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UNEQUALLY YOKED

My friend and Bishop, Daniel Martins has penned a lucid justification for his remaining within the Episcopal Church. http://www.cariocaconfessions.blogspot.com.

He notes that there are many friends who suggest that such accommodation – we used to call it comprehension – is impossible when the issues are not adiaphora, “matters indifferent”, areas where Christians may disagree, but touch on core beliefs. Such people talk about the Pauline injunction forbidding Christians being yoked together with non-believers. (2 Cor 6:14.)

 

Bishop Martins replies to his concerned friends by saying:

 

“Reconciliation is a non-negotiable gospel imperative. It’s not just “nice if you can get it.” It’s not adiaphora; it is essential. I am not suggesting that light should or can be reconciled with darkness, or death with life. What I am contending is that those who have been clothed with Christ in the waters of baptism, those who name Jesus as Lord, are constitutionally and irrevocably of one blood, one family. And in a family, you don’t get to choose your siblings. You may not like them. You make think they’re off the rails. You may find them insufferably boorish and be embarrassed by them. But you don’t get to deny them. When they knock on your door, you suck it up and invite them in and fix them something to eat and drink.”

 

St. Paul (or a writer clearly in the Pauline tradition) doesn’t address the matter of the relationship Christians have with erring companions in the verse quoted from Corinthians. He is clearly talking about those who adhere to the religions of the Gentiles, those who worship idols in their temples and follow such cults. Paul is telling the Corinthian Christians not to hang out with those who practice non Christian rituals, or conform to their moral standards.  Christians, now and then, live in the world and are perhaps naturally drawn to fit in, not to make a fuss about unchristian practices espoused by “culture” and thus to compromise in a manner which confuses and confounds. However, St. Paul has just urged Christians to reconcile with one another. (2 Corinthians 5: 11-6:1.) The Corinthian church was beset by divisions and remained so. Some years later St. Clement scolded them for the same sin. It seems that there was such a thing as parochial DNA even then. “We implore you”, says Paul,  “be reconciled with God.”  Division, to the Apostle, was not just a matter of local disagreements between people, for as he asserts in this passage, one cannot regard fellow Christians as merely human beings, but as human beings who through baptism, through faith, have an indelible relationship with God.

 

That those made Christian through baptism and baptismal faith, can err is a given. St. Paul would have little to write about if that were not so. Just work through any of his letters noting which error he was addressing and one comes up with a formidable list. Yes, St. Paul, on occasion, urges the local church to discipline individuals whose behavior is openly and notoriously sinful in a manner which offends the local assembly, and of course destroys their intimate relationship with God. However the purpose of discipline and punishment in an ecclesial sense is always reconciliation.

 

Apart from brief references to “Judaisers”, and some other obscure appellations, we have little guidance in the New Testament about how erring “particular churches” are to be treated, for the simple reason that, although the local churches SS.Peter and Paul founded were subject to error and internal division, none were unchurched. The writer of the Book of Revelation has some trenchant words to say about the errors of the seven churches, but they remain seven churches. Of course there was no such thing as a “particular church” then. There was one Church.

 

I do not seek to trivialize the issue of “particular churches” which officially espouse teachings and practices in conflict with the received teachings of the historic church. However I would argue that the decisions of local synods, as those of General Councils, may be and have been in error. Anglicans said so in the Articles of Religion. Yet when that Article was written the bogey was Rome. Unlike the radical Protestants, Anglicans never unchurched the Roman Catholic Church and always received priests ordained by that church without re-ordination, even though most Anglicans at that time thought Rome was in severe error on matters relating to personal salvation.

 

One sympathizes with those who have found it necessary to separate from us. Many of them are friends and colleagues. I regard them as fellow Anglicans, whatever their formal relationship with the See of Canterbury. I hate the expression, “I feel your pain”, but pain there is and unfortunately there is bitterness and anger too. I understand what it must be like for most of the GAFCON members, to whom Christianity was brought by Western missionaries from England, Wales, Ireland and North America. To be impacted by the recent policies of the very churches through whom they received Christ, impacted often by being taunted and persecuted by rival religions, is a bitter experience indeed.Christians are being killed by people who use the decisions of our church as an excuse for fanaticism.

 

Yet throughout the history of Christianity there have been divisions, Christians have sought to labor on in errant jurisdictions, and to rub shoulders with those they believe to be plainly wrong. The hope of the Cross, the hope of the baptismal community, is that even in the midst of error, Christ seeks to reconcile, to redeem, to unite. His Kingdom comes in his time, not ours, is established by his will and not by synodical resolutions and as Bishop Martins remind us, grace is mediated through Baptism, through hearing the Bible read, through the other sacraments. We are not called to judge. We are called to be instruments of grace. God judges.

 

In the opening section of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul puts us all in our place:  “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” In short, through baptism, we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper, fellow sinners, fallible, in error in faith and habit, called to live in an often-fraught relationship with each other, called to care and love and accompany each other into faith and right living. Each Sunday we kneel together with people about whose orthodoxy or private behavior we know little or nothing. That basic witness of our unity through baptism should inform our whole Christian experience. Separation may make one feel safe and uncontaminated, but it also cuts off relationships and the ability and opportunity to love-in-action. Separation breeds self-justification and polemic. No, we do not stay to fight. We stay to be faithful to our calling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TAINTED ORDERS

As published on the Covenant site of the Living Church today.http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=4892

The consecration of the Church of England’s first woman bishop, Libby Lane, has stirred up a good deal of controversy, not least because it comes a week before the ordination and consecration of a male bishop, Philip North, chosen to minister to those who don’t believe that a woman can be a priest or a bishop. The controversy has deepened because no bishop who has ordained a woman is to lay on hands when Fr. North is ordained. Instead they will encircle him, pray for him, but not touch him, while three other bishops will represent the Archbishop of York and the Northern bishops in the laying on of hands, three “untainted” bishops (it should be noted that the Archbishop of York has rejected the claim that the arrangement is due to a “theology of taint,” though he suggested the alteration to the usual procedure).

I must here admit a bias. Some years ago, I too received the laying on of hands by three Anglican bishops, using the proper rite, the correct intention, with the laying on of hands, for an ecclesial group respectable enough to enter into conversations with the Episcopal Church. I now serve happily, however, in the Episcopal Church, the question of whether I became a bishop or not held in abeyance, perhaps until what I should wear for my funeral is decided. So when it comes to how I feel or how others feel about whether either of the bishops consecrated in the Church of England should be so recognized, I’ve been there. I want to propose two reflections on the whole business of validity. Before I go there, I have to admit that I get a silly thought in my noggin, when considering the question of whether an ordination “takes” or not. I imagine the angel charged with validity gesturing to the Holy Spirit to indicate whether the Spirit should bestow grace or not in a given situation.

Silly or not, there’s something to it. Anglicans believe that all ministers are ministers of the Universal Church. They believe that whatever method chosen to select suitable candidates, God does the choosing, and God ordains through bishops. The problem is that, like William Temple, we believe in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and regret it’s nowhere to be found. The traditional elements deemed to be necessary for a valid ordination get mixed up in church politics, history, inter-church conflict, and schism. Now here it should be noted that no less venerable an institution than the Lambeth Conference 1920, in reference to nonconformist ministries, emphatically stated that God still uses such ministries as “effective means of grace” to serve God’s people (Resolution 9.VII), which of course was all very nice of them. Could we dare imagine that God refuses to be present among those whose ministers haven’t been ordained and set apart by bishops -or the right bishops in the right “church”? Certainly, Christians have expressed themselves in such a way, whether they were Donatists, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, or even doughty Protestants abhorring the papal Antichrist and all his minions.

But I have reached a rather different conclusion.

Because no ordained minister in the Church here on earth at this moment represents the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and thus the unity of God in Trinity and Trinity in unity, but rather functions among separated congregations and jurisdictions, occupying (along with other similar functionaries) the same territory in space and time, in competition for the same population, objectively or subjectively selling the wares of their own traditions — all Holy Orders are tainted, defective, and irregular. All ministers are so tainted because they live into the taint of disunity, refusing to honor our Lord’s prayer that we may be one, as the Father is one. But God does not deny his grace to his people. He raises up saints in every generation. He honors what occurs at the font and the communion rail, in marriage, at funerals, at the bedside, and in ordination. Yet until the Church realizes again its vocation to unity, bewails the taint of division, and stops placing stumbling blocks in the way of deep communion with each other, no church or group is in the position to cast stones. The question of validity is all about the nature of the Church. Holy Orders do not create the Church; the Church is built on those whom God calls, lay and ordained.

OUR VULNERABLE LEADER

Christians are often accused of being needy people putting their hopes and trusts in a power, note that word, from above, who will muscle into our lives and set things right. It’s an understandable charge. After all, we begin prayers with such words as “Almighty”, conjuring up ideas of all mighty, stronger than strong, a truly muscular Presence.

We live in a world where strength and power are valued. We admire strong leaders, people who have struggled to the top, not only in politics, but in industry, the arts, even in education. If wealth is associated with public stature, so much the better. We even get a kick out of seeing the strong brought down by the power, the strength of the media, social or professional. Watching the strong become weak gives us a vicarious sense of our moral superiority and to be superior is to be strong. We seek ways to protect what we have, what we own, what we value. Even the church employs the majesty of the law to protect its assets. The Church of England recently issued a report about how to recruit efficient, powerful leaders to get things done. The Episcopal Church in a recent report, seeks to empower its leaders to get things done. Most of our campaigns for justice seek to create a forceful power to get things done, to change things for the better.

Yet this evening, Christmas Eve, Christians will go in heart and mind to Bethlehem to see a child lying in a manger. The child who lies there in an animal food trough in a dirty cave we believe to be the same God we call Almighty. Yet this baby, refused even birth in an inn, born without the skill of a midwife, this Baby God/Man, has no power at all. The vulnerable baby relies totally on the love of Mary and Joseph. He begins as he will go on, vulnerable to attack from that old tyrant Herod, later from religious authorities clinging to power, Romans, showing their power and will finally embrace that moment we shall all experience, when we have no power or strength to live. He died on the Cross.

If we see God in the face of Jesus, then we see a very different kind of power than the world understands. After he rose from the dead, Jesus told his disciples that they were going to be made powerful. Finally we get to strength. Hooray. No we don’t. The power is given to the disciples so that they might become witnesses, martyrs, life-givers. Christians who seek an Almighty God to muscle into their lives are doomed to disappointment. God isn’t like that. We cry, “Why didn’t God intervene to prevent a death, a war, a natural disaster.”  The simple truth is that God has intervened. He has intervened in vulnerability. He calls us on Christmas Eve to see him in his helplessness, but a helplessness which draws from shepherds and later wise men enormous devotion and love. There’s the strength of a vulnerable God. He pours forth love and inspires love in us. He challenges us to abjure power, muscle, strength, to admit our weakness and receive gladly the status of being weak with God ( as the world sees weakness ) and yet armed with the enormous power of mercy, forgiveness and a love that changes that which cannot be changed. Holy child of Bethlehem, cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us tonight.

A CHURCH OR A FACTION

Next year, the Episcopal Church will elect a new Presiding Bishop. The holder of this office is also described as Chief Pastor and Primate. The office has evolved since the first PB, William White, took office. The newly formed Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (PECUSA) knew quite clearly what it didn’t want in its bishops and their president. They didn’t want prelates, no Lord Bishops or Graced Archbishops, as much creatures of the State and thus the party in favor with the monarch at a given time. They sought to resurrect what was termed primitive episcopacy, one modeled on an ideal early Church construct. For this reason they resisted electing suffragan bishops as something newfangled, refused to permit bishops to retire ever, even when they started confirming bed posts, and abhorred the notion that a bishop might be translated, moved from see to shining see.

 

 

Of course, jumping from the now, whenever that now may be, to an idealized golden age is always fraught with problems. The idealism of the founding fathers and mothers eventually gave way to more practical considerations. Granted, our bishops don’t sit in the Senate, and we don’t have a metropolitan archbishop.

 

 

It may be argued that, rather than emulate the State in forming our ordained leaders, we’ve been much more influenced by commerce and industry. The headquarters of our church, lodged in an aging skyscraper in New York, resembles a corporate center, complete with a CEO and other corporate officers, answerable, if at all, to a Board of Directors and a triennial meeting of those shareholders who make enough noise to be selected to attend a rather expensive meeting and stay in classy hotels for up to two weeks. There’s nothing much of the early Church about such a structure. True, the structure is under a much fanfared review at present, but the signs are that those who have most benefitted from things as they are, in a fit of a newly adopted conservatism, are resisting any radical change. Nor should our structure —or should I say could our structure? — resemble a third-century model. Since those days, we’ve taken to having discrete buildings, territorial dioceses and parishes, and full-time paid clergy (including bishops). And the church here suffers from minimal persecution.

 

 

If the corporate model has gained steady ground over the past century, another model has gained perhaps even more traction. That model is inspired by secular politics. We have our parties. It’s nonsense to suggest that there is something new about there being factions and interest groups within the Christian Church. In the Middle Ages, they tended to gather around monastic orders, companies of friars, prominent theologians, and, yes, even around a monarch or his detractors.

 

 

When PECUSA was founded, it emerged as a battered minority, shorn of its privileged place in colonial society, divided between patriots and loyalists to such a degree that the first bishops wouldn’t even attend General Convention together. Episcopalians were also divided theologically. High Church New Englanders abhorred the semi-Deism of Southern Latitudinarians, and both were soon disturbed by the arrival of a gung-ho evangelicalism, the members of which wondered whether their co-religionists were saved at all. William White, the first Presiding Bishop, armed merely with influence rather than power — and certainly not a team of lawyers — sought to keep the peace, as PECUSA drew back from near extinction and gained self-confidence, growing and expanding at a remarkable pace. No one doubted that White was a Broad Churchman, and yet, by and large, he managed to assist the bishops and a succession of General Conventions in placing unity and concord above party faction.

 

 

No one should think that the various factions were less sure that they were right than our contemporary “progressives” and “traditionalists” do. Yet they were bright enough to understand the obvious: the total victory of any one of their parties would weaken, perhaps fatally weaken, a church which had teetered on the brink of extinction. Even so, many were lost to other denominations because the Episcopal Church was slow to expand to the frontiers. Or, rather, when Episcopalians arrived in the West, they merely looked for unchurched Episcopalians. There were exceptions like Hobart, Chase, and Polk. However, Episcopalians took with them not only theological, structural, and liturgical peculiarities, but also an aura of elitism that survives to this day. We’ve been good at championing the poor and the excluded as groups, and much less willing to include them in our churches. After all, they don’t fit in, and they tend to vote Republican.

 

 

We are not teetering on the brink of extinction, at least not yet. But we are not our blooming best. That was achieved in the middle of the twentieth century, when our numbers were rather higher and Presidents listened to Presiding Bishops. Indeed, we are in significant decline, as is our mother church.

 

 

Greatly influenced by an archbishop of Canterbury who made no bones about his position, the English General Synod recently adopted legislation allowing women to become bishops. Yet embedded in the legislation is a commitment to protect minority opinion and encourage its members to flourish. Surely among our progressive bishops there is a candidate willing to protect minority opinion in TEC and even sway General Convention to encourage traditionalists to flourish? From an early church or ecclesiological standpoint , flying bishops are no more odd than suffragan and assistant bishops. But I don’t think that the answer lies there. It lies in enabling traditionalist ordinands to get through selection processes, it lies in encouraging and hiring theologically orthodox men and women to seminary positions, enabling parishes to call traditionalist clergy, and as the church, one hopes, reforms for mission, making sure that traditionalists participate in evangelism (not just church growth) and the creation of new congregations . I stress the word encourage rather than the present ‘tolerate.’.

 

One hopes that those who permit themselves to be nominated as candidates for the office of Presiding Bishop will seek a quiet corner and read about William White.
http://livingchurch.org/covenant/?p=4511

THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT

In Norfolk, England, where I spent most of my teens, there’s a saying. “It’s the same but different.” I’ve never fathomed quite what it means but I find it delightful. We have stumbled into a world where difference is in style. Tomorrow the Scottish electorate may well decide that being different is the way to go, as they dream dreams of William Wallace defeating the English (the cinematic Wallace, of course, was played by an American-Australian of Irish ancestry).

I was contemplating just how different I am from my brilliant colleagues on Covenant. I’m much older than they are. I’m not an academic. I’m not a convert. I’m not an American. Unlike most Brits, my father was a West Indian. And he was unlike many West Indians because he was of French, African, and English ancestry. By the time I’ve considered all the elements in my make-up that are unlike yours, I’m unique, sui generis, one isolated being seated in my recliner pecking away with two fingers on my laptop.

I have favorite parts of my being unlike you. Except in Lent, when the missions I serve struggle through Rite 1, I usually reflect that the worship forms I use remain foreign to me, even after years of use. When people, be they ever so brilliant, present me with reasons for changing long-used, evocative rites and ceremonies on the grounds that the Early Church did something different, I reflect that Campbell used the same logic when he founded the Christian Church – now there’s an exclusive title – as did the Anabaptists and Presbyterians. No, I’m not getting into an argument with you. I’m just showing you how different I am.

The Episcopal Bishops are meeting in Taiwan as I write this. One of them wrote today that being there reminds him that TEC isn’t just a national church. It’s an international communion all on its own. It’s different. It’s not like other Anglican Provinces. It’s exceptional, prophetic, inclusive, and modern.

Many of my friends left the Episcopal Church over Prayer Book revision, the ordination of women, same-sex unions, and “heresy.” They now belong to a number of different ecclesial bodies. They can tell me why they left, why they belong where they are, and why they don’t belong in another similar group. They are different.

That great hope of the twentieth-century church, the Ecumenical Movement, has foundered on difference: different claims, different structures, and newly adopted different practices. The appalling element in all this is that we don’t really care enough about any of this difference to repent and change. We were told that globalization was the trend of the future, and, in response, we’ve opted for nationalism and regionalism. We were told that ecumenism was the only reputable response to Christ’s prayer that we may be one to reflect the unity of the Trinity, and, in response, we rejoice in our separation and even when we adopt ecumenical partners we do so on the basis that we will remain just as we are.

The Covenant blog began in support of the ideal of an Anglican Covenant, a binding agreement between the Provinces of the Anglican Communion to a common set of principles. The tragedy is that many Provinces that agreed with these basic principles refused to back it, and in its place created their own exclusive association of churches and advertise just how they are unlike other sinners.

Jesus wept. He came to restore unity between God and the world God created and the people he made. He came to enfold a newly chosen people and commissioned them to announce the victory of Calvary, the absolution and remission of sin, the breaking down of barriers, justice for all, and the promise of a newly restored heaven and earth.

All my reflections on how different I am pale in the light of my sameness. I am a child of God, as are you. I am saved through the Cross of which my baptism is the symbol. I am fed with heavenly food. I am strengthened for service. I am not unlike non-Christians. I belong to the priestly-servant community called to stand for every human to the Father and to stand for the Father to every human. To keep this in mind is to arm myself against exclusivity, judgmentalism, bigotry, and vainglory. For those sins are the sin of pride: the deadliest of sins and the cause of all division. God help me, I’m not different in any important aspect. God has made me the same.

RE-STRUCTURING THE CHURCH

The Task Force charged with reforming the structure of our church has just issued another of its reports.http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/09/04/trec-issues-a-letter-to-the-episcopal-church/.The framers assume that the only people to whom they need to speak are those with MBAs or JDs or those benighted souls who revel in topics surrounding structure. It is just this sort of elitism which marginalizes most Episcopalians, turns them off from bothering whether structure is the handmaid of the Gospel and the Catholic Faith or its boss and induces most of us to leave “important things” to our betters. Perhaps this committee might consider translating their turgidity into plain English in order to enlist the opinions and input of those who pray, worship, give and work in our congregations day by day?

Having said that, it would perhaps have been a salutary exercise for the Task Force to consider a simple question, “Why the Church”? I don’t mean “Why the Episcopal Church,” at least not at first. Unless we have some clear understanding about how the Church fits in to God’s purpose, we won’t begin to understand how one fragment in the tragically divided state of Christ’s Church can reflect, albeit brokenly, that will and purpose which undergirds its nature and mission.

The Church exists in God’s will. That’s a beginning, one to which we should return when we get too caught up in the political and structural aspects of the organization. The Church is the aggregate of those, living and departed, who do God service in worship and in embracing God’s world. That purpose is true whether it is expressed in the daily work of a Primate, a Convention, a diocesan office, a parish office, whether in a General Convention at worship or in the offering made by a dozen people in a tiny mission. All is to the greater Glory of God as we serve the world in every age and generation.

If you will, the true nature of the Church may be found in some simple elements, material creations, natural and refined, in water, bread and wine, and oil. They are readily available and cost very little.Through water the Church reminds itself that it has come through water, has died and risen, expressed in its story of the parted water of the Red Sea, in the poured water of the River Jordan, to which we return every time a new child of God is baptized, every time a well is dug in a remote village, every time a drink is given to the thirsty in the name of Christ. Water is the element of redemption, restoration, a promise of the coming of the Kingdom, a sign of God’s love and care for the world in Jesus. The Church exists to make visible the Living Water of the totality of Christ’s mission. Every agency of the Episcopal Church from bottom to top exists to be an efficient Fountain.

Bread and Wine. These elements represent the basic elements of life. We need to eat and drink to live. Even the most elaborate meal is at base participation in life. For the Church Bread and Wine is a tasted and ingested vehicle whereby we participate in Christ’s essential being, his coming, his ministry, his death and passion, his resurrection and ascension, his eternal offering of himself in our place to the Father. Because God has “Spread a table in our sight” so the work of the Church is to spread the Table in plain sight, offering the meal in Christ to God for the world and offering the world God-Food on his behalf. This priestly work -for the Church is a Priesthood – is always the same although it is expressed in many ways and contexts. At the Table, the altar of Calvary, we offer the whole world to God in Trinity, its beauty, its marvels, its triumphs, its tragedy, its folly, its cruelty, its life and its death. At every level of organization, the Church and our church exists and proves its authenticity in that constant repetitive offering of that once offered. And in that sacrament, the Church and the church is fed, restored to life and vitality, enabled to offer food which is both spiritual and material to the world God created and wishes to restore to himself.At the Eucharist the called and vivified are then sent to feed a hungry world. Here in that priestly offering of God to the world the church demonstrates its authenticity. Both aspects of this priestly vocation are expressed through love by the Church’s use of these basic elements of human existence.

Then there is oil, olive oil, an element which stirs our memories of where we come from, wanderers brought through water to the oasis of God healing care. This is the oil of kingship, of priesthood, of baptism, of healing, of dying in order to live. As we touch foreheads and hands, we represent Christ’s rule, his Kingship, His priesthood, his healing life, his raising the dead. At every level of the Church’s life and of our church’s life, we anoint to reconcile, to forgive, to make disciples, to raise those who are dying, physically or mentally, to new life.

None of these elements are for us alone. They have been given as the tools by which the Church and our church demonstrates its loving, effective authenticity to the whole world, in every age and generation until he comes again. When the church lives for itself and hordes these elements for it own use, it ceases to be constructively authentic and loses its energy and effectiveness. It is by reflecting on just how our church employs these elements at each level that we can begin to assess our faithfulness and utility in fulfilling God’s will and mission. Structure is the handmaiden of the church’s authenticity and its use of the Gifts of God for the People of God.

HUH?

Dear Episcopalians. The Task Force charged with reforming the structure of our church has just issued another of its reports.http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/09/04/trec-issues-a-letter-to-the-episcopal-church/. I comment not on its contents but on its language. The framers assume that the only people to whom they need to speak are those with MBAs or JDs or those benighted souls who revel in topics surrounding structure. It is just this sort of elitism which marginalizes most Episcopalians, turns them off from bothering whether structure is the handmaid of the Gospel and the Catholic Faith or its boss and induces most of us to leave “important things” to our betters. Perhaps this committee might consider translating their turgidity into plain English in order to enlist the opinions and input of those who pray, worship, give and work in our congregations day by day?

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