Monday, April 21, 2014

The Brilliance of Justin Welby

I rarely comment on current events, mostly because I never find them that particularly interesting. However, a certain occurrence of events has struck my interest, enough to make the claim that I have in the title. From what I understand, the Archbishop has received a fair amount of complaint for his recent remarks on a radio program, wherein he answered viewers questions regarding just about anything (but mostly about human sexuality). The usual stuff can be found on StandFirm or Thinking Anglicans, depending on your persuasion (yet neither are "firm" or "thinking", if you catch my drift). I will add my own praise to the Archbishop's fidelity and brilliance in this short post.

I must say that Justin Welby is truly brilliant. The comment that led me to understand his brilliance was actually not anything that he said but what another man said in relation to what another man had done. Now, this is all sounding rather vague and roundabout, but let me get to the point. There is currently a great deal of uproar in the Church of England over the purported marriage of Canon Jeremy Pemberton to his male lover. Of course, the recent comments by the English bishops indicate that this sort of behavior is not going to be tolerated in the English Church (we'll have to wait and see how serious they were about those remarks in the upcoming weeks).
If one follows the news on the event, they will eventually stumble upon an article in Christianity Today, with various responses to the action. Lee Gatiss, of the Church Society, offers an excellent and thorough response, first, "No one has a right to continue as a clergyman in the Church of England if they so flagrantly flout the teaching of the Scriptures, not to mention the discipline and authority of the church. Article 26 of The Thirty-nine Articles, the Church's doctrinal foundation, states that after a proper process in line with the Scriptures (such as 1 Timothy 5:17-25), such ministers should be removed from office" (See here).
However, this does not relate to the overall point (other than to point out that Lee and the Church Society are contending for the faith in the C of E). The real comment that caught my attention was one made by the Reverend Colin Coward (an appropriate surname), the director of Changing Attitude, who stated in response to the marriage of Canon Pemberton, "Jeremy has done what is right for himself and his partner and has legalised and confirmed the relationship in which he has been living for several years. They have dedicated themselves to each other in love" (emphasis mine).

Now, herein lies the genius. Justin Welby has received a fair amount of criticism for refusing to answer the question, "What do you think about homosexuality?" or some similar form of that question. Instead, he has offered responses such as the following, which was heard during his radio question-and-answer session,
“The church is quite clear that sex outside marriage is wrong. And marriage is between a man and a woman. That seems to be a pretty clear statement. I don’t think you’re right on that, I just think we try to say things with a certain amount of charity and respect for the complexity of issues that people in this world face" (see here).
Now, he has received criticism because various American "conservative" (sorry, you're not conservative unless you can say 'God save the Queen' with integrity to me) commentators have interpreted his statement as waffling or some other form of dissent from the official Church's teaching (which, based off a statement like that, I've no earthly idea how you could arrive at such an interpretation). However, to understand my point, you must return to what Mr. Coward has stated in response to this situation, that what Canon Pemberton did was right for him. However, Justin refuses to give his personal opinion, because his personal opinion doesn't matter. What matters is what the Church says and what the Scripture says (he states some things that indicate his personal acceptance of the traditional view).

There is some strange form of speculation that exists in Anglican-land to try and come up with proof of Justin Welby's personal heterodoxy (allegedly). This is usually done by referencing some of his positive remarks towards gays and gay relationships. The problem with this sort of detective work is that Justin's other comments indicate his overall position. Even if Welby is struggling with aspects of orthodox teaching on this matter, he has stated clearly what the Scriptures teach and what the Church of England teaches: that all sex outside of marriage is sinful and that marriage is a life-long union between one man and one woman. Most believers struggle with some aspects of Christian orthodoxy, either in sexual morality or some other point of doctrine. The life of a mature believer is not one of no doubt but of faith, which includes room for doubt but with a trust in God's message to us in Scripture.

The overall anti-individualistic thrust of Welby's message was heard in his remarks about Africa. "What we say here is heard around the world." His message is clear, that unorthodoxy in the West (or anywhere) has consequences, both temporal and eternal.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The King of the Jews

God chose to enter this world as a poor, Jewish man, nearly two thousand years ago. This Jewish rabbi paid for the sins of the whole world by his one, perfect, sacrifice at Calvary. These benefits are offered to us, to be received by faith. May we approach him in faith this day and receive his passion into our hearts.

Hebrews 10:1-25

THE law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

John 19:1-37

THEN Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS. This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written I have written. Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Thoughts on Holy Week

One of the foundational principles of Anglican liturgy is simplicity (together with comprehensibility and uniformity), that meaning that the services themselves, as well as the rules that govern them, are to be simple in the sense that the ceremonial of the service does not distract one from the worship of the one true God nor distract one from the one, perfect sacrifice of Christ.

Holy Week sadly gives us a glimpse of the (nearly) complete and total rejection of Anglican liturgics by the modern lot. The modern service books do not demonstrate these three characteristics, particularly of simplicity. Besides reintroducing non-Anglican customs such as the imposition of ashes, the distribution of palms, the veneration of the cross, amongst many other superstitious practices, the modern service books can only be seen as evidence of the gradual rejection of Anglicanism's historic doctrine, worship, and discipline.

It is interesting to compare the modern service books with the Prayer Book. When investigating our Church's historic liturgy, one finds the notable absence of many of the more popular, dramatic services. For instance, the "Sunday before Easter", not Palm Sunday, with the following days numbered sequentially without any special names.

When one compares the focus of the services, there also emerges a pattern of differences. The modern services are concerned about the ritual reenactment of Jesus' last days. The Prayer Book is concerned with prayerful remembrance and thanksgiving for Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. All of the pageantry associated with the medieval Church was purged and in its place the reading of the Bible was emphasized. Consider, for instance, the following readings assigned for the propers of the days of Holy Week (not counting the readings assigned in the Daily Office):
Sunday before Easter: Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 27:1-54 
Monday before Easter: Isaiah 63:1-end; Mark 14:1-end 
Tuesday before Easter: Isaiah 50:5-end; Mark 15:1-39 
Wednesday before Easter: Hebrews 9:16-end; Luke 22:1-end 
Thursday before Easter: 1 Corinthians 11:17-end; Luke 23:1-49 
Good Friday: Hebrews 10:1-25; John 19:1-37 
Easter Even: 1 Peter 3:17-end; Matthew 27:57-end 
Easter Day: Colossians 3:1-7; John 20:1-10
The question as to the appropriateness of ritual pageantry is really not something that I am overly concerned about. The issue at hand is the reincorporation of prayerful thanksgiving and remembrance for Christ's Passion. The problem is that sometimes pageantry can become an end in itself, rather than a means to an end.

The specific pageantries associated with Holy Week are as follows: the distribution of palms, the washing of feet, the veneration of the cross, and the various ceremonies associated with the Easter Vigil. Many times people want direct answers from THH, so I've decided to go ahead and give them.

Distribution of Palms. I really do not see an issue with this custom, provided that the emphasis be the same as the Prayer Book's, as discussed above. I would be hesitant, of course, especially considering that these were specifically outlawed by our Church. What sorts of things go through an average churchgoer's mind in association with these symbols? Are they aids to help them remember Christ's Passion or are they some sort of magical token? What effect does a procession have on the churchgoer? These are all questions I would keep in mind and in discussion with fellow churchgoers.

Washing of feet. I do not see a problem with this tradition either. It could be very useful to emphasize the theme of humility, which is prominent in the Prayer Book's Holy Week collect and readings. Sometimes the practice of it can be overly ritualized.

The Veneration of the Cross. This practice is simply idolatry. I have no earthly idea how it ever became included in a Protestant liturgy. If I had my way, the pages that authorize its use would be torn out of every modern service book tomorrow. Since the editors of modern service books are not overly concerned with biblical fidelity or teaching, this is likely not to occur. The only alternative is for classical Anglican parishes and churchmen to avoid this practice like the plague and services that include it.

Easter Vigil Rituals. I can never really keep track of what the various rituals are that are associated with Easter Vigil. The use of candles was of major concern to our forefathers which leads me to be suspicious but I think as long as it is not accentuated and the message proclaimed that it can be done with evangelical sincerity.

That covers the majority of the Holy Week customs that have crept up over the years. Obviously, my inclination is to uphold the Prayer Book services in their simplicity but one must acknowledge that the people enjoy a show, especially recovering papists. Sometimes the truth must be presented in pomp and circumstance.