The Funeral Message I Did Not Deliver

Recently at my church we had an event take place that was so horrific it’s hard to write about.  One of our more esteemed members, with an active lay ministry, shot and killed himself in front on his wife on Christmas Eve after losing his job.  For a long list of reasons (not the least of which is that I don’t have ministerial credentials) I was not asked to speak at his funeral, but if I had been this is what I would say.  I put this here because it touches many of the issues I discuss on this site, so perhaps this is the best venue after all.


It is a difficult thing to get up and say much of anything meaningful after the tragic end of our friend.  Those who have spoken before me have waxed eloquently about his life–his warm personality, his burden for the souls of those around him, his active leading of cell groups and outreach to single people, his regal treatment of his wife, and all of the other things he did that made him an outstanding and beloved member of our church.  And yet his end–an end which has deeply wounded us all–begs for some kind of explanation after the life he lived.

One of those before me has simply stated that he was overcome by depression he could not control.  Honestly, I cannot take this explanation at face value.  I am aware that an axiom of moral theology is that we cannot be held responsible for those things we cannot control.  But I also know that the church I grew up in, steeped in the Fruedian paradigm so fashionable in the 1960’s, basically adopted the position that there were no moral absolutes and no moral resonsibilities.  Once we start attributing everything that we do to internal forces beyond our control, we obviate the whole concept of sin and ultimately of our responsibility to turn ourselves over to Jesus Christ in salvation.  We only need to look at the world around us to see where this kind of thinking has landed us.

Am I saying that our friend eradicated his eternal life along with his natural one?  I am not.  His life–all of it–is done, and he, like all of us, must give his own account to God for it.  Our task is not to determine what other people’s eternities are, but to change them for the better.  But in the midst of this tragedy–one that has torn all of our hearts–there is a lesson for all of us who remain on the earth to live the life that God has given us.

When our ancestors–spiritual and literal–turned their backs on the religion their dread Sovereigns gave them, they rejected a liturgical form of worship for the one we have today.  At the centre of this worship is the preaching of the Word.  This was supposed to make for a more God-centred form of worship and life.  But it puts a man at the centre as well.  The great besetting danger of this form of Christianity–both as Pentecostals and as Evangelicals–is that, in attempting to make our worship God-centred, we end up making it more man-centred than we were supposed to.

This was not God’s intent for us.  "For it is by God’s loving-kindness that you have been saved, through your faith. It is not due to yourselves; the gift is God’s. It is not due to obedience to Law, lest any one should boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created, by our union with Christ Jesus, for the good actions in doing which God had pre-arranged that we should spend our lives." (Eph. 2:8-10)  The idea that all that we do for God should have ultimately come from God is something that should permeate our entire Christian life.

Today we hear our friend eulogised for the good things he has done and the people to whom he ministered.  But all of the worth of all that he did depends upon whether his works came from God, whether they served God’s purpose, and whether they were for God’s glory or his own.  We believe that his purpose was to further the kingdom of God on this earth.  That being the case, our focus must be on God, not man.  We must remember him not because he was an especially good person in and of himself, but because he did the will of the One who sent him. (John 4:34)

And that leads us to the urgent question that all of us–especially his family and closest friends gathered today–have.  How was it possible that someone who did all of the things he did and meant so much to us could take himself away in the horrific manner that he did?  Clinincal speculation is interesting but ultimately not helpful for us who remain.  We are masters in our society at focusing on pain relief rather than lesson learning and problem solving.  His death, like his life, has a lesson for us that is both comforting for the present and educational for the future.

The reality is that our friend, like all of us, was a sinner saved by grace–a grace which, by definition, neither he nor us deserved.  We humans have wandered the earth for many years, leaving a legacy of failure and pain.  The world is such that, as one character in my fiction sermonised, "this life is too painful that we love it so much."   But God has offered us his free gift of salvation and eternal life, and has not withdrawn that offer because we are not up to it.  Our task today is to realise that God’s faithfulness transcends human failure–our friend’s failure, our failure–and that the good things he did in Jesus’ name should not be forgotten, as they brought people to the only real purpose this life has and the only viable way out of it.

My prayer today for you is that you will look past the tragedy that has ripped our lives, that we will continue to live and grow together in the love and knowlege of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and that we will "…lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us,our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Leader and perfect Example of our faith, who, for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame, and now ‘has taken his seat at the right hand’ of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1b-2)

Henry Louttit: Not a Chip off the Old Block

The letter from the Bishop of Georgia, Henry Louttit, to his oldest parish trying to force them to pay up to an Episcopal Church they have no confidence in shows in vivid terms how far the Episcopal Church has gone in the last forty years.

As we reminisce in a piece from our “Palm Beach Experience” section, his father, when Bishop of South Florida, attempted to have James Pike tried for heresy.  The Episcopal Church at the time “chickened out” which helped lead to the situation we have now where his son is forced to put the screws to a conservative parish to keep the “ship afloat.”

There’s one thing the son learned the father didn’t quite master: never give a sucker an even break.  That’s all the liberals have left to continue the institutional existence of the church they spoiled.

Leaving the Episcopal Church: Doing What Has to be Done

The in-process exodus from the Episcopal church by various parishes in Northern Virginia has been greeted with glee by many in the Anglican community.

The reality is, however, that what they are doing is more of a necessity than a joy.  When a denomination or other church organisation decides to abandon the basics of Christianity, it is incumbent upon those who stick with the essentials of the faith to make some kind of departure, either individual or corporate.  This process will have happy consequences in the long run but is difficult in the near future.

The thing that never ceases to amaze me is how long this took.  The course of the Episcopal Church has been set for a long time, and the real break should have taken place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when the downward slide got going in earnest.  At that time the only option was for individuals to leave, which, as we saw, was something many did.  The fragmentation that resulted is one reason why the liberals have had the upper hand for the last forty years.

And that brings us to the greatest danger of the whole process.  Leaving out the "continuing" churches that are not in formal communion with Canterbury, we see that several provinces have established a presence in the U.S.  The largest of these is of course the Anglican Mission in America, but the northern Virginia parishes are headed to Nigeria for oversight.  If we throw in those who affiliate themselves with Uganda or the Southern Cone, we see a situation which will undermine any attempt to establish an alternate Anglican province in North America.  (The Episcopal Church is already the "alternative" province from a GLBT perspective.)

And this, of course, gets us to the same problem that bedevils the careerist Middle East:

They came to Capernaum. When Jesus had gone into the house, he asked them: “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent; for on the way they had been arguing with one another which was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said: “If any one wishes to be first, he must be last of all, and servant of all.” (Mark 9:32-34)

What Episcopalians Used to Expect from Themselves

On the back of an Episcopal baptismal certificate, 1863.

The only similarity between then and now is the authoritarian command of the church. And these days the Episcopal Church is getting its authority from somewhere other than above.

After Jesus had come into the Temple Courts, the Chief Priests and the Councillors of the Nation came up to him as he was teaching, and said: “What authority have you to do these things? Who gave you this authority?”

“I, too,” said Jesus in reply, “will ask you one question; if you will give me an answer to it, then I, also, will tell you what authority I have to act as I do. It is about John’s baptism. What was its origin? divine or human?”

But they began arguing among themselves: “If we say ‘divine,’ he will say to us ‘Why then did not you believe him?’ But if we say ‘human,’ we are afraid of the people, for every one regards John as a Prophet.”

So the answer they gave Jesus was–“We do not know.”

“Then I,” he said, “refuse to tell you what authority I have to do these things.” (Matthew 21:23-27, Positive Infinity New Testament)

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 dispensable? (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 Freudian 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 conform 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.
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    Also: click here on some material on prayer walking that is connected with us.