Why I’m in a Pentecostal Church and Not an Episcopal One

All of the blather we’ve been hearing about Presiding Bishop (not Archbishop) Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding last weekend obviously focuses attention not only on Curry and the duplicitous Justin Welby but on the Episcopal Church in general.  I don’t doubt that same church, faced with years of declining membership and self-inflicted litigation costs, would like a shot in the arm with a few more visitors and members.

Those who have criticised Curry on doctrinal issues have, IMHO, missed a point.  Episcopal ministers have been doling out vacuous, unchallenging fudge for as long as I’ve been on the earth and then some.  The serious question is “Has their departure from the Gospel paid off for them (the leadership) and their parishioners?”  The simple answer is no, and there are many ways this failure has happened, but I’ll concentrate on one: the social justice aspect.  Curry told us that love will transform the world; they’ve had at least fifty years to pull that off with their obsession with social justice, has it taken place?

One thing that hasn’t taken place is a demographic shift.  The Episcopal Church is still a largely white denomination with an elite demographic, even after all these years of trying to be the advocate of the poor.  You’d think that some of the recipients of this support would show up just out of gratitude, but few have.  For me, that runs into two serious problems from two separate sources.

Karl Marx told us that people like the Episcopalians were exploiters of other peoples’ surplus value; thus, they would always be the problem, to be overthrown in the revolution (and subsequently liquidated according to the usual Leninist and Maoist pattern.)

Jesus Christ gives the rich an entirely different challenge:

And a man came up to Jesus, and said: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to obtain Immortal life?” “Why ask me about goodness?” answered Jesus. “There is but One who is good. If you want to enter the Life, keep the commandments.” “What commandments?” asked the man. “These,” answered Jesus:–“‘Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not say what is false about others. Honor thy father and thy mother.’ And ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thou dost thyself.” “I have observed all these,” said the young man. “What is still wanting in me?” “If you wish to be perfect,” answered Jesus, “go and sell your property, and give to the poor, and you shall have wealth in Heaven; then come and follow me.” On hearing these words, the young man went away distressed, for he had great possessions.  (Matthew 19:16-22 TCNT)

When these disparate authorities tell you that you’re wrong from two standpoints, you have a problem.   But TEC hasn’t addressed either of these; in fact, it’s embraced the pansexual agenda to paper over the inequality/social justice problem, just as the secular elites have.  Moreover Bishop Curry, as a black man, is an outlier in a denomination that is even more unsuccessful in breaking out of its Caucasian trap than the Southern Baptists.

Personally I found the elite nature of the Episcopal Church not only unBiblical but stifling.  That started to change when I swam the Tiber.  Now I got to go to church where people, as my brother observed, actually looked like they worked with their hands.  That expanded during my years at Texas A&M.

Today I go to a Pentecostal church.  The demographic is the mirror image of the Episcopal Church.  Real people have real problems that they cannot solve by throwing money at them, which was the usual approach in the bubble I was raised in, but must turn to God.  The ethnic diversity of the church is amazing, not only on a national/international level but now on a local level.  And the Gospel goes forth, to use the BCP’s phrase not only with our lips but in our lives.

It’s not perfect.  It still suffers from the American obsession with moving up, although with some of our people to see God bring them out of where they started is wonderful.  It’s too deferential to their “betters,” who usually turn out to be those in the church with the higher AGI.  (To be fair, that problem even turned up in a church like Bethesda.And the Scots-Irish are always there to complicate things.

Sometimes in my superannuated state, when I’m tired of one more maudlin paean to “the old time religion,” or I’m forced to worship to yet another new chorus “from the throne room,” I have moments like this.  But I think that I would have to leave behind the people I go to church with, those who are, at the end of the service, happy, and whose lives have been meaningfully transformed by Jesus Christ.  That gives me pause.  A church isn’t made by its ministers but by its laity.

Curry can talk all he wants about love, but I’ve seen more of it in the church I’m in than the one I started in, namely his.  And more social justice acted out, too, in the church which is the preferential option of the poor rather than just for it.  If Curry and Welby want to show they’re serious, their respective institutions will have a “shoes of the fisherman” moment, rather then blowing smoke in the face of credulous elites.  But I’m not holding my breath.

The Faustian Bargain of Being the State Church

The upside of that status was very much in evidence at the royal wedding yesterday, but every silver lining has a cloud.  We’ve discussed this issue before. One normally expects the chief objectors to be Evangelicals, but this comes from the Anglo-Catholic Herbert Luckock’s The Divine Liturgy:

Every thoughtful ecclesiastical ruler recognises the absence of a sound and wholesome system of discipline as a real hindrance to the well-being of the Church and it cannot be denied that without it the rubrics which form the prelude to her highest Service are little more than a dead letter. The Church and the State, though allied in theory, are antagonistic in practice, and the civil power is found to cripple the ecclesiastical in every attempt to revive her discipline. It may well be felt that to gain discipline at the price of disestablishment might form a disastrous bargain; but there is no denying the fact that the retention of the disciplinary rubrics in this Office is a bitter revelation of the pitiable degree of impotence to which the clergy are reduced through the action of the State.

Finding thoughtful ecclesiastical leaders is no mean feat these days.  We now have the sad spectacle of a church with a small proportion of the population (where a few choice expulsions would have little impact) which pretty much works to reflect the values coming from the government and the top of the society.

As an aside, Luckock also has an interesting observation regarding the effect of the removal of the requirement that officials in the government be communicating Anglicans, one which was long past in his day:

The abolition of religious disabilities, and the withdrawal of all temptation to qualify for civil offices by participation of the Sacrament, have removed one of the greatest dangers of irreverence. The strongest safeguard is really the exaltation of the ordinance.

Those disabilities were a source of irritation for many, including the mathematician Augustus de Morgan, who flatly stated that he would not confess his Lord openly because it might be taken opportunistically.  It is a strange juxtaposition of doing one unBiblical thing to avoid another, but that’s another thing that happens when you make the Faustian bargain of the state church.

Laying Out American Inequality: The View from the Top

Matthew Stewart’s account of his holidays certainly resonates with some of us:

For about a week every year in my childhood, I was a member of one of America’s fading aristocracies. Sometimes around Christmas, more often on the Fourth of July, my family would take up residence at one of my grandparents’ country clubs in Chicago, Palm Beach, or Asheville, North Carolina. The breakfast buffets were magnificent, and Grandfather was a jovial host, always ready with a familiar story, rarely missing an opportunity for gentle instruction on proper club etiquette.

Getting past that, Stewart’s account of the nature of American inequality–especially benefiting those between the very top and the bottom–is probably the single best (if not perfect) description of how we got into the unequal pickle that we’re in today.  And along the way his description of how it is for people like him (and frankly like me) is an education that seldom sinks into Americans.

The way he ends his piece, however, betrays the steep climb he is looking at to solve the problem:

It’s going to take something from each of us, too, and perhaps especially from those who happen to be the momentary winners of this cycle in the game. We need to peel our eyes away from the mirror of our own success and think about what we can do in our everyday lives for the people who aren’t our neighbors. We should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it. It probably does.

Like most people who come from where he does, he pooh-pooh’s the “old time religion” as part of the solution.  But that’s a mistake.  Christianity, with its affirmation of the basic God-created dignity of each person, is the only thing powerful enough to get us past our obsessive if self-concealed amour-propre and deal with the issues in front of us.

Delight in Books: Contempt for Sports

Pliny, Letters 9.6: “I spent this entire time among my notes and books in the most pleasant repose. ‘How,’ you might ask, ‘could you do that in the city?’ The Circensian Games were on, and I am not attracted by that kind of spectacle in the least. There is nothing new, nothing interesting, nothing which needs to […]

via Delight in Books; Contempt for Sports — SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

What We Really Need to Do is to Unhitch @AndyStanley

Atlanta’s Christian management guru is at it again, this time with the Old Testament:

North Point Community Church Senior Pastor Andy Stanley has stated that Christians need to “unhitch” the Old Testament from their faith.

In the final part of a recent sermon series, Stanley explained that while he believes that the Old Testament is “divinely inspired,” it should not be “the go-to source regarding any behavior in the church.”

In making this pronouncement, Andy Stanley does two things that drive me batty about Evangelical Christianity.

The first is that he accepts the literalistic hermeneutic that dominates Evangelical Christianity as normative.  Once you do that, then his idea to “unhitch” is just about the only thing left to do.  It never occurs to him that Christians–and Jews like Philo–have tackled this problem a long time ago and dealt with it, without denigrating the Old Testament the way Stanley does.  But taking lessons from the Patristic witness is something that Stanley, like most evangelicals, is allergic to.

The second–and in some ways worse than the first–is this:

For Stanley, the difficulty lay with the Old Testament and his concern that many Christians are turning away from the faith because of certain passages in the Hebrew Bible.

For evangelicals, and especially those like Stanley, church is an endless popularity contest.  Fortunately Our Lord thought otherwise:

“In truth I tell you,” answered Jesus, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have not Life within you. He who takes my flesh for his food, and drinks my blood, has Immortal Life; and I will raise him up at the Last Day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood true drink. He who takes my flesh for his food, and drinks my blood, remains united to me, and I to him. As the Living Father sent me as his Messenger, and as I live because the Father lives, so he who takes me for his food shall live because I live. That is the Bread which has come down from Heaven–not such as your ancestors ate, and yet died; he who takes this Bread for his food shall live for ever.” All this Jesus said in a Synagogue, when he was teaching in Capernaum. On hearing it, many of his disciples said: “This is harsh doctrine! Who can bear to listen to it?” But Jesus, aware that his disciples were murmuring about it, said to them: “Is this a hindrance to you? What, then, if you should see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives Life; mere flesh is of no avail. In the teaching that I have been giving you there is Spirit and there is Life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe in me.” For Jesus knew from the first who they were that did not believe in him, and who it was that would betray him; And he added: “This is why I told you that no one can come to me, unless enabled by the Father.” After this many of his disciples drew back, and did not go about with him any longer. So Jesus said to the Twelve: “Do you also wish to leave me?” But Simon Peter answered: “Master, to whom shall we go? Immortal Life is in your teaching; And we have learned to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:53-69 TCNT)

Maybe it’s time we unhitch ourselves from Andy Stanley…

Two Plus Two Equals Four Until You Redefine Addition

Like everything else, the Babylon Bee had fun with this:

In a mathematics lesson delivered to her kindergarten class Tuesday, local teacher and closed-minded bigot Becky Delatorre reportedly insisted that two plus two equals four, all the time, to the exclusion of all other numbers, no matter how anyone feels about it.

Well…we turn to the famous Russian mathematician Israel Gelfand’s Lectures on Linear Algebra (Dover Books on Mathematics), who at the start makes this definition:

Breaking it down, in the italics he makes a definition of what a vector space is.  At the core of that definition is what linear algebra (which itself is at the core of numerical methods, computer simulations, etc.) is all about: everything that happens is basically scalar addition (which is what the kindergarten teacher in the Bee was trying to teacher her bratty students) and scalar multiplication, and lots of it for large models.

That definition made, Gelfand sets forth eight (8) rules for these two operations to follow in order to be valid.  At this point, Gelfand puts in the kicker:

It is not an oversight on our part that we have not specified how elements of R are to be added or multiplied by numbers.  Any definitions of these operations are acceptable as long as the axioms listed above are satisfied.  Whenever this is the case we are dealing with an instance of a vector space.

What he is saying is this: for a valid vector space, we can redefine addition and multiplication as long as it meets the eight rules!  An example of how that works is here.

This is an interesting twist in mathematics that, mercifully, doesn’t have much practical application.  But I suppose it’s possible to shut up (or put to sleep, either result works) a class of unruly kindergartners with the eight rules.  And having endured stuff like this makes attacking Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology even more fun.

Better stick with 2 + 2 = 4


Karl Marx: Maybe too Cynical to be Demonized?

Ryan Cooper at The Week is looking for a rehabilitation:

Happy birthday to Karl Marx, who was born 200 years ago on May 5. He was the most astute and influential critic of capitalism in history — and also the most misunderstood.

It is long since time that Marx re-joined the community of ordinary intellectuals, considered as neither the terrifying harbinger of social upheaval, nor a secular pope with the eternally correct description of all human society. He was a genius, but in the end, only another human scholar with a brilliant but incomplete perspective.

But consider this gem from Fritz Raddatz’ Karl Marx: A political biography:

After a heated argument, first humorous and then serious, as to who should do the chores in the state of the future, the lady of the house asked him: “I cannot picture you in an egalitarian period since your inclinations and habits are thoroughly aristocratic.”  “Neither can I, ” Marx replied, “those times must come  but we must be gone by then.”

Marx is a complicated figure whose life was neither pleasant nor pretty, as evidenced by this and this.  I highly recommend Raddatz’ biography; it more than anything else finally closed the door on me being a socialist or communist.

We’re Stuck at the Other End of Science, Too

Sabine Hossenfelder laments that what should be the “cutting edge” of science isn’t cutting it these days:

Very plausibly, the main reason why we haven’t made progress is that we’re not doing the right thing. We’re looking in the wrong places. We are letting ourselves be guided by the wrong principles. It’s about time that we rethink this because, clearly, it’s not working. One of the things that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about is what would be good principles to look at. Interestingly, in high-energy particle physics and also in cosmology, people pay a lot of attention to aesthetic criteria that they use to select theories they think are promising. And we know that paying attention to beauty is not very scientific. It’s certainly a human desire, but it’s questionable whether it will bring us anywhere.

To be honest, her article struck a chord with me at the “trailing edge” of science, geotechnical engineering.  I’ve gotten the feeling that we’re stuck in neutral in many ways: we’re doing a great many technological tweaks, but we’re not really moving the ball down the field the way we should.  Some of this is due to our regulatory environment, some due to the way our research is funded (which isn’t as different from Hossenfelder’s as we’d care to admit) but ultimately, as is the case in her field, it’s the way the community looks at the problem.  I lamented some of this last year in this post regarding my own specialty, pile dynamics:

Numerical methods and computer power have both vastly improved since Smith’s day. So is it possible to see another paradigm shift in the way we perform forward and inverse pile dynamics? The answer is “yes,” but there are two main obstacles to seeing that dream become a reality.

The first is the nature of our research system. As noted above, Smith’s achievement was done in a large organisation with considerable resources and the means to make them a reality. It was also a long-term effort. Today the piecemeal nature of our research grant system and the organisational disconnect among between universities, contractors and owners incentivises tweaking existing technology and techniques rather than taking bolder, riskier steps with the possible consequence of a dead-end result and a disappointed grant source.

The second is the nature of our standard, code and legal system. Getting the wave equation accepted in the transportation building community, for example, was an extended process that took longer than developing the program in the first place. Geotechnical engineering is a traditionally conservative branch of the profession. Its conservatism is buttressed by our code and standard system (which is also slow-moving) and the punishment meted out by our legal system when things go wrong, even when the mistake was well-intentioned. Getting a replacement will doubtless be a similar extended process.

My guess is that this problem extends to other fields of science and engineering as well.  If we want to make progress, we need to address these issues directly.

He Was Right, They Do Flunk Clock

Some British schools are taking analogue clocks out of schools:

Schools are removing analogue clocks from examination halls because teenagers are unable to tell the time, a head teachers’ union has said.

Teachers are now installing digital devices after pupils sitting their GCSE and A-level exams complained that they were struggling to read the correct time on an analogue clock.

In 1971, when I was in prep school, I obtained for my dorm room one of the earliest types of digital clocks, namely one with those “flip cards” which changed to display the time digitally.  A friend looked at the clock and said, “Your little brother will flunk clock.”  He was partially wrong because I was the little (or younger) brother in my family.  But he was right about one thing: when people have digital clocks, they will forget how to read an analogue one.

So many problems can be anticipated if we just have the vision to see the consequences…

Thinking about Mission the Anglican Way

I’m glad to share a new article just published at the blog of The Living Church. I am basically asking why Anglicans have a concrete approach to music, theology, and architecture, but don’t seem to have anything like this when it comes to global mission. Here is the lead: Like most Christians, we Anglicans tend to […]

via “Thinking about Mission the Anglican Way” in *The Living Church* — Duane Alexander Miller’s Blog