More on Communion as the Main Order of Worship

In his reply to my last post, Robert Easter makes the following comment on the Holy Communion:

The earliest records show that weekly Communion was standard from the very first. John Wesley stressed it as still being important for the Methodists to take it weekly, and he took it several times during the week.

That line of thinking has led many churches–most notably Roman Catholicism but also Orthodox and Anglican churches–to make the Holy Communion the normal order of worship.  I discussed this relative to the Diocese of Sydney’s dilemma about lay administration of Communion in Move to empower laity raises church ire, where I argued against this practice.

A liturgical approach to this problem is probably the simplest way to resolve this.  Generally speaking, Eucharistic liturgies in Anglican and Catholic practice are divided into two parts: the ante-Communion (up to the Creed) and the Communion itself (after the Creed.)  It was common practice in the Patristic Church to dismiss the catechumens and other "beginners" at the end of Ante-Communion, as they were not full members of the church.

In a society where Christianity wasn’t completely out in the open and where the influence of mystery religions (which had steps of initiation, much like we see in Masonry) made this kind of exclusion more acceptable.  In an open society like ours, such a dismissal would be seen as snobbish.

This is why the Anglican solution of having Morning/Evening Prayer and the Holy Communion separate is more sensible.  It is noteworthy that both of these prayer services can be seen as "ante-Communions" in their own right, and are used this way from time to time.  Parishes can still offer Holy Communion early on Sunday, during the week and as a monthly (or whatever) observance for those who feel as Wesley did.

It’s interesting to note that, in the Episcopal Church, the monopoly of Communion (the "Holy" part is debatable) has been paralleled by the erosion of many other Anglican practices, i.e., Communion only available to the confirmed (they even allow the unbaptised to receive it in many places,) etc.  But then again many things have been eroding in TEC as of late.  Including the membership.

From Pentecost to Liturgy and Back

My friend Robert Easter at Sanctifusion has thrown me some very deep questions in the course of a discussion:

I was talking about you to a young man who is in the process of shifting form Church of God to Anglican.  Something about the ancient ties and the Nicene writers.  When we look at it, I think the sacramental and the pentecostal are the two strands of the Faith maybe the closest to each other, and to the basics of the Faith.  Read some stuff from the Desert Fathers, Cappadocians, and earlier scholars and they seem all to be more of either one than anything else around today, and too much of either to quite be the other!

…how do you divide the Pentecostal “essentials” of the inner-life / holiness focus from the sacramental & liturgical aspects that are just as original, and apparently seen by the Fathers as essential to holiness?  My own thinking is about the passive / consciousness-driven / spectator kind of thing we see nowadays on Sundays, and particularly the differences in the messages of a common cup and loaf against the “individual servings” of nasty Welch’s and unsalted cracker bits.  Which is more effective in conveying , “this is My Body” either in terms of proclaiming Jesus’ Resurrection, or our unity in Him?  In my own opinion, whether as a Pentecostal or an Anglican I can’t tell, but I would think that even passing around a slice of Wonderbread and  a bottle of Nehi Grape would be closer to the plan than what is “common” today…

When I consider the scope of this blog–which reaches from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism to Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism–I sometimes think of the old saying, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”  But I’ve got myself into this and now my bluff is called, so I guess I should try to address some of these questions:

  1. The thing that ties Pentecostal Christianity to the Patristic (Roman Empire) Era is a common belief in a God who takes an active role in people’s affairs, and who hears and answers prayer.  This can be extended to much of Christianity that came after the Empire fell.   The fact that the two forms of Christianity took different church polities, forms or worship and even concepts of church should not obscure this central fact.  Reformed Christianity and much of what followed it attempts to turn Christianity into a mechanistic business, where the place of the elect (and the lost) is clear cut and immutable and everything else doesn’t really matter.  This, to my mind, is not God’s plan.  I explore this relative to Anglicanism in my piece Charismatic Anglicans: the Missing Link.
  2. The occupational hazard of churches with a sacramental system is that they get to the place where they think that the sacraments themselves confer all that’s needed for the faithful in this life and the life to come, irrespective of the state of the faithful’s heart and life.  Roman Catholicism has wrestled with this and we see this in its worst form today in Affirming Catholicism.
  3. The weakness of the Holy Communion in Pentecostal churches today isn’t as much a product of the form we receive it in as much as the weak Eucharistic theology that Pentecostal churches inherited from the Baptists.  There is no scriptural justification in a purely symbolic Eucharist, and since non one else involved in Pentecost has the guts to admit this, I might as well.  The other end of the pole–transubstantiation–has its problems too, as its advocates tend to overplay its benefits, even in the face of unworthy reception.
  4. Contrary to what many say, it’s certainly possible to have truly Pentecostal worship in a liturgical context.  It has been done.  It can be done.
  5. I think the true measure of a great church is in the way it wins non-Christians to Christ and subsequently disciples them.  The change of a life is the central event in a Christian’s life.  Putting liturgical form–or anything else, like “social justice”–ahead of this is a mistake.  Once you keep your focus on changing lives and then maturing them in a discipleship process, your worship (liturgical or otherwise) and everything else will improve.  The reason I am in a Pentecostal church today is because it emphasises that and has the converts to prove it.  I always got the impression as an Episcopalian that total conversions were either in bad taste or impossible due to human factors, and Roman Catholicism’s penchant for gradualism is well known.

Frankly, one reason I produced my fiction is to explore these knotty issues.  In many ways they are more easily explored in a story line than a theological discussion.  And the one part that gets very deep into the clash of ecclesiastical cultures is online.

Unveiling men in the Arab world

Sami Moubayed’s article Unveiling men in the Arab world is one of those rare admissions from a (presumably) Muslim source that things are not quite in the altogether within Islam.

It makes me think of the following, in this case relative to the Jews:

For, if there was a glory in the religion that involved condemnation, far greater is the glory of the religion that confers righteousness! Indeed, that which then had glory has lost its glory, because of the glory which surpasses it. And, if that which was to pass away was attended with glory, far more will that which is to endure be surrounded with glory! With such a hope as this, we speak with all plainness; Unlike Moses, who covered his face with a veil, to prevent the Israelites from gazing at the disappearance of what was passing away. But their minds were slow to learn. Indeed, to this very day, at the public reading of the Old Covenant, the same veil remains unlifted; only for those who are in union with Christ does it pass away. But, even to this day, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies on their hearts. ‘Yet, whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.’ And the ‘Lord’ is the Spirit, and, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  (2 Corinthians 3:9-17)

One point that Moubayed made at the end was as follows:

When Mustapha al-Akkad produced Al-Risala (known as Mohammad, Messenger of God or The Message in English) in the 1970s, a Hollywood classic about the early days of Islam starring Anthony Quinn, Muslim scholars outlawed the film because it showed the cane and camel of the Prophet. That movie, however, had done Islam and the Arabs a great service in the Western world. Akkad met with Iranian president Mohammad Khatami – a truly unveiled and intelligent Muslim – who said that in spreading the faith, the movie ranked second only to the Koran, because it attracted people to Islam.

Having seen this flick, I can’t agree.  I go into detail about this here but my own experience ended up focusing on the "veiled" Muslims I watched the movie with:

By the time the film was released in the US, extremist Muslims were sure that sacrilege had been done, so they threatened to blow up the theatre where it was supposed to open. But Muslim leadership in Britain had a better handle on the situation, so we were able to see it in London.

And "we" were quite a group. As the moviegoers filed into the theatre for the showing, that sudden realisation came over me: "I’m the only white guy in this place." The rest of the viewers were obviously immigrants, probably mostly Pakistani. Once everything went dark and the film started, it was pretty interesting. So was the crowd; they cheered when the Muslims won a full battle or killed an infidel. I thought that they might get fired up to start "jihad" in the theatre and I would be their first victim. But they didn’t, the film ended peacefully, and the happy Muslims filed out.

The House of Bishops and the Deadly Meaning of “Until”

In his Anglican Action blog, Ralph Webb, Director of Anglican Action at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) noted the most significant detail of the "Mind of the House Statement" from the recent Episcopal House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans:

I (Webb) asked Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori why the mind of the house statement said:

"We … pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of same-sex blessings until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action" (emphasis my own)

instead of: "unless a broader consensus … unless General Convention …"

as the primates’ communique said.

The presiding bishop responded that "until" was Windsor language. I concurred and asked if any bishop objected to the use of "until" as opposed to "unless," and she replied, "no." She could not recall any opposition to this major shift in wording.

That’s incredible. Let’s remember that while the Windsor Report said "until," the primates deliberately changed that word to "unless."

There’s a huge difference here. The primates asked the House of Bishops for assurances that they would stop consenting to the consecration of bishops in a same-sex relationship unless the mind of the Communion ever changed on these matters.

For those of us who have listened to liberals in and out of the Episcopal Church, the use of "until" is all too clear. They’re waiting for something, aided by their duplicity and delay, to change the Communion’s mind on the subjects of same-sex blessings and openly homosexual bishops and clergy from what it is to what they would like it to be.

To illustrate the point, the novel The Final Decision ends with the funeral of the heroine’s mother.  The Catholic priest officiating recalled his one encounter with the deceased:

I was in my office one day when she (the deceased) came to see me; she has the distinction of being the only member of the Committee for Personal Liberty to have ever darkened my door. She wanted to talk about Terry (the heroine). It was a difficult conversation; she accused me of having programmed her into a cult and deprived her of basic human fufilment. I found that hard to believe given the lifestyle she had led. Our dialogue was an exercise in futility; we ended up talking about our opponents in the difficult political climate we were in during that time. That didn’t help things; she finally ended the debate by telling me the following: ‘You cannot win this struggle of yours. Neither can my daughter. The world is going our way. It will never return to yours.’

The idea that the deceased was expressing here is one of historical determinism.  To those who adopt it, history is going only one way (ours,) and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it.  Such an attitude is an inheritance from Marxism, which made it a centrepiece of the ideology.

Now it should be obvious that what the Episcopal Church is setting forth isn’t orthodox Marxism, or even a realistic path to economic equity.  Marx would never approve of much of what they are doing, especially their pro-homosexual agenda (as Marx’s correspondence with Frederich Engels makes abundantly clear.)  However, irrespective of the agenda they’re touting, be it social or economic, liberals and leftists always seem to come back to historical determinism to buttress their argument or at least make them feel better about themselves.

But the fate of Marx’s own followers should give us pause about historical determinism.  It started in Marx’s own lifetime; he bitterly protested the rise of the Social Democrats in his native Germany, who moved towards the mixed economies prevalent in Europe today.  In those countries which did give his system a chance, ending the exploitation of surplus value only ended its production, which ran the economy down and bankrupted the country (as took place in the old Soviet Union.)  Today we see the largest "bastion" of Marxist-Leninist thought–the People’s Republic of China–in the hands of what it used to call "counter-revolutionary double-dealing capitalist roaders" on the way to building the largest economy in the world.

Those liberals in the Episcopal Church–and that’s just about all that’s left–need to take heed from their Marxist predecessors.  History is not a straight canal but a winding river:

So sung:
O so vast, O so mighty,
The Great River rolls to sea,
Flowers do waves thrash,
Heroes do sands smash,
When all the dreams drain,
Same are lose and gain.
Green mountains remain,
As sunsets ingrain,
Hoary fishers and woodcutters,
And some small rafts and calm waters,
In autumn moon, in spring winds,
By the wine jars, by porcelains,
Discuss talk and tale,
Only laugh and gale.
(opening song to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms)

It’s a river that also changes course, as the Great River (the Huang-He) and others have done.  And, of course, there the great Builder himself that can and will alter things as he sees fit.

The left needs to see that theirs is not the only "game in town," lest they too be swept away.

What Do I Need?

There is something about being human that craves a “comfort zone.” We all just naturally want to be able to say, “I understand this,” or “I can handle that.” To be ablaze with the Holy Spirit brings us very quickly to say, “I can’t, Lord, but You can!” This violates our pride, and, while pride is the first principle of our sin and destruction, that pride is a major part of our comfort zone.

When Jesus was first talking to the Twelve about the Spirit, He called Him the “Comforter.” So why is He a threat to our comfort zone? What we call comfort is a soft chair, or a hot bath, or a plate full of rich food: things that cause us to relax into a state of, “fat, dumb, and happy!” The kind of comfort Jesus was talking about is more about “strong, wise, and joyful.” We can use joy here as rejoicing other-ly, toward God, rather than merely in our own convenient happenstance. Then we can pray, with no reservation, “It’s not about me, but Thee!”

Read it all.

Yahweh in the Morning: You Will Find Your Life in Mine

This album concludes this week with You Will Find Your Life in Mine.

This is an "altar appeal" type of song, and it is one of the best.  Emmanuel was capable of being both artistic and conform to the conventions of the genre, and this is in some ways the best example of this.

Click here for more information on Yahweh in the Morning.

The Paradox of GLBT People and the Church

One thing that has buffaloed me from the start of this fiasco over TEC, Gene Robinson and the very strong existence of the GLBT in this and other historically Christian churches is this:  why would anyone want to join a church whose Scripture explicitly casts as sinful their defining way of life?  It’s true that liberal churches have a talent of explaining the Bible away, usually employing higher criticism.  But they still have to make that effort, generation after generation.  And in a society where secular people are well entrenched in its upper reaches, having a religion would seem to be a positive nuisance to those who themselves are well entrenched in its upper reaches.

Some of that answer can be found in David Hillard’s UnEnglish and Unmanly: Anglo-Catholicism and Homosexuality.  This is an interesting study that explains a lot of the early history of how we got to where things stand in the "Western" Anglican provinces.

One thing that everyone can take a lesson from is this: any church that puts a strong emphasis on an aesthetic or emotional appeal is especially vulnerable to the kinds of things described in Hilliard’s paper.  That should be sufficient warning to Pentecostal churches which, the deeper they get into society, the more they will be faced with challenges such as this.

Ahmadinejad: They Can Laugh If They Want. But Then What?

Evidently there’s not much funny on the Upper West Side these days, as outrage turned to laughter at Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia. After having had the bad taste to invite him, Columbia’s president Lee Bollinger proceeded to trash Ahmadinejad, which was rude to do.  That kind of "bait and switch" will not go down well in the Middle East.

The left’s problem here is that they won’t follow up their yuks with action.  They’re still too mesmerised by Dzerzhinskii’s Dilemma to take forceful measures.  Call the cops?  That’s what they tried to do with bin Laden during the Clinton years, and that didn’t work.  They’ve already made leaving Iraq unconditionally their mantra, so how can they deal with neighbouring Iran’s nuclear weapons programme?

Maybe the GLBT community will call for the formation of a "Sacred Band" to go after these people.  They have the most to lose, as Ahmadinejad reminded them yesterday.

A Semi-Marxist View of the Baptismal Covenant

One recurring issue in Episcopal/Anglican life is the "Baptismal Covenant" that appears in the 1979 BCP.  (For a look at it, click here.)   This has been Peter Toon’s cause célèbre for a long time, and now it’s been picked up by Gary L’Hommedieu.

Now it seems that Rowan Williams has joined in the chorus.  As L’Hommedieu notes:

"I have a clearer understanding of the polity of TEC and some of the assumptions that the bishops of the TEC make about the Church and its polity. Some have spoken to me about the baptismal covenant, as it works here, its importance, and how the concepts they take from the covenant make it easier to come to conclusions here that others cannot come to world-wide." (The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, House of Bishops Press Conference, New Orleans LA, September 21, 2007)

Although it’s an eye-opener, it’s what you would expect of an Affirming Catholic.

There are two problems with this.  The first is that most of the Anglican Communion doesn’t put out a contract on its own members like the Baptismal Covenant (I still call this thing "the contract on the Episcopalians.")  So we have yet another "instrument of disunity" (as if we needed one more.)

The second is something I’ve hit on repeatedly: the Episcopal Church’s elitist demographics compromise any attempt at the social justice enshrined in the Covenant.  I discuss this issue in The Preferential Option of the Poor and (from a Roman Catholic standpoint, Peace, Justice and Catholic Education.)

Put in a Marxist sense, as long as so many of TEC’s membership exploits other people’s surplus value, the whole business of social justice will ring hollow at best.  And that includes most of the much-vaunted GLBT community within TEC.

And they wonder why they’re having so much trouble getting credibility with the Africans…

National extinction and natural law

We observe two great and related phenomena in the global South: the fastest rate of cultural extinction in history, as well as the fastest rate of Christian evangelisation in history. I do not mean to minimize the tragedy of declining cultures, but it is only because of the terrible depth of that tragedy that hundreds of millions of souls turn in fear and trembling to a religion that represents itself as standing above all human cultures: the ekklesia of individuals called out from amongst the nations to the Kingdom of God.

Whence come the fear and trembling? Christians are the adoptive children of the Jewish patriarch Abraham, in the interpretation of St Paul proposed by Michael Wyschogrod. In an important sense, the new Christians of the global South relive the life of Abraham, who left behind clan and kindred at divine command in the world of 4,000 years ago, when clan and kindred were everything. Given a son in old age, Abraham was told to sacrifice that son, thereby destroying his links to the future.

Among peoples facing the erasure of their links to the past and uncertainty about their future, Abraham’s frame of mind on Mount Moriah must seem much less remote than it does to the comfortable Christians of the North. The Hebrew Bible has a personal meaning for the new Christians of the South (as Philip Jenkins reported in The New Faces of Christianity) because in a sense they relive the experience of the patriarch.

Read all of "National extinction and natural law"