The case for Uniformity

Reading a bit today and thought this was interesting:

A great number of people … do willfully and schismatically abstaine and refuse to come to theire parish churches … and by the great and scandalous neglect of ministers in using the said order or liturgy set forth and enjoyned … unhappy troubles have arisen and grown and many people have been led into factions and schismes … to the hazard of many souls … Be it enacted that … All ministers in any … place of public worship … shall be bound to say and use … such order and forme as mencioned in … The Book of Common Prayer.

That is the Act if Uniformity of 1662.

Imagine that… a collection of liturgies, filled with diversity, causing schism. It’s almost like the root word of community is common and unity.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have some diversity, but in our liturgical practices, if we don’t have a commonality, we will fracture.

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William Law on Wesley’s “Reason”

Wesley quotes this section, and a rather large portion of it, of William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout Life. Here, I find some words that Wesley does not disagree with:

And as the only end of the physician is to restore nature to its own state, so the only end of education is to restore our rational nature to its proper state. Education therefore is to be considered as reason borrowed at second hand which is, as far as it can, to supply the loss of original perfection. And as physic may justly be called the art of restoring health, so education should be considered in no other light than as the art of recovering to man the use of his reason.

I like the fact it was published by Paulist Press. I also like the fact that I find so much non-juror presence in Wesley — so much so I continue to maintain we can and should read Fr. John’s theology in light of a defective Anglican episcopacy that is just now being reconstructed.

But what draws me is that Law considered education as “reason borrowed.” I believe the “Reason” of Outler’s quad is better understood as Education, as Scholarship. This doesn’t mean we dismiss the Great Tradition. Far from it. But it does require us to learn and then teach properly. Further, Wesley following Law would see the need to teach children a proper Christian education — which is not a particular view of science, but the way Christians think and formulate theology.

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Toward a Theology of Mental Health and Wholeness (2)

This journey began by looking at creation and what the intention of God was, from the beginning, for us. It is important to start there as any understanding of the frailties of human life must, by necessity, begin with the ideal state of humanity that God has intended for us. With that understanding, we come to the fall from grace. Initially I had intended to delve into a rather deep and nuanced comparison of the various mechanisms that have been brought forth regarding the fall from grace, but I have found that to be even longer than I normally go on, so I have chosen to simply affirm the basic truths of the fall as the United Methodists understand them realizing that will suffice for our purposes here.

Article VII — Of Original or Birth Sin

Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.” 

This article describes how United Methodists understand the consequences of the fall from grace, no matter the mechanism that you choose to use as a description of the event itself. This of course describes our disposition, but it does not describe our physical state other than to allude to the reality that we, and indeed the entire world, has fallen from the state that God had proclaimed “good”.

We know from Genesis chapter 3 that our first parents ate the fruit, and that the consequences of that followed. .The action of eating the fruit has taken humans, and the whole of created order, from a place of obedience to God to a place of disobedience to God. As discussed at length in the first piece, Irenaeus consistently describes creation by it’s relationship to The Creator (The Trinity). There is an ontological affinity between humanity and God in which humanity is designed to share a part of God’s being while simultaneously being completely dependent upon God for it’s (humanity’s) being. This is the truth, and mystery, of the image and likeness of God. Being in a state of disobedience to God has upset that ontological design resulting in the consequence of humanity being turned over to death. The disobedience of our first parents results in a nature passed on to us that carries the reality of a marred image deeply in need of restoration by its creator. The suggestion here is that the marred image is not intrinsic to us and how God has created us, but rather relational between God and us as there was no flaw in the initial design. To further Irenaeus’ understanding, we spoke of his image of Christ and the Holy Spirit as being the hands of God, consequently being also an intrinsic part of our creation. The state of disobedience that we are in has damaged the image within us as we no longer properly reflect Christ, or the Holy Spirit. We, in essence, wander around with a part of our intrinsic design so marred by our own disobedience, and the nature passed on to us, that we are no longer able to function as God intended from the beginning.

The result of this is death. Spiritual death in that we are separated from all three person’s that comprise The Creator God, in temporal death, including illness, both mental and physical, and, without the intervention of God, eternal death immediately following temporal death. So, for Irenaeus, this is expressed in that we are still created beings, and we still indeed posses the image of God, but the marred image that it is lacks the Holy Spirit. Our trinitarian design, similar to God, but not nearly God, has been so corrupted that while we are still created beings possessing the image of God, we have become so corrupted that we no longer have His likeness. As discussed in the first piece, the likeness of God, the Holy Spirit, was central to our creation at the beginning, but now is missing in those who are not numbered among the faithful. We were created to have a trinitarian nature, but, due to the fall, we only possess a dual nature as we enter the world. This is why for Irenaeus, and really, for Wesleyan’s, restoration is central to proper understandings of theology. We are, quite literally, incomplete. Is it any wonder then that there is all manner of illness and difficulty that affects us? All of this is the result of the curse that comes as a consequence of our first parent’s disobedience.

So, we finally get to the good part of the story. We are all desperately in need of God’s grace. In the Wesleyan tradition, even the grace of God reflects the triune nature of God. The prevenient grace that God pours into our lives to call us back to Him is followed by the justifying grace that restores us to right relationship with God returning us from disobedience to obedience by faith in The Christ, to the sanctifying grace that continues the work of restoring us to God and God to us. The grace that restores us is triune in nature returning to us a more perfect, but not yet perfect, reflection of the Holy Trinity, by returning the Holy Spirit to us so that part of us that was separated by the fall, changing our nature, is restored returning our nature back to what was intended by God in the beginning. We are reborn and a new creation as our dual nature that is imperfect is returned to a triune nature more closely resembling God’s plan here, and perfected in the here after.

The next installment of this will finally begin dealing with how all of this impacts mental health and wholeness from a theological standpoint and how that theology intersects with modern medicine in healthy, and perhaps not so healthy, ways, to lead us back to the design that God has originally intended for us.

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Forget Seminary

The Alexandrians, maybe next to St. Justus, set up what may be the first catechetical schools for Christians. These weren’t seminaries, so to speak, but they did engage believers — and non-believers – in helping to foster an understanding of the Christian faith. Today, after 1500 years of not having seminaries to educate clergy, we have massive black holes of debt that are turning out more than their fair share of lackluster and undisciplined thinkers. And they are generally dying. Not all, to be sure, but many (mainline) ones are. I argue that’s a good thing.

The Christian Century reports:

The creation of that first seminary triggered a seismic shift in thinking about where theological education happens. For the first time in history, it became possible to imagine clerical training and lay education as occurring outside of local churches and monasteries. Now, almost 500 years later, it is hard to imagine things any other way.

The shift away from the cathedral model has come with some unintended and unfortunate consequences. The invention of seminaries led the church to outsource what it had long taken to be an in-house responsibility: in-depth teaching on the Bible, theology, and the Christian traditions.

I have written before about Cuba’s model, and it is one I hope to see in the local church – or diocese at least. As our very Western ideas of education – and faith – are changing, I wonder if it is not time to use the local church as a type of school, to both teach believers and non-believers alike? What if seminaries were held in the local church as a way to teach clergy and non-clergy alike so that even the “ploughboy” could read Scripture alongside the Church?

What are you thoughts?

 

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Wesley, the Good Anglican

Believe it or not, Wesley was never not an Anglican. Why? I suppose for many reasons. Notably, the episcopacy.

And I suspect Wesley would upbraid and expel more than few of today’s “Methodist” bishops .

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That Time Wesley Called A Bishop A Heathen

This blog is a response to a sermon given by a UMC Bishop. It is not about style, but about substance.  For the purposes of full disclosure, I do not know, nor have I ever met, to the best of my knowledge, Bishop Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky. I have no personal grudge against her, nor do I find her to be some sort of horrible person. What I am going to comment on here has to do with the things that she expressed in a sermon that she delivered. You can find the sermon’s text here, and should take the time to read it so that you have some familiarity with the text that I am going to comment on. I also want to say that I have tried to get away from this sort of thing lately, but when I read the Bishop’s sermon, the words of Wesley’s sermon on Original Sin began to echo in my mind, so much so that I immediately went to it to read and make certain that my memory was not playing tricks on me. Let me encourage you to take the time to read Wesley’s sermon linked above as well as I will draw on it heavily in my comments.

Beginning:

To be as frank as I can be, there is so much wrong in this sermon that it will take several postings to get through it all, but the most grievous error is what I want to address first.

“What about creation? In Genesis, we hear of God’s mighty acts of creation out of a void: the heavens, earth, light, dry land, seas. Plants bearing seeds and fruit. Sun and moon to rule the day and the night. ‘Swarms of living creatures,’ sea monsters, winged birds. Land animals: cattle, creeping things, wild animals. Finally, human beings in God’s own image. And after all that creative activity, the Bible reports that God sat back and looked at all of creation, and said, ‘Now THAT is very good.’ How much did God say was good? Everything. Everyone. Anyone.”

Now nothing in the paragraph from the Bishop is inherently false. That is really the danger of it. The context of this however is what makes so such a grievous error. This is used as her defense of a position in the context of the world, and people, still being very good and is simply not at all the case. Keep in mind that this is a Bishop in the United Methodist Church. Earlier in the sermon, the Bishop makes the statement: “I guess that’s why I’m a Methodist. We do not teach that creation is utterly depraved.” Now, to be fair, we do not use the language “utterly depraved”, that much is true, but there is language that we use that points to the same idea.

Article VII — Of Original or Birth Sin

Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.” (Articles of Religion United Methodist Church)

Article VII — Sin and Free Will

We believe man is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. In his own strength, without divine grace, man cannot do good works pleasing and acceptable to God. We believe, however, man influenced and empowered by the Holy Spirit is responsible in freedom to exercise his will for good.” (Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church)

Nowhere do either of these statements, both of which form the core of United Methodist doctrine and belief, that uses the words “utterly depraved”, but it is pretty clear that what is being said.

Wesley:

In Sermon 44 titled “Original Sin”,  John Wesley addresses this very idea. The core text of the sermon comes from Genesis 6:5 “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That seems to be a fairly clear statement all in all. Take the time to read the sermon. Take the time to compare it to the Bishop’s sermon. Then take the time to ask yourself how far from the movement that changed America have Methodists come. A few other selections from the sermon.

“I am, First, by opening the words of the text, to show what men were before the flood. And we may fully depend on the account here given: For God saw it, and he cannot be deceived. He “saw that the wickedness of man was great:” — Not of this or that man; not of a few men only; not barely of the greater part, but of man in general; of men universally. The word includes the whole human race, every partaker of human nature.”

“Now God saw that all this, the whole thereof, was evil; — contrary to moral rectitude; contrary to the nature of God, which necessarily includes all good; contrary to the divine will, the eternal standard of good and evil; contrary to the pure, holy image of God, wherein man was originally created, and wherein he stood when God, surveying the works of his hands, saw them all to be very good; contrary to justice, mercy, and truth, and to the essential relations which each man bore to his Creator and his fellow-creatures.”

“But was there not good mingled with the evil? Was there not light intermixed with the darkness? No; none at all: “God saw that the whole imagination of the heart of man was only evil.” It cannot indeed be denied, but many of them, perhaps all, had good motions put into their hearts; for the Spirit of God did then also “strive with man,” if haply he might repent, more especially during that gracious reprieve, the hundred and twenty years, while the ark was preparing. But still “in his flesh dwelt no good thing;” all his nature was purely evil: It was wholly consistent with itself, and unmixed with anything of an opposite nature.”

“However, it may still be matter of inquiry, “Was there no intermission of this evil? Were there no lucid intervals, wherein something good might be found in the heart of man?” We are not here to consider, what the grace of God might occasionally work in his soul; and, abstracted from this, we have no reason to believe, there was any intermission of that evil. For God, who “saw the whole imagination of the thoughts of his heart to be only evil,” saw likewise, that it was always the same, that it “was only evil continually;” every year, every day, every hour, every moment. He never deviated into good.”

Really, just read the sermon, every word contradicts what the Bishop set forward in this particular part of her sermon. The idea that we are somehow good is nothing more than self righteous hubris born of the arrogance of man kind. We are not good, God is good. We are not righteous of our own standing, God is righteous and has given provision to restore us, and all of creation, to our original intended state through Christ. Anything to the contrary is teaching that leads us away from Christ, not to Him. This sermon is an illustration of that which many of us have been saying about the United Methodist Church. While it is certain that some of us disagree on matters of human sexuality, but share an otherwise orthodox faith, the far larger problem is that there is a growing segment of the church, as illustrated by the sermon of this Bishop, that are teaching and practicing an entirely different faith with different understandings of human nature, of God, of the purpose of salvation, etc. These are not small matters, these are fundamental to the faith. Did God look at creation and call it good? Yes, he did, then creation, all of it, including us, fell and became so thoroughly corrupted that it is unrecognizable from God’s intention. We are not good outside of God’s grace. We simply are not. The core tenets of the UMC faith say this, the sermons of Wesley say this, the historic Christian faith says this, and in fact, it is one of the few things that the whole of Christendom basically agrees upon. We are not good on our own. Don’t believe me, believe the church. Don’t remember my words, read the words of our founder and our fundamental doctrines.

Now, about that title, let me finish with the words of Wesley, lest you think my condemnation of this sermon is somehow to harsh.

“Hence we may, Secondly, learn, that all who deny this, call it original sin, or by any other title, are put Heathens still, in the fundamental point which differences Heathenism from Christianity. They may, indeed, allow, that men have many vices; that some are born with us; and that, consequently, we are not born altogether so wise or so virtuous as we should be; there being few that will roundly affirm, “We are born with as much propensity to good as to evil, and that every man is, by nature, as virtuous and wise as Adam was at his creation.” But here is the shibboleth: Is man by nature filled with all manner of evil? Is he void of all good? Is he wholly fallen? Is his soul totally corrupted? Or, to come back to the text, is “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually?” Allow this, and you are so far a Christian. Deny it, and you are but an Heathen still.”

This is that time when Wesley called a UMC Bishop a heathen.

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Litany from 1662 – schism of the heart and Wesley

From all sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion; from all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and Commandment,

Good Lord, deliver us.

By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,

Good Lord, deliver us.

I wonder where Wesley got the idea that schism is a sin of the heart? Wesley  (two posts and then some) saw schism as beginning in the heart, not the separation of the physical unit:

We may easily observe that the word Schism here, means the want of this tender care for each other. It undoubtedly means an alienation of affection in any of them toward their brethren; a division of heart, and parties springing therefrom, though they were still outwardly united together; though they still continued members of the same external society. – Sermon 75

I do find it so interesting our “man of one book” can find some root of his interpretation here in this other book.

 

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Theological Commitments

This was a questions asked among some friends lately. What are our theological commitments? Mine is easily rooted in the Creed, but that is too easy.

Let me step back. By saying I am rooted in the Creed, I am saying I am tied to the ancient Church and the orthodoxy established by the Canons of the ecumenical creeds. I am then tied to a certain epistemology and a certain ecclesiology.

I am tied to a faith on God that relies more on an expectation that even if I do not understand, I yet believe. I yet believe things will be work out, even if it looks miserable at the moment and I just don’t know what to do. Why? Because the Church has been marked for death before, facing persecution, plague, war, and famine in every sense of the word. Yet, she continues to survive and is doing so in places where there is no hope for her to do so.

I am committed to the poor, to social justice of yesteryear, and to the idea that the Church does have a place to play in the political world, even if the political world only desires us to side with them rather than ensuring they themselves align with the Church.

I am committed to the Scriptures, but as the primary – not only – revelation of God. The Great Tradition and yes, even Science (or as Westminster puts it, Nature) is a revelatory source of God’s creation. They don’t disagree. They have friction from time to time, and in this tension can be beauty or evil. I hope to always remain in the beauty of the tension.

I struggle less with my only commitment to God. He has provided for me and my family in ways I cannot explain. I feel now that I should be willing to give more of myself. I don’t know what this looks like.

Anyway, I felt like it was once again time for a post like this.

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