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).