PECUSA’s Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, preached a wonderful sermon at the Royal Wedding, almost everyone agrees. I thought the same thing myself as I listened, and thanked God that someone who could speak so comfortably about Jesus had been invited to preach. Everything he said was true; even if we are only speaking of human love, all those aspects of life he mentioned would be so much better if love were the way, and it is inspiring to imagine them.

The fatal flaw, of course, is that unless Jesus means far more to us than a wonderful example of human love, imagining those things is all we can ever do. We all know that love is the answer to all human problems, but we all also know that human beings simply cannot live as lovingly as the case requires. Love means always having to say you’re sorry when your love isn’t up to the demands made upon it, and most of us have enough trouble saying that to those we love the very most, let alone to those we go out of our way to avoid, and as far as saying it to God is concerned—well, God made us the way we are, and He must understand that it’s not us, it’s them.

The result was inevitable: Curry’s wonderful sermon is being praised by all, the British press as well as the Intermob, as a ‘celebration of Black culture’ instead of the key to changing the world we live in. And having praised it in that patronising way, we have said all that love can expect of us, and can go back to our bitter denunciations of those who voted for and against Trump, for and against Brexit, etc etc etc ad mortem eternam…

A friend recently sent me a link to a website encouraging readers to consider ordination, and to attend a certain conference in furtherance of that goal. It appeared to be aimed at Episcopalians, and was being held at an Episcopal Church, although there was no clue as to who was sponsoring or organising the conference. The following paragraph is typical of its many words in praise of ordained ministry:

‘The privilege of standing in the person of Christ, representing God to humanity for the forgiveness of sins, welcoming them to the new life of Baptism, and placing in their hands and on their lips the holy food of heaven. We stand there representing to the World, her God and our God.’

This Old Testament view of priesthood is the exact contrary of the New Testament view of ministry. According to the New Testament, there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (I Timothy 2.5) who is at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us (Romans 8.34). Ordained ministry in the New Testament is a ministry of preaching conversion to the unsaved and encouragement to the saved. I believe this attitude to ministry has weakened the faith of Anglicans generally and Episcopalians in particular, making too many of them dependent on their clergy for their spiritual lives. Those attracted by this sort of appeal need them to be dependent, for otherwise what privilege will be left for the clergy?

The closing words, ‘Who else gets to do this?’ are an appeal to the readers’ worst instincts. The answer to the question, given the antecedent of ‘this’, is NO ONE, Christ has already done it, and any suggestion that His work needs to be continued by others is bad news, the antigospel, because there is NO ONE ELSE who can do it.

God’s word says so.

Image result for "all change" -site:pinterest.comThe role that this blog has attempted to fulfil over the past eight years or so is its role no longer. As a gathering place for Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, and provider of information about Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church to those who don’t know them, we now pass the baton to the revived EFAC USA (Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion). Our web-site (speaking as a member of that fellowship) is http://efac-usa.org/, and I hope all readers of this blog will bookmark it and check it regularly.

This blog will continue, but from now on will simply be me sounding off, representing no one except a sinner saved by Jesus, encouraging other sinners to turn to Him AND NO ONE ELSE for salvation, new life, and growth in new life. Some readers will doubtless want to ‘un-follow’ it, but I’m sorry to say I have no idea how you can do that! I’ve never been able to add anyone as a follower, only those who click on the ‘follow’ link can do that, and I’ve no idea how to reverse whatever you did when you did so. Perhaps if you click on the ‘follow’ link again, it will give you a way to stop receiving my posts automatically.

I have very much enjoyed the fellowship I have had with my readers and all who have commented, but I think the new site will be much better for the purpose. It is a real pleasure to hand over this work to a younger generation, and I look forward to my new role as an Evangelical Curmudgeon. My first rant musings will not long be delayed…

Click this link to register

As the 21st century begins to play itself out there is cause for encouragement. I recently attended the annual gathering of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion (EFAC-USA) in Orlando, Florida, of which the Fellowship of Witness was the forebear. Not only did TEC and ACNA Christians gather together for fellowship and faithful reflection, but EFAC is being led and shaped by an exciting younger generation of Episcopalians, many of whom are recent pilgrims on the Canterbury Trail, and strikingly mature.

From Richard Kew, in a recent issue of The Living Church. Three of this younger generation, Zac Neubauer, Philip Ryan and Ethan Magness (for ACNA), were elected to the board of EFAC USA at its recent meeting at Trinity School for Ministry, and have brought new energy and purpose to the board. Work on the next EFAC conference (April 4–7 2018, Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center, Oviedo FL), and several other projects, is in progress. More details on the new EFAC USA web-site soon!

At the Florida conferenefac-usa-logoce mentioned in the post below, there was general agreement on the subject of reviving and reorganising EFAC USA with a board drawn from both TEC and ACNA. According to the by-laws of the moribund but still existing EFAC USA (some of whose board members were present in Florida), new board members are elected by the membership at an Annual Meeting called for the purpose with one week’s notice.

The Annual Meeting will be held at Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge PA, Room 103 of the Academic Building on Tuesday, June 20th, at 7 pm. Members entitled to vote are those who support the aims of EFAC USA, and have paid dues. The dues of those who attended the conference in Florida were included in the cost of registration; others wishing to be members may pay their dues at the meeting on the 20th. In addition to electing new board members, the location and date of our 2018 conference, and other items related to the organization of EFAC will be discussed.

All members of TEC or ACNA who believe that the Bible is the final authority for all matters of faith, life and worship are urged to attend. Check the EFAC USA web-site (www.EFAC-USA.org) or go to the EFAC-USA Facebook page (Facebook.com/EFACUSA) for information about participating remotely.

Please pray for God’s guidance for those in attendance!

efac-usa-logoAt the ‘Evangelion’ conference of Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church held at Trinity School for Ministry in 2016, three ideas for the future found widespread support: renewing our connection with Evangelicals in the rest of the Anglican Communion through the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion (EFAC); getting together annually; and participation in our events by Evangelicals who are members of the various Anglican churches that have come into existence outside TEC in recent years.

Following discussions among former board members of EFAC-USA, the American branch of EFAC, EFAC-USA will reorganise under a board of directors composed of equal numbers of TEC and ACNA members, and have its first annual Assembly at the Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center outside Orlando, Florida from April 19-21 2017. The theme of the conference is ‘Positively Evangelical’, and speakers include Greg Brewer, Andrew Pearson and Charlie Holt. All Anglican Evangelicals in the USA, whether in TEC or another church of the Anglican tradition, are invited to attend; to register, check the new EFAC-USA website, which will shortly be available at www.EFAC-USA.org, or go to the EFAC-USA Facebook page (Facebook.com/EFACUSA).

More information will be also posted on this blog. Please pray for a renewal of effective evangelical witness to the Episcopal Church and to the other American churches in the Anglican tradition.

wycliffe-only

The 2017 conference of Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church will be held at the Diocese of Central Florida’s Canterbury Retreat and Conference Center in Oviedo (just outside of Orlando), Florida, Wednesday April 19th – Saturday April 22nd.

All Evangelicals welcome—clergy and laity, egalitarian and complementarian, high church and low church, Episcopalian and non-Episcopalian.

More details to follow here and here!

Image result for black roseHowever you complete the sentence above, the point is the same—it’s not the name, but the nature that matters. People have been arguing for years that the word ‘evangelical’ is a hindrance to the evangelical cause, and Tony Campolo is one of the most recent, according to Ian Paul at Christian Today. Paul’s comment:

I wonder how much difference it makes to non-Christians for us to say to them “Oh, I’m not a horrible Christian like those miserable evangelicals! No, I am a nice kind of Christian – you can trust me!” I am not sure that those outside the Christian faith find it quite so easy to draw these neat lines – and I am pretty sure that God doesn’t.

Campolo believes Evangelicals would be better Christians if they restricted their attribution of divine authority to the ‘red letters’ in the Bible—to the words of Jesus, which are printed in red in some editions. Paul points out the fatal consequences of doing that, here, and ends by saying

To be evangelical means to see the Bible, rightly interpreted, as the supreme authority in matters of life and faith. If my fellow evangelicals are giving the family a bad name by their misreading, then I need to stay in the family and have the conversation. And, guess what? There are some red letters about that: “If a brother or sister sins, go and point out the fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matthew 18:15).

To all of which I say ‘Amen.’ The only thing I would change would be to delete the words ‘rightly interpreted’. No one chooses a wrong interpretation, even when they are interpreting wrongly, and since God’s word achieves God’s purposes, those of us who believe our interpretation is right and another’s wrong can trust that God will be at work even in someone who is misunderstanding His word. It’s only when we believe that the Bible, or even a part of it like the part only ever printed in black, is the word of man rather than the word of God that we are no longer interpreting, but editing, and therefore subjecting God’s word to our own judgement.

RuskinThe Mediæval religion of Consolation perished in false comfort; in remission of sins given lyingly. It was the selling of absolution that ended the Mediæval faith; and I can tell you more, it is the selling of absolution which, to the end of time, will mark false Christianity. Pure Christianity gives her remission of sins only by ending them; but false Christianity gets her remission of sins by compounding for them. And there are many ways of compounding for them. We [Anglicans] have beautiful little quiet ways of buying absolution, whether in low Church or high, far more cunning than any of Tetzel’s trading.

—John Ruskin

Discuss.

church_society_logo_140_sans_strapAt the recent conference for Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church, there was much discussion of lay ministry (see this post). An ordinand in the Church of England, Chris Edwards, makes a great contribution to that subject on the Church Society blog:

When we say “the church’s ministry depends on volunteers” we are making a sub-biblical distinction between the church on the one hand and her people on the other. We restrict what we mean by ‘the church’s ministry’ to the corporate projects in which her leaders decide to engage. And our best expectation for everyone else – the ‘volunteers’ – is that they will wholeheartedly throw themselves into the leaders’ plan. The distinction is subtle, but it is a dangerous one, because it makes the church a two-tier place. Yes, of course there must be leadership – and, indeed, submission to leadership. And I am not meaning to undermine the notion of ordination. But drawing a distinction between ‘church’ and ‘volunteers’ does not help people marvel at the wonder of what it means to belong – fully – to the Body of Christ.

Check it out here.

A common word heard a generation or two ago was, “The pew cannot rise higher than the pulpit.” The idea that the herald of the gospel must be soaked in a regular regimen of study and prayer in order to present the congregation mature in the sight of God is easily lost in the weekly pressures of parish ministry. Just as preparing a balanced, nutritious sermon takes forethought and space for the word to work first on the preacher’s heart and then be able to be conveyed with authenticity, so the spiritual life of leaders is not like the turning on or off of a light switch, but is something rather to be cultivated.

Author Ruth Haley Barton is a practitioner of wisdom and spiritual discernment. Several years ago her book Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups caught my attention. I was feeling a sense that our parish leadership wasn’t going into the depths. I lamented that I couldn’t address this very well out of my own reservoir, shallow as it so often was. But, just as Jesus summoned the early disciples to put out into the deep, it felt that we were much too content with fishing the shallows. And I was with them, although I knew that deeper water summoned.

The question was: were we content with our vestry being a board of directors or, in some fashion, were we being called to a place of spiritual eldership? In our case, we had already committed to becoming a learning community. That is to say, we would take the first forty-five minutes of our monthly meetings to discuss an article or a chapter from a book that we were reading together and apply it to our church, Saint Gabriel’s. These discussions were often fruitful, and I would take the ideas back to the staff or work on them in my mind over the coming month. And yet, it also seemed as if this, too, was artificial and that we could either take it or leave it. In other words, there wasn’t yet a collective conviction that we were operating as a Spirit-led community with certain non-negotiable assumptions about being spiritual elders.

Barton asks whether our approach to decision making is different in the church from secular models. Is there more to becoming a church with a biblical eldership than “the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting”? Does our community life mean something, does it have its own integrity, independent of the financial statements, ministry reports, and “arguing over the cost of sharpening the lawnmower blades,” as one my clergy colleagues memorably put it?  If so, how do we become that kind of community?

One thing we know is that becoming a community of spiritual discernment differs dramatically from throwing on a light switch. Further, we also know that corporate leadership discernment around God’s will presumes that each person who is called to be a spiritual elder carries the potential—and responsibility—in his or her individual life to cultivate a receptivity to the Spirit of the Lord.

In other words, if corporate leadership is “the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God as a leadership group relative to the issues we are facing,“ (italics, Barton original) it is what happens in the in-between time, the ordinary time, in individual hearts that make up the corporate body, that allows discernment to be, truly, corporate. The practices, the rules of life, the habits of the heart—the prayer, daily office, sustained Bible study, times of meditation or centering prayer—these practices till the soil of the individual in such a way that when we come together, we can practice corporate leadership discernment and fulfill our calling as spiritual elders for our congregation.
At Saint Gabriel’s we are novice step-takers, to be sure. We do not always hold up well, necessarily, as a model. But now we have the conviction that unless we do this as a body of leaders, the pew cannot rise higher than the board room. If we rest content with the shallows, the potential of Christ’s calling in us will remain just that, potential.

“One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”—Psalm 27:5

Christopher Ditzenberger, Rector, Saint Gabriel the Archangel Episcopal Church
Cherry Hills Village, Colorado

The recent conference called ‘Evangelion II’ (see posts below) was a great success. Fifteen TEC dioceses were represented, as well as observers from Canada, and everyone seemed encouraged. The plenary speakers, Justyn Terry, David Collum and Justin Holcomb, were all filmed, and the results should be online in about three weeks. Watch this space for more information. I look forward to seeing them—when you’re one of the organisers, you only catch bits here and there, but those who were able to attend to them whole spoke highly of them.

What I was able to participate in fully were the discussions, ‘How We Got Here’ and ‘Where Do We Go From Here’, which weren’t filmed, so I’ll say a bit about them in this and the next post respectively.

After an outline of the history of the evangelical movement in TEC since the founding of Trinity Seminary, we began to talk about what we could learn from this history. The main themes were that the switch from being a teaching ministry for the Episcopal Church to being a political party within the Church had been wholly negative, and that the movement had been too clericalist. During the 1980s and early 1990s, several evangelical parishes had highly successful teaching ministries, sending out sermon and teaching tapes across the country by the hundred, but in the mid 1990s this seemed suddenly to be abandoned in favor of a political approach centered on General Convention rather than the diocese. There was much speculation about how different the history might have been had we stuck to the teaching.

A comment about the emphasis on recruiting evangelical clergy rather than building up evangelical laity sparked an enthusiastic response by the lay people present, expressed in terms which came as a shock to some of the clergy present. But when people have been under-appreciated for too long, it’s natural to vent a bit when the opportunity to do so finally comes. It was agreed by all that there was room for improvement, and I personally look forward to seeing improvement as future work is discussed and planned.

These were by no means the only subjects discussed under the heading of learning from our past, but this is enough for one post. I hope the discussion can continue here—just click on the link at the top of this post and type your heart out!

5x7_evangelion_flyer revised

5x7_evangelion_flyer revised p 2

David CollumEvangelicals in the Episcopal Church are invited to Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA, April 28-30, for the second national gathering of Anglican Evangelicals, under the title Evangelion.

This year’s theme is Expressing Evangelical Identity in the Episcopal Church, and the speakers will be David Collum, Archdeacon of Albany Diocese, Justyn Terry, Dean of TSM, and Justin Holcomb, Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida.Justyn Terry

There will also be opportunity for discussion on the more genJustin Holcomberal subject of evangelical witness in and to the Episcopal Church. More details will be posted at http://www.evangeliontec.org/conference-2016.html and on this blog as they become available. Save the dates!

The recent statement by the Anglican Primates is slightly more than I hoped for, and if the statements by Episcopal dignitaries and the comments on Episcopal blogs are worse than I feared, more fool me, I suppose. The Primates confirmed that ‘the traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture’ (is it my imagination or there a faint tinge of regret discernible in the wording there?) ‘upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.’ Since that is the teaching of Scripture, albeit not in those words, Evangelicals will be pleased that these leading churchmen are willing to say so, and would apologise on behalf of the Episcopal Church for all the vitriolic comments being directed their way.

The statement also asks the Episcopal Church to limit its participation in some aspects of the Anglican Communion, and hopes for the appointment of a Task Group ‘to maintain conversation among ourselves [the Primates, presumably] with the intention of restoration of relationship’ etc. Restoration of relationships with the rest of the Communion presumably depends on a return to the Biblical view of marriage, and unlikely as that it is to happen, Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church must assume that God expects us to lift up our voices in support of that return.

Perhaps this is the place to begin discussing how we might do that, and how to be faithful in a church that seems less tolerant of us than ever. Perhaps there will be some time at the Evangelion II conference scheduled for May 28–30 in Ambridge, PA for further discussion.

I could certainly use a little encouragement…

 

Just finished browsing the latest issue of the Journal of Theological Studies, and found much to be thankful for. Of particular interest to the readers of this blog will be more reminders that the most reliable sources for knowledge of what Jesus actually did and said remain Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This has been generally admitted by academic scholarship for some time, but has yet to percolate into the press, most seminaries, and too many pulpits. I find myself having to challenge the idea that it’s been conclusively proved that the New Testament was all made up in order to repress true Christianity two or three times a year; if you don’t, you’re shirking your duties.

So it’s great to read, for instance, that the latest and most authoritative commentary on the Gospel of Thomas confirms that ‘any relevance to historical Jesus research is negligible’ (p 805), and that ‘agreement in substance between… scholars with distinct perspectives may be indicative of the emergence of a majority opinion that considers the use of apocryphal gospels in historical Jesus research to be problematic’ (p 765).

Which isn’t to say that the early church wasn’t almost as theologically diverse as some would like to think; but it does confirm that Christians have been right to use the canonical gospels in order to discover what Jesus actually taught rather than what He was believed to have taught. It’s also good to be reminded that even this real diversity was less threatening to orthodox contemporaries than the revisionists try to convince us. Even that hammer of heretics, Irenaeus, ‘spent considerable energy urging the church, especially in Rome, to preserve its toleration for diversity’ (p 817).

Finally, news of a new book on the relationship between Science and Christianity by a Professor of Physics at Oxford University asserting in the most vigorous terms, which the reviewer found quite persuasive, that ‘the pursuit of science is a natural and important aspect of what it means to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth’ (p 898). The writer, Andrew Steane, not only believes in the resurrection, but considers that the other miracles can be believed ‘on the basis of reliable testimony’, and argues that miracles do not contradict the findings of even the most up to date science (ibid). The title is Faithful to Science, and I can’t wait to read it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

21st-century Europe has only itself to blame for the mess it is now in. For surely nowhere in the world has devoted more resources to the study of history than modern Europe. When I went up to Oxford more than 30 years ago, it was taken for granted that in the first term of my first year I would study Gibbon. It did no good. We learned nothing that mattered. Indeed, we learned a lot of nonsense to the effect that nationalism was a bad thing, nation-states worse, and empires the worst things of all. “Romans before the fall,” wrote Ward-Perkins in his “Fall of Rome,” “were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong. We would be wise not to repeat their complacency.”

Read it all here

We are on the Lord’s side, servants of the King,
No more hesitation, all to Him we bring;
Jesus Christ our Saviour has us in His care,
In His perfect Kingdom risen life we’ll share.

Eagerly obeying, proud to bear His name,
Time is past for sorrow, ended is our shame;
Jesus our redeemer makes our spirits bright,
Leads us out of darkness into glorious light.

Children of one Father, by one Spirit led,
No more fear or doubting, all is done and said.
Jesus our Messiah sends us now to go
into all creation, His great love to show.

So, our worship ended, service we begin,
To our duty going, confident in Him:
Jesus is God with us, first and last is He,
And we will be with Him for eternity.

Suggested tune: Camberwell (Michael Brierly, 1960)