Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Stranger in His Own Land

One would hardly believe that a Protestant Episcopalian would find himself unwelcome in an institution by the same name, much as if a Democrat felt isolated at the Democratic National Convention, yet, strangely, this is the case in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.  It's rather more of a puzzle to the average Episcopalian or member of another Anglican church (lest the realignment crowd think that they have solved any problems in this arena) to try and decipher what exactly a "Protestant Episcopalian" is.  "Conservative" and "orthodox" are liberal code words for Anglo-Catholicism among progressive Episcopalians and breakaway Anglicans.  Really, it's not rather all that surprising that Protestant Episcopalianism has all but died off in its native land, save for a few wells that have not dried up due to the scorching heat of liberalism and Tractarianism.  Following the secession of Bishop Cummins and the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873, traditional churchmanship, of all varieties, was stamped out in PECUSA in a hostile takeover, that of the Tractarians and Ritualists, both of which imposed their agenda upon this Protestant Church and took it away from its roots.  Little by little, traditional High Churchmanship was engulfed by Tractarianism, which was initially perceived of as a friend by traditional High Churchmen, but later opposed, due to its doctrinal innovations.  The Evangelicals in PECUSA were scared off with Cummins or slowly withered away to become the neuter "Low Church Party" of the early 20th century, the vestige of Evangelical piety in PECUSA.  The 20th century fared little better for traditional churchmen, of all stripes.  Tractarianism continued full blast in its hostile takeover of the Protestant Episcopal Church, introducing strange and delusional heresies, such as the "non-communicating Mass" and other wishful fables.  Likewise, gone was the simple dress of the Anglican minister and introduced was the garments of the Roman priests, in their colors, to the Church.  Little by little the doctrinal standards of our Church were withered away to nothing.  First, it seemed harmless, removing the Homilies, then the Articles of Religion, then the Creeds, then the Bible, and now in 2012, we have the blessing of same-sex unions.  The trajectory in PECUSA all flows the same stream.

For this reason the Protestant Episcopalian is a stranger in his own land, a vagabond without home, a wandering island.

What sort of churchman is this Protestant Episcopalian?  He is one who acknowledges the absolute and infallible authority of the Holy Scriptures over the Church.  He is one who believes that justification comes by faith alone by the imputation of Christ's righteousness and our accounting thereby as righteous by God Almighty by Christ's, "one oblation of himself once offered," and thereby made for us a "full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world" (BCP).  He is one who says in confidence that we are saved only by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, for the glory of God, and there is no other name under heaven or earth by which man can be saved. 

He sees no more than two sacraments in Holy Scripture, Baptism and Holy Communion, which are not magic emblems but effectual signs and instruments of the grace of Almighty God to faithful recipients.  He sees no reason to ascribe to these sacraments powers that they do not have.  By Baptism, he understands that the recipient enters into a new state of relation or covenant with Almighty God, yet the waters of Baptism do not morally change a man.  The moral change in a man's soul results from the trust in Christ's one sacrifice for the sins of mankind.  The effects of baptism are only received in faith.  Likewise in the Supper of the Lord, whereby our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, feeds his people with his own body and blood, not by some carnal absurdity but through the operation of the Holy Ghost and through the holy mean of faith.  The wicked do not receive Christ but receive condemnation for their wickedness in receiving the holy food of the people of God.

He knows the Church to be a divine society of all those baptized and believing members, united to their Lord, Jesus Christ.  He knows that the Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith for this body called the Church and that the only infallible leader is our Divine Head, Jesus Christ, no man or body of men can possess such authority in and of itself, besides declaring the plain teaching of the Scripture.  The Protestant Episcopalian looks to Scripture and the early Church and sees a solid foundation in the three-fold ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon, and even sees this historical succession as a link to us and the earliest community of believers, yet, sees no direct command from Scripture to mandate this form of government on all temporal organizations of the divine society of the Church.  He eschews all Popish superstition with no scriptural warrant.  He directs his prayers to our blessed Lord alone and to no human being, living or passed into glory.  He looks to the glorious return of Jesus to reign in glory forevermore.    

Such doctrines all lost popularity some time ago in the Protestant Episcopal Church and among those who left her, either due to women in the ministry and the 1979 Prayer Book or due to the election of homosexual bishop of New Hampshire.  Those of us who have stumbled upon this sound system of doctrine are forced to live in obscurity and under the suspicion of our fellow Anglican friends as those strange fellows who accept all the Thirty-Nine Articles without question, those who take seriously the Reformation heritage of the Church, which we would subsequently identify as the Catholic heritage of this Church.  Yet, the Protestant Episcopalian continues on, resting in this firm foundation, perhaps quietly or in obscurity, but never in vain.     

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Worship Woes 3: The Consecration

As I was sitting in church today, during Divine Service, I happened to think upon something during the Consecration which, to me, seems a theological inconsistency.  This stems from two sources, first, is a misrepresentation of Anglican, eucharistic theology in (most) North American contexts, I won't spend too much time on this subject, since it has been explored, in depth, elsewhere on this blog.  The second is a misunderstanding of the American Eucharistic tradition.

What I'm referencing is the practices that accompany the acts of consecration (other aspects of the Communion Service were discussed in Worship Woes 2).  Specifically, I mean to discuss the actions of elevating the elements during the Words of Institution and other accompanying acts.  First, as readers of this blog will know, these actions imply a Eucharistic theology alien to our tradition, that being that the elements are substantially changed into the body and blood of Christ.  Anglican Eucharistic theology acknowledges that the faithful recipient does truly receive Christ's body and blood but the means by which we receive him are not the elements but, rather, by faith (see Article 28 & 29).  The consecration of the elements is a setting apart by the minister for special and holy use (which justifies the oblation in the American tradition, from my perspective) but there is no substantial change in them, i.e. they remain just as much bread and wine before the consecration as after.  The actions that usually accompany the Words of Institution are not Anglican and usually not rubrical either.  A common repertoire is to pick up the elements individually, sometimes make a sign of the cross over them, and then elevate them.  Afterwards, the celebrant either genuflects or bows towards them.  Neither of these actions are products of the Reformation, but, rather, a deformation of the biblical and catholic faith of the English Reformation.  In addition, these actions are not rubrical, by any rite.  The 1928, following the 1662 directives, says for the priest to take the bread and wine "into his hands" after which he is to lay hands upon the bread and the vessels containing wine to be consecrated (additionally breaking the bread at this point, instead of later in the 1979 rite).  The 1979 rite gives permission for the celebrant to either "hold" the bread and wine or "lay hands upon it", neither of which permits an exaggerated elevation (obviously, if a priest is going to "hold" something it will be slightly elevated above the table, but this is the literal definition of "holding" the sense of elevation I am using here is to lift it high, usually above the celebrant's head).  The actions of either genuflecting or bowing upon placing the elements back on the table are likewise troubling.  I can see how someone could manipulate the rubrics to perhaps justify elevation, although it would still be against the literal sense of the rubrics, I don't see how a genuflection or bow can be justified rubrically.  Moreover, all of these actions point away from classically Anglican theology and undermine the deaths of the Reformers.

The second reason why these actions make no sense has more to do with logic than theology, although, it is a theological inconsistency.  This stems from a historical reality in which we, as the American Church of the Anglican Communion, find ourselves.  As readers of this blog will certainly know, the American Church acquired its first bishop through the Non-Juring Scottish Episcopal Church when Samuel Seabury left to acquire consecration as a bishop in England.  The English bishops could not consecrate him, due to the oath of allegiance in the English rite to the King.  He found support from the Scottish bishops, who consecrated him, on the condition that he would do several things, one of which was to introduce the Scottish Communion Office to the American Church.  Now the Scottish Office is remarkably different from the English Office in that it includes an epiclesis, or a calling down of the Holy Ghost upon the elements, to set them apart for holy use.  The epiclesis comes after the Words of Institution in the Scottish and American Offices, meaning that the consecration occurs after the Words of Institution in our rite.  If one were to misunderstand our theology and disregard the rubrics, it would be much more consistent to do so at the epiclesis, not during the Institution Narrative.

The present authors values and respects consistency and begs that if our theology isn't going to be followed nor our Prayer Book observed, that at least the chaos that is American Anglicanism be somewhat internally consistent.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Question of Loyalty

And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king. - 1 Samuel 15:22-23
 The Hackney Hub writes with some dismay about the current state of affairs in the American Church, by which I mean in the Episcopal Church particularly and in other Protestant bodies generally.  This is a matter of which the present author feels strongly, largely out of a great deal of personal reflection on the lives of the saints in former times and upon meditation upon Holy Scripture.  These two sources have led the author to the conclusions presented in this article.  

The witness of Scripture seems abundantly clear, at least to the author, that Christians are bound to obey those in authority over them.  "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well" (1 Peter 2:13-14), "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17), "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1), and "Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work" (Titus 3:1), for a start.  

The author sees a noticeable lack of obedience and loyalty in American religion, particularly among Anglicans, the alleged "loyalists" of Protestantism.  The problem being that, especially among Anglicans, the notion of maintaining the apostolic ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon, without actually obeying those in authority is ludicrous, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11), however, what good is it if the people of God don't follow those appointed leaders?  The argument follows that if these leaders become heretical or apostate, they no longer are God's chosen leaders.  I don't see a particular way of arriving at this interpretation from the words of Scripture (more about apostasy and heresy later).  The leaders of the Episcopal Church are anything but a biblical representation of leadership or of Christian orthodoxy, however, they are still our leaders and we are bound to follow them (save only if they mandate us to do something contrary to Scripture).  The logic that is used to justify schism is understandable but not ultimately satisfying, of course, in my opinion.  That logic being the notion that heretical leadership abdicates a God-given office of leadership.  The problem with initial schism is that it breeds further schism and discord in the Body of Christ (see the Anglican Mission [and now South Carolina] for evidence).  The duty of believers, in this instance, is not to leave, but to stand up against false teaching and preach the Gospel from where we are, that being for us the Episcopal Church, leaving solves no problems, but, rather, creates a host of new, unanswered questions.  

"As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:9), "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.  For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3-4).  In fact, what is happening is something believers should be expecting, "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (1 Timothy 4:1, c.f. Matthew 24:12, 2 Timothy 3:1-9).  The answer, however, is not to break away, but, rather, to rest in Christ, "Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 24).  

For those who may think that their leaving the Church will somehow change things for the better, remember, that the judgement of others is in the hands of God.  I would not want to be Katharine Jefferts Schori on the day of judgement, for, as the Lord has said, "To me belongeth vengeance and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste" (Deuteronomy 32:35), I think all we, as faithful Christians, need do is remain faithful to the everlasting Gospel of Jesus Christ, God Himself will take care of those who have openly betrayed Him and His Word.