Women in Ministry: Starting Something You Can’t Finish

This is a “blast from the past,” originally written 20 July 2006 between the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in Columbus, OH and the Church of God General Assembly in Indianapolis, IN. I’m reproducing it to make it more accessible; thanks to Jonathan Stone for his interest in this; Jonathan Martin also made a strong statement regarding a related issue at the 2008 General Assembly.

The Episcopal Church’s election of a woman as its Presiding Bishop has created quite a stir inside and outside of the Anglican Communion. Women ministers are generally associated with liberal churches, but on the other end of the spectrum they’ve been in ministry for a good deal longer. But there are still debates.

When the whole subject of women in ministry is chronicled, usually it starts with “Main Line” churches, such as the Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, etc. But the reality is that these churches are “Johnny (or Janey) come latelys” to the whole business of women ministers. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles which proved to be the “kick-off” (but not really the beginning of the game) of the modern Pentecostal movement. From the very start Pentecostal churches have had women ministers in a wide variety of capacities. One Pentecostal denomination (Foursquare) was founded by a woman (Aimee Semple McPherson.)

However, this has not come without restrictions. This coming week the oldest Pentecostal denomination in the US, the Church of God, is considering allowing women to be “ordained bishops,” which is the church’s current parlance for ministers with the highest level of ministerial credentialing the Church offers. (Officials at the international and state/regional level are referred to as the Presiding Bishop, Administrative Bishop, etc.)

Pentecostal churches came into the world without many of the benefits of other churches. No Pentecostal church, for example, has ever had state support, or is a “descendant” of a church with state support. This takes away from some of the respectability that Main Line churches generally have accrued. They also drew (and to a large extent still draw) their membership from the poorer parts of society. So they had none of the “enlightenment” (if it can be seen in this way) that the “upper reaches” of society always claim, and this includes the business of “women’s liberation” as a modern phenomenon.

So why did they leave their Main Line counterparts in the dirt on this issue? There are two reasons for this.

The first is that Pentecostals read parts of the New Testament that others didn’t. This wasn’t restricted to Acts 2; it included Romans 16, where many women are listed in very responsible positions in the church. We also should note that Peter’s repetition of Joel 2 about sons and daughters prophesying is instructive. We will leave the rest of the exposition of a Pentecostal view of the subject to our friends in the Assemblies of God, which produced this document on the subject.

The second is that early Pentecostals at least were generally not a product of an industrialised society. Put another way, they lived in a world where the family was an economic unit, where everyone—father, mother, children—worked for the survival of the family. This alone puts a whole new balance of things; it makes everyone responsible, which is one reason why women stepping into ministry wasn’t such a shock. (It also explains why Pentecostal churches have produced so many “child ministers” as well.) With industrialisation came the father leaving home to earn a living and the children incarcerated in schools, which left mother “high and dry,” to rebel in the 1960’s.

Women in ministry in Pentecostal churches thus came out of an entirely different idea than that in the Main Line churches, whose admission of women into ministry was largely a manifestation of modernity. Those of us who have known “old time” Pentecostal women ministers know that they were an entirely different kind of person from those who pack the pulpits of withering Main Line churches.

But societal progress affected Pentecostal churches as well. In the Church of God, for example, the percentage of women of the total number of those in ministry peaked in 1950, declining after that until recent years. Industrialisation and the need for respectability took its toll. And of course there were debates on how far women could go in ministry and what they could do, bringing different results in different denominations.

With all of this, we need to say a few things about women in ministry that our friends in various persuasions might find of interest:

  • For a Christian church to have women in ministry, it first must have a “Protestant” view of the role of the church. Catholics and their friends object to women “priests” as they feel a woman cannot represent God to the people. In their context, this is correct. But this overlooks the fact that whole Roman Catholic concept of the church as a formal mediator between man and God—complete with a priesthood—is basically unBiblical.
  • A Christian church with women in ministry must also have the operation of the Pentecostal gifts and manifestations. This is because of the link in Joel 2 and Acts 2 between women and the prophetic gift, which in a New Testament context only takes place with the full complement of Pentecost. Since many Anglican (and other) churches are cessationist, this leaves them out for women ministers as well, but it also calls into question whether they are really in conformity with the New Testament.
  • One of the great evangelical objections to women in ministry is the issue of headship. Women who go into ministry thus need to be servant leaders, but in reality any Christian minister needs to be a servant leader: “But Jesus called the ten to him, and said: ‘Those who are regarded as ruling among the Gentiles lord it over them, as you know, and their great men oppress them. But among you it is not so. No, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to take the first place among you must be the servant of all; For even the Son of Man came, not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:42-45) (Update: I deal in more detail with the subject of Authority and Evangelical Churches here.)
  • Anglicans who object to women in ministry on headship grounds ignore the fact that the mother church—the Church of England—has as its “governor” a woman, Queen Elizabeth II, and that the Church was set aright largely under Elizabeth I. Although the Queen is not a minister of the church, headship is headship, secular or ecclesiastical.
  • Churches that set women in any kind of “authority” position cannot deny them the rest. It does not make sense that the laity can be under “authority” of a woman while the ministers cannot.
  • Women in ministry are frequently connected with “feminisation” of the church. But Pentecostal churches are, ironically, the best example of the contrary. Most Pentecostals are under male pastors, and they in turn under entirely male officials, if their church is denominational. But Pentecostal church memberships typically run a female:male ratio of 2:1, and this extends to other evangelical churches as well. There are deeper reasons why “men hate church,” and churches that plan to expand need to figure out why and do something more effective about it than exclude women from ministry. (Update: see my review of David Murrow’s Why Men Hate Going to Church here.)

In a Pentecostal context, women in ministry is an unfinished work. While other churches wrestle with the novelty, these churches need to either finish the work—and do it on a Biblical basis—or repudiate this part of their spiritual heritage once and for all.

From Whence Came the Difficulty, Also Comes the Solution

I found this entry in Nick Park’s blog (also here) very interesting:

My thinking about this was sparked by a meeting I attended while in the US recently. The preacher was a fairly young guy (younger then me anyway!) but his preaching was of a style that seemed to belong to an older generation. It was very stylized – with lots of shouting, sweating and ‘huh’s. I have to admit that it was so alien to my culture that I sat transfixed by the spectacle. I felt like an anthropologist observing some kind of fertility rite in a newly discovered tribe in the jungle.

Some ministers that I respect enormously were sitting near me – and they were loving it! They were shouting encouragement, waving their hands, standing to their feet on occasion – and I’m asking myself if I am just plain unspiritual or a ungodly heathen because it was all leaving me cold. At the end of the meeting another friend whom I really respect said, “Well, we really had some preaching tonight, didn’t we?”

I didn’t know how to answer so I just kept my mouth shut. Evidently my friend had experienced what to him was ‘real preaching’ – but I just felt like I had experienced a cultural performance – interesting, but not something that helped me sense the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I find it supremely ironic that an Irishman would make this observation, because this style of preaching is at the core of the very Celtic Scotch-Irish and Southern culture that is at the core of American Evangelicalism in general and the Church of God in particular. As Thomas Sowell points out in Black Rednecks and White Liberals:

Those Northerners or foreigners who visited the South found the style and manner of religion among most white Southerners distinct–and distasteful. These visitors “viewed with contempt people who whooped and hollered, chewed and spit tobacco in church.” Many Southern religious gatherings were not held in churches but at outdoor “camp meetings”–a style that went back to practices of these Southerners’ ancestors in Britain. So too did the oratorical style of Southern preachers and the behavior of their congregations, whether in churches or outdoors.

Frederick Law Olmsted’s description of a typical preacher in the antebellum South noted that “the speaker nearly all the time cried aloud at the utmost stretch of his voice, as if calling to some one a long distance off,” that “he was gifted with a strong imagination, and possessed of a good deal of dramatic power,” that he “had the habit of frequently repeating a phrase,” and that he exhibited “a dramatic talent” that included “leaning far over the desk, with this arms stretched forward, gesticulating violently, yelling at the highest key, and catching his breath with effort.” Similar scenes were described a century earlier in Virginia and at a camp meeting in Scotland, where the preacher was “sweating, bawling, jumping and beating the desk.” (p. 25)

Well, at least we lost the chewing tobacco. (Finney complained about that, too.)

Readers of this blog know that I’ve spent a good deal of time on the Scotch-Irish (whom I count in my own ancestry as well) in pieces like this. Although they have strong points and have contributed to American concepts of freedom of religion and sanctity of private property, the weaknesses of the whole Scotch-Irish scheme were revealed in that disaster called the Confederacy, where a militarily superior force was fatally undermined by an underindustrialised nation that had the bad taste to fight the first major modern war.

We need to recognise two things.

The first is that our own culture has its peculiarities, and has required a very specific approach to evangelise it. That specificity has been intensified by isolation. After the Civil War the South went into an Ottoman-Balkans kind of cultural sleep for almost a century, when its much belated general evangelism took place.

The second is that, if we’re planning to communicate the Gospel effectively to other cultures, we need to do so in a mode that is comprehensible to them. Our isolation has lulled us into a false sense of security that everyone else is exactly like us. The fact that we can’t get away with operating like that the way we used to due to changes in our society is what is causing the current crisis in our church and others.

I’m glad that Nick Park–and I should congratulate him on his election to our Executive Council–has brought this issue up. I recently pointed out that Jonathan Edwards started the Great Awakening when he read (the custom of the time) “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” You can start a revival with a whisper. You can start it with a shout. But you can’t start one without the Holy Spirit.

Yeah, Joe, We Take Regular Baths, Too

Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as his VP running mate may make good “policy wonk” sense (Biden is supposedly an ace with foreign policy) but strikes me as weak.  (In fact, I found myself hard pressed to find anyone to be an Obama running mate who really struck me as being helpful to his election chances except for Hillary Clinton, but then the risk to Obama would have gone up…)

One reason is stuff like this:

On the day he formally announced his candidacy, a New York Observer story that quoted Biden as calling Obama “articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy” came out, and the resultant uproar effectively undercut any momentum Biden was hoping to build.

That lead to this comment in my story of doing business in China:

Liberal pseudo-sophisticates may sneer at the idea of “dirty” oil men (those of us in the business, like Barack Obama, do take regular baths in places where the plumbing permits…)

Anyone who has lived in the South for a long time knows what a low blow it is to imply that black people don’t take baths.  It used to be a common one, too.  I thought we were past that kind of thing.

Evidently some of us are and some of us aren’t…and some of us don’t care.

And then there’s this…

Liberation Ordination and Women Priests in Roman Catholicism

There are some in (well, maybe) the Roman Catholic Church who are taking matters into their own hands:

A few weeks ago, a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests staged what it called an ordination, vesting three Boston-area women in white chasubles and red stoles. It told the local papers that the ordinations were valid, despite the Catholic Church’s teaching to the contrary; it even asserted episcopal approval from a rogue bishop whose name it won’t reveal. But, as a statement from the Archdiocese of Boston put it: “Catholics who attempt to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the women who attempt to receive a sacred order, are by their own actions separating themselves from the Church.” In other words: The ordinations were not Catholic.

Quite a few points in this article have eerie parallels with some of the things are being bandied back and forth on Jonathan Stone’s blog relative to this subject in the Church of God. But there are two very important differences to consider in the basic theories governing these two churches.

Or there’s supposed to be…

First, I’ve done this repeatedly before but let me note the following from We May Not Be a Church After All:

But Roman Catholicism has another concept of church: an organization, whose leadership is the direct successor of the Apostles (and the head of this organization being the direct successor of Peter,) and which was established and empowered by Christ to dispense grace through the sacraments and truth through its authoritative teaching. Such a church is in reality a mediator between man and God. To back this up Roman Catholicism teaches that the establishment of such an authoritative institution was high on Christ’s agenda while He was here. Roman Catholicism is not alone in this; the Orthodox churches have the same high view of themselves, the Anglican ones to a lesser extent.

The whole purpose of the priesthood is to actualise that view of church. But Protestant churches are supposed to be different, a view based on Scripture:

This of course leaves an obvious question to be answered: did in fact Jesus Christ intend to establish a church such as the Roman Catholic one as a central part of His mission on earth? Looking at our Lord’s own relationship with the religious authorities of this day isn’t encouraging to the Catholic position. Judaism in Jesus’ day was developing into what we now know as “rabbinic Judaism,” where the rabbis were able to develop their interpretation of the law into authoritative teaching enforceable within Judaism. The Pharisees were the “leaders of the pack” in this regard, and Jesus’ opposition to the Pharisees at virtually all levels is well known.

And that leads to the business of equality. Returning to the WSJ article, defenders of an all-male priesthood come back with the following:

Mother Assumpta Long, a statuesque, media-savvy Dominican sister in Ann Arbor, Mich., says that the Catholic Church already recognizes the equality of women — and that the dissenters confuse equality with identical opportunity. “All people are created by God equal in that we each possess an immortal and individual soul. [But] we are each unique in our talents. . . . Women are called upon to be mothers (spiritually and, for many in marriage, physically as well); whereas men are called upon to be fathers (spiritually and, for many in marriage, physically as well).” These sound like roles in a healthy family — not the artifact of a stifling, misogynistic patriarchy.

But inequality is built into the system. The whole RC concept of church elevates their priesthood beyond the rest of us. The running implication of the system–and that, in fairness, includes religious other than priests and bishops–is that the religious are Christians on a higher plane, one that the ordinary cannot attain. Mother Assumpta’s assertion of equality implies that, as long as women can pass into some kind of religious life and thus the higher plane of Christian life, they’re on the same level as the men, even though they cannot become priests.

Protestant churches are supposed to be beyond this. But there’s an undertow even here that the people who are really “sold out to God” are the ones that go into the ministry. That in turn undermines the whole evangelical paradigm of the church as the gathering of all those who are called out–the ecclesia, if you please.

It is my opinion that, the closer we get to a New Testament concept of church, the closer we will be to solving all of these “equality” issues and get on with what we’re supposed to be doing with all of the people we’re supposed to be doing it with.

Declining Oil Supplies: When You’re Part of the Problem…

Many people don’t like big oil, but we’re paying the price…

Oil production has begun falling at all of the major Western oil companies, and they are finding it harder than ever to find new prospects even though they are awash in profits and eager to expand.

Part of the reason is political. From the Caspian Sea to South America, Western oil companies are being squeezed out of resource-rich provinces. They are being forced to renegotiate contracts on less-favorable terms and are fighting losing battles with assertive state-owned oil companies.

We’ll, I guess I’ve been part of the problem.  As I note here, in the history of my family business and offshore oil:

But Vulcan also had a wide variety of customers outside of the U.S. These included some of the major platform contractors, such as Heerema, ETPM, Micoperi (whose assets were purchaed by Saipem,) Uglands, Jardine and Nippon Steel. But these also included state owned (full or partial) oil companies which were doing their own platform installation: Aramco (Saudi Arabia), NPCC (UAE), ENAP (Chile), PDVSA (Venezuela), CMM (PEMEX), Brunei Shell, and CNOOC (China). These latter were interesting because they demonstrated two things:

  • Commercial enterprise is possible with the combination of expertise, financing and desire. Although some of these were from major producing countries, others were from countries whose goal was to reduce their dependence on imported oil. Some of the inspiration of this site–to disseminate information that make good foundations possible–has come from the experience of interacting with these customers.
  • International business is possible without many of the treaties that we seem to be told we “have to have” for it to be a reality. For many years Vulcan routinely exported a third of its output for one reason: it had a product that people and organisations found essential to fulfil their own purposes.

Although the NYT article assures us that these state-owned companies aren’t as good as the majors in exploiting oil, there’s one more factor to consider: many countries deliberately slow down the development of their oil and gas resources in order to a) stretch out the benefit to the country longer and b) not flood the country with large instantaneous cash flows that would end up being wasted.  The countries surrounding the North Sea adopted this strategy from the start, and others are too.

An “oil major” looks at things from a purely economic standpoint: the sooner they can get the oil out, the sooner they can get their money out.

The biggest downside for everyone in this is that oil, up to now generally available on an open global market, will be sold more on a “country to country” basis.  This will create more conflicts over oil as those cut out of deals attempt to redress their loss.  The current crisis in Georgia is in part fuelled by that, but there are more to come.

For the United States, given that we are blessed with abundant energy resources within our borders, it makes sense to develop those and insulate ourselves from future shortfalls.  The alternative is to constantly engage in foreign adventures (military and otherwise) to secure our supply, and we’ve already seen that this is no fun.

Why I Wouldn’t Obsess Over the Russians

The Russians are back in our news again. Our media is manic-depressive: it careens from supine pacifism to hyperventilating bellicosity, and these days the invasion of Georgia is inspiring the latter. Our government isn’t much better: it can’t seem to know whether to send the troops, send the diplomats, or just hide.

I have a good deal of experience dealing with these people, as those of you who follow this blog well know. I won’t link to all of the places where I deal with the subject here; I will point out one especially memorable moment which actually took place in Washington. But that should be enough to illustrate my central point: the Russians aren’t what they seem to the Americans, that was the case in the Soviet era and remains so today.

To start with, Russian “agression” and an “attack against democracy” are being emphasised these days. But Russia is a nation that has been invaded many times, from the Mongols to the Turks to the French to that most terrible invasion, the Germans during the “Great Patriotic War.” Stalin, never much to export his revolution (as opposed to Trotsky,) developed the “Warsaw Pact” as a strategic buffer to prevent a repeat of what the Germans had put them through. Brutal and inhuman, yes, but it got the job done for almost half a century.

It’s fair to say that the current regime in Moscow is looking for yet another buffer, having lost not only the Warsaw Pact countries but also the other republics of the old Soviet Union. From a strategic standpoint the touchiest of those is the Ukraine. Invading Georgia is one sure way of sending a message to the Ukrainians not to welcome NATO with open arms, which the Russians would interpret as a stab into their heartland (and a look at the map would confirm this.) Wisdom for the Americans would dictate that we, while certainly securing a position in places like Poland (maybe, I’ll take that up later,) should not push too hard in places like Georgia or Ukraine. If we corner the Russians, they have no where else to come out but straight at us, and that’s not a pleasant thought for a country with a large arsenal of nuclear weapons–especially if some of them end up in Cuba.

As far as attacking democracies are concerned, it’s hard to characterise any of the old Soviet republics (with the exception of the Baltic states) as democratic in a real sense. Some are trying harder than others. Georgia for its part is a fairly corrupt state, not unlike the one we set up in Kosovo a little while back (that adventure didn’t do anything for our relations with the Russians either.) Here, as in the Middle East, democracy is a mirage, one we keep looking for but never find except in our imaginations.

While thinking about the Middle East, it’s hard to think of a nation which is more blessed than Russia with sheer territory and natural resources and yet never seems to take full advantage of it. Russia had a golden opportunity to shed its authoritarian past and adopt a working economy and state, yet squandered it in a fashion worthy of the Middle East, first in the “Mafia” years of Boris Yeltsin and then those of Vladimir Putin when the power of organised crime was centralised in the state. The main reason why the Soviet Union lost the cold war was that it never developed a viable economy to match its military arsenal, and both Russian and American history show that, if you want to be a sustaining world power, you have to have both.

Beyond that, American fears centre on Russia’s supposed “allies:” Iran and China. Anyone vaguely familiar with Russian history know that neither of these nations are natural allies of Russia (who is a natural ally of Russia, anyway?) In the case of Iran, Russia sold them nuclear and other military technology for one reason: Russia desperately needed the hard currency in the wake of the Soviet collapse. And, of course, Russia saw Iran as a counterweight to the U.S.. But Russia cannot be pleased with the emergence of a nuclear-capable Iran, which is also capable of making the same kind of power challenges in the old Islamic republics (Uzbekistan, etc.) as the U.S. is making in Georgia.

As far as China is concerned, the two countries are natural enemies. Russia still lives in fear of the “yellow peril,” and they too have competing interests in Central Asia.

Russia’s best hope for friends comes in Western Europe, which is dependent on Russian gas for energy. And that leads to a long running quandary for the U.S. that it never really came to grips with in the Cold War. Europe, especially after the 1956 Suez crisis, never carried its weight in the Cold War. The continent of Napoleon, Julius Caesar and Rommel turned chicken, and is showing the same tendency now. It’s too bad that we cannot flip the continent, having appreciative states such as Poland and the Baltics on the west and leave Germany and France on the east to deal with the Russians the best they can. In fact, I always wondered whether we would have been better off with the whole continent in the Soviet axis and used the Atlantic as our “Iron Curtain.” It would have been easier to defend and would have eliminated a long-term economic rival in the bargain. The whole rationale of NATO is that Europe is worth defending, and if the Europeans don’t act like it is, why should we?

But basic questions like this never get answered in our foreign policy. Boomers, now in control and familiar with a bipolar conflict such as the Cold War, cannot blast themselves out of their comfort zone and come to grips with the new reality, which consists of many old ones that have come back to life in the wake of the end of the Cold War. It’s easier to revive old conflicts than deal with current ones.

And that’s reflected in our political parties’ (and their Presidential candidates’) reaction to all this. They’re taking a “fight or flee” response, one party for each. One would think that, as much money as we put in our government, we could get past this type of response matrix. Foreign policy, sad to say, isn’t like buying car insurance–it takes more than a cave man, and his responses, to do it.

What the U.S. needs to do is to adopt some realistic expectations of the results of this conflict. We also need to build our strengths, and right at the moment that’s primarily our economic ones, such as stabilising our indebtedness, not larding our economy with excessive taxes and wealth transfers, and cultivating the development of military and civilian technology and production at home. All of that in turn is dependent upon a rational energy policy that includes both conservation and production to reduce the cash outflow we experience for foreign oil, but that’s still trapped between utopian dreams on both sides.

But rational policies seem to be beyond our system. It’s been that way for a long time. The Cold War was seriously complicated by American emotionalism, and we nearly lost that conflict in the nervous breakdown we suffered in the early 1970’s in the wake of the Vietnam War. We’ve wasted too much time, money and blood trying to “make up for” that disaster, especially in Iraq, only proving we’ve learned little and forgotten nothing in the intervening two score. I’d like to be optimistic about this, but honestly I’m not. Otto von Bismarck used to say that “God has a special providence for fools, drunks, and the United States of America,” and we can only hope and pray that his providence will be with us one more time.

The Un-Protestant Jonathan Edwards?

On the other hand, Edwards, the greatest Reformed theologian between Calvin and Barth, systematically integrates justification and sanctification, faith and works, election and perseverance, forensic righteousness and mystical participation. This is significant not only for relations between Reformed and Catholic theology, but also for evangelicals and Catholics. Evangelicals have had their own problems putting asunder what God has united soteriologically (the pairs named at the beginning of this paragraph). Both they and their Catholic brethren will be surprised to discover that the evangelicals’ favorite theologian appeared to have swum at least partway across the Tiber-by integrating, in Catholic fashion, what many Protestants have left asunder.

Read the entire article.  Jonathan Edwards is best known for reading (yes, anointed bretheren, reading) his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which helped to spark the Great Awakening, the first of this country’s sucession of revivals.  He is thus an important figure for his spiritual heirs.

At the risk of oversimpifying the issue, any missional Christian who gives the matter much thought realises that there are two crucial elements in a church that is fulfilling its goal:

  1. The possibility of an individual responding to God’s call for salvation.  (And, if you haven’t, yes, you can.)
  2. The subsequent changes that come from entrance of God through Jesus Christ into a person’s life.

Reformed theology, strictly speaking, negates both, the first through its rigid view of predestination which denies any choice in the matter, and the latter through its focus on having one’s name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life as the “all in all” of salvation.  Without thinking along Edwards’ lines, the kind of revivals we have seen in this world would be impossible.  That’s why it bothers me that Reformed theologians and institutions are so much de rigeur in Evangelicalism.

For me, I spent a lot of time in college reading St. Thomas Aquinas.  Evidently he’s more “missional” that many of us suspected!  It paid off when I had to shift the theology away from strict Reformed on eternal security when I prepared LifeBuilders Essentials for a Pentecostal audience.

Positive Infinity New Testament

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Now the Positive Infinity New Testament reproduces this groundbreaking work and enhances it with an outline of the history of the translation, an interesting presentation of the currency it used, and a guide to read the whole Bible in one year.

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Roman Catholicism: Two More Reasons Not To Go Back

This week, Kendall Harmon featured two pieces on the Roman Catholic Church that caught my attention: one which made more formal some of the language used in the Mass, and another which forbids the use of “Yahweh” as the divine name.

A few notes for the uninitiated: all Catholic liturgies are composed in Latin as their “master” and translated into the various vernacular languages for use.  Thus, the Mass changes don’t represent a liturgical change, although English speakers will certainly feel like they do.  The latter change is, IMHO, a little disingenuous, since the use of “Yahweh” as the divine name was popularised by the Jerusalem Bible, one of the first approved Catholic translations directly from the original languages after the 1943 papal encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu which permitted such translations.  (No, I don’t want to hear Petra fans claim that “Yahweh Love” is what did it.)

But back to the post.  In the midst of all these pronouncements, at our General Assembly I met Wojciech Wloch, overseer of the Church of God in Poland, who came with Jonathan Augustine, Regional Superintendent and a frequent commenter on MissionalCOG.  Wojciech and I have a good deal in common, and that’s based on the fact that both of us are exiles/refugees from the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.  The confluence of all this has got me thinking again about the Roman Catholic Church, where it’s been and where it might be going.

One thing that’s hard for Protestants to understand is the bond that develops between Catholics and their church, even when the church isn’t very relational.  That’s why I thought long and hard before posting this. It did get a pot shot from one “Hey Doc,” but he got his just desserts here.  In any case, after posting that I have noticed more people openly proclaim their love for the Church of God.  Had we not had people who loved God, each other and their church, the result we obtained at the General Assembly would not have happened.  Love is powerful.  But I digress again…

That bond, however, can be hard to break.  That’s why I advise people, when they minister to Roman Catholics, to focus on the three questions I ask here. You may well find that you get a lot of “help” from the Catholic Church in the way they end up answering the last one.  That’s because Roman Catholicism more often than not discourages its faithful to be sold out directly to God: it gets in the way of the institutionalism that is central to its idea of itself.

That’s ultimately what happened to Wojciech and myself.  And that was accelerated by the pontificate of Wojciech’s fellow Pole, John Paul II.  It was his accession in 1978 that was the beginning of the end of the free-flowing, ecumenical Catholic Charismatic Renewal.  Both of us found a “litmus test” presented to us in the form of devotions to Mary, which weren’t in the playbook before that. So now we find ourselves in the Church of God’s “book,” doing what God has called us to do.

Now we have another Pope who has his own agenda.  He is exploring things his predecessor did not, such as open baptisms of Muslim converts, his dialogues with Anglo-Catholics and, with the two moves noted above, he is trying very hard to upgrade the sense of reverence that the sacred mysteries evoke.  In doing so, he is setting the Catholic Church on a course that may be hard for Protestants to understand.

There are two sides to this.

His moves regarding the liturgy, in Protestant terms, evoke a question every church deals with: is it possible to change the form of worship without changing its substance?  Benedict is basically answering this in the negative.  Exhibit #1 in his favour is, of course, the Anglican Communion, which has seen liturgical accretions such as the 1979 BCP, with its “Contract on the Episcopalians” and other uninspiring innovations.  The saying for this is “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” (the law of praying is the law of believing) and, although this applies more to liturgical churches, it’s something that our worship and prayer leaders need to think about before changing how we worship or pray.

On the other hand, I’ve always felt that Roman Catholicism’s greater flexibility–and general informality–in the way it celebrated the Mass was a sign of strength.  As I noted some time ago:

Having been Episcopalian (pre-1979 prayer book) and Catholic at various times in my life, I always frame this issue (the difference between an “Anglo-Catholic” church and a Roman Catholic one) in a simple way: the difference between my last service at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church and my first Mass at St. Edward’s Catholic Church, both in Palm BeachI’ve dealt with this issue before but perhaps an illustration would make things clearer.

Bethesda wasn’t quite an Anglo-Catholic church then, but the undertow was there: very formal liturgy (and trained acolytes to help with it,) paid youth and adult choirs to make sure they got it right, and very long (~1 hr 30 min) Holy Communions with all of Cranmer’s antique prose topped off by the 1928 Prayer Book’s prayer for the dead.  And everyone dressed up for the occasion.

St. Edward’s was a whole different story: modern liturgy (the Novus Ordo Missae had only been official for two years,) no music at many Masses, no intonations of “Gawd” from the altar like the Episcopalians did.  Without music and with the right celebrant, thirty-five minutes and the sacred mysteries were done, at which point all of the men stampeded out in their golf shirts, presumably having made a tee time at the Everglades Club or the Breakers.  (Catholics’ way of dressing down for Mass was way ahead of its time.)

Anglo-Catholicism always liked a “frillier” form of Christianity, presumably because it looked and felt good and because it helped to drive home the sacredness of what they were doing.  Roman Catholicism can certainly do the ceremonial when the occasion calls for it, but the efficacy of the sacraments is driven by the nature of the church, not because of how elaborately the sacred mysteries are celebrated.

What Benedict is doing is taking a kind of “Anglo-Catholic” approach to reformalise the liturgy.  In doing so, is he admitting that the general view of the church is not strong?  I’m inclined to think this is the case.

Beyond that, as we all know part of the purpose of our worship is to communicate the things of God to people.  Central to communication is imparting things in a form that people understand.  The more “traditional” we are, the greater the risk we run in being incomprehensible.  Adjustments such as the ones at the top of this post will gladden the hearts of Catholic traditionalists (who are very vocal these days) but may not be helpful to those they’d like to reach.

And that includes those of us they’ve run off.  We continue onward, knowing that with each passing day the Vatican shuts the door ever more tightly.  Now there are two more reasons not to turn back and to “…press on to the goal, to gain the prize of that heavenward Call which God gave me through Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:14)