Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Onderdonk Hymn

How wondrous and great
Thy works, God of praise!
How just, King of saints,
And true are Thy ways!
O who shall not fear Thee,
And honor Thy Name?
Thou only art holy,
Thou only supreme.

To nations long dark
Thy light shall be shown;
Their worship and vows
Shall come to Thy throne:
Thy truth and Thy judgments
Shall spread all abroad,
Till earth’s every people
Confess Thee their God.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

John Henry Hobart Meditations on Priesthood, etc.

In light of the innovations coming out of the Diocese of Sydney, and recalling as I do my deep affinity for the High Church tradition, as amply witnessed to by one such as Bishop John Henry Hobart, I offer this fantastic little ditty from Google books - 'A Companion for the Altar' by the same.

Here is the link.

Upholding the Efficacy of the Sacrament of Baptism

Bishop Henry U. Onderdonk was the second Bishop of Pennsylvania after the great William White. Onderdonk was a high-churchman of the pre-Tractarian, Hobartian sort. (Hobart was a Philadelphian, and also a student of William White.)

Onderdonk in 1818 wrote an essay in defense of the concept of Baptismal regeneration - defending that which the Book of Common Prayer has always taught - namely - that in concert with ancient practice and apostolic tradition - that the sacramental baptism by water and the Holy Spirit is synonymous with the 'new birth' (regeneration) by which persons enter into the Body of Christ. (Click to read my long thesis on the baptismal regeneration controversy in Anglicanism.)

He writes:

We are "baptised into one body by the Spirit," (1 Cor. 12: 13.) Into what "one body?" the (mystical body of Christ; that is, the church. And there is but "one baptism" (Eph. 4:5) into that church...

Admission to the church-estate is a birth; for persons in the church as said to be children (or born) of God. Thus Moses says of the Israelites, "the church in the wilderness,"--"ye are the children of the Lord your God;" (Deut. 14: 1)--he excludes none of the people. St. Paul likewise speaks of the Galatians (4:5) as having received "the adoption of sons;" which he explains afterwards (4: 31) as their being "children of the free woman," or church, the spouse of Christ; and yet he speaks of them as not fully changed in heart, "my little children of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you" (4: 19).--To enter the church therefore, is to become, in some sense, "children of the Lord our God;" it is to receive an "adoption of sons." Very natural then is the language of our Saviour, that we must be "born" of water before we enter into the "kingdom of God" (upon earth); as also that of St. Paul, the "washing of regeneration."--The outward adoption to the earthly church, is, however, very different from the inward adoption to the heavenly church. And the two births must of course be different.

Both the adoptions or births are attributed to the Spirit; "by one Spirit we are all baptized," or born of water; "the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God." In the latter case, the Spirit works by moral influences on our spirit. In the former, he does not.--The Spirit operated in men to produce inspiration; and yet Balaam was a wicked man. The Spirit was given to men for miraculous powers; and yet a man might "remove mountains, be a prophet, speak with the tongues of men and angels, and be nothing." (1 Cor. 13:) The Spirit was bestowed when the apostles were ordained. (John 20:22); "receive ye the Holy Ghost, whose soever sins ye remit, &c.; that is, they received a commission or separation from the Spirit--were set apart by Him to the priestly office. So Aaron was set apart by anointing, and the Levitical priesthood, in him; which rite signified spiritual designation. Christian ministers have always been set apart by laying on of hands; and thus the commission, "receive the Holy Ghost" continues "to the end of the world." And yet, among both Jewish and Christian priests, (having this separation of the Spirit) there have been bad men. Of course, among the "diversities of operations" of the Spirit, there are some which do not imply his moral influence on the heart.

... Baptism is a separating ordinance: the Holy Spirit, through his minister, separates us from the world, and adopts us into the "one body" of Christ. By this adoption we become "sons of the free woman," the church (Gal. 4 : 31) and, of course, sons of Him who is her "Husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name," (Isa. 54: 5.)

This adoption or regeneration however, brings us only to that field in which both tares and wheat grow together until the harvest. The church, although one, has several enclosures; which were typified in the Mosaic tabernacle. The tabernacle represented heaven; (Heb. 9: 24) the holy of holies, or inner chamber, being the immediate dwelling-place of God; the holy place, or outer chamber, being for the priests: The court, which did not represent heaven, was for all Israel. The whole represents the one church in heaven and on earth. By baptism, we are separated from the world to the general body of Israel, in the court of the tabernacle; we are adopted, or born again, into that family of which it is said "ye are the children of the Lord your God" (Deut 14 : 1). By being "born of the Spirit," or "renewed by the Holy Ghost," or "conformed to the image of God's Son," we are fitted to come to the "church (the tabernacle-chamber) of the first-born," who were sanctified to God," (Numb. 3: 12) in the holy place; by this sanctification, our "names are written in heaven," and we are made "priests unto God."


[If this be not true, then either we should reject the notion of baptismal regeneration or accept that] baptismal regeneration as a mystery; revealed in scripture, but not to be explained by men.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sydney Innovations

Well, it's official: The Episcopal Church is not the only 'innovator' or 'reappraising' church in the Anglican Communion. The Diocese of Sydney, home to nearly half the Anglicans in the Church of Australia, has chosen in diocesan synod to permit the laity and deacons to preside at Holy Eucharist. By so doing, they have elected to abandon a core element of Anglican order - namely - the catholic understanding of Holy Orders and the particular charism of the presbyter and bishop as eucharistic celebrants.

The Diocese of Sydney, which has long been an evangelical stronghold in global Anglicanism, has remained true to its basic theology - which is primarily Calvinist, Reformed and 'Low-Church' to the extreme. As true reformed protestants, lay presidency should be no surprise. What is confusing is the way the Sydney episcopal leadership appears to be saying two things. On the one hand, when speaking with their allies among the global realignment movement, which is seeking to develop a 'new' Anglican Communion apart from any connection to Canterbury, the Episcopal Church, etc., Sydney's bishops claim to adhere to the traditionalist, orthodox, Anglican formularies of the 1662 BCP/Ordinal, the 39 Articles, the Homilies, etc. Yet, here we see quite plainly that at the same time they are approving the synodical decision to go forward with a vision of the church and its order that goes against these very formularies.

That they are doing so is obvious to both Matt Kennedy, reasserting blogger, and Tobias Haller, reappraising blogger.

Kennedy writes:

Personally, while I understand the biblical arguments and grant that they have merit (though I do not entirely agree), I think this is a disastrous decision. How can we criticize TEC for taking steps beyond agreed upon standards when we turn and do the same?
Tobias writes:
The Sydney Synod has approved in principle the ideas of diaconal and lay presidency at the Holy Communion, suggesting a delay in implementation for laity but a sooner licensing for deacons, including women deacons. This has created, as perhaps an unintentional consequence, some concern among the more catholic conservative allies with Sydney against the liberal-trending spectrum of the Anglican Communion.

I have no difficulty understanding the extreme protestant position on this score — it has been well spelled out in terms of the priesthood of all believers, the lack of scriptural clarity on the subject, the fact that deacons can baptize so why can’t they celebrate, and so on and so forth. I also have no difficulty understanding the practical implications, and the needs of isolated or small communities. On neither of these do I find the arguments persuasive, but I do find them comprehensible.

What I find hard to understand is how any who so pride themselves in the 1662 BCP and Ordinal and Articles of Religion can adopt a position so at odds with the limpid clarity of their requirements, and what they present as a model for what it means to “minister in the Church.” The Articles demand that no one minister without being called; and the calling of a deacon is well spelled out to be (at most) an assistant in the ministrations limited to priests — also clearly listed in the order for making them. To read, as the current move has it, assists in as presides at seems to be an example of eisegesis at its most wishful and contrary. And this doesn’t even get into the murkiness of what it means for a lay person to “minister” (in the fulsome sense in which the classical documents use the term) — since as Richard Norris once said, a lay person authorized by a bishop to preside at the eucharist is properly called “a priest.”

So the issue for me — quite apart from my opposition to the move on other grounds — is the logical inconsistency of taking steps so at odds with sources of authority that are brandished in other controversies as touchstones of stability for the emerging Anglican Communion 2.0.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Many Mansions

By Eric Von Salzen

At EFM last week, we did a theological reflection on John 14:1-3. The second verse of that passage contains the familiar words, "In my Father’s house are many dwelling places". (The King James says "many mansions", which is more poetic, but was perplexing to me as a kid: a mansion is bigger than a house, so how can there be mansions in a house?)

"Many dwelling places." Reflecting on those words we thought about the welcome they imply, that there’s plenty of room in God’s house. If that’s so, shouldn’t our church also be welcoming, also have room for all who seek to enter? For example, we asked, are our Canons wrong to limit participation in the Eucharist to baptized Christians?

As so often happens with EFM, I continued to ponder these questions after the meeting was over. Our other EFM group is reading Paul’s epistles right now, so that group is also grappling with the question of welcome. The "foolish Galatians" thought that before a pagan could become a Christian, he must first become a Jew, with all that that implied (circumcision, dietary laws, etc.). Paul insisted that this was wrong, that no such ceremony was required as a condition of full membership in the Body of Christ.

I was in a particularly "Pauline" state of mind last week, because I was reading a marvelous little book by N.T. Wright, called What St. Paul Really Said: Was Paul Of Tarsus The Real Founder Of Christianity? Are we Episcopalians like the foolish Galatians when we insist that, before you can share Eucharist with us, you must go through the ceremony of baptism?

I recall when, several years ago, I invited a Jew to Communion. The occasion was a wedding in an Episcopal Church, and this young man was one of the groomsmen. After the rehearsal, he asked whether it would be proper for him to take Communion during the wedding service. As a general rule, I’m not a big enthusiast for "the conversion of the Jews", but this man clearly was not getting spiritual sustenance from the faith of his fathers. You don’t show respect for a thirsty man’s opinions by denying him a drink of water. I told him no one would object to his participating in Communion, and I encouraged him to do so.

At the time I was not aware that my advice was contrary to Canon Law, but had I known it, I doubt that it would have made much difference to me. Excluding this young fellow from Communion would have seemed to me – if you will pardon the word – unChristian. On reflection, though, now many years later, I think that I was wrong. My heart was in the right place, my motives were pure, my intention was admirable, but I was wrong.

As it happened, the Jewish groomsman did not feel comfortable taking Communion with us, and so he declined my invitation. But suppose he had done what I suggested; what would the experience have meant to him? He would have eaten a little piece of bread (or perhaps a fragment of what looks like an oversized Necco wafer), and had a sip of sherry (or whatever that parish used for Communion wine). He would have heard it recited that these were, respectively, the body and the blood of a man who died twenty centuries ago. He would not have believed that it was "really" flesh and blood – if he had believed that it was flesh and blood, he would have run screaming from the church. Being, I think, a sensitive person he would have felt that the people around him were deeply moved by the experience, but he would not have been moved himself.

He would not have been moved, he would not have been uplifted, he would not have felt himself joined in the mystic body of Christ, the community of all faithful people, because he had not come to believe what the Eucharist means to believers. Communion would have been a disappointment to him; at least it would have been a disappointment if he had expected much from it.

The Eucharist isn’t a magic potion, it doesn’t make you feel something unless it's already there in your heart. The Eucharist is a way of recalling, of making more real, what is already in your heart, and sharing that experience with others who feel the same way.

The Eucharist is a marvelous gift. It’s natural and commendable that we would want to share it with others. But just inviting someone to the rail for a taste of bread and wine won’t convey that gift to them.

My friend was unbaptized because he grew up in a different faith than Christianity. Many other unbaptized people grew up in families with no religious faith at all. And of course, there are people who were baptized as infants but, as adults, have no faith or understanding of faith.

As I’ve said on this blog before, baptism does not seem to me to be an entirely satisfactory preparation for participation in the Eucharist – not, anyway, in a church in which infant baptism is the norm. There may be many "baptized Christians" who are spiritually no more ready to receive the Eucharist than was my Jewish friend, and who get no more out of the experience. Baptism is a minimum requirement, at best. But understood as such, it does make sense.

What, then, about Christian welcome? Do we run the risk of treating our church like an exclusive club by limiting Communion to those who’ve been through the ceremony of baptism? Yes, I think that’s a risk, but one that we can avoid. We can avoid it by offering baptism to any and all who seek it. That’s our welcome to them.

We must make it clear to those we welcome that we do not regard baptism as a mere ceremony, a meaningless initiation rite. We regard baptism as profoundly important to each individual who receives it, and to the entire Christian community that witnesses and participates in it. And we should offer this profoundly important sacrament to the unbaptized – not just "offer" it; we should urge it on them – as a free gift. And then we would offer the newly baptized the Eucharist, not as a ritual that anyone can participate in just because they walked in the door, but as a communion among those who have become the Body of the Savior of the World.

This is the welcome we should offer: Welcome to full membership in the church, welcome to full membership in the community, welcome to full participation in all the gifts we have to offer.

* * *

On a closely related point, I mentioned that I’d been reading a book by N. T. Wright about Paul. Here’s a very powerful passage from that book:

The Pauline doctrine of justification by faith strikes against all attempts to demarcate membership in the people of God by anything other than faith in Jesus Christ; particularly, it rules out any claim to status before God based on race, class or gender. Any attempt to define church membership by anything other than allegiance to Jesus Christ is, quite simply, idolatrous. . . . It is by the church living as the one believing community, in which barriers of race, class, gender, and so forth are irrelevant to membership and to holding of office, that the principalities and powers are informed in no uncertain terms that their time is up, that there is indeed a new way of being human. [N.T. Wright, What St. Paul Really Said, at pp. 160-61.]

Think about that. To define church membership by anything other than allegiance to Jesus Christ is idolatrous. Barriers of race, class, gender, and so forth are irrelevant to membership and to holding of office.

"And so forth" must include sexual orientation. Having written these words, N.T. Wright ought to be at the forefront of the movement toward full inclusion in the Anglican Communion. I don’t know why he’s not, but his words provide compelling support for that movement.

Welcome to the church everyone.

Good Bible Software - For Free

Please share links friends to what you think is the best free Bible study software. I find that using the online study tools is often limiting (namely to wi-fi hot spots.) I have been using 'the Word,' lately. It is limited though to KJV and ASV. Would love one in RSV or ESV.

Biblical Interpretation

Reposted from my submission to Episcopal Cafe, which ran yesterday and today:

Episcopalians share a common "book" of prayer, worship and wisdom with Christians of every age and place. This common book is not the Prayer book. It's not the English language. It's not even the Western literary canon. No, of course it's the Bible - which forms the common sacred library of all who follow Christ. But, in a Christianity so global and diverse, we Episcopalians need to be able to understand for ourselves, and explain to others who inquire, "What do we think the Bible is, and how do we engage it?"

I believe that most Episcopalians would agree with the notion that just as God has called forth the Church to exist as the Body of Christ, inextricably bound with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures are likewise inextricably bound to the Church. We do not understand what the Bible is apart from its being woven up from and into the fabric of the Church, nor can we interpret it apart from a location within the life and activity of the Church. That being said, what guidelines can be found to clarify things a bit? Well, I think the Diocese of New York teaching document Let the Reader Understand is excellent, and from it, I think the following seven points should be taught across the whole Episcopal Church.

7 Principles of Biblical Interpretation

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are "the Word of God" and "contain all things necessary to salvation." They are called the Word of God by the household of faith, not because God dictated the biblical text, but because the Church believes that God inspired its human authors through the Holy Spirit and because by means of the inspired text, read within the sacramental communion of the Church, the Spirit of God continues the timely enlightenment and instruction of the faithful.

2. The Holy Scriptures are the primary constitutional text of the Church. They provide the basis and guiding principles for our common life with God, and they do so through narrative, law, prophecy, poetry, and other forms of expression. Indeed, the Scriptures are themselves an instrument of the Church's shared communion with Jesus Christ, the living Word of God, who uses them to constitute the Church as a Body of many diverse members, participating together in his own word, wisdom, and life.

3. The Scriptures, as "God's Word Written," bear witness to, and their proper interpretation depends upon, the paschal mystery of God's Word incarnate, crucified and risen. Although the Scriptures are a manifestly diverse collection of documents representing a variety of authors, times, aims, and forms, the Church received and collected them, and from the beginning has interpreted them for their witness to an underlying and unifying theme: the unfolding economy of salvation, as brought to fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

4. The Scriptures both document and narrate not only God's saving acts but also the manifold human responses to them, revealing that God's unchanging purpose to redeem is fulfilled, not by means of a coercive, deterministic system, but through a divine plan compassionately respectful of human freedom, adapted to changing historical circumstances, cultural situations, and individual experience and need. In reading the diverse texts of Holy Scripture, the Church seeks an ever-growing comprehension of this plan and of the precepts and practices whereby believers may respond more faithfully to it, walking in the way of Christ.

5. The New Testament itself interprets and applies the texts of the Old Testament as pointing to and revealing the Christ. Thus, the revelation of God in Christ is the key to the Church's understanding of the Scriptures as a whole.

6. Individual texts must not, therefore, be isolated and made to mean something at odds with the tenor or trajectory of the divine plan underlying the whole of Scripture.

7. Faithful interpretation requires the Church to use the gifts of "memory, reason, and skill" to find the sense of the scriptural text and to locate it in its time and place. The Church must then seek the text's present significance in light of the whole economy of salvation. Chief among the guiding principles by which the Church interprets the sacred texts is the congruence of its interpretation with Christ's Summary of the Law and the New Commandment, and the creeds.

Interesting from Executive Council

From Mark Harris:

At Executive Council, meeting this last week in Helena, Montana, a resolution was passed concerning possible work on reconciliation with people and organizations in the Common Cause Partnership. The resolution reads as follows:

"Resolved, the Executive Council, on behalf of The Episcopal Church, expresses the heartfelt desire to seek the reconciliation we are promised in Christ our Savior, and the unity of disciples for which he prayed, through conversation with the members of the Common Cause Partnership either individually or collectively and without precondition on our part; and

Resolved, the Presiding Officers are requested to appoint a Task Force on Reconciliation for this purpose; and

Resolved, the Task Force on Reconciliation is encouraged to seek a person acceptable to all
parties to facilitate such conversations in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council."

Episcopal News Service and The Living Church have commented on this resolution as have bloggers. Many of the bloggers wonder if this is all just show. Some wonder if such talks will lead to a diminution of commitment to the full participation of gay and lesbian members in the Church. Well, if it really is about reconciliation we ought none of us have any fear. If it is not, it will become dust.

Reconciliation is always possible, and in the very very long run the surety that gives us hope. Anglicans live always in such hope: The stones shout out for it, even those we sit on; the compass is always set on a path towards the vision of it; the memories of our failings fade in its light. Reconciliation stands at the far side of repentance and just actions both. In the end we are reconciled by the blood of the Lamb. Finding reconciliation is a little like seeking the Holy Grail - perhaps only a legend, but perhaps a seeking for the healing of the nations as well.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Bible

A nice piece found on Episcopal Cafe:

The word healing comes from a word meaning “entire” or “complete,” and signifies a restoration to wholeness. For that reason it is a more “holistic” word than therapy. While many people are helped by psychotherapy, I suspect that there are also many like me who have benefited from occasional counseling but have received more help from spiritual practices such as prayer and lectio divina, or holy reading. Perhaps the most radical aspect of the psychology of the desert monastics is the extent to which they believed that Scripture itself had the power to heal. In The Word in the Desert, his study of how thoroughly the early monks integrated Scripture into their lives, Douglas Burton-Christie notes that they regarded these “sacred texts [as] inherently powerful, a source of holiness, with a capacity to transform their lives.”

Appreciating this monastic perspective on the Bible means abandoning the modern tendency to regard it as primarily an object of intellectual study, or as a handy adjunct to our ideology, be it conservative or liberal. The desert father who expounds on the inherent value of meditating on Scripture by observing, “Even if we do not understand the meaning of the words we are saying, when the demons hear them, they take fright and go away,” insults our intelligence. What is left to us, if we relinquish our intellectual comprehension? Isn’t it necessary to retain more control than that? Maybe not, if we want to experience the Word of God as these monks did, as “a living force within them.”

From Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books, 2008).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Bit of Satire at the Expense of Stand Firm, et. al.

My friend Doug Le Blanc has posted this wicked bit of satire on Covenant. He is mocking the self-awareness (i.e. pride) of the Stand Fermented ones.

Doug writes:

I am just back from a run with my dog, Brewster, who is 63 pounds of raw animal power. As we ran these five miles, dew glinted on the grass. We heard the occasional bullfrog croak. We ran past a large steer and bade him top of the morning. Well, Brewster barked in his friendliest possible tone.

Then, naturally, my mind turned to the ideological, spiritual, theological, and sexual revolution rolling through the Episcopal Church.

At our humble blog we stand athwart this multifaceted revolution, yelling, “Stop!” For this selfless service to the Lord we are rewarded with regular mockery by other blogs, catty remarks from the apparatchiks at 815, and treacherous betrayals by those who call themselves conservatives but who are, on their best days, more like the sweaty, shifty-eyed collaborationists of Vichy France.

And no, thank you for asking, none of my fellow contributors to this blog consider this language over the top. We’ve talked this over and all four of us agree that, Godwin’s law notwithstanding, allusions to the Third Reich are entirely within the spirit of Christ and his clarity. Did our Lord not call the Pharisees whitewashed sepulchers?

My fellow bloggers and I have reached some basic conclusions — about ourselves and about the work we do as unto the Lord.

We matter immensely. We realize that thousands of you await our daily reports of the latest outrages by the church we all love so very much. We work hard to provide those reports, even when the outrages are the standard fare of life in any mainline Protestant denomination, or have no clear relation to Anglicanism. We know that outrage prompts action — action that untold previous generations of Episcopalians lacked the backbone to take.

We are the new media. We do not report so much as loudly type near-transcripts during press conferences and upload PDFs of documents leaked by courageous bishops. We also offer our brilliantly snarky commentary whenever church leaders gather to make decisions. Our crucial importance as the new media is reaffirmed every time a bishop all but threatens disciplinary action against anyone who dares to read our blog.

We are courageous. While other self-styled conservatives think only of ways to preserve their positions of comfort, we show the fortitude to speak the truth in love. If we think you’re a heretic, we will not mince words. We are in your face, and the Lord Jesus would have it no other way.

We make people mad. This is one way we know we’re serving God faithfully. Our harsh critics may protest that we lack Christian charity, or that we presume too much about what motivates other people, but we know that’s because they lack adequate experience with hearing the truth spoken in love.

We love The Lord of the Rings, in case you hadn’t noticed, because it helps us make sense of our valorous resistance to the Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury. We think that if J.R.R. Tolkien were aware of how much his work inspires us, he would take the longest drag off his pipe, smile like a contented hobbit, and then nod sagely and create interlocking smoke rings.

We remain Episcopalians, for the most part, but we consider it a scandal that other people will not discuss the moral imperative of leaving the Episcopal Church. They may call it ecclesiology, but we call it wimpishness. We know how very much has been accomplished over so many decades by people threatening to leave.

We see things more clearly than most other Episcopalians. We have, after all, been in this conflict for five long years. With such concentrated perseverance comes a wisdom that sees past the timid misgivings of those who have worked for Episcopal renewal for decades...

Deirdre Good on Bill Maher's 'Religulous' Movie

Dr. Good was my New Testament professor, and contributed the afterword to my book Beyond Da Vinci (Seabury 2004). While she has contributed significantly to new and even challenging interpretations of the traditional Christian faith, she also has a strong sense of 'what is fact' and 'what is fancy.'

She writes:

I went to see Bill Maher's "Religulous" with friends last night. It was a strange experience. I've seen and enjoyed Bill Maher as a stand-up comic and as a TV host on his HBO talk show interviewing guests and commenting on politics. But what is "Religulous"? Neither stand-up comedy nor talk show. True, the film has elements of comedy in the way that it caricatures religious practitioners for what they say and how they look. We don't just meet ordinary Christians; we meet Christians like the Jesus actor in the Jesus world theme park in Orlando, Florida and a minister José Luis de Jesús Miranda who thinks he is a biological descendant of Jesus, actually Jesus incarnate. We don't meet ordinary Jews; we meet Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, an anti-Zionist Jew who shook the hand of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. And while Bill Maher provides humorous commentary on the interviews he conducts with religious people around the world, he can leave an interviewee, in this case, Rabbi Weiss in mid-sentence. So he doesn't come across as someone who actually wants to hear what religious people say.

"Religulous" isn't a documentary film either. A documentary film is a movie that documents reality by describing it through interviews and commentary. Michael Moore's films would be examples of documentaries shown in movie theaters. Several have proven to be very popular. But a documentary tells a story by starting out with a description of the topic and ending with a new understanding as a result of the investigation. More often than not, things seen and heard along the way have informed the one doing the documentation. This isn't true of "Religulous." Maher starts at Megiddo where he says many people who read Revelations (sic) think the world will end and he ends in the same spot at Megiddo by saying that religious people may well blow up the world. In 90 minutes we haven't actually gone anywhere. Along the way, religion is reduced to the point of distortion and caricature. Eastern religions are never considered. Religious people are shown in interviews and film clips only as gullible and fanatic, as fraudulent and nutty. There's one exception that proves the rule, a Catholic astronomer priest who shows that a scientific worldview can only be post-enlightenment and that therefore the biblical view of creation cannot be seen as scientific. Alas, he gets two minutes.

It would have been more intriguing if Maher had included conversations with theologians who after all have been part of most religious traditions and who have rather interesting takes on reading the creation accounts of the Bible or on miracles. Now and again interviewees say things along these lines but Maher quickly dismisses such observations as quirky or dishonest without following them up. It would be even more interesting to find out why Maher is obsessed with religion. In a charming interview with his sister and his mother before she died this summer, he notes that never once when he was growing up did he question why his (Jewish) mother didn't go to Catholic Church with them each Sunday. Maher professes to be agnostic about religious certainties and critical of those in public office who want to pray to God (an "imaginary friend," Maher says) when confronted with crises. But he falls too easily into caricature rather than the challenge of uncertainty. By the end of the movie we've only gone in a circle and I don't mean a hermeneutical one.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. Her blog is called On Not Being a Sausage.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I Want to Know Christ and the Power of His Resurrection

Amen, amen. This sermon was preached last Sunday by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Robison, Rector of St. Andrew's in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Father Robison did not elect to leave the Episcopal Church, and his parish is among the 19 holding fast. I am struck by the faithfulness and true diversity of these parishes - ranging from intentionally 'progressive' theologically to staunchly traditionalist. My prayers continue with them.

Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Robison, St. Andrew's, Pittsburgh
Friends, Grace to you, and Peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. This first Sunday of October and the 21st Sunday in this season of Ordinary Time after Pentecost most years might seem pretty much just in the midst of things in the pages of our calendar and the rhythms of life, but as we gather this morning I think we would all be aware that at least in the life of our wider church, the times are anything but “ordinary,” and the customary rhythms of the fall season have an aspect of unpredictability and turbulence to them as well.

Just read the morning paper. Our mothers might have said that good Episcopalians would expect to find their names in the newspaper in birth announcements and on the weddings page, perhaps occasionally on a published guest list for a charitable fundraiser, and then finally with the obituaries. But clearly we haven’t been paying attention to our mothers for a while--and in the context of our diocesan convention yesterday and news stories and of course much continuing controversy all around, perhaps we come to church this morning with a sense of instability, even anxiety, and certainly uncertainty about the future. Which is natural, given what has gone on—but which at the same time we need to find a way to understand and then offer up in the spiritual offering that we bring as we lift up our hearts and come to the Lord’s Table this morning.

A friend of mine once said, “nobody wants to go to a church in trouble.” And certainly I don’t know too many folks who wake up on Sunday mornings and say, “You know, my life is so calm, so serene, that I think what I need now is a good dose of conflict, stress, and disorder.” Most of us get enough of that the other six days of the week, thank you very much. And so, this morning, not “Welcome to Stress Central,” but: Grace to you, and Peace. The good message we have for the world: Grace and Peace. The good and generous gift of our Lord’s presence this morning, and it is all good, all the time. That’s where we need to be, first in our lives and at the center of our lives.

The Old Testament and Gospel lessons read this morning are rich in many ways--and especially as we have been walking with Moses and the Israelites across the Sinai and come now to this critical moment of covenant at the Holy Mountain. But as this past week I and so many of us have been in prayer over the events of the wider church, it is the reading from St. Paul that has called to me and fed me, and that I would highlight today, as we might ask what word there is for us, to guide us and keep us and sustain us as we now move into what I guess will be a new chapter of the story of our life in the church. And most of all, just this one phrase, which I have come to again and again, the very first part of the 10th verse of the 3rd chapter of Philippians: “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection.”

In this I think most tender and beautiful of Paul’s letters, as he writes from prison as friend and pastor to this most beloved of his congregations, near the end of his life, but in the midst of theirs, and at the very beginning of the life and mission of the church, pouring out his heart in a testimony of personal faith, this phrase then as a kind of mission statement, which is for them as well to adopt and incorporate into their lives. Just to let those words surround us, enter into our thoughts, our hearts. “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection.”

So yesterday our diocesan family fractured. News all over the media. Good and faithful people, on all sides, broken people, on all sides, struggling in an ocean of differences and disagreements, conflicting loyalties and misunderstandings, pushing apart. Tragically. Those for whom Christ died, on all sides. With lots of complications to come, perhaps like the untangling of a messy divorce, with many layers of expectation and woundedness and perception and misperception. Someone said, “at last, it’s over.” But that of course is not the case, by a long shot.

Both groups now needing to find a way to move forward, but still profoundly enmeshed, emotionally, spiritually, and with all kinds of continuing entangled relationship—healthful and destructive. Reminding us of the famous line from William Faulkner. “The past isn’t dead and buried. It isn’t even past.” Our past is also our present, and it will be our future as well, and it seems to me a dangerous thing to pretend otherwise. It is a mess, it has been a mess, and it’s going to be a mess for a good long while. But this again, to say this first--Philippians 3:10: “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection.”

A lot of people have asked me about our future, here in the parish, in our diocesan life, in the wider church—and frankly up to this point I don’t think I’ve done all that well in the crystal ball department, so I’m not going to get into much of it now. I do know with the commitment of our Vestry, which I share, and which we understand to be the general desire of our wider parish, that we will continue in our life and ministry in this parish as a part of the family of the Episcopal Church-- and I know that I and many of us will have roles to play as we now begin the long process of rebuilding a common diocesan life.

Somebody said the other day, “it’s like trying to rebuild the engine on a 737—at 30,000 feet!” But a process that good people are working on, and that I know over time will work itself out in good ways. There is already an outline of the diocesan process, and there are copies on the Welcome Table and lots more information on what is now the new diocesan website, which is also referenced on those copies.

In any case, what we might have reason to restate this morning as our first point of focus, our over-riding goal now, for sure: that St. Andrew’s will continue to be St. Andrew’s. A place of where we dedicate ourselves to knowing Christ, and to serving in his name. Here today, receiving gifts and contributions for the United Thank Offering, which has for generations now been one of the mission and ministry highlights of the Episcopal Church, sponsored by the Episcopal Church Women. And here today as well, as over in Brooks Hall Wes Rohrer of our Outreach Committee and our Youth Group seek our support as they will walk next week in the annual CROP Walk, to address concerns of hunger both locally and around the world. Honoring the God who let manna fall like rain in the desert, honoring the One who fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish at the Sea of Galilee.

St. Andrew’s: people growing in him, growing in hospitality and grace and generosity, thoughtfulness, creativity, and care, meaningful and heartfelt worship, as in this service this morning—and with this gift of the Mass setting being sung by our Choir today. Wow—just so very beautiful. Here we are: an extended Christian family, with all kinds of differences and eccentricities, of course, and sometimes conflicting concerns, but also with a sense of deeper affection, good humor, and friendship.

There is a lot of strange language being used about the Episcopal Church these days, and what our decision to continue in that church might actually mean. Following the media and listening to the comments that have been in the air could be confusing. Drives me crazy, actually. But for a certain simple clarity I would quote from the letter my colleague and friend Jim Simons, the Rector of St. Michael’s in Ligonier and one of our key figures now in our reorganizing diocese, wrote to the Post Gazette the other day, as some of you may have seen this already, in response to a previous article making a number of claims, some true and some not true, about the Episcopal Church. Jim wrote, “We proclaim Jesus as Lord and we recite the creeds, without reservation, and with full knowledge and acceptance of what they mean. Our Book of Common Prayer reflects these beliefs. We believe the Episcopal Church continues to minister to the poor and needy, worship in spirit and truth and proclaim the saving power of Jesus Christ. We wish to stay and be a part of that faithful witness.”

We would be clear about that, even as we would honor the integrity and good and faithful intentions of those, some dear friends, who have chosen a different way forward at this time. My prayer is that they also will find that way to be one that will “proclaim the saving power of Jesus Christ,” not just in words, but in the fullness of their lives.

“I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection.” Know him not only as an affirmation of doctrine, or as a symbol of generic spirituality, but as a living and personal presence in my life and our lives. Know him, as his death on the Cross accomplishes in us so deeply a renewal of life, with forgiveness, the healing of our brokenness. The Medicine of the World.

Know him, as from his Empty Tomb he is raised above all to accomplish the reconciliation and restoration of all God’s creation. Know him, as he works through us day by day, in the experience of prayer, in gifts of charity and compassion and in a deeper sense of his loving heart, and as by the gifts of the Holy Spirit we become his Body, his hands and his heart in the places of our lives.

“I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection.” An old saying I think from the 12-Step movement: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Not to lose sight of it, not to lose sight of him, which might be easy to do in the confluence of institutional and political excitement. Instead: a daily process of growth. To learn, and to learn again.

What does it mean to be a member here, to be living in this corner of his church? To be fed on the Word, as the grace of that Word governs and shapes and blesses us. To be fed by the broken Bread and in the Cup with his Body, and so to become his Body. A daily process, and a great mystery: lifting up the offering of our hearts as we approach him again this morning. With so much broken, so much misdirected, to have this hunger and this yearning in our hearts. “I want to know Christ,” again today, more, and more, and more. Keeping the main thing the main thing: “I want to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection.”

Bruce Robison

Friday, October 10, 2008

Diocese of Pittsburgh Update

From 3RiversEpiscopal --

Minority recognized as 'true' Episcopal Diocese

Friday, October 10, 2008

By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has recognized as the true Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh those who refused to secede Saturday with the majority of local Episcopalians into the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America.

She confirmed the Rev. James Simons and two others as the "rightful Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh." The Standing Committee governs in the absence of a bishop. The Rev. Simons, rector of St. Michael of the Valley, Ligonier, was the only member of the previous Standing Committee to oppose secession.

Both dioceses now call themselves "the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh."

"The presiding bishop's word today was certainly welcome news," said Rich Creehan, spokesman for the U.S.-based Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican) called her decision irrelevant.

"Though Presiding Bishop Schori's actions aren't surprising, they are without effect. We continue to be the same Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh we've always been, in the same churches, pews and offices, with the same commitment to Anglicanism rooted in biblical truth and witness," it said.

The split was led by those who believe many Episcopal bishops have abandoned classic Christian doctrine. So far, 19 of 74 congregations have said they will not secede.

The Rev. Simons has appointed two others to the Standing Committee: the Rev. Jeffrey Murph of St. Thomas, Oakmont, and Mary Roehrich, a member of St. Andrew's, Highland Park. Like the Rev. Simons, the Rev. Murph is theologically conservative, while Ms. Roehrich is more liberal.

He also named the Rev. Scott Quinn of the Church of the Nativity, Crafton, "director of pastoral care" for those from divided parishes. The Rev. Quinn will hold a meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in Trinity Cathedral, Downtown. The cathedral serves both dioceses.

The Episcopal diocese will hold a convention Dec. 13.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Diocese of Pittsburgh Historical Moment

It seems that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has long had its tensions. Notably, in the days of evangelical Anglican contention against catholic revivalism, the Diocese of Pittsburgh saw its share of those troubles. Of course, that era - the mid-19th century - saw the schism by which the Reformed Episcopal Church broke away.

Here we see a letter from the first Bishop of Pittsburgh, Bishop Kerfoot, to a group of laity who certainly do NOT want any ritualist or High Churchmanship to go on in their parish. (The parish, Christ Church, Meadville, is now in the Diocese of Northwest Pennsylania.)

My Dear Brethren:--On my return from a visitation on the 30th inst., I received here a paper without date, but inclosed in an envelope post-marked Meadville, July 21. The paper was signed by the nine members of the Parish of Christ Church, Meadville, to whom I address this reply. You claim to speak only for yourselves, as private members of the congregation, representing no other members, not in any way speaking for the Vestry. The paper calls itself a Protest; it does not come to me as a "presentment," in any of the ways provided in Section I, Canon I, of this Diocese. It does, however, charge a Presbyter of the Diocese with various uncanonical, and unrubrical acts and customs, and what is yet more serious with a "total disregard of his pledged word." These are very grave charges; the responsibility incurred by those who make them is very grave; the good standing and reputation of a Presbyter as a Minister and as a man, is impugned, and his Bishop is called on to council and admonish him.

That paper is signed by nine members of the church, several of them aged men, and therefore claim the Bishop's respectful attention; and in view of all this I give careful regard to its statements. I gather out of the paper seven specifications.

1. The use of the Offertory in the ordinary collections.

2. The Choral Service.

3. Intoning the Prayers.

4. Singing the Responses to the Commandments.

5. The choir singing alternate verses in the Offertory sentences.

6. The frequent use of the Surplice instead of the Gown in preaching.

7. Turning the back on the congregation in the service, especially in consecrating the elements in the Holy Communion.

I will notice each item; and I do this trusting to my knowledge of your Parish and its history without waiting to make any further inquiries touching the facts of the [11/12] case, either from the rector or yourselves: 1. In putting No. 1 among your charges, you have forgotten or overlooked the fact, that as Bishop of the Diocese I have twice given you my official judgment and council on this point; once in a special meeting of the Vestry of your Parish (April 27, '67) which I attended at their request that I might decide sundry questions touching the proper customs and rules of the service; and again in my address to the Convention of the Diocese in Erie the next month. You will find that judgment on page 79 of the Journal of 1867. It justified and recommended the mode which your charge seems to condemn, which is (I believe) the mode used in Meadville, which has been my own custom for more than a quarter of a century, and which is a very common, if not a very general use throughout the Church in our Country. No. 2 and 3, must refer to a very few and special services which were desired by some of the people, and which were so held as to interfere very little if at all, with the privileges of those who did not like such a service. Such an indulgence to the musical tastes of a part of the congregation might be premature, or inexpedient or unedifying, but it cannot be pronounced a violation of the order of the Church, such musical services are not common in America, but they are very common as well as ancient in England. They need not, and in the instance in Meadville I know they do not, imply any feeling or taste alien to our Anglican Communion and Church. No's. 4, 5, and 6, are, and long have been, among the allowed uses of the American Church. No's. 4 and 6 have been my own custom for more than a quarter of a century, and to No. 5, I can see no objection. I often meet the custom in and out of my Diocese. These items (4, 5 and 6,) may be questions of taste, but cannot be made questions of principle. No doctrine can be involved in them.

No. 7 is too general and indefinite a statement. I must interpret your words by my knowledge of the worship in your church. This leads me to infer only that for convenience of kneeling or worship, or for proper privacy in his own devotions, the minister may stand or kneel in the same direction with the people, not facing them, and that this has no significance beyond general convenience, propriety and reverence. The case being thus understood as I believe, that it fairly and truly ought to be, no devout churchman need deny his Pastor the comfort and edification in God's House which a minister craves as well as his people. My own feeling and custom express themselves in this answer. The rubrical posture of the Priest in consecrating the [12/13] elements in the Holy communion is "Standing before the Table." This, almost necessarily as our chancels are generally arranged, make most of the people who are kneeling towards the table, see the back of the Minister, if their eyes are lifted from their Prayer Books. How shall the Priest "stand before the table" and not have his back to the people? Those of you who have been present when I have administered the Holy Communion in your church, must have noticed that I have so stood "before the Table" in that one part of the Eucharistic service. I do not see how else the Rubric can be so accurately complied with. The point is one of no special moment. The consecrating Minister sometimes stands at the right side of the Table as in the ante-communion Service, but the natural meaning of the Rubric is the use which you seem to condemn.

Turning and bowing to the altar, as acts of reverence, or worship of any sort towards it, or to any person or presence or sacred thing there, or as implying any exageration or perversion of the Church's doctrine of the Holy Communion, would be grave error in opinion and use; but I know your Rector's Theology and custom too well, to have any apprehension of any such error in him.

As to the pledge to the Vestry which the Sector is alleged to have disregarded, of course I must wait some such complaint coming from the Vestry itself. I am however very sure that Mr. BYLLESBY is incapable of any wilful violation of his promise, and I ought also to add that the cordial and respectful terms in which many members of Vestry have spoken to me of Mr. BYLLESBY make me sure that no complaint is contemplated by these official representatives of the Parish. It is a very serious charge, this one of the forfeiture of one's word. Men in the world repel the charge with indignation, for it blights their good name. May I remind honorable laymen that like themselves, the clergy have some rights in this matter of character, and an honest pride in their good name; and that their hearts are as sensitive as those of other men to the intimations of dishonor? Need I remind any one that a clergyman's good name is dear to his home and his children and that the church counts on her laity protecting the reputation of her clergy as well as her own honor from inconsiderate and unjust reproach?

And now, dear Brethren, will you not all for Christ's sake and his Church's give up this opposition to your Pastor? If your Rectors are to be thus beset by objections and hindrances; if their office among you is to bring them little freedom to act and frequent occasion for humiliation [13/14] and disappointment, no man of energy or power will take the place. You have such a man now, and your congregation is thriving as it never did before in numbers and resources. You see this. I beg you to cease opposing the work. You cannot stereotype the church's feelings and modes after the mind or preference of any man, old or young, or after the custom, in little matters that happened to prevail a generation ago. Other men will have their wishes and tastes, and new generations will think and act for themselves; and if those put in chief control of the Church in a Diocese decide such matters of detail as it is their office to do, when discussions arise about them,--ought not orderly men at once, and cheerfully concur, and let the discussion drop? How else can the church perform in Meadville her proper and much needed work of declaring and sustaining the truth about our Redeemer's Deity as defined in the Creeds, and of manifesting forth her character and office as His Church and Kingdom among men?

Some of you, brethren, are now very aged men. Your time for doing good cannot be long. You hope that you have done the Church some good service in the past. I pray you to use the rest of your days and of your influence to promote that spirit of love, humility and peace which is so essential to the Church's order and growth, which so beautifies the closing years of good men; and so further their preparation for the clearer light and the fuller love of the Church in the better world. I am Brethren,

Truly and faithfully,

Your friend and servant in Christ,

Bishop of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh, Aug. 1, 1868.

Diocese of Pittsburgh

My grandfather was from Pittsburgh, and there he died. I have art on my wall from my grandmother who was a painter there in the 1920's - gorgeous impressionist views of the city. I have spent plenty of time walking around that three river city- whether Squirrel Hill, the parks, or the art museum. My aunt was a nun at St. Rosalia's on Greenfield Avenue, and as a clueless lad, my cousins and I walked from there all the way downtown in the mid 1970's, through what we realized was a fairly dangerous neighborhood. But we had no trouble at all.

Pittsburgh is a beautiful place, and now my sisters and brothers in Christ there are divided.

With the news of the schismatic efforts by the majority of clergy and lay delegates to convention there, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh continues in my prayers.

While I pray for all there, my ongoing concern will be for those who wish to remain Episcopalians there. I am intrigued that while the clergy voted for schism four-to-one, the laity voted by less than two-to-one in favor of schism. The clergy vote is less surprising, but the lay vote is very hopeful. Some seventy lay delegates voted against the move, and some sixteen parishes have for now identified that they intend to remain Episcopalian.

Those parishes are here identified as:

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
4048 Brownsville Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15227-3499

St. Barnabas Episcopal Church
989 Morgan St
Brackenridge, PA 15014

All Saints’ Church
3577 McClure Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15212 (
Brighton Heights)

St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church
139 North Jefferson Avenue
Canonsburg, PA 15317


Church of the Nativity
33 Alice Street
Pittsburgh PA 15205 (Crafton)

Calvary Episcopal Church
315 Shady Avenue
Pittsburgh PA 15206
(East Liberty)

St. Brendan’s Episcopal Church
2365 McAleer Road
Sewickley, PA 15143 (Franklin Park)

St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
5801 Hampton Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15206-1615
(Highland Park)

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church
336 East Tenth Avenue
Homestead PA 15120-1613

Church of the Holy Cross
7507 Kelly Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15208

Church of the Advent
51 South First Street
Jeannette, PA 15644

St. Michael’s of the Valley Episcopal Church
P.O. Box 336
Ligonier, PA 15658-0336

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
1066 Washington Road
Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228

Christ Episcopal Church
5910 Babcock Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15237-2548 (North Hills)

All Souls Episcopal Church
215 Canterbury Lane
North Versailles, PA 15137

St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church
149 Walnut Avenue
Scottdale, PA 15683-1940

St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church
2081 Husband Road
Somerset, PA 15501

Church of the Redeemer
5700 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15217 (Squirrel Hill)

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
600 Pitt Street
Wilkinsburg, PA 15221

There is more from the remaining Episcopalian blog Three Rivers Episcopal.

Martin Smith Quotation

A church that means business speaks to this crisis of meaning head on and is unafraid to talk of being saved. It encourages people to articulate their doubt, not just about this church teaching or that, but about the value and ultimate meaning of our fragile human lives on this little blue planet circling as a speck in a galaxy that is merely one of billions.

When I hear the gospel addressed to me in the midst of this vertigo of doubt, and accept its poignant insistence that our lives are meaningful because they are what God meant, and that we mean everything to him, and that he means to take us into his life by uniting us to the one who suffered with us and for us, whom he raised from the dead, I can say “This is what it means to be saved, and I want others to receive the same gift.”

Creeds Are Essential

In Episcopal Life, somebody wrote:

"...The Council of Nicea's purpose was to institutionalize Roman power and authority. We are Episcopalians and have been open to the Holy Spirit to help us in the evolution of our worship from the beginning. In the Nag Hammadi discoveries, we are now fortunate to have the gospels of Thomas, Philip and Mary Magdalene to read. None of the four original Gospels nor these new findings contain the creed..."

Honestly, when will it stop? When will people in a supposedly educated denomination actually do some historical reading? These statements are sophomoric and reflect a lack of any historical depth or sense. Yet, sadly, I hear and see this all the time.

The Nag Hammadi texts, while fascinating, were junked for a reason far more basic than 'imperial oppression of alternative Christianities.' They were junked because they're just not that great. Interesting to be sure - and worthy of preservation - for no books should be burned. But, truly, the far better case for equality and the inclusion of all human beings into the Kingdom and a better society can be made from the canonical Scriptures and the faith of the Nicene creed, than the jumble of thought and ancient weirdness that is to be found in the Nag Hammadi library.

The domination of biblical interpretation by status quo preserving males aside, the Bible itself is the key to true justice for all people. To be quite specific, the Nag Hammadi library are about as sexist as anything anywhere anytime - and more anti-semitic - more anti-creational - than most.

It wasn't Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code nonsense, but somebody has created a sound-bite and it just won't go away - and here it is:

"The Roman empire foisted the Nicene Creed and Canon of Scripture on the world to enforce imperial values and facilitate dominion over the hearts and minds of the Roman world."

Sorry, that's simply not a verifiable historical construction. Rome did plenty of damage - and the Constantinian arrangement indeed hurt the Gospel in my view.


First of all, as regards 'ending controversy' and promoting catholic Christianity as an imperial decree, Constantine was likely an Arian. Since Nicea the imperial force within the Church often was opposed to the Nicene faith, with 'Nicene' theologians like Gregory Nazianzen doing their most to resist the imperial efforts - and often failing. Moreover, Gregory and the Cappadocians took the lead of Macrina the Elder (and also later the Younger) in defending the 'catholic' faith. As regards the role of women, many took an incredibly powerful role in the synthesis between Church and Empire by virtue of their high-rank - see Helena, Olympias.

The problem with this dime-novel version of 'progressive Christianity' as put forth in books like the Da Vinci Code, and the work of Pagels, et. al., is that it belies the real truths of history, while conceding Nicene Christianity to those of the most conservative and anti-egalitarian mindset. Far from 'saving Christianity from fundamentalists' it actually hands over the catholic faith of the Creeds to them - and offers instead a non-historical, fantasy, New Age version to 'progressives.'

No, contrary to what these anti-Nicene folks think must be the case, the Nicene faith - the faith of the Creeds, of the Book of Common Prayer, of the Episcopal Church's formularies - is no small faith. It belongs to the saints of the ages, and carries forth the good apostolic message. The Nicene faith is the faith of Egeria, Melania, Julian, Helena, Macrina the Elder, the Cappadocians, the Eastern sages, the Irish monks, and the Christian leaders of the civil rights movement in the American South, and the anti-apartheid evil in South Africa.

Friends, please, the full baptismal covenant (which is built upon the faith of the Apostles Creed) is what we say we're all about - and not just a sentence or two.

Thanks be to God, the progressive catholic tradition so strongly witnessed to in the Book of Common Prayer, the Hymnal 1982, has social justice, equality between all human beings, and the desire to make a better world always in its heart, while at the same time fully affirming and cherishing the faith of the historic faith - attested to so well in Scripture, Nicene and Apostle's Creeds, dominical sacraments, and historic episcopate.

Ironically, in a world to which the Episcopal Church matters largely not a fig - those Episcopal ministries which are growing, vibrant and alive tend to be the ones that have remained intentional in the traditional elements of the faith, while also working for justice and a better world in which women, gay people, the poor, the marginal, the oppressed, and those with hearts beaten and broken can find full membership and joy in life in Christ in eucharistic community shaped by the biblical witness, the apostolic tradition, and the Nicene boundaries of essential theological proclamation.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Bishops of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania

Two diocesan bishops in Pennsylvania have been deposed in the past month. Bishop Charles Bennison last week received an ecclesiastical judgment against him on conduct charges, and Bishop Bob Duncan was deposed by action of the House of Bishops in September. The deposition of Bishop Duncan happened just weeks before the diocese was to vote on a Duncan-led effort to 'take the diocese out of the Episcopal Church.'

At any rate, it is a difficult time for Episcopalians in Pennsylvania's two 'big-city' dioceses. It is a curious now-historical fact that a leading voice of Anglican extreme conservativism - Bob Duncan - and a leading voice of Anglican extreme liberalism - Charles Bennison - should both have been deposed from sees in the same state, and within weeks of each other.

What matters of course is that there are thousands of faithful people in both dioceses - Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania - who need faithful Christian leadership and oversight. For those of us who deeply love this Episcopal Church - and who seek to keep the faith of Christ born, crucified, risen and coming again within this Episcopal Church - let us keep our brothers and sisters in Christ in prayer. I especially will keep those seeking to remain Episcopalian in the Pittsburgh area in my prayers. This is a time to bear with them in their struggles, and to pray that the Spirit provides for them.

A link for Pittsburgh Episcopalians here, a good blog from a faithful Iron City Episcopalian is here. And for Pennsylvania here.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The New York Times - Not Quite

A lifelong fan of the New York Times, I nonetheless agree with what it's more conservative readers say about it: That the Gray Lady uses its considerable power as the paper of record for the United States in the furthering of a generally liberal agenda. It does, not only on the editorial page, but in the way its editors feature and promote stories. All papers do this, of course. But given it's usually 'liberal' bent, I am consistently surprised that the Times, which one would assume would give friendly treatment to the similarly generally liberal Episcopal Church, often gives it poorly informed coverage.

In particular, comes yesterday's piece on the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and its place in the wider Anglican saga of these days. Here is the following quotation:

The drive to divorce the Episcopal Church arose after the election of V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire. But the secessionists say the issue is not simply about homosexuality. “Bishop Robinson is a symptom, not the cause of our disagreement with the Episcopal Church,” Mr. Frank said.

The dispute includes complaints that the national church allows open debate on whether Jesus is the Son of God, or that the only way to God is through Jesus — tenets of faith that conservatives find indisputable.

Now, it is indeed true that the 'secessionists' argue that the Episcopal Church is plainly apostate and heretical. And maybe we are - that's for the Lord Jesus to decide. Yet, while some Episcopalians may doubt whether Jesus is the Son of God, we do not as a church debate this. Certainly, we have our share of notably heterodox voices doing a lot of talking in the Episcopal Church - Spong being the poster bishop.

But, there is no debate that I'm aware of about the creedal faith - or in particular about the core proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, who by our definition is one with God.

Jesus is not merely the way to God we affirm, we proclaim that the Father and He are One.

It is worth saying that not only are we rank and file Episcopalians on this same message, but so is Gene Robinson himself.

No, the key issue continues to be whether or not Christians - who call Jesus Lord - can come to new ethical understandings based on the experience-, reason-, prayer- and tradition-informed interpretation of Scripture. That's what this is all about.

That and the weaknesses of human beings in a frail institution rife with baggage, structural difficulties, serious fissures of churchmanship and theology, and a world context bent on radical polarization.