Category Archives: Anglican Corner

Once the religion of snobs, now not quite one religion at all.

Is It Necessary for a Roman Catholic to Agree With Everything the Church Teaches?

One thing that comes up for those of us who “swim the Tiber” is the idea that anyone who becomes a Roman Catholic must agree with “everything” that the Church teaches.  This issue came up when Greg Griffith stunned the Anglican blogosphere with his conversion.   “Does he really agree with all that?” people asked.

The answer to that question is, like so many things in Roman Catholicism, complicated, and it depends upon whom you ask.  That, in turn, depends upon the relative stance of the person you’re talking to with the real teaching of the church.  For many years those with a leftward drift tended to discount that kind of fidelity, while those on the other side (like the #straightouttairondale crowd) enthusiastically proclaim it.

A more thoughtful treatment comes from the conservative side of the church with this post, formally entitled Quaeritur: What is the Status of a Catholic Who Dissents from the Magisterium? It comes from the Ite ad Thomam blog, maintained by one Francisco J. Romero Carrasquillo, Ph.D.  I hasten to add that my church counts several Carrasquillos (also Puerto Rican) as members; they have not done much for the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, but they have brought honour to the family name, as they are fine Christian people.

He starts to answer this question as follows:

It depends on the level of the Magisterial teaching in question. Some teachings have been defined dogmatically, for example, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the virginity of Mary, and many, many others; such that believing in these teachings is part of the definition of what it means to be Catholic. And if someone obstinately denies even the least of these, then they no longer meet the requirements for the definition of what it means to be Catholic. There is no such thing as a Catholic who denies the divinity of Christ—or for that matter a Catholic who denies that the sacramental accidents of the Eucharist continue to exist without a subject in which to inhere.

This is reasonable.  Most conservative Christians would say that there is a core of belief which is essential to being a Christian.  Where differences arise is in what makes up that core, although again there is a great deal of overlap between what the RCC says is the core and what others do.

Dr. Romero also addresses the issue of whether people who do not are really Catholic; he says they are not.  That goes against the idea of some who believe that Roman Catholicism is like flypaper; once it gets on you, you are stuck with it.  On one level that makes sense, but it has always struck me as duplicitous that people loudly proclaim to be X while believing things that are flatly contradictory to that proclamation.

But then he goes on as follows:

On the other hand, if someone denies a teaching that is not dogmatically defined, or especially one that is not directly part of the Deposit of Faith, but is simply a theological conclusion or common teaching of the ordinary Magisterium, then this would be different. You wouldn’t cease being Catholic by denying it.

I’m speaking, for example, of the case of a Catholic who for some reason would deny that Our Lady is the Mediatrix of all Graces—a doctrine that hasn’t yet been defined. The same is true of teachings that are logically or theologically derived from defined dogma, but which are themselves not defined.

Many non-Catholics have the idea that being a Roman Catholic is to throw away the brains and accept the teachings of the church without question.  That’s simply not the case, if for no other reason than the breadth and complexity of the teaching and the intellectual and historical development behind it is far beyond just about anything else in Christianity. It’s true that many Catholics have never investigated that breadth, and it’s also true that the state of things in most parishes doesn’t encourage that kind of inquiry (which is one reason the RCC bleeds members the way it does.)  But it is true that there is a fairly extensive body of belief which the Church has not definitively pronounced on, and in these cases there is room for variance, although Dr. Romero points out that you may be a “bad Catholic” for doing so.

An interesting example comes from Dr. Romero himself: the idea that Our Lady is the Mediatrix of all Graces.  It’s safe to say that the #straightouttairondale bunch would proclaim that to be essentially Catholic, but Dr. Romero points out that this has not been raised to dogma by the Church.  There are many problems with making that step, not the least of which is that it would make a purely created being the conduit of uncreated grace, something that is avoided in Jesus Christ because he is both God and man united, and thus with an uncreated, divine nature.

So the simple answer to this question is “no.”  It depends upon the level a certain dogma holds in the magisterium.  Whether that satisfies Protestant concerns is another matter altogether.  But we cannot have a discussion on the issue unless we understand where everyone is at, and this should clear up an important point.

Empower the Laity? Don’t Hold Your Breath

The Church of England takes a crack at it:

A LONG-AWAITED report on lay leadership in the Church of England, published last week, has set out to “empower, liberate and disciple” the laity — not in churches, but in schools, workplaces, gyms, shops, fields, and factories. It is to be presented to the General Synod on 16 February.

The report, Setting God’s People Free, was commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council, and prepared by the members of the Lay Leadership Task Group, as part of the Renewal and Reform vision to increase vocations. It was approved by the Ministry Council in November.

Having actually worked in this field, I must admit I’m taking a “seeing is believing” view of this.  I’ve seen calls for this many times before, but getting results is another matter.  Some of this is generic and some of this is specific to churches like the Church of England.

First problem is in the call itself; the order is wrong.  The first thing to do is to disciple the laity, which liberates them and then they can be empowered.  Making disciples is at the core of the Great Commission, and that (as part of their salvation experience) sets them free, at which point they can be empowered to do God’s work.  Many lay people go through life in a church with only a foggy notion of what they’re there for; proper discipleship addresses this problem.  Without it it’s impossible to get things off of the ground.

The second is that the clergy tends to look at itself as a “trade union,” with certain tasks to be carried out by its members only.  “Scab” labour is considered an intrusion.  There are all kinds of justifications given for this, ranging from the Roman Catholic concept of the priesthood to the Pentecostal assignment of the “anointing” to preachers.  Bossuet, noting that the word “Christ” means anointed, said that Christians were the anointed ones.  And that came from a Catholic bishop!  There is really no New Testament justification for this strict division of labour, but that has never stopped churches from trying to find one.

These are generic to most Christian churches, who labour under them to varying degrees.  There are two which, depending upon what type of Anglicanism is involved, further hobble lay activity in the church.

The first is an over-reliance on the sacraments as transmitters of God’s grace.  This is a bigger deal with the “un-English and unmanly” Anglo-Catholics than the more Reformed types, but both suffer from the effects of infant baptism.  Same turns a declaration of decision and commitment into a cultural event, which is a major reason I don’t support the concept.  (Stuff like the “Contract on the Episcopalians” only makes matters worse.)  The message that this transmits is that, if we go through the process, we’re okay, and that’s simply not the case.

The second is that centralised, episcopal churches tend to centralise everything, including the life of the church.  Although this type of church is advantageous in certain situations, when it comes to lay involvement congregationally centred structures have an advantage.

I hope the Church of England means business about furthering the cause of the laity.  But it’s a path fraught with pitfalls and a lot of “we’ve always done it this way” in the path.  Christian churches, however, are never what God intended them to be without a laity with a meaningful role in the life of the church.

National Cathedral Doesn’t Really Want to Participate in the Inauguration? Let Bethesda Handle It!

They’re getting nervous over at the National Cathedral:

The Episcopal cathedral is garnering criticism from some Episcopalians – including within the Episcopal Diocese of Washington – for hosting a regular interfaith prayer service as part of festivities marking the U.S. Presidential Inauguration, and for agreeing to send its boys choir to perform at the Inauguration itself.

There’s a lot of Anglo-Episcopal fudge in this piece, from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry down.  I don’t find Anglican fudge very admirable from left or right, so let’s cut to the chase: given the Episcopal Church’s left-wing stand on just about everything, if they don’t really want to be a part in this inauguration, they just need to come out, say it, and pull out of it.  It’s the same re John Lewis and all the Members of Congress boycotting the big event: if they don’t want to be there, it’s fine, don’t even add to the publicity in a response.

Of course, my home church, Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, gave him a standing ovation last month.  That’s enough from an Episcopal church, and IMHO better than anything National Cathedral could do for him.  Bethesda may get dirty looks from the rest of the church, but given that they send a lot of money “upstairs,” that’s about as far as it will get.

The Episcopalians: Trying to Change History While Missing What’s Important

In the middle of a post on her “Rip van Winkle” return to Seattle, Julia Duin makes this observation about growing up Episcopalian:

In high school, we had just moved to Seattle from Maryland, where there was so much social ferment. It even affected the Episcopal church we attended in Severna Park, which was close to Annapolis. I found a letter in the scrapbooks from a friend explaining she had left St. Martins (as had numerous other families) because of its emphasis on politics. The Episcopal church got really into the anti-war movement during that time period. What they missed was the burgeoning Jesus movement that was also happening. I returned to that church when I was a junior in high school and challenged the priest as to why, after 5 years there, I had not heard about the Jesus I encountered later in Young Life at Redmond High School. He felt the message had been there but I had not heard it. I didn’t challenge him at the time, but actually, the message wasn’t there.

The message really wasn’t there, as I discuss in this post about John Stott.   What I was getting was this kind of thing, by a school chaplain who ended up on the Left Cost.  Those who were “Jesus freaks” (or even more conventional Southern evangelicals) either laid very low or were attacked at my Episcopal prep school.  It made swimming the Tiber a lot better cover for what was going on in my life, something Hillary Clinton’s people figured out in this last election cycle.

Duin opens with one of the best descriptions of left-wing gentrification I’ve seen, which is one reason I support #Calexit.

An interview with Abu Daoud about “Sharing Jesus with Muslims in America”

Almost five years ago I interviewed Abu Daoud, the legendary Anglican missionary and scholar on Islam.  (You can see Part 1 and Part 2 of that interview.)  Well, praise be to Allah, he’s emerged from the shadows with a book entitled Sharing Jesus with Muslims in America.  This interview was conducted at an undisclosed location.

  1. What was your primary motivation in writing Sharing Jesus with Muslims in America?

I was speaking with a colleague in South Asia some time ago and we were both disheartened about our experiences when speaking in American churches. We felt like the churches of the USA needed a solid, easy-to-read, practical book on sharing the Gospel with local Muslims. So he, a Baptist missionary, and I, an Anglican, worked together on this.

For security reasons I could not use my birth name on the book, and he decided not to be listed as an author at all. Between the two of us you have over three decades of cross-cultural ministry experience though. I decided to use the name Abu Daoud since I’ve been using that name with my blog and other publications (also here) for a long time.

  1. There is a great deal of material on Islam aimed at a Christian audience. Is it useful in helping people share their faith with Muslims? Why or why not?

You are right that there is a huge amount of material out there. Unfortunately, most of it falls into one of two errors. The first is to overemphasize the commonalities between Islam and Christianity, and suggest that an authentic conversion to a whole new way of life is not needed. The second is to tell you all the nasty stuff about Islam (and trust me, I know that stuff). But knowing everything wrong with Islam doesn’t really prepare you to actually do something positive about Islam—which is to share the Gospel with them.

  1. What sets your book apart from others?

This book has a hopeful voice. The book is a quick and easy read, and we’ve received very positive feedback so far. Christians in the USA are often not sure what to make of our quickly growing Muslim population. And guess what, it ain’t gonna stop growing! We give a gospel-centered, confident approach that will help individual Christians share Jesus in the context of personal friendship. We also have a whole chapter on what churches can do to reach out to local Muslim populations.

  1. What kind of education or training do Christians need to help them share their faith with Muslims?

Let me be clear, you don’t need to know anything at all beyond your own Christian faith. That having been said, it really is good to have some basic knowledge about Islamic cultures, societies, and the Qur’anic worldview, and how Muslims in general are trained to respond to Christianity. There’s no magic formula of course, but for such a brief book you get a lot of down-to-earth, practical pointers.

  1. How do you recommend Christians approach the Qur’an? Can it be used to help share the gospel with Muslims?

This is a good question. Personally, I am clear with my Muslims friends that I don’t believe in the Qur’an, but if we can use the Qur’an to begin a conversation about Scripture, then why not?

  1. Islam is frequently characterised as a monolith, and yet the Islamic world is diverse. How do you recommend that Christians and their churches deal with that?

This book has a full chapter on how churches that can engage with the local Muslim populations in their cities, and my first recommendation is do your research. Where are they from? There is a big difference between a Pakistani Ahmadi community and an Egyptian Sunni community and an Iranian Shi’a community, of course. Read up on the history of the people, their form of Islam, check out the world news websites about their home country. All of these things will help you to build credibility with them and communicate better.

  1. How should Christians accommodate the cultures Muslims come out of to aid them in sharing the gospel?

Ultimately we’re working towards evangelizing and sanctifying entire cultures. What does it look like for Yemeni culture to know Christ? What does it look like for Libyan culture to be baptized and sanctified? The challenge is that these cultures are so inextricably intertwined with Islam that it is hard to know where Islam ends and a given culture begins. All of this to say, it is a lengthy, hard work, and we should not expect to be able to answer the question in the lifespan of a single generation of believers. Use Scripture, draw on your own denominational tradition, and be patient as new believers stumble along by the grace of God figuring out how to construct a new convert identity in Christ and his Church.

  1. What is the single most important thing that Christians need to do when interacting with Muslims with the object of effectively sharing their faith?

I’m torn between two things: First, model it. Second, ask questions.

  1. If a Muslim does come to Christ, what should the church do to help them in their new life?

The church needs to provide them with a new family. That is hard to hear, but once they embrace Christ it is likely that their whole family and community will reject them. They are all alone in the world. They will need a new family and to build up a new identity.

  1. What are you doing now? How has that changed since the last interview?

I have been thinking a lot about the word impact lately. So I’m investing a lot of my time and energy right now in teaching local churches in the West and the Muslim world too about how to engage in this ministry. This book comes from that desire for impact. I’m also helping to train workers and mobilizing people for long term mission. Also a number of writing projects.

St. Andrew’s Day: Calling Us O’er the Tumult…

Today is St. Andrew’s Day, usually the first major saint’s day in Advent.  He’s also not only the patron saint of Scotland; he was also the saint after which my prep school was named.  (It’s having problems of its own these days, but that’s another post…)

In any case, at chapel time we always sang the same hymn: “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult,” and a suitably Anglican organ rendition is below:

The words are as follows (the YouTube video page includes them in Gaelic):

Jesus calls us; o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea,
day by day his clear voice soundeth,
saying, “Christian, follow me;”

As, of old, Saint Andrew heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for his dear sake.

Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store;
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, “Christian, love me more.”

In our joys and in our sorrows,
days of toil and hours of ease,
still he calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love me more than these.”

Jesus calls us! By thy mercies,
Saviour, may we hear thy call,
give our hearts to thine obedience,
serve and love thee best of all.

St. Andrew and the other apostles left it all to follow their Lord, even unto death.  Unfortunately, the Episcopal Church I grew up in–hymns like this notwithstanding–tended to “pull punches” on the commitment level they thought proper of their parishioners.  It either was in bad taste to go “all out” for Jesus Christ or the message got lost in social liberalism, a problem which will be inscribed on the church’s tombstone.

My exhortation–especially to my Anglican and Roman Catholic friends who visit here–is that the life-transforming nature of the encounter with Jesus Christ never get lost either in our worldliness or in our “churchianity.”

Three Sheets to the Wind: Seminary Academics and Orthodoxy

Way back in 2003, Christianity Today ran an article that began like this:

Elaine Pagels, the famous historian of early Christianity, once told a revealing story about the social world behind the scenes of high-powered biblical scholarship. As a young up-and-coming professor at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, she was invited to a closed-door, after-hours smoker. The men there (Pagels was the only woman) were all prominent Bible scholars. Many of them didn’t even believe in God, and those who still called themselves Christian were anything but orthodox.

The liquor flowed freely, and as these men got in their cups, they began to sing old gospel songs. To her astonishment, they knew all the tunes and words by heart. Then it dawned on her—these atheist and liberal Bible scholars must have grown up in evangelical churches.

I wonder what our own left-leaning seminary academics do in their closed-door “smokers.”  One thing for sure, though: like Elaine Pagels, as someone who grew up outside of Evangelicalism (both ecclesiastically and socio-economically,) I’m always amazed at the staying power this culture has, even on those who are bailing on its orthodoxy.

Getting Closer on the St. Andrew’s Sex Scandal?

It’s not the closest thing, but…

Bishop Audrey Scanlan of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania yesterday removed the Rev. Howard White from the priesthood.

White, 75, was among several adults who sexually abused students at St. George’s School in Middleton, Rhode Island in the 1970s and 80s, according to a report released recently by independent investigators on behalf of the school.

In the wake of media reports about sexual abuse at St. George’s, several people from other Episcopal dioceses in which White had worked said that he sexually abused them when they were young.

It’s interesting to note that, according to this, “(Headmaster) Zane terminated White in 1974 after he said White admitted ‘sexually abusing a sophomore boy and attempting to sexually abuse at least two and likely three others.'”  The wheels of justice turn very slowly in this “enlightened” Episcopal Church, since someone was put on notice 42 years ago.  It puts Episcopal Bishop Porter Taylor’s statement that White “…had been identified by former students of St. George’s School in Rhode Island as having engaged in sexual misconduct in the early 1970s while he served on the staff at that school” in a different light.  He should have used the plaintiff attorney’s favourite phrase “by his own admission,” but he didn’t.

So what does this have to do with the scandals at the other end of the East Coast?  As I noted in my last piece on the subject, the link is the Rev. George Andrews II, who went from St. George’s to St. Andrew’s as Headmaster in the late 1980’s.  Will he and other Episcopal reverends be implicated?  We will see.

And as far as that “other” sex scandal we have in the Presidential election, I’ll stand by my previous position that, not so far in the future, such things won’t be scandalous any more, not in our society.  As was the case with the Roman Catholic Church, the left will milk the scandal cow as long as it lives before they butcher it, and Evangelical leadership is just plain clueless.

Drinking With the Trailer Park Crowd Doesn’t Make You a Better Person

But you wouldn’t know that from Allison Benedikt’s “blame and shame” piece on why people who send their kids to private school are bad people:

Reading Walt Whitman in ninth grade changed the way you see the world? Well, getting drunk before basketball games with kids who lived at the trailer park near my house did the same for me. In fact it’s part of the reason I feel so strongly about public schools.

That remark, IMHO, exemplifies the core problem with our elites and their idea: the #1 experience in life is to party.  Not to be really educated or informed or how to think, but to party.  That idea, more than anything else, is why we are in serious trouble these days.

And it never occurs to Ms. Benedikt that, while the rich kid of her dreams parties with the trailer park crowd, the rich kid is far more able to cushion the downside of their habit by throwing money at the results than his or her friends, who are far more likely to do time or die as a result of their alcohol–or worse–habits.

It’s hard to tell in this country, but the purpose of public education is to provide free, universal education to the country’s children.  Her obsession with “contributing” to public schools is misplaced: that’s what taxes are for.  As it stands, public schools are fee-collecting institutions, and that hits hardest at the bottom.  Those that don’t go leave money on the table for others, but public schools haven’t made very good use of the surplus.

And that leads to the basic problem of public education, the values issue laid aside: the operation of the system is too much in thrall of those who economically benefit from its expenditures and not those to whom the service is provided.  Private schools should, in an ideal world, keep the public schools honest by providing competition, albeit on an unlevel playing field.  But public schools are loathe to respond to such competition.

A different and excellent response to this article comes from Anne Carlson Kennedy, who is known for perseverance throughout the Anglican/Episcopal world, here and here.

Old News, New News: The St. Andrew’s School Sex Scandal

I said a couple of weeks ago that I was shifting away from commenting on things Anglican, but my past has caught up with me again.  As I have mentioned more than once, I am an alumnus of the St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, FL, and same school is now caught up in a sex scandal.  I hadn’t been paying much attention, but a friend brought up some things and I decided to do a little research.

I found that the best “executive summary” of the business can be found at the Episcopal Café.  That’s one of the most prominent blogs on the left side of the Anglican blogosphere.  I don’t pretend to be in the same rank on the other side, but it brings me to my first point: St. Andrew’s was and is a very liberal institution, one that didn’t commend left-wing Anglicanism to me in a very convincing way.

Although things really broke in the Spring–and Headmaster Peter Benedict resigned at the time–it’s still an ongoing business, as Interim Head of School Jim Byer discussed in an email to the alumni:

At the same time, the start of this school year has been a difficult time for all of us at Saint Andrew’s, and I appreciate your interest and concern for what has happened here. Many of you are aware of the results of two independent investigations related to violations of faculty/student boundaries and inadequate policies and procedures to protect students, as well as the stories that have been reported in the local media.

Please know that our school is committed to student safety, and I fully expect our community will be stronger and safer as the result of improvements in this regard. We have instituted mandatory child abuse annual training for all faculty and staff in accordance with Florida Department of Education training curriculum, we will hold accountable all who interact and engage with students on a daily basis, and we have engaged qualified, trained professionals to thoroughly examine and closely supervise the residential life program. I am also engaging an expert to oversee the restructuring of all aspects of risk in the school, to further safeguard the welfare of each and every student here.

That said, let me make some comments on the situation:

  1. The fact that the school decided to “lawyer up” tells me that something bad has really happened.  Colleges and universities have gone “whole hog” on this subject due to the “Dear Colleague” letter that the Department of Education sent out, but this is the result, IMHO, of things that happened at the school.  Bringing the attorneys in shield the investigation using attorney-client privilege, and coupled with the raft of confidentiality requirements in education, it’s pretty simple to put the “quietus” (a good TN expression) on something like this.
  2. Contrary to what some of the commenters on the Café said, St. Andrew’s was not started in response to the integration of public schools in Palm Beach County.  It was started as a boarding school to replicate the prep schools in New England and the Northeast.  Social trends and the explosive growth of South Florida have converted it primarily into a day school, where it addressed another issue: the lacklustre quality of Florida’s public schools.
  3. One thing that St. Andrew’s has always been sensitive to a fault about is its community reputation.  Although any institution needs to pay attention to that, in St. Andrew’s case there’s a very relevant issue: the school wasn’t properly endowed when it was set up, the seed money largely going to physical plant.  Its early survival was a difficult proposition and it’s not as ready as some of its older, prep school counterparts to take the hit that a scandal such as this brings.
  4. Unless the years I was there were an anomaly, I don’t think that St. Andrew’s has an innate culture which encourages sexual harassment of the students by the faculty.  That may be relevant in considering the role of the Rev. George Andrews, Headmaster from 1989 to 2008.  He is involved in the sex abuse scandals at St. George’s School in Middletown, RI, one of the New England boarding schools involved in their own imbroglio.  In spite of the founders’ intentions, St. Andrew’s had a dynamic that was different from its Northern counterparts, something faculty who had taught at both noted.

As is always the case in situations like this, it will be a long time before the truth comes out, if it ever does completely.  But South Florida in general and St. Andrew’s in particular was a hard schoolmaster on many issues of a sexual nature, albeit for reasons other than the ones in this scandal.  I explored many of these issues about a decade ago in my book The Ten Weeks.

What I am about to say will probably make some people blow their stack.   That isn’t hard to do these days.  But I think this is the time to say it.  We live in a society with two polar opposite ideas on this subject, and they cannot stay conjoined indefinitely.

I’ve consistently defended the Christian sexual ethic on this blog.  One important corollary to that is that everyone is inviolate in their person with regard to sexual activity, i.e., it’s entirely voluntary.  I want to make it clear that I support that corollary.  That’s the underlying assumption to things such as the prohibition against rape, molestation, and sexual harassment.  The persistence of these is part of our post-Christian condition.

On the other hand, we have the pervasive ethic these days that sexual activity is a necessity for life (not in a procreative sense,) and that one is defined by same.  A corollary to that is that people who refrain, temporarily or permanently, are a) not really human and b) need to be brought into line, most usually these days by peer pressure, or now the internet.

Given the realities of the human condition, I believe that sooner or later society will realise that, as my father would say, we “have a no-fit going here.”  Our educational system, which is expected in inculcate all kinds of values it was not designed to do, will be brought to bear on making sex education not only a “how-to” project but to make sure the lesson is carried out.

When that happens, the scandal such as is unfolding at St. Andrew’s will no longer be about doing something wrong as it will be about doing something outside of proper channels.  In other words, after all the years of such scandals rocking the Catholic Church, boarding schools, etc., they will no longer be scandals, and the victims who have not “kept up” with the times will be left in the lurch.

Whether our civilisation, such as it is, will survive to that point is another matter altogether.  But the business of same-sex civil marriage shows that public opinion, led by élite opinion, can turn around very quickly under the right conditions.  As always, I doubt most people are ready to face a societal flip of that kind, but just because we’re not ready to face it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.