I think that we do aspire to be a consensual catholic and orthodox family … I believe we do aspire to be a family that lives in mutual respect and recognition. And to step back from that simply into a federal model…doesn’t seem to me to be the best and the greatest that God is asking from us as an Anglican family.” — Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his final presidential address to the communion

Full reflections on the quote here: http://www.catholicityandcovenant.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-church-truly-is-different-rowan-and.html

One of the most vexing questions an Anglican can be asked is “What is your theology?” or “How do Anglicans decide what they believe?”  I have heard many answers to these questions, and given many myself, but this recent article over at The Catholic Anglican is incredibly helpful.  It begins:

At some point any serious, committed Anglican — particularly someone who understands, or has been told, that Anglican spirituality is actually thoroughly Catholic, though distinct from Roman, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic, and Oriental Catholic — is likely going to confront a simple but serious question: What is the nature of Anglican theology?

The blog continues by invoking former Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher:

Many Anglicans know, and all should, that Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher (d. 1972) famously said about Anglicanism, “We have no doctrine of our own.  We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and these creeds we hold without addition or diminution.  We stand firm on that rock.” These words ought plaster the top of every formation handout given to Anglican in parish formation classes. ++Fisher’s statement is profound, scriptural, patristic, and humble. Its truth guides our tradition.

The article then goes on to draw a very helpful (to my mind) distinction between doctrine and theology.  Doctrine is what is believed.  Anglican doctrine is Catholic doctrine… as believed everywhere, always, and by all.  Theology is faith (belief) seeking understanding.  Because there are various Catholic schools within the historic Church, it follows that there are various Catholic theologies.  So what is Anglican theology? “What is our school of Catholic theology, born of our spirituality?”

I would propose that Fr Martin Thornton has given Anglicanism a permanent gift, which is his book, English SpiritualityThis book is already well-loved and appreciated in Anglicanism, certainly in the United States. It is the go-to book to discuss ascetical theology and is a resource for pastoral theology. But I would argue that neither application exhausts the book’s gift. No, its true significance is more profound: it is nothing less than a thorough map of Anglican theology in its historical lineage. That is to say, from Thornton, we have a clear sense of what the core curriculum is, and should be, for Anglican historical theology. His might be the very first instance that the contours of our school of theology have been thoroughly and concisely articulated. For this, we must give all thanks to Triune God.

To be fair, I’m not certain that Thornton himself grasped this — he very well may have! — although I would highly doubt he would disagree strongly with this application of his work. But perhaps as my study of Thornton deepens (I’m doing my master’s thesis on his corpus), I would revise that speculation. In any event, all are advised to purchase the book immediately if it does not grace your collection. And if it does, pull it out and give it serious attention in this new light. I will not rehearse here the extended argument that Thornton makes, because it is nuanced and does require participation in Anglican liturgical and sacramental life to fully appreciate (as any school would require).

Having now introduced us to Thornton, we get a basic outline of our “root stock”

These are the thinkers, prayers, writers, and (importantly) theologians that we as Anglicans owe our method, spirituality, and spiritual practices to.  It seems we would all do well to become friends with them, and perhaps to go ahead and purchase a copy of English Spirituality.  I wonder how many of our priests and Bishops in America are friends with these great Anglican teachers?  I wonder how many seminarians are reading Augustine, Aquinas, and the Desert Fathers.  I wonder how many of our vestry members have ever prayerfully read The Rule of Benedict?  I suspect it is precious few on all counts.  I wonder if reacquainting ourselves with our fore-bearers in the faith might help us find our way forward… might lead us to a much longed for renewal.

Father Robert at The Curate’s Desk throws down the gauntlet and reminds us again what the church’s primary calling in the world is, and how all else that we may undertake springs from that source:

It may sound nonsensical or naive but I truly think the most crucial task for the Church is not growth, justice, discipleship, survival, nor restructuring. The most crucial task facing the Church is worship…

The world’s, and the Church’s, desperate need now is for that expanded awareness of the presence of God –

TCD elaborates the point beautifully and eloquently:

The Incarnation has sanctified the whole of creation. Adoring God made known to us in the flesh of man opens us to sharing in his love for all of humanity. One part of the Eucharistic action is that we are made one with Christ – not so that we are made ever more privately holy – but so that we can approach the world around us as ever more blessed – ever more worthy of love and thanksgiving because it is beloved of God.

“Do this in remembrance” was not a command given so that we would remember any one earthly event. “Do this in remembrance” is commanded that we might know where our true hope and glory lie.

Through the Sacraments, prayer, thanksgiving, and adoration we are drawn ever more to the source of our peace – that place where we can dwell and know that we are the beloved of God. Where we are held by the Good Shepherd – are branches of the vine – may drink of the Living Water – dwell within the refuge – be protected by a mighty warrior whose name is Yahweh. In all of these images, God longs to be with us and protect us, for all eternity, in a way that no one image can capture. It is this God that we come before in praise and thanksgiving.

Ultimately our hope and our salvation and our joy are not found in the worries of the day – nor even in the answers we find to those everyday worries. Our joy comes when we can surrender and know the hope of things eternal – when we see the totality of our life as the Body as bound to the eternity of God.

The liturgy is the expression of the Body’s questing for unity with the Divine in the person of Jesus Christ. In its use of pattern, connection, arrangement, movement, and varying celebrations of more and less significance. Its mirror of life is natural for it reflects the lived and living experience of a Body. Gregory Dix cites S. Augustine in writing, “The spiritual benefit which is there understood is unity, that being joined to His Body and made His members we may be what we receive.” We receive not simply the sacramental grace of the Body and Blood but become that Body. Moreover, we become a constitutive part of the passion narrative as we take on the form and incorporate the meaning of offering and sacrifice. Meaning and order are mediated by the reality we take in at the Eucharist so that we become not so much pattern-seeking but become part of the very pattern of the divine order – we become the Body.

The individual is ill-equipped to search for meaning or form in isolation. I would broaden this to individual parishes, denominations, and Churches. We need one another. The liturgical enactment of the community mediates the ebbs and flows of personal perception of and receptivity to divine love. The action of the Eucharist is not simply a recitation or re-creation of history but a process of creation of new living meaning within the Body of the faithful. The ebbs and flows of individual perception are moderated and mediated in the corporate action of worship. Gregory Dix claims, “As the anamnesis of the passion, the eucharist is perpetually creative of the church, which is the fruit of that passion.” New meaning is found and incorporated as the community enacts the liturgy together so that the individual is not left adrift in wonderment, but is drawn ever deeper into the realization of divine promise – we are woven into the pattern.

Our participation in the life of the Holy brings about a kind of cognitive dissonance in which we recognize that our imperfections and those of the world around us may be brought into greater harmony with the divine. Moreover, we gain a sensitivity to those things which are out of balance in ourselves and the world around us as we are exposed to patterns of holiness and divine love. The individual can fail in apprehension when they discern the essence of Holy Communion either to be too individual an affair or too global. Without understanding the convicting power of the Sacrament, they are not truly coming into the realization of the divine order that is promised nor the sacrifice that is called for.

The call to properly discern is part of the mission of the Church at large and is essential to the edification of its members. Dix states, “the idea of the Holy Communion as a purely personal affair, which concerns only those persons who feel helped by such things…is nothing less than the atomizing of the Body of Christ.” Worship can never be a personal affair, nor can true religion. Worship which loses sight of the totality of creation, of our relationships, of the world around us, ceases to be worship and becomes another form of individual therapy. We are called to worship, to the work of adoration, which is necessarily not an act of self-regard but of oblation and self-giving. The model for this oblation is, of course, Christ and we enter into that oblation as a community which discerns the Body and seeks its restoration.

This oblation of self is taught in the unfolding of the Eucharist. In the actions of offering and breaking, we see the model of self-giving enacted and re-enacted and we are provided the grace of the Sacrament so as to be empowered to do likewise and to be so offered and willing to offer. This experience is brought about by an encounter with the Christ of heaven and earth. The Christian, with this model of self-offering, enters the memorial action that has been repeated across time and space and makes his or herself one with the sacrifice once offered and passes into the loving and guiding hand of God.

It is the perpetual dying of the person and the perpetual new life in Christ that is made possible by the action of the Spirit and in the memory and action of the community. This new experience of life and potential are mediated by Christ for he is the center of the action and memory of the community.

Any human advancement that is made by the Church must be an advance in our understanding of the life and death of Christ. This revelation of our life in and with Christ not only calls us to ever-offer that which we are to that which we may be, but also, paradoxically, affirms the value of humans to God. As objects of divine love, we are called to closer and deeper relationship to God through Christ. The men and women of the Church are an offering that is acceptable in the sight of God. It is in the striving to be worthy of offering and the yearning for holiness that the nexus of the divine-human relationship is found – in that moment when our sacrifice is joined to Christ’s.

So how does all this make a difference in the world?  Father Robert answers:

If we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation in the Mass – how do we look upon God’s children with anything less than love and adoration?

If we adore the Body of Christ – how do we then condone torture done in our name?

If we participate in the memorial of Christ’s sacrifice – how do we allow so many around us to be sacrificed to the zeal of nations or plots of terror?

If we glory in the Resurrection – how do we condemn others to the grave in our hearts?

If we ask for forgiveness for thoughts, words, and deeds – how do we then turn our minds to hate?

If we anticipate his coming again with power and glory – how do we allow the use of power to be glorified?

If we present an offering and sacrifice to God for his use – how do we allow our wealth to be used to degrade those around us?

If we anticipate that heavenly country – how do we allow the one around us to be lost to anger and despair?

If we know, are drawn to, are called by Christ made present on the altar – how can we surrender to despair?

In other words, worship feeds justice. Justice flows naturally from true adoration.  The Church, to be the Church, must offer both with passion and joy.

If Anglican praying, thinking, and writing continues in this direction… we might just have something exciting on our hands.

This article by Ephraim Radner on The Living Church contains 12 Theses on Bishops’ Ministry.  They are so good that I post them here, in their entirety, (though not the whole article) without further comment:

1. The full description of the episcopal office is given in the Holy Scriptures’ description of Jesus Christ. This is because this full description of Jesus Christ is the figure that the episcopal office represents (1 Pet. 2:25).

2. The office of the bishop is properly understood only within the contours of the whole Scriptures, for it is all the Scriptures that coherently describe Christ Jesus. No scriptural description of the episcopal office can be offered that is “repugnant” to other Scriptures (Articles of Religion, XX), any more than this can be done with respect to Christ. This means that the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, is rightly brought to bear in understanding the episcopal office (cf. Luke 24:44).

3. The office of the bishop is universal, not local, in its foundation, effects, and criteria of evaluation (Eph. 2:19; Rev. 21:14; BCP, p. 517), because formed by and tied to the full figure of Christ who died for the sins of the whole world, and whose Church is universal (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:15-20).

4. There are normative standards of Scriptural coherence for understanding the office of the bishop, including John 10:1-18, 21:15-19; Mark 10:35-45; Acts 1:21-22, 2:26-35, 2:43-47; 2 Cor. 11:1-30; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Tim. 3:10-4:2; Titus 1:7-9; Heb. 13:7, 17; and 1 Peter 5:1-6. These texts and their meaning are rightly related to the people of Israel (Rev. 21:12-14) and her prophets, including Moses and the Law.

5. These standards can be ordered under two headings: the pastoral and the apostolic. One describes the ministerial purpose of the bishop’s role, the other the practical tasks of the bishop’s work in fulfilling that role. In fact, though, because each represents the person of Christ, they are completely integrated.

6. The pastoral role of the bishop can be divided into the two aspects of Christ’s divine shepherding: ultimate care and salvation of souls (Ezek. 34; Heb. 13:17; 1 Cor. 4:1-2; 1 Tim. 4:16) and self-giving and subjection within the Body of Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 5:1-5).

7. The apostolic role can be divided into two aspects of Christ’s mission in the Holy Spirit: teaching (Matt. 28:20) and the pneumatic power of holy living (James 5:16; Mark 9:29; 16:20; 1 Cor. 2:1-5).

8. All other aspects of the episcopal ministry, whether particular gifts or duties, are provisional supports to these roles and tasks; the ordering of the Church likewise. Anything that obstructs, weakens, or subverts these in the life of the Church is to be judged inadequate and changed. Anything that permits, strengthens, and furthers these elements is to be judged faithful and encouraged (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 1 John 4:1).

9. The ecclesiastical ordering of episcopal ministry is always “with others”: other bishops, and the Church as a whole (Acts 2:43-47, 15:6). The notion of a bishop “acting alone” is a Christian oxymoron.

10. The ecclesial order of synodality (“walking together”) — meeting in the council of mutual subjection and companionship in Christ — has best expressed such a support, especially in that it also includes other ministries of the Church. The scriptural witness, the history of the Church’s life, and the direction of ecumenical agreement have affirmed this.

11. Synodality describes the way Christ Jesus himself orders the Church through his own person (Luke 24:13-27; Acts 1:21-22), which includes practical actions: seeking, gathering, protecting, building up, remaining in fellowship, and giving away the self through standing beside.

12. It is necessary to measure the current practice of the Episcopal Church through several criteria:

  • Money and property: are our bishops personally and in their synodical life representing the commandments and life of Jesus with respect to material goods?
  • Personal life: are our bishops clear exemplars of holy living as Jesus has taught us in the Holy Spirit?
  • Private and public speech: are our bishops witnesses of the clarity, truth, generosity, and patience of Jesus’ own words and encounters?
  • Aptitude in teaching: are our bishops wholly dedicated to and capable of teaching clearly the fullness of the Gospel and of the Scriptures as a whole?
  • Willingness towards mutual subjection: are our bishops subject one to another, and to the Body of Christ as a whole, and do they work for this purpose?
  • Concern for salvation of souls: do our bishops have as their highest goal the expenditure of their lives for the sake of the eternal life of the Flock of Christ, near and far, locally and universally (John 10:16)?
  • Unity of fellowship: do our bishops give themselves, even to death, for the sake of establishing and maintaining the “bond of peace” within their sisters and brothers in Christ, and for the sake of sinners in both the Church and in the world (Eph. 4:1-16)?

Read the whole thing here: http://livingchurch.org/12-theses-bishops-ministry

“Those who don’t read  have no advantage over those who can’t read.” — Mark Twain

For Anglican purposes, you could (less poignantly) restate Mark Twain’s quote by saying, “Those who don’t use their prayer books have no advantage over those who can’t.”  Myself and others could go on and on about the beauty of the language, the importance of communal worship and prayer, the strength of the Catholic & Patristic tradition, the wisdom of Benedictine/Monastic spirituality, the benefit of an aesetical approach to growth in holiness….

Yet, if people don’t understand their prayer books and how to use them, and further if they don’t actually use them, it is all for naught.  Dr. Derek Olsen has written something recently along similar lines.  Some of his more helpful thoughts include

So—in a nutshell, here’s how I’d go about doing it. First a big-picture, then attention to some of the actual parts.

  • Christianity has a variety of valid spiritualities—the BCP enshrines one of them: the liturgical system [and I’d add /sacramental] approach
  • The key logic operative here is the disciplined recollection of God with the intention that following these disciplines will lead to the habitual recollection of God.

The fundamental mechanisms for achieving this goal are threefold:

    • The kalendar which leads us to view time through a salvific lens
    • The Daily Office which is fundamentally catechetical in nature
    • The Eucharist which is fundamentally mystagogical in nature

I especially like his thoughts about the recollection of God.  It reminds me of Eastern Orthodox ideas about “mindfulness.”

So—here’s why this is important and the meat of how it relates to the issue at hand. The purpose of any spiritual system is to bring the practitioner and their community into a deeper relationship with God—to create a family of mature Christians. Through their increasing awareness of who God is, how much God loves them and all of creation, they translate that love they have been shown into concrete acts of love and mercy in the world around them. There are several different strategies that different spiritual systems use to accomplish this. One of the classic ones—referred to in St Paul’s direction to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17)—is the recollection of God. The idea here is that if we can continually keep in mind the goodness of God, the constant presence of God, and an awareness of the mighty works of God on behalf of us and others, that we will more naturally and more completely act in accordance with God’s will and ways. Continual recollection is nearly impossible, but there are methods to help us in this habit.

A primary goal of liturgical spirituality is to create a disciplined recollection of God. Thus, if we specifically pause at central points of time—morning and evening; noon and night; Sundays and other Holy Days—to reorient ourselves towards God and the mighty acts of God, whether recalled to us through the Scriptures or experienced by us through direct encounters with the sacraments, then this discipline will lead us towards a habitual recollection of God.

In the liturgical round, the Book of Common Prayer gives us specific moments to stop and orient our time and ourselves around the recollection of God. As a result, one of the most important parts of the book is the Daily Office section that provides forms for prayer at morning, noon, evening and night. These prayer offices are our fundamental tool for disciplined recollection; they provide the foundation for our spiritual practice. This foundation, then, is punctuated by the Eucharist on Holy Days (at the least). And, conceptually, this is how we should view Sundays—not the day of the week on which we go to church—but as a Holy Day which recurs on a weekly basis.

With all of that in mind, here are a few of my suggestions for making the BCP part of your life and the life of your parish.

1. Create Prayer Book Studies similar to Bible studies.  Study the Church Kalendar.  Study the various liturgies.  Think about why various Scripture readings are chosen for certain occasions.  Try to discern what the Prayerbook teaches about ordination, baptism, creation, marriage, etc., etc.  Read commentaries on the prayer book(s).  And don’t forget to spend time in the “Historical Documents”, especially the 39 articles.  If done properly, study of the Prayer Book(s) can be a very rewarding, life-long process of not only learning but spiritual formation and growth.

2. Develop a lay “officers” program at your parish to encourage the public praying of the office daily.  If you can get 30 officer volunteers trained and licensed, then you can have the office said daily in your parish with only a once-a-month commitment from each volunteer.  If you can get 60 officers trained, then you can have morning and evening prayer daily in your parish without overburdening the clergy, without running your volunteers ragged, and all the while increasing lay involvement and public worship.  Ring the bell.  If you don’t have one, get one.

3. Make sure basic, but thorough Prayer Book education is part of the confirmation curriculum.  Shame on the parish whose confirmands have no idea how to navigate the office or the lectionary, or are lost if the whole service isn’t printed for them on Sunday.  Do more than tell them it was compiled by Cranmer, revised in 1979, that we now use the Revised Common Lectionary for xyz reasons, yada yada yada.  That information is important, but it isn’t vital.  Praying and worshiping is vital. Printing the Sunday liturgy is fine, but all Anglicans should learn to use the prayer book with their eyes closed.

4. Make sure the actual Book of Common Prayer is the foundation and de facto form of worship in your parish.  Books of alternative services, books of occasional services, and the like are fine, but they are exactly that: alternative and occasional.  They should never be the meat and potatoes of Anglican spiritual formation and worship.  If the liturgy you regularly use on Sunday (Eucharistic prayers, Prayers of the People, etc.) is not found in The Book of Common Prayer, don’t be surprised if the parishioners can’t articulate to their neighbors what it means to be an Anglican Christian, and don’t be surprised if they leave your parish when the next cool thing comes to town.  If you treat the church like a commodity on the religious marketplace, don’t be surprised if people respond in kind.

In a piece supporting communion without baptism at the Episcopal Cafe, after providing a litany of people who might wander into our churches, (including “the 8-year-old who comes to church with her best friend after a sleepover, the grandchildren who are only here twice a year when they are visiting their grandparents, the 11-year-old who often comes with his grandmother and has been leaving love notes to Jesus on the altar since he was first old enough to write, but whose parents won’t allow him to be baptized until he turns 18, the teen who is clearly uncomfortable being here, but wants to be with her boyfriend, the anti-church spouse, the Muslim grandmother from another country who is here for her grandson’s baptism, the Jewish son-in-law who comes with the family on Christmas, the ‘spiritual but not religious’ 20-something who has moved back in with his parents after college, and only comes to church on Easter to keep the family peace, the homeless person who wanders in off the street, those who come to share with and honor their loved ones at weddings and funerals”) the author says,

I think God has cherished and adored all these persons since before they were born. Has been in relationship with them, all along. And is longing to be closer to them, speaking to them through our worship, even if they only once step through our doors.

The point the author is making is that because she believes God loves these people, we should offer them the Eucharist.  This is a hot topic in the Episcopal Church lately, and will be coming up for a vote at this summer’s General Convention

Haligweorc responds:

I absolutely believe this [that God loves them]; she’s spot on.

However—what does this have to do with the Eucharist? The author never makes the connection but seems to assume that there is a clear and easy one to be made.

The Eucharist is the food of the covenant community who confess Jesus as Lord. We enter the covenant community by making our own covenant with Christ in the midst of the community: it’s Baptism. The Eucharist assists us in keeping our Baptismal Covenant and helps us to continue to grow into a life of discipleship through it’s nourishment.

This basic Eucharistic theology is found nowhere here. Instead, there seems to be a simple assumption that the Eucharist means that God loves you and wants to be in a relationship with you and that if anyone can’t have the Eucharist at any time it’s the church’s way of saying that God doesn’t love them. That’s not what is going on at all.

Granted—some people may perceive it like that, but this perception does not constitute the church’s theology. We do need to do a better job about teaching the basics of Eucharistic theology—so that both our visitors and our members can grasp what it is that the church both intends and does.

This raises the interesting point of how doctrine, dogma, and theology might not cause problems, but actually solve them!  Many of the struggles we face right now are not caused by too much doctrine, but not enough.  I have heard Dr. Stanley Hauerwas frame the problem roughly this way: If someone studying to be a doctor told their professors that they weren’t  interested in anatomy and physiology, but would rather spend their time studying psychology and human development the professors would tell them, “Tough.  To be a good doctor you need to know anatomy and physiology.”  However, we often have people studying to be priests who say things like, “I don’t think doctrine, theology, and Biblical studies are very important.  I’d rather study spiritual direction and centering prayer.”  Those types of aspirants are very likely hear, “That is fine.  Follow your heart and do what you think God is calling you to do.”  Why is this?  It is because, Hauerwas says, we think doctors can harm people if they aren’t properly trained, but we don’t think a priest can really do much for a person for good or for ill, otherwise we would demand they be properly trained.

The root of many of the difficulties the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion are facing go right to this issue: theological literacy among clergy.  If indeed we depend on priests, and most importantly bishops, to fulfill their ordination vows to be pastors and teachers and to ” to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,”  and to (in the words of St. Paul in Ephesians) “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” what will become of a church whose priests and bishops don’t know, don’t agree with, or don’t teach the Catholic, Biblical, and Apostolic Faith?

John Milbank, commenting on many of the problems in the Church of England says:

Perhaps most decisive is the collapse of theological literacy among the clergy – again, this is partly a legacy of the 1960s and 70s (made all the worst by the illusion that this was a time of enlightening by sophisticated German Protestant influence), but it has now been compounded by the ever-easier admission of people to the priesthood with but minimal theological education, and often one in which doctrine is regarded almost as an optional extra.

Milbank’s offers, in turn, a solution:

The Anglican Church needs to increase the effectiveness of its teaching office, since this is an essential aspect of priesthood and episcopacy. While the operation of the [Roman] Catholic magisterium is still (whether fairly or unfairly) regarded as too draconian by many Anglicans, there is little doubt that Anglicanism has gone way too far in the other direction, and offers its members pitifully little guidance and only partial and sporadic leads on doctrine and practice.

Dr. Derek Olsen concludes his piece at Haligworc by saying, “I think it’s time for a back-to-basics primer on what the prayer book teaches on the Eucharist to provide a real starting point for any discussions going forward.”  I couldn’t agree more… and perhaps that should start in our seminaries.

For one of the more robust but short accounts of Baptism and Eucharist floating around recently, you can’t do much better than The Curate’s Desk’s recent article Responding…to Communion Regardless of Baptism

The Eucharist has been the central act of worship for large parts of Christianity since Christ said “Take, eat, this is my Body.” Somehow, over 2000 years, this has not been a source of tension.  This was the pattern in lean times of persecution and in the bloated years of full-blown Christendom and in every era in between.   Wax or wane Christianity has held, at its core, Baptism as entry into the life of Christ…

Do you believe the Holy Spirit descends upon a person and transforms their very being in Baptism so that they are united with Christ?  Do you believe that Christ is truly present in the Body and Blood we receive at the Altar?  Are the Sacraments God’s action or ours?  I have heard far too many talking of Baptism as an entry rite rather than as transformation just as I have heard too many speak of Communion as a “meal” alone rather than the very Presence of Christ among us…

The Sacraments exist for the sanctification of humanity because we are not just fine on our own.  We need the life-giving encounter with Christ to be fully alive as creatures of God.

This is the crux of the dilemma, in many ways.  Why baptize?  If people are fine as they are and not to be challenged to the life of transformed living in Christ, then the Sacraments are, indeed, irrelevant and can be toyed with to suit the perceived needs of the day.  The Catechism reads, “From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices” and we are rescued from that misused freedom (which includes walking apart from Christ) in Baptism.

We must, indeed, understand our relationship to God.  It is a relationship that is defined in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If we do not see Christ as decisive in the salvation of the human family then our Sacraments do not really matter.  They are an indifferent thing if redemption is an indifferent matter…

A Church that wants to transform society cannot be shy about asking its members to be transformed.  A Church that wants to impart the strength to challenge the systems of oppression and violence better offer more than enlightened self-interest to feed its people.  Sacraments that don’t matter enough to wait, to ponder, to make a loving commitment to receive are not Sacraments that can fuel the Body…

Amen.  Now let’s teach this to our aspiring clergy, and hold them accountable to their ordination vows.  If you don’t like anatomy, you should not be a doctor.  If you do not find theology & Holy Scripture to be nourishing and life-giving, you should not be ordained.

The Bishop of London recently gave us some wonderful words on the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer.  A few of the brief remarks he gave were, to my mind, axiomatic for a good understanding of the Book of Common Prayer and its place in our little part of the Church:

 It was an audacious attempt to re-shape the culture of England by collapsing the distinction between private personal devotion and public liturgical worship in order to create a godly community in which all and not just the clergy had access to the “pure milk of the gospel”.

The BCP was an attempt to make a heavily Benedictine influenced spirituality of prayer and Eucharist available to all people.  I have heard it called “the monasticism of all believers,” but in the very least in was taking ascetical spiritual practices  from the monastery and putting them right in the bedrooms, kitchens, and parish churches of lay people.

But one of the functions of a liturgy is to preserve words and the possibility of an approach to God which is hard or impossible to express in the language of the street.

It much of contemporary western Christianity, we have forgotten the place of “liturgical language.”  We feel much more comfortable with t-shirts that proclaim, “Jesus is my homeboy,” than we do with fear and awe and reverence.  The Book of Common Prayer was and is a healthy corrective to this leisurely and  “Hey there buddy” approach to God which is so common these days, but would be difficult to find in the Holy Scriptures.

Cranmer distilled his liturgy from his studies of the Christian past and especially of the patristic period – the first five centuries; the springtime of the Church.

In the Preface to the First Book of Common Prayer, of 1549, he appeals to the authority of the “auncient fathers” as a guide in liturgical matters. Queen Elizabeth I, in her letter to the Roman Catholic Princes of Europe, amplified the point “that there was no new faith propagated in England, no new religion set up but that which was commanded by Our Saviour, practised by the Primitive Church and approved by the Fathers of the best antiquity”.

Some might say that what Cranmer did was not so much “write” the BCP, but to compile, edit, and translate it.  Cranmer was not trying to do anything new, per se.  He was trying to make sure that Biblical, Patristic Christianity was meaningfully and vitally practiced throughout England.

This next paragraph was so striking that I couldn’t help but include it here:

In a book published in 1662, Simon Patrick comments on the rites and ceremonies of divine worship and approves “that virtuous mediocrity which our church observes between the meretricious gaudiness of the Church of Rome and the squalid sluttery of fanatic conventicles.” Of course we would be too polite to say such things now but the Prayer Book offers a simple and moderate system for a whole life from baptism to last rites and seeks in its rubrics and ceremonies to embrace the whole person and not merely the cerebellum.

+London concludes with one of the finest single paragraphs about the BCP that I have ever read:

The Book of Common Prayer which immerses us in the whole symphony of scripture; which takes us through the Psalms every month; which makes available in a digestible but noble way the treasury of ancient Christian devotion has a beauty which is ancient but also fresh. If our civilisation is to have a future the roots must be irrigated and the texts which we choose to pass on to our children have the power to create a community which does not merely dwell in the flatlands of getting and spending but which sees visions with prophets, pursues wisdom with Solomon and lives with the generosity of the God who so loved the world that he was generous and gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Father Robert Hendrickson at The Curate’s Desk lays out a beautiful charge to rediscover Anglicansim:

There has been much talk of restructuring the Church, this is good and proper, yet my fear is that we have no idea what we are building structures around.  There are other Christian pan-Protestant denominations about that hover at the gates of universalism.  There are social service agencies that can deliver needed services more efficiently than us.

We are facing not just a collapse of large parts of the Church, we are facing a collapse of leadership, nerve, and vision.

The answer is not Hymnal revision, new governance structures, Communing the UnBaptized, a Kalendar of Saints with non-Christians, guitar Masses, digital Prayer Books, more liturgies about the Earth, or many of the other countless ways many seem to think will lead us to the dawn of a kinder, gentler Church that will usher in the Kingdom.

We have to begin, now, to rediscover what it means to be an Anglican Christian.

He goes on to describe what he thinks a renewal movement would look like in general:

There is a desperate need for a movement that takes seriously the issues of the day while committing to delving into the Tradition and carefully reading Scripture.  There is a need for a movement that is unabashed in its proclamation of Jesus Christ.  There is a need for a movement that sees social service not as a goal of the Church but as a means for us to be drawn closer to the mind of Christ.  There is a need for a movement that is grounded in disciplined prayer and lovingly offered worship.  There is a need for a movement that sees the Sacraments as the means by which we know the Incarnate Lord.  There is a need for a movement that is ready to move beyond zero-sum church politics to transform hearts and souls.

And then he offers a few points in particular that he believes are needful.  A few of them are:

  1. A focus on the adoration of God.
  2. A focus on careful preparation to receive the Sacraments.
  3. A heightened awareness of Healing and Confession.
  4. An understanding of the Real Presence in our life together.
  5. A renewed focus on the disciplines of daily prayer for all believers.
He concludes by saying:

We offer, simply put, the sacred.  We offer the sense that God is calling us to be a holy and living sacrifice as we are brought into his redeeming love.  This happens in ways beyond understanding and can only be termed mystery.  We offer a sacred way of being that sees all of our lives as consecrated for God’s use so that our selves and souls and bodies are fed and we, in turn, go out into the world, rejoicing as we draw others to Christ.

But by all means, go and read the whole thing here.

I ask the forgiveness of those readers who usually come to this blog because of its standard avoidance of “politics” and the “news” as such.  However, things are happening which compel me to say something, however small and insignificant my station and influence may be.

Feast of St. Philip and St. James 2012

“For this put on sackcloth, lament and wail…” – Jeremiah 4:8

“Put on sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar.  Go in, pass the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God!” – Joel 1:3

Bishops, Priest, Deacons, Venerable Monastics, Deputies, and all those appointed to serve at General Convention,

Christ is Risen!

It is not long before you all gather to take council on behalf of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion in this country, and such is the reason for my letter.  I am a convert to the Episcopal Church, and my love for this Church and the Anglican Tradition is of immense proportions, but the path we are treading seems to be leading suspiciously away from beliefs and practices that have shaped, defined, and refined the Church of Jesus since the time of the Apostles.  For the sake of Christ’s Church and the Gospel of Jesus, I beg you to reconsider.

We have been in a steady, and now precipitous, decline for nearly 50 years.  Rather than pull back the reins, pause, reflect, and consider, we have dug in the spurs and whipped it up.  I have almost no doubt that we can expect more “prophetic actions” forthcoming, though the prophecy they speak to the world may be, “Do not go this way.  It leads to death.”

According to The Barna Group, nearly one in three Episcopalian marriages ends in divorce.  We aren’t taking care of the marriages we’ve got, and yet we are preparing (very controversially)  to redefine and reconfigure the ancient custom.

We are barely able to get one in three of our baptized members to communion on any given Sunday (probably lower if you took out Easter and Christmas), and yet we are going to consider making communion available to those who have never been baptized in contravention of nearly two millennia of unbroken, uninterrupted Church teaching.  We, apparently, can’t even get our baptized membership to take the Eucharist more seriously than soccer, spring break, fishing, and football!

In a so-called spirit of hospitality, clergy in almost every diocese flaunt the canons of this Church and their ordination vows by offering communion to the unbaptized.  The bishops are either ignorant of the conditions in their own diocese, unwilling to do anything to bring integrity and order to the parishes, or are sympathetic to this disregard for the established and agreed upon regulations by which we order our common life.  Any of those three would be a tragedy, and we’ve probably got all three going on in some measure.

We seem unable to get our own children to go to church and grow into faithful, mature Christians in any meaningful numbers, yet we have the audacity to issue a resolution to the President of the United States regarding the Middle East Peace Process or a resolution calling for statehood of the District of Columbia.  The hubris of this would almost be laughable if I weren’t already on the verge of tears.

We are spending millions of dollars a year to sue other Christians in direct contradiction of the clear teaching of Holy Scripture under the guise of “fiduciary responsibility.”  Since when did fiduciary responsibilities take precedence over issues of faithfulness, love, forgiveness, and mercy?  I suppose Jesus’ words, “If anyone would take your tunic, give them your cloak as well” were obviously for a different cultural context, and could hardly be expected to have any bearing on our present difficulties.

In the meantime, very little is spent on missionary work to the unreached peoples of the earth, and we are reducing or cutting programs aimed at poverty, illiteracy, and environmental care.  Dozens of parishes are closed every year for lack of monetary resources, yet there seems to be an endless supply of those resources for litigation.  And as far the planting of new parishes in this country?  Virtually non-existent.

I grow weary when stories about what “neat” or “outside-the-box” ministry St. Such-and-such parish is doing in light of all this are predictably trotted out.  While I applaud their individual efforts they are far from paradigmatic, and are simply exceptions that prove the rule.  If sincere worship, constant prayer, meaningful evangelism, and life-long discipleship were actually the facts on the ground, we would not be in this position.

What we do seem to have is a bumper crop of bishops and priests who want to be prophets, but do not want to be bishops and priests (except that it helps them to be prophetic).   We have clergy and laity who love to tinker with the liturgy, but are woefully or willfully ignorant of Scripture, Patristics, and the Anglican Reformers… the very wellsprings and sources of our Faith and Tradition.  We have hundreds of parishes with interfaith services and not a few with the actual prayer services to other deities or from other faith traditions, but precious few that offer the daily offices on a daily basis.

And what has all this gotten us?  We have succeeded in very little other than bringing great disrepute upon the Gospel of our Lord and we are shrinking at a calamitous rate and spending millions of dollars a year in the effort.  We have effectively collapsed our Ecumenical Dialogs and put them on tenuous ground for the rest of the communion.  There was a time when the world thought the Anglicans would lead the charge in the reunification of the Church catholic.  That time has passed.  We are a byword among the nations, and a laughingstock among the peoples.  If you we haven’t realized that, it is because we only spend time with other self-congratulating Episcopalians.  We are shrinking at a rate of roughly a diocese per year.  And rather than saying, “Whoa there!  Something is wrong.  This road doesn’t lead where we thought it did.”  We seem to be saying instead, “ONWARD!”  Again, such silliness and poor decision making would be funny if it weren’t so expensive and if it weren’t wreaking such havoc on this Church, the Gospel of Jesus, and the spiritual life of its members.

I am begging you simply to stop!  STOP!  Don’t do anything.  We are on the verge of committing spiritual and institutional suicide, and further alienating our brothers and sisters in Christ of every sort… Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.  Don’t do it.  Nothing would please me more than if the 2012 General Convention went down in history as the “Do Nothing Convention.”  As a matter of fact, for probably the next three General Conventions we should do nothing but gather together (as cheaply as possible), fast, and pray for mercy and guidance.  That’s it.  No resolutions.  No lobbying.  No “prophetic voice.”   No covenant.  No restructuring.  Simply repentance and prayer for the dismal state of our church.

If General Convention 2012 continues down our presently disordering, divisive, and destructive path and then proceeds to issue irrationally celebratory press releases with the attendant back–slapping and high-fiving, I will almost certainly be reduced to tears.

“Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” – Joel 2:17

With all sincerity,

Jason Ballard — Austin, TX