Thinking Out Loud

November 26, 2012

No Women Bishops in the C. of E., For Now

There are probably more female clergy in the Church of England and its north American counterparts — The Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church in the U.S. — than in many other Protestant denominations. But a glass ceiling formally exists preventing women from rising to the rank of bishop (literally ‘overseer’ in scripture).

Superficial media reports suggested that the recent attempt to change the rules failed because the two-thirds majority required for change wasn’t attained, but that’s an oversimplification of how the vote took place.

In fact, what was required was a two-thirds majority in each of the three “houses” that are represented at the annual conference: Bishops, clergy and laity.

The bishops themselves — by definition all male — were actually the least opposed to the idea. If it were just an overall popular vote needed to carry the resolution for change, their overwhelming majority support would have been enough to reach the two-thirds needed.

The clergy weren’t so overwhelming but also supported the need for change.

It was — and this is the under reported part of the story — in the “house” consisting of lay people appointed to the General Synod where the two-thirds majority failed.

The House of Bishops voted 44 in favour, with three against and two recorded abstentions. In the House of Clergy, 148 voted in favour, 45 against and there were no abstentions.

But in the House of Laity, 74 voted against, compared to 132 in favour with no abstentions.      ~ BreakingNews.ie

Honestly, I would have expected the three votes to be the other way around; the rank and file pushing for a more progressive situation, and the powers that be wanting to maintain the status quo. But what do I know about Anglicans?

At least one traditionalist, who ought to be happy with the outcome, is still upset that the vote happened.

And the Huffington Post, never wanting to miss out on sensationalism said the church “faces growing pressure to rip up its rulebook to allow the ordination of women bishops.”

The newly appointed archbishop feels it’s just a matter of time, and expects to consecrate a female bishop during his term of office.

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July 17, 2012

Why Youth Are Leaving The Episcopal (Anglican) Church

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:50 am

Logical non sequitur department: Rachel Held Evans posted this on the weekend and credits it to Julie Clawson:

“I’m finding amusing all the articles blaming the Episcopal Church’s demise and lack of younger congregants on its being “liberal.” Because accepting women and gays as (mostly) equals is obviously far more unacceptable to today’s youth than antiquated language, liturgy, robes, stained glass, and droning organ music…”

Exactly. The “liberal” issue is very real, but let’s not overlay that on a demographic issue where it doesn’t apply.

January 3, 2012

Why I Wouldn’t Quit The Episcopal Church Over Gay Marriage

In the past several years, there has been much division in the Episcopal Church in the U.S., the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Worldwide Anglican Communion over the issues of ordination of gay clergy and marriage of gay couples. 

I can honestly say that if were a member of such a church, I don’t honestly believe that either of these two issues would surface as a deal-breaker for me, for one simple reason:

I would have been gone long before that.

For me, the “gender issues” and “sexual orientation issues” are really secondary.  They are symptoms, but there is a deeper cause, and that cause is the rejection of the ultimate authority of scripture.  And that in turn stems from a stronger desire to nitpick over Biblical text and engage in the academic sophistication of  “higher criticism” than a desire to respond to God’s offer of genuine relationship and thereby to understand the ways of the Lord.

At least with a title like "Jesus Never Existed" by Kenneth Humphreys, you know where you stand. With other authors, the theological implications can be more insidious.

So a church which reveres Bishop Shelby Spong — or his sometime partner in crime, Marcus Borg — is of much deeper concern to me than a church which is wrestling with the gay issue, which I believe that all churches are wrestling with to different degrees.

Here’s a sample of Spong’s latest proclamation on the CNNBelief page:

…Jesus of Nazareth, according to our best research, lived between the years 4 B.C. and A.D. 30. Yet all of the gospels were written between the years 70 to 100 A.D., or 40 to 70 years after his crucifixion, and they were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor any of his disciples spoke or were able to write.

Are the gospels then capable of being effective guides to history? If we line up the gospels in the time sequence in which they were written – that is, with Mark first, followed by Matthew, then by Luke and ending with John – we can see exactly how the story expanded between the years 70 and 100.

For example, miracles do not get attached to the memory of Jesus story until the eighth decade. The miraculous birth of Jesus is a ninth-decade addition; the story of Jesus ascending into heaven is a 10th-decade narrative.

In the first gospel, Mark, the risen Christ appears physically to no one, but by the time we come to the last gospel, John, Thomas is invited to feel the nail prints in Christ’s hands and feet and the spear wound in his side.

Perhaps the most telling witness against the claim of accurate history for the Bible comes when we read the earliest narrative of the crucifixion found in Mark’s gospel and discover that it is not based on eyewitness testimony at all…

This is Spong’s opinion, and he is entitled to it, and should count himself blessed to live in a country where people can write this sort of drivel and not be burned at the stake as a heretic.  Living elsewhere, or in other times, might not have proved as beneficial.

Mark’s gospel is not based on eyewitness testimony?  That should come as a surprise to those who have looked closely at Mark 14:51-52 and concluded that this sentence is completely superfluous — and even unnecessarily comic — unless Mark’s clear intent is to position himself directly in the middle of the story.

Spong’s obsession with undermining the Biblical text — a rather odd preoccupation for a clergyman, don’t you think? — also makes a liar out of Luke where he attests in Luke 1: 3-4 to the veracity of the Christ story as it has been told to his correspondent Theophilis.

And the concept of the miracles of Jesus being “attached” to the story in the eighth century is simply baffling.  There were many rabbis, many itinerant teachers, and we only have the names of a handful around the time of the gospels.  True, Jesus taught in ways that no one had before; his following went from a dozen young men to crowds in the thousands; but absent the supernatural miracles, there might be no particular reason why he would be remembered.  In fact, scholars tell us that the Pharisees — perhaps Spong denies they existed as well — were looking for very particular and unique miracles as signs of the Messiah:

  1. The casting out of a spirit from someone who was mute.  The customary approach was that the spirits would first name themselves before being cast out.
  2. The healing of an individual who was born blind. 
  3. The healing of leprosy.
  4. The raising from the dead someone who had been dead more than three days.  (Other such resurrections were to be discounted because of a belief that the spirit ‘lingered’ around the body for three days afterward.)

The Pharisees had an interest in knowing if Jesus was indeed the Messiah that goes beyond the adversarial relationship we normally associate them with.  These miracles proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus met all their criteria, though they remained blinded to the possibility of crossing the line of faith themselves. 

Suddenly, in the late 20th Century, the Jesus Seminar experts decide that every phrase and sentence in the gospels is suddenly open to debate.  Spong takes the ball and runs with it, and expresses his twelve main thesis as outlined below; I’ve highlighted certain words from the Wikipedia article:

  1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
  2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  3. The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
  7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
  8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
  9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

Actually, as I said at the outset, the twelfth item is really the least of my concerns with Spong in particular or Anglicans in general.  But the other eleven points represent a complete undermining of the Christian message as the early Church fathers understood it.

So what do we do with all this?

Marcus Borg and Sheldon Spong occupy an inexplicable amount of space in the “religion” section of general bookstores.  Pastors, priests and rectors of liberal denominations encourage the reading their books. For many such parishioners, authors of this ilk represent the only “Christian” books they will purchase in a given year.

I don’t.  Despite a sweetheart relationship with publisher HarperCollins, I have never ordered a book by either author for a customer, in fact, I have been rather outspoken that I do not wish to make it easy or convenient for someone to access their materials.

While I have strong feelings about the gay clergy and gay marriage issues that are found elsewhere on this blog, for me, the major issue is the authority of the Bible. Sola scriptura is not a hardline absolute for me, but as a guideline to understanding the major doctrines and ethics that form Christianity, it is reliable in 99% of all test cases and issues that arise.

The buck has to stop somewhere and for me it stops with the canon of scripture, not with a radical theologian from North Carolina who makes a living undermining the history and centuries-old practices of the faith that today, ironically, pays his salary.

May 16, 2011

James MacDonald on the Royal Wedding

Yes, I know it was ten days ago and it’s now old news, but this intense April 29th post at James MacDonald’s blog is somewhat buried among some unrelated video clips posted the same day…

A Royal Wedding?

I got up early with my wife to watch the Royal Wedding of William and Kate. I did this because such things are important to my wife and I love her dearly. We have fond memories of Charles/Dianna’s wedding and like good Canadians by birth remember where we were back in 1981 for that memorable event. Some reflections:  

1) I pray for the new royal couple and ask that the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ would alter their natural course and that through faith they would come alive in a personal way to the forgiveness of sin, and the word of God and the hope of eternal life; simply that they would be saved.

2) I am thankful for the impact of regenerate Anglicans like John Stott and J.I. Packer whose ministries have impacted my life and faith for 3 decades.

3) I am grieved by the religious pomp, contrived ceremony and minimal passing gospel references in the service we and in the end, two billion others witnessed. The mumbling singing and distant glare of the couple themselves during the minister’s obligatory rambling grieved my heart deeply, knowing that this is the only church experience most watching will have this year. And will it do anything other than remind the masses why they do not church?

4) The Anglican community, deeply divided around the world over the authority of God’s word and an orthodox gospel was on display in this wedding seen by as many as 2 billion people. The service was only marginally different than a catholic mass. Reminding us that Anglicanism traces its history not to the heart cries of the reformation: Soli Fide, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, but to the convenience of an earthly King who wanted to remain religious while indulging himself in disobedience and unbelief.

5) I was grieved further by the seeming inability of genuine Christians to be offended at what we witnessed. Is the gospel adorned by an openly fornicating couple, forced into church by obligation, led in prayer by resurrection denying-Green Peace-ministers who care more about carbon footprints and unity at the expense of truth than fidelity to the revealed word of God and the gospel? (if you doubt it, Google Arch Bishop of Canterbury and Bishop of London)

I wish the ‘royal couple’ well and pray that they will find in their impossible task and the fleeting favor of humanity an occasion to search out the One whom to know by faith, is life eternal and who rules over a kingdom that will never end.

Thankful for King Jesus!

March 2, 2011

Wednesday Link List

  • We begin this week with a Sherman’s Lagoon panel from the weekend, and dedicate it to Pete Wilson and the spate of other Christian authors who released a book in 2010 with Plan A or Plan B in the title.
  • And now the link list. But links to what? Was there anything else in the Christian blogosphere this week besides Rob Bell? And to think, most of these were from people who haven’t seen the book. The number keeps growing. Just go to Google Blog Search. Type “Rob Bell” in quotation marks. From the margin on the left side, select the tab that says “past week.”  I’m guessing by the time you read this you’re looking at over 6,000 choices, right?  If you missed this blog yesterday, it’s got quotations from the actual book.
  • And speaking of hell, I had this link as a footnote to yesterday’s post here, but don’t miss John Shore’s video which — posted just a few days before all hell broke loose (couldn’t resist) in the Christian blogosphere — really defines the present controversy.
  • And speaking of books guaranteed to shake things up: Canadian Evangelicals have long embraced radio and television broadcaster Michael Coren as one of their own, though closer observation reveals he has been, for the past few years, a practicisng Roman Catholic. That all goes much more public on April 12 with the release of Why Catholics Are Right.
  • Andrew Jones is on location in Christchurch, New Zealand and gives us the skinny (couldn’t resist) on conditions following the earthquake.  Sample: “Thousands of people went to church on Sunday, many of them gathering at outdoor locations because their own buildings were either down, condemned, unsafe, or just because people felt safe meeting outdoors.”
  • The third short film in the video series BASICS with Francis Chan is releasing this month; the publisher, David C. Cook has posted a 90-second preview at GodTube.
  • Recognize this acronym: OSAS? Maybe you know it better as Once Saved Always Saved. Here’s an Arminian who suggests that the doctrine of eternal security isn’t helpful if it causes people to “abide in sin.”
  • Forget the Boomers. Numerically speaking, the Millennials now rule. Father and son team Thom and Jess Rainer deal with the impact of this on a larger society in a new book from Broadman & Holman. Here’s the book trailer.
  • Are you an aspiring writer? Frank Viola pours out his heart to unpublished authors in a lengthy piece giving 25 specific areas of advice.
  • It’s really not a new story. Another group of worshipers has parted company with their denomination, The Anglican Church of Canada, which of course claims ownership of the land and buildings. But what is the value of all this property to a denomination that is slowly dying?
  • Music clip of the week: Here’s an artist you may have missed out on previously, Jason Gray, who combines great music with insightful lyrics, found this week at the blog I Refuse To Play Church.
  • From there, we move to a musical selection a little less profound. I’m probably the last person in the world to watch this — it’s really old — but if you need a smile today, here’s Ray Stevens’ The Mississippi Squirrel Revival.
  • Here’s a bonus John Shore XtraNormal video, this time featuring Adam and Eve, after “God’s slight overreaction.”  “…I would wring the neck of that stupid snake if only it had one.”  I think John’s found a whole new medium, though purists will argue that his take is a little XtraBiblical.
  • Here’s the link to USAToday and MediaBase which publishes a weekly list of which Christian music songs are getting the most airplay in the U.S. Bookmark it for frequent reference.
  • I suppose if you kick off with Sherman’s Lagoon, you might as well end with Marmaduke and another picture familiar to many of you which was so similar that I wonder who inspired who.  Hint: This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Marm saying his prayers, so it could go either way.

October 22, 2009

Disenchanted Anglican Congregations Invited to Adopt Catholic Brand

When the large Pontiac dealer out on the freeway near my house got dropped by General Motors, it didn’t shut down.   It emerged as a Hyundai dealership and simply carried on business as usual.

With large numbers of Anglican churches frustrated with the issue of ordination of gay clergy, The Vatican is inviting those churches to be rebranded much like my local Pontiac franchise was.

Here’s the lead from writer Cathy Lynn Grossman on the USAToday Religion page:

USA TodayThe Vatican has opened an express lane to traditional Anglicans — unhappy with their own church’s moves toward accepting female and gay bishops — to reunite with the Roman Catholic Church their forefathers left nearly 500 years ago.

In a surprise announcement from Rome, Pope Benedict XVI approved a provision to create a new church entity that will allow Anglicans to join the Catholic Church in a format similar to Ukrainian or Eastern Rite Catholics, keeping their liturgy and married priests, but not married bishops.

The announcement Tuesday stunned many in the 77-million worldwide Anglican Communion, particularly the Church of England, where the Archbishop of Canterbury has wrestled for years with factions that opposed female bishops.

Pope - confessionIt’s a sell job where you want to emphasize the similarities, not the differences:

“Don’t forget, we had 1,500 years of unity with their forebears and today’s Roman Catholics. It’s the same apostolic tradition,” said the Rev. James Massa, head of the interfaith and interreligious affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The move is certainly being seen as born out of pure motives:

Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, saw the Vatican announcement as a global event, “maybe one of Benedict’s biggest moves.

“Rome is trying to find a structural solution to an unbearable pastoral problem,” Harmon said. Vatican leaders “clearly feel that if they don’t intervene now, it will get worse. Their motive is the reunification of Christianity. If Anglicanism wasn’t going to provide a catholic solution, the worldwide church would fracture even more.”

But the move is complicated by The Vatican’s refusal to accept married clergy elevated to the role of Bishop.   This, of course, and the more obvious complication:

Archbishop Robert Duncan, founder and leader of the breakaway traditionalist Anglican Church in North America, issued a statement calling Benedict’s move “a momentous offer,” and he “blessed” those who choose this new path.

However, Duncan spelled out major obstacles between Anglican traditionalists and Rome that still stand. He cited “our historic differences over church governance, dogmas regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary” and the nature of the priesthood.

One leader noted that while Catholics have welcomed Anglicans and former Anglicans in the past, this move ends up in “creating what he called ‘parallel structures’ for entire groups of converts.

You can read the entire USAToday article here.   BTW, the religion page at USAToday is always bookmarked on this blog.

Ottawa Gatineau…For my Canadian readers, here is an analogy I’ve always found helpful.   The conversion of an Anglican to, for example, Pentecostalism, might be compared to someone living in Ottawa who decides to move to Windsor.   It’s all the same province, they keep their driver’s license and their health cards, but it’s a major move — around 800 km — and a complete change of both climate and culture.

The conversion of an Anglican to Catholicism could be compared to the that same person in Ottawa deciding to move to Gatineau.    The moving van might only have a ten-minute drive across the river, but it’s a new province, requiring a new driver’s license and even a new way of looking at common law.   Compared to moving to Windsor, it’s a cakewalk, but at a deeper level it is a much more radical change of address.  Which one is the bigger move?

For Anglicans, the Roman Catholic Church may seem like a comfortable fit but it is, to use the above analogy, “a change in province.”  It might meet some short term needs; there is this huge emotional bonding to multiple levels of ecclesiastic oversight and generations of history; not to mention robes, processions, choirs and liturgies.

But personally, I see disenchanted Anglicans and former Anglicans finding a better long-term fit in another Protestant denomination or in the creation of a new entity.    What works for car dealerships may not work where matters of faith and doctrine are concerned.

COMMENTS:  If you see your ministry as flitting from blog to blog leaving remarks which attack or tear down another denomination, please note those comments will not be posted here.    On the other hand, if you want to actually discuss the finer points of the topic of absorption of some Anglicans into the Catholic Church, or the Catholic church’s decision to make this offer; then those on-topic comments will be published.   You know who you are.

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