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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.

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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.

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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

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Daily Offices Part I with Bishop Anthony Burton

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I’m a few weeks late on this, but I just discovered it myself:

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I am going to begin collecting great Anglican works of music on this site as well.  Feel free to leave suggestions if you have them.  I kick things off with If Ye Love Me by Thomas Tallis:

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A wonderful Anglican spiritual travelogue by “Misses Larsen”: Thoughts On The Way

From Her First Post:

“We still have that ancient need to take the road, to seek out the sacred.” (- The Road To Canterbury).

Our Canterbury Trail has been a journey that has profoundly changed my spiritual DNA and altered my worldview. Through the process, a few of our close friends have taken the journey in separate towns across the US together all at the same time. When I was in Atlanta with my husband at the end of November, Life’s God-father and our dear friend, Jason, suggested that I start a blog telling my journey. My perspective is no more unique than any others and I don’t claim that anything profound will be shared on this blog. But, here marks the beginning of my thoughts walking this Canterbury Trail as a wife to a seminarian and potential scholar (and Lord-willing, one day a priest), and how God is revealing himself more clearly through his Church.

To God be the glory…

 

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