What is the Church for?

Tags

,

church-fathers

The question of how we communicate Christianity is tied up with the question of what we think the Church is for. Too often discussions of this concentrate on what needs to be done to revive the Church (that is, what actions we need to take) rather than on what the Church is for (that is what God meant in founding it). Here I want to begin with some wise words from +Rowan Williams:

the Church is because God is and acts, not because of what we do or think. We did not invent the Church. The Church, the body of Christ, is given to us as the means of our particpation in an eternal reality .

He goes on to write: “to engage in mission is not to engage in a recruitment or publicity campaign. It is to seek day after day to extend the invitation built into God’s very being, the invitation to share God’s very life”. (God’s Church in the World, chapter 1).

Do we do this? To what extent does the prevelance of what one might call “management speak” in talking about the Church and its leadership get in the way of a theologically-informed approach to Ministry? As Professor Martyn Percy wrote in 2016 about the reform programme brought in by ++ Welby: “If the changes he is augmenting don’t have a theological root and depth, then the risk is that the change is one of mere pragmatism and expedient managerialism.”

It is sometimes said that whilst history does not repeat itself, historians do; the same thing might be said of large organisations. As anyone who has endured “Management training days” in any organisation will know to their cost, large organisations tend to buy into management-speak, with its “key performance indicators” (KPIs) and “performance targets,” often with the zeal of the neophypte convert. That said, it would be foolish to ignore gems of wisdom embedded in such programmes, though when examined they do seem to have a tendency to be statements of the blindingly obvious heavily disguised by jargon to make them sound more profound. When it comes to the Church, no doubt secular strategic theory has its place, but if it is not informed by faith, then it’s hard to see how the Church distinguishes itself from other organisations. If that is thought desirable, fair enough, but if it is an unintended by-product, that is a different matter.

Martyn Percy’s words here ring true four years after they were written:

Our calling is not to heroically rescue the church, or to save the world. God, in Christ, has already done both of these. It is this God we need to hear more about – and less about how people currently claim to be operating in his name.

Theology is not a detached exercise of the Christian intellect – or at least it ought not to be for a Christian – it is the life of the Body of Christ. As Rowan Williams has commented: “the Church cannot be reformed by human effort and ingenuity, any more than sin can be eradicated by good will.” (Gill & Kendall, Michael Ramsey as theologian, 1995, p. 12). If you define the Church as a human society for promoting certain kinds of behaviour or codes of practice as specified by an elite governing class, or if, in practice, that is what a Church becomes, and if your theology becomes, in effect an exercise in submission to one supreme legitimate source for imperatives in faith and morals, then that runs several sorts of risk – as history shows.

A Church which amounts to a supreme authority to which its members must unquestioningly submit runs the risks inherent in any organisation staffed by human beings. When Lord Acton commented that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely,” he was writing about the history of the Inquisition. As he told the then Bishop of London, Mandell Creighton:

There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means. 

Three phenomena tend to accompany such a vision of what Church is: outward conformity out of fear or self interest; conformity because of agreement; nonconformity and schism. The fruits of the former are inward corruption in a whited sepulcre; the fruits of the second are intellectual stagnation and want of lively minds; and the latter, well it usually ends up with the leaders of any particular sect doing precisely what they began by condemning the leaders of their old church for doing: rinse and repeat.

But if we define the Church as a Divine Epiphany, that is a showing of God’s love for us as revealed in Incarnation and Resurrection, and a revelation to us, albeit through a glass darkly, of what can be known about the Infinite by the finite, then we build on rock. We are Christians, that is we are “in Christ.” We can abandon the limitations imposed by our nature which makes us see the Church as a project begun by Christ through His Apostles, struggling against the forces of darkness in this world, and which needs the application of human wisdom through (take your pick) the Inquisition, the Reformation, schemes of Church planting, better management structures or the like, to survive; it already exists in its fullness which is the Eucharist. The real unity of the Church is a sharing of that sacrifice offered once and for all.

Theology and history point, perhaps, in this direction. In the recent post on Junia, the question was asked “what did St Paul mean by ‘Apostle?'” The Bishop or priest presides at the celebration of the Eucharist in order to let the Messiah act through him (or, in the Anglican understanding, her). The first Apostles were not there by some decree of Canon Law, or because of some semi-occult belief that they had special powers denied to others, but because they represented Christ. It is in that showing that the Church exists in its fullness.

In its language and actions the Church is an assembly which draws us towards a fuller, deeper understanding that through the Incarnation and Resurrection, God’s love is poured out for us, not was poured out, but is poured out. It is because of this, because the Eucharist is the essence of the Church that we have missed it so much.

 

How are we to communicate?

Tags

,

Julian

The question of language is a vital one for the Church. How do we communicate the Word of God? This is a complex issue, bound up as it is with questions of culture (local, national and institutional, to name but three), personal formation, and individual preferences.

For the longest time in the West, the preferred text of Scripture was in Latin, although, of course originally, none of the text was in that language. Across time, the result of this was that the Scriptures were the preserve of a small elite, and the growing feeling that this was hardly what Jesus meant led to an irrisistible demand for texts in the vernacular. Now, of course, this is taken for granted, and being what we are by fallen nature, we can now argue, instead, over which version of the vernacular we prefer; but at least the words of Scripture are now available to all who wish to have access to them.

There are those who sometimes wonder whether this is such a good thing, as people will interpret the texts for themselves, but then they always did, even when the only people with access to them were priests and bishops; as anyone familiar with the early Church can attest, limited circulation of the text did not mean that there was anything like a uniform interpretation available.

One of the huge benefits of something we now take for granted, that is the ready availability of the Bible in a language, and even in the version of it that suits our taste, is that we can engage with it as individuals. Surely that is part of being a Christian? We develop a relationship with Scripture as we do, through it and the Church, with God. These wise words by the Rev Jessica Martin struck me as I read them this morning:

Like all relationships, it will have appalling, jagged gaps, breakdowns that seem insuperable. I will sometimes argue with it, sometimes be angry, sometimes disagree. That is how conversation is. For scripture, its crucible of meaning is the receiving intelligence, history, body, and affections of the reader. Scripture makes itself vulnerable to my flaws and to my failures of understanding; the trust goes both ways. I am not expected to be “mute and spiritless” before its holy voice.

The whole piece is worth reading reflectively.

Here I want to focus on one part of what she has to say here:

we have a huge communication gap between our worship and our reasoning. In worship, we don’t talk much about how to believe in poetic connections. And we divorce our reasoning from our corporate worshipping life, and so from our communal heart.

There is much wisdom in this, too much for a short essay to unpack, but let me offer a few preliminary reflections and hope that your comments, and further thought, will take me forther.

It is easy for our worship to fall into one of two styles: the one formal, even archaic; the other informal and even anarchic. As someone whose preferences tend to the former, and whose character shies (literally) away from what I would probably (perhaps wrongly) call “over-emotionalism” (confession time, I am actually comfortable with sharing the “peace”), I would rather worship where there is due order and the rubrics are followed. But I try not to mistake my personal preference for any kind of norm, and I am alert to the difficulty that those who drop into Church for the first time might encounter. I suspect those difficulties exist in a similat way in Churches where the worship style is more informal.

That raises a larger topic for another day, which is how Churches interact not only with their regular congregations, but with those who might want to come to Church but not get terribly involved. One of the effects of the pandemic has been to emphasise how important the place of worship is. There are those who say that it does not matter that Churches have been closed, we can worship God anywhere. The latter part of that sentence is correct, the first part of it betrays, I fear, an impoverished view of how individuals react to the numinous. It is not, at least for me, just the absence of the Eucharist, it is something more imtangible and poetic. T.S. Eliot expresses this best in “Little Gidding”:

It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.

That “kneeling where prayer has been valid” matters to me, because Eliot is right, prayer in more than “an order of words.” That takes me back to another insight from Dr Martin’s article:

When we reason at arm’s length with inert lumps of text, we cannot recognise how they and we communicate. But scripture in worship comes into the unfolding history of Now, binding together those who take part and making it more likely that they will take care with fragile shared meanings. Worship is recognised as a form of encounter. Enacted words are pregnant with change.

Just as in the Incarnation, the Word in becoming flesh, made Himself vulnerable to our frailties in order to heal them in His death and resurrection, so does His written word become vulnerable to our limitations of understanding, but through His Church and our worship, transcend them to help transform us.

 

 

Junia: a puzzle

Tags

,

 

junia

My thanks to the many who replied positively to yesterday’s post, and in the spirit of that, and as an homage to Jessica, I want to begin the next eight years with a topic which risks taking us back to polemical times, but in a way which invites, I hope, a more considered response. I would add that this is not me advocating any change in my own church, whose position seems clear except to those who don’t like that position. Here goes.

Toward the end of St Paul’s letter to the Romans (and yes, I know that there are those who think it wasn’t by St Paul, but the Church, and Tradition do, and that does it for me) is this salutation:

Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners: who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

At least that’s what the Douay-Rheims translation says, as does the American Standard version and the New Life version. The assumption is that this is a male name, athough scholars have been unable to provide any other examples of the name “Junias;” there are numerous examples of the female name, “Junia.” In his homily on Romans, Ambrosiaster, who was writing in the second half of the fourth century wrote:

“Think how great the devotion of this woman Junia might have been that she should be worthy to be called an Apostle!”

Professor Moo, in his great commentary on Romans offers a typically balanced view:

“Paul’s mention of nine women in this list reminds us (if we needed the reminder) that women played an important role in the early church … Ministry in the early church was never confined to men; these greetings and other similar passages show that women engaged in ministries that were as important as those of men. We have created many problems for ourselves by confining ‘ministry’ to what certain full-time Christian workers do. But it is important that we do not overinterpret this evidence either, for nothing Paul says … conflicts with limitations on some kinds of women’s ministry with respect to men such as I think are suggested by 1 Tim. 2:8-15 and other texts.” (Douglas J Moo, New International Commentary (1996)).

The idea that the name “Junias” was to be preferred to the reading “Junia” was a twentieth century phenomenon, based on the assumption that since an “apostle” had to be male, “Junias” had to be the correct reading. The probability that the name is “Junia” and therefore a woman, has, naturally enough, led some modern scholars to argue that this supports the idea of women as priests. That may be as much a case of reading into the text what one wants to read, as the older idea that “Junia” was not a possible reading because a woman could not have been an apostle.

If we assume that “Apostle” is always a position of authoritative leadership, then the case for a female priesthood is certaily strengthened; but must it be read that way? Often Paul uses the word to denote a messenger or emissary (1 Cor. 15:5,7; 1 Cor. 9:5-6; Gal 2:9), and that may be the case here. Just because scholars in the last century went out of their way to insist the name was male because a woman could not be an “apostle’, that is no reason we should do the same the other way – understandable as that temptation might be. (Chapter 9 of Epp, Junia).

One of the problems, or so it seems to me, is that this issue gets swallowed up in an agenda-driven way. On the one hand a swift resort to a version of what Professor Moo has written, which emphasises the other possibilities, minimising the possibility of Junia being an Apostle in the strongest sense of that word. On the other, a ready resort to the claim that it can only be read in this sense seems unwise.

At this point the argument can get taken up with either explaining away or emphasising 1. Tim 2 11-15, 1 Cor 11: 2-16, 1 Cor 14:34-35, and in the literature it is easy to discern why one choice or the other is made. It is important here to emphasise that such discussions take us into the wider realm of how we read Scripture, and how tradition should weigh in the balance. What cannot be in doubt is that for much of the history of Christianity women have not had a sacramental ministry, whatever may, or may not have been the case with the “Apostle” Junia.

If Junia and other women were “Apostles” in the stronger sense of the word  then would it make a difference? Well, it would tend against the argument that Jesus chose only men, not least because we know there were many women followers and He appeared first to a woman, but I really don’t want to go down that route here, not least because the chance of it not provoking people is zero. But it is worth reflecting on the experience of the one big communion which has had women priests and bishops, the Anglicans. There, I think many who were against the idea for the usual reasons would say they have found the contribution of their new colleagues invaluable and that women have added a dimension to ministry which, perhaps, Junia would have recognised. Certainly, in my own dealings with women priests, I have been nothing but impressed by what they bring to their vocation, and without their contribution things would be poorer. At that point, I shall stop and await comment.

Looking backward and forward

Tags

cropped-cropped-cropped-cropped-desert_monast-sm-6824003811.jpg

In the site notifications this morning came the news that it is eight years since Jess set this site up. I thought it right to notify her and she was glad to hear that it was still active and wished all old friends well; but she indicated firmly that her life is now cast in other directions. That left open the question which has exercised me for some time, which is what is this blog for?

It’s original, somewhat polemical character was retained, as it seemed to me, as acting editor, not my place to revise it. It made it difficult for me to blog regularly once I took on a new post in 2016, partly because ill-wishers were apt to comb it for “mico-aggressions” about which they could then use to complain to my employers; some liberals in academia are not, alas, very liberal in anything other than the licence they accord to their own feelings. Not wishing to cause difficulties for others, and given the pressure on my time, I withdrew from regular blogging. But this place has a life of its own and it continued thanks to the efforts of others.

The reminder of the eighth anniversary and Jess’s formal withdrawl seem to me an occasion for a review, and to that end I’d like to solicit comments from those who write and read this blog.

I have just done something I do rarely, that is to block a commentator. There are limits beyond which the hospitality of any site should not be tested, and an Orthodox commentator trespassed them. I have no problem with a certain waspishness of tone, and indeed, having been guilty of it myself, it would be hypocritical to complain of it in others; but all things in moderation, otherwise moderation of another sort is in order.

I have deliberately not commented on intra-Catholic issues for a number of reasons: there are many others better-qualified than me to do this, just as there are others less qualified; I don’t, in all honesty, have anything to add that would be edifying; and I find it quite tedious. Those who want to argue over whether the current Pope is the real Pope can do so in the many parts of the internet where they will find congenial company. For me, he’s the Pope and that’s all I really have to say on the matter.

What I have done latterly, is what I did four years ago, which is to comment on theological issues and on the intersection between Faith and the public square, and that is what I intend to continue to do. If there are any topics people think of particular interest, let me know; if you’d like to write here, let me know.

There is a rich back catalogue of pieces here, and whether I agree with what others have written or not, I am letting them stand for the edification, or otherwise, of the reader, and I commend them to those who peruse these pages.

I’d like to thank those who have contributed here across the last eight years, and to fromally thank Jess for her founding the site and all she contributed before life took her in other directions. All those who have written here have my thanks; I have learned much from you all. So, in short, I intend to continue to blog as often as I can. Christians are not Christians in isolation, we are part of a community, and this community, after seven years here, is part of me.

Thank you, all those who have shown and show an interest in this, and here’s to another eight years.

The prodigality of God

Tags

, ,

Prodigal

Today’s reading for morning prayer was Luke 15:11-end. As I reflected on it I was struck, not by the action of the Father, or the forgiveness of the son or the grudging spirit of the eldest son, all of which are my usual focus, but by the prodigality of God. By any standards of any time the actions of the Father go above and beyond any expectations. The younger son has dishonoured the family name, he has wasted a portion of the family inheritance and has brought shame upon his father. It is to his credit that he realises this and wants nothing more than a place among the hired servants; he knows he has forfeited any rights his birth might have conferred upon him; he has thrown them all away, and on nothing of value and for nothing of value, unless, of course, the wisdom of hindsight is thought to be worth it.

The Father’s love is prodigal. Running was something done by servants and children, elders did not run; yet the Father runs. He runs not to an honoured guest who by the standards of the time would have brought honour on him and his household, but to someone who has done the opposite.

The Father has already gone beyond anything reasonable in dividing the inheritance, he is under no social obligation even to receive his dishonoured son; had he reacted as his eldest son did no one could have complained. Sin has consequences, moral hazard demanded that the sinner suffer. But again, the Father  goes above the beyond. He forgives, welcomes and restores the penitent.

The God we see revealed here is indeed “Love.” He is lavish, his bounty is inexhaustible, even, to our way of thinking, wasteful. The elder son reacts as we might well, and as we might take our faith to require us to act – were it not for what Jesus says here. He who was lost has been found, and we see what He means when He says there is more joy over one sinner saved than in many righteous people.

How unfair that sounds to our ears. How can those who come at the last hour get the same as those who were there from the start? Those who faithfully observe the commandments (and often, as faithfully observe those who do not), who tithe, who love their neightbour as themselves and give of their substance to the poor, have they not deserved the Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus’ answer is “no.”

We cannot and do not “win” our way to Heaven. Grace is free to all who will receive it, as is forgiveness. That is a prodigality as beyond our comprehension as the love of God is. These are words we can understand only in relation to what we know and feel. Which of us would die for someone who was indifferent to us? God is indifferent to none of us; if He seems far off, it is we, not Him, who is far off.

He is there. He waits. He will run to us. He loved us first. Let us do the same.

Tradition

Tags

,

Pope Francis Not Catholic Enough

I was saddened by Scoop’s comment yesterday.

I personally have given up on going to or giving money to the Novus Ordo Church in the US and will have to do with a parish visit every now and then when a Traditional Mass is available. And I would never have thought of doing such previously but things have devolved so rapidly here in the US. I am grateful that I can do this in accordance to Canon Law; being exempt from my Sunday Obligation in lieu of my age and my physical constitution.

Although he and I have not always agreed, I have never for one moment doubted the depth and steadfastness of his faith, which is why reading this heartfelt cry made me sad. I understand, as many will, his reasoning. It raised in my mind the subject of tradition and change.

Living things change, it is the pre-eminent sign of life; what does not live begins to decay or, at best, can be embalmed in preservatives; but Christianity lives, which means it changes.

Every time the Gospel is preached something changes, every time someone turns to Christ they are changed. The Apostles did not celebrate the Liturgy  as established at the Council of Trent, indeed, they did not even read the Gospels in their Churches, and they certainly did not have statues of Jesus or Our Lady, white, brown or yellow. Wherever the Apostles went, they encountered a local culture, and as we see in Acts, they brought the Good News into that context and changed it; but they also adapted to local conditions. There was no insistence on a one-size fits all model, and those who, like St James and the church in Jerusalem, tried to insist on one, failed to get their way. Had they done so, it would have been, as St Paul knew (which is why he was so passionate about it) far more difficult for the Faith to have spread as it did. There were those who disapproved, and no doubt those who turned away sadly because they thought they had much to lose (as Jewish Christians did in terms of family contacts if they ate with Gentiles). But the pattern set then continued, and it was, and is, one of continuity and adaptation.

Thus, as far back as we can trace, Christians have met to break blessed bread and share blessed wine in memory of the Last Supper and as a sign of the Resurrection. The early Church argued, as the modern one has, about what “in memory of me” meant, and whether, and even how, the bread and wine became the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ; but whether literally, symbolically or as a memorial, Christians have gathered in communion from the earliest times. In some traditions bread and wine have always been distributed, in others it has from time to time been held that since the Lord in fully present under both species, bread alone is sufficient. In some traditions there has been a continuous tradition of the bread being just that, an actual loaf; in others, a wafer has come to represent that bread. Having communed in both ways, I have to say I prefer bread, but having been denied the Lord for so long, I will take and eat whatever a priest has consecrated.

From earliest times Christians have wanted to know more about Jesus. The Gospels originated as a response to this need. They have also argued and disagreed about matters, and the letters of Paul, John, Peter and Jude originated as part of the attempt to deal with the questions asked and answered by the first Christians. Fierce arguments flared about the day of the Sabbath and the date of Easter, and Christians argued about whether celibacy was mandatory for all, or just for priests, or even for them, taking their evidence from where they found it, or claimed to, in Scripture.

The question of what was and was not Scripture also exercised Christians from very early on. When St Paul wrote that every word of Scripture was “God-breathed” he did not add “and that includes what I have just written to you, so behave and stop arguing with me.” But from very early on, contrary to modern myths, there were only ever four Gospels accepted, and those are the ones we have received. Originally in Greek (although some see behind the Greek traces of Aramaic), in the West they came to be translated into Latin, and fairly quickly St Jerome’s Vulgate became the accepted text. No doubt there were those who protested that this was not the same as the Greek, but in the West for centuries, the Vulgate was the Bible, and when locals began wanting it in the vernacular, there was opposition, just as once it was in the vernacular, later generations protested attempts to modernise the language. But all these changes were in response to changed contexts, and contexts have not ceased to change. Brought up on the King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer, I have to admit to loving them both, and though I am well aware of the various deficiencies time and scholarship may have shown up, they still stir my imagination and my heart in a way the modern Catholic Missal and the New Jerusalem Bible fail to match; but for others, those texts I love so much, are obstacles to understanding and belief, and since no one has ever seen fit to elect me Pope, I accept what the Church tells me.

We like what we are used to, and for some of us the process of adaptaing to change is painful, especially when that change does not seem to be one for the better. This is where one can only pray for our priests, bishops and the Pope.

The Church is universal, but local; we do not live in the universal or worship there; we do that locally. There has to be unity, but within that there has to be diversity, just as there has to be commonality and independence; continuity also involves change. And here lies the problem.

As we see at the moment with some of the rhetoric of “Black Lives Matter”, there are interest groups who will always assert that their views have to have precedence, and if that means that other must be made to do as they want, so be it, because in their eyes what they want is the right thing. But as Christians we are called to a higher vision of the human condition, recognising as we must that such assertions are manifestations of our fallen nature. We are called to humility and self-restraint. We are the branches, not the vine, and the latter is not to be defined by the former. As Dean Martyn Percy has commented: “There seems little understanding than an unfettered claim to act freely can become antisocial, or even unethical. Great freedome comes with great responsibility.” (Percy, Thirty Nine New Articles, p. 31).

Obedience is the hardest of Christian virtues. Of only one thing can we be sure, that if it is of the Spirit, change will last, and if not, then not.

 

 

 

“God talk”: an opportunity?

Tags

, , ,

North

Some have taken yesterday’s post to be hyper-critical of ++ Justin, a reminder that the post-modernists have a point when they say the author of a text has no control over how it is read. It seems to me that the Archbishop’s words have been taken out of context, but that even in context, they show a deafness of tone which is worrying.

The Very Reverend Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, commented some years ago that “one of the disappointing and alarming features of ++Justin’s primacy is his refusal to birth his proposed reforms in any good theology.” For Professor Percy, the heart of the problem is “++ Justin’s bewildering reluctance to talk about God.” That is not a problem confined to one Communion. The speed with which, mainly white Bishops moved to condemn the “systemic racism” of their own churches, has been contrasted by some with the want of serious theological talk about the pandemic and the place of Christianity at this time. Others think that unfair and point, rightly, to the good work done on parishes up and down the land.

One of the best analyses of how Christian churches should respond in the aftermath of Covid19 is that of the Bishop of Burnley, The Rt. Rev. Philip North in the Church Times, where he writes:

First, it is revealing something about our national life, and any attempt to rethink the ministry of the Church of England must begin with an attentive listening to the culture that it is our task to transform in Christ.

This is a brave and evangelical approach, but +Philip is clear:

We need priests — and bishops — who see themselves not as functionaries of an organisation, but as free-roaming evangelists in the style of Aidan or Cuthbert.

There is, of course, here the danger identified by Adrian Hilton (“Cranmer”) in his discussion with Professor Percy, that there is “no point teaching if no-one is listening.” But +Philip sees in the events of the past few months a period where, despite churches being closed, people have been listening, and may remain attentive – for a while:

we are seeing the unpicking of the lie that people today are not interested in the gospel. We have, instead, a nation relearning how to pray, looking to us for answers to the big questions, and accessing church life through online means in a way that we could not have imagined possible six months ago. Some studies reckon that one in three of the population have attended online worship since lockdown began. One Sunday, the Christians crashed Zoom.

At the same time, the economic and social consequences of the “lockdown” period are likely to be severe, and that part of parish ministry which has been quietly devoted to foodbanks and helping those bady hit, is only going to increase. As one whose family benefitted from such an initiative during industrial action in the mid-1960s, I can attest to the lasting effect of such a ministry; the Church was there for my family when no one else, including the Union which had called the strike, was.

Bishop Philip is right to say:

We now need to be ready to honour and acknowledge this new generation of lay leaders who have learnt how to use their gifts in Christ’s service, and who will not be happy to be mere consumers again.

To quote Professor Percy again (and yes, I know there may seem to be an irony in juxtaposing him with +Philip in view ofhis part in the former not becoming Bishop of Sheffield, but that just shows God’s providence, and maybe His sense of humour): “Theology and faith is always contextual, but that does not suggest an ultimate capitulation to relativism.” (Percy, Thirty-Nine New Articles, 2013, p. 19). A Church which, in times of crisis, adapts to bring the Word of God in action to those in need, has in the past, and can again, help transform the society within which it is set.

And this is where Professor Percy and +Philip are at one. If the Church is to meet the challenge set then it will need to be theologically-grounded as well as nimble. That would require it to move beyond the current “understanding of the diocese as an organisation, and its bishop and clergy as no more than “leaders”.

a diocese is not an organisation. It is a communion: a network of sacramental relationships flowing from the bishop, which together make up part of the body of Christ. Rather than draw everything into the centre, perhaps we need smaller, looser, central structures, which trust the local and encourage resourceful leadership; a bishop would offer oversight, but not control

In Professor Percy’s words, there needs to be more“God talk” and it needs to inform and drive how the Church reacts:

If A nation is, indeed, turning again to its Church, now is not the time to withdraw and manage decline. This crisis is showing us patterns of ministry which can enable us to reconnect to the culture and recapture imaginations with the gospel.

What +Philip writes, although addressed to a predominantly Anglican audience, is true for all Christian Churches.

There is a hunger for something beyond the material rewards offered by the consumerism that has been dominant in the West for so long. The question is whether the Churches are led by those who can seize the opportunity identified by Bishop Philip North.

White Jesus?

Tags

,

Justin Welby

In an interview on Friday, the head of the Church of England said the west in general needed to question the prevailing mindset that depicted Christ as a white man in traditional Christian imagery.

Thus the Archbishop of Canterbury. The second paragraph is in a sense a non sequitur because if, as he rightly says:

“You see a black Jesus, a Chinese Jesus, a Middle-Eastern Jesus – which is of course the most accurate – you see a Fijian Jesus.”

what on earth could be wrong with seeing a white one in a country where the majority population is white? Still, in the current climate, it is no wonder his words have been seen by some as virtue-signalling to the BLM trend. This interpretation is all the more plausible in the light of his comment about statues and imagery in chg

 “Some names will have to change. I mean, the church, goodness me, you know, you just go around Canterbury Cathedral, there’s monuments everywhere, or Westminster Abbey, and we’re looking at all that, and some will have to come down. But yes, there can be forgiveness, I hope and pray as we come together, but only if there’s justice.”

Of course, real cultural sensitivity might have cautioned the Archbishop of a Church which broke up much of the stauary and art inherited from the Middle Ages, against mentioning that subject, but maybe it’s an example of that “white privilege” we hear so much about that he failed to virtue signal here; a rare missed opportunity, perhaps?

In fact, he specifically did not say that statues in Canterbury Cathedral would be taken down, and he avoided any reference to the way in which the Church might have benefitted from the money of slave-traders and owners in the past; one would like to think that was because of the self-evident absurdity of the idea. Fortunately, in these ecumenical times, the Catholic Church will not be asking for its property back.

Reading the Archbishop’s words, as opposed to the selective use of them by the media and his critics, he’s stating what, in other contexts would be called “the bleeding obvious.” Jesus comes in all colours because all of us tend to visualise Him as one of us, and He is, of course, one of us. Most people know this, and it fails to exercise most of us most of the time; which invites the question of whether the Archbishop was well-advised to stray into this area?

Jesus was incarnate, died and rose again to save all who will receive Him. We are incarnational creatures and we imagine in colour, even in white. It would be wiser to concentrate on this truth.

 

Christianity without Christ?

Tags

, , , , ,

Gene Veith at Cranach had an interesting post yesterday on whether the Christian virtues can survive without Christianity. I think this ties in well to mine on NEO today on the immorality of Christian clergy supporting BLM, instead of continuing our own mission, the most successful in helping the disadvantaged in history, by far. Here’s part of Gene’s article.

The secular British historian Tom Holland has published a new book entitled Dominion:  How the Christian Revolution Remade the World (Basic Books).  Here is the summary from Amazon.com:

Crucifixion, the Romans believed, was the worst fate imaginable, a punishment reserved for slaves. How astonishing it was, then, that people should have come to believe that one particular victim of crucifixion-an obscure provincial by the name of Jesus-was to be worshipped as a god. Dominion explores the implications of this shocking conviction as they have reverberated throughout history. Today, the West remains utterly saturated by Christian assumptions. As Tom Holland demonstrates, our morals and ethics are not universal but are instead the fruits of a very distinctive civilization. Concepts such as secularism, liberalism, science, and homosexuality are deeply rooted in a Christian seedbed. From Babylon to the Beatles, Saint Michael to #MeToo, Dominion tells the story of how Christianity transformed the modern world.
His book shows just how different Christian values and ethics were from those of the Greeks and the Romans and how the Christian mindset has prevailed in Western Civilization even among his fellow secularists.  (Holland is an atheist.)  The Greeks, for example, considered compassion, for example to be a weakness, not one of the highest virtues as Christianity made it.  The principle from Christianity that all human beings have equal value was incomprehensible to the hierarchies of ancient Rome.  Today we assume that peace is better than war, a legacy of Christianity utterly foreign to the ancient Greeks, Romans, and European tribes.

It’s something that is easy to forget, and mostly we have.

Holland appears to think that it’s possible to have the fruits without the faith, to have Christian influence without the Christianity.  Strand, however, disagrees:
Christian ethics cannot be about merely upholding and claiming certain values that flow from the Christian faith. That would be to mistake the fruit from the tree. The very center of the Christian life is not what the cross teaches us morally but what the cross did for us in atoning for our sins and bringing us from life to death in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The transformation of the person from death to life and the ultimate union with the Triune God in the City of God is the goal of all Christians. Their works of mercy and sacrifice for neighbor and their culture-building over millennia are a testament of this transforming power. We make a mistake if we think the fruit is the goal or that we can separate the fruit from the tree that produced it.

I would say that although principles such as love, equality, compassion and the like are still dominant, even among the secularists, they are starting to fade.  Certainly those who no longer believe in the key Christian teachings of atonement and redemption will have difficulty with the concept of forgiveness, and we are seeing that.  Secularists today say they believe in equality, but they are also demonizing and deriding the worth of those with whom they disagree.  And the strange embrace of abortion on the part of so many secularists, even liberals and progressives, undercuts their claim to be compassionate and supportive of the powerless.  It is, in fact, a reversion to the Greco-Roman practice of infanticide, with everything else that implied about the value of human life.

I should at this point go on and add examples of my own, but two things, I think this is perfectly lucid, clear, and self-evidently correct. Our morality will never stand on its own, its foundation is in our hope of redemption, not in earthly values. To claim otherwise is sophistry and sophistry which history has shown to be false. Without the hope of redemption, we return to the dog eat dog world of Greece and Rome, where the only reason for doing anything is self-aggrandizement. We see that happening already in our so-called elites, who are mostly post-Christian, for not believing in God, they seem to only believe in earthly acquisition and what may be even worse, they seem to think this is a zero-sum game.

Well, Christ taught us better, as they will find out one day. After all, the Lord did say, “Vengeance is mine”. And as I’ve said a few times, without hell there can be no heaven.

Iconoclasm

Tags

walsinghamprioryarch

 

We have been here before, at least in England and other parts of Christendom. It has been estimated that upto ninety percent of the artwork of medieval England was destroyed at the Reformation. The “Reformers” regarded statues as idols and broke and burnt them. The statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, along with the medieval Abbey, one of the greatest pilgrimage sites in Europe, was destroyed. There was only one way to regard such statues – idolatry – and if you failed to agree, then you too were marked for destruction. Depressing as it is, we seem to be here again.

The original Christian iconoclasts were led by Emperor Leo III (717-741) who banned the use of images and had many destroyed. John of Damascus led the argument against the iconclasts, and at the Seventh Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 787, the Empress Ireme secured a victory against iconoclasm. One of the proximate causes of the crisis was the fact that the new religion of Islam took a very hard line indeed on images, and there had been those in the Church who thought that by taking the same view, they could stem the rise of Islam. They were wrong. So were those who thought that Nicaea 787 had solved the problem.

There seems to be, in our fallen nature, an almost Caliban-like instinct to destroy images our ourselves – perhaps some cannot bear to look into the mirror, like Shakespeare’s Caliban. There will, of course, always be those whose attempt to regulate thought includes governance over what might and might not be displayed in public, whether it is the ankles of a woman or the statue of someone of whom they disapprove.

In democratic countries there is a legal process by which statues can be erected, and there is one by which they can be removed, which is why comparisons with what happened in the former Communist bloc and Iraq are wide of the mark. It may be that there are those who think mob rule preferable to the tedium of democratic process, but it may be unwise to pay them Danegeld.

Historically, destroying representations of people has tended to be accompanied by harming real people. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and every human life is sacred. Orthodox Christianity has tended to eschew iconoclasm for good reasons. now is not the time to change. As a reminder of the past, I include not a statue, but a poem:

 

A Lament for Our Lady’s Shrine at Walsingham

In the wracks of Walsingham
Whom should I choose
But the Queen of Walsingham
to be my guide and muse.

Then, thou Prince of Walsingham,
Grant me to frame
Bitter plaints to rue thy wrong,
Bitter woe for thy name.

Bitter was it so to see
The seely sheep
Murdered by the ravenous wolves
While the shepherds did sleep.

Bitter was it, O to view
The sacred vine,
Whilst the gardeners played all close,
Rooted up by the swine.

Bitter, bitter, O to behold
The grass to grow
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did show.

Such were the worth of Walsingham
While she did stand,
Such are the wracks as now do show
Of that Holy Land.

Level, level, with the ground
The towers do lie,
Which, with their golden glittering tops,
Pierced once to the sky.

Where were gates are no gates now,
The ways unknown
Where the press of peers did pass
While her fame was blown.

Owls do scrike where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung,
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.

Weep, weep, O Walsingham,
Whose days are nights,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to despites.

Sin is where Our Lady sat,
Heaven is turned to hell,
Satan sits where Our Lord did sway —
Walsingham, O farewell!