” and “What is the mission of the Trinity?  The answer to that question is communion.  Ultimately all things are to be brought into communion with the Triune God.  Communion is the ultimate end, not mission.  Communion …is ultimately, seeing God and seeing the heart of God as well, which is his love for the world.”[iii]     In short, “in-grab” is the purpose of mission.

St. Paul expresses this mission of the church in this way: “I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:15-16).  The language is sacramental language.  The minister is the liturgist, the priestly service is precisely that which the priest does Sunday by Sunday as the liturgist of God at the altar.  The word for offering, is prosphora, that which is offered on the altar of God.  This offering is sanctified, made holy by the Holy Spirit, the Ruach Elohim of the Old Testament and the New. 

The offering that we offer is actually the “offering of the Gentiles.” specifically the fruits our work of evangelism.  In love and adoration we present to the Father those whom we have brought to salvation in his Son Jesus Christ.  That is the very essence of “in-grab.”  This offering is possible only through Christ, and is a work directed by the Holy Spirit.  What strikes me is the awesome responsibility we bear in this matter.  If we are insensitive to the call of the Spirit, we will be left standing on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza while the eunuch makes his way back to Candace the pagan queen unconverted. 

Worship, communion with the God of love, should awaken the love of God within our hearts.  Love demands that we reach outwards in order to bring people into the Body of Christ and into fellowship with the living God.  When that does not indeed happen, it signals that our communion with God is actually abortive and all our religious posturing is precisely that.  We are hypocrites, in the Biblical sense of that word, wearing the assumed mask of piety.  To us then, the Christ will say, “Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth (Rev. 3:15, 16). 

[i] Alan Hirsch, “Defining Missional”, Leadership Journal, Fall 2008 online
[ii] Matthew 28:18-20 
[iii] (Christianity Today, June 2007)

Friday, October 5, 2012


When I was very young McDuff and I were invited to preach mini-sermons at a Presbyterian Church youth event.  McDuff’s response to me later was that he could understand Scripture because he was going to seminary, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t being trained in seminary.  

That is not an uncommon attitude in some circles.  Some years later I attended his seminary.  Its professors were expert at demythologizing Scripture but had no apparent heart for its meaning.  Their application of the Wellhausen approach to the Old Testament left you with a pile of clipping instead of a workable document.

I recently received the same put down from an old friend who is quite a scholar.  In essence his view is a form of gnosticism; the claim to superior knowledge on the basis of much study and insight.  Solomon warns us, “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.  The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:12-13).  

It is true that much study may give you “special knowledge” but there is also a danger.  If you think that special knowledge can lead you to safely contradict the plain teaching of Scripture and Tradition, you are not only wrong, but you are also foolish.

The truth of Scripture must remain plain and simple so that “he who runs may read it,” understand it, and be called to the challenge of surrender to the voice of God speaking truth through the words of Scripture.  Once you resort to an ingenious “deeper knowledge” of Scripture to defend current changes in morality, you are running against rocks of Charybdis and the dangerous whirlpool of contemporaneity will pull you under.

McDuff is always with us with his new-old Gnosticism.  “I have special knowledge and you don’t, so Scripture doesn’t mean what you and most of the Church thinks that it means.”  That is not only spiritually dangerous, but it also is arrogant.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I was struck by the curious alignment of some Anglo-Catholics with some Evangelicals and Charismatics in the groups that left the Episcopal Church to start their own new churches.  What on earth do those three groups have in common?  In asking that question, I am not questioning their basic doctrines; after all many of the Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals and Charismatics who remained behind believe essentially the same things.  It is true that some of those who departed were driven out and I share their pain and grief, but some of them certainly fit in with the following remark of C. S. Lewis. “I think just as you do about the Anglo-Cats.[i]   Their prevailing quality is the very non-Catholic one of disobedience.  They will obey neither their own book nor Rome.”[ii]  The dominant trait seems to be problems with authority.  Or am I just blowing smoke?  Excuse me, “blowing incense.”  While I’m at it, I think C. S. Lewis today would need to differentiate between High Sacramentalists who have a low doctrine of the Church (the true Anglo-Cats), and true Anglo-Catholics who have a high doctrine of the Church, and treasure its unity as a primary value.

[i][i] Anglo-Catholics
[ii] Ed. Walter Hooper, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Vol. II, (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), p. 762

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Naïve Triumphalism

There is in Church Growth circles a naïve triumphalism.  A number of years ago Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral was the model for Church Growth, and Robert Schuller’s Credo was the Church Growth cheer, "If you can dream it, you can do it."   The BHAG business goal became the directive for the Church Growth movement.  Do you remember BHAG?  Dream Big Hairy Audacious Goals?  There is a difference between enthusiasm and being filled with the Spirit.  Clergy all over the land were invited to Dream Big Hairy Audacious Goals.

Following that Credo mega-churches were spawned across the land, but the question that needs to be raised is “Is that the model God intends for his Church?”  The Crystal Cathedral dream went into bankruptcy, the building was sold and was purchased by the Roman Catholic Church and renamed Christ Cathedral.  Perhaps that’s what it should have been named from the beginning.  You won’t find the Crystal Cathedral model in Scripture or in the Early Church for the very simple reason that it isn’t there.

It is hard to sort out our faith from the culture in which it has been, by necessity, incarnated.  We are a race of entrepreneurs finding our affirmation in our successes, treasuring our individuality, seeking self-actualization; none of which are biblical values.  What Jesus actually said was, “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33), and St. John comments, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15).  Having known that for some time doesn’t ward off our sense of mild surprise and disappointment when we discover that love, hard work, and enthusiasm can’t fix everything.

That is not to say that evangelism is not the primary mission of the Church.  Of course it is.  Jesus commanded us saying, “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 28:18-20).  But that is quite different from the BHAG model.

We have the models for Church Growth readily at hand; they just don’t match our cultural presuppositions.  They don’t look like what we call success.   It has taken hundreds of years and thousands of martyrs for the Church universal to grow, and most of that growth follows the models of the early churches in Derbe, Iconium, Antioch, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, and finally in Rome.  What we want is instant mega success, but I suspect that God doesn’t want us to have it because it probably isn’t good for us. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

LGBT and Liberation Theology

I have recently read a response from a defender of LGBT committed relationships in which he referred to Liberation Theology as the most adequate response to the their situations.  This is my response:

From Gutierrez in “We drink from our own wells”:  “For those who are located within a particular spiritual tradition, entry into the experience of the LGBT means taking that tradition with them. . . . Advantage must rather be taken of that tradition in order to enrich the contemporary spiritual experience of the LGBT.  The refusal thus to enrich the LGBT would betray a kind of avarice in the area of spirituality.  Furthermore, such avarice turns against the distrustful owner: their spiritual riches spoil and lose their value when kept “under the mattress.”

The faith and hope in the God of life that provide a shelter in the situation of death and struggle for life in which the LGBT and the oppressed of Latin American are now living—they are the well from which we must drink if we want to be faithful to Jesus.”

I have substituted LGBT for the word “LGBT” to throw into sharp relief what Gutierrez is saying.  Far from abandoning tradition, he drinks from the well of tradition.  You seem to drinking from the well of accommodation to the pains and misery of the LGBT and importing that into your research seeking to justify their claims.  What is at issue is that obedience to the plain teaching of scripture and tradition brings life, and the refutation of the plain teaching of scripture and tradition is ultimately a ministry of death.

I have long agreed with the central tenet of Latin American Liberation Theology.  In the words of Obispo Adrian Caceres, “Learn to read the bible with the eyes los pobres.”  That did not mean that one abandoned either scripture or tradition, far from it, and it terms of basic morality there was no departure from scripture and tradition, and no demythologization of scripture and tradition in dealing with the death dealing immorality in the experience of the poor, or for that matter of the LGBT.  If in your attempt to apply your heuristic / hermeneutic questions you end up rejecting tradition in favor of your reworking of tradition you are making an error.  For Liberation Theology experience was not a substitute for scripture and tradition.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ivory Tower Gnosticism

When I was a new Christian I was invited to preach at a youth event along with another young man named John who was a seminary student.  I said what I knew, and I knew Jesus.  After the event John informed me that it was not possible for me to understand Scripture because I was not in seminary.  Of course, being a seminary student, he had superior knowledge.

This is what I refer to as Ivory Tower Gnosticism; common people cannot understand Scripture, only Ivory Tower scholars can.  I recently received the same put-down from an old friend who is one of the more intelligent men I know.  Make no mistake, it is a put-down, and not only a put-down but a heresy common to Ivory Tower scholars; its intent is to invalidate the ability of the common man or woman to understand Scripture. 

The context was his justification of the current trend in the Church to approve of the marriage of same sex persons.  He was driven to pursue this course because of compassion, but that is not quite the same thing as being driven by a quest for truth. He bases his justification, not on a clear understanding of Scripture, but on his own research into social history that flies in the face of the witness of the larger Church.  Missing was a grasp of the ramification of the fall of humankind on social mores and customs.  In contrast, it really doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, all of us are fallen and there is no reality in the claim that we were created this way; therefore it’s justified.

Gnosticism is roughly salvation by special knowledge.  If you are not an initiate in the mysteries of special knowledge you are unenlightened.  The current flavor of Ivory Tower Gnosticism is a version of the Sophia Myth, where the goddess Sophia represents the female principle where it manifests itself in the defense of alternate life styles that are characterized by sexual identity confusion.

The real problem is the not so subtle inference that the common man or woman cannot understand the teaching of Holy Scripture, only the Initiates can.  It is true that much study may give you “special knowledge.”  But the danger comes when you fancy that special knowledge can replace the plain teaching of Scripture and Tradition.

The truth of Scripture must remain plain and simple so that he who runs may read it, understand it, and be called to the challenge to surrender to the voice of God speaking through the words of Scripture.  John Donne understood it correctly, ‘“The Scriptures are Gods Voyce; The Church is His eccho.”  When we forget that simple principle, trouble arises.

One of the wisest of men observed, “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd.  My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12).   

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why Do the Heathen So Furiously Rage?

“O Lord, deliver me from the man of excellent intention and impure heart: for the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”[i] ~ T. S. Eliot

            We are drawing close to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and there is an ongoing furious debate in the church.  The debate is not about sexuality, but about the nature of authority in the church.

            The Psalmist asks, “Why do the heathen rage?”[ii]  It is a rhetorical question, but the answer is implicit in the response of the heathen.  “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, "Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us."[iii]  The problem that the world has with the Lord and his Anointed is authority.  The world cries out, “I am my own!”

            The world is in the Church and it loves to call the things of the Church its own.[iv]  The world within the Church rages against the authority of God and his Messiah and that raging takes the form of mocking denial of the authority of God’s anointed Word as He speaks in Holy Scripture.

            The problem is not intellectual or a matter of scholarship.  It is a matter of the heart.  It is painful to be told that the things that you are doing, the things that are closest to your heart, are sinful. The issue is not over one’s orientation.  The issue is lust.  What an awkward and condemning word that is!  It is so unlike the loving projection of God from the humanist heart of the world.  God is not a humanist.  He does not center the first principle of all things in the desperately wicked human heart,[v] but in himself.

            The argument could be over almost anything that the human heart holds dear.  More subtle are the hidden passions of intellectual snobbery, or human pride, or the self-assumed fundamental right of human beings to be self-determining; the right to say with Eve and Adam, “I am my own.  I want to do it my way.”  But be aware that in practice that self-assumed fundamental right means the right of the children of the world to mold everyone else in their image.

            That of course is the issue.  It is not just that the world within the Church seeks acceptance.  It is not just that the world within the Church seeks approval.  There is a difference between accepting people and approving their actions.  The world within the Church seeks something else.  Ultimately the world with the Church seeks your participation in its lusts.  That is the final approval.

[i] T. S. Eliot, Chorus from the Rock
[ii] Psalm 2:1
[iii] Psalm 2:2-3  
[iv] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall
[v] Jeremiah 17:9

Monday, May 28, 2012

Under the Rainbow Bridge: A Family Tragedy

Late in 1941 three things came together: the new Mustang, the newly constructed Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls, and a young fly-boy named Nelson Purdue.  The Mustang was a small fighter plane that out performed the Spitfire and was destined to take a major role in the war.  The Rainbow Bridge had some strong romantic connections as the replacement for the Honeymoon Bridge, which collapsed due to an ice jam in the Niagara River. The new bridge had a marvelous view of Horseshoe Falls.  Put those two tempting items together with the newly engaged Nelson Purdue and a sunny day in the fall of 1941 and you have the stuff of family legends.  The tragedy is that Nelson was lost somewhere over Germany later in the war, leaving only the sparse legend surrounding his name. My aunt, who died several years ago, lost the most, and the event colored her life for some time to follow.  The rest of the family barely knew him.  I never met him.  Now sixty-five years later I know only the brief legend which was always told with joyful admiration, “Nelson flew under the Rainbow Bridge!”

What comes to mind is the admonition of a 8th Century Saint, John of Damaskos, “All human affairs, all that does not exist after death is vanity.  Riches vanish, glory leaves us… every man born of the earth troubles himself in vain… by the time we have gained the whole word we shall be in the grave, where king and pauper are one.”[1]

What is truly important?  What is it that exists after death?  Certainly if God is our one true Love, all other loves and relationships will exist in him.  Here I want to raise a very important question for those of us in The Episcopal Church today.  Sixty-five years from now what will remain of the conflicts, vested interests, and personalities of the crisis within the church today?  The simple answer is not much!

In 1771 conflict arouse in the Church of England.  250 clergy who were deeply affected by the spread of Unitarianism submitted a petition to parliament.  British Statesman Edmund Burke responded: "These gentlemen complain of hardships: let us examine a little what that hardship is. They want to be honored as clergymen of the Church of England … but their consciences will not allow them to conform to the doctrines and practices of that Church. That is, they want to be teachers in a Church to which they apparently no longer belong; and that is an odd sort of hardship. They want to be paid for teaching one set of doctrines, while they are teaching another."[2]  Today’s conflict is only a variant of an ongoing debate between the orthodox and those who, like the second century heretic Marcion, refused the authority of Scripture and the Church wherever either disagreed with him. 

Marcion we know because the theologian Tertullian named him, but who are the 250 clergy who petitioned Parliament in 1771?  Their names are lost to posterity and they are only an obscure footnote in the history of the Church.  At least my family remembers that it was Nelson Purdue who flew under the Rainbow Bridge.  Karl Barth said something to the effect that it is one of God’s miracles that the Church still exists.  For twenty centuries, battered and bruised, the Church, the Bride of Christ rises from the ashes of conflict and opens the door to Salvation, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

From the perspective of history, there is nothing novel, or particularly earth shaking in the current attempts to deny the authority of Scripture in faith and practice.  Roseanne Roseannadanna was right, “it just goes to show you, it's always something! If it's not one thing, it's another!”  Of course it is.  St. Paul clearly warns us, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”[3]  So what’s new?

Conflict within the Anglican Church is like waves crashing against the beach.  No matter how many times they come in, they always recede again.  In the meantime, what are we to do?  First, and it ought to be obvious, don’t build your house on the sand.  Build your house on the rock!  This is precisely where Jesus presents a stiff challenge to today’s Church.   What is the rock?  The One whom we call the Rock says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”[4]  The rock, very simply is the self-revelation of God in Holy Scripture itself.  

By definition, “In the name of Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.”[5]  The poet John Donne said it very nicely, “The Scriptures are God’s Voice.  The Church is His Echo.”[6]  I am well aware that not everybody wants that to be the solution for the painful stresses within the Church today, but I’m afraid that it is, and I don’t see away around the rock except by walking on the sand.  Stability in times of distress is a matter of basic principles firmly held.  I have always enjoyed the seashore, but for some reasons which should be obvious, I wouldn’t insist on building my house on the sand.

The second thing we are to do is follow the advice of Jesus who said “Fear not!”[7] and “Love one another!”[8]  Instead of worrying over things that are out of your control, put your trust in Him who is our steadfast love[9] and do the amazing thing he told you to do, and “love one another.”  That’s a whole lot better than pushing and shoving and saying uncharitable things.

The third thing we are supposed to do you already know.  Jesus said, “"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.   19 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, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."[10]  He didn’t mean for you to do it only on mild sunny days, but in all kinds of weather, even when it’s stormy.  The secret of Church Growth is this: Go and make disciples!  That is as simple as inviting people to Church.  How do I know?  Because that is the way most of us came to faith in the first place, somebody invited us.

[1] John of Damaskos, quoted by St. Peter of Damaskos in “The Fifth Stage of Contemplation” in the Philokalia, Vol.3
[2] Alfred Plummer, The Church of England in the Eighteenth Century, (London: Methuen, 1910), edited in contemporary English, Rob Smith 2006, p. 168
[3] Acts 20:28-31 ESV
[4] Matthew 7:24
[5] The Articles of Religion, BCP, p. 868
[6] John Donne, Sermons VI. 5-7
[7] Many places in the gospels, but for a helpful verse look up Psalm 64:1b
[8] John 15:12 etc.
[9] Psalm 144:2
[10] Matthew 28:18-20

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Purple Fever: A Retrospect

The honour I never almost had:

Purple Fever is an awful disease, it was candidate’s night, and the next day was the election of a 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 of saying; “Back in two thousand and something I was nominated for Bishop.”  Even the possibility of a small self-glorifying exaggeration is clean cut off, I fortunately can’t even say, “I was almost elected.”

I looked over the slate of candidates.  There were two obviously good men who were willing to let themselves be lured into a greater suffering on behalf of the church.  Of the others, two had been afflicted with purple fever.  One of them eventually would end up in legal problems, the other was just a sad individual.  At least they had bragging rights.   Come to think about it, at an earlier election one devout and holy candidate, or so we were told, was eventually defrocked for child abuse.  Purple fever can, and does, infect the most unsuitable candidates.

This purple fever is an insidious disease that has led some to leave The Episcopal Church in their lust to become bishops.  I know one “bishop” duly consecrated by somebody, somewhere, who has no diocese, no churches, no priests, and worked as a gardener, and another who admitted to having only 12 people in his congregation, and six similar sized congregations under his shepherding care; but he’s a bishop and he holds wonderful ordinations for his poorly trained disciples.  I know another who left The Episcopal Church with great fanfare and great expectancy hoping to become a bishop in one of the African dioceses, only to discover too late that they don’t consecrate divorced men as bishops.

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.  I almost seized the heavenly throne; a throne I could have had, if only, so at least I have bragging rights.”

The great mistake in all this is the attempt to affirm one’s value by seizing power and becoming a human doing instead of accepting the humiliation of being a human being.  In this unrestrained ambition the greater the doing, the greater the power, the emptier the soul!  The truth is that it is a fatal error to say, “I do, therefore I am,” and perhaps René Descartes missed the truth, “Je pense donc je suis,” “I think, therefore I am.”  It is closer to the mark to say, “I love, therefore I am.”  Ultimately our human identity is defined by our relationships.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Hierarchy and the Dance of Life

Some people are destined for misery, it can be no other way. Their problem is not understanding their place in the dance of life. For a start they do not know, or choose not to know, that there is a natural hierarchy in the created order simply because there is a Creator, and all else by very nature is creation. In the dance of life He leads and all the rest of us are feminine in contrast to his overwhelming masculinity.

This is very difficult both for men and “liberated” women. It is not easy even for women who profess that their husbands are the head of the house and say in the same breath, “But, I’m the neck that turns the head.” Unlike their unfortunate husbands God cannot be manipulated no matter how lovingly.

Hierarchy is the principle of organization for creation and for every human society, even the Church. Remember that Christ Jesus is the Head and we are his body. That is reflected in the four orders of ministry; bishops, priests, deacons and laity. The bishop who said that he was the servant of the servants of the servants of God spoke only a partial truth, and we all know that a partial truth is a heresy. This particular heresy is endemic in the American Church where those who proclaim it most loudly discover that they have lost their authority (how odd?) and end up having to go to the secular courts to sue their brothers over property. Here the problem is the disconnected hierarchy of the American Church that refuses to acknowledge any authority greater than itself. Where is no hierarchy there is no dance of life.

Surrender to the reality of hierarchy is surrender to an hierarchical order that is by nature an authority structure. That should be too obvious to bear mention, but it’s not. The only other alternative is chaos. Dare I mention an unpardonable word? Obey! Dare I interject that word into our understanding of the hierarchical order of bishops, priests, deacons and laity? Humility is understanding and accepting your place in God’s created order. The kingdom of God is not a democracy, and where it attempts to be a democracy it fails to be a kingdom. In a kingdom one reverently obeys the King. One also obeys his delegated officers and ministers. In American democratic fantasy people fancy that they decide things by a popular vote. That is idealized in the Town Meeting system that has the unique characteristic of not working very well, which is why we elect temporary rulers to argue and vote among themselves while the rest of us are just expected to obey. Now my remarks about hierarchy may not seem very American or democratic, but that is because my allegiance is to a kingdom with another King.

Not all are comfortable with the idea of kingdom because the notions of hierarchy and obedience cut cross grain across self-centered human nature and leave them feeling that their freedom of choice is impaired, that their rights are being trampled on. St. Paul points out an uncomfortable reality. We are slaves of sin or we are slaves of righteousness. There is no middle ground. We will end up obeying one or the other. The only alternative to God’s hierarchy, its obedience, order and joy; is chaos, desolation and misery. The reason why some will live in misery is that they do not know that the truth will set them free, and that freedom is of necessity freedom from the tyranny of self, and sin, and freedom from isolation from the dance of life.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Constitutes Renewal?

What constitutes spiritual renewal?  Are we not talking about authenticity, about integrity in worship and in life?  I am renewed when I am most genuine before God, when I am laid bare before God and He has poured out His Spirit upon me.   Renewal is ultimately wayless and formless, but that does not mean that in corporate worship traditional forms have to be replaced by contemporary forms that have an illusion of being wayless and formless, if only because they are both poorly conceived and poorly formed.  Does “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9) actually demand that we abandon beauty in favor of T-shirts and jeans?

            While there was some need to revise the BCP, perhaps even some need to enrich its selection of canticles, did wholesale revision of either the BCP, or the Hymnal leave us with something more, or something less?  In using both the new BCP and Hymnal over the past few years, my soul (nephesh ~ my inner man) cries out for the something more because instinctively I recognize that I have ended up with something less.

            The same is true of worship music and hymnody.  How much contextualization is actually constructive?  Why do I spend so much time listening to classical music?  Why do I still prefer, greatly prefer, Handel’s Messiah to the current offerings of contemporary gospel?  Something identifiable, and negative, has happened to Gospel praise music in the last twenty years.  It has moved from praise, ranging from simple to almost, but not quite lofty praise of Maranatha and other groups; to the current stuff with insipid melodies and clanging rhythms often featuring pseudotestimonial songs about me and Jesus, and us and Jesus, and what he done did for ME, all of which is often told in a rambling sentimental personal stories.  Did I say sappy?  I meant to!  You can listen for quite a while on Christian radio and never hear actual praise, and when you do hear it, it seems noisy, cold and incomprehensible.  When did contemporary gospel music move from being group led (Maranatha and many others) to individual praise leaders, and is that necessarily an advantage?  Is it not rather a symptom that contemporary praise music has moved away from congregational singing to professional performance?

 Why should I just pick on contemporary gospel?  The other day someone told me of a “glorious” service at one of our large downtown churches that “wow” even had “paid singers”.  Of course what I want to know is what does that have to do with worship?  That by the way is also reflected in the shift from the 1940 Hymnal to the 1982 Hymnal.  In the former about 50% at most was singable in the average congregation, and in the latter 30% is singable if you are lucky.  It was of course actually put together by professional church musicians from that school that advises that you tighten your buttocks in order to better project your voice.  Woops.  That was uncalled for and perhaps unjust, but it certainly reflects the attitude of one very influential seminary music professor who it turns out actually became the General Editor of the 1982 Hymnal.  Having “sat under” his instruction I can easily see why the 1982 Hymnal is so ineffective for the average congregation.  It was all just too precious to be well balanced!

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Song of the Church

It is fashionable in our age to criticize the Church, but what does the Lord of the Church have to say about his own?

“Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?”[i]

Who is the Accuser who would say otherwise?

We who are the Church, the Body of Christ, have accepted the Devil’s assessment of the Church and have been led with a ring through our nose into the attack on ourselves.  Immediately comes to mind the accusation that the Church is the only army that shoots its wounded.  Oh, really?

I note that in the usual form of this accusation that the Church is referred to as an ‘army’ that shoots its wounded.  That accidentally acknowledges that the Church is an army on the front line of a battle.  The world does not take that seriously.  It would never do to admit that the Church is involved in the global warfare between good and evil.  That is so much out of favour that in some places those called by the name of Christ won’t even sing Onward Christian Soldiers.

What must be considered is that the world is in the Church and the Church like any human organization has within it people of divided loyalties.  The Accuser holds up the shining mirror of the Church in the radiant glory yet to come and says, “See!  You are hypocrites; you do not live up to your image.”  Of course not!  The image is for the future, it is the wrong image and the Enemy would sell us a subtle deception. 

What is the correct image?  We are not yet the glorified Church, but we are a Church in transition; an imperfect Church made up of imperfect people.  Once we were lost, but now we are found.  We are a communion of sinners in the process of transformation.  We are a blood washed band on a pilgrimage to the Promised Land.  That is what so enrages the Devil.

Are people wounded by the Church?  Yes, insofar as the world is in the Church, and the Church is in the world.  There are tremendous flaws within the Church because of the humanity of the Church.

One of the reasons the world hates the Church is because in the Church the world sees its own mirror image, and more than that it sees its mirror image in the process of redemption.  The world is threatened by the demonstration in the Church that change is possible, that salvation and transformation can be seen in the ongoing salvation history of the Church and its individual people.

It is the image of a glorious Church in transformation from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Light, and in fury the Enemy cries out, “How dare you say that salvation and change is possible?”  From his perspective that wrecks all!  The Church in this world, already beginning to reflect the glory of God, is a serious affront to the world, the flesh, and the Devil; because is true that even as the Church beholds the Light it is in the process of being transformed into Light.

The vision is for the future, but it is already in process now.  Therefore the Devil cannot stand it.

And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."[ii]

[i] Song of Songs, 6:10;
[ii] Revelation 21:2-4