Anglicanism: Reformed Catholicism, Protestant and Catholic

The question that continues to vex Anglicanism (perhaps since the time of the Reformation but even more so over the last 200 years) is whether she is…

Anglicanism: Reformed Catholicism, Protestant and Catholic

This is one of the more intelligent treatments of this complicated subject. I think there are two core problems here.

On the Protestant side, I think the tendency now is to equate “Protestant” with “Reformed,” which is certainly not the case. It marginalises some post-Reformation theological threads such as the Wesleyan one, which has its roots in Anglicanism. (It even marginalises Lutheranism!) The episcopacy and Article XVI (if nothing else) put paid to Anglicanism being a truly “Reformed” church. If you want a Reformed church, the Church of Scotland and its progeny are the place for you. I tried to explain this to Robin Jordan but to no avail.

As far as the Catholics are concerned, most who veer in that direction believe that the ultimate goal is union with Rome. They haven’t figured out that churches which have valid apostolic succession but are not in union with Rome (and in no hurry to get there) are still valid. Some Anglo-Catholic people are aware of this but even the current Occupant of the See of St. Peter can’t dissuade them from their idea.

Don’t Tell People to “Come to the Table” Unless They Really Do–Or Should

Today is the Sunday of Christ the King, or the Sunday Before Advent, depending on which liturgical calendar you’re using. (So let’s dispense with the term “the liturgical calendar” as if there is only one.) It’s the last Sunday of the liturgical year, and as was the case with 2019-20 it’s been a long one, glad we’ve made it to the end. Hope the next one is better.

So much for one pet peeve. If we’re going to discuss pet peeves in this liturgical year, it’s now or never. So let me bring up a phrase that is a leitmotif among Affirming Catholics: “Come to the Table,” presumably meaning the table of the Lord (as the opening track in The 10:15: Making Tracks sings about.) There’s a lot of sentiment loaded into this phrase, some of which implies that most of the rest of us aren’t really coming to the table, or are not doing so in a meaningful manner.

I’ll start by mentioning the devotees of Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology: It Depends on What ‘Is’ Is, namely the Evangelicals in general and the Baptists in particular. When they get out the big trays, they also obviate the need to come to the table: communion is served to them, they don’t come or go anywhere. With their Eucharistic theology, it probably doesn’t make any difference whether they come to a table or not, which is one reason why places like C4SO are getting refugees from this kind of church.

As I keep reminding people, I grew up in the Old High Church, and we had an altar rail where people came to kneel and receive Communion. Since a permanent altar rail would render the area around the altar inaccessible, part of the altar rail was a gate, which before the actual Communion I might find myself as an acolyte closing, and opening thereafter.

The late ACNA troublemaker Thomas McKenzie made the observation that the altar rail is in reality a table that we come to. If he’s right it’s the closest thing to people “coming to the table” out there. Coming to a table implies the intimacy of a shared meal, and for that to happen everyone (or as many as possible) must be at the table at which the meal is served. So that’s an interesting defence of the use of an altar rail.

Unfortunately those who implemented the changes following Vatican II had a completely different idea about the altar rail and the table. The altar rail, they said, was exclusionary: it was a barrier to keep people from “the table,” which in turn was torn out from its pride of place at the wall and set at the centre of the altar area so that the priest could celebrate the Mass ad populum. This was the state of affairs I found when switching from the Old High Church to the Novus Ordo Missae one.

The problem with this is that, with all of the changes, people really don’t “come to the table” in Roman Catholicism either. The priest certainly does; so do the deacons and the extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, and depending upon the parish other interlopers might do the same. But most people don’t: they line up in front of the altar area and receive the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ one by one. My own church’s attempt to improve on that didn’t have a better result.

The only place that came close to that in my years as a Roman Catholic was my experience in the Newman Association, where we had a relatively small, intimate group. That size of a group echoes the ultimate “coming to the table,” namely the Last Supper. But it’s worth noting that, even in a group like that, there were those whose major fault was not when they came to the table but when, how and why they left.

In an attempt to get to a better place, I’ll start in a crude way. When my father wasn’t exhorting his children to “get with the program,” he would tell us to “come to the party.” Coming to parties is an obsession with Americans these days, but that’s not what he had in mind. What he was trying to say is that we should align our attitude with what was right. In Biblical terms it meant the following:

Therefore, whoever eats the bread, or drinks the Lord’s cup, in an irreverent spirit, will have to answer for an offence against the Lord’s body and blood. Let each man look into his own heart, and only then eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For the man who eats and drinks brings a judgment upon himself by his eating and drinking, when he does not discern the body. That is why so many among you are weak and ill, and why some are sleeping. But, if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged.

1 Corinthians 11:27-31 TCNT

If we consider the aforementioned “coming to the table” at the Last Supper, we see the consequences of not having “come to the party” in the first place. And that’s my pet peeve with the “coming to the table” crowd: they more often than not short the need for prior regeneration and repentance. It’s an observation I made in my piece Book Review: William Palmer Ladd’s Prayer Book Interleaves, and I won’t repeat it here. All of my observations about the inconsistencies in the way we receive Communion, and how even with all the liturgical changes we really don’t “come to the table,” are only ways of showing that our outward formalities cannot “close the loop” and obviate the need for inward transformation.

So now I’ve said it. IMHO the “come to the table” people have not only failed to grasp the difficulties of how it’s done at the present; they have also put the cart before the horse by not putting the emphasis on repentance and preparation before receiving the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Who knows, perhaps this liturgical year will be one where some churches at least will set things aright, in which case “coming to the table”–no matter how it is done–will be something of real celebration.

Word of God/Servants of the Word: Rise Up O Men of God

Word of God W/G 8019 (1980)

One of the interesting aspects of life in Catholic Charismatic covenant communities was the residential sub-communities. The communities were not in general residentially communal; this mode of life was generally for single people. The sub-community of the Word of God here, the Servants of the Word, is described on the album cover as “an ecumenical brotherhood of over forty Christian men living single for the Lord.”

This is an all men’s group. The Word of God’s usually subdued instrumentation is especially subdued; about the only instrument that appears on the album is an acoustic guitar, making the album virtually a capella. That being said, it comes off better than one might think. It’s a charming album and is, in some ways, a throwback to albums such as Leo Nestor’s Sons of the Morning (if the material isn’t quite as adventurous.) With a capella music more in style now than then, it’s aged well.

The music is a mix of traditional Protestant hymns and the Word of God’s own favourites and compositions, some of which are newer than most of the other albums posted on this channel. It’s a nice addition to the Word of God’s representation on this channel, which has become one of its highlights.

The songs (the lyrics and cover appear during the album):

  • Rise Up, O Men of God
  • The Lord Reigns
  • Blessed Be the Lord My Rock
  • Blessing and Glory
  • Go Forth in Great Confidence
  • Psalm 130: Out of the Depths
  • Psalm 96: O Sing a New Song
  • For All the Saints
  • Worth is the Lord/Glory to God
  • Let the Righteous Be Glad
  • One Thing I Ask For
  • Psalm 4: When I Call
  • Song of Simeon

The Bourgeois Church of Spectators and the Crisis of Morale in the Priesthood

“What does the word bourgeois actually mean? … The word designates a spiritual state, a direction of the soul, a peculiar consciousness of being.” “The bourgeois, even when he is a ‘good Catholic’, believes only in this world, in the expedient and the useful; he is incapable of living by faith in another world and refuses to […]

The Bourgeois Church of Spectators and the Crisis of Morale in the Priesthood

The “bourgeois church” is the #1 reason I am no longer Roman Catholic.

Some Old/New Advent and Christmas Resources

For many churches, it’s time to think about the Advent/Christmas season. Maybe you’ve already started. Maybe you’re dealing with serious questions, like…should I ask N to light the Advent wreath after he/she almost burned the church down last year? Or perhaps…is there a reason why the congregation mouths the sermons I’m preaching, they are after all the same ones I’ve been doing for the last several years.

Seriously, the Advent/Christmas season is a great season not only to celebrate the incarnation and birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but also to present the Gospel to people who normally don’t darken the doors of your church. But how to do so on a path so well worn and trod?

One way is to use the Biblical story of the coming of Our Lord as a way to illustrate various parts of the Christian life. That was done masterfully by the French bishop Jaques Bénigne Bossuet in his Elevations on the Mysteries. I have spent the last seven years (off and on, mostly off) translating this work into English, and it’s now translated and being posted. The “Advent/Christmas” parts that are completely posted are as follows:

Currently coming out twice a week are the elevations on “The Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple, and the Purification of the Holy Virgin.” These should be done by Christmas; if you’re interested, you can subscribe to the blog for these and the rest of the elevations that are to be posted.

I trust these are a blessing and useful to you.

Nazir-Ali Swims the Tiber

As fellow swimmer Gavin Ashenden notes:

It has been announced that Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, has left Anglicanism and become a Roman Catholic.

He was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, entering the ordinariate on his name day, the feast of St Michael, two weeks ago.

This is without doubt one of the most politically and theologically significant changes of allegiance in the Christian world for some time.

The problem here–and it’s one I pointed out with Ashenden himself–is that the current Occupant of St. Peter is gunning, one way or another, to remake Roman Catholicism into the image and likeness of the Anglicanism Nazir-Ali left. It was a good move for me a half century ago; now, not so much.

Given that Francis is putting the squeeze on the Tridentine Mass people, if some of same traditionalists decide that the Ordinariate is a reasonable alternative to the “hippy-dippy” Novus Ordo Mass, he’ll put the squeeze on them too. People like Ashenden and Nazir-Ali haven’t quite grasped that Roman Catholicism was just one bull away from going over the same cliff they’re trying to dodge, and some think that bull is either out or impending.

It’s not a happy situation to be in, but it’s where we are, and any amount of projection that it’s something else will only bring temporary relief.

Winning the Lost is Better Than Counting Them

Recently I commented on a post by Dr. Larry Chapp on his back and forth with Ralph Martin on the number of people who will end up in Hell. My response to this was as follows, from Bossuet’s Elevations:

As far as the number of people who are going to Hell, probably the best response comes from the great Bossuet, Elevations on the Mysteries, XVI ,5:

“It is commonly believed that there were three, because of the three presents which they offered. The Church does not say and why does it matter to us to know? It is enough that we know that they were of a number known to God, of the few, of the little flock that God chooses. Look at the vast expanse of the Orient and that of the whole universe. God first calls only this small number; and, when the number of those who serve him is increased, this number, though great in itself, will be small in comparison with the infinite number of those who perish. Why? O man! Who are you, to question God and ask the reason for his advice? Take advantage of the grace offered to you, and leave to God the knowledge of his counsels and the causes of his judgments. You are tempted to disbelief at the sight of the few who have been saved, and you quickly reject the remedy presented to you. Like a foolish patient who, in a large hospital where a doctor would come to him with an infallible remedy, instead of abandoning himself to his direction, he would look to the right and left what he would do with others. Unhappy man, think of your salvation, without showing off your crazy and prideful curiosity over the rest of the sick. Did the Magi say in their hearts: let us not go, because why also does not God call all men? They went, they saw, they worshipped, they offered their presents: they were saved.”

To which Dr. Chapp replied:

If I believed that to be a true expression of Christian Revelation, I would cease being a Christian.

My reaction to that: “Huh?”

You learn very early online that people not understanding something doesn’t stop them from responding to it, and vehemently in many cases. I try to avoid that but sometimes my responders/trolls get the best of me. Let’s see if we can make this best of this mystery.

First, if Dr. Chapp were more familiar with Ralph Martin and the whole Catholic Charismatic Renewal, he would have more ammo to make his own response. Martin’s idea that most people go to Hell is a piece with the remnant theology that dominated the Renewal. It led to the covenant communities and ultimately to the Sword of the Spirit, which Martin himself, realizing that they were over the top, fell out with. I’ve come back at Martin myself and won’t go further with that.

Second, the whole debate over the number who will end up in Hell is one of the most distasteful parlor games in all Christianity, especially when it’s applied individually. God only knows this. It is impossible for limited, finite creatures to have this knowledge. That’s doubtless for the best, I don’t think that we could be trusted with this information. In that respect it’s on par with the Reformed concept of election and knowing the signs thereof.

At this point I’m tempted to say that we have a point-of-view issue. My experience tells me that, with seminary academics and those trained by same, that’s a sure way of getting them to go postal on you. Irrespective of their theological framework, be it rigidly traditional (no matter what tradition you’re talking about) or whether they have drunk from the dregs of modern or post-modern thought, they’re like the fundies: their way is God’s way, and woe to the person who challenges them on that.

But that’s what we’re dealing with here. Chapp and Martin debate the number of people going to Hell; Bossuet deflects our attention from that question towards “What are you going to do about your eternal destiny?” Bossuet is not an original thinker, but he’s capable of distilling some very complex theology into a simple format, as he does in the earlier Elevations. In this case, however, he’s more in a pastoral and soul winning frame of reference. This may be alien to Chapp’s view of things, but it is what it is.

In some ways, it’s like the difference between engineers and scientists. Scientists seek to understand how things work as they are; engineers seek to use that knowledge to fix things and solve problems. Chapp is trying to take the former course, but as you might expect I prefer the latter.

And by the way, what are you doing to do about your eternal destiny?