An Update on the St. Andrew’s School Sex Scandal

I’ve covered this matter here and here; it’s generated a fair amount of interest.  Today the school released the following, which I will reproduce in its entirety (with one minor correction):

In late March we shared with you information regarding Bruce Presley, a former board member (1994 – 2000) and part-time instructor at Saint Andrew’s. As we mentioned in that communication, Mr. Presley allegedly engaged in inappropriate behavior while he was at the Lawrenceville School (New Jersey) in the 1970s, prior to his time at our school and unbeknownst to us until earlier this year.

Although we had no record or reports that led us to believe that Mr. Presley engaged in inappropriate behavior while he was on our campus, we proactively shared information related to these past allegations out of caution and concern. We also encouraged members of our community to come forward with any knowledge or information related to his behavior or that of others while at our school. To date, we have no reports or evidence to suggest any inappropriate behavior or misconduct involving Mr. Presley while he was at Saint Andrew’s.

As part of this process, however, we received an allegation of past sexual misconduct involving a former member of our faculty, Evans “Dutch” Meinecke. Mr. Meinecke taught at Saint Andrew’s from 1971 – 1983. He passed away in 2006.

Upon learning of this information, we reported the past incident in question to the proper authorities and initiated an internal review in accordance with our policies and procedures. We also enlisted the support of William Shepherd, a partner at the law firm of Holland & Knight, to further investigate these allegations and any other claims that might surface during the course of his investigation. The investigation found that Mr. Meinecke sexually abused a student while he was employed by our school. We have shared this same information with the schools at which Mr. Meinecke previously taught.

We are grateful that this former student had the courage to come forward. We, the entire Board of Trustees and the school community, are deeply sorry for the harm Mr. Meinecke has caused. We know that nothing can erase the actions of Mr. Meinecke, but we are committed to doing all that we can to support survivors impacted by sexual abuse while at our school.

This is difficult news for our community to hear, but it is impossible for our school and our community to move forward without addressing the past. It is important that we address this openly and honestly. Part of this includes identifying historical incidents, as well as the circumstances that may have led to those incidents, so that we can do everything possible to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

As we have shared with you previously, we consistently review and update our handbooks, policies, and procedures to ensure they are in keeping with current independent and private school best practices. We are also dedicated to providing opportunities for our students, faculty, and staff to participate in educational programming and training sessions that promote health and well-being. Each of these steps continues to make Saint Andrew’s a stronger, safer, and more open community.

Most importantly, we want all of you to know that we are here to help. Please do not hesitate to communicate with us directly if you have any questions or concerns. We also encourage you to be in touch with Susan Schorr, an investigator with the law firm of McLane Middleton, if you have any information, past or present, that you think may be of interest. She can be reached via email at susan.schorr@mclane.com or by phone at 781.904.2715.

All of us here at Saint Andrew’s thank you for your continued support. Our greatest responsibility is and always will be the safety, security, and well-being of our entire school community.

Best regards,

Ethan Shapiro
Interim Head of School
Saint Andrew’s School

Steve Shapiro
Board Chair on Behalf Of
Saint Andrew’s School Board of Trustees

More on the Reformation and Anglicanism

My response to the Rev. Thomas Reeves’ ideas on this subject has in turn received a response from him.  That response is too extensive for a “comment box” type of response so I am devoting a post to the topic.  I’ll quote parts of his response, but for brevity’s sake they’ll be short, but you can read everything he has to say on the subject.

One thing that probably separates our perspective is that Reeves has never had the thrill of being Roman Catholic.  That will change your perspective on a wide variety of subjects; it certainly has in my case.  Any discussion of Patristic Christianity and its place in the faith will sooner or later involve the Roman Catholic Church; it’s too important of a topic to ignore.

So we proceed:

I would submit that those at the Council of Nicea 325 (and the later confirming Council of Constantinople of 387) actually had agreement on multiple CORE AREAS that had little to nothing to do with the later scholastic theologies or developments argued or thrown to the side by most following the Reformers.

I agree that the fourth century fathers and councils are a nice place to start.  That doesn’t address the “stopping point” issue.  We’re not talking about “scholastic theologies” but things such as the Nestorian and Monophysite controversies and councils such as Chalcedon.  The natures of Jesus Christ and his relationship with the creation he came to redeem may seem an arcane business, but the resurgence of Islam has brought the subject back into prominence.  It can be argued that Islam is Nestorianism brought to its logical conclusion.  Stopping at Constantinople I cuts these issues out of the loop.  And that, of course, doesn’t address the issue of the icons in Nicaea II…

Nor would they have understood the word “catholic” as “everyone across space and time” and/or “everyone across the world” who has asked Jesus into their heart and/or who has made up their own definition of what church and salvation is.

Anglicans have traditionally interpreted the Creed’s “holy Catholic church” as including themselves.  The RCC would disagree with that, many of the Orthodox would too.  Be careful how you draw boundaries; you might find yourself on the wrong side.

They also believed that salvation/conversion through Christ was Covenental, Sacramental, AND personal. These realities can NEVER be cleanly separated in Holy Scripture or in any of the early church fathers. Whatever mysteries and complexities there are in understanding these theologies, they most certainly inform the statement of the bishops for: “a baptism for the forgiveness of sins”.

That’s the tricky part: as currently structured, Christianity has made “sacramental and personal” “sacramental or personal.”  Most of the Apostolic churches have a built-in allergy for enthusiasm and a high-level of commitment among their parishioners.  The Roman Catholic Church is a prime example of this.  The RCC relies too heavily on its role as the dispenser of grace via the sacraments to bind the faithful to it, rather than developing its member’s spiritual lives individually or as a community.  You can see this in some of its Eucharistic theology (which is still the best out there) and especially in its view of baptism.  The result is that the RCC has bled members and opened the door for things such as covenant communities to fill the void.  This is sad for a church with a rich a spiritual heritage and some of the most Christlike people who have ever walked on the face of the earth, but for many parishes and parishioners that’s reality.

Pietism (and, thus, the Wesley brothers) walks away from these central Christian doctrines, negates the realities of us all having informing traditions, and turns salvation into a personal decision removed from a grounding and communal salvation…and thus, a coherence with the Historic Church of Christ.

Probably the best way to respond to this is to recount the story of one of my church members, the Rt. Rev. Brian Barnett.  His brother fought in the Battle of Britain (an awesome thing in itself) and he decided to follow his footsteps in the RAF.  Before he was shipped out, his future wife invited him to a meeting where he got saved. So when he arrived at his first duty post he went to the chaplain and, offering his services to help, said he had gotten saved recently.  The Anglican chaplain responded glumly, “You’ll get over it.”

Now I’m sure you would apply your extended speech on Wesleyanism to this situation.  But the truth is that the chaplain’s response was pastoral laziness.  It’s much easier to have people content to go through the motions every Sunday rather than to deal with the problems caused by enthusiasm.  Barnett for his part ended up first a pastor and official in the Elim Church in the UK, then an Administrative Bishop in the Church of God on this side of the Atlantic.  When we look at the bishops who are allowing the Church of England to fade away (lead by Justin Welby) it begs the question: what would be the case if the CoE encouraged more serious people?

Wesley never intended to leave the Church of England; that didn’t take place until after his death, and only after a lifetime of stonewalling.  Neither did Barnett (he actually started out in a very secular home, CoE could have picked him up) nor I intend to leave the Episcopal Church.  When I compared the lives of those around me with the challenge that came out of the Gospel read every Sunday, the question kept coming up: what difference is the Gospel making?  When they decided that same Gospel and Scriptures weren’t enough, I realised I had had all the fun I could stand.

A few years back I ran a series on the Catechetical Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.  I would encourage you to add him to your reading list.  If the Apostolic churches, who have institutional descent from the church of St. Cyril, were up to his level, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  The real goal is to not to denigrate people but to rise to the occasion and for at least one of these churches to have this on a consistent basis and not just as a “special parish” or two.

When that takes place, we can have sacramental and personal at the same time, which is God’s intent.

 

My Dialogue with an ACNA Priest re the Reformation and Anglicanism

Not too long ago I reviewed a book entitled Was Jesus an Evangelical? by the Rev. Thomas Reeves, an ACNA priest in Roanoke, VA.  He’s come back with some interesting points (most of which are in his book, in more detail) and he’s given me the opportunity to post then and comment.  We’ll start here:

While it may sound reductionistic, this is one reason that I am convinced that an honest look a the Nicene Fathers and what they believed (in a shared, core way) about the church, the sacraments, conversion, etc. could help us to cut through the divisions that have occurred in Anglicanism since the Reformation.

One way of looking at Anglicanism is that it is an attempt to restore a Patristically based Christianity.  There are those who would object to this characterisation but I think there’s enough evidence that at least some important people in the early years of the Church of England desired to do just that.  The retention of the episcopacy and the liturgy make that desire evident.

The problem with this was pointed out by Bossuet in his History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches: where do you stop?  The Roman Catholic Church claims continuity both in its institution and in its carrying forth of tradition.  Protestants say that somewhere in there the church excessively erred from the Scriptures.  Bossuet’s question is valid: where do you draw the line?

Let’s take the example of Vigilantius, a priest in fourth-century Gaul.  The main thrust of his writings (as best as we can tell) was as follows:

  1. Devotions to the relics of martyrs is superstitious.  Also, offering prayers to saints and martyrs, was unnecessary since they were with God, and pagan.
  2. The observance of all-night vigils was unacceptable.
  3. The ascetic ideals of fasting, monastic withdrawal and virginity were not necessary for Christianity, and that included a celibate clergy.
  4. He proposed ending sending alms to Jerusalem and the monks who lived there.

Vigilantius was savaged for these ideas by Jerome in a fashion that anticipated the online abuse we see today.  For its part the Church of England pretty much went along with Vigilantius on all of these.  But Jerome was not only a Father of the Church but a Doctor.  So where do we stop?  We also have the case of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, which commended the veneration of icons and relics, and is held to be on par with the other six (including Nicaea.)

If the Reformation was truly only a response to the abuses of the Medieval Church (in ethics, practice, and theology), then the unity of the Patristic theology  behind the creeds should be a reasonable starting place for discussions among Anglican thinkers. However, I believe that the Reformation in the end became the wholesale rejection of Western Catholicity.  The Creeds just became historic documents that Protestants reinterpreted out of their original contexts.

I think you’re basically right about this.  One enduring problem in the Anglican/Episcopal world is that the creeds (Apostles’ or Nicene) are recited but many of the ministers–and laity too–who recite them don’t believe them!

Of course, my belief is that the Reformation had much more to do with societal and cultural changes desired by the populous who wanted more say and freedom and the Reformation was swallowed up very quickly by Pietism which then became rampant sectarianism. Thus, the Reformation quickly devolved into an over-reaction which essentially cherry-picked the theology of the creeds according to “whatever groups” Reformational,  limited, and desired theological assumptions.

The largest movement to come out of Pietism (with apologies to the Continentals) is Wesleyan Methodism and its progeny, and I don’t think that this has “swallowed up” the Reformation or Reformed Christianity.  In fact, one of the major challenges of Wesleyans (and that includes modern Pentecost) is to keep Reformed theology from making inroads.  The Baptists have the same problem for different reasons.

Some of the problem here is that the creeds don’t cover the issues that resulted in the fracturing you describe.  That includes the nature of the Eucharist, election and perseverance.  The creeds crystallised fairly early before these issues came to the forefront.  In the case of Eucharistic theology, problems came with the Reformation.  For the other two, Augustine’s theology (which anticipated but is not identical to Calvin’s) was accepted (after a fight) in the West but not the East.  The only creedal difference between the two is the filioque clause, which is far less important than Augustinian theology!

I submit Anglo-Catholicism, while important, is still caught up in propping up their own particular sectarianism as the ONLY WAY…

If one looks at the Oxford Movement at the start, one sees an admirable attempt to bring unity between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism.  That ran into two large obstacles: the unwillingness of the Church of England to move in that direction, and the unwillingness of Roman Catholicism to move at all.  The latter ultimately inspired people like Newman and Manning to “swim the Tiber.”  Those two immovable objects have bedevilled Anglo-Catholicism ever since.

One the one side, the Anglo-Catholics have had more success outside of England than within.  Part of that may be because they weren’t saddled with “unEnglish and unManly” like they were in the old country, but that’s another post…the 1928 BCP was, in many ways, an Anglo-Catholic triumph.  And it’s not an accident that the first group to bolt the TEC and set up institutional alternatives were the Continuing (Anglo-Catholic) Episcopalians; their boldness inspired the Dennis Canon.  Other provinces (notably the West Indies) were deeply affected by this movement.

On the other hand, frankly I am surprised that the Ordinariate has gotten as far as it has.  I didn’t see that happening.  What I think happened is that the conservative Ordinariate served the purpose of Traditionalist Catholics (like Benedict XVI) in their struggle with the more liberal wing of the church.

That brings us to the greatest fault of Anglo-Catholicism, one they share with the Orthodox, St. Pius X and #straightouttairondale types: the idea that tight liturgical precision is the key to great churches and great church life.  On the Anglican side, we have the church Robin Jordan joined, with the 1928 BCP as the ne plus ultra of Anglican life.  On the Catholic side, the broadest-based liturgy, incorporation elements of Eastern and Western worship alike, is the Novus Ordo Missae, but don’t tell that to the trads, some of whom don’t believe the Mass it celebrates is sacramentally valid.

Anglo-Catholics’ ultimate goal is reunion with Rome, with Rome making concessions.  That’s about as realistic as the unrequited (and declining) desire of many in the ACNA for full communion with Canterbury.  Since both Rome and Canterbury are under shaky leadership these days, the best course for Anglo-Catholics would be to clean up the careerism in their ranks, unite institutionally, and act as a witness to the Gospel as they see it.  Who knows, they just might pick up a #straightouttairondale Catholic or two on the way.

I submit that a future for Anglicanism is not MY theology getting adhered to (or any other sectarian groups particular theology), but a return to OUR theology with clarity regarding what is essential to an Anglican definition or what is not. However, very few seemed interested this discussion.

I think getting agreement to the creeds is the easy part.  But the issues beyond the creeds is where things get tricky.  There are too many people involved whose agendas are driven by purism, nostalgia or both.  They’re justified in being wary of “innovations” (the TEC is enough to cure anyone of that) but they don’t have the theological framework to work through the problems.

This is what so few seem to understand: We don’t have the right to cherry pick the creeds, and it is a reason that the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church (with all of their own problems) in part has had fewer problems being shaped by the cultures around them in their core theological (and ethical) beliefs. The Patristics gave us a unified set of scriptures and the Creeds. Why do we think we don’t need their grounding as a starting place?

I think that Patristic theology is the best place to start, but you need to be aware of the issues that block that other than ignorance.

The first is the “stopping point” issue I mentioned above.

The second is that the Patristic method of allegorising Biblical interpretation is going to be a hard sell in seminaries, which are too centred on the German methods.  (Modern philosophies and theologies, I think, are an obstacle to progress in many ways.)  The ancients had good reason to go that route, and our butting heads with the atheists (who routinely shove back a literalistic interpretation) should tell us something.

The third is that the differences between Patristic and Charismatic views on the church and the move of the Spirit are different.  I don’t think this problem is insoluble; it’s one that has occupied my thoughts (and much space on this blog) for many years.  Frankly modern Pentecost’s greatest enemy is cessational Reformed theology, and Patristic thought goes a long way to address that.

I would love to hear another option to true Christian Unity than getting back to a generally unified theology of those attending Nicea.  With these “gogles” then, we could more clearly start evaluating our numerous mind-numbing amount of ever developing, sectarian, and individualistic streams. It isn’t that there is no place for such streams, but without a clarifying unity regarding core beliefs and practices,

One thing that would mitigate this is an understanding that differences in fundamental belief are more important than mode of worship.  But it’s simply too easy to turn lex orandi, lex credendi into a reductio ad absurdum.  Anglicanism is supposed to be “comprehensive,” but the divisions over the fundamentals has shattered that broad nature.  Putting it back together again–or at least the part which wants to stick with the basics–is a daunting task.

Anglicanism will just continue to be an every fragmenting, self-supporting, sectarian Protestantism. A Christianity that I submit that has little lasting future beyond this century.

And that would be a tragedy of the first magnitude.

A Pleasant Surprise from an old Anglican Commenter

In looking through the links on Anglican Curmudgeon (which have taken the place of StandFirm for an index of Anglican/Episcopal blogs) I noticed something I never thought I’d see: Robin Jordan’s Reshaping the 1928 Prayer Book Services for Mission, in four parts.  That’s because, for a long time, his position on the 1928 BCP ran like this:

From a Reformed perspective the 1928 Book of Common Prayer suffers from a number of serious theological defects. This rules out the use of the 1928 Prayer Book in public worship in an Anglican church that is Reformed in its doctrine. If prayers and liturgical material are used from the 1928 Prayer Book, great care should be taken to see that their doctrine conforms with the biblical-Reformation doctrine of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the 1661 Ordinal.

Anglicans have long recognized how we pray reflects and shapes what we believe. What good does it do to preach one thing when the liturgy that we are using and the worship practices that we have adopted teach another? Both our preaching and our liturgy and worship practices need to convey the same message.

That Reformed stance of his doubtless detonated the long, acrimonious and unedifying exchange on this blog which we had several years back.

Some of the change, however, may be due to the following:

On November 1, 2017, on the Feast of All Saints, Bishop William Millsaps, licensed me as a lay reader in the Diocese of the South in the Episcopal Missionary Church (EMC) and placed me in temporary pastoral charge of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Benton, Kentucky. I am pursuing a late life vocation in the EMC.

I have met Bishop Millsaps, know some of his congregation in Monteagle, and have stayed in contact with him over the years.  The Episcopal Missionary Church, although it doesn’t explicitly describe itself as Anglo-Catholic, states the following:

The Book of Common Prayer, 1928 Edition, is the basis for all of our worship. The Prayer Book is a document which is best described as being orthodox in its expressions of the Christian faith, using the liturgies which have been a part of catholic worship for centuries. There is no modern “innovation” in the Prayer Book; it calls upon us to conform ourselves to God’s word, rather than trying to change the church’s teachings to fit mankind’s “desires.

Given my own softening on the subject, I am sympathetic to Robin’s position.  And I am very heartened that the EMC has allowed him this opportunity for ministry.  It’s something that he’s obviously desired for many years, and we all know that “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” (Psalms 37:4-5 KJV)  I know the opportunity I had to serve 13 1/2 years in the Lay Ministries Department of the Church of God was a long-desired gift.  Given his long study and experience in church planting, he should do well, and my prayers are with him.

The Boomers (or at Least Some of Them) Really Did Tank This Country

An interesting exchange between Sean Illing of Vox and Steven Brill yields this:

Sean Illing

The story of decline you tell really begins about 50 years ago, so is this basically a story of how a subset of the baby boomer generation drove the country off a cliff?

Steven Brill

That may be too much of a generalization, but I wouldn’t knock it because it’s basically right.

I have been criticised for making this claim about my contemporaries, but it’s getting hard to deny.

And this observation is interesting, too:

In many cases, the people doing the most damage aren’t breaking any laws or consciously trying to hurt anyone else. They’re simply doing what they were told to do — go to prestigious law schools, get a job at a prestigious law firm, and make lots of money.

Those of us who chose a different course swam upstream in those days, but it’s better to have never been part of the problem.

At Last, Some Good News on the (Non-)Marriage Front

A British couple has won a course case based on the obvious, which is very difficult in the United States:

A heterosexual couple who were denied the right to enter into a civil partnership have won their claim at the UK’s highest court that they have suffered discrimination.

Justices at the supreme court unanimously found in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan in a decision that will put pressure on the government to change the law.

I have advocated the abolition of civil marriage for a long time.  However, states like to be nosy these days, so if they insist on keeping tabs on relationships, state recognised civil partnerships without civil marriage of any kind are a reasonable alternative.  In some countries (like France) opposite sex civil partnerships are available, but in the Anglophone world civil partnerships have been mostly restricted to same-sex couples.

There are two reasons for this.  The first is that civil partnerships could, in some situations, be issued to people who wouldn’t be married for consanguinity reasons.  The second–and probably the more important one in the current climate–is that widespread civil partnerships would undercut the “value” of civil marriage in general and same-sex civil marriage in particular.  That’s a purely sentimental reason, but it’s a big deal and fuelled much of the war (past and ongoing) over marriage.

The obvious, however, is the obvious; there’s no cogent justification why opposite-sex couples should be denied civil partnerships if same-sex couples can enter into them.  The Brits need to be reminded that, just because La logique, ou l’art de penser (Logic, or the Art of Thinking) was written by the French means that Brexit will let them off the hook.

Book Review: Herbert Mortimer Luckock’s The Divine Liturgy, or Why Reformed Anglicans Go Postal

He was the Dean of the Lichfield Cathedral; his son was a schoolmate of Winston Churchill’s, and he wrote many books from his Anglo-Catholic perspective.  In The Divine Liturgy, Herbert Mortimer Luckock does a complete analysis of the Holy Communion in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and his journey has been, for me personally, a delight that has both brought back memories and at the same time brought another perspective to issues that have been significant in the Anglican/Episcopal world for many years.  (As an additional history note, the copy I read was owned by the Rev. Frederic S. Fleming, late Rector of Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church.)

The book is divided, as is Luckock’s way of saying, into fifty portions, covering not only the liturgy itself point by point, but some of the background, such as the priesthood, leavened or unleavened bread, and the “Black Rubric.”  His chapters tend to be short, which make them easy to absorb, especially in this age of limited attention span.

In his preface he states the following:

The subject, which is here treated of, is one which, since the Catholic Revival of the last generation, has been attracting an ever-increasing attention, till it has now an absorbing interest in almost every part of the English Church.

The idea of a “Catholic Revival” is almost an oxymoron for Evangelicals, but I’ve come to realise that minimising the impact of what is more conventionally called the “Oxford Movement” is a mistake.  Traditionally, having been in the RCC, I tend to be dismissive of Anglo-Catholicism in any form, but Luckock’s treatment of the subject has made me take another look at the subject, although i recognise that the way many Anglo-Catholics look at their own faith today is at variance with Luckock’s.

Probably the best way to look at this book is to highlight some of its more notable features.

The first is Luckock’s breadth of knowledge of a broad cross-section of liturgies, including Anglican, Roman and Eastern.  In that respect the work is similar to Cipriano Vagaggini’s The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform; a series of the anaphorae from that were run on this blog several years ago, and in fact both draw from many of the same sources.  That background gives Luckock’s analysis of the 1662 BCP Holy Communion, like Vagaggini’s of the Roman Canon, a greater sense of depth that one sometimes encounters.  It was Luckock’s hope that the Church of England would take some of these suggestions, a hope that went down in flames with the rejection by Parliament of the 1928 effort.  (Luckock’s lack of enthusiasm for the established state of the Church of England comes through more than once.)  Vagaggini had a better result: one can see the fruits of his labour in the Novus Ordo Missae, although I’m sure that there are many Vagaggini dartboards in #straightouttairondale bars all around the world.

One liturgy of special interest is what Luckock calls the “Scotch” liturgy, which drifted in a High Church direction from the very start.  That’s important because the Scotch liturgy was the source of the “Whiskeypalian” one, as is illustrated by Luckock’s description of the Scotch inclusion of the invocation of the Holy Ghost during the consecration:

Now there can be no question that our present Office, which successive revisers in the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and both Charles I. and II., endeavoured, and often successfully, to recover from the baleful influence of Bucer and Calvin, is in the matter of the Invocation distinctly inferior to the first Prayer-book. It has even been objected that the absence of a direct prayer for the operation of the Holy Ghost goes far to invalidate the Consecration. The first American Bishop, Seabury, expressed such a strong disapproval of it that, when asked to celebrate with the English Office, he said : “To confess the truth, I hardly consider the form to be used as strictly amounting to a consecration” ; and it would seem that the objection is still felt in the American Church, for Seabury’s successor, the present Bishop of Connecticut, has declared that in giving the primitive form of Consecration, “Scotland gave us a greater boon than when she gave us the Episcopate.”

It’s also noteworthy that the lack of this invocation was a criticism of the Roman Canon (now RCC Rite I) by both Luckock and Vagaggini.

Another aspect is Luckock’s uneven handing of some of the more controversial aspects of Anglo-Catholic thought.  A good example of this concerns the concept of the “Sacrifice of the Mass,” one that has been dealt with on this blog.  Luckock’s treatment of this in his fifth chapter is one of the best i have seen, especially since the idea of a sacrifice independent of time (which is the state of anything with God) is too abstract for most people.  Unfortunately some of his description of the sacrifice, along with the priesthood, drifts towards Rome too far in the later parts of the book.

Another problematic topic is praying for the dead.  Luckock attempts to find a way to pray for the dead while rejecting the concept of Purgatory, but his attempt is unconvincing.  He is on stronger ground with his smackdown of Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, but again he doesn’t have a good alternative to transubstantiation.  The same objection to his handing of the sacrifice can be made with the priesthood; he starts out admirably but fades away as the book progresses.

Luckock’s treatment of the altar in Anglican churches is an interesting one.  The first attack on the altar-against-the-wall, ad orientem facing of the priest came not from the Roman Catholics but from the Puritans.  At one point in the process the priest faced the altar from the side.  Luckock’s preference for ad orientem may be muted by the formal status of the practice in his day, which was to prohibit it.

Luckock is given to some interesting turns of phrase, as in this one concerning a proposed revision of the Collects:

No new Collects have been admitted to the Liturgy since 1662, but the Church narrowly escaped most extensive innovations at the hands of the commissioners appointed to revise the Prayer-book in the reign of William iii. Scarcely a Collect was left untouched; all of them were enlarged “by the introduction of phrases from the Epistles and Gospels, such as abound in the devotional writings of the Nonconformists” ; the whole beauty and the nervous simplicity which have called forth the admiration of all who are most capable of appreciating the purity of the English language, were sacrificed to a miserable attempt to make them more Scriptural.

Although Luckock is the first to affirm the primacy of God’s Word, anyone who has listened to an Evangelical pile on Bible verses to make a point when a more direct approach would make his case better can sympathise with Luckock’s discouragement.

So why the mention of Reformed Anglicans going postal?  Luckock’s treatment of the Prayer Book revisions before the 1662 BCP reveals the multidirectional tugging of Puritans, Reformers and traditionalists which resulted in a dizzying variety of liturgies and arrangements.  Reformed types, eschewing such a chequered narrative, prefer to see the whole process as a seamless march to the 1662 BCP and a Reformed church.  To challenge this can bring a frightful response.

But it just isn’t that simple.  Luckock’s approach has its faults, but it is more strongly grounded in the realities of history and of the root nature of the Anglican experiment itself than many of his opponents and some of his fellow Anglo-Catholics.

The Reformed/Anglo-Catholic divide, even with the recent complications of WO and the pansexual agenda, remains one of the enduring hindrances of Anglican unity.  Luckock’s book is a reasoned view of many of the issues surrounding the Holy Communion–the central place of most of these differences–and deserves proper consideration by those of all perspectives.

Some Thoughts on the 2018 Church of God General Council Agenda

Well, it’s that time of the biennium again, when our ministers and their church pack up and spend several million dollars on the gathering called the General Assembly.  I’ve made it my habit to comment on the agenda, which can be found here.  The last time, OurCoG copied my comments in serial format (guys, next time give a link back) so perhaps they made a little more impact than usual.

It’s true that American Christianity in general and the Church of God in particular are having a rough time.  So how does the agenda deal with our current situation?  Let’s take a look…

The “FINISH Commitment” Resolutions

At the very start the agenda makes a bold statement:

The 77th General Assembly agenda is different. It is conceived and contextualized on the declared Mission and Vision of the Church of God. The purpose of the FINISH Commitment Agenda is to articulate the vision predicated upon six primary areas delineated as resolutions. These include the following: Visional Actualization, Doctrinal Affirmation, Structural Acclimation, Ministerial Activation, Generational Assimilation, and Spiritual Acceleration. Every agenda item is categorized under one of these visional resolutions.

It’s tempting to regard these resolutions as “fluff” (like corporate vision statements) but many of the points in these resolutions are carried through in the agenda items that actually alter the Minutes of the church.  So these are worth paying attention to, and some comments are in order.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Task Force specifically focus on the following areas and prepare recommendations for the Executive Council to consider for implementation and, as necessary, inclusion on the International General Council agenda for 2020:

a. Evaluation of the departments and ministries of the International Offices to determine the value added to local churches and to develop an instrument for state/regional offices to evaluate the value their programs and ministries are adding to the local church;
b. Assessment of the budget of the International Offices to determine the funding priorities supporting the core values of the church and finishing the Great Commission;
c. Review of the systems (including elections and appointments) and programs of the church considering multinational and multigenerational culture, including language-specific resources, cultural variants, etc.;
d. Appraisal of the church planting and church revitalization efforts and funding with a goal to enlarge and enhance the effectiveness of these priorities;
e. Analysis of the need for and promotion of ministerial recruitment, development, and placement in the Western USA, and other areas;
f. Refine, expand, and promote the current affiliation and amalgamation opportunities and procedures;
g. Devise policy guidelines for multisite campuses; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that a report of this Task Force’s work be prepared and made available to the 2020 International General Council.

Some of this was done in the wake of the “Missional Revolt” of the last decade, which included the reduction by a third of our local churches’ contribution to the state and international offices (including World Missions.)  Evidently things have not worked out quite as hoped; part of that is due to the fact that the serious changes that needed to be made were not done.  Those include ending the requirement that the central church own the local church property (a sore subject with Anglicans in this country,) the election of state and regional bishops, and other topics that will be discussed.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that our ministers prayerfully reaffirm their commitment to and belief in these doctrinal statements…

With the experience of the Anglican-Episcopal world at my back, I have supported the idea that our ministers affirm their commitment to what the church stands for.  I have gotten pushback on that, which you can see here.  I doubt we’ll get any further with this now than we did then; I hear a ticking time bomb, but I’m not sure how to prevent it from going off…

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that careful consideration be made of our voting and appointment processes to assure that they reflect our multicultural diversity and enhance our missional impact…

Evidently some of the logic of this post is coming to the forefront, but for those of you who might think this is a “leftist” bent, it really isn’t.  That’s because of one simple reality: the ethnic mix of Pentecostal churches is rapidly shifting towards non-white people, and the long-term survival of the church depends upon our ability to attract and keep these people in our churches.  If that means doing like Canada (Ontario) and using a quota system in our leadership irrespective of the offering, so be it.  But getting a church with its current ethnic mix to go along with quotas of any kind (and that includes the “hipsters” who’d like to age the rest of us out) is an uphill battle.

Expanding the Council of 18 to become the Council of 24

Honestly I think the main effect of this will be to enlarge the travel budget of the International offices, and frankly we don’t need that.  Making this body more representative of the international church may involve slaughtering some sacred cows, but they make great hamburger and we could save some money in the bargain.

One thing we need to keep in mind is that, if we internationalise more effectively our executive bodies, and that includes the Executive Committee, Executive Council, General Council and General Assembly, that might be a strong backstop against whatever pansexual agendas ooze out of the “Global North.”  It’s worked for the United Methodists and sort of worked for the Anglicans (who aren’t as tightly bound.)  Just a thought.

Election and Appointment Study Commission

That a Study Commission be appointed to review the election and appointment process, including reflection of multicultural diversity with recommendations to the International Executive Council for implementation of, and as necessary, inclusion on the 2020 International General Council agenda.

I think that we should elect our state and regional administrative bishops.  I know that many think it would make a “popularity contest” but anyone who has worked with our state system knows that, even with centrally appointed bishops, the states still have a great deal of autonomy.  It worked for the Roman Empire church and will work for us too.  Who knows, a layman like Ambrose might get the nod…

Applicants for Ministry

There are  a couple of resolutions on the table on this topic.  Pentecostal churches have been known for relatively easy entry into the ministry, but also have a high attrition rate.  The trend in recent years has been to up the education requirements for our ministers, which is expensive and time-consuming.

Right after we came home from the last General Assembly in Nashville, i received my PhD, so I feel I can say some things about education that I couldn’t before.  They are as follows:

  1. The educational level of the ministers of the church is related to that of the laity; both should be in the same ballpark.  That’s an issue of the minister relating to his or her congregation.
  2. I don’t think that the Church of God, given its current demographic, can financially afford the types of educational programs for ministers that we see in other denominations.  Given the expense of higher education these days, students at both undergraduate and graduate levels receive their degrees with high levels of student debt.  Most of our churches cannot pay the salaries necessary to liquidate that debt; that’s the problem many millennials have with ministerial positions.
  3. I think we’d be better off figuring out a way to produce “90-day wonders” with much continuing education following (and, of course, discernment as to whether a person has any business being in the ministry to start with.)  That would also attract another class of people: those in highly paid (and educated) professions who could support themselves with their jobs and not be so dependent upon the church for income.  The last will become more important as stewardship declines and full time ministry as we know it now becomes the exception rather than the rule.

Use of the Term “Bishop”

That open Ministry Forums be conducted globally to provide opportunity for deliberate and meaningful discussion, dialogue, questions/answers and time for spiritual insight regarding the importance and understanding of ministry ranks, qualifications, and women in ministry with attention upon the meaning and usage of the title “bishop.” Following the forums, appropriate motion(s) be formulated by the International Executive Council specifically addressing the stated issues and brought to the 2020 International General Council.

The title “bishop” should be restricted to state/regional/national/international prelates.  Period.  The expansion was a mistake.  But that, in turn, has complicated another debate: the ordination of women as “ordained bishops” to use the current term.

The history of Pentecostal churches and the way they look at church in general makes the whole topic different from, say, their Anglican counterparts, although Pentecostals could learn a thing or two from that experience.  We actually went through a “listening tour” ten years ago on this topic, and the result was simple: everyone but the Scots-irish were prepared to go along with what the Anglicans call “WO.”  My guess is that these new “Ministry Forums” will generate many travel expenses and come to pretty much the same result, although the generational shift will soften the opposition.  I think this is an issue where real change is going to take more than just a vote of the present ministers and laity.

Pastoral Requirement to Become a State Administrative Bishop

Dan Tomberlin has an excellent piece supporting this concept.  I’m inclined to agree with him; however, the problem in many cases is that, in the past at least, some of our more successful ministers didn’t do well at a local church became they were particularly “pastoral,” but because they were good pulpiteers and fund-raisers.  (in the old days, good building skills didn’t hurt, either.)  Our Administrative Bishops need to be pastors to their pastors; being at a local church is necessary but not sufficient to insure that will take place.

Engaging the “Jeremiah Generation”

That each State/Regional Overseer in cooperation with the State/Regional Youth and Discipleship Director, lead pastors, student pastors, and the perspective state/regional Ministerial Development Board (CAMS and MIP) adopt an annual plan for identifying, mentoring/training, and engaging young men and women designated as the “Jeremiah Generation” in both local and state/regional ministry of the Church of God.

The whole issue of the generation coming up has become a near obsession with our leadership, given the common beliefs that a) the millennials are abandoning Christianity wholesale, b) they cannot be reached by anyone other than their own contemporaries, and c) they cannot be reached by anything other than the methodology those in (b) are putting forward.  I think, however, that this whole topic needs to be tempered by the following:

  1. A discipleship-based approach to church life is an absolute must now.  The biggest difference between what our older ministers are used to and what our younger ones face is that we cannot rely on the culture to pre-disciple our people, quite the opposite.  I can tell you from experience that discipleship-based approaches are a hard sell.  The smaller, more traditional churches don’t see the need and the larger ones don’t want to invest the time because it gets in the way of growing the church financially and numerically.  There are exceptions to that but when a discipleship-based approach becomes the rule and not the exception this divide will fade away.
  2. The economics of full-time ministry are no where near what they used to be.  I’ve discussed this with respect to education, and that’s a big driver.  Pentecostal churches, traditionally, have been better at dealing with economic adversity than their Main Line counterparts.  Unfortunately recent prosperity has blurred our vision of reality; we thought we had seen the light at the end of the poverty tunnel, but it was only a guy with a flashlight.  We need first to be real with the “Jeremiah Generation” leaders about this.
  3. Although Pentecostal churches are not immune to cultural secularisation, most of the exodus from Christianity in this country is among white people.  The changing ethnic mix in our churches will offset this if we have the sense to take full advantage of our situation.

Closing Thoughts

This is a very sweeping agenda; it will be interesting to see whether the General Council actually has the time to get through it.  Most of the issues, however, are ones that have been around for all of this millennium and have been addressed in the upheavals we have had.  Having been a witness/participant in the “Missional Revolt” (and ultimately a casualty in an employment sense,) I see that this didn’t produce the change it advertised it would.  That being the case, if we want to see change in the church, we really need to see some in ourselves, and that’s beyond the scope of any Church of God General Council Agenda.

Yes, Down’s Syndrome Children can Go to College

One, at least:

Confidence is not something the 22-year-old Parker lacks. She’s the only student at UTC with Down syndrome, but its limitations are simply things for her to overcome, not hold her back. Although she usually has someone with her while she’s on campus, she’s unafraid to go it alone. Friends, family and teachers say she loves to learn, studies religiously, turns her assignments in on time and has an active on-campus social life.

I doubt seriously that UTC intended this post to be a pro-life statement, but given that in some places Down’s Syndrome children have been driven to extinction due to abortion, it really is.  Many parents are looking to have brilliant children who will “change the world,” but what we really need is more who will be diligent to the task in front of them while bringing joy, skills which elude many people these days.  Down’s Syndrome people can have productive, happy lives as this one does; we just have to give them a chance and the support.

And speaking of support, I’d like to give a shout-out to something that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga does really well: its support for people with learning and other disabilities.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Disability Resource Center and their work with these people–and the faculty who teach them–is exemplary.

Book Review: Thomas Reeves’ Was Jesus an Evangelical?

One of the things that makes writing this blog tricky is the simple fact that being a product of the Anglican and Catholic world on the one hand and being in the Pentecostal world on the other forces one to live in many “tensions” to borrow a term from the seminary academics.  Some of those (albeit going in the opposite direction) can be seen in Thomas Reeves’ Was Jesus an Evangelical?: Some Thoughts About the American Church and the Kingdom of God.  Reeves is an Anglican rector in Roanoke, VA, who has come from Evangelicalism to write a book that is both challenging and dissatisfying at the same time.

Most of the book is taken up in an examination of the Beatitudes, with an introductory section to start with and some conclusions at the end.  That brings us to the first strong point of the book: his knowledge of the Scriptures and his ability and willingness to apply them in ways that are both informed and challenging.  Any barbecue of Evangelicalism will sooner or later involve looking at the Sermon on the Mount; it is doubtless the most purposely neglected portion of the Scriptures in Evangelicalism.  He starts there, and his critique is effective; one hopes that he pursues the rest of the Sermon in subsequent writings.  His interpretation of the genealogy of Matthew 1 is probably the best I’ve seen.

The second is his realisation that the faults of American Christianity are across the board.  Progressives typically seize things he points out to justify themselves and their idea, as if they have a monopoly on the Sermon’s teachings.  Reeves wisely avoids this; any ACNA man (or woman) of the cloth who has interacted with their Episcopal counterparts should know better, and he does.  In a sense Reeves comes with the assumption that both American progressive and Evangelical Christianity come with many of the same shared assumptions and are in many ways mirror images of each other.

The third is his critique of the “performance-based theology” (to use a phrase from a friend of mine in the Church of God) at both the clerical and lay levels in the church.  The predominance of that has always bothered me about the church I’m in now, although it is an effective counterweight against the inertia I’ve seen elsewhere in the church.

With the strong points are the weak ones.  The first one is his tendency towards sweeping generalisations, usually of those he is criticising but also sometimes of those he supports.  Some of that is due to his reticence in being specific about naming names of those he is either supporting or not.  That’s not bad in itself but in some cases he not only paints with a broad brush but, like a man who used to work for my father, spray paints anything that doesn’t move.

Second, he has a want of a real historical sense, either of the history he’s trying to play down or that which he’s lifting up.  To a large extent where you’re at in Christianity is determined by what history you think is important, but history (especially Anglican history) can be a messy, complicated business.  He should be aware, for example, that the whole Pentecostal movement, with the Wesleyan-Holiness one behind it, in part started as a reaction to the respectable “go down, shake the preacher’s hand and join the church” Christianity that he finds justifiably inadequate.

That brings us to the most significant weakness of the book: the solution he proposes to fix the problem.  Like many Anglicans (and others) he proposes a return to historical Protestantism, with its creeds, liturgies and emphasis on Patristic teaching.  While I think that American Christianity would be better off with all three coming to the surface more often, I don’t think that these alone will get us to the “Sermon on the Mount” Christianity that Reeves so comprehensively describes in his book.

For openers, the “historical Protestantism” he advocates for is not univocal.  There were significant differences between Luther, Calvin and the Anglican reformers, both in doctrine and in practice, and these cannot be ignored.  Reeves also ignores another important reformer–Zwingli–whose influence on Evangelicalism is enormous, including but not limited to Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology.  To present a united front based on the Reformation is easier said than done, and in any case the fact that American Christianity is traditionally Protestant hasn’t stopped the “success gospel” from being front and centre, even before the tasteless prosperity teachers of our day got going.

Beyond that, the restoration of “historical” Christianity would be enriched if it included individual renewal and encouragement of a personal relationship with God.  The alternative is to see what Main Line churches have done from the Reformation onwards: degenerate into box-checking institutions where vague assent to creeds was for most a substitute for real Christianity.  Unfortunately most of these churches–and we might as well throw in the Roman Catholic Church while we’re at it–have shown an unwillingness to put the pastoral effort into making a higher level of commitment among the laity actually work.   It’s easier for someone who was raised in that environment to see than one coming from a “performance-based” environment, but it’s true none the less.

I honestly think that this book would have been better if it had been organised as a “devotional” type of book to challenge Christians to seek change in themselves and their churches rather than an assault on certain types of Christianity.  Certainly Reeves’ treatment of the Beatitudes lend themselves to that kind of application.  And one wonders if his title Was Jesus an Evangelical?: Some Thoughts About the American Church and the Kingdom of God is really the best.   Perhaps it would be better if the title asked the question Was Jesus an American?

The answer: thank God no!