Monday, May 29, 2006

Paper-thin Ecclesiology

I have just had an image that I thought I ought to share. Ingredients: Two pieces of paper and some superglue. Recipe: Put one paper on top of the other so that there is a 1'' overlap. Glue. Wait for glue to set hard. Now pull the papers apart again. What's the result? In my fevered imagination: a vision of Ecclesia Anglicana and Ecclesia Romana. The gluing represents the Synod of Whitby (664 AD) whence the Holy See and the Anglican Church were joined. The tearing represents the Schism of the Reformation

Case 1: The papers separate undamaged (i.e. glue did not set). Thus the Reformation was not a Schism, but a separation of two distinct churches. An end to an entente cordiale.

Case 2: The papers separate but only one is damaged. In this case, one of the churches was damaged by the Schism, resulting in some loss of doctrinal, political or logistical integrity.

Case 3: Both papers incur damage. Each church needs the other to become whole again, because each possesses part of the other.

Where this model falls down is that pieces of paper do not grow, unlike the Church. However it does illustrate well the untidiness of the situation. In models 2 and 3, the rent that exists is potentially damaging, for here infection (thanks Mr. Goings and the Youngfogey for this elaboration) may be introduced, causing gangrene and sickness and further institutional instability. This is certainly evident in the Church of England, less so in the Roman Church.

Where do you fit on this issue?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Getting around the hose-pipe ban

This sermon was preached the Sunday before a confirmation in our church. I'm distressed by how many people support the church outside of Sunday Morning Mass, hence some blatent, though I believe justified, haranguing!

Sermon preached at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Swanscombe on 21st May 2006 based on Isaiah lv.1-11

a proud gardener,
stares sadly up at the sky
and waits for the rain to come.

It doesn’t.

Her wonderful lush green lawn,
the pride and joy of the neighbourhood,
is looking brown and withered.

Yet because the sun just happened to appear
from behind a cloud in late February,
the water company have imposed
the dreaded hose-pipe ban.

So, if Sheila were to hose the lawn quietly by night,
you can bet that someone would squeal
and she’d have to pay a large fine
to the water company.

Sheila would love to know
how to get water for her thirsty lawn
without having to pay a fine for it.

She is seriously considering holding a barbecue
on Bank Holiday Monday,
just to be sure that it will rain.

For the moment,
she has to lug a heavy watering can
backwards and forwards
from the kitchen.


On her weekly trip to ASDA,
Sheila looks around her town,
at all her friends and neighbours,
and she notices something.

Like her lawn,
they are all thirsty,
each one of them.

This seems strange
for everyone is thirsty:
they have nothing to drink.

Yet water still comes out of the tap,
there’s plenty of beer down the pub,
and the coffee shop is still open.

Yet everyone Sheila meets
is terribly, terribly thirsty.

Why should this be?


How about you?
Are you thirsty?

Thirst is a deeply unpleasant feeling, isn’t it?

This should come as no surprise:
our bodies are mostly made of water.

If we’re thirsty
then it means that we’re low on water,
and if we’re low on water,
then there is less of us than there should be.

We are literally not quite ourselves.

Being thirsty means that
we’re not quite the person
that we were created to be.

We need to be restored,

So how do we get this reviving water?


Isaiah shouts
"Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.

Yes, come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price."

Wow, sounds brilliant, doesn’t it?

Come to the Water of Life,
come to Christ
and you will be

But just how do you
buy water without money,
without price?


Sheila looks around her neighbourhood
at all the thirsty people.

She sees posh cars,
posh houses,
and satellite dishes.

She looks at shopping bags
filled with food and drink for the week,
good quality stuff.

She sees people contented,
living their lives without worry,
knowing that they are
well-fed and well-watered,
knowing that they have roofs
over their heads.

Yet for all that they have,
they are dying of thirst.

The tragedy is: they do not know it.


And God says,
"Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?

Listen carefully to Me,
and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance."

What is God telling you
about how to get this refreshment?

Just how do you buy water without money?


Next week,
in this very Church,
five members of our congregation
will be getting around
the world’s hose-pipe ban.

They have been paying for the water of life
by careful studying, praying,
seeking God and listening to Him.

Their confirmation will give them
the strength that they need
to grow further in their relationship with God,
and they will need our support.

It isn’t only these five of our Church members
who need refreshment;
it’s each one of us,
and the Church too.

The Sacrament of Confirmation
is a major point in our lives
when we receive some
of the Living Water from God.

We also receive food from God.


Well, why are you here this morning,
if not to eat and drink of
the Body and Blood of Christ?

As the world daily drains us of life,
so we daily need to find refreshment with God.

As the world tries to enforce a hose-pipe ban on us
by making us spend too much on things
that don’t really matter,
so we need all the more
to seek the Living water of Christ.

God gives plenteously
to those who look for his refreshing water.

With God, there is no hose-pipe ban.

Yet, it does cost us.

We do have to work for our refreshment.

We do have to work for our Salvation.

We do have to listen to God.


It’s fair to say that our Church
is wilting somewhat, isn’t it?

If we want our Church to be revived,
then we, as a congregation
need to listen to God together,
for only then by working together
in His service will we find
all the refreshment this church needs.

Only then will we get around the hose-pipe ban
that the world puts on us.

If there are only a small handful of people
at the Confirmation service next Sunday Evening,
what does this say about our willingness
to be revived?

What does it say about our willingness
to help Charlie,
and Tracey
receive Refreshing Grace of God
in their lives?

What does it say of our commitment
to support them as our brothers and sisters in Christ
if we don’t help them to receive
the reviving waters of God,
by being present
and praying with them?

The Bishop will ask us
whether we will support our Confirmands
in their search for God and growth in Him.

How can we honestly answer "yes",
if we are not there for them
either in body, and in spirit?

How do we buy the water of life without money?


When you leave this Church today,
will you be just as thirsty
as when you entered it?

What will you do to make sure that you aren’t?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Well, it had to be mentioned, I suppose.

The Da Vinci Code.

It's a good yarn. Not especially well written, but with a plot and not overly obsessed with carnality - though how he thinks that the "thumbs up" sign has its origins in the male physiology, I'll never know. Has he never studied the culmination of a gladiatorial combat?

The broohaha is essentially over the issue that fiction is presented as fact in order to sell the story. These false facts are quite easily seen to be false, so perhaps too much of a fuss is being made over nothing. The public reaction, however, is the cause for worry.

It is Gnosticism raising its ghastly head again. In order to gain some kind of fulfilment, we have to solve puzzles set by God or mankind. Salvation occurs by having the required knowledge; life becomes an Indiana Jones movie - how exciting!

Precisely, it is because it is exciting that it becomes tempting. We get a feeling of intellectual smugness when we solve the puzzle and move into the next sphere. As a mathematician, I am familiar with this sense of warmth whenever I legitimately write QED (or QEF) at the end of my work. However, it is only knowledge, and knowledge will vanish away.

Salvation is an ongoing process that does not finish until we stand before God face to face. It does not require the solution of puzzles, or the divining of secret knowledge or exposing that which is hidden: it involves a quest to find God for who He really is, to find what He wants done. Salvation requires a great deal of working out (in fear and trembling as St Paul reminds us), but it is work that anyone can undertake and is suited to the individual's God-given gifts. God's salvation is available to each human being. It is not covered up, nor hidden in dusty archives, or in whispered liturgies of secret societies. It requires a search, yes, but the duty of the Church is to help individuals onthat search.

Mankind looks for the truth that the Grace of God is too good to be true. It looks for the catch, the filthy underbelly. Of course, the poor old Roman Catholic Church gets all the accusations, and is at the heart of so many conspiracy theories, and is regularly insulted by people who just haven't bothered to get to know what the Church is doing. Of course the people within the RCC aren't perfect and there have been some cover-ups, but by and large, she bears the Truth, points to the Truth, and indeed worships the Truth (i.e. the Lord Christ).

I have heard ghastly things about the Holy See that make me laugh and/or cry. There are some Protestants who will leap on every attempt to regard the RCC as the organisation of the Anti-Christ. I have heard one preacher explain that the 666 comes from the words written on the Papal tiara "Vicarius filii Dei", taking the Roman numerals out ("VICarIVs fILII DeI") and adding them up 5+1+100+1+5+1+50+1+1+500+1=666. Great piece of divination, the trouble is
a) no words were written on the tiara
b) not every Pope has worn the tiara (indeed it's been abolished effectively)
c) the Pope is called Vicarius Christi, not Vicarius filius Dei.
d) there is even doubt that the number of the beast is 666!

There are more of these nasty, destructive theories in circulation. If you look hard for a conspiracy, you'll find it. It's like finding faces in fires, or ghosts in photos. All you will find are, in the words of Bishop Berkeley, are the ghosts of departed quantities, or rather the ghosts of quantities that never were.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

What is Anglo-Papalism?

We could get very pedantic here. Technically, technically, I'm not an Anglo-Catholic, yet for simplicity my label (for what it's worth) comes under the umbrella term of Anglo-Catholic. What's the real difference? See here.

Seriously though, there's a tendency in the church to break us down into finer and finer labels. If Fr Marco Vervoorst and Mr Paul Goings are right then there are only 10 Traditional Anglo-Papalists in the world. I hope that's not true. The question is: have we now labelled ourselves too finely?

I don't think so. We exist in a sparse state: certainly Fr Vervoorst is in Australia and Mr Goings in the U.S., yet what we work for is unification, an undoing of the Schism of the 16th Century. It is the Anglo-Papalist movement that gave the Church the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. We have valid orders, thanks to the existence of the Old Catholics, so we exist as a force for unity, even though that seems pretty hopeless at the moment.

A Traditional Anglo-Papalist regards the standard of liturgy to be as set in the 1955 English Missal, and the Anglican Breviary rather than the Novus Ordo or the modern Breviary . I have an awful feeling that I'm the only one in Blighty (i.e. the U.K.) to own one. If you do, please leave a comment.

Tradition: a cure for Tropophobia?

Yes, I've made up the term "morphobia" below. Just shows how bad my Greek is, doesn't it? By "morphobia", I mean "tropophobia" the fear of making changes.

I think the present Global Climate is spawning a lot of tropophobia at the moment. "The world is spinning too fast, I'm buying lead Nike shoes to keep myself tethered to the days I try to lose" as Damon Albarn proclaims (see, I am hip and with it! The band? Gorillaz!! The song? 1999-2000! hahahaha) and change is now happening rapidly, especially with all this telecommunication lark. When I've actually posted this passage on the blog, it will be published around the world in a matter of seconds.

So here's the problem. Should the Church try to keep up? For a change to occur in the Church, that change would have to be measured against Scripture and Tradition. The trouble is that there are millennia spanned by Scripture and Tradition, so it takes time for the Church to check out a change, by which time another change will necessitate itself. The Church could never keep up with the changes going on in the world. But then, she doesn't need to, and nor is she meant to.

The Church doesn't change! Pure and simple. She doesn't change because she is Christ's bride, both Visible and Eternal, both Militant and Triumphant, just as her Groom is both God and Man. Time has no dominion over the Church, since she is ruled only by her Husband. If time has no dominion over the Church, then the idea that she need to be changing as the world changes is denying her Eternal nature. That's not to say that she doesn't grow.

Ed Pacht reminded me that I once was a baby, and now I am a fully grown (vertically) man. I remained the same person, but I changed in stature, not as a person. As an Aristotelian (via Aquinas), I say that my substance has not changed, though my accidents have. Likewise , the Church has grown: the Scriptures, the Tradition, the Apostolic Succession, the Catholic Creeds - indeed the Catholic Faith - have all grown with her.

Members of the Church are Eternal beings per gratia Dei. That is the absolute essence of the promise of the Lord Christ. Become a member of the Church, and you are guaranteed salvation (though this requires a lifetime of working out as St Paul tells us). Thus, the people within the Church do not change either, unless they choose to be cut off. That vine imagery Our Lord told us about is an incredibly powerful and instructive vision.

Tradition therefore as the thread that runs through the Church, tempering exegesis and hindering eisegesis, provides us with the antidote to Eccliesiastical Tropophobia by reinforcing the doctrine of having faith in God Who will not let any change affect his Church. If we continue to work at being members of this wonderful Body of Christ, then all the changes in the world will not affect us.

There is also something else that doesn't change - the nature of sin. Sin is, by definition, that which God prohibits by His will, yet suffers it to occur through the free-will of His creatures. If God doesn't change, then neither does that which consitutes sin. In its mission to minister the grace of God to the world, the Church finds herself performing the same task as she has always done. This is despite the number members she possesses. Notice then that as she has grown from a company of a few men and women from the first century, she has carried the same message, the same grace, the same comfort, the same life-giving water, the same food for the soul.

Membership levels are down, and His Holiness, Pope Benedict has said that the Church will become smaller, and many people within the Church live in fear of this. These live on the principle of "adapt or die". The Church does neither. If she is well populated by the Faithful, then this is due to the Call of God, if not then the seeds sown by the proclamation of the same Gospel is falling on unsuitable soil.

On the contrary, adaptation is death, for to adapt the word of God is a gross heresy.

This is not a fear of change. Indeed the stability of the Church allows the Christian a safe anchor upon which to build her/his life, and to take courage to face the world as it mutates second after second. Firm in our faith, sure in our active membership of the Body of Christ do we battle, Sin, the World and the Devil.

No lead Nike shoes for me!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Monday, May 01, 2006

"Anything goes" Anglicanism

A number of members of the Church of England I have met do not believe in God, the Resurrection of the Body, or the afterlife, which begs some very interesting questions -why on Earth do they bother to come to Church at all?

The main draw for many people to Church is the "traditional" ethos - the idea of the Anglican Church appeals to them. I now know a number of members of choirs who are just like that. They have no Christian belief yet enjoy taking part in the Offices and Masses for the love of the music, or the feel of it. There are many High-Church Agnostics out there. The funny thing is that this has such a positive influence on the Worship of the true Christians that come to Church. A Mass sung well transports the humble soul from this realm to the glimpse of the next. If a non-Christian singer joins a choir then surely this is a good thing especially if s/he is a good singer. Similarly this holds true for bellringers, flower ladies, et c.

Others come for friendship, and "to belong" - to take part in what indeed should be a truly embracing Community built on the foundations of love, respect and tolerance.

I have asked "why the Anglican Church?" to be given the response that "Anglicanism allows me to believe what I want to believe." Now this truly worries me. To have non-Christian service within the Offices and Mass of the Church is one thing:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
Romans viii.28

so the Christian words sung by non-Christian voices are valid because the words themselves praise God if the agent of those words does not. However, to be thought that the Church allows heretical and infidel beliefs is highly damaging and highlights the terrible crisis of identity the Anglican Church is in.

That the Church should welcome and embrace those whose faith is different from Christianity is fundamental. It certainly does not render any Sacraments of the Church void and ineffectual, just unfruitful for those for whom it means nothing. It does however matter when the Church starts to bend from intolerance to accommodation of these beliefs such as the rewording of Holy Scripture for Civic Services which I have seen in some churches. To allow a non-Christian to preach or teach poses a significant problem for those whose faith is weak, since these are likely to be led away from the Truth by Heterodox teaching, yet, as is plainly true, each religion or belief has some tiny grain of the Truth, it just does not possess the fullness of Truth that the Catholic Religion possesses. Consequently for the respect of the right of the heterodox to hold heterodoxy, and for the integrity of the faith of the Congregation, the Anglican Church cannot allow preachers to speak who cannot wholeheartedly say that they follow the Catholic Creeds.

The Church of England has been disintegrating from the moment of its schism. Each parish has had its "pope" and we are seeing the consequences of this lack of doctrinal coordination now. The beliefs of each parish differ wildly from those of its neighbours. I would be less worried had I said "the practices of each parish..." but we are literally talking belief. Since the decline in the quality of the theological training of ordinands, the "every-member" ministry has turned into "every-members" individual belief.

So what can be done? Do we have a massive purge and throw out those who serve the Church but are not of the Faith? No, no and no. These folk need to be cherished for who they are, their services gratefully and humbly accepted, and - above all- enjoyed. Perhaps the love that we show them may kindle within them an awareness of the God who loves them even more than the Church does. However, the Church needs to be clear about what it believes down to the level of each parish, for only by such clarity can the Heterodox see that that the Church is not a secular institution clothed in Christian rituals, but means what it says and knows what it is doing to preach the Gospel of Christ to all lands.