Habemus Altare

Thus, a beginning for a modern Lent is to repent from the modern world itself. By this, I mean renouncing the notion that you are a self-generated, self-authenticating individual. You are not defined by your choices and decisions, much less by your career and your shopping. You begin by acknowledging that God alone is Lord (and you are not). Your life has meaning and purpose only in relation to God. The most fundamental practice of such God-centered living is the giving of thanks.

Renounce trying to improve yourself and become something. You are not a work in progress. If you are a work – then you are God’s work. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in” (Eph 2:10).

Do not plan to have a “good Lent” or imagine what a “good Lent” would be. Give up judging – especially judging yourself. Get out of the center of your world. Lent is not about you. It is about Christ and His Pascha.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, “A Modern Lent

In [Luke 12:49-53], Jesus talks about the “division” that his ministry provokes, and the hard choices faced by those who answer his call to discipleship. In our contemporary ecclesial context, one is tempted to understand the kind of “division” Jesus is talking about as describing some very familiar fault lines that we draw in our own minds, fault lines like the one between those who are “orthodox” and those who are “heterodox,” between “reasserters” and “reappraisers,” between “revisionists” and those who stand for the “faith once delivered.”

But what if we’re getting it all wrong? What if the sort of division that Jesus is talking about doesn’t have to do with any of those categories? What if what Jesus is trying to describe is the division between those whose gaze is fixed on ‘Truth’, and those for whom ‘truth’ has become an idol?

In South Africa, during the painful and tenuous transition from apartheid to majority rule, there evolved a curious institution called a “Truth & Reconciliation Commission.” Yes, the truth needs to be told, and it was the job of these commissions to facilitate all the truth-telling that needed to happen. When the truth is suppressed or denied, neither health nor life can long endure. The ability of people who had been ravaged by the institutionalized racism of apartheid to tell their stories, to expose the evils of that system to the purging fire and cleansing water of truth was a necessary step in the healing of that nation. But truth-telling that is abstract, truth that is strictly propositional, truth that doesn’t somehow point beyond itself, quickly become an idol, a sinful, death-dealing idol. By contrast, authentic truth-telling leads inexorably to reconciliation. The kind of truth that is liberating, that sets free, the kind of truth that is a stream of living water welling up to eternal life, is, in the paradigm of the gospel, always configured to reconciliation, always manifesting—if I can be forgiven for exploiting and repurposing the language of liberation theology—always manifesting a preferential option for reconciliation. My friends in Christ, the most sinful, the most death-dealing form of idolatry, is the impulse to use truth as a pretext for staying un-reconciled.

So I’m wondering tonight whether the sort of division Jesus speaks of describes not a chasm between, say, the orthodox and the heterodox, between Episcopalians and those for whom the Episcopal Church is an historical antecedent, but, rather, those who let truth trump unity, and those who tenaciously cling to the ministry of reconciliation? And make no mistake, the ministry of reconciliation is hard work; none of you, I suspect, need me to tell you that. At the most recent meeting of the House of Bishops, one of our guests was Archbishop Justin’s canon for reconciliation, David Porter. Canon Porter is an Ulsterman, and earned his stripes in reconciliation ministry on the streets of Belfast. He told us that “reconciliation can be a real bastard sometimes,” because it usually means that somebody, if not everybody, feels like they didn’t get justice.

Beloved, this gospel we share, this gospel we proclaim, is nothing other than the ministry of reconciliation, reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another in and through the one who is at the same time our truth and our peace, having broken down every dividing wall of hostility through his self-offering on the cross. To the extent that there are divisions among those who own the faith of Jesus, the world is scandalized and the gospel is robbed of its power. To the extent that we, in a spirit of “true humility and self-abasement,” can unleash the grace of reconciliation to flow over every area of our lives, when our passion for truth is ever configured toward the end of reconciliation, we are like trees planted by streams of living water that bear fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither. Everything we do shall prosper. Floreat Nashotah and praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today the Texas Supreme Court handed down decisions in the two ECUSA cases pending before it: No. 11-0265, Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, et al. v. The Episcopal Church, et al.; and No. 11-0332, Masterson v. Diocese of Northwest Texas. In the first case, the Court sided with Bishop Iker’s Diocese by a closely split vote of 5-4, reversed the summary judgment of Circuit Judge John Chupp which had awarded all of the property and assets of Bishop Iker’s Diocese to the Episcopal Church and its rump diocese, and sent the case back to the trial court. The majority held that the trial court had improperly failed to apply a “neutral principles of law” analysis to the issues. The four dissenters did not disagree with that result, but instead believed that the Court lacked jurisdiction to hear a direct appeal from the trial court’s judgment in the case.

In the second case, the Court by a vote of 7-2 reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision requiring the Church of the Good Shepherd in San Angelo to turn over its building and all other assets to the Diocese of Northwest Texas. The Court definitively ruled that all Texas courts must follow “neutral principles of law” (rather than deferring to an ecclesiastical hierarchy), and that based on such an analysis, the Dennis Canon was not effective under Texas law (or that if it were effective to create a trust, the trust was not expressly irrevocable, and so could be revoked by the parish in question).

The two decisions establish “neutral principles of law” as the governing approach to church property disputes in Texas courts. (The Texas Supreme Court had last addressed the issue in 1909, seven decades before the U.S. Supreme Court authorized “neutral principles” in Jones v. Wolf, 443 U.S. 595 (1979).) And under that approach, as we have seen happen time and again more recently, courts are coming to realize that ECUSA’s case has no neutral principles going for it.

Bishop Iker and Church of the Good Shepherd Win in Texas

The Dennis Canon is the part of TEC canon law that states that all parish property is held in trust for the diocese and the national church, and is the basis of all the lawsuits that TEC has launched against breakaway Anglicans over the last ten years.

Due to the influence of the [Liturgical Renewal Movement] and its influence in the upper reaches of liturgical thought in the Episcopal Church, the ’79 BCP ended up having a more catholic appearance due to 1) the recovery of historical ideals that also guided the reform of the Roman liturgy post Vatican-II and 2) ecumenical rapprochement with Roman Catholics. Furthermore the performance of the liturgy likewise took on a more catholic appearance with a proliferation of chasubles in places where they would have been anathema as ‘too popish’ just a generation before…

My crystal ball is telling me that Holy Women, Holy Men [the new TEC sanctorale] and the furor around it is emblematic of the liturgical issues that we will be dealing with in the next few decades. We are at the point where we must come to terms with the fact that we have inherited a prayer book with a greater catholic appearance but without catholic substance behind it. To put a finer point on it, we have a catholic-looking calendar of “saints” yet no shared theology of sainthood or sanctity. While a general consensus reigned that the appearance was sufficient, the lack of a coherent shared theology was not an issue. When we press upon it too hard—as occurred and is occurring in the transition from Lesser Feasts & Fasts into Holy Women, Holy Men into whatever will come next—we reap the fruits of a sort of potemkin ecumenism that collapses without common shared theology behind it.

Is there a catholic theology of sanctity in the Episcopal Church? Yes, in some places. Is there an inherently Episcopal theology of sanctity that proceeds naturally from the ’79 BCP that is in line with a classic Christian understanding? Without question! But is it known? No. Is there any common Episcopal understanding of sanctity? The arguments around the church especially as embodied in the discussions within the [Standing Commission on Liturgy and Ministry] lead me to answer, no—I don’t think so.

The struggle of this current generation will be to wrestle with a liturgy that portrays a catholic appearance but lack a catholic substance behind it. It’s not that the substance can’t be there—it’s that it’s not.

Derek Olsen, “Liturgical Chickens Coming Home to Roost
The economic position of our country has changed, dramatically. With all parties committed to austerity for the foreseeable future, we have to recognise that the profound challenges of social need, food banks, credit injustice, gross differentiation of income - even in many areas of opportunity - pressure on all forms of state provision and spending are here to stay. In and through the church we have the call and potentially the means to be the answer that God provides. As Pope Francis recalled so memorably, we are called to be a poor church for the poor, however and wherever poverty is seen, materially or spiritually. Being a poor church for the poor means both provision and also prophetic challenge in a country that can reduce inequality, especially inequality of opportunity and life expectancy. If you travel north from parts of Liverpool to Southport, you gain almost a year in life expectancy for every mile you travel. We are debating these questions in this Synod. But prophetic challenge needs reality as its foundation, or it is mere wishful thinking, and it needs provision as its companion or else it is merely shifting responsibility.

But what are contemporary Anglicans - citizens in secular, democratic polities - to make of this ‘Church and King’ political theology? Is embarrassment - or downright rejection - the only appropriate response? Can the ‘Church and King’ critique of 1688 and 1776 have any meaning for contemporary Anglicans?

Another element of liturgy that requires greater inculturation is liturgical texts. “Anglicanism for over four centuries has been concerned that people pray in their own language”; however, although the language may technically be that of the people, the words and syntax of some parts of the Prayer Book are so elevated as to be nearly foreign. The language of the liturgy must be consistent with how the local assembly communicates outside of the liturgy. Consistent is not to say that the language should be identical to that of culture. “Christian speech” as Gail Ramshaw rightly defines it, “is vernacular with a twist”:

‘The language of faith is a dialogue between our contemporary experience in its vernacular dress and the gospel as written in the Scriptures and repeated in the tradition. We must use common speech to proclaim good news that is outside our common experience. The recasting of liturgical speech or the fine tuning of a eucharistic prayer is a momentous task: one must know the gospel, the tradition, and the contemporary situation, and must hold them together in liturgical language.’
Matthew R. Johnson, “Tool, not Idol: Inculturation and Prayer Book Revision

“To all who received [Jesus], who believed in his name,” John’s gospel tells us, “he gave power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). In Christ we have been given a new identity: We are sons and daughters of the Most High God, children deeply cherished and unconditionally loved by our heavenly Father. Our status and significance in life derives not from our performance, but from our position in Christ. Who we are and what we are, is grounded in the truth that we now belong to God. We are God’s children by adoption and heirs of God’s promises. This new identity offers us a sense of value that does not come from anything that we have done for God, but rather from what God has done for us. No longer are we preoccupied with the way others see us. Our worth comes from how God sees us. No longer are we seeking the approval of others. We are seeking only to comprehend and embrace the wonder of being children of God!

When the Enemy depreciates us, recalling to us the failures and deficiencies of the old self, we have only to assert the truth about our new self:

I have been given power to become a child of God! (Jn 1:12)
I am no longer a slave, but a friend of Christ! (Jn 15:15)
I have bought with a price. I belong to God! (I Cor 6:20)
I am a child of God by adoption! (Rom 8:15)
I am no longer under condemnation! (Rom 8:1)
I have been redeemed and forgiven! (Col 1:14)
I know that nothing can separate me from the love of God! (Rom 8:28)
I am a brand new person in Christ Jesus! (II Cor 5:17)
I am a citizen of heaven! (Phil 3:20)

This is the first gift of the Spirit that is given to us: a new identity that is undeniable and that can never be taken away from us. We are God’s children by adoption, joint heirs with Christ! This is who and what we are now, and will be forevermore. “See what love the Father has given us,” the author of I John exclaims, “that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are!” (I Jn 3:1)

Br. David Vryhof, SSJE, “Empowered
I long for the Church to be more truly itself, and for me this involves changing its stance on war, sex, investment and many other difficult matters …. Yet I must also learn to live in and attend to the reality of the Church as it is, to do the prosaic things that can be and must be done now and to work at my relations now with the people who will not listen to me or those like me — because what God asks of me is not to live in the ideal future but to live with honesty and attentiveness in the present.
Rowan Williams, inChrist on Trial(pg. 85-6)

Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism both began as reform movements aimed at bringing Anglicans back to their roots. This is easily forgotten today, as both movements have become more concerned with aping their corollaries in the wider Christian world than with celebrating Anglican distinctiveness. Nevertheless, the early Evangelical movement in Anglicanism was deeply concerned with communicating the Gospel by means of both impassioned preaching and liturgy. The great Evangelical Charles Simeon wrote gushingly of his love for the prayer book and his belief that “a congregation uniting fervently in the prayers of our Liturgy would afford as complete a picture of heaven as ever yet was beheld on earth.” He distrusted Evangelical efforts that were not grounded in the prayer book. He also joined his fellow Evangelical John Wesley in having a special devotion to Holy Communion, something that had fallen out of fashion in the latter half of the eighteenth century.

In the beginning, the Anglo-Catholic movement was equally imbued with the spirit of the Elizabethan Settlement. There is a fierce desire apparent in the early Tracts for the Times to associate the Church of England not only with its pre-Reformation past but also with the great lights of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Much of what is available from the reformers and divines today was re-published and circulated by early Anglo-Catholics, from the commentaries and sermons of William Beveridge to Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Moreover, the early movement was deeply concerned with maintaining the prayer book as the standard for doctrine and faith. Early Anglo-Catholics objected to schemes that would allow for non-subscription to the 39 Articles by those obtaining university posts. Even Tract 90, which was admittedly an effort to find ways around uncomfortable parts of the Articles, was nevertheless an indication of how committed the Oxford Fathers were to explicating the Catholic character that they believed Anglicanism has always had.

The point is, both Evangelicalism and Anglo-Catholicism can legitimately claim a stream of continuity with classical Anglicanism. Moreover, both parties, as reform movements, are able and fitted to make sure that modern Anglicans do not lose an important part of our theological heritage. Evangelicals are well poised to remind us of the ultimate authority of Scripture within the Church, the all sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and the need for personal conversion. Anglo-Catholics, on the other hand, remind us of the power and importance of the Sacraments, the nature of the Church as a divine institution, and the guiding principle of Anglicanism that we judge all of our doctrine and practice by how it relates to the early Church. A full and true Anglicanism has to have all of these things to function.