Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"doctrine, discipline and worship. . . .of the church"

One of the hallmarks of the traditional prayer books is the phrase, "doctrine, discipline and worship." Most of us think we know what the Church taught or at least what it intended to teach before the current crisis. Why? Well, we found it in Holy Scripture which we either heard it as read in the offices or the lessons at the eucharist in Church or read it in the Bible; we said it the creeds and (mostly) from the pulpit. But now there are many of us who hardly know what to believe or what the standards of the Church really are. So where do we find and what is the authoritative source of the doctrine of the Church and of the Book of Common Prayer? Is it in the prayer book itself or the Articles or the Homilies? What do we tell people who ask?

My answer has always been a very simple one and one that I was surprised to find was incorporated into the English canons. I would point out that the Church taught what the Bible said as interpreted by those most likely to understand the meaning of disputed passages. The first Queen Elizabeth put it this way: "We and our people-Thanks be to God-follow no novel and strange religions, but that very religion which is ordained by Christ, sanctioned by the primitive and Catholic Church and approved by the consistent mind and voice of the early Fathers." Since we in the American Church express our believe in the Catholic Church in our recitation of the Apostles and Nicene creeds, we should not be surprised that we are supposed to hold and believe what the Catholic Church teaches and has always taught. Nor should we be surprised that the English Church incorporated this into her canons in 1571 ordering preachers to "See to it that you teach nothing. . .which you would have religiously held and believed by the people, save what is agreeable to the teaching of the Old or New Testament, and what the Catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected from this self-same doctrine."

Now this is all well and good for those of us who have always seen the English Church and its daughter churches as the Catholic Church of the English speaking countries, but we must also be aware that there are and have been many of our co-religionists who despite what the prayer book requires us to say in the offices and in Holy Communion believe that they and the Anglican churches are essentially "protestant" in the same sense that Lutheran and Presbyterian Churches are "protestant." Indeed, when the priest who is rector or vicar of a parish or mission he tends to see it that the services of the Church are presented in a fashion that violates the plain teaching of the prayer book tradition by making the service of Morning Prayer with offretory and sermon the most prominent Sunday offering of the Church. As things now stand he may flip that service with Holy Communion on an every other Sunday schedule, but in the past one was lucky to find Holy Communion as the main service on more than one Sunday in the month. And these priests and their followers were much more likely to find the church's teachings in the writings of Calvin or Luther rather than in Holy Scripture as interpreted by the fathers, the creeds and the theological decrees of the universally accepted general councils. In fact, they were just as willing to attempt to pass off the writings of the latest non-Anglican theologian as what the Church "really meant."

So what do we do?

Rather than attempt to re-invent the wheel, I thought it would be a good idea to publish my list of books which I think offer the best summary of what the Church teaches and that we should believe. They may not be "high theology," but they are good theology for those who need the Church's teaching clearly stated. I do this because, unlike the time when I was growing up and going to college, the books which one is most likely to find on the shelves of your local book seller will not be written by orthodox Anglicans or even by Biblical Christians. And that means that is one wants a true Christian education one must haunt the used book stores or deal with folks like
The List:
Lewis, Clive Staples, Mere Christianity
Sayers, Dorothy The Mind of the Maker
The Man Born to be King
Bicknell A Theological Introduction to the Thirty Nine Articles
Moss, The Christian Faith
Mascall, E. L. Opera. (Latin for 'works' which would mean anything Mascall wrote)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mere Anglicanism

And, yes, I really should be addressing much higher topics at this point near the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. But the real possibility exists that I am almost all "churched" out. This is not the fault of the "one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church," but of the horrible and petty doings of those yet in TEC who suffer under the illusion that they are still Anglicans and even Christians. And it is not entirely TEC either, for one of the renegade bishops of the official established Anglican Church in Canada has taken it upon himself to depose an internationally know Anglican theologian, Dr J. I. Parker. What must said bishop be thinking? Or is he even capable of doing so? Of course, I am not capable of answering such questions but I do know where I stand and that is with the good Doctor Parker who although I have certain disagreements with same I know to be man who wants to be the best Christian possible and that by the standards of Holy Scripture and not by those of this current age.

So this is not a pleasant time. When we, as Anglicans and Christians, should be paying attention to our prayers and the condition of our souls, we are besieged by the nastiness of church politics forced upon us all by those who though they may be in the Church are not of the Church, being instead pretty plainly servants of the dark lord. We need to be paying attention to Jesus, but instead find ourselves distracted by heretics and heresies.

So what is to be done? Well, we can not answer the question in the terms of the world, the flesh and the devil. We are forbidden by the New Testament to take our matters to the courts so what is left to us.

The answer, my answer, is a simple one. We must follow Jesus. With Him, we must reject the allurements of Satan and the paths of the world, the flesh and the devil. And if worst comes to worse, we must throw ourselves upon the floor and wait until the temptation to answer evil with evil leaves us. Then we must get up and return to our prayers. And this, I believe, is the path of classical prayer book Anglicanism. We do what we can, when we can, but the most important thing which we can do in a crisis is to be faithful in the celebration of the office and the Eucharist. There are millions of souls out there on the dark sea of life counting on us to be truly faithful Christians although they, also, may be unaware of it.

There is a story in the life of St Francis of Assissi in which his brothers were bringing him back from having received the stigmata. Because of these new wounds walking was difficult for him so they borrowed a horse for him to ride and it was being led by its owner. All seemed to be going well until the horse's owner turned to Francis and fell on his knees, begging that Francis would be "real." The world is begging for us to be real yet the most visible part of what was once the American Church has proved false. That leaves it to us, the part of the visible church which is little, unknown and hidden to make good on the promise of Christ's Church. We must be true and keep the offices and prayers of the Book of Common Prayer as we promised. The world is watching although they know it not: can we for Christ be true?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Passion Sunday and Passiontide

For those of us who remain classical prayer book Anglicans this coming Sunday is Passion Sunday. The unbleached white of the Lenten Array will be put away and the altar and the vestments of the clergy will again be red, but this time the dark red of dried blood. Of course, those among us who follow the usage of Pius V - you remember him, the fellow who excommunicated Elizabeth I - will still be using violet as good Pius legislated when he introduced his 'reformed' Tridentine version of the Roman liturgy. That is to show everyone what good 'catholics' they are when a really good Catholic is known for following the rules of the liturgy to which he was ordained. And that, of course, presumes that they know them or even know that they exist.
The marvelous thing about the English or Anglican colour usage is that like most things truly Anglican it is scripturally based. That of the Roman rite can make, as far as I can see, no such claim. The two major Anglican colours are white and red with a festal and ferial version of both. More accurately white is the festal colour being used for the major feasts of our Lord and the virgin Mary while the brighter version of red is used for the Sundays after Epiphany and those after Trinity. But then we also have the toned white of the Lenten Array for the first four Sundays in Lent and the ferias following while the darker version of red is used from Passion Sunday through the first part of the Easter Vigil save for the white of the Maundy eucharist and the black of Good Friday. Now I should think that we all understand the Scriptural basis of the use of white, but just how many Anglicans or others know where in Holy Scripture and on what day in the ancient lectionary system our Lord claims red for his very own colour? And, yes, it is in the Book of Common Prayer.

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Small Personal Adventure

Saturday was a day which I had set aside for prayer. A day of quiet and retreat was being given at an Anglican parish under Archbishop Venebles and I, knowing the person giving the meditations, had offered to keep the time when she was doing so in prayer.

Afterwards I had some shopping to do and had hopes of getting the haircut for which I am way past due. But when I went out of the house to clear some trash from the car I discovered that I had a grass fire. I got the hose and connected it and was sure that I had put it completely out at least two times, but it kept starting over and I called for the fire department. It seems they had trouble figuring out just where I was and which fire department to send so I was left to fight the fire alone for over an hour and a half. I suffered two falls, several punctures by thorns and whatever and broke my watch, but at last the firemen arrived and made short shrift of what had now spread quite beyond the reach of my garden hoses.

My cats were sitting on the front porch and the one thought that kept piercing my panic attempts at putting out and controlling the fire was that they would panic and run. But the didn't; they just sat on the front porch and watched the whole thing as if it were some new spectacle that I had arranged for their entertainment. When it was over and done they were very cuddle-some.

And now we have had thunderstorms and snow.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

St David of Wales, Bishop

Today is the feast of St David of Wales and should serve as a reminder to all historically minded Anglicans that the Catholic Church was in the British Isles long before Gregory the Great thought to send Augustine to what was going to become England and eventually the United Kingdom. Why? Because St David's floriat was the sixth century which had all but ended when Augustine arrived in Kent. Nor should St David be the lone reminder. Any fairly complete book on the lives of the saints will be filled with the names of generally Celtic saints who preached the gospel, founded churches and monasteries, sang the offices and celebrated the eucharist long before the Roman mission arrived.

Why should this be important to us? Because it is another in the evidence that the claims of the See of Rome are utter nonsense. Real Catholic Christianity had reached the British Isles very early with some of the earliest fathers claiming that St Paul himself preached there. It was founded and it persisted but Gregory the Great knew nothing about it. But when the Venerable Bede came to write his classical book on English church history, he at least knew enough and cared enough about what actually happened to paint a fairly unflattering picture of the man whom Gregory had sent.

Rome eventually came to lord it over the English Church, but the British churchmen had adequate reminders of a day when the Church in the British Isles had not been subject to Rome. Indeed the greatest of them had an unfortunate habit of finding the behaviour of their Roman brethern intolerable. One need only read William Langland's The Vision of Piers the Plowman to know just how much this was so. Consequently the discarding of the Roman yoke was all but inevitable with the beginning of printing and a wider knowledge of Holy Scripture and the history of the Church.