An Advent Reflection

Although the Thanksgiving holiday is past, we as Christians should not make it an end of being thankful. Being thankful to God for all of the blessings that He has given us—especially the gift of redemption by His Son Jesus Christ—must be a part of our daily living. The same psalm that says “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song,” (Psalm 95:2) also reminds us that “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” (Psalm 95:7b-11) The children of Israel did not enter into the Promised Land because of their ingratitude at some of the greatest wonders recorded in Scripture. We must never take God’s blessing for granted.

But now we turn to the Christmas season. We gear up for shopping in crowded malls, travelling in jammed airports with intrusive security, setting out enough Christmas decorations to compete with Opryland, and the endless round of Christmas parties whose main legacy is an expanded waistline. Somewhere, the birth of our precious Saviour gets lost in the shuffle.

In the years before Evangelicalism came to prominence—and with it the discarding of the liturgical year—Christians regarded the time running up to Christmas as a penitential one, a time to seek special atonement from God. Such a season is referred to as Advent, coming from the Latin meaning “coming towards” (Christmas, the birth of the Saviour.) Advent also was intended to remind people that, just as Jesus had come once to redeem us, he will come again to reign as our King in every sense of the word. A popular Advent hymn by Charles Wesley reflects this thinking:

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! alleluia! alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

The Incarnation is one of the great miracles of human history. The reality that God became one of us sets Christianity apart from every other religion and cult. But, just as He came once, He will come again. With the signs around us, that return cannot be far. It’s something we need to remember and celebrate in all of our holiday activity.

The Basic Problem(s) with the Episcopal Church

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

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

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

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

And this leads to the second item of interest:

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

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

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

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

British Airways Defeated by the Cross

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

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

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

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

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

Catholic vs. Episcopal Liturgical Changes: The Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Episcopal Church certainly has exceeded that boundary.

The Holy Father Looks for the Best

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

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

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

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

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

But our warning remains: think before you convert!

Virtue Online Features LifeBuilders Essentials

In a recent digest, Virtue Online says the following about LifeBuilders Essentials:

LIFEBUILDERS ESSENTIALS. A discipleship course for men, co-authored with Patrick Morley, author of The Man in the Mirror. Wrote Don C. Warrington: “We use the 39 Articles as part of our instruction on the church and on its doctrine. The relationship between Anglican and classical Pentecostal doctrines is not well understood but is important in the development of non-Catholic Christianity after the Reformation, especially as it relates to perseverance and sanctification.” Their website can be located at: www.lifebuilders.to

    You can get more information on this book (with ordering) by clicking here.
    lifebuilders-essentials-broadcast-email-ad.jpg

    Also: click here on some material on prayer walking that is connected with us.

    Learning It the Hard Way

    I recently had the privilege of addressing the Minister’s Meeting of the Church of God in Ontario, under the leadership of its Administrative Bishop, the Rt. Rev. George Peart (that’s right, Anglicans, Rt. Rev.) It was a really wonderful gathering, and I was able to address the ministers about lay and men’s ministries.

    We have always said that one of the great things about Pentecostal churches is that they are inherently multicultural, and the Churches of God in Ontario reflect that. The majority of them are West Indian, with additional contributions from East Indian and a few Caucasian churches.

    Most North Americans consider the West Indies a great tourist destination but not much else. However, working in the Church of God, I have found our West Indian bretheren some of the best, and their culture a treasure, and so this meeting was a special treat. Those of you who spend time on this site know that the "islands" are something of an obsession to me, from my stories of cruising in the Bahamas to The Island Chronicles. But being with these people brought back memories of an interesting incident that took place on a visit to England thirty years ago.

    When things were slow, I watched the BBC. Now they were covering a "test match" of cricket between the English team and the West Indian team. (The photo I use as a cover for the Positive Infinity New Testament, shown above, shows the Nassau harbour lighthouse with the cricket ground in the foreground.) The West Indians were consistently the victors, so the Beeb dispatched a reporter to find out why they were being beaten at their own game. They interviewed the West Indian captain and his answer was simple: "We learned it the hard way." Without the fancy cricket grounds of England, the West Indians were forced to do with what they had, and the result was that they were better at the sport than the people who invented it.

    Americans’ attitude towards people who learn "the hard way" is decidedly mixed these days. On the one hand we love an underdog story of someone who comes with many disadvantages and achieves something great. On the other hand we are afraid for our children to have to experience any hardship. For the last quarter century the Boomers and their successors and assigns have been obsessed with getting the children they have into the "best" schools and driving them (literally in many cases) from one high-commitment activity to another. Some of our schools have banned certain sports (like dodgeball and tag) to make sure that neither their self-images nor their bodies suffer any injuries. The environments that children are raised in are so clean that their immune systems are impaired, leading to growing rates of asthma, food allergies and other auto-immune conditions.

    Such trends are reflected in our churches. In conservative churches, we see the growth of "prosperity teaching" and other like trends which tell us that we don’t have to "suffer for Jesus" or anything else, that prosperity is our right. Liberal churches continue their drift into sappy universalism (click here to find out how I was cured of that) and "anything is okay" morality.

    But the truth is that the world we live in is as imperfect and sinful as the one that Our Lord came into many years ago. And, although we affirm that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was one and sufficient for the remission of sins, we also recognise that while in the world bad things will happen and that we must respond to them rather than go into denial and pretend they do not exist. In this respect the Islamic challenge is a healthy reminder of this, but it’s sometimes hard to see what lessons we are learning from it.

    But while the West wallows in its own effeteness, the rest of the world struggles with economic deprivaton and a daily challenge to survive. More of this world is Christian–evangelical and Pentecostal–than many realise. Those who come to North America bring energy and desire that is decidedly lacking in the natives. In spite of the fact that those natives are given the best opportunities on the planet, there’s no guarantee that they will prevail in the world marketplace, which is one reason for the lacklustre opposition to illegal immigration.

    It works this way in the church, too. Christianity is becoming a Third World religion faster than those in the "West" care to admit. It is no longer the "white man’s religion" because, as I was reminded in Ontario, white people are abandoning at as the rest of the world embrces it. In the Anglican world, the Africans and others–including, not accidentally, the Province of the West Indies–are giving the Episcopal, ACC and CoE a fit, and justifiably so. If missionaries followed weapons and traders in the West’s colonial exploits, what’s to keep the reverse from happening from the Third World? The Islamicists are hoping it will be them, but they’d first better deal with the erosion of their position in places such as Indonesia. There is a serious possibility that the West will lose its nerve in defending its own civilisation against the Islamic onslaught. But same Islamicists need to watch their backside, too, as they face the real "crusaders" in the world, the people that learned it the hard way.

    No, Bishop Lipscomb, We Are Not Going to Shut Up

    The recent call by Bishop John Lipscomb, Episcopal Bishop of Southwest Florida (a neighbour for the diocese I grew up in,) for a “40 day fast” from blogs will fall on deaf ears here at Positive Infinity.

    We don’t claim to be high on the list of Anglican/Episcopal blogs. We do carry Virtue Online’s news feed. And recently, when we expressed the opinion that the Diocese of South Carolina was not acting in its best interests by suing All Saints at Pawley’s Island, we were attacked by “moderate” Episcopalian from California. So we are a problem to somebody.

    Perhaps the most incendiary thing we do here is to carry the 1662 and 1928 Books of Common Prayer for download, which make the 1979 one look bad.

    So we will continue, working under the assumption that the truth is more important than aesthetic considerations or some kind of imposed unity. After all, “And you find out the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, Positive Infinity New Testament) No one will find out anything as long as those who speak the truth are silent.