Amazing Grace and the Army of Joshua

The film Amazing Grace–or at least the life of William Wilberforce–highlights something that most people have forgotten: many of the "social justice movements" had their roots in the evangelical Christianity that emerged towards the end of the "Age of Reason," and specifically Wesleyan Methodism.  (The French proved that the "reasonable" didn’t need any help from John Wesley or anybody else to end the Age of Reason.)  Today social justice movements aren’t what they used to be, and a large part of the problem is that the secularists which dominate them now have no objective basis in fact to be interested in social justice, a result that speaks for itself in places like, say, the Anglican Communion.

The film also highlights something else: the United Kingdom managed to abolish slavery with one act of Parliament.  The United States, that "shining city on a hill," put itself through a civil war to get the same result.  Why was this?  Let’s centre our discussion around the two things they had in common.

The first is that evangelical Christians were instrumental in both abolitions.  In the U.S., the "revival" (singular) that burst forth at the beginning of the nineteenth century made abolition a cause célèbre as much as its UK counterpart.  Preachers such as Charles Finney relentlessly kept the evils of slavery in front of their audiences, and the audiences in turn responded.  Evangelicals in those days were unafraid of putting social value into the gospel they preached, as opposed to those after the First World War (which made social value problematic for everyone.)

However, the reaction they got illustrated the key difference between the UK and the US.  Slavery in the British Empire was something that took place away from the mother country, in the colonies, making it a lot easier to accomplish.  In the U.S.–until recently a set of colonies itself–slavery was home-grown, so much so that the end of importing slaves didn’t brake the growth of the institution, as it would have done in a harsher environment such as Brazil.  Making matters worse was that the region which practiced slavery was full of people whose ancestors didn’t come to the New World to do the work, but to be free and let someone else do the work.

The immediate result of this was that the "revival" that swept the Northern states in the first half of the nineteenth century never reached the Southern ones, shifting from places such as Cane Ridge, Kentucky to upstate New York.  The South remained the "Booze Belt;" the "Bible Belt" is a result of what followed, namely the Civil War.

And that leads us to the second similarity: both acts of national righteousness were enforced by the power of the state.  In the case of the British Empire, it was in the normal course of law enforcement.  In the U.S., it took Mr. Lincoln’s Army to get the job done.

In an earlier piece entitled The Army of Joshua, we contended that, in order to make the Ten Commandments the law of the land, it would take an act of military force, as it had done in ancient Israel.  This is a shocking result, but what’s even more shocking is that, for revivalists of yore, the Army of Joshua was in fact the same army that suffers IED’s in Iraq, and that did Clinton’s will in places such as Bosnia and Kossovo.  Half-cocked militia groups won’t get the job done; not even the Confederate army could resist.

But there was a downside to all of this.  Finney expressed the following in advance of the great conflagration:

I believe the time has come–although I am no prophet, I believe it will be found to have come, that the revival in the United States will prevail no further and no faster than the Church takes the right ground on this subject (slavery)…

What is the condition of the nation?  No doubt God is holding the rod of WAR over the heads of this nation.  He is waiting, before he lets loose his judgments, to see whether the Church will do right.  The nation IS under His displeasure, because the Church has acted in such a manner with respect to revivals.  And now suppose war should come, where would be our revivals?  How quickly would war swallow up the revival spirit.  The spirit of war is anything but the spirit of revival.  (Revivals of Religion, pp. 315-6, 321)

What Wilberforce did for the slaves was right and needed to be done.  But the American experience is a cautionary note for all those who make "bringing the nation back to God" their top priority, along with the social causes of abortion, etc.  In Finney’s day the Civil War–which accomplished a major objective of the revival–stopped same revival in its tracks, as Finney predicted it would.  The use of the power of the state to accomplish the will of God had a backwash that we still feel today.

The Preferential Option of the Poor

One of the most militant expressions of left-wing Christianity was and is Liberation Theology, that creation of Latin American Roman Catholicism that brought Marx into the Church for so many years.  One of the enduring slogans of that movement was "the preferential option for the poor," which means that the Church acts in such a way that the poor have an advantage in the result.  Although one thinks first of Marx’s dictum in the Critique of the Gotha Programme "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need," the truth is that the Gospels are tilted strongly in the direction of the lower reaches of society, to say nothing of James:

“My Brothers, are you really trying to combine faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord, with the worship of rank? Suppose a man should enter your Synagogue, with gold rings and in grand clothes, and suppose a poor man should come in also, in shabby clothes, And you are deferential to the man who is wearing grand clothes, and say–“There is a good seat for you here,” but to the poor man–“You must stand; or sit down there by my footstool,” Is not that to make distinctions among yourselves, and show yourselves prejudiced judges? Listen, my dear Brothers. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the things of this world to be rich through their faith, and to possess the Kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you–you insult the poor man! Is not it the rich who oppress you? Is not it they who drag you into law-courts? Is not it they who malign that honorable Name which has been bestowed upon you?” (James 2:1-7)

In listening to the aftermath the recent Anglican Primates Meeting in Tanzania, one hears the "noise of the renegades" (a good Chinese Communist phrase,) i.e., the liberals in the Episcopal Church, whining about the "spirit of inclusiveness" and "discussion of justice and morality" that has been checked by the African and other conservative Global South primates.  For them, inclusion of homosexuals in the hierarchy of the church and same-sex blessings and marriage is an issue on par with racial equality (something many black people in the U.S. find offensive) and the many other causes liberals espouse.

But let’s think about the passage from James.  The Lord’s brother (that’s right, Roman Catholics) makes an assumption: "…suppose a poor man should come in also…"  In the church that James led, that was a regular occurance.  But in the modern Episcoal Church–along with the other Main Line churches–that is an exceptional event in the general scheme of things.  TEC remains a largely white, upscale church, wondering how to fix the problem but seemingly unable to do so.  The poor go elsewhere.  In the meanwhile the homosexuals, an upscale group in their own right, remain a tempting target for TEC, thus all of the moves towards accomodating them.

On the other hand, had Presiding Bishop Jefferts-Schiori lifted up her eyes and look around her at the Primates’ meeting, she would have seen prelates whose churches have quite a few poor people–millions of them, in fact.  Many of the divisions that plague the Anglican Communion–to say nothing of Christianity in general–stem from disparities such as this.  In spite of the TEC blunders on, attacking the Global South for their lack of social concern when in fact TEC’s "social concern" is badly misplaced.

It is our core contention that any church whose membership’s average per capita income is above the average for the country it’s in is not really serious about social justice.  Its social justice is mere paternalism whose main purpose is to assuage guilt about its superior economic status, not to really fix the problems in front of it.  Supporting groups of like elevated status like the homosexuals only shows how far removed from real social justice these people have strayed.  This doesn’t only apply to churches; it also works in the secular realm as well.

To put it in terms Liberation Theology people would understand, the church that isn’t the "preferential option of the poor" cannot have the "preferential option for the poor."  Until TEC recognises this simple fact, everything they do along these lines, from their enthusiasm for the Millennium Development Goals to the money-favouring they spread around the Communion–will be a farce.

The Real Meaning of Affirming Catholicism

In our last three posts on the different parts of Anglicanism, we’ve looked first at Anglo-Catholicism, then Evangelicalism, and after that the Charismatic renewal.  Now we turn our attention to a group of people who seem to have influence well out of proportion to their numbers, or for that matter to the substance of their message.  We’re talking about Affirming Catholics.

And the last point is the tricky part: it’s hard to figure out just what their message is, other than a) we need “unity” and b) we need to do so in a liturgically beautiful manner.  On the Affirming Catholics’ UK site, the “what we think” page is still “in the future,” making one wonder about the thinking that’s supposed to be there.  Perhaps it’s like my Muscovite friend said about the Russians: act first, think later.  So we’re left to our own devices to sort this out.

As with any form of liberalism, an individual or group that attempts to affirm everything affirms nothing.  However, there may be a little method to their madness.  One thing that we’ve come to understand in the three studies that we’ve done on various components of Anglicanism is that many of these are the result of ideas being carried to their logical conclusion.  The Reformation is a classic example; it is Augustinian theology, which had loomed large for more than a millennium before Luther, taken to its logical conclusion.  The same can be said with Wesley and sanctification.  Is some of this going on with Affirming Catholicism?

We said that Roman Catholicism’s greatest mistake was to set the Roman Catholic Church up as a formal mediator between man and God.  That means that the church is free to define (or redefine) the terms and conditions of our relationship with God, both for this life and the life to come.  Roman Catholicism has a strong enough continuity to avoid some of the worst abuses of this, but not all of them.  And, if that continuity is broken, all bets are off, as is the case with groups such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Since liberals are the breakers of continuity par excellence, with an idea like Affirming Catholicism they can proceed to redefine just about everything.  One only needs to look at the TEC since the 1960’s to see what this means.  It does explain one important shift in the rhetoric.  Back in the 1960’s liberals in the church tended to speak in strongly secuarlistic terms, such as the wholesale denial of basic Christian doctrine.  Today they talk in religious ones, even appropriating terminology and phrases from groups diametrically opposed to their idea.  The worst example of this are the endless claims that the move towards pansexuality are led by the Holy Spirit.   They swiped the idea that anything could be led by the Holy Spirit from the Pentecostal/Charismatic world.  No self-respecting Pentecostal, for example, would make statements such as this that are contrary to Scripture, even as he or she believes that the Holy Spirit still speaks today.  But, if you can redefine the religion, you can redefine God, or at least think you can.  As the Moody Blues used to say in Days of Future Passed, “But we decide which is right/And which is an illusion?”

Beyond that, a central hallmark of Roman Catholicism is that the church dispenses the grace entrusted to it through the sacraments.  The most prominent expression of that concept is eucharistic theology, where the transubstantiated Body and Blood of Jesus Christ are considered by some to virtually send people to eternal life by themselves.  But the Catholic church can read the New Testament, and knows that those who receive this heavenly food unworthily (for them by not receiving absolution through the sacrament of penance) will achieve an entirely different result from those who take the proper preliminary steps.

But Affirming Catholicism is about getting rid of restrictions such as this.  No where is this more obivious than their idea about baptism.  Their idea about baptism is simple: if it’s done, you’re in.  You have a “place at the table” and are eligible for anything from communion to ordination, irrespective of anything else you do or say.  The only thing you really have to do is to live up to the last clause in the Baptismal Covenant (that “contract on the Episcopalians“) to spead peace and justice, and this is most easily done by getting the government to do the work for you through political action.

The only minor detail that Affirming Catholics forget is, once anything goes, a church is completely dispensible.  All that’s left to do is party, and since this was posted on Mardi Gras, that’s probably the most substantive result of Affirming Catholicism.

Waiting for the Cops to Show Up

The drama that is taking place this week behind closed doors in Tanzania has created a real guessing game in the Anglican Communion.  While we wait for the results–assuming there are meaningful results–let’s think for a moment about an obvious question: how has liberal “Christianity” held on as long as it has?

Everyone knows that liberal churches are going in reverse in terms of membership and revenue.  They have been for a long time; the Episcopal church is, believe it or not, doing better than most.  Nevertheless it surprises me that people continue to go to churches which really don’t believe much and which either are universalist–in which case what one does in this life is irrelevant to what follows–or don’t have a vision for an afterlife.

Perhpaps the problem is me.   Coming from a long line of people for whom meaningful religion was entirely dispensable, I cannot grasp the whole idea of going to church whose people are little different from the world around them, or whose beliefs are basically the same as the culture.  The “smells and bells” are nice but, honestly, a good stiff cup of joe at home on Sunday morning is preferable to a church filled with upper class people listening to a boring sermon whose content they could get from listening to NPR (NPR does a better job of holding your attention, too.)

In any event, liberal church does have appeal to some, but those who are turning from smells and bells to joe are more than those going the opposite way.  Moreover study after study shows that conservatives are more faithful to support a church financially than their liberal counterparts (which means that TEC would be better off making cash deals for property rather than taking departing congregations to court.)

The Episcopalians have elected a Presiding Bishop who is more up-front about her polticised, left-wing version of “Christianity” (if that word can be applied to what she believes) than any of her predecessors.  She’s prepared to fight for everything she can.  But what’s there to fight for?  And how can she win with declining membership, whether from apathy and revulsion?

One of the great legacies of Marxism is the concept of “historical determinism,” i.e., the idea that history is going the way of the theory that’s being propounded.  Although few American liberals are Marxists (they would be better off if they were,) they still revel in the idea that the world is going their way and that their opponents cannot win.  To some extent that is what motivates TEC liberals.  They still think that their way is the way of the future, and that their opponents will disappear, even though time after time they, like Engels sheepishly admitted, have been proven wrong.

Buttressing their idea is the thought that their philosophy will be reflected in the actions of the government.  The congressional election of 2006 has only given them additional hope. If we consider trends such as the emergence of hate crimes legislation, the use of child protection laws to take away children from real Christian parents, the application of the tax code to silence and destroy churches and other Christian institutions that don’t suit the fancy of those in power, all of these give the ultimate hope to the liberals at 815: that their opponents will not only be deprived of the church property they worship in, but also their freedom by the state.

To put it bluntly, Katherine Jefferts-Schiori may be figuring that all she has to do is to hang tough long enough for the cops to show up and haul her opponents away.  (Andrew Hutchinson in Canada is closer to that than she is.)

But this game hangs on two thin threads.

The first is that the system that she’s relying on can deliver.  In addition to the alternating course of politics, even if the liberals can “finish the job” and hold on to power for a long time, their inability to resolve Dzerzhinskii’s Dilemma virtually guarantee the weakness of such a state, and weak states don’t last.

The second is that the state doesn’t figure out that they don’t need a liberal church any more than anyone else does.  The Bible directly addresses this for the last times:

“And the angel said to me–‘The waters that you saw, where the Harlot is seated, are throngs of people and men of all nations and languages. The ten horns that you saw, and the Beast–they will hate the Harlot, and cause her to become deserted and strip her bare; they will eat her very flesh and utterly consume her with fire. For God has put it into their minds to carry out his purpose, in carrying out their common purpose and surrendering their kingdoms to the Beast, until God’s decrees shall be executed.” (Revelation 17:15-17)

The Harlot, of course, is the false “church” (religion would be a better term) of the last times.  The Beast–the Antichrist, the leader of the one-world government–will destroy the Harlot when he finds her dispensable.  That’s something that even Jefferts-Schiori should think of when she campaigns for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

So the left, while claiming to be “mainstream” and “Main Line” is in fact playing a dangerous game.  Today they wait for the cops to show up to take us, but then they will be waiting for the cops to come and take them away as well.

Charismatic Anglicans: The Missing Link

When many people hear of the Charismatic Renewal, they roll their eyes and pray that the conversation goes another way.  It is amazing that a movement that had such a wide impact in its day is not only forgotten but gleefully so.  There are a few holdouts out there–the Charismatic Episcopal Church is the main reminder, but there are pockets in the AMiA and even the TEC if one looks hard (and fast at the rate things are going) enough.

It is our opinion that the Charismatic Renewal was the great missed opportunity of North American Christianity in the twentieth century.  Had it succeeded, it could have stopped liberalism dead in its tracks and brought the disparate Christian groups and "traditions" (we hate that word but don’t know a good alternative to it) together in a more positive way than the sappy "ecumenical movement" could or can do.

But it didn’t do these things.  It did a lot to fuel an exodus out of the "Main Line" (the capitalisation is deliberate) and Roman Catholic churches into many places–in some cases classical Pentecostal churches, but more frequently conservative Evangelical churches and even more independent Charismatic churches.  It left these churches in the control of others: the Main Line churches in the hands of the liberals, the Roman Catholic church in the hands of John Paul II.

How did this result take place?  One problem was the lack of support from the hierarchy of their respective churches.  Their idea of renewing the church from within was ground to powder from above.  But another part of the problem was a lack of effective leadership, as we discuss elsewhere. Many of the leaders of the Renewal were inexperienced and basically not up to the job.

The one group of people with the experienced leadership that could have helped were the classical Pentecostals, but they (with a few exceptions) did not do so.  Part of the problem was a turf battle; after years of carrying the standard of the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues, they looked askance at those who not only had found it without them but weren’t planning to join their churches after receiving it.

But another, more serious problem, was doctrinal.  Pentecostals had a very definite sequence of events in mind for the believer.  You first got saved, then you were sanctified (whether this was an event or a process was a matter of dispute) and then baptised in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.  Charismatics were unwilling to accept the Pentecostals’ rigid idea of holiness, leading one very prominent Pentecostal preacher to tell his denomination that there could be only one standard of holiness, not one in the North, one in the South, etc.  (We deal with what this could mean in At the Inlet.)  Moreover many Charismatics, although speaking in tongues, could not bring themselves to rigidly link tongues with the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Charismatics’ "open-ended" approach to tongues has led to much of the silliness that surrounds the subject today.  Many consider the whole thing as a "tradition" or a "spirituality" on par with meditation or whatever happends to be trendy at the moment.  They ignore the central role of Holy Spirit baptism had at the founding of the church or throughout the book of Acts.

Beyond that, however, the Charismatics’ greatest mistake surrounding the baptism in the Holy Spirit–the "missing link," if you please–is their overlooking of the importance of sanctification preceding the baptism.  Coming out of the Holiness-Wesleyan stream, Pentecostal pioneers knew that personal holiness had to be in place before the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  The alternative is chaos, which is pretty much what we had in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Pentecostals’ concept of holiness in rigidly legalistic terms has come in for justified criticism–to which many Pentecostals have responded by chucking the whole holiness business altogther–but the idea is correct.

And this leads us to the centre of our contention: as shocking as it will sound to some, the whole modern Pentecostal-Charismatic movement is the end game of the English Reformation from a purely doctrinal standpoint, if not an institutional or liturgical one.  This deserves an explanation, and with God’s help we’ll give one.

Reformed theology made inheriting eternal life a simple matter: you had faith in God (an act which God caused,) your name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and that was it.  There was no need for penance or the church, but there was no need for spiritual growth or having to do anything, good, bad or indifferent.  The logical end to this is a butt-sitting religion where people can pompously proclaim they’re going to heaven without any further action on their part.  Mercifully many members of Reformed churches have not "connected the dots" in this way, and they are a blessing to themselves, the people around them and to God himself.

But, when things get across the Channel, there’s Article XVI.  The whole idea that people can fall way ("backslide," to use the traditional terminology) implies movement.  If people can move back in their relationship with God, they can move forward.  This turns the Christian life from a static to a dynamic business.  It puts movement into one’s relationship with God.  It also puts movement into one’s life to serve God and to do the work that he left us here to do.  The "fuel" behind this, from Jewel to Wesley, is sanctification, personal holiness that enables the believer to “… lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us…” (Hebrews 12:1b)  Sanctification as the work of the Holy Spirit means that God interacts in a positive with us after we are reborn in him.

And this leads us to the baptism in the Holy Spirit.  It is more than a tradition; it is rooted in the early church from the day it started.  But, as explained in LifeBuilders Essentials, it is not a principally emotional experience either.  It is the "fuel" to empower the believer to share one’s faith with others in whatever way that God has directed an individual to do so.  Once again the idea is the same: progress for the individual in one’s walk with God, and progress for the church as it seeks to fulfil it’s God-given mission.  This is why, after barely a century on the earth, so many Christians consider themselves to be Pentecostal or Charismatic, and show the gifts and manifestations that go with that.  But in the process many were saved through the exercise of the same power, so the movement that is seen to be demonstrative is also evangelistic.

So where does this leave Anglicans?  Like the Charismatic Renewal, Anglicanism is one of those great missed opportunities in Christianity.  As we explained in Taming the Rowdies, the Church of England started off with everything: state support, Protestant doctrine (with the seeds of fixing the Reformation) and a rich liturgical worship.  Unfortunately the whole thing got caught up in both the doctrinal tug-of-war between Reformed and Catholic and in the socio-economic conflicts of seventeenth-century England.  The result was that the truly comprehensive, scriptural Anglicanism of Elizabeth I died with Laud and Charles I.  Ever since too much of Anglicanism has felt duty-bound to present a "nice" religion that didn’t offend people or create controversy, and in North America that meant one whose primary appeal was to the upper reaches of society.

But that wasn’t the original idea.  And there’s no reason why Anglicans can’t be the leaders in the sweep towards the new Pentecost that they, in one way, initiated.  There’s no reason why liturgical worship cannot be Spirit-led (it has been done.)  And there’s no reason why the religion whose foundational doctrinal statement implies the important of forward movement cannot emphasise personal holiness instead of losing itself in aesthetics or social niceties.

But one major obstacle to the last point is the emergence of the business of "Affirming Catholicism," and it is to this we will turn next.

Anglican Evangelicalism: The Limitations of Augustinian Theology

In a previous post, we discussed the problems of Anglo-Catholics in their walk to Rome.  We’ve spent a fair amount of time on that; now let’s look at the weakness of the other branch of orthodox Anglicanism, the evangelical wing.  Our contention is that Evangelical Anglicans need to take a hard look at their adherence to Augustinian-Reformed theology.  We will show that those who were at the start of the Church of England understood these limitations and enshrined them in the 39 Articles.

A quick overview of Reformed-Augustinian Theology

Augustine formulated his theology of grace and perseverance in response to the teachings of Pelagius, arguably the most influential Christian teacher to come out of Roman Britain.  Augustine’s insistence on predestination and the perseverance to eternal life that follows from that eliminated the need for human effort that Pelagius implied was necessary.

Augustine’s solution, based on a focus on Paul’s epistles,  was controversial at the time.  Ever since Marcion had used Paul’s writings to advance his idea that the God of the Old Testament and New weren’t one in the same, the church had shied away from rigourously applying Paul’s teachings.  Moreover the early church had always admitted the possibility of falling away after salvation, something that Augustine basically obviated with his emphasis on predestination.  So the Western church rocked on through the Middle Ages, Augustinian in name but not always in reality.

It was Luther who "closed the circle" by realising that, if absolute predestination were true, then we didn’t need the church as a gatekeeper to get us to heaven.  It only took an act of faith–an act which was induced by God–to respond to God’s justification of us.  Calvin gilded the lily by emphasising our total depravity and inability to reach God apart from his initiative.  Both understood that this election was unconditional.

Augustinian theology’s strong point is that it makes a clear distinction between those who are saved and those who are lost.  The weakness is that, because of its insistence on predestination, it blocks the necessity of a lot of Christian activity that the New Testament holds as important.  Spiritual growth is one of those.  Personal holiness is another, especially when we consider that the key to eternal life in a Lutheran context is a legal decision in heaven.  Missions is another, and this is why it took two centuries from what many consider the greatest event in Christian history–the Reformation–to the beginning of serious world missions.  Why bother with missions when everyone is already predestined one way or another?

Augustinian Theology and Early Anglicanism

Early Anglican history was a "tug-of-war" between those who wanted a more "Catholic" type of church and one who wanted a more "Reformed" one.  The 39 Articles are imbued with Augustinian-Reformed thinking (and, yes, we’re of the mind that, if you don’t accept the 39 Articles, you’re not a real Anglican.)  But then there’s Article XVI:

NOT every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.

This article is a product of the experience of the early church.  Before Constantine, baptism was strictly for adults who made a profession of faith (those "of riper years," as the 1662 Prayer Book would say) and underwent a catechumenate, or period of instruction and repentance.  Committing serious sin after baptism resulted in serious penance or excommuniciation.  Constantine himself was aware of this: he and his spiritual advisor, Eusebius of Caesarea, had no problem with delaying his baptism until shortly before his death, to avoid those penalties.  As we said earlier, the ante-Nicene church (at least) had always allowed the possibility of falling away after baptism, a baptism which followed a conversion experience.

That having been said, Article XVI torpedoes a straight-up Augustinian-Reformed theological framework for the Anglican.  Any admission that one can lose one’s salvation for any reason once one is elect (and knows it, another feature of Lutheranism is the matter of assurance) breaks the whole Reformed paradigm.

It took a century and a half, but it was John Wesley who finally connected the dots on this issue with his decidedly Arminian view of election and his emphasis on sanctification as a subsequent work of the Holy Spirit.  But same emphasis had already been anticipated by John Jewel:

Besides, though we say we have no meed [reward] at all by our own works and deeds, but appoint all the means of our salvation to be in Christ alone, yet say we not that for this cause men ought to live loosely and dissolutely; nor that it is enough for a Christian to be baptized only and to believe; as though there were nothing else required at his hand. For true faith is lively and can in no wise be idle. Thus therefore teach we the people that God hath called us, not to follow riot and wantonness, but, as Paul saith, “unto good works to walk in them”; that God hath plucked us out “from the power of darkness, to serve the living God,” to cut away all the remnants of sin, and “to work our salvation in fear and trembling”; that it may appear how that the Spirit of sanctification is in our bodies and that Christ himself doth dwell in our hearts. (from An Apology of the Church of England.)

The Position of Modern Evangelicals

Modern Anglican Evangelicals recognise themselves as the heirs of the "Protestant" side of Anglicanism, and rightly so.  One reason why so many parishes and Episcopalians/Anglican people gravitate towards Anglo-Catholicism, however, is because most people of an Evangelical or Reformed bent don’t stay in an Anglican setting, but go elsewhere.  If Evangelical Anglicanism plans to make a serious impact on the world–especially in the West–it needs to understand its own unique spiritual heritage, one that is different from Reformed and Lutheran churches in more ways than just liturgically.  Some ways it could do this are as follows:

  1. Anglicanism needs to stop seeing itself as simply Reformed Christianity with a liturgy but as a serious attempt to return to the ante-Nicene church.  That would put its view of how people go to heaven in a more pre-Augustinian light.
  2. Anglicans need to understand sanctification and personal holiness as a dynamic process in the life of the Christian, one that motivates the believer to do and live as God expects him or her to do.  Episcopalians have for too long associated their church with its aesthetic appeal rather than on expectations of service and morality that God has on the believer.  On the other hand, many of Wesley’s heirs have come to see that the "sinless perfection" that is part of classical Wesleyanism is not a realistic objective in this life, which would eliminate one barrier that has been in place for many years.
  3. Evangelical Anglicanism would do itself many favours by weaning itself from infant baptism.  Adult (and that can be interpreted broadly), believers’ baptism is a statement that life with Christ starts with a decision, something that has no place in an Augustinian context.  A conscious decision–even one that requires the moving of God to validate–is a necessity in a world with so many distractions and detours.  The wording of the Articles is interesting on this point: "The baptism of young children is in any wise to be retained in the Church as most agreeable with the institution of Christ." (Article XXVII)

The issue of sanctification, however, begs discussion of the next step.  That step–the baptism in the Holy Spirit–in Anglicanism has been the province of the Charismatics, and we will discuss them in a subsequent post.

Anglo-Catholicism and the Role of the Church

As the orthodox Anglican alternatives to the TEC grow in strength, it has become pretty clear that the #1 division–in addition to the proliferation of purple shirts–that looms is the Anglo/Catholic vs. Evangelical divide.  A little history needs to be told to put this in perspective.

When Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy, the control of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales passed from the Pope to the Crown.  As long as Henry VIII was alive, that was the biggest change (other than the dissolution of the monasteries) that took place.  It was under Edward VI that the move towards a more "Protestant" church began and, following the last attempt to reverse the Act under Mary, was completed by Elizabeth I.  (There’s that female headship again!)

As we documented in Taming the Rowdies, the question for the next century and a half was just how Protestant the church would be.  After the unpleasant adventure that was Oliver Cromwell, the country decided that it had had enough of such questions and the Church of England slept through most of the eighteenth century, shaken only by Wesley and his friends who were taking Protestant Christianity away from its Augustinian obsession and into a new era of revival.

The nineteenth century saw things go in two different directions.

The first was towards Evangelicalism, with laymen such as Wilberforce and prelates such as J.C. Ryle.  Under these the Church of England was seen as a church with an outreach to lost souls, along with social action such as the abolition of slavery.  In many ways the Global South provinces were born in this movement, which explains why many of them tend towards the "Protestant" side of Anglicanism.

The second was the Oxford Movement, with men such as Newman and Manning.  The appeal of this was a combination of aesthetic (a strong component in the TEC’s growth after World War II and its ability to hold on as well as it has) and a desire for unity.  One of the great weaknesses of Anglicanism is that its status as a creature of the English monarchy has pretty much restricted it to the Anglophone world, which has limited it culturally and spiritually.  Reaching across the English Channel broadens this, but most of its leaders were forced to "swim the Tiber" as many Anglo-Catholics have since.

Both of these streams have flowed into the Anglican/Episcopal river ever since.  Liberalism is a rude interruption in this "discussion" (a favourite liberal term) but without the liberals resolving this question becomes more earnest.

The strongest argument for Anglo-Catholicism is that the objective is to repair the breach caused by the Act of Supremacy and contribute towards the reuniting of the church.  But we need to answer one crucial question: what kind of church are we moving towards?

Anglo-Catholics will point out that they are simply moving from one liturgical church to another.  They will also point out that many distinctively "Catholic" practices such as devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary and of course the transubstantiated Eucharist (the "sacred pledge," as Bossuet put it) have long roots in Christian practice.  What they will not point out is that Roman Catholicism’s concept of the church changes the entire nature of Christianity.

As we saw in We May Not Be a Church After All, Roman Catholicism makes two key claims.  The first is that it is the true church.  The second is that it, as the church, it is a formal intermediary between man and God.  To go to heaven, therefore, one must not only have a relationship with the Saviour, but with the only church he allegedly founded.  Although Roman Catholic teaching allows for ignorance to factor into whether a person outside of the Catholic church is barred from eternal life, basically the church teaches that, if a person has any reason to believe that the Roman Catholic church is the true church, it will cost them their eternity if they do not join it.

This has several important implications that need to be understood.

The first is that the church can basically decide who enters into eternal life and who doesn’t.  Fortunately the Catholic church has a great deal of canon law which restricts the ability of its priests and bishops to excercise that authority, but the basic power remains.

The second is that, just as the church can define the eternal destiny of its adherents, it can also redefine the means by which they get there.  Anglo-Catholics point with pride with the conservative direction the Vatican has taken since 1978, but, like the Cold War, it could have gone another way.  (Another example of Boomer triumphalism that needs to be muted!)

The third is that the strength of the Roman Catholic liturgy depends upon the strength of the church, and not the other way around.  In Anglo-Catholic and Orthodox settings, the "smells and bells" and correct performance of the liturgy are central to projecting the strength of the church, which is why changes in same are a real disaster.  Roman Catholic Mass can be a very breezy, informal (and rushed) production, complete with rotten music, but the "sacred mystery" is the same as it would be at the Vatican because the church said it was so.

We find it hard to believe that most Anglo-Catholics would seriously consider union with Rome under these conditions.  It would have certainly sidetracked my own "swim of the Tiber" many years ago if I had fully grasped it, but then again Catholicism under Paul VI was a "wild West" kind of affair; that has certainly changed in the intervening years.

So this is something that Anglo-Catholics needs to consider.  It is a topic we have reviewed before.  But the Evangelicals have issues of their own, and we will discuss these in a future post.

Eternity is Still What Matters

In our posting on the “contract on the Episcopalians,” we referenced a comment by the new Presiding Bishop about her disparagement of the importance of eternal life.  It’s probably worthwhile to reproduce that particular dialogue (ADG is the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; KJS is of course Katherine Jefferts-Schori):

ADG: That reminds me of something else you said. This was a CNN interview when Kyra Phillips asked you what happens when we die. You had an interesting answer that got some Southern Baptists riled up.

KJS: OK. I didn’t hear their reaction.

ADG: Al Mohler – I don’t know whether you’re familiar with him –

KJS: I’m not.

ADG: He’s a seminary president [at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville] and has a blog and a radio show. [Mohler posted the exchange on his Web site]. It seemed to some people that you were saying there isn’t an afterlife.

KJS: I don’t think Jesus was focused on that. I think Jesus was focused on heaven in this life, primarily. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always said yes, there is resurrection. There is life after death. But I think Jesus was not so worried about that. I think he’s worried about what we’re doing to treat our fellow human beings as children of God. He says the kingdom of heaven is among you, and within you, and around you.

ADG: So does that mean that in your view there is no afterlife?

KJS: That’s not what I said. I said what I think Jesus is more concerned about is heavenly existence, eternal life, in this life.

ADG: So there again, that’s partly why the Millennium Development Goals are important to you? To improve people’s lives now?

KJS: Absolutely. The Anglican tradition of Christianity is world-affirming, it is focused on incarnation, and it insists that we’re not meant to shut ourselves off from the world in a pietistic sense or in a sectarian sense. That we’re meant to be in the world, and transforming the world into something that looks more like the reign of God.

ADG: Do you think there’s any part of us that lives on somewhere after we die?

KJS: Absolutely. But that’s not a question that concerns me day in and day out. I think I’m meant to use the gifts I have to transform the world in this life.

In our own introduction to this site*, we quote the following from Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole’s  Logic, or the Art of Thinking:

Only infinite things, such as eternity and salvation, cannot be equalled by any temporal advantage: and as such one cannot compare them with the things of this world. This is why the least degree of means to be saved is worth more than all of the goods of this world put together; and the least peril of being lost is more considerable than all of the temporal evils considered only as evils.

This is enough for all reasonable persons to make them come to this conclusion, by which we end this Logic: the greatest of all unwise things is to use one’s time and life for something else than to work towards and acquire something that never ends, since all of the good things and all of the evils of this life are nothing in comparison to those of the other, and that the danger of falling into these evils is very great, as well as the difficulty of obtaining the good things.

Those that come to this conclusion, and who follow them in the conduct of their life, are prudent and wise, whether they be little correct in all of the reasonings concerning matters of science; and those who do not, whether they be correct in all of the rest…make a bad usage of Logic, of reason, and of life.

Christians aren’t the only ones interested in eternity.  When Muhammad led his followers in their first war against a neighbouring state in the name of Allah, he exhorted them as follows:

O ye who believe; what is the matter with you that, when it is said to you, go forth in the way of ALLAH, you sink down heavily towards the earth?  Are you contented with the present life in the preference to the Hereafter?  But the enjoyment of the present life is but little compared to the Hereafter.  If you will not go forth to fight in the cause of ALLAH, HE will punish you with a painful punishment, and will chose in your stead a people other than you, and you shall do HIM no harm at all. And ALLAH has full power over all things. (Sura 9:38-39)

Such words have inspired jihadis for fourteen hundred years, and certainly do so today.  Although we believe that these jihadis are in for a rude awakening when they blow themselves into eternity, nevertheless both Muhammad on the one hand and Arnauld and Nicole on the other recognise one thing: nothing in this finite life compares with the infinity that is eternity.

Based on the relation between the finite and the infinite (a subject we beat to death in My Lord and My God,) the Presiding Bishop’s contention cannot stand.  But there are other reasons as well.

First, her idea that “Jesus is more concerned about is heavenly existence, eternal life, in this life” doesn’t square with what he said in the Gospels, starting with John 3:16 and moving forward.  What the Positive Infinity New Testament calls “Immortal life” is the centre of the cosmic game plan in the New Testament.  She (and you) might also consider the following:

“For, if the dead do not rise, then even Christ himself has not been raised, And, if Christ has not been raised, your faith is folly-your sins are on you still! Yes, and they, who have passed to their rest in union with Christ, perished! If all that we have done has been to place our hope in Christ for this life, then we of all men are the most to be pitied. But, in truth, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who are at rest. For, since through a man there is death, so, too, through a man there is a resurrection of the dead. For, as through union with Adam all men die, so through union with the Christ will all be made to live.” (1 Corinthians 15:16-22)

Second, her idea that this worldly/other worldly goals are mutually exclusive are the musings of someone who has wasted too much time in the upper reaches of our society.

Third, as a liberal she may be a univeralist.  In this case, what you do in this life and what happens afterwards have no relationship one with another.  There are many excellent demonstrations that the Scriptures teach that there is more than possible result in eternity, and we will allow these to speak for themselves.  For our part, we continue to contend, as we did in The Three That Grows in Heaven, that life in the palms teaches that, if there is a “default option” for eternity, it isn’t heaven.

And that leads us to what is in our view the most compelling argument against the Presiding Bishop.  In the novel At the Inlet, the heroine, having just been ordained as her Anglican province’s first woman minister, ends her first sermon at her first Holy Communion as follows:

When I came here, your dear Chancellor wished me long life here, for which I am grateful. But this life is too painful to love it so much. ‘Jesus, in the days of his earthly life, offered prayers and supplications, with earnest cries and with tears, to him who was able to save him from death; and he was heard because of his devout submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from his sufferings; and, being made perfect, he became to all those who obey him the source of eternal Salvation.’ ‘And so Jesus, also, to purify the People by his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go out to him ‘outside the camp,’ bearing the same reproaches as he; for here we have no permanent city, but are looking for the City that is to come.’

This life is too painful to put the stock in it that Katherine Jefferts-Schori does, and her responses to those who don’t agree with her–like those in Northern Virginia–only make it more so.

If you want a life that transcends the pain of this life, click here

*The introduction to the site has been subsequently changed.

The Baptismal Covenant: The Contract on the Episcopalians

In the agony that the slow separation of the Anglican Communion has become, one issue that has come up has been the business of the “baptismal covenant” that appears in TEC’s 1979 prayer book.  This problem was discussed in an excellent article by Peter Toon, but it seems that there are broader issues here to consider.

The first  Services for Trial Use that GC 1970 approved made no mention of this kind of covenant, but it appeared in the final prayer book.  The covenant (BCP 1979, pp. 304-5) is as follows:

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father?

People I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?

People I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.

Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human

People I will, with God’s help.

Toon has rightly observed that such a covenant is absent from previous Anglican prayer books such as the 1662 and 1928 books which appear on this site. Toon has also observed that the earlier books assume that the covenant between God and man has already been made.  This is best illustrated by what the “priest” says during one of the earlier baptismal rites (1662, for those of “riper years”):

WELL-BELOVED, who are come hither desiring to receive holy Baptism, ye have heard how the congregation hath prayed, that our Lord Jesus Christ would vouchsafe to receive you and bless you, to release you of your sins, to give you the kingdom of heaven, and everlasting life. Ye have heard also, that our Lord Jesus Christ hath promised in his holy Word to grant all those things that we have prayed for; which promise he, for his part, will most surely keep and perform. Wherefore, after this promise made by Christ, ye must also faithfully, for your part, promise in the presence of these your Witnesses, and this whole congregation, that ye will renounce the devil and all his works, and constantly believe God’s holy Word, and obediently keep his commandments. (BCP 1662)

The covenant–or alliance, between God and man–is really a “done deal.”  (For our own presentation of that, click here.)  Not only that, God has made several promises to us, which he is faithful to keep.  From there we make some promises in response to God’s initiative and our acceptance of it.

Jesus Christ’s work on the cross is finished.  There is nothing we can add to it.  Those who participated in earlier versions of the Holy Communion (and readers of The Final Decision) well remember the following:

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world…

Given all of this, let’s make some obervations about the BCP 1979’s “Baptismal Covenant.”

First, it is a one-way street.  God (or the church for that matter, it’s not clear who is the other party of this covenant) makes all of the demands and makes no promises in return.  And this is an improvement?  What this reflects is a very dimmed concept of what God can do.

Second, liberals make the most out of the last commitment in the covenant.  Unfortunately, the “dignity of every human being” in post-modern parlance generally bars sharing the Gospel with them, or pointing out deficiencies in their life.  This annuls the whole idea of “proclaim(ing) by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”  So the covenant is in reality self-contradictory.  (Note: we strongly suspect that the last covenant was inspired by Peter Scholtes’ 1966 song “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love,” which sings of “And we ‘ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.”  For our part we prefer Roger Smith’sAs the Rain,” which speaks of “Breaking our pride/And making us whole.”)

Third, it represents a drift towards works salvation, if any kind of salvation is being hoped for.  (Given the PB’s recent comments along those lines, we doubt eternity is on their minds.)

Finally, it frankly “sticks in our craw” that any liberal church be so nonchalant about making demands of its members.  Wasn’t the whole idea of liberalism to free us?  But liberalism is a lie in that regard.

Towards the end of the novel Two Paths, a Frenchman has just rescued a government official in a liberal country. Debating with her about Christianity, he makes the following statement:

There are endless laws.  Everybody is guilty of something.  And, being Anglo-Saxons, they have the idea that all of these laws should be enforced…Everybody is a criminal, everybody is a suspect, because it is impossible to live there and not violate the law.  It would be great if one person could come along and take the punishment for everybody.  That, in a celestial sense, is what Jesus Christ did for us.  He came into a world where everyone was guilty and gave them the chance to be innocent…(liberals) came into an innocent world and gave everybody a chance to be guilty.

The covenant  changes the free work of God into a church life of “perpetual responsibility.”  It is in reality a “contract on the Episcopalians” and needs to be seen in that light.

Forget About the Guilt March. Just Give Them the Communion.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York participated in a much publicised “guilt march” across the UK about the evil of slavery.

But there’s an easier and more substantial way to even the score: just let the Africans and their allies, including the descendants of slaves in the West Indies, take the lead in the Communion.

We find, however, that, Western church leaders–liberal and conservative alike–are reluctant to bow to the obvious and allow the centre of power of Christianity to shift where its people are.  The liberals are especially adverse to this process, as they are further from the Africans’ idea than their conservative counterparts.

The desperation of conservative parishes in TEC, however, has them affiliating with provinces such as Uganda and Nigeria, along with others.  They have gone past guilt.  It is time that the rest of us follow suit.