The Basic Problem(s) with the Episcopal Church

We found the whole report entitled “Is the Episcopal Church Growing (or Declining?)” a fascinating one to digest, not only from a ministry professional standpoint but as an analysis of the present state of the TEC. (“Present” may be a stretch; the report stops in 2002, just before the firestorm erupted over Vickie Gene Robinson’s consecration.) Some of its conclusions, especially those regarding the birthrate, were reflected in the new Presiding Bishop’s recent interview with the New York Times.
There are two statements that we found of particular interest.

As long as we are a predominantly white denomination with aging, affluent, highly educated members, growth will be increasingly difficult.

TEC’s core demographics have always been its greatest strength and weakness at the same time. As a strength, it creates a snob appeal to the denomination that no other can match, which has fuelled more of its growth than it cares to admit. (Strange, a supposedly Christian organisation, representing a religion that has humility as a hallmark, appealing to pride!) As a weakness, it draws its membership from a group that is less likely to yield to the demands of the Gospel, and all the while yield a smaller portion of its income, than others, as I found out growing up. The birthrate analysis the report makes speaks for itself.

Unfortunately what will happen is that the upper reaches of our society, as they progressively secularise, will find religion increasingly dispensable? (This is a position they will regret in eternity, but for now…) Compounded by the TEC’s compulsion to conform to this world in every respect, the result will be a “product” that is undifferentiated from the one they find at the country club, coffee house, bath house and pub. So why bother?

And this leads to the second item of interest:

But it will require much more than business as usual to expand into other constituencies (the less educated, immigrants, Hispanics, the unchurched). It will take new churches and a new openness among our existing parishes. It will take having something to offer newcomers that changes lives.

Changed lives…now that’s the tricky part! TEC has been weak on that for a long time, even before the liberals overwhelmed the likes of Henry Louttit back in the 1960’s. Radical changes were already impolite; the left’s takeover, dominated by Freudian determinism (that bad potty training!) put paid to the whole idea that a person needed to be fundamentally different once he or she became a Christian.

The report’s attempt to put a happy face on things notwithstanding, we just don’t see a major improvement in things, even though we have to admit that the siren song of Anglicanism–even in the debased form it has in the TEC–is a strong one, frequently in spite of itself. Our biggest worry is that the urge to conform to this world will metasticise into parts of Christianity that were heretofore immune to it.

Do not conform to the fashion of this world; but be transformed by the complete change that has come over your minds, so that you may discern what God’s will is–all that is good, acceptable, and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

The Island Chronicles: In Print at Last

We are pleased to announce that The Island Chronicles–our premier work–is now in print. The first two installments, Paludavia (The Swamp Road) and At the Inlet, are immediately available, and the last two, The Final Decision and Two Paths, will be very shortly. These represent the fourth and fifth books this webmaster has had published this year; it has been a very fruitful year in that regard.

You can purchase The Island Chronicles by clicking here to go to our store.

You can view information on all of our books by clicking here.

British Airways Defeated by the Cross

We are gratified that British Airways has finally seen daylight on the issue of whether one of their check-in personnel could wear a small cross on the job.

What surprises us is that so much of the UK, a society that is riddled with rabid secuarlism and political correctness, rose up in outcry over this issue. The broad based anger over this is something we expect in the US but is a surprise across the water. The anger over this was much broader in the British political establishment than one would expect. Even Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, finally took a stand on this. I suppose that the Brits figured that if he took a stand on something, it was time for them to do the same.

Although much of the criticism in the UK centred on an attempt to supress the country’s Christian heritage (the flag on the tails of the planes carry three crosses,) from an American standpoint it comes down to fairness. If the Muslims and Sikhs can wear their respective garb and symbols, it only makes sense to allow the Christians to do the same.

The problem here is that the secularists, whose main bête noire has been Christianity since the Enlightenment, reflexively go after Christianity even when there are greater threats out there. We noted this in The Army of Joshua, and Charles Krauthammer pointed this out from a Jewish context in his critique of Borat.

It’s time to wake up and come to our senses.

The Event of the Season

The Christmas/Advent season is upon us at last, complete with the culture war over replacing a Christian holiday with a secuarlist/pagan one. It’s sad that it has come to that, especially since this isn’t the first time that we have different religions celebrating something at the same time of year.

So let’s really brighten up things by thinking of another season: the Palm Beach social season. This season has its roots in the climate: northerners come to South Florida in the winter to escape the climate and return to their origin when the weather gets hot again in the Florida spring. During this time those who want to be seen spend a lot of time going from one ball (and sometimes a golf benefit) to another.  Between all of these flashy events is daily life, and part of that daily life is going to the grocery store (or sending the help there.)

When my family moved to Palm Beach, there were no chain food stores in town. There were only two private markets: Herbert’s Lafayette and Southampton. Both of these offered a fine (if limited) selection and both delivered (a service my grandmother appreciated,) but both were dreadfully expensive. My mother would use these from the time time but generally preferred to cross the lake and shop in West Palm Beach, where the prices came down from the stratosphere.

It occurred to the Publix people that there might be an opportunity here, so they applied for a permit to build a Publix market down the street from St. Edward’s Catholic Church. Needless to say, the Town, in its usual fashion, was appalled at the idea. How can we have such a plebeian establishment like a supermarket in Palm Beach? How tacky will it look? Who who would lower themselves here to go there? And what kind of riff raff would come over to shop here? (After all, Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church just successfully booted them off the island by canning the ladies’ rummage sale!)

But Publix didn’t get where it was then or now by taking no for an answer easily, so they persisted. They invented a Spanish style front for the store, and lowered its profile. They promised to both appoint and stock the store to fit the market (they would have been stupid to do otherwise.) Finally the Town permitted this edifice to be built, many secretly expecting it to flop in an elite place like Palm Beach.

It didn’t. Opening in 1971, its first day was, literally, the event of the season. The Shiny Sheet carried pictures of society figures with their butlers and maids crowding the parking lot and coming to fill their limousines with the reasonably priced groceries Publix carried. Even the rich and famous were sick of being ripped off. Ever since Palm Beach has found that “shopping is a pleasure” at Publix. The chain even adopted the Spanish style architecture for the rest of their stores for the next twenty years.

The first lesson from this is that, no matter how much money you have, saving it is important. In a nation which loves to “flash the cash” or worse the credit, this bears repeating. If people in Palm Beach like to save money, you should too.

Second, some of the most important things in life are the most ordinary. Amidst the ritzy charity balls and celebrity events that mark the season in Palm Beach, the opening of a grocery store made an enormous impact.

RELCR080That’s the way it is with Christmas and the Incarnation. Jesus Christ came in very ordinary circumstances, born of a mother whose family had come down a long way from the time when they were kings of Judah and Israel. After escaping Herod’s attempt to eliminate him as a power challenger, he grew up in Nazareth, than and now not a place associated with the elites of this world. “‘Foxes have holes,’ answered Jesus, ‘and wild birds their roosting-places, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,'” (Matthew 8:20) characterised his life, and after being executed between criminals he was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb.

But the ordinary became the extraordinary when he ended his rest and rose from the dead, making it possible for us to do the same and to have eternal life. Like the opening of the Publix in Palm Beach, the whole history of Jesus Christ–his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return–is the “event of the season,” but in this case the season is human history. We are a part of that history and can be a part of its greatest event by not being ripped off by the Devil and by accepting the free gift of eternal life which only Jesus Christ can give.

If you’re tired of being ripped off in life, click here

Catholic vs. Episcopal Liturgical Changes: The Difference

Dr. Peter Toon’s article on Virtue Online about the difference between the changes wrought by the Catholic and Episcopal churches in the 1960’s and 1970’s is essentially correct but needs some expansion, particularly on the Catholic side of things.

The years preceding Vatican II were interesting ones in Catholic thought because there were two trends going on, both of which were centred in France.

The first was the very liberal trend which Anglicans are all too familiar with. The best known representative of this was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose writings were extensively supressed during his lifetime.

The second was a trend back towards a stronger Biblical/Patristic emphasis. The Biblical trend was exemplified by the École Biblique de Jerusalem, headed up by Roland de Vaux. It was given a serious boost by the 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, which encouraged Bilbical studies and allowed Catholic Biblical translations to be done from the original Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew rather than strictly the Latin. The Patristic emphasis was the work of scholars such as Jean Danielou and Henri de Lubac.

A driving force behind the latter case was to construct a more “authentic” Catholicism from Roman Empire Christianity, peeling away many of the trappings that the Church had accumulated, especially in the Counter-Reformation. In this respect the idea was the same as Thomas Cramner’s, something that many traditional Catholics didn’t miss.

In the wake of Vatican II, the process that resulted in the Novus Ordo Missae in 1970 was the result of extensive studies of liturgies in use in Roman times from Hippolytus forward, both Eastern and Western. One reason why they ended up with four canons is to reflect the diversity of liturgical practice of the Patristic era (another was to break monotony in liturgical use, the same idea as the A/B/C reading cycle.) An excellent reference on this is Cipriano Vagaggini’s book The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform (Staten Island: Alba House, 1967.)

The implementation of these reforms is something that has never sat well with very traditional Catholics. In addition to the vernacular problem–something Anglicans find mystifying–the “new” Mass, along with the whole Vatican II paradigm, gives more emphasis to the “horizontal” relationship of the faith community, as opposed to the focus on the “vertical” relationship between man and God that was the hallmark of pre-Vatican II Catholicism.

Having said all of that, we get to Toon’s point about the difference between the two liturgical reforms.

In a way, both of these reforms can be seen as a race between the two trends noted above: the liberal trend and the Biblical/Patristic trend. In the Catholic case, the leftward lurch of much of the church after Vatican II hadn’t gone far enough for the first trend to really make an impact on the new liturgy; that trend had to content itself with “after the fact” alterations in translation. (We noted elsewhere that this process could have gone another way under different circumstances.)

In the Episcopal case, the second trend was accomplished in prayer books such as the 1662 and 1928 ones, and the thinking of the upper reaches of the church had embraced the first trend enough to end up with the 1979 “prayer book.”

Traditional Catholics would argue from the above that Episcopal history is proof that, once you revert to a more Biblical/Patristic emphasis and deny the value of subsequent tradition, you will end up with liberalism. In saying this they are thinking of the concept of church in purely Catholic terms. As we set forth a long time ago, the whole Catholic concept of the church is one of the church as a formal mediator between man and God, thus giving it the right to dictate the terms and conditions of that relationship. Once you break the continuity of the institution, either literally or through a major change in theology, those terms and conditions are subject to change.

This is in fact that “affirming Catholics” and other liberal types in the Episcopal church would have us to believe; since they have changed the church, our approach to God (or gods) must be different. But in both Catholic and Protestant contexts there is a better way.

In the Catholic context, the church has had a strong enough intellectual tradition to recognise that the tradition they have now is built on what they had before. For Protestants, the emphasis on the primacy of Scripture forces us to avoid things that contradict the teachings of the Word of God in either form (book or Saviour.) In both cases there is a recognition that there is a point at which what one believes can put one (either an individual or a church) outside of the boundaries of Christianity.

And the Episcopal Church certainly has exceeded that boundary.

The Holy Father Looks for the Best

Back in 2004, we wrote an article entitled Think Before You Convert. In it we went through the pros and cons of Anglicanism vs. Roman Catholicism. We also said the following:

One thing that gets kicked around in Anglican circles is the idea of an “Anglican Rite” within Roman Catholicism. From a Roman Catholic viewpoint, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, and if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t pursue it for the following reasons:

  • The Maronite and Byzantine Rites came from Eastern Churches with independent apostolic succession. Anglicanism, like the Confederacy, seceded from Roman Catholicism. That’s why they don’t really accept the apostolic succession of Anglican orders. (what that has to do with apostolic succession is hard to understand.)
  • The Episcopal Church has shown a real talent in shedding membership. Why go to the trouble of setting up another rite when you can just wait and pick up the pieces on your own terms?
  • The existence of a married clergy in any “Anglican Rite” would create serious problems with the rest of the church.

Now it looks like the Roman Catholic Church is shifting from a purely defensive strategy to a more offensive one by starting a programme to actively recruit Anglicans who are unhappy with the way the Communion is going.

Given the high level of Anglo-Catholicism out there, this is a sensible strategy for the Catholic Church. In addition to liberals and women in ministry at home, many of the conservative protagonists in the Communion outside North America and Europe have a decidedly Protestant bent to them, especially the Africans. Picking up Anglicans in the U.S. has one more advantage: they tend to be at the top of the socio-economic ladder, which would be a boost for the offering.

But our warning remains: think before you convert!

Women in Ministry: They Have Always Stood for Inspection

As sort of a follow up to our earlier posting on this subject, we relate the story of a military chaplain who has served with distinction in Afghanistan and Iraq. His wife felt the call to the chaplaincy, so she, with four children, enrolled in seminary and began preparations to be the first husband and wife military chaplaincy team in the denomination. (Seminary education is a requirement for military chaplains; this is not always the case with civilian agencies and organisations.)

One thing I have found with military people is that they sometimes go “over the top” (a good World War I term) in adapting themselves to the military lifestyle, to the point where it’s hard to know when on duty stops and off duty starts. This is a condition that Navy people are especially vulnerable to, but one finds it in every branch of service.

At a return reception for her husband, I asked her half in jest whether the children, with both parents in uniform, would have to stand for inspection.

Her response: “The children have always stood for inspection.”

With such a situation at home, those under her pastoral care who are running from God won’t stand a chance.

After Jesus had entered Capernaum, a Captain in the Roman army came up to him, entreating his help. “Sir,” he said, “my manservant is lying ill at my house with a stroke of paralysis, and is suffering terribly.” “I will come and cure him,” answered Jesus. “Sir,” the Captain went on, “I am unworthy to receive you under my roof; but only speak, and my manservant will be cured. For I myself am a man under the orders of others, with soldiers under me; and, if I say to one of them ‘Go,’ he goes, and to another ‘Come,’ he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this,’ he does it.” Jesus was surprised to hear this, and said to those who were following him: “Never I tell you, in any Israelite have I met with such faith as this! (Matthew 8:5-10, Positive Infinity New Testament)

The Volte-Face of the Left on the Draft

Although it’s been proposed before, we still find it hard to believe that a Democrat like Charles Rangel is actually proposing to reinstate the draft.

Perhaps however it’s a poison pill: Rangel himself stated the following:

There’s no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm’s way.

The Vietnam-era draft is what basically launched the modern American left.  That more than anything mobilised student protest movements.  Unfortunately, the left has had difficulty getting traction with the current conflict, and the fact that the army is all-volunteer is one major reason why.  This has forced some on the left into the absurd situation of wanting to reinstate the draft so to make wars unpopular.

These are politics at their most cynical.  Although one would think that the party of the 60’s radicals would run from Selective Service the way many of them did the first time, in our silly situation anything is possible.

Women in Ministry: A Popular Feature

In the course of developing materials and articles for this website, one that we added some time ago that has become a favourite of many of you has been our “Women in Ministry” article which we feature on our Island Chronicles page. There are actually two of them there: one more in favour, from the Assemblies of God, and the other more opposed, from the Anglican Mission in America. The first one is the one that has generated far more traffic.

We first noticed this from the Canadian blog Pursuing God but others have picked up on this as well. It seems that there is a need for encouragement in this regard, and frankly we’re glad to do this.

We expressed our own opinon on this last summer. The whole issue of women in ministry is challenging to everyone. It challenges women to get past a purely feminist/modernist view of why they should be in ministry, i.e., simply because they have the right to. It challenges the church–and men–to become serious about servant ministry, that a minister comes to serve others as Jesus came to humble himself on our behalf. Ultimately it challenges the whole idea that a minister–or priest, or church–is there as a formal intermediary between people and God, a subject we deal with elsewhere as well.

It is interesting that a work of fiction has had this kind of by-product. But our journey continues and we’re glad you’ve stopped by and taken a look.