Sunday, January 19, 2020

Tweeting the Gospel?

Sermon for the second Sunday after Epiphany

That’s a very strange response to an introduction.

St Philip comes up to Jesus and says, “Lord, Andrew says there are some Greeks outside who would like to see you.”

And Jesus does not say, “bring them in, please Philip.” He does not say, “do you know what they want?” Nor does He say, “tell them to go away.” Rather He starts talking about His impending crucifixion. It all seems a bit like answering the doorbell by saying, “I’m going to die, shortly!”

How might the Greeks react?

[PAUSE]

In order to understand why Our Lord responds in such a peculiar fashion, we have to look at who these Greeks are. Jerusalem is a very cosmopolitan place in which many people from all over the Roman Empire come for various reasons. We have already witnessed Our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey which has clearly raised up interest among the crowds gathering for the Passover. It is very probable that these Greeks are either converts to Judaism or that they are considering the possibility of becoming Jews. In seeing Jesus arrive into Jerusalem in such a fashion, they clearly want to know Who He is and why this has happened.

And they are Greeks. This means that they are not just Gentiles by birth but they are people renowned for their thinking. They are interested in what Jesus has to say and intend to weigh Him up by His words and teaching.

That should make a lot of sense to us. In a General Election, we are faced with a number of candidates to choose from. Surely, it makes sense to make an informed choice based on what the candidates produce in their speeches and in their campaign literature. It becomes a matter, then, of choosing the candidate whose policies we like the best or, in most cases, the policies we dislike the least.

This is how people approach their religion, too. They try to find the religion that best suits them and go for that. We see many people today taking little bits from one religion and little bits from another. Why? Because they choose the bits that suit their own spirituality as they understand it.

 [PAUSE]

There are fewer and fewer practising Christians in the West and, yet, still Christmas, Easter, St Valentine’s Day and Halloween are still popular festivals. Non-Christians still enjoy Nativity plays, Easter Egg hunts, and nice cosy messages of love. Many reject the Christian Faith and they do so because it does not meet with their spirituality or their worldview. They have their own spirituality and their mind is made up.

In making up their minds, they have begun a process that hardens their hearts. Our Lord quotes the prophet Isaiah and tells those around him that God “hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”

Just as God has ordained that things fall when we drop them, and that electricity flows when we switch on the plug, so this hardening of the heart is a consequence of the unbeliever’s choice which follows the pattern that God has set. Once the heart is hardened, then the voice of God will sound only like a rumble of thunder.

[PAUSE]

The Greeks think that Jesus will give them words of wisdom which they can take away with them to do with what they will. They want a soundbite – a tweet! Something to make them feel warm and fuzzy. The only thing that He will give them is the Cross and the sign of Jonah. The Greeks want wisdom and Jesus will only show them His agony, dangling on an instrument of torture.

Our Lord’s teaching is bound up in His actions and cannot be separated. Christmas Day, Easter Day, St Valentine’s Day, Halloween, all have any meaning because of the Cross. The Cross is the centre of Christian teaching and, if we diminish its importance, then we diminish Our Lord, and we diminish His Resurrection.

And yet, if we embrace the Cross fully, truly and humbly in full recognition of Our Lord’s love for us, then we will hear the voice of God speaking to us and His Word will be of infinitely greater worth and comfort than any warm, fuzzy, inspirational message found in a tweet.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Haunted Churches?

Sermon for the first Sunday after Epiphany

It has been said that the British Isles are the most haunted place on Earth. Whether or not that’s true, people find that some of the creepiest places are ancient churches and the ruins of abbeys. There’s almost an expectation to see some apparition wandering about through the ancient stones. Why are churches so creepy, especially at night? Surely a church is supposed to be a holy place?

[PAUSE]

Christians are required to believe in ghosts – no, not the sheet-waving, chain-clanking spectres of classic fiction. We believe in the Holy Ghost which means that we are meant to believe in at least one spirit. What does this mean?

Our Lord says, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” The image that we have to dispel is that God is like the ghosts that appear in stories. God is a spirit. He does not have a body; He cannot be seen; He is like the wind which blows and we feel its effects. Clearly, Jesus is talking of the Holy Ghost here, after all, Jesus is not a spirit. He has a body; He can be seen and we can touch Him.

In saying this, Jesus is challenging an error that has persisted throughout human history: that God has a place on earth in which He dwells. The Jews and Samaritans have been arguing about where to worship God for a long time and the question has divided the people of God. In calling God a spirit, Jesus is saying that God is like the air we breathe which is always here but noticeable when it moves. You can’t say that the air is over here but not over there.

Jesus is also saying that there is more to our life than just physical matter and this is where we are now. So many people say that there is nothing beyond what we can see, hear, touch, taste or smell. They will say that when you’re dead, you’re dead and that’s it. They don’t believe in ghosts. Others believe that their gods are physical objects. This is why some people worship idols: they are the gods that can be seen. Yet, we are not to worship a god made of matter. We are to worship God in spirit and we are to worship Him in truth. Spirits truly exist.

But Jesus is saying something more.

[PAUSE]

Jesus always refers to God as His Father and that He is to be worshipped, so we worship God the Father. Jesus says that we must worship God in spirit, so the Holy Spirit is indeed God. Jesus says that we must worship God in truth, and Jesus calls Himself the Truth, so Jesus must also be God. Here, in this time of Epiphany, the Holy Trinity is seen again in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ even as the Holy Trinity was revealed at His Baptism in the river Jordan. There are three Persons but One God. This cannot happen with things that are made of matter. God is a spirit and we must worship Him in spirit and in truth.

Does this mean we have to worship Him in His spirit or with our spirits?

[PAUSE]

The answer is both. We are beings with a spirit, too, because we live and breathe, and we are conscious. We are not mere matter, but an inseparable mix of body and spirit. Take one away and we cease to be human. We are not to see ourselves as biological machines but as beings that reflect God Himself in our spirit and in our body, just as Our Lord Jesus Christ is both human and divine. Because we have a spirit, we must respect our bodies and keep them fit for the service of God. Because we have a body, we must curb its appetites so that we take care of our spirits.

[PAUSE]

Why are churches so creepy? Are they haunted? It is more likely that in an old church building, we become aware of the presence of the spirit of God moving just as the cold draughts move around the building. God is everywhere, but we feel His presence more keenly in holy places, none more so than in the Sacrament of the altar. In a holy church, we have nothing to fear for it is the presence of the spirit of God who challenges our pre-occupation with being physical things. It is when we are unnerved by things beyond our understanding that we remember our duty and kneel before the Spirit of God in worship.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Thinking about “Thinking about conservative Christianity and divisions”

I came across this article by the retired CofE priest Stephen Parsons whom I have mentioned before here. Mr Parsons has been a voice for those who have suffered much abuse at the hands of disgraced ministers such as John Smythe and Peter Ball from the Evangelical and Catholic wings of the CofE respectively, and the institutional covers-up that these two abusers have relied upon to continue their work. I am conscious that when he writes, he does so with much compassion for those who have suffered much. In this piece, however, he does display a deeply unfortunate passion for the Liberal Agenda and thus, in my mind at least, undermines his compassion for those who are abused.

I have said very clearly that I believe that the Liberal Agenda is not properly Christian and I have given my reasons. This is something that I have to argue with my friends and family. I do think that the more I see of the Liberal Agenda eating its way through the Established Church and consuming good ministers and worshippers, the more I am convinced that this is a pernicious evil perpetrated to tear people from the loving arms of their Creator. I may be wrong, I must accept that, but this conviction has been growing faster and faster the more I see posts such as Mr Parsons’.

Mr Parsons’ main focus in this article is against conservative Christians, and it seems that, by this, he is concentrating on the conservative Evangelicals. The trouble is that there are conservative Catholics too and it is speaking against us that his arguments do unravel.

We do share many points of agreement. It is true to say that some conservative Christians reject “many of the achievements of two hundred years of scientific research.” There are many who, like the Westborough Baptist Church, scream out their hatred of homosexuals and proclaim God’s approval of their hatred despite this being so very much against the commandments of God. 
As a conservative Anglican Catholic, I accept very many of the findings of Science but I put them in their proper place as discoveries about Creation in itself. Yet, I do not believe that Science is a source of theological authority. Human beings may indeed be compared with the beasts that perish and that is how Science treats us. Scientific studies of the brain produce insights into the biological mechanism that is our body and gives ways of treating disorders, but it still misses out on the existence of the mind, of subjective consciousness and even something as simple as conservation of existence, i.e. why we should continue to be at any given moment. In that Science can be done by the complete rejection of God, we must question its role as being able to contribute anything theologically meaningful. We need God’s self-revelation in order to do anything theological. This means, if we want to believe in God, we have to have something definitive that tells us Who He Is.

And we have just that. Aside from the philosophical “proofs” of the Existence of God, we have the existence of Jesus Christ as a Historical Fact. We have the writings of the Evangelists in which modern scholarship is in agreement with the scholarship of the past that these Gospels are eye-witness testimony to the Life, Death, Resurrection and Teaching of Our Lord which have been passed down through the centuries in a myriad manuscripts copied faithfully from the First Century. That only tiny, non-doctrinal differences occur in these many, many manuscripts shows not only their reliability but, also, the importance that each scribe placed upon these words in order to get them right. So we have the Gospels. And we have the writings that came out of these from St Paul, St John, St Peter, St James and St Jude. We have Jesus, the good Jew, quoting the Hebrew Canon thus giving Christian weight to the Hebrew Scriptures. We have that writings of those who knew Jesus, who knew the apostles and those who read them and listened and wrote about them. We have those great arguments, the Councils in which those arguments were framed and settled. And we have the first millennium in which the Church, though always teetering on the edge of schism was largely in agreement about the Doctrine of Christ that it received.

In short, Conservative Christianity has already thought about, mulled over, and reached clear decisions about things and any of us can read these deliberations to this day. We simply do not need to re-invent the wheel. It is also why Conservative Catholics are in closer agreement to each other than many Evangelicals who do indeed seem to want to re-invent the wheel every time they split.

Thus, Mr Parsons is deeply wrong when he says, “The idea that even the words of Scripture do not give us certainties is very threatening to many conservative Christians.” The idea does not threaten us: it does not make sense to us. I really do not think Mr Parsons has actually thought about Conservative Christians at all. Perhaps he cannot: perhaps he and I have no real language in common with which to come to any theological agreement.

My real issue with Mr Parsons is his lack of Faith and how he is willing to put forward a fear-mongering of his own through a tyranny of whim and emotion whilst trying to undermine the very thing by which Christians know they are saved. Faith is about cultivating something as a certainty even in the face of doubt. We conservatives believe that God exists and cling to that based on the evidence that we have which must be the theological evidence that we have received. For conservative Anglican Catholics, this evidence is Holy Scripture, Holy Tradition, Holy Reason, each being the foundation of the next. This is faith, and it is faith in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks and, clearly threatening to the liberals.
Yes. Salvation is indeed a work in progress, but the immutability of Christian Doctrine provides the rod by which my progress in holiness can be measured. We are not “once-saved, always saved,” there is no single moment of conversion. But while we rehearse our formulae, we move along the groove in a record towards the centre that is Christ, not around and around in circles as perhaps Mr Parsons thinks we live.

The truths of Science are horizontal and limited to the 11 dimensions (or whatever it is now) of physical reality and they do not touch upon the real issues of life and death. Science does not give us our morality: it tells us how different patterns of behaviour work through various Game Theoretic methods. Where then does Mr Parsons get the belief that the Church should be “liberal, inclusive and open to the findings of scientific research” especially when “liberal” seems to mean “willing to reject what God commands”, “inclusive” seems to mean “rejecting the notion of sin”, and “open to the findings of scientific research” seems to mean “accepting an authority which cannot make any theological or moral statement”? If the liberal believes that the Bible is not authoritative then why bother with the commandment to love one’s neighbour? Or why not reinterpret “love” to mean whatever you want. Actually, that is indeed what seems to be happening given ECUSA Bishop Michael Curry’s equivocating sermon at the recent Royal Wedding.

In praising the integrity of human nature to be spiritual and creative, Mr Parsons seems not to see that there is this business of sin infecting human nature and both common sense and basic psychology are just as infected aspects of our humanity as anything else. Of all people, he should know how sin destroys lives as he bears witness to it often enough. The reason that Smythe and Ball are exposed is because there is a firm, immutable standard against which they fall short and are seen to fall short. The same is true for the Westborough Baptist Church: they are seen to promote evil because they disobey one of the Lord’s Commandments very obviously. The fact of the matter is that human beings have fallen; they sin; they are sinned against; they sin because they are sinned against and they are sinned against because they sin. If there is no fixed moral compass then sin goes away and all this suffering is irrelevant.

If we try to save ourselves then we fall into the Pelagianism that was condemned by the Early Church. For Mr Parsons, that Pelagianism is expressed when he says, “Does what you believe enrich your life, enable you to flourish as a human being and bring you into touch with a God who gives you hope, love and joy?” whereby we become responsible in telling God how we want to flourish. I see little flourishing of the children slaughtered by Herod. I see little flourishing of St Paul languishing in prison. I see little flourishing of people dying in dark prisons for their faith, for the very certainty, the very conviction of the Faith that Mr Parsons believes “allows absolutely no scope for disagreement or doubt”. In fact, I see in what Mr Parsons says nothing that values the witness of the countless millions who have suffered for the Faith that the Liberal Agenda wants us to hold back on the grounds that we have more to learn about God from sources that are fundamentally opposed to God, such as Scientific Materialism, Freudian Psychology and Cultural Marxism. The Liberal Agenda robs the martyrs of their dignity and robs us of the possibility of being martyrs in our own way.

I am sure that Mr Parsons would agree that the one common theme that characterises the human condition is struggle. We have to struggle with God in order to realise that we should not want to be the people that we want to be, but rather the person that God wants us to be. That means a denial of worldly thinking. It means a denial of the social expectations of political correctness, of the language of entitlement and diversity, of sexual freedom. Sex may be a gift from God but it is not a right, nor is it always a gift that can be exercised. Our Lord suffers because we have to suffer. He did not have to suffer given His omnipotence, but He clearly feels that it is necessary to suffer because of the reality of our own pains. We have to do things God’s way and this means our life becomes that of service to the Gospel in order to proclaim the freedom that is coming in the morning. For the conservative Christian, nothing is more apparent than the fact that we are passing through this life. Mr Parsons would want us to settle down and be comfortable in this life on the grounds that it is psychologically better for us.

If conservative Christianity presents a “take it or leave it” approach to doctrine then this is because we believe firmly in in One God to which the three Creeds bear witness. Yes, God has made us free to choose whatever we want to believe. This doesn’t change the fact that there is One Church, One Faith, One Lord, et c. It means that one’s personal experience cannot be as authoritative as Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Experience is a means of hypothesis to test against the revealed truth. It is valuable but not one single experience is automatically authoritative. It means that we do wander in doubt and difficulty and that we can only ever build on what is already there. If God says that Fornication is a sin, then it is a sin no matter how liberating it feels. If only a heterosexual couple can marry in the eyes of God, then it cannot be changed no matter how badly we feel. If Society expects us to sin, then it is Society that will be judged harshly when God comes again in glory.

Where I am in agreement with Mr Parsons is that the legalism of certain expressions of conservative Christianity needs to stop. The monk obeys the Benedictine Rule because he knows it will keep his community together as they follow the Catholic Faith to God. He submits himself to its discipline, even to its sanctions and stripes, because he knows that his earthly body must be kept in submission to his spirit. Both body and spirit are God's, but both need to be brought into line for the good of the self and of the community in a more perfect love for God. It isn't a question of whether He loves me: I exist therefore I am loved. It's whether I love Him that matters more, and this involves a denial of myself and a conformity to Him. The self that I deny is the one defined by myself, by my experiences and by my society. I am of God's creation, corrupted by the sin of my species, and saved from the Hell of living in these sins by my Creator. If I follow Mr Parsons' programme of progress, I shall find myself drowning in the saccharin senses of self-righteousness and self-satisfaction at actuating my own identity in the very Hell that I long to leave. 

Give me my cross now so that I might stand a chance of resurrection in Christ when the time comes.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Sons in quicksand

Sermon for the second Sunday after Christmas

One thing that simple biology tells us very clearly is that we can only be the child of one father, genetically speaking. Of course, we could be a child by being adopted by someone who is not our genetic father, but whom we regard as our father with no less affection.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer and say “Our Father,” who are we talking to, God or the Devil?

[PAUSE]

Okay, that’s an alarming statement, but St John says:

“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.”

Thus, if the Devil really is our father, then the Lord’s Prayer takes on a very sinister and upsetting turn.

Is it true that we know that we are not a child of God if we sin? We know that we sin perhaps daily, perhaps in the same way each time, but we repent, confess our sins and return to God, don’t we? Surely, the Blood of Christ washes our sins away so that we are regarded as sinless before God?

The key to understanding St John is to understand his language. When he talks of committing sin, he means a continual committing of sin. He says that if we really are the children of God then we must be seeking to stop sinning. It is very true that if we do sin then we do have an advocate in Heaven, namely Our Lord Jesus Christ, but if we are putting no effort into stopping sinning then all our praises of God are just lip-service. If we make put no effort to stop sinning then we make the Blood of Christ cheaper than water. St John is clear: we cannot go through life saying, “yes, I sinned, but God will clear up the mess.”

[PAUSE]

The saints of the New Testament are very clear about one thing. We are passing through the world. We are not to become worldly. The reason is so very clear. We are being given the opportunity to return to God and that this should be the focus of our life. Our intention should be purely on accepting God’s grace by which we become His children. This is our Hope Again, St John says:

“every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”

We are not passive in our salvation because we have to turn to the Saviour and to grab His hand in order to be pulled from the mire of sin and the grasp of the Devil. We are to purify ourselves. What does this mean?

A glass of pure water contains only water, just water and nothing but water. A bar of pure gold contains only gold, just gold and nothing but gold. Being pure is about being focussed on one thing, and that is what we need to do in order to work out our salvation with fear and trembling because in being pure we are aware of Our Lord’s saving grace within us making that salvation happen.

The man who gets stuck in quicksand has all his attention focussed upon his rescuer. He calls to him, listens to him and reaches out to him and is thus pulled from a wet, dark and smothering death. He doesn’t concentrate on the quicksand which is swallowing him for that would lead to despair and also it would stop him from paying full attention to his rescuer. We do not save ourselves but, by striving to be purely devoted to Christ, we are making ourselves available to be saved and co-operating with the grace He gives us.

[PAUSE]

In purifying ourselves, we progress in ceasing to sin because we are focussed away from sin and on to the One Who saves us, redeems us and sanctifies us. Further, we become focussed on how much He is like us and we like Him because, in our purity, we shall see Him as He really is.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Painting our way into the fold

Sermon for the first Sunday after Christmas

Wile E. Coyote has decided that the best way to catch Roadrunner is to paint a door on the wall so that Roadrunner will think it’s real and crash into it. You know what happens. Roadrunner runs to the painted door, somehow opens it, runs through it and closes it again. Wile E. Coyote’s jaw drops to the floor. Of course, when he tries to do the same, he ends up on the floor watching little birds fly around the two-foot bump on his head.

The rule is clear: you cannot enter through a painted door. And yet people try.

[PAUSE]

Our Lord is quite clear. Those who enter the sheepfold by climbing over the wall are sheep-stealers. He is, as usual, referring to those Scribes and Pharisees who don’t really worship God but rather want people to follow them so that they can look important. We see this time and time again. There are so many awful cult-leaders who bask in the worship of their followers and will happily lead them off a cliff to satisfy their delusions. They bypass the door to steal souls from the Church.

Only the Lord Jesus is the door by which one can enter the sheepfold. But it seems there are those who, like Wile E. Coyote, can paint an image of Jesus on the wall of the sheepfold and enter in that way. These are no less sheep-stealers than those who climb over the wall.

This poses a bit of a problem for the sheep. If someone comes in through the door, they know that it really is someone they can trust. It’s not so easy to spot someone coming in through a fake door.

How do we tell a real door from a fake door?

[PAUSE]

The answer must lie in being sure that it’s the right Jesus. This is why we still say the Creeds. This is why we have the Holy Bible. This is why we celebrate the sacraments. All these strengthen our attachment to the real Jesus Christ. The Church has always had these from the beginning. Yes, the Creed weren’t written until five hundred years after Jesus’ birth, but their contents have always been believed by Catholics. The books of the Bible weren’t finalised until three hundred years after Christmas Day, but their contents have always been recognised as testimony about the Lord from when they were written only fifty years or so after His Resurrection. The sacraments were started by Jesus Himself. The Church has taught the real Jesus from Day One and it teaches the same Jesus now.

Except…

[PAUSE]

We have always seen those who like to re-interpret the testimony about Our Lord for their own ends or to fit their own philosophies. These are the ones who paint the fake Jesus on the wall of the sheepfold and enter in. Their Jesus is their own invention. It may almost be a photograph. But it isn’t real. Church Teaching about Our Lord Jesus Christ, His Mission, His Death and Resurrection does not change. It is the same teaching that we have always received. If there is any change in Christian Doctrine, then it is to satisfy the egos of those who think they know best based on worldly concerns.

 By their fruits shall ye know them because their fruit will divide the Church rather than unite it. It is the one whose actions cause schism who enter in by painted doors. But the Lord is very clear. There is one sheepfold and there will be many sheep from other places who will enter in. It will be the real Lord Jesus Christ Who unites His Church. We will be one when we follow only Him rather than those who paint their own doors.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Blogday 2019: Chugging along

Today we are fourteen.
Well, I’m posting this a day early so as not to confuse it with tomorrow’s sermon. I find that if I do two posts in a day, one of them gets forgotten. While I don’t write in order to build up an audience, I do try to write to reach out to people in a spirit of evangelism and encouragement in the traditional Christian Faith. Numbers viewing are now down and decreasing steadily due to my renunciation of Facebook where I used to post much of my material. I have become so tired of the petty polemics that some seem to enjoy. I don’t miss those who criticise every detail of worship, every detail of Christian Doctrine and every detail of why I am not where I am supposed to be. Of course, it is important not to confine ourselves to echo chambers and engage in robust debate. The trouble is that we don’t get debate, but rather polemics in which we talk past each other and fail to understand (sometimes deliberately) what the other is saying. Perhaps I am guilty of this most of all.

I have noted that there are those who claim to be philosophers and theologians who try to win arguments for their point of view by demonising their opponents. There are those who challenge traditional Christian Doctrine by calling those who follow that doctrine backward or incoherent or worse. To my mind, to insult your opposition means an automatic loss of the argument. Perhaps it’s a good job that I wasn’t present at any of the Oecumenical Councils otherwise I wouldn’t believe anything!

I note that I haven’t posted as much this year. Well, that’s because it’s been a busy year. I am now a published author, albeit self-published through Lulu rather than a more established, professional publisher. I know that I am nothing in the academic world and that what I write will not reach the dizzying heights of SPCK or OUP, but then I do wonder whether that might not be a bad thing given the worrying tendency that many media outlets display in restricting content that does not conform to a politically correct worldview. There are things which we may not criticise at all, now. While I may tire of the constant cross-denominational nit-picking, I would rather walk away from it than demand that it be prohibited outright. It's best that they just get on with it and spin themselves into the ground like Abbott's king of Pointland. What I have written certainly seems to have appealed to some readers and I am very grateful for a couple of very positive reviews that I have received on Amazon. I am yet to receive the more critical reviews which I do dread, admittedly. Yet, a good Benedictine will receive the criticism in the same way as he receives praise and perhaps value it more highly. Something else I have to learn, it seems.

Nonetheless, my books have been on sale since the beginning of the year and so I don’t post as much here other than the sermons that I write on behalf of Readers. I have noticed that they have become more focussed on the issue of repentance, lately. They have also become more cerebral. I suppose that this is due to the fact that I am essentially writing for someone else and that means reducing the content which perhaps comes from my mannerisms and personality. Looking after my family means that I don’t have much time to sit and reflect as there is always someone who needs me right this second and no other second will do.

The biggest casualty has been my poor little Mission. Of course, this has been mothballed rather than written off completely, but it’s difficult to see how things change. Circumstances do change, however, and will change in ways that I don’t expect. I am still very settled as an Anglican Catholic and don’t anticipate that this will ever change. In writing Anglican Catholicism: Unchanging Faith in a Changing World, I rather think that I have eliminated any intellectual doubts that I might have had in being in a minority group. I am convinced of the integrity of Anglican Catholicism as, perhaps, the only coherent form of Anglicanism. Of course there are many more Anglican Catholics out there who aren't members of the Anglican Catholic Church but hold the same Catholic Faith as we do. The hand of friendship is happily extended and waiting for reciprocation.

The present time, admittedly, is very confusing for all who call themselves Anglican as the Lambeth Anglican Communion begins to fragment. I notice that one former Anglican luminary has departed for Rome because he can’t unite the different Anglican groups into one fold.  Quixote or sheer self-aggrandizement? Only God knows truly.

I suspect that this isn’t a problem with Anglicanism per se, but rather the Protestant nature of some aspects of it. The number of evangelical groups that are forming, all claiming to be Anglican, all claiming scriptural orthodoxy, all claiming allegiance to the XXXIX Articles, is rather baffling and I don’t understand why the Free Church of England’s Unity Forum hasn’t worked unless personality has got involved.

Of course, it may be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. After all, didn’t the original Anglican Church of North America arising from the Congress of St Louis in the late 1970s split up along High Church – Low Church lines? What about the splitting of the Continuing Churches in the 1990s? I agree. These are a major embarrassment, but they are the fruit of their time and the product of men in whom the fires of outrage at the heresy of the Episcopal Church were still burning. It has taken us forty years, but we are coming together. We are all in communion. We have the greatest respect for each other. We share resources. We hold joint synods. We may be separate organisations but we are as we have always claimed to be – a small part of the One True Church. True Unity is Christ-centered.

And we all have some legitimate claim to the adjective “Anglican”. This does not lie for us within any confession, nor accident of history, nor the pages of a book, though these have shaped our Anglicanism and given it voice. For us Continuing Anglicans, Anglicanism lies within the totality of our heritage that comes from the Christianity which set foot on this rain-soaked archipelago sometime in the first or second centuries. It cannot be pinned down, but can only be lived out. Yes, the Book of Common Prayer is a vital part of our heritage. While I don’t use it explicitly for my private prayers, it is something that I will readily use for Morning and Evening Prayer and my Benedictine Breviary for my private prayer is centred on this central Anglican text and aspects of Sarum which also grounds the Book of Common Prayer. We have the Book of Common Prayer, but we also have the Missals and Breviaries that accompany it. The 1928 American Book of Common Prayer is a beautiful expression of Anglicanism within the American Church but it is American in its culture and therefore inappropriate for global use. In England, we have the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, though some of us use the American book.  There is, even within Anglican Catholicism, a breadth and latitude that perhaps embodies our Faith. What we do not compromise on is our faith – everyone believes the same core doctrine found in the Creeds.

To the CofE, that is far too restrictive. Their tenet is that you should believe what you want. There are atheist priests in the CofE. There are those who believe that the Resurrection is a purely spiritual event, not an historical one. Uniformity in doctrine gives a backbone to our lives. It doesn't mean that we don't think for ourselves, but rather that we have a mechanism which brings us to the feet of Christ as disciples, supplicants and/or mourners. Uniformity of doctrine is an antidote to the intellectual hubris that infects the Church in the West. Many of the hot topics are about inclusivity and diversity in which people are told they can live their lives how they want and God will pick up the pieces for them. Inclusivity is effectively infantilism in which the nobility of struggling with God is replaced with an anodyne existence save only to "call out" the bigotry of those who are prepared to struggle against this infantilism. The words that get bandied about in such discussion are "privilege" and "entitlement". These are words that arrive from envy but then I would hazard a guess that much of the left-wing philosophy being peddled today is a philosophy of envy. St Benedict saw this problem and called it murmuratio, the murmuring that Moses encountered from Israel in the wilderness. If the language that we hear most is empowerment then it is not of the charity that we read about in I Corinthians xiii.

What, then, are the aims for this year? Every year I do wonder whether I can keep this blog going or whether it will be the last. I am tempted to sink into silence through sheer grief at the destruction of sensible theological discourse in the "mainstream" churches and through sheer fear that my airing a controversial opinion could result in me being censored or even my poor innocent wife fired from her job. The injustice is that my wife has her own opinions and I have mine which are not the same. She is a member of the CofE and I most certainly am not. And yet, the toxicity promoted by social justice warriors aimed against my words could damage her. How is that fair?

I am still writing and have a book in progress, though progress is slow mainly through having to care for my family, and that the material is stretching my poor little understanding to its limit. Also, I continue to support the network of Readers in providing sermons. I will continue to watch the CofE dissipate slowly and call it out on its immorality as is my duty. What I do pray, however, is that I may have the time and opportunity to develop spiritually and not just intellectually as I fear that I am perhaps puffing up rather than building up. 

To the Holy and Undivided Trinity,
To the crucified Humanity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
To the fruitful Virginity of the blessed and glorious Mary Ever-Virgin,
To the whole company of the saints
be everlasting praise, honour, power and glory from every creature.
And to us may there be the remission of all our sins forever, world without end. Amen

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Binding the spiritual

Sermon for Christmas Day

There are many people out there who say that they are “spiritual but not religious.” What do they mean?

These folk reject what they call organised religion in favour of seeking meaning within their own lives and spirits. Yet, lest anyone dare rush to condemn these folk, we should at least consider their reasons. Sometimes organised religion hasn’t served humanity very well. Most regrettably, there have been times when members of the Church have wounded critically the lives of men and women to the extent that they see the Church as an oppressive organisation. Sometimes, all the policies, patterns and procedures drive people away rather than encourage them. Sometimes, Christians just aren’t very nice people.

And yet, look how full the cathedrals and churches get for Midnight Mass, how carol services, nativity plays and singing are still really popular even with people who would not describe themselves as Christian. Why is this so? Why do people who are spiritual but not religious often find much comfort in observing Christmas Day?

Is it because the baby in the manger is so cute?

Is it because the baby in the manger is a sign of hope against poverty, victimhood, and oppression?

Is it because the baby in the manger is a good story being handed down from generation to generation?

Is it because of the baby in the manger at all?

[PAUSE]

There is within the human spirit a desire for light, a desire for nourishment and a desire for love and these desires hit us at the very heart of our souls. Darkness, hunger and cold are not part of the human condition and when we are overwhelmed by them, we start to shut down. For those who are spiritual but not religious, this resonates with them deeply.

Midnight Mass is where the Church stands up in defiance at darkness, hunger and cold. With candles and heaters alight and the old, old story proclaimed from the pulpit, the attention goes to the advent of the Lord in the sacrament. Whether or not the individual believes in the Real Presence, there is something there for them to think on.

And all goes back to the baby in the manger.

For, as St John tells us, the baby in the manger is there to combat all the ills of humanity and He does so by being the purest love in human form. This love is a thread that passes through all humanity from the beginning, and it binds us together in solidarity. As long as we allow this thread to grow and develop in our lives, we can be sure that we will be free of darkness, of cold, of hunger, of pain, of degradation and humiliation because this baby lies in the manger for each one of us, for you, you and you. No exception.

What we feel in our spirit that pulls us to Christmas is the thread of love that is knotted into our humanity in the person of the baby in the manger, a baby who will grow, and teach, and work wonders, and scandalise organised religion, and die horribly, and rise again.

We are tied to Christ in love. Which is interesting.

For the Latin for “tied” is at the root of words like ligature, ligament and obligation. And it is at the root of religion.

One cannot be Christian without being religious. It is true that we do not have to be tied to cruel and insensitive organisations, but the Church should not be such. There are so many people out there who need to see the truth of the baby in the manger who are drawn to that manger by something they cannot understand and we cannot let them leave that manger without showing them in ourselves that same love that he showed us.

The Church is not about power, system, and control and if people think that it is, then we’re doing something wrong. Christian Doctrine may be fixed, but it is fixed in love and not power for the salvation of anyone who desires to be free of darkness, hunger and cold. If people are put off the Church because of human sin, then it is our duty to repent and draw them back by the image of the baby in the manger meaning more in our lives than anything this dark world can offer.

We have no grounds at all to condemn anyone who says they are spiritual but not religious. We just need to show them that what ties us is that life-line that will pull us into endless joy and eternal Christmas Day.