The Holy War

This talk (click here) was given to younger Evangelicals in the Church of England, but it doesn’t take much thinking to see the application for those in the Episcopal Church. The speaker, Lee Gatiss, draws on the great military strategists of history, quoting Homer, Sun Tzu, Plutarch, Field-Marshal Montgomery, and Cortes (as well as the Bible, in case you need reassuring) before concluding, ‘If we are to avoid the slow death of a softening evangelicalism or the catastrophe of having to start again from scratch, the brightest course ahead for those who want to see a renewed Church of England, is to stick with it and keep contending – not just on the “big issues” of the day, but on the gospel issues. There is no point winning all the battles on human sexuality, if we lose the war for human salvation.’ I found Sun Tzu’s point about foraging from the enemy particularly apt!

St George 1To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it. He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life; I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God; never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!!!!!!!

No PoperyRemember, remember!  The fifth of November, Gunpowder treason and plot; I know of no reason why the Gunpowder treason should ever be forgot!

England’s deliverance from a terrorist plot* whose purpose was to bring England back under the authority of Rome was considered worth remembering for centuries, although today it is, for most, just a great night for fireworks, bonfires, and hot drinks. In Lewes, Sussex, and a few other places, its purpose is still remembered; the banner pictured above was photographed in 2003.

The celebration did not spread overseas with the Church of England, and the idea that it is something worth remembering for 21st century Episcopalians will, I don’t doubt, produce hoots of laughter, even if they don’t appear in the comments section. But if the plot had succeeded, there would be no Anglicanism, and thus no Episcopal Church. If the Virginia Company had still been formed in 1607, it would have taken the Roman Catholic church to Virginia, and if a few hardy crypto-Protestants had tried to find freedom of worship in New England a generation later, inquisitors from the south would have been glad of the opportunity to light the bonfires here.

A liturgy of celebration of the deliverance was printed in the Prayer Book from its composition in 1605 until 1859, when the Act of Parliament requiring its observance was repealed. Bishop Barlow of Lincoln wrote two hymns in 1613 to be sung at services of commemoration, one of which is printed below. The celebration became even more significant when James II  began to act as though he too wanted to return England to Rome, and English Protestants asked Prince William of Orange to intervene. The troops he sent to remove James from the throne landed on November 5th.

The meter of the hymn is Common Meter (Doubled); the tune St Matthew (1982 Hymnal No 567) works very well. The spelling is modernised.

Shed tears, clap hands, yield sighs, rejoice
our mirth with throbs allay;
The trembling and triumphing voice
do both befit this day:
This day, whose danger dread did make,
whose rescue quit annoy,
Record the one, t’will cause us quake,
th’escape will raise our joy.

The power of hell, the arm of Rome,
combined themselves, ah woe!
This day to make the day of doom,
our State to overthrow:
By bloody men; not men, but fiends,
whose shape and hearts did differ.
Men’s looks did harbor devils’ minds,
our Church and Realm to shiver.

This Realm, which flourished had so long,
with peace and plenty store;
This Church, which truth had kept from wrong,
home schisms, and foreign lore:
Yea, this was it which caused their ruth,
and stirred them to conspire,
T’was England’s peace, t’was Church’s truth
which set their rage on fire.

And rage of fire was their design,
close couched as a net;
When King, Queen, Prince, and Royal line,
Peers, Prelates, Commons met:
One train, one touch, one slash, one blow,
One frush** one hoist, one hour:
Had finished what they did fore-trow,
and crushed the land’s whole power.

Our Realm made headless, void of guide,
our State confusion mere,
Our Land a prey on every side,
the Gospel banished clear:
Our streets with clamor had bin filled,
our streams had run blood red:
Our eyes with tears been thick distilled,
our hearts through horror dead.

Then on this day, this dismal day,
can we sing Psalms of gladness?
Affrighted thoughts, deep sighs, dismay,
this day’s design best witness:
Cease we to sing, let’s quake for dread,
and tremble while we think,
Of their so monstrous bloody red,
who swore our Realm to sink.

And a happy Fireworks Night to all!

* A 2003 study by explosives experts at the University of Wales estimated that the blast would not only have killed everyone in the Parliament building but also in many of the neighboring houses, and would have caused damage up to a third of a mile away from the scene.

** Charge, rush

Check out this link, too:

The other day I attended a most interesting series of talks at the University of Pittsburgh, where I serve as a Chaplain. The title of the event was ‘Finding the Spirit Within: Exploring Spirituality’, and it was offered as a ‘professional development opportunity’ for faculty and staff. There must have been a couple of hundred people in attendance, and most seemed to be from the Student Affairs department; several I spoke to were counselors. I didn’t run into any faculty.

The first speaker was introduced in a way that made it clear that he had stepped in at pretty short notice, and what he actually did was to remind us of the many different things that spirituality means to different people, and how we should be sensitive to those differences in our dealings with each other, and he drew attention to some of those differences and ways of being sensitive to them. But as the morning progressed, a difference emerged that does not get addressed as often as it should, especially in the University setting.

The difference arises from the way we define spirituality; all of those present were working with a definition of spirituality that meant, as it did to the speaker, a way of knowing or arriving at ultimate values, but to all the faculty and staff I spoke to or heard speaking, it meant a way outside traditional expressions of religion, whereas to the students who participated in the workshops following the first address, and (one hopes) to the chaplains who were invited, it referred to something within a traditional religion or denomination. Three of the chaplains spoke about their work at a workshop after the first speaker had finished, but I skipped that and went to one where three students spoke about a trip to Israel from which they’d just returned, and they applied their insights to the spiritual differences between Jews, Muslims and Hindus (one of the students being a Hindu). These workshops were followed by a session at which more students, eight or nine of them this time, described their spirituality, and all but one of them described a traditional religious expression. The one who didn’t was an atheist, and was actually reluctant to describe her position as spirituality, let alone religion. The rest were Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Deist, and from several different Christian traditions.

The reason why I’m describing all this is because the difference in understanding of spirituality seemed to be matched by a difference between what the University staff thought the students needed and what the students themselves wanted. The students all seemed very willing to be sensitive to each other, and the general thrust of the speaker’s remarks didn’t seem needed by them. When the students were asked how the University could help them in their spiritual journey (or words to that effect), what they wanted was more and better kosher and halal food, exam schedules that didn’t conflict with religious observances, a space where Muslims could pray that wasn’t also used for some secular purpose (although an inter-faith chapel would be fine, contrary to what I would have expected the Muslim position to be), and professors who didn’t rubbish religion in their lectures.

The problem with these requests as far as the University is concerned is that all these students (except the Atheist, perhaps) have the wrong spirituality. The idea that spirituality is something available outside traditional religious channels is a familiar one, of course, but I heard, in my conversations with staff, the idea that spirituality is something only available outside traditional religious channels, and that traditional religion, of any kind, is antithetical to real spirituality. This idea doesn’t only affect the University’s attitude to students in an informal way, but has found a place in many of the University’s structures; student organisations, for instance, are not allowed to have worship as their purpose (the Episcopal Students’ Organisation was made to take that out of its constitution before it could be approved), and worship is not permitted in any of the meeting rooms available to student organisations or chaplaincies (as the new Christian Missionary Alliance chaplaincy recently discovered). So no one in the University with the authority to grant the wishes of those students is likely to do so; if the students insist on adhering to a spirituality associated with a traditional religion, they are on their own.

It’s worse than that, actually; not only are there faculty who throw in snide remarks about the students’ religion during their lectures, but there are members of the University staff responsible for the welfare of the students who are positively evangelistic about their anti-religious spirituality. Last year I attended a gathering of a couple of hundred students organised by the University to help them think about their goals in life, and the keynote address, by a fairly senior staff member, told us we could all create our own reality by thinking the right thoughts, and that if bad things happened to us it was because we were too negative. What’s more he gave ‘scientific proof’ of this, showing photographs taken by some Japanese ‘scientist’ who specialised in taking pictures of ice crystals made by freezing water that had been exposed to various psychic influences! One set of pictures contrasted the crystals of ice from water samples that had sat for an hour on top of paper on which the words ‘I love you’ or ‘I hate you’ had been written, and the latter were drab and boring crystals while the former were beautiful snowflakes. He even included a hint of altar call, urging the students to decide to live their lives in the light of this tonight, assuring them that it would change their lives. But it’s only religious schools that brainwash their students, of course!

I don’t know if there was anyone who heard the students’ requests who can grant them—75% of those in attendance had left before the last session—but let’s hope the chaplains, at least, are willing to campaign for them.

Most Christians are familiar with the Latin tag semper reformanda, which is literally translated ‘always to be reformed’. It’s often understood as ‘always reforming’, and interpreted as ‘constantly seeking to improve’. The grammatical force of the Latin, however, is rather ‘always requiring to be reformed’, ie always broken, always in need of repair. Or, as a friend put it the other day, ‘Of course the church is broken. It’s the body of Christ—what else could it be but broken?’

I live in a diocese that went through a bitter split four years ago, and most of its members have tales to tell of painful episodes; and ever since then diocesan conversation has been dominated by a perceived ‘need for healing’. I have been really tired of this for some time, but castigated myself for being hard-hearted and unsympathetic, and continued to do my best to look sympathetic whenever the familiar refrain was sung. But my friend’s remark put it in perspective for me: all this moaning and weeping really is out of place. Not that I’m not hard-hearted and unsympathetic—I am, believe me. But in this case, if no other, my ‘get a grip on yourself and snap out of it’ response happens to be the right one.

There is no example in either the New Testament or in Church History of a church that wasn’t broken by sin, usually coming in more shapes and sizes than anyone can keep track of. What my diocese has gone through is not just normal, but inevitable. Yes, there have been some unusual features about our recent experience, but they are merely curiosities; they make absolutely no difference to the basic situation: we are a broken church. We always have been, and always will be. Nothing will change this until Christ comes again in glory—neither the passage of time, nor a new way of being church, nor recovering lost property, nor getting a new bishop who will be soft-hearted and sympathetic. All those things may be desirable, but not for the reasons most of us want them, and they may even further complicate the situation if we get them without a more realistic view of our present self-absorption.

The Great Commission was given to a broken church. It was a broken church that spread Christianity into every corner of the globe. Being a broken church is no reason not to get on with the work of proclaiming salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to a world that is as broken as we are. And the sooner we stop whingeing about what we’ve suffered, the sooner we can get on with the work we’ve been given to do.

You can’t leaf through a magazine or wander along a row of shops these days without having the virtues of a supposedly ‘artisan’ way of doing things shoved in front of you. Our local bakery sells ‘artisan bread’, and I’ve seen artisan furniture, soaps, sinks, chocolate, almost anything you can think of. If you want it to be popular, apparently, you make it artisan-style.

So here’s a church growth tip: some historians of the 17th century refer to a certain style of preaching that emerged during the English Civil War as ‘artisan preaching’, and there’s information available about how to do it.

There is a slight complication, though: artisans weren’t admired in the 17th Century the way they are now that they no longer exist, and most of the descriptions of their preaching come from those who didn’t think tinkers, tailors, weavers and watchmakers ought to be preaching at all, and made their contempt of it plain. So you often have to read between the lines in order to get the hang of the thing, but the following description of a tailor preaching in 1647 ought to give you the idea.

He imitateth an austere garbe, looketh passing grave and sowrely, and is as melancholike as a leane Judge… he giveth a Psalme which his congregation chant with harsh voices and small devotion… [he] turneth to some text of Scripture… and with his sheares he so clippeth it, that it cannot be esteemed anything except a gallimaufrey of shreds and sweepings.

Not easy isolating the artisanal elements, I know, but don’t be put off—John Bunyan was one of these artisans, starting his career as a brazier, but eventually drew huge crowds in the big city, and sold books by the thousand. A 17th Century Tim Keller. Come to think of it, Bunyan’s own description of his preaching might be more useful, short as it is: ‘I preached what I felt, what I smartingly did feel’. ‘Smartingly’, according to the OED, means painfully: Bunyan preached what had been painful to admit about himself, the truth that had brought him to his knees in repentance. It might even be artisanal enough to do no more than that.

I was at a church recently that has been painfully divided for some years over the question of whether to stay in the Episcopal Church or join one of the breakaway groups. Not long ago they made the decision to stay in PECUSA and work for the reform of the church. Some of the minority left to form a church of their own, meeting quite close by their old church, and will in due course become a congregation of one of the breakaway fellowships.

Nothing surprising in that, of course, the same story has been played out in perhaps a hundred Episcopal churches in the last couple of years. But in a handful of them, including this one, a minority of the minority has stayed in what they believe to be an apostate church for the sole purpose of undermining its ministry and drawing people away to the new congregation. At coffee hour and in the parking lot after the service, in phone calls and other conversations during the week, they whisper discouragement into the ears of those who have chosen to follow a very hard path. ‘You’ll never reform the Episcopal Church… They’ll never approve another bishop who believes the Bible to be God’s Word Written… They’ll make you have a gay rector when this one leaves,’ and on it goes.

What can we call this ministry of discouragement? Barnabas, who gives the fellowship represented by this blog its name, is famous for his ministry of encouragement; whose fellowship are these people in? The Sanballat Project, perhaps?

What baffles me is how people can stay in an apostate church for the sake of a negative purpose like discouragement, yet refuse to stay for a positive purpose like reform, or at least for the honor of being excommunicated simply for being faithful (an honor still waiting to be given, as far as I know). I suppose there’s something personal in it; those involved in this ministry won’t receive communion from the rector, but not for theological reasons—when he’s away they receive from whoever is supplying the place.  How sad is that?