The great unhappiness of Fergusson, Mo. #Fergusson

August 25, 2014

Thee seems to be a recurrent cycle in the development of news stories. Version A, trumped by Version B, none-calling and personal attacks. scapegoating,  Version C, Version D, more name calling, best story wins, and the poor people catch hell. So it goes in Fergusson, Mo. For the moment, it is America’s unhappiest. town.

If one is a little bit Reformed, the cause is obvious. Yes, three is racism for sure and you can easily find economic inequality. There is a prideful part of humanity that requires not only victory but the destruction of those holding different positions. The hyper-Calvinists call this disorder of the soul “total depravity.” For us Anglicans, that kind of language is awfully strong. We prefer talking about “the fall.”

So what?

The Reformed (include properly schooled Anglicans) know that the Civil Rights Movement may have passed some laws and changed a few customs, but human nature remains the same. We continue to be the same judgmental, power-hungry, greedy, and diligent guardians of the privileges bestowed on the fortunate. Yes, there is racism, and to admit its existence, like a rotting corpse concealed in the basement, is to expose ourselves to accountability. It is to deny what we say about ourselves when the flags are unfurled. We would rather turn our eyes away from the lingering consequences of slavery than get our nominally Christian hands dirty fixing anything.

The “fixing” part is difficult because, as was the case in the Civil Rights Movement, there is only so much even an entire generation can accomplishment. Human nature is still a mess and that can only be addressed  by putting on the new man of conversion and Baptism into the Body of Christ. That means being open to the leading of the divine Spirit. Too easy? Not if one is actually led into a new set of behaviors that walk away from the old cycle of suspicion and wishing the destruction of those that look, act and think differently.

If this individual change (some of us call it “regeneration”) is insufficient, then the gospel is a lie and the atheists are right. Even though the good outcomes of following Jesus are not immediately visible, we take up the cross anyway. Friends, it is a cross – an instrument of our own pending executions. It is faith and the power of God’s grace that moves Christians to act like Christians anyway. It is forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and taking up the cross. That is completely opposite from the name-calling and personal destruction that is Fergusson.

The Christlike version of change takes time. It takes so much time that it is typical to think that one has failed. This notion of success is a something that runs deep in the culture. It is the same strain that looks upon the poor as failures. The dominant American idea is that those who have less deserve all the bad things that happen to the powerless. Christians know that we are tested and one’s attitude toward and treatment of the less fortunate is a measure of character and part of the criteria on which we will be judged. That is God’s grace delivered by the hands of men.

 


National Group Goes After Preacher For Canceling Gay Man’s Funeral #gayfuneral

August 14, 2014

This story has been brewing for a few days now and I may, or may not, have a solid grasp of the facts. It would appear that a Florida man, Mr. Julion Evans, died and his family sought to use the facilities of a local church for funeral services. Here is where a little bit of nagging detail work would come in handy. It seems to me that the church granted permission for a non-member’s family to use the building. When the pastor became aware that the deceased was involved in a same-gender marriage, he cancelled the services. Then, as you will see from the link below, there were objections.

Fast-Growing Christian Organization Goes After Preacher For Canceling Gay Man’s Funeral.

It is hard to work up much sympathy for a preacher and a church that has such a shallow understanding of the Doctrine of the Church. I would bet good money that nobody ever asked any number of fundamental questions. That might include the following; was the deceased a baptized Christian? Did the deceased attend some other house of worship? Was he a Trinitarian? (Yes, it matters. I was about to say “sweat the small stuff,” but that is not small stuff.)

The Preacher, Rev. T. W. Jenkins probably thinks of his place of worship, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa, as nothing more than an auditorium. Under the circumstances, one can readily see how the mourning family might have the same opinion of the facilities. Nonetheless, churches are sacred spaces and set aside for divine worship. It is a well-established principle that all of the dead are worthy of proper burial, but not everybody is entitled to a “church” funeral. Catholics, by the way, include proper burial as one of the “corporal works of mercy.”

The Church is more than a building. It is the mystical body of Christ The Church includes “good” Christians, sinners, and those who are publicly and obstinately sinful. The Church takes a hard position against the latter. It seems here that there is nothing obstinate about the deceased, he was just a regular garden variety sinner. This is a nightmare of shallow theology and incompetence.

Considering that he had already granted permission for use of the church building, the church has caused a lot of inconvenience. Friends of the family are bound to show up at the wrong place at the wrong time. Jenkins should have offered to be present at the funeral and to offer some words of comfort. That is just a little short of a real “church” funeral, but it would provide some comfort. Yes, an apology is apparently due. Mr. Evans was no better or worse than you or me, a fallen sinner in need of God’s grace. If we are recipients of grace, we should also be dispensers of grace.

Let us not be fools. Rev. Jenkins was almost certainly hoodwinked. He was snickered by a group with an agenda and it worked. I think it needs to be clearly understood that a church has the absolute constitutionally protected right to decide who may receive the spiritual services of the house of worship. The group taking a lead position on this, Faithful America, resorts to simplistic arguments. “Love thy neighbor – no exceptions,” is the twisting of an Old Testament text and the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel. We are commanded, first, to Love the Lord completely and neighbors as ourselves. I prefer grace and truth, two qualities that are perfectly combined in the person of Jesus.

Truth includes the unpleasant reality of my sinful condition and my need for repentance. Because I am such a terrible sinner, it is easy for me to go a little easy on any homosexual. After all, the tendencies of the flesh are so powerful and we are so inclined to give in to wrong actions. The Good News is that Jesus put on human flesh and died so that we could be forgiven. Because he is fully human and fully divine, Jesus understands our temptations and is a merciful judge.


Robin Williams, suicide and Hell #robinwilliams #suicide

August 12, 2014

Two close friends have committed suicide, so this is no theoretical conversation to be conducted over cigars and Brandy. The wounds are still very raw. Knowing that I can never “recover” from another’s final act of desperation has taught me the depth of suffering that must be experienced by those who end their own lives.

Our society takes questions concerning life too lightly and suicide is generally seen as one more private decision for which each private and sovereign individual has exclusive responsibility. If that is the way you see it, no amount of argument is likely to prevail against so mighty a fortress. Before I give this to you straight, let me urge you to read every last word. This is no easy thing and I do not approach it lightly, nor in the spirit of judgment.

Suicide is a grave public sin. It is an offense against God’s generosity and an insult to those whom we should hold dear. According to the authoritative 1662 edition of the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, those who have laid violent hands upon themselves are not to receive the public funeral service of the church which is due believers. Such persons are denied burial in a church graveyard. When I was in first grade (1956?), the parent of a fellow student died. There was never another word said, but I learned later that the secrecy surrounding this death was because it involved suicide. There was once a very strong public attitude opposing this awful act, but we have changed.

You are probably saying right now that you are mighty pleased that our attitudes are much more enlightened and that we are not bound by the cruelty of a previous time. You are, to some extent, correct in your understanding. Let’s walk through this and sort things out.

The Prayer Book editors were correct to put a high sanction against the taking of one’s own life. They did not know it all, however. There are real facts concerning mental illness that are known and understood. To sanction a formerly depressed member makes as much sense as punishing somebody for having diabetes. There is a pastoral issue at work here and things will get a little dicey. Somebody who is known by his clergyman to be under a doctor’s care, getting therapy or taking drugs is plainly ill and entitled to the public rites accorded to those who are joined to the Body of Christ. While that probably does not apply to Mr. Williams public profession (I am deliberately being excessively generous), It could. His medical situation certainly tells us that the decision-making process was not working correctly.

Murder-suicide is another area and you can probably imagine how one might want to escape responsibility for taking life. No person who has done such a thing should receive a funeral or burial by the church. How can one say that the departed is laid to rest “in sure and certain hope” of the resurrection, except that they do not believe the words in the first place. Let us be clear that a minister may conduct services designed to comfort family and friends of non-believers and those who have committed serious public sins, but they should not pretend that the deceased is a believer or commended “in sure and certain hope.” As the church enters a difficult phase, it is most necessary to publicly profess the apostolic faith and to maintain integrity.

No matter Robin Williams’ attitude toward God, the Lord above is full of grace and mercy. None of us are fit to judge another person.


Passing on the Faith: Anglicanism’s advantages

August 1, 2014

One of my projects involves providing parents the theological and cultural background to help young people fit into the increasingly unfriendly American scene. I have been involved in planning a number of very exciting Sunday school classes on the topic. Such gatherings seem to be deliberately designed to be anything but exciting and rarely useful, but this was the big exception. One thing that made the programs “work” was the inclusion of college students and those who have graduated within the past decade. They were great! There were also a number of “expert” speakers on psychology and culture. All the  presentations were relatively brief. You might try it at your church. I can help.

One thing did get left out, and this might not apply to your congregation. It is my belief that Anglicanism has a tradition and set of practices that makes it especially relevent to these darker times. Anglicanism as we know it from the middle 1500s has passed through a good deal of persecution and civil war. Sometimes, to our great shame, Anglicans have represented the heavy hand of oppression. Who do you think the Pilgrims were running from anyway? In the United States around 1790 what group would be more excluded than the Church of England?

Anglicans have kept a catholic liturgy alongside a Reformed theology. Anglicans have a sense of the essentials and can also recognize the “extras.” At least, thoughtful Anglicans have this capability. Our capacity for disagreement and “tension” is almost scandalous. Clear thinking Anglicans are in possession of the skills to nurture and spread the gospel in the good times as much as the bad. This is what I am trying to teach. One does not have to be grumpy or nostalgic to be a traditional Anglican. It only takes a little knowledge and the Holy Spirit’s leadership.


Virginia church may look Anglican, but it’s fully Baptist

August 1, 2014

Here is the story of a Baptist church plant that is both liturgical and sacramental. What do you think. Give it a read and make a comment. We’ll rap.

Virginia church may look Anglican, but it’s fully Baptist | Virtueonline – The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism.


Why is passing on the faith a big deal?

July 29, 2014

Christian Foundations for Ministry just wrapped up a series of classes at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Little Rock. The concept is born from the apparent departure of many young people from Christian belief. In many ways, they are like their parents being over-worked, suspicious of authority, and unwilling to get mixed up in demanding social activities. There are plenty of reasons, and the truth is that most of us walked away from organized religion in the younger days.

Today is different because Christianity is being forced to accept its place as a cultural minority. For the modern believer, this new situation may not result in martyrdom, but a life of enforced irrelevance is certainly no fun. This reordering may or may not be permanent. The elements are present for all  sorts of misbehavior. The point is that young people will be in a very much worse environment than their parents.

The supposed “grown ups” are often disconnected from the realities that personally demean and discount the individual follower of Christ. For one thing, if one is entirely clueless about postmodernism, he is missing the foundation of much contemporary thought. The traditional apologetics does not fit into a world that is, first, relational, and otherwise suspicious of absolutes. Yes, this is very similar to a lot that was happening in the 70s, but the “other side” has all the presumption of place that was formerly the sole possession of Christians.

This is not very pleasant, but here we are at the beginning of the decline. Yes, we have the biblical hope for final victory, but Jesus has placed the gospel in human hands and evangelization is our responsibility. It is a direct order from the Head of the Church, the Great Commission. That’s the big deal.


A question for Arkansas Senatorial candidate Tom Cotton concerning “once-a-week-Christians”

July 15, 2014

Let me tell you that things down in Arkansas are a mess and I find the pending November elections to be an awful puzzle. The candidates are terrible, which is such a departure from the time that this small southern state produced national figures like Joe T. Robinson, J. William Fulbright, and Dale Bumpers.

Republican candidate for the United States Senate Tom Cotton recently accused incumbent Mark Pryor of being a “one-day-a-week-Christian.” Such accusations have no place in political campaigns in the first place, and the Constitution clearly says that government may not require religious tests of office holders. Yes, I do get the distinction, but I also understand the background and what should be a rule in all elections.  Furthermore, I am willing to stipulate that Pryor’s response was tepid, shallow and absolutely dreadful.

Since Mr. Cotton has taken it upon himself to publicly question the religious faith or another candidate, and presumably somebody he would count as a brother-in-Christ, I am wondering what steps Cotton went through before using the nuclear option. Did he follow the procedure laid out by our Lord, Savior, and Living Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, in Matt 18?

Did Cotton go in private and outline his concerns? (18:15)

I’m not making this up. If Cotton had done so, He might have won his brother. That is what Jesus says. If Prayer would not listen to Cotton, did the GOP candidate go again with others and address the issue in front of Witness? Again, Jesus says this is what Christians with disagreements are bound to do. (18:16) Some churches actually follow these steps. No foolin’.

The final step is to bring it to the Church. My reading on the subject, which is not exhaustive, SUGGESTS to me that Cotton should bring the issue before Senator Pryor’s church. (18:17) Some might hold that Pryor be questioned in Cotton’s Church. I doubt it, but this is an area in which I am open to instruction.  I should add that my readings about the following aspect of proper order, point to the purpose of church discipline as eventual restoration. I might mention here the writings of John Calvin and the Anglican Articles of Religion in support of my opinion. Looking at the words of Jesus in v. 17, it seems that even tax collectors and Gentiles are capable of repentance.

Since Mr. Cotton apparently holds himself out as something more than a Sunday-only kind of guy, it would be good to hear about his theological and biblical reflection on Mark Pryor’s alleged shortcomings. There are one or two further questions that need Mr. Cotton’s attention.

Why did he take church business, stuff that Jesus himself instructs to be kept inside the church, into the political arena?

Does Tom Cotton believe that the name of Jesus is glorified by the public airing of accusations among Christ’s followers?


Duke’s Final Day: A Reflection

July 15, 2014

Thee is a set of photos concerning a black lab’s last day that has gone viral. I have seen it and you probably have too. It is beautiful and at the same time it is hard. If you have recently lost a pet, watch at your own peril. This is a great story told with powerful images. Here’s the link.

This Dog’s Final Day Proves We Should Live Every Day Like It’s Our Last.

We lost Molly a year-and-a-half ago, so this subject is still upsetting. Who cannot be moved by a dog enjoying the things dogs enjoy, especially poured out in abundance. Two thumbs up for these striking photographs because I only have two thumbs.

It is possible that we do ascribe too much humanity to animals. There is a tendency toward sentimentalism in modern life and it is not one bit pretty. Still. dogs know when they are seriously ill and they understand when the end is near. It is very possible that a well-socialized dog like Duke would realize that the time has come for farewells.

Duke’s story certainly reminds us of God’s goodness in creation. Everything in the material order is good. It is my opinion, and this is probably no earth shaking piece of theological insight, that animals who become our pets foreshadow a time when everything will be reconciled and put in perfect order. This marvelous relationship of a family and Duke hints broadly that someday we will live together in peace. Humans will be at peace with their neighbors, at peace with the cosmic order, and finally  in God’s favor.

As to the rainbow bridge, I tend to doubt that our pets are waiting anxiously to meet us on the other side. I don’t know if we get out pets back in the Kingdom of the Heavens, but I sure hope so. Since we will be resurrected and reigning with Christ on earth, it would be difficult to imagine a world without dogs, so why not our favorites? It is just a thought and whatever God has in mind is right.

Good boy, Duke.


Should lay people study theology?

June 17, 2014

It is obviously a loaded question. What am I going to say? Heck, no! Why bother? It all turns out the same one way or the other. (By the way, that is a better argument than you may think!) If you come down the line of Anglicanism or some other liturgy-heavy form of worship, you have been confirmed (usually around age 12) and that is the PhD of religious studies for regular folks. Study is a load of work and, if you are not careful, it might change your mind. If could change your life. If things are going well, that is the very last thing you might desire.

In Matt 25, the Lord describes the Last Judgment and the process of handing out final grades. There is not the first hint of academic achievement but plenty about taking care of the least among us. So there! Case closed! No more Christian Education (and most of us hated it anyway!).

But how are we to know in advance of the Last Day? What source tells us that kindness towards the sufferers is one of the final manifestations of our Christian life? And what’s all this business of eternal punishment anyway? And, beside the fact that he is a really nice man, where did Jesus get that kind of authority?

Christians are obliged to take up the cross and follow Jesus (Lk 9:23). That does not sound very appealing. You can be darned sure that Jesus’ public relations consultant sat him down hard after that little slip-up. Most people do not have much of a stomach for executions, especially their own. What if Jesus really meant it? If the Christian life that hard? Why would anybody follow Christ, except to avoid that eternal punishment thing.

Is it possible that Christ has in mind something more than the avoidance of spending all time in a burning pit of suffering. If God has something more in mind for his righteous people, something very good and beautiful, we could only learn about it by study. That would take time and effort and the guidance of a knowledgable teacher.

God has a good future for his holy people. He intends for each of us to become students and to make students of others (Matt 28:18-20. Jesus set the example. Look how he quotes the scriptures and teaches from the law and the prophets. See how Jesus both teaches the written word but lives it out. That is what we must do in this world today.

 


The Sacred Page: God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day

May 28, 2014

Our Roman Catholic friends have some fine analysis of Ascension Day, which is properly celebrated on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter. Not many RC jurisdictions celebrate the correct day, moving it over to the following Sunday. Anglicans use the same readings which are discussed in detail on the Sacred Page blog.

The Sacred Page: God Mounts His Throne with Shouts of Joy: The Readings for Ascension Day.

And, by the way, I double-dog date my Anglican clergy friends to read the traditional, and amazingly beautiful, Collect for the feast.

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

 


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