Sunday, November 17, 2013

Why I cannot accept the Redefinition of Marriage

It will be May before the House of Bishops can meet and issue a formal statement on the topic of marriage, but I think I can 'in the safety of my own blog' do some of the preliminary reasoning ahead of the discussion. There is absolutely no doubt that the UECNA will come down in the orthodox camp, but the "hows and whys" may well get left out of the final statement.

The first reference to marriage in the Bible is in Genesis in the second account of creation. God makes the animals and beings them to Adam and he names them, "but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him." (Gen. 2.20) So God causes Adam to fall into a deep sleep, he removes one of his ribs, and makes woman. Adam is delighted with the result

"And Adam said, 'This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.' Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." (Genesis 2. 23-24)

God bids the Man and his wife to be fruitful and multiply. St Paul's references to marriage are rooted in the doctrine of marriage expressed in Genesis - so this is important!

At this point I need to bring is Noah. Now this may seem a bit surprising, but there is a reason for this (underlined by the fact that this evening's OT at Evening Prayer was Genesis 19) having to do with the commands that God gives to the descendants of Noah. Now remember that according to Biblical history, Noah is the common ancestor of all those now living. This makes God's instructions too him very important in that God's moral requirements of Noah and his sons are binding on all humanity i.e. the Gentiles. Noah is given seven 'commandments' forbidding among other things idolatry, the taking of meat with the blood, theft, and sexual immorality. It is this last which ties into story of Sodom, where sexual mores seem to have been lax to say the least. Noah and his sons, like Adam and Eve before them are bidden to be 'fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.' (Gen 9.1)

The third aspect takes us back to Adam and Eve once more, and it comes from his delighted comment, "At last, bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh...." St Paul makes a lot of this in his references to marriage. For a start, let's look at what is taken as one of the classic "anti-woman" passages in his Epistles - Ephesians 5.22. Now if you are still listening after St Paul's initial exhortation "Wives be subject to your husbands" what you actually have is an extraordinary passage (Ephesians 5, 22-33)in which Paul glories in the mutual interdependence of husband and wife. His key exhortation is "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it. This points to a very high doctrine of marriage indeed, even though St Paul is usually portrayed as being anti-woman!

Now you may be wondering where I am going with this...

In the 1789 preface to the Book of Common Prayer we are assured that 'this Church is far from the intending to depart from the Church of England in any essential point of doctrine, discipline or worship; or further than local circumstances require." (1928 BCP page vi)

Sadly, the 1789 Marriage Office is a bit anaemic, mainly because the causes of Matrimony contained in the revisions of 1549, 1552, 1559, and 1662 are omitted. These ran as follows:

"First it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and the nurture of the Lord, and the praise of his Holy Name. "Secondly, it was ordained as a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body. "Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that one ought to have to the other, both in prosperity and adversity."

Now these points are echoed elsewhere in the service, so I assume, based on the disclaimer above, that the omission of the causes of matrimony was to make the service shorter. Certainly there was no desire on the part of the Church to alter the nature of the institution of marriage.

The State has a different appreciation of marriage. If you look at Roman Law, marriage is about property, legitimacy, and inheritance. The two institutions - the sacramental relations of Holy Matrimony and the State's marriage contract - coalesced into a single institution. This, I firmly believe, tended towards the greater stability, integrity and morality of society, but I believe we need to be clear what belongs to which aspect of the institution of marriage.

So far as the Church is concerned marriage is routed in Genesis. Man and woman are complimentary and help meets the one to the other. Marriage is instituted - and here the BCP makes a sideways reference to Genesis - "in the time of man's innocence" for the procreation of children, the avoidance of sin, and the mutual help and comfort of the one to the other. These causes of Matrimony - which are contained in the inerrent Word of God constitute an immoveable bar to the Church redefining marriage. Holy Matrimony is what it is. No amount of judicial activism will alter this, and if this means that the Church no longer can accept the State's definition of marriage, then so be it. Christians answer to God, not man!

Like I said, these are preliminary thoughts, and have yet to be systematically worked out. With not quite a third of States allowing "Gay Marriage" I thought it was time to lay out the bare bones of the argument that undergirds the traditional - that is, God given - position on what constitutes Marriage.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Evangelicals and the Prayer Book

Until my teenage years, no church was as surely Prayer Book in England as an Evangelical parish. The Alternative Services were looked upon with suspicion (and rightly so) as introducing theology that was not entirely that of the Thirty-Nine Articles, and were generally suspected of either theological liberalism or Romanizing. Evangelicals stuck with the tried and the true, the liturgy of the Reformation, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the second revision of Cranmer's 1552 book. They were often criticize for being 'wooden' and unimaginative in the way they used the BCP, but in a sense that lack of imagination was a blessing. The main reason for the Evangelicals' faithfulness to the old liturgy was that it reflected their theological preoccupations and their emphasis on the doctrines of Grace. Funnily enough, the old High Churchmen's insistence on the BCP was rooted in the same sort of preoccupation, but in their case it was because the BCP embodied their own peculiar emphasis on Baptismal Regeneration and the Spiritual Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
The positive side of the Evangelical insistence on the old BCP was that their services remained firmly rooted in the Anglican tradition. At that time, before the Alternative Liturgies were embraced by the Evangelicals, the Matins and Evensong were chanted, traditional hymnody was used, and the sermon was very firmly set in its liturgical contect. Visually, Evangelical services remained very much rooted in the mid-Victorian era. Most Evangelical parishes had adopted the typical Ecclesiological Society layout of open bench pews in the nave, pulpit, lectern, and minister's seat as separate pieces of furniture, and the choir stalls in the chancel. The Communion Table would be against the East wall, but it was often a little shorter than usual to allow the Lord's Supper to be celebrated at the North end. The minister would wear surplice, tippet and hood for all services in church.
The down side was that they often took liberties with the appointed services. Their chief victim in this respect was the Communion Service where everything that is before 'Ye that do truly and earnestly repent...' was omitted. The Lord's Supper became an appendage of Morning or Evening Prayer giving rise to the old joke that the Church of England - or at least its Low Church wing - had three services - Matins, Evensong, and Stay Behind! However, it was the Evangelicals that introduced the long popular 8am Communion service, which the Rev. Daniel Wilson added to the schedule at St Mary's Islington in c.1820. The drive behind this, so far as the early 19th century Evangelicals were coencerned, was to provide an opportunity for Serious Christians to receive Communion away from the noise and fuss of the later service. It also has to be said that it allowed the morning service - which then consisted of Matins, Litany, and the Ante-Communion - to be somewhat shortened in order to make time for preaching.
However, it should not be thought that the old Evangelicals were in anyway flip about Holy Communion. It was a serious business that required proper preparation in the form of self-examination and prayer. Some early Evangelicals, such as William Grimshaw of Haworth in Yorkshire, were noted for the large attendances at Communion. In the late 1740s Haworth is recorded as having twelve hundred (1200) communicants, about a quarter of the population, and the Lord's Supper was celebrated monthly - three times as often as the usual rural quota of four times a year. This seriousness about the Sacrament marked out the Evangelicals from the vast majority of ordinary Churchgoers.
Sadly, many Evangelicals have now abandoned the Book of Common Prayer. One lamentable feature of the present alternative liturgy in the Church of England (and also the Church of Ireland) is that allows for a 'Service of the Word.' Whilst this requires the incorporation of certain elements, somewhat in the manner of the 'Articles of Perth' which James VI & I imposed on the Kirk in 1610, it is pretty much a free form service. This, sadly, places the congregation very much at the mercy of the Minister and his theological prejudices. This may be acceptable if the clergyman involved is a model of orthodoxy, but all too often they allow that which interests them to upset the balance not just of their preaching, but of the congregation's worship and prayer. At least in the old days of the BCP one got a balanced diet of praise, prayer and thanksgiving. Whilst the seventeenth century language of the BCP may not be acceptable to many Evangelicals today, I would make a plea that they consider using a version of the 1662 Prayer Book rendered into modern English. This would enable them to remain faithful to the legacy of the English Reformation and also act as a corrective to theological eccentricity.
There is also another point still to be made. The Book of Common Prayer provided one of the bonds that held Anglicanism together, and with its abandonment one of things that held Evangelicals and Protestant High Churchmen together has disappeared. If we are indeed to witness effectively to the Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican tradition, Evangelicals and High Churchmen need to work together as without its two lungs - one Evangelical, the other Catholic. The tendancy in modern times has been for the one to try and live without the other and the result as been a certain 'shortness of breath,' or, in some cases, a state of suffocation. The society that we live in today needs the faithful witness of a Church that is rooted in the Bible and the Creeds, is Sacramental, and also Reformed. This is the version of Christianity which Anglicanism is uniquely equipped to provide. It is only by being faithful to the Bible and to traditional Christian values that we will be able to roll back the tide of the new Paganism that is overwhelming society. The advantage of the BCP is that it gives Scriptural doctrine a liturgical form, and by praying it each week it enters deep into our souls to strengthen us against 'the world, the flesh, and the devil.'

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Old Evangelicalism

One of the things that strikes me when I read the sermons and addresses of the old school Evangelical Anglicans is the degree to which they place emphasis on three things - the need for conversion, sanctification, and faithfulness to the (Anglican) Church and her teaching. When one is talking to American Anglicans one often gets the feeling that Evangelicalism is an alien growth so far as they are concerned, and not something that by rights belongs in the Church. However, I have long since learnt that what most Americans mean by 'Evangelicalism' is what those of us born on the other side of the Atlantic would call revivalism.

The major problem with Revivalism is its doctrinal content - or rather the lack of it. The old Evangelicals started from the doctrinal standpoint of the Thirty-nine Articles, and they preached the need for faith, for conversion of heart and conversion of life. This appeal was made on the basis of the Doctrines of Grace contained in Articles IX to XVIII which set out certain the key doctrines.

The first of these Articles deals with the doctrine of Original Sin. The story of Adam and Eve should be reasonably familiar to the all Christians, but I think a lot of the time we forget that it explains the basic tragedy of man's situation. Man, due to the rebellion of Adam and Eve, lives in his natural condition in a state of rebellion against God. As you will recall, humanity is tempted by the serpent's appeal that 'ye shall be like God's knowing the difference between good and evil' and the desire for greater knowledge and power, which we can see as a manifestation of the sin of Pride, leads Adam and Eve to rebel. Genesis then goes o to explain how Man, because of this rebellion becomes astranged from God (i.e. is thrown out of the Graden of Eden) and is punished for his sin by toil and death. Humanity's fall also robbed him of any natural or inherent ability to "get right" or justify himself with God.

However, as Genesis moves swift along, it soon becomes pretty clear than God is not finished with humanity, and much of the rest of the Old Testament deals with the struggle of man to find peace with God, which is the subtext of the story of God's ancient people the Jews. The solution to Man's predicament is, in the fullness of time, resolved by God Himself. God sens His Son, born of a woman, to reconcile man to God. This is a really big deal because at the culmination of the Gospel narrative we have two earth shattering events. Firstly, the God-Man is crucified for the sins of humanity, that all through Him have the potential to be forgiven their sins and be reconciled to God. Secondly, that same God-Man, Jesus Christ, rises from the dead 'the first fruits of those that sleep' so that man does not only receive a means of escape from God's wrath through the crucifixion, but also has the potential for eternal life. So how does man access these gifts of Grace? How does humanity "get right" with God?

The solution to that problem is found in Article 11. St Paul in Romans and elsewhere speaks of man as being justified (made right with God) by Grace through Faith. Our Lord, when he speaks to those who have been brought to him 'tied and bound by the chain of their sins' often says 'your faith has made you well.' It is quite clear that God offers us the chance of being made right with Him by Faith. Faith is an active consent to the God's promises. We often talk about this 'belief' as being a passive intellectual assent, but it goes deeper than this. In Old English 'belief' involved doing or living something, and so not only does our aceptence of God's promises involve a change of mind, but also a change in our lives. Christianity is not a series of intellectual propositions but a life(style.) This idea of Christianity as a lifestyle as well as a faith system brings us neatly to the next major tenant of the old Evangelical theology.

If we are justified by Faith, then where do Good Works fit in. Well, if faith justifies, then God Works are the fruit of that faith. They represent a part of that process of sanctification (becoming holy) which is the response of a converted person to the gift of God's grace. Unfortunately, far too many people even today see Good Works not as evidence of a converted heart, but as a means of building up the balance in their spiritual bank account. This is salvation by works, and that was condemned as a heresy about 1600 years ago, and neither God nor His Church have changed their minds in the interim. Instead, Cranmer echos Our Lord's words about discerning between good and bad trees to underline the fact that good works are works of faith by which a Christian man's faith may be discerned, and are, because of our faith, acceptable to God.

The last plank of the old Evangelical position was the doctrine of Predestination. Now folks really don't like the doctrine of Predestination today because it really cuts away at Man's pride. However, I think this is one way in which we can see that it is indeed a true and godly doctrine. Humanity's pride is what got him into trouble in the first place - remember Adam, Eve, that cunning serpent, and how he got them to partake of forbidden fruit? The basic premise of predestination is that God has called a certain number of people, known to Him alone, to respond to Him in faith and accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour. The major advantage of the doctrine is that it is an antidote to any form of spiritual pride, as they most we can say (along with St Paul) is that 'by the grace of God, I am what I am,' and it also makes it very clear that salvation is a gift of God, not a work of man. Classical Arminians, and Calvinists agree that salvation is the gift of God, but disagree on the ability of man's ability to resist or reject God's call. The overwhelming majority of Anglican Evangelicals have held fully to the reformed position, with a minority embracng the Wesleyan variation on Arminianism.

Historically, the mainstream of Anglican Evangelicalism has been a moderate form of Reformed teaching as represented by J C Ryle in the 19th century, and Packer and Stott in modern times. The priorities of Evangelicalism very much derive from the theology of the English Reformation, and are part and parcel of the theology of the Book of Common Prayer, which give liturgical form to the Reformed Faith.

In part 2 of this series of blogposts we are going to look at the Prayer Book and Evangelicalism.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Deposited Prayer Book of 1928

The deposited, or proposed BCP of 1928 was probably the best Prayer Book Anglicanism never officially had. Prayer Book Revision had been initiated in 1906 with the Royal Commission on Ritual which had concluded, somewhat unsurprisingly, that the then liturgical law of the Church of England was 'too narrow for the present generation.' This opened the door to a revision of the BCP more extensive than the new lectionary and rubrical tinkering of 1871. The atmosphere in 1906 was a bit more conducive to this sort of effort than it had been ten years before. Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, had been known to frequent All Saints' Church, Margaret Street, and although one might suggest that it appealed a little more to his taste for the flambouyant than his theological convictions, it was definitely a sign that he was not locked into his mother's Pietism. The fact that moderate Anglo-Catholics and their sympathizers were making it to the Bench of Bishops also helped.

The initial phase of the revision process was more or less a case of private enterprise. Evangelicals, liberals, and Anglo-Catholics all published proposals for the reform, with the Evangelicals making the fewest - as they basically accepted the 1662 BCP as it stood - and the most radical coming from the liberal element. However, none of the suggestions was terribly radical. A tidying up of the daily offices, the removal of some archaic language, some additional propers for Holydays included in the 1662/1871 Calendar all made their way uncontentiously through the revision process. Even the revision of the Communion Service, which was very largely opposed by the Evangelicals, went through against only muted opposition. Much of this unanimity was achieved at the price of allowing the unaltered 1662 form to remain alongside the 'alternative' Offices drawn up for the 1928 revision. The revised BCP was passed by huge majorities in the Church Assembly, and then went to Parliament.

The result was a disaster. Although the new Book of Common Prayer had the support of a majority of Churchmen, it received only dutiful support from the two Archbishops. Randall Davidson was probably lukewarm about the extent of the revision. He probably would have referred the sort of 'light makeover' of the 1662 BCP that occurred in Ireland in about 1871-77 and 1926. Lang of York probably would have preferred something more catholic in outlook - such as the 1549 BCP which he had authorized for use in Lord Halifax's private chapel. Both spoke in favour, and the neccessary Act of Parliament passed the Lord's. The Commons was a different matter, however, and under the able leadership of Joynson-Hicks, who saw the provisions for reservation and Communion from the Reserved Sacrament as undermining the Protestant Character of the Church of England, the Evangelicals and Liberals in the House of Commons - both those of the Anglican tradition, and non-Conformist, managed to vote down the Act authorizing the replacement of the 1662 BCP with the 1927 revision.

The Church Assembly did some fancy footwork over the einter of 1927/8 to revise the Proposed Book, but to no avail. Joynson-Hicks' posse managed to get the book voted down by a wider margin in the Commons. The reaction from the Church wa snot far short of panic. Herbert Hensley Henson, the liberal Bishop of Durham flipped his lid and went from being the most establishment of Bishops to being the most outspoken proponant of Disestablishment. Most other Bishops did a good deal of handwringing, and a stop gap solution was found in the House of Bishops' motion that the 1928 Deposited Book would be taken as representing the maximum amount of deviation from the 1662 BCP that would be tolerated by them. In more Catholic dioceses, such as London and Lincoln, the 1928 Proposed BCP became widely used, and became the de facto standard in most Central and High Church parishes.

On the whole, it is a great pity that the 1928 Revision was voted down in England. The Communion Service is particularly strong, not only restoring the Canon, but the Benedictus, Pax and Agnus Dei. The fuller form of the Prayer for the Church was also a welcome change, as was the reposition of the Prayer of Humble Access between the Comfortable Word and the Sursum Corda. The addition of Compline to the daily round of the Office; the provision of Collects, Epistles and Gospels for Lenten ferias and minor holydays were also welcome enrichments. When liturgical reform at last got underway in England in the late 1950s, it was a slightly modified version of the 1928 Proposed BCP that prevailed in the form of Alternative Services Series One some parts of which are still authorized today. The sad part about the whole 1928 fiasco is that it enshrined 'liturgical anarchy' as being normal in the Church of England, rather than as being a temporary crisis that ended in BCP revision. As a result one can attend adjacent C of E parishes today, and their is little resemblance between them. One might have a dignified catholic rendering of the current Eucharistic rite with the sacred ministers in the ancient vestments; the next a 'song sandwich' led by a praise band, and a minister in chinos, shirt and tie! On the whole in America we have survived much better partly because of our narrow identity as Anglicans, which comes from being a minority tradition, but also because the process of revision has not been hampered by the restraints of Establishment. One thing we do need to be careful about is that we remain loyal to our Anglican traditions, and do not allow the Missals - that familiar Tridentine-BCP hybrid - to become the norm for the Eucharist. Not only is it not a particularly elegant beast, but its theology is not always full consonant with the Ancient Fathers and Councils due to its way too vigorous assertion of Eucharist sacrifice and the cultus of the saints.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

And some may talk of Alexander...

One of the most delightful figures in 19th century Church history is the Most Rev. William Alexander, 1824-1911, who was Bishop of Derry and Raphoe 1867-1896 and Archbishop of Armagh 1896-1911. I briefly mentioned in a blogpost about the High Church movement in Ireland, but I hope I can now do a little more judice to this half-forgotten bishop.

William was born in 'Derry April 13 1824. His father was a clergyman of the Church of Ireland, and his mother, though raised Presbyterian had converted to Anglicanism upon her marriage. Like many of the more active clergy in the 1820s, Mr Alexander was an Evangelical. However, his son's theological development was to be influenced greatly by his father's choices regarding his education for he was sent up to Oxford in 1843 just at the close of the Oxford Movement and experienced the magnatism of J H Newman, then still an Anglican, and of Pusey. William Alexander, though influenced by them, seems to have gotten more poetry than theology out of the Oxford Movement, and became no mean hand as a poet himself. On the other hand, his theology bore the stamp of the moderate "Bisley" school of Tractarianism throughout his life. Like many of that school, he put great faith in the idea of putting the Prayer Book into practice, and he read widely not just Anglican Divines, but also some French and German writers. However, Alexander's health did not allow him to pursue an honors degree, but he did so well in the examinations that he was granted an areogatat degree. Ordination followed in 1847, and after a brief curacy he was Rector successively of Derg, Camus, and Fahan parishes in the northwest of Ireland.

His daughter's memoir refers often to the affection in which he held his parishioners, and contains many humourous references to the somewhat dour Ulster character. It is evident from the surviving record that he was a zealous parish priest, and that his wife, Cecil Francis (Humphries) Alexander (1818-1895) was a devoted parish visitor and an invaluable help to her husband in his ministry. It is evident that the two of them took great pains not us over visiting the sick, but indeed all in the parish who claimed some sort of connection with the Church of Ireland, and they also visited many dissenters of both the Protestant and Roman varieties where they felt they would be welcomed. Alexander also retained some links to Oxford with his poem dwelling on the character of the University being recited at the installation of Lord Derby as Chancellor in 1853. He was also, periodically, a university preacher who was popular for the simplicity and warm of his style. Alexander's extensive parish - Camus - had some drawbacks, one of which was the fact that he had to give up walking in favour of riding in order to undertake his parish rounds. As a result, he became rather stout, and the familiar rotund figure of "Billy" Alexander came into being.

For William Alexander the road to preferment came through his connection with the Marquis of Abercorn. His name was there-or-thereabouts in discussion about patronage throughout the early 1860s unlike he eventually received the Deanery of Emly (essentially a sinecure) in 1864. This welcome addition to the family economy carried little in the way of duties, but not so his next preferment which was the Bishopric of Derry and Raphoe.

At the time the Diocese was a difficult one to administer. The only railway in the diocese was the Irish Northwestern which ran from Omagh to the Maiden City, which in turn had a short branch, in the form of the Finn Valley Railway from Strabane to Stranorlar. This meant that unlike many of his colleagues, Bishop Alexander would be jogging around his diocese on a horse, or in a gig like a bishop of fifty years previously. The Bishop's palace was no great bonus either being crammed into a narrow site within the walls of the old City of Londonderry. Add to this, the debate concerning the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland was raging just at the time when William Alexander was consecrated.

Disestablishment was undoubtedly the 'right thing to do' in what was an is an overwhelming Roman Catholic island, but the accompanying disendowment was something that all Churchmen feared, as was the prospect of evolving a form of democratic government to replace the old Establishment. The Irish bishops, including William Alexander opposed the measure, but tended to take a statesman-like attitude figuring that disestablishment on good terms was better than prolonging the Establishment at the price of a further suppression of Bishoprics by the government. The first reduction, from 22 to 12 had been accomplished in 1833-1846 and had sparked the Oxford Movement, and it was felt that a further reduction, from 12 to 8 was adversely affect the efficiency of the Episcopate even though it would bring the size of Irish dioceses somewhat into line with those in England. In the event, the Irish Church Disestablishment Act gave the Church fairly generous terms, and the Church was able to reconstruct its finances on a fairly firm foundation which allowed reasonable salaries to be paid to the remaining dignataries, as well as to parish rectors. It was only towards the end of the long agricultural depression of the late-nineteenth century that the Church of Ireland began to feel the pinch.

Administering the Church was a different matter, and Bishop Alexander, along with Marcus Beresford of Armagh, Lord Plunkett, John Gregg, and R C Trench of Dublin played his part in derailing a variety of crackpot schemes in the new Representative Church Body which would have given the newly disestablished Church of Ireland a government more Presbyterian than Episcopal in its structure. The same crossbench combination also derailed schemes to radically revise the BCP, so that when the shouting was over in 1878, the Church looked much the same, but had representative bodies at Diocesan and National levels, and also a new, simpler Canon Law designed to thwart the sort of Ritual riots that were so much a feature of English Church life in the 1860s.

Bishop Alexander did not always appreciate the cautious tone of the Irish Canons in ceremonial matters, but the survival of the BCP almost intact encouraged him, as did the enthusiasm of the laity for making the new arrangements work. He set about administering the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe in conjunction with the new Diocesan Synod with enthusiasm, whilst his reduction in stipend seemed to him to be fair, and fitting in a disestablished Church. His wife, though, was never reconciled to disestablishment, and continued to pine for the old days until her death in 1895.

Bishop Alexander understood that the heart of the Church was parish life and he did everything he could to encourage good quality worship and promote clubs and socueties within every parish in his diocese. Despite his High Churchmanship he was popular with his colleagues, so when Robert Gregg died in 1896, Alexander was elected as Primate of All Ireland and removed from Derry to Armagh. It has be to said that his translation to the smaller diocese of Armagh came as something of a relief to the aging Alexander, who, at 72 was having increasing difficulty getting about. He could move around rather more of his new diocese by train, and this made the burden of travelling somewhat less, and he soon became a popular and familiar figure in the diocese.

He finally retired in Lent 1911 at the age of 87, and briefly retired to Torbay where he passed away in September 1911. Although he made no spectacular contributions to the life of the Church his concern for sound theology, good worship, and lively parishes made him one of the most effective influences on the newly disestablished Church of Ireland setting the pattern for a vigorous, and successful life as a minority Church. The two great secrets of William Alexander's ministry were his love of souls and his love of parish life, and if the Church is to remain a vital force in the lives of men all its ministers need to remember those things.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Bishop's Lot...

My "bishopping schedule" varies between empty, which are the periods when I can get on with being rector of St Paul's, Prescott, AZ - and totally insane. The period after Easter tends to be totally insane as Churchmen have a habit of fixing meetings by the date of Easter, or in the early part of May so that we can contrive to miss both Easter and Ascension. Most years it spreads out a little, but with Easter being early this year everything has fallen in April. In the past ten days I have flown to Springfield, Mo, on the way to Branson; Charleston, SC, for a FACA meeting; back to Phoenix; and then out to Charlotte, NC, for the UECNA House of Bishops and National Council. As usual this sort of travel is exhausting, but as the matters I was dealing with were mainly positive, satisfying as well.

The first trip was out to Branson. Now I know other folks contrive to fly directly into Branson, but that never seems to happen for me. As usual, it was to Springfield, MO, via Atlanta courtesy of the tender mercies of Delta. Also as usual there was some sort of a problem - this time an FAA snap inspection - which led to a 3.5 hrs late arrival in Springfield, and an unscheduled night there. Having been duly collected the next morning, I was taken to Branson, and had a very happy time dedicating their new Church Building. The Very Rev. Jim McTaggart, the Rector there, his vestry and congregation have worked tremendously hard for the last nine years to get to this day. and it was quite an occasion. As is usually the case, there was quite a bit of laughter. On of my pet peeves it the way in which as a society we distract ourselves from the important with the trivial - cue someone's cellphone going off! As usual for St Joseph's there was quite a bunfight afterwards and I enjoyed meeting friends old and new in the congregation.

As I do not particularly care to be a "hit and run bishop" I stayed for Sunday service and preached again, this time on the Epistle for Low Sunday. They had an extremely good turn out - I counted 36, including children - and I told Fr McTaggart afterwards that he would soon be needing some more pews! Again a gang of us went and ate - this time at the Olive Garden. I am not sure about the old orthodox proverb about "a bishop never hearing the truth or eating a bad meal" - but so far the second half has been fairly accurate!

Monday morning Fr McTaggart took me back to the Springfield Airport and I caught a flight back to Atlanta, and then on to Charleston, SC. The Charleston connection was - you guessed it - late, but contained no less than three bishops. Two were identifiable as such - but one was in mufti! The episcopal invasion of Charleston was for the Federation of Anglican Churches in America meeting, which is held at Cummins Seminary, Summerville, SC, the Tuesday after Low Sunday.

FACA was created to continue the process begun by the Bartonville Accords of 2000. The general idea behind them was to promote communion, co-operation, and fellowship between traditional Anglicans in the USA with an eventual view to bringing the fragment together. Depending on what else is going on, enthusiasm for FACA as grown and waned, but I believe that in the long term it will prove to be very important in linking the strands back together. Approaching the topic of Anglican unity in a top-down, jurisdiction orientated way has tended to increase, rather than decrease the mischief. The tendancy of mergers in the continuum has been "two in; five out" producing much of the alphabet soup we see today.

The meeting itself was good and positive. There was an awful lot of discussion of ecumenical outreach to/from Rome, Orthodoxy - both the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Missouri Synod Lutherans. It certainly seems that orthodox Christians are increasingly looking at ways in which to help one another and present a united front in the face of an increasingly secular West, and the need to re-evangelize large parts of Europe and North America. There was also a lot of good and positive stuff from within the traditional Anglican world, with cooperation and resource sharing between jurisdictions becoming more common.

After FACA it was home to Arizona for a coupel of nights, not for a break, but to teach a couple of classes in my own parish. After that it was back to the airport - this time at a sensible hour, not 06:00 to fly to Charlotte, NC for National Council and the UEC HOuse of Bishops. However, I will save the upshot of those meetings for another post.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Keeping Things Tidy

One of the things that has always fascinated me about Anglicanism in the USA is the way in which folks always seem to want to draw the boundaries tighter in the hope that they will eventually have an unambiguous, error-free Church. Chances are that you will also have a dead orthodoxy, but that does not seem to bother that particular school of thought. On the other hand, there are those that believe that success for the church lies in making one more concession to zeitgeist, and after that the people will come flooding back. Both approaches are inherently wrong because they fail to understand that Anglicanism has an integrity, and, moreover, an integrity which is not altogether its own.

Now why do I make that strange claim. Well, if you take a look at the documents that came out of the English Reformation, one can only reach one conclusion. That the Church of England avoided the Confessionalism of the Continental Reformed Churches, whilst reaching the same broad conclusions about the nature of the Ancient Faith. I have been known to quip that the 39 Articles are 'broadly Reformed; but narrowly Augustinian' which is intended to draw attention to the fact that whilst the XXXIX are broadly in line with the moderate Reformed theology, the actual reference is back to St Augustine of Hippo. It is also interesting to note that one of the few non-Biblical references or allusions in the XXXIX is to St Jerome. A casual look through the two books of Homilies will reveal an alarming tendancy to quote not the magisterial Reformers, but rather the Early Fathers. Jewel and Hooker, and also their less contempories like Whitgift, quote extensively from the Early Fathers - especially the four Latin Doctors, all of which should give you a clue about the general orientation of English Reformed theology, which was away from the mediaeval Church and towards the Early Fathers.

Now I am often accused of being insufficiently deferential towards the Affirmation of St Louis, but that may not be unrelated to the fact that I seem to have run into more than my fair share of Bishops and Priests who used it as a billy-club for battering those who disagree with them and for transforming Anglicanism into something that it never was. Anglicanism was never intended to be a "Western Orthodoxy" or a "Non-Papal Catholicism" constructed out of the fancies of Twentieth Century clergymen, but the old Ecclesia Anglicana cleansed of the abuses that had arisen during the Middle Ages continuing in the theological tradition set by the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church. There is both continuity and change in the reformation settlement. The XXXIX Articles and the Book of Common Prayer were intended as a blunt instruments to strip away the abuses of the Papal Church, but in no way were they intended to contradict or undermine the basic Catholicity of the English Church which lay in its acceptence of the Scriptures, Creeds, and Early Councils of the Church. Indeed, this was the whole justification behing the Reformation - let's ditch the Papal Church, which is corrupt - and get back to the Apostles' fellowship and teaching as relaid to us by the Early Fathers and Councils. As a result, Anglican theology, both Evangelical and High Church developed along Patristic, Creedal lines, not along narrowly Confessional lines. In many ways, the XXXIX Articles became a nail on which Anglican theologicans hung what they had learnt from the Fathers.

The fly in the ointment, so to speak, is what happened between 1820 and 1970, which is basically the development of first Liberalism, and then modern Relativism both of which have, in theological circles, been very corrosive to the authority of Scripture, the Creeds, and the Fathers and Councils of the Church. This process has culminated in the bleat of liberal theologians today who preach the Gosppel of Inclusion, not the Gospel of Christ, and who claim that as the Church wrote the Bible (in a sense true, but...;) it can re-write (not true, because Scripture is inspired by God.) Needless to say, the 1970s version of this attitude of mind was the backdrop to the Episcopal Church's great act of forgetting and the creation of the new Episcopal Religion over the 35 years following 1967. So when the mainstream of the Continuum (in terms of numbers) came to organize in 1977 it was natural that they should produce a document that presented the answer of the orthodox that had recently left ECUSA to the modernism that had driven them out. The 'big surprise' is that, apart from a few clauses intended to prevent Anglo-Catholics becoming the whipping boys of the new Church as they had been (in their own opinion) in the old, the solution to the problem of "Modernism" was exactly the same one as was presented by in the 16th century to solve the problem of "Papism." In short, when you wish to understand the doctrine of the Church as expressed in the BCP and the Articles, go to the Bible, the Creeds, the Fathers, and the Councils; don't make it up as you go along.

What bugs me about the Affirmation is not what it says, but the way in which some folks have used it to stage a supposedly catholic counter-revolution against the Old Anglicanism, and the way in which in their eyes it has become the only formulary of modern orthodox Anglicanism. The stated purpose of the Affirmation, and in my view its only legitimate purpose, was to maintain, preserve and continue the catholicity of the Old Anglicanism, and address the abuses ushered in by 1960s and 70s liberalism. In other words, it was written to keep things tidy by exclusing the neology of the 1970s from the new jurisdiction. Unfortunately, things did not quite work out that way as politics took over and the Movement become divide. However, that does not diminish the usefulness of the Affirmation of St Louis in excluding revisionist interpretations of the Bible, Creeds, BCP, Articles, etc., from the Continuing Churches. Doubtless I shall again be accused of inconsistency, but if you care to read more than two articles in this blog, you will actually find that I am fairly consistent - at least as consistent as most other folks - in my theological position. I admit I was a little sloppy in my last post, but anyone reasonably familiar with my scribbling would doubt that my basic position is that in order to maintain an orthodox Anglicanism one has to reference the formularies of the Church against the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and base the teaching of the Church upon what the ancient Fathers and Councils taught as they explained the Scriptures and the Creeds back in the great age of Orthodoxy. What I am very resistent to is changing the worship of the Church, or totally trashing what happened under Elizabeth I, because the enduring Refromation in England, and the one that created the conditions for Anglicanism to mature theologically was not Henry's or Edward's - both of which lasted slightly longer than the proverbial wine gum - but Elizabeth's. Never forget, it was Matthew Parker, the Reformer, who told us to interpret that Articles and Homilies in 'the most Catholic sense.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Barking up the Wrong Tree?

Some of you will be aware of the recent letter to the leadership of the Anglican Church in North America that was composed by Archbishop Haverland, and co-signed by several other heads of jurisdictions including the present writer.  Whilst I would agree with almost everything in that letter, especially the fact that it highlights that the ACNA policy of 'local option' on the Ordination of Women prevent substantial dialogue with the older Continuing Groups, there were a couple of things in the final paragraph from which I strongly dissent.  In retrospect I probably should have encouraged Archbishop Haverland to drop those references, rather than put myself in a position where I have to clarify my position.

Firstly, whilst I would agree with the idea that the ACNA take a look at the Affirmation of St Louis, I would suggest that they do so with a critical eye, and reject those parts of it which are contrary to traditional Anglicanism.  The seven sacraments, and the seven Ecumenical Councils, whilst widely referred to as teaching tools in traditional Anglicanism were never accorded official status. The Articles require that dogma have Biblical warrant creating a hierarchy of authority which subordinates the Councils to Scripture.  More mischieveous than those provisions is the call in the Affirmation that all older Anglican formularies be interpreted, not in accordance with the Ecumenical Councils, but with the Affirmation itself.  This has always stuck in my craw because it strikes me as just as revisionist as the party line from 'Miss Kitty Cat House' (aka "815") condemning Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina for schism when in fact he is faithful maintaining the doctrine, discipline and worship of the post-'79 Episcopal Church! Taken with the clause in the Affirmation allowing liturgies 'containing the BCP' (you ain't foolin' me; you mean the Missals) these clauses constitute an assisted suicide programme for all forms of orthodox Anglicanism except Anglo-Catholicism.  Therefore, if classical Anglicanism is to survive and flourish, and a united Continuum is to emerge, we need to eschew the Affirmation of St Louis at least in part.

Secondly, I am a little slow on the uptake sometimes, and missed the reference to Metropolitan Jonah's remarks when I first read it.  This is my own fault because Eastern Orthodoxy is something that exists at the far side of the Baltic so far as I am concerned.  However, having educated myself a bit, it seems that Metropolitan Jonah's remarks were in fact a trashing of the whole Western theological tradition, and especially the Evangelical (Lutheran) and Reformed traditions.  As I believe quite firmly that Anglicanism is, in the words of the Church of Ireland Constitution, a 'Catholic and Apostolic, Protestant and Reformed' Church, I am compelled to say that Metropolitan Jonah's remarks are just another trip down that familiar road - when dealing with Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism - of convert heretic scum!  Whilst I do not have a problem with that position; as it is (in liberal theologian speak) "their integrity;" I do not see why we should be so daft as to agree with them.  After all, Anglicanism has its own integrity based on Scripture, the ancient Creeds and Council, the Articles and the BCP.

In calling the ACNA to take heed to the Affirmation of St Louis and the remarks of Metropolitan Jonah, I think the letter ends on a false note in what is otherwise an excellent letter by basically asking ACNA to bark up the same wrong tree as most of the older Continuing jurisdictions.  Personally, I think they should use the Affirmation of St Louis as a warning and make no new formularies.  The old American Episcopal Church, to which the Anglican Province in America and the Anglican Church in America are successors, had it right with their Declaration of Principles which affirmed the male character of Major Orders, the Sanctity of Life, and the nature of Christian Marriage.  It was a sort of 'off side rule' which put the "neology" of the 1960s out of play so far as the AEC was concerned.  The UECNA pursued a very similar path by subordinating the Affirmation of St Louis (which is not mentioned in our Constitution and Canons) to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the BCP (which are.)  Both approaches are intended to mark a straightforward return to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the old Church without restoring to the 'invisible mending' indulged in by the Affirmation.

My great fear is that unless a united and uniting Continuing Church firmly subordinates the Affirmation of St Louis to the Articles, BCP and Homilies, that Church will not remain united for long.  The original ACNA(E) of 1977 was torn apart by politics steming from the 'revisionist' clauses of the Affirmation of St Louis.  As a 'non-party Anglican' - Central Churchman, as we would say in England - I have come to distrust some of the implications of the Affirmation of St Louis.  On the face of it, it is a fine document, but there are some subtle revisions of orthodox Anglican theology and practice which are dangerous, not just to Evangelicals, but to Classical Anglicans as a whole.  Its aim is not to maintain the Elizabeth Settlement as revised in 1662 and 1787, but more the Church a good distance along the roads to Rome and Byzantium.  Whilst I am not opposed to Ecumenical Dialogue and understanding, I do oppose shifting one's own position in a dishonest way.  My own fear is that if a new Continuing Church emerges based on the Affirmation of St Louis rather than the Articles and the BCP, Classical Anglicanism will be tolerated for a generation and then progessively eliminated.  You say it cannot happen - well, the history of the Continuum says it can.  As a Prayer Book clergyman, firstly in the ACC Diocese (MDEW) where I served in the mid-1990s, then in the Hepworth version of the TAC from 2000-2007 I was very much a second class citizen, and then later a more or less tolerated eccentric laughed at when he was gauche enough to mention the Articles and the BCP.  I believe both organisations have got over those teething troubles, but there is always a danger of it re-emerging. As both jurisdictions were following pretty much the same glide path, and  and both accepted the Affirmation of St Louis, I came to the conclusion that the problem was largely managerial and partly the Affirmation itself.  The Affirmation of St Louis, when put into the hands of dedicated party men, can so easily become a way of excluding as unsound those who come from other orthodox Anglican traditions.  If the pathology that can be fostered by the Affirmation of St Louis' revisionist clauses is allowed to continue in a united Continuum we will doom ourselves to bark up the wrong tree forever, as we will be calling for unity, then finding we have enshrined a cause of disunity in our midst!