When Church Becomes Pointless, Part II

Later this year, this website will celebrate its tenth anniversary.  A decade is an eternity on the Internet, especially when we’ve spent a good deal of it following the agony of the Anglican Communion’s struggle between its liberal West and conservative Global South.

One of the first pieces we posted was When Church Becomes Pointless, a piece which actually predates the start of our Anglican Corner and the posting of the 1662 and 1928 prayer books, which in turn revolutionised our site.  The basic premise of this piece was that, once a church went liberal, its values differed little from the world, which in turn rendered it redundant.  We used John Shelby Spong as an example.

Ten years after we’ve been sadly vindicated by the continuting decline in "Main Line" churches and the revolt of the conservatives in the Episcopal church.  But now the new Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori is adding another reason why liberal churches are basically without purpose.

Her big push these days for TEC is the adoption and support of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals.  This is a cute idea that suffers from three major problems.

The first is that the implementation of the MDG’s is largely the responsibility of the U.N. and its member states.  If one really wants to get involved with it, the best way is through direct action with these entities.  TEC could act as a lobbying organisation, but there are many of those out there.  A church isn’t necessary for that effort.

Second, TEC’s "top-heavy" demographics insure that the church starts out as part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  The first one of these, for example, is to eliminate extreme poverty and hunger.  Any Marxist will tell you that you can’t eliminate that without eliminating extreme wealth, and extreme wealth is what the TEC is about demographically.  TEC adds to its problem by going up against the Global South provinces, whose inhabitants would be the main beneficiaries of the MDG’s.  If the TEC wants to get serious about solving these problems, they would do two things:

  1. Force their membership to take Jesus’ advice to the rich young ruler:  "’If you wish to be perfect,’ answered Jesus, ‘go and sell your property, and give to the poor, and you shall have wealth in Heaven; then come and follow me.’" (Matthew 19:21)
  2. Defer to the Global South’s positions to be in true solidarity with their people.  The last of the MDG’s is "develop a global partnership for development."  What better partners than those in the Anglican Communion?  But TEC has alienated much of the Communion, to our mind beyond repair.

We’re not holding our breath on either one of these.

Third–and most important–the MDG’s do nothing to improve people’s eternities.  Episcopalians tend to be universalists, but that assumes that everyone gets to go to heaven.  We do not share this assumption, and neither does the Bible (the Qur’an doesn’t either.)   Improving people’s eternities is the ultimate goal of any Christian church.

But who said anything about the TEC being a Christian church?  In any case, the church that puts the MDG’s at the top of the list is pointless.  We don’t need a church for that.

The Basic Problem with Reforming a Church

The back and forth in the Church of England over the new "covenant" Evangelicals have proposed highlights the central problem that reforming or renewing any church has: without the explicit support of its hierarchy or other leadership, the effort is doomed to fail.

It’s a story that has been repeated too many times in chuch history.  From the Jansenists in France to Wesley in England (same Church of England) to the Old Believers in Russia to the Charismatic renewal in both Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches, the problem is the same: if those at the top are not in favour of what’s going on at the bottom, they will eventually grind down the movement by intimidating the fence-sitters and using their power to stifle the rest.  The result is that those who persevere find themselves either beaten into submission or out of the organisation altogether.

The fiction featured on this site is, in one sense, an extended reflection on what could take place if that kind of support were available.  But unfortunately such things are, in every sense of the word, fiction.  Evangelicals in the Church of England, like their counterparts in North America, are facing some very hard choices, choices compounded by the status of the CofE as a state church.  We are not optimistic as to their chances for success.

Capax Imperii, Nisi Imperasset: The Epitaph of the Boomers

At last we start a new year. The American voters spoke that they wanted something different; what they got was a Democratically controlled Congress. The left would like for you to believe that this is the greatest thing to happen to this country since Engle vs. Vitale. The rest of us look for analogies in Paris in 1789 and Petrograd in 1917. Back in the days before these revolutions, people in the West received a good classical education with Roman and Greek authors. Their knowledge of Greek and Latin pervaded their use of English, and they could trade quotations from these authors as a form of communication. The impact of classical education is one reason why Americans find nineteenth century prose hard to comprehend; we simply don’t (as a rule) have a high enough calibre education in language to grasp it.

One of those authors was Tacitus, who was one of the harder ones to read. His prose was sharp, biting and terse, and made for many quotable epigrams. (Christianity furnished a rival to him in Tertullian.) One of those concerned the Emperor Galba, who reigned in the “one and long year,” 69 A.D., when Nero was murdered and the Empire went through three emperors before ending up with Vespasian, whose son Titus was the one who ploughed Jerusalem under the following year. According to Tacitus, Galba’s reign was short because he was “capax imperii, nisi imperasset”–able to rule unless he actually did so (Histories, 1,17.) Galba was a hard man in times when troops were looking for a payoff from the man they wanted to lead them. So they shortly dumped him for Otho, then Vitellius…

Rome never quite worked out a regular method of succession after ditching the Republic, and the fact that they had a long run of peaceful transitions was a marvel. But when they dumped an Emperor, they did so without regard to the calendar. In the U.S., we have an organised method of elections and terms, so we only give our people an opportunity at the federal level every two years to express their content or discontent. Although in a fast-moving world two years can seem like an eternity, as long as we hear whining about the terms being too short, we can be assured it’s often enough.

Now we have a new Congress. Will they be able to deliver for the American people? Part of the problem is that they’re not up there delivering for us, but for the special interest groups that put them there. But another part of the problem is that we’re basically choosing between two parts of the same generation of people. Ever since the early 1980’s, American politics have been dominated by Baby Boomers at the polls. The full effect was delayed by Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush, but ever since the Great Arkie took office in 1993, we have had Boomers in full power. The Boomers like to refer to their parents as “the greatest generation.” Their performance in the last quarter century or so has borne that out. The Boomers have three trademarks that make them unsuited to leave anything but a mess as a legacy:

  1. Boomers are absolutists. They only see things their way. How this plays out depends upon what side of the badly split political and social spectrum. One the left, with relativistic morality as the ostensible lodestar, the result is simple: hypocrisy, of the worst kind. On the right, it leads to the blind optimism and simplistic methodologies that have dogged the Bush administration. The most obvious result of this dichotomy is the dilemma we face with the war on Islamic careerism. It’s like Christian comedian Mark Lowry’s description of the old-time Baptists: not always right, but never in doubt. This leads to another characteristic of Boomers: they’re tyrants, but we take that up elsewhere.
  2. Boomers are obsessed with credentials. This is a major reason why we have not had a non-Ivy league educated President since Ronald Reagan. It also explains why, in a country which is supposed to be the trend-setter in upward social mobility, we have bounced the presidency between two families for nearly twenty years now (and that trend doesn’t show a sign of relief either.) Boomers simply cannot bring themselves to select leaders realistically. They are simply too obsessed with the fact that they have more formal education than any American generation before them. The only major exception to this is in business, where the bottom line, widespread deregulation and the advance of technology have insured some degree of real merit.
  3. Boomers are profligate. Their sexual profligacy is legendary, but their financial profligacy in some ways exceeds that, if it’s possible. Boomers came from a generation of savers whose experience was moulded by depression and war. They’ve managed to run through that and then proceed to plunge themselves and their government into a deeper hole. Today everyone’s worried about what will happen to Social Security when the Boomers start retiring in 2010. The answer is simple: they can’t afford to retire in 2010 or for many years thereafter! They’re too deep in the hole!

Much of the problem stems from the slide of the Boomer generation that seems to worm its way into prominence and power: products of the upper reaches of society who were educated in its elite schools. It’s no credit to the rest of the generation that they have allowed this group to predominate, but they have. This was driven home recently when I discovered that I went to prep school with Paul Bremer’s cousin. I remember Paul Bremer’s cousin, along with many of his colleagues. No wonder we’re in trouble in Iraq! Will the Republic survive this generation? My optimism has been fading lately. In a country where the rule of law is an obsession, we have forgotten that both law and country are no better than the people who must administer and abide by those rules. Now we face an enemy that many Boomers are too provincial to understand and too triumphalistic to believe can beat them. May God help the United States as we endure the generation that is fit to rule unless it actually does so.

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.

Pardoning Richard Nixon was the Right Thing To Do

The death of Gerald Ford has revived one of the great guessing games of the 1970’s: was it right to pardon Richard Nixon after all he had done?

We think it was.  To drag out Nixon’s trial in the liberal-controlled media of the time would have furthered the left’s agenda by running down people’s respect for the Republic in an era when running down authority was the left’s main weapon of their own advancement (that has changed, as Hillary Clinton knows all too well.)  It would have given the left another opportunity to finish the job of making their dominance over the political life of the country permanent–at least until the country had collapsed, which it would have done had they succeeded.

Ford stopped their onrush, which eventually prepared for liberalism’s check with Ronald Reagan’s election, its revival as a world power and the end of the Cold War.  None of this would have happened if Gerald Ford hadn’t pardoned Nixon and gotten the matter off of centre stage of American life.

Whether the right has squandered this legacy in this decade was the issue of the 2006 election and certainly will be again in 2008.

A Country Needs to be Defended by its Own

Although we are unenthusiastic about bringing back the draft, we aren’t any more enthusiastic about our military actively recuriting foreigners to defend our country.

This is not based on some vague, moralistic patriotic urge.  It is based on a knowledge of late Roman history, and specifically the disaster that the British leader Vortigern induced when he brought the Saxons over to defend a newly independent Britain.  Although late Roman emperors, pretenders, power challengers and generals had brought the "barbarians" in many times to defend the Empire, eventually these people basically moved in and took over, dismembering the Empire in the process.

If a country isn’t–or can’t–be defended by its own, sooner or later it will cease to exist.

The Christmas Story, from the Positive Infinity New Testament

About that time an edict was issued by the Emperor Augustus that a census should be taken of the whole Empire. (This was the first census taken while Quirinius was Governor of Syria). And every one went to his own town to be registered. Among others Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem, the town of David, in Judea–because he belonged to the family and house of David–To be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was about to become a mother. While they were there her time came, And she gave birth to her first child, a son. And because there was no room for them in the inn, she swathed him round and laid him in a manger.

In that same country-side were shepherds out in the open fields, watching their flocks that night, When an angel of the Lord suddenly stood by them, and the Glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were seized with fear. “Have no fear,” the angel said. “For I bring you good news of a great joy in store for all the nation. This day there has been born to you, in the town of David, a Savior, who is Christ and Lord. And this shall be the sign for you. You will find the infant swathed, and lying in a manger.” Then suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly Host, praising God, and singing–“Glory to God on high, And on earth peace among men in whom he finds pleasure.”

Now, when the angels had left them and gone back to Heaven, the shepherds said to one another: “Let us go at once to Bethlehem, and see this thing that has happened, of which the Lord has told us.” So they went quickly, and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in a manger; And, when they saw it, they told of all that had been said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds were astonished at their story, While Mary treasured up all that they said, and dwelt upon it in her thoughts. And the shepherds went back, giving glory and praise to God for all that they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20)

For the Way to God’s Pleasure, click here

Ann Coulter’s Voting Problems Continue

Back before the election, we noted a piece in the Shiny Sheet about Ann Coulter’s problems with voting in Palm Beach.  At the time, we felt that this was a prosecutorial fishing expedition, politically motivated.

Things keep moving somewhere with this.  Now the Town of Palm Beach has thrown the investigation back to the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections (and ultimately perhaps the District Attorney.)   The desire to make something out of this–which the election authorities should have dealt with up front–continues.

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)