Carl Braaten on Theological Roots of the Mainline Crisis

The fifth issue is about the Church as a divine institution and the challenge of the democratic
cult of egalitarianism. We live in a democracy, and we have a right to be thankful for that. Democracy
is a form of government, as Abraham Lincoln orated in his Gettysburg Address, “of the
people, by the people, and for the people.” But the church is not a democracy. It is not “of the
people and by the people.” It is of God! Christ is king, the Lord of the church. Mistakenly we
often take our doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers” to mean that we are all equal in the
church. The doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is important; it means that we all have
equal access to Jesus Christ who is the sole Mediator between God and human beings. It is not a
definition of the church. Ordination is a sign that God calls certain ones to be leaders. Hebrews
13:17 says: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls.”
Some are shepherds, some are sheep. Authority in the church must be a function of the ministry
to which God has given special responsibility to make the church the church, where the gospel is
truly preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. Gnostics don’t like that and never
have.

Read the whole thing here.

Lutheran Theologian Carl Braaten On The Loss Of Doctrinal Nerve

the ELCA has succumbed to the same ailment as liberal
Protestantism. What is that? Modern Protestantism is an amalgamation of historic
Christianity and the principles of the Enlightenment, its rationalism, subjectivism, and
anthropocentrism. The underlying assumption is the neo-gnostic belief in the innerdwelling
of God, such that everyone is endowed with the inner light that only needs to
be uncovered. The light of truth does not shine through the Scriptures and the Christian
tradition as much as through scientific reason and individual experience. This is what
happened in Minneapolis: appeals to reason and experience trumped Scripture and
tradition, punctuated with pious injunctions of Lutheran slogans and clichés. The majority
won. And they said it was the work of the Spirit, forgetting that the Holy Spirit had
already spoken volumes through the millennia of Scriptural interpretation, the councils
of the church, and its creeds and confessions.

Read the whole thing here

Dr. David Yeago On The Crisis In The ELCA

I hear instead a great deal of scolding about the bad manners and overheated rhetoric of
traditionalists. These are certainly real enough, though not universal. I have counseled
traditionalists to beware the poisonous affects of anger and resentment, and I will continue to do
so. But the demand for civility is a time-honored ploy by the powerful, deliberate or not, to
control or exclude the less powerful: “You don’t get to speak unless you speak politely, and we
decide what’s polite.” This is a distraction from the far more significant question: What will the
powerful do with their power? The future of the ELCA will in large measure be determined by
the degree to which those who support the Assembly actions are practically committed to
retaining fellowship with those who reject them. Traditionalists should be ready to acknowledge
and respect such commitment when it appears, and that will require spiritual discipline and selfcriticism
on our part. But the traditionalists do not have the power to decide whether space will
be provided for them in the ELCA.

Read the whole thing here

Commentary on the Anglican Covenant 2009

Comments on the December 2009 Text of the Anglican Covenant

Introduction to the Covenant Text

The introduction gives a general theological background for the covenant and finds the call both to communion and to covenant in the scriptural story of salvation. An important connection is made between the unity of the church and the mission of reconciliation especially in paragraphs 3 and 4 and a recognition that the disunity of the church contradicts its mission of reconciling the divided human race with the Father. There is nothing especially remarkable or controversial here and many of the most positive themes of contemporary ecumenical thought about mission are echoed. The references to the Trinity, to scripture and tradition and to mission are commendable. I wish there were a more fulsome treatment of the role of the death and resurrection of Christ as the unique and irreplaceable means by which God has reconciled us to Himself. The only way in which the communion of the church can be held together will be by finding again and again the center of its life in the death and resurrection of the Lord. It is the death of the savior that both calls us and makes it possible for us to die to self that we might be reconciled to God and each other.

Preamble

The preamble pledges the covenanting churches to the following “affirmations and commitments.” A rationale is given that the covenant is so that churches “may proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the grace of God revealed in the Gospel.” It seems odd to me that in the preamble of a document that must of necessity treat what is indispensably universal the contextual is being stressed. The North American churches deeply captivated by the philosophy of pluralism have used the rhetoric of contextualization as a major rationale for their innovations. Inevitably one wonders if phrases such as this represent the nose of the pluralist camel poking into the covenantal tent.

Section 1.

Section 1.1 is a reworking of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. The classic formularies of the English Reformation including the original prayer books and the 39 articles are referenced as “authentic witnesses” to the received faith of the church. Some will be disappointed that the classic formularies are not recognized in a more authoritative manner, though this statement reflects the reality of the way they function in the different churches of the Communion. The catholic creeds are recognized as the “sufficient statement of the Christian faith.” The problem that the churches of the West face is that it is now possible for those with certain post modern sensibilities to profess the creeds and mean by professing them something less than a universal claim to truth.

Section 1.2.1 commits the covenanting churches to “teach and act in continuity and consonance with Scripture and the catholic and apostolic faith, order and tradition, as received by the Churches of the Anglican Communion, mindful of the common councils of the Communion and our ecumenical agreements.” This sets a relatively high bar for any innovation, particularly if ecumenical agreements are to be brought to bear as well as Communion councils and agreements. Clearly the recent actions of both The Episcopal Church and The Anglican Church of Canada could not pass this test. The word “mindful” could become a weasel word for those determined to push ahead of the common mind of the Communion but the results will be evaluated at the same level at which the councils are held. If adhered to in good faith this commits the covenanting churches to a very different process than the current one of churches acting “prophetically” creating facts on the ground and then letting the Communion play catch up.

1.2.2 through 1.2.6 details the commitment of the covenanting churches to “a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of Holy Scripture and the catholic tradition.” In terms of Communion discipline these paragraphs seem less significant to me and somewhat equivocal. They commit the churches to communal bible reading and emphasize the teaching role of bishops and synods and scholars. Mention is also made of openness to “prophetic leadership” which is worry making from a North American perspective. Throughout this section there is language that could be taken as unexceptional teaching about the role of the Bible in the church but likewise could be taken as opening the way for so called “Sprit” led prophetic interpretations and actions such as we have had in North America. 1.2.1 is the paragraph which gives the most hope to traditionalists in this section.

1.2.7 references the “solemn obligation to nurture and sustain eucharistic communion, in accordance with existing canonical disciplines. . .” This cuts in two directions laying on the covenanting churches an obligation not to take actions which are likely to create impaired communion. Likewise it would make so called border crossings done unilaterally a covenant violation.

1.2.8 “to pursue a common pilgrimage with the whole Body of Christ” is a call to ecumenical attentiveness and sensitivity which is entirely wholesome and a mission imperative.

Section 2.

Section 2 is about the “Anglican vocation.” Sections 2.1.1 through 2.1.5 root the Anglican Communion in the ancient church, in the English Reformation and the mission movement which has brought Anglicanism to the Global South. The emergence of a world-wide communion of interdependent churches is attributed to the providence of God and a call to deeper common life and mission is discerned.

2.2.1 through 2.2.5 spell out the common mission to which the churches of the Communion are called, which includes evangelization, catechesis, work for justice and peace and ecological stewardship.

Section 3

Section 3.1.1 through 3.1.3 affirms the desire of the covenanting churches to live “in communion with autonomy and accountability.” Each church is to be self governing through its own laws and governance and bishops in synod. “The Churches of the Anglican Communion are bound together ‘not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference”16 and of the other instruments of communion.'”

The vision here is of church order and discipline being maintained by mutual submission of each church to the other and to a common set of values and norms as opposed to the order of the church being imposed by a central executive such as in the Roman Catholic Church. It is a conciliar and synodical vision of church order in which the bishops as designated guardians of the faith and leaders of their local churches must of necessity play a key role. It is a noble vision with deep Patristic roots which depends heavily on the personal pastoral ministry of the bishops and especially their willingness to tackle difficult issues in council and then to stand by their common teaching. For this vision to come to life in the churches of the West will require a renewal of the office of the bishop as a teacher and steward of Apostolic doctrine.

3.1.4 identifies the instruments of unity of the Anglican Communion as 1) the Archbishop of Canterbury is a first among equals of the bishops of the Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury gathers the Lambeth Conference, The Primates Meeting and The Anglican Consultative Council. The Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting are designated as the places where the teaching office of the bishops comes to Communion-wide expression. The Anglican Consultative Council is identified as having a “facilitating” and “coordinating” role. This explanation of the instruments of unity gives a priority to the pronouncements of Lambeth and the Primates Meeting on doctrinal and moral matters. This appears to me in line with the traditional understanding of the charism and role of the bishops in the church but will be a disappointment to many in The Episcopal Church who seem to believe that the teaching charism of the church resides in the synod with the most lay representation. The instruments of unity are called to consult with and respond to each other but may also initiate “a process of discernment and direction.” This presumably means that any one instrument may take the lead in responding to challenges and crises in the Communion.

Section 3.2 deals with the interdependent life of the Communion. 3.2.2 commits the churches to uphold each other’s constitutional authority while upholding mutual responsibility to the Communion as a whole. This commitment would call into question both the unilateral innovations and the border-crossing responses to these innovations.

3.2.3 “to spend time with openness and patience in matters of theological debate and reflection, to listen, pray and study with one another in order to discern the will of God.” This commits the churches to a willingness to take up on a Communion-wide basis controversial issues but makes action lacking a Communion consensus covenant-breaking.

3.2.6 “in situations of conflict, to participate in mediated conversations, which involve face to face meetings, agreed parameters and a willingness to see such processes through” is significant and likewise would slow down Communion-threatening innovations. In the past secular experts in mediation have been suggested for these mediated conversations. There has arisen in the last several decades an impressive level of expertise in dispute mediation and the church should avail itself of this wisdom but not as a substitute for the personal pastoral role of the bishops who must be the chief reconcilers and peacemakers.

(3.2.7) “to have in mind that our bonds of affection and the love of Christ compel us always to uphold the highest degree of communion possible.” This statement is clearly a plea to keep communion as a high priority. I think it could be made stronger by more explicitly anchoring it in the theology of redemption that Christ has come to establish the unity of the divided human race with God through the blood of the cross and the disunity of the church is a countersign of the Gospel.

Section 4.

This is the section of the covenant that outlines a process for the resolution of disputes and that has produced the most discussion and disagreement. The commentary by the drafting group says that they took on board the desire expressed by some of the Provinces that the tone of this section should not be punitive or judicial. Nevertheless they have thought that the “relational” consequences of covenant-breaking behavior needed to be spelled out.

4.1.1 uses properly theological language about covenant by defining entry into the covenant as first of all an act of submission to God. Covenants theologically are not merely contractual agreements between equals but an undertaking of faith and obedience to God. This creates an appropriately solemn understanding of the meaning of entering into this covenant with other churches of the Communion.

4.1.3 assures the churches that entrance into the covenant does not compromise the autonomy of any church or submit an autonomous province to the governance of any other church or structure.

4.1.4 defines churches that are being invited to adopt the covenant as the national or provincial Churches which constitute the membership of the Anglican Consultative Council. Examples would be The Episcopal Church, U.S.A. or The Anglican Church of Nigeria. In the commentary it is noted that, unless provincial canons forbid, local dioceses may affirm the covenant as an expression of solidarity but this would have at the present no more than a symbolic significance and would not make them officially members of the Communion in their own right apart from their province.

4.1.5 outlines the possibility for invitation to be extended by the instruments of communion to other churches which are not currently members of the Anglican Consultative Council to affirm the covenant. This would not automatically settle the question of their membership in the Communion which would be handled by the ACC according to the existing rules for adding to the membership. This paragraph provides the possibility for dioceses in provinces that do not affirm the covenant to be invited to sign in their own right and then apply for membership in the Communion in their own right through the ACC. Likewise if the Anglican Church in North America should become a member of the Anglican Communion this would be the mechanism. This is the provision which provides the greatest potential cost to The Episcopal Church if it refuses the covenant. This provision makes possible, albeit after many years of slow-moving ecclesiastical process, a scenario in which there are one or more entities in North America who are in the Anglican Communion while The Episcopal Church is out.

4.1.6 affirms that the covenant becomes active for a church upon adoption and therefore the church is from that moment bound to act in accordance with the covenant.

4.2 outlines the process for the settlement of disputes.

4.2.2 identifies the new Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion which has evolved from the joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates as the body which will monitor “functioning of the covenant in the life of the Communion” and advise the other instruments of unity on problems as they arise. The standing committee is made up of representatives elected from their ranks by the Primates and the ACC.

4.2.3 reminds the covenanting churches that when objections are made to actions which individual churches have taken which are regarded by other covenanting churches or any of the instruments of unity as problematical it is the duty of each church to strive to come to consensus in advance of the invocation of any official process. This amounts to an exhortation to the covenanting churches to abide by both the spirit and the letter of the covenant. Churches are referred back to the commitments of 3.2.

4.2.4 makes the Standing Committee the normal first stop for the handling of disputes and gives to the committee the mandate to facilitate agreement. The committee may ask ACC and or the Primates for advice and assistance. The committee may seek advice about the seriousness of the issue and the relational consequences that might ensue. The Standing Committee thus is charged with making a first determination of whether an issue is potentially covenanting-breaking.

4.2.5 The Standing Committee may ask a church to refrain from a particular action which it regards as having covenant-breaking potential. If the Church in question declines to refrain the Standing Committee may recommend to any of the Instruments of Unity relational consequences which shall be in place while the matter is further adjudicated. This is a provision for a temporary suspension from the meetings and life of the Communion.

4.2.6 “On the basis of advice received from the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates’ Meeting, the Standing Committee may make a declaration that an action or decision is or would be “incompatible with the Covenant.” The wording here is significant. The Standing Committee makes a determination about whether an action is incompatible with the covenant not altogether on its own but on the basis of advice received from the ACC and the Primates. It is not clear to me what might happen if these advisors disagreed. Perhaps this is unlikely given the overlap in membership between the ACC and the Primates but it seems to me a potential trouble spot.

4.2.7 gives the Standing Committee the ability on the basis of the advice given to make recommendations to the Instruments of Communion and to the Churches of the Communion of the relational consequences that ought to ensue from the covenant-breaking action of any member Church. The consequences are I think kept purposively vague in order to avoid “a judicial tone.” In practice exclusion from the meetings of Lambeth, The Primates and ACC and a declaration that a Church is not a covenanting member of the Anglican Communion are the most extreme actions that can be taken.

Each member Church and each Instrument of Unity is free to decide for itself whether or not it will take up these disciplinary recommendations of the Standing Committee. One can imagine a situation in which for instance TEC refuses the covenant and various Provincial Churches while refraining from covenant-breaking action of their own yet maintain their ties and intercommunion with TEC. Whether the maintaining of ties by a covenanting Church with a non-covenanting Church or a Church determined to have recently broken the covenant will be regarded by other member Churches as covenant-breaking remains to be seen.

4.2.8 Decision making about covenant issues in the Standing Committee and other instruments of unity will be limited to those churches who have adopted the covenant or are in the process of adopting it. This gives some of the Western Provinces an incentive to drag out the time in which they consider the covenant. On the other hand, a Church which has definitely rejected the covenant would not automatically be excluded from participation in the instruments of unity but would not be able to adjudicate issues which come up under section 4 of the covenant.

4.2.9 commits the Provinces to establish structures and mechanisms for supporting the operation of the covenant internal to their churches and able to respond and work with the Standing Committee.

4.3 has to do with withdrawing from the covenant.

4.3.1 makes provision for a Church to withdraw from the covenant. Such a withdrawal does not automatically mean withdrawal from the Instruments of Unity but it may open the Church to a complaint under section 4.

4.4 Concerns the text of the covenant and its amendment.

4.4.1 defines the text of the covenant as the preamble, sections 1 through 4 and the declaration. The introduction is not part of the text but is to be given authority in interpreting the text.

4.4.2 outlines a process for amending the text which can be initiated by any covenanting Church or any of the Instruments of Unity but which will take three quarters of covenanting Churches to ratify.

The Declaration

Declares the churches to be subscribers to the covenant described above for the sake of service in the truth and love of Christ. The document ends with the benediction from Hebrews 13: 20-21.

 

 

My concluding thoughts

The Anglican constitutional and canon law tradition is a minimalist tradition. I remember studying at Boston College, a Jesuit university, during my doctoral work and always being able to find a chair and table in the library’s canon law room which had shelves and shelves of books on Roman Catholic canon law. There was one whole wall devoted to canon law for the various religious societies. In contrast the canon law of The Episcopal Church or any of its dioceses is one smallish book. Our tradition is the minimum of ecclesiastical jurisprudence that is needed to maintain the order of the church. This covenant is in that tradition. I wish that it were more robust in places but I think it adequate to be the basis of an ongoing life of mutual submission and growth in unity and mission for the Anglican Communion but much will depend on the integrity of the individuals who will be because of their office the stewards of this covenant.

When I was a young man and entering into a business contract for the first time, I asked my father for some advice about the enforceability of a particular contract. He told me that if a man’s word wasn’t any good, his paper wasn’t any good either. In many cases the current chaos that we are experiencing in the Churches of the Anglican Communion is not a result of a lack of articulated rules and procedures of church discipline, but is the result of an unwillingness by those charged with the stewardship of the order of the church to enforce such discipline as has already been established. This version of the Anglican Covenant is a minimalist document. It does clarify issues of communion life and order and provide an agreed-upon process for handling disputes. It can be a real instrument for growth in truth, unity and mission, but only if those to whom the responsibility has been given to be stewards of the church’s order have the necessary moral courage to fulfill their office.

Response to the Announcement of The Anglican Covenant

Response to the Video Announcement of the Release of the Anglican Covenant

By the Archbishop of Canterbury

 

I have had a quick read through the newly released Anglican Covenant that has been sent to the provinces for adoption prior to Anglican Consultative Council 15. I will be commenting in greater detail later. Here are my initial reactions to the introductory video message by the Archbishop of Canterbury which was released on December 18, 2009.

 

I continue to think that an Anglican Covenant with a clear process for handling disputes as described in the Windsor process is the best hope for maintaining the faith, order and mission of the world wide Anglican Communion. In the course of the original Windsor meetings, Bishop N.T. Wright described the proposed covenant as a scheme for fire-proofing the building. The covenant per se is not for fire fighting. It is not a solution for the pastoral and ecclesial crisis both within and between provinces that has been produced by the unilateral action of the Anglican churches of North America. What has always been needed has been both a short term and a long term strategy. The proposed covenant was the long term strategy. Various other schemes to address the problem in the short term, Alternative Primatial Oversight, Council of Advice, mandated mediation by experts have been proposed and have come to nothing due to an inexplicable lack of follow through by the instruments of unity. As we contemplate the hopeful development of a form of the covenant ready for adoption by the Provinces, it must be noted that this long term solution can be overtaken by developments in the short term which may make it practically irrelevant. The proposed covenant on its own is not adequate to inspire hope in and commitment to the future of the Anglican Communion and its existing instruments of unity. More vigorous personal pastoral leadership in the midst of the current crisis is needed and in particular leadership which encourages and provides some cover for those who are an embattled minority resisting the innovations in the North American churches.

 

The problem of timing becomes obvious in the Archbishop’s video introduction of the covenant. It could be three years before this version of the covenant is adopted by a majority of provinces. Then the process for dispute settlement in section four would come into play. Any action under these provisions would likely take several more years. The possibility of acceptance as members of the Anglican Communion by dioceses whose provinces opt out of the covenant would open after that. It could be five to seven years before the Anglican Communion as such can provide traditionalist dioceses in North America a way of differentiating themselves from the actions of their provinces and establishing their communion identity. Perhaps if a significant number of provinces adopt the covenant prior to ACC 15 the time could be foreshortened but the prospect seems unlikely to me.

 

Without some credible short term strategy, reliance on the covenant process alone as an adequate response to the current crisis, creates an environment in which the covenant itself, as good as it may be, may become increasingly irrelevant as the center of communion life shifts to more vital and activist centers and the church rebuilds itself around those centers. At the least the covenant could be strengthened by requiring that action on disputes be taken within a required time period. I also believe that the adoption process should be decoupled from the meeting of the ACC and proceed independently and as quickly as possible. Now is the time for vigorous, personal pastoral leadership on behalf of the covenant by those Anglican bishops who desire to see the Anglican Communion survive and thrive as a world-wide communion of churches with unity in faith, order and mission.

Leander Harding 2009

Quote of the Day

There is no way in which tension and conflict can be avoided. We probably need to be much more ready for painful conflict than we have been in an age when tolerance has been regarded as the supreme virtue. But the pain is bearable if both sides can recognise in each other a total commitment to Christ, and a total willingness to be directed by what God has done and shown us in Jesus Christ. The tension is bearable only if Christ means more to us than any of the causes to which we have committed ourselves.
It is, I think, necessary to say this rather sharply because we have in recent years seen so much of a kind of theology which can only tear the Church apart. I am referring to such well-known developments as liberation theology, feminist theology, green theology and Black theology. All of these draw attention to issues about which Christians must be vitally concerned.
They challenge the too-comfortable domestication of the Church within the reigning
establishment. But one has always to ask: “Where does my ultimate loyalty lie? Where is the bottom line?” We cannot help being exposed to propaganda on these issues which value the Church only in so far as it is an ally in a particular cause. If, in these contexts, one begins to talk (for instance) about evangelism, as though it really mattered supremely whether or not a person knows Jesus as Lord and Saviour, one is met with incomprehension. Jesus is not the supreme, issue in these new single-issue theologies. It has to be said that if this kind of thinking permeates the Church, the tension it causes will block both unity and integrity and bring us all great pain. No one can lay down general rules to determine whether and when faithfulness to Christ requires separation.

We can only pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in such a terrible dilemma. But that guidance will be given to the community which lives, thinks, perceives and acts from within the biblical story of God’s purpose for all humanity and all creation, not only at moments of crisis but at all times.

Read the whole thing here

A Christmas Sermon

Flying Saucers & Christmas

 

Christmas Eve 1996, Leander Harding

 

Tonight I am going to talk about something which may seem strange as a topic

for a Christmas Eve sermon. I am going to talk about flying saucers, UFOs and

alien abductions. My job is to tell the story of Jesus Christ. In order to tell the

story of Jesus Christ effectively, it is important to listen to the other stories that

people tell each other. People express their hopes and fears in the stories they tell.

Tonight the church proclaims that in Jesus Christ the hopes and fears of all the

years have been met. The stories of UFOs and space aliens have a form which

seems strange, even bizarre to some, but the content of these stories is very familiar

and very universal. At the heart of these stories the human heart cries out in

hope and fear. I want to spend a few moments exploring these stories so that I

can share my conviction that the true and living story of the birth of the Saviour

is the answer to the desire of the human heart that is being expressed by this fascination

with visitors from outer space.

 

It interests me that stories of visitors from outer space persist and enjoy great

popularity in spite of the obvious scientific difficulties. From a strictly scientific

viewpoint it seems plausible that there is life elsewhere in the universe, and

implausible given the vastness of the universe and the limit of the speed of light

that we have been visited by intergalactic travelers. Yet the interest in this topic is

huge, and television programs and movies which explore these themes, have large

and enthusiastic audiences. Some popular ones are Close Encounters of the Third

Kind, X Files, Third Rock From the Sun, Independence Day, Mars Attacks and

others that you can name. People do not get tired of telling these stories and people

do not get tired of hearing these stories. Two basic themes are represented in

these stories.

 

First there is the alien as a strange and sinister force, immensely sophisticated,

which threatens to destroy humanity by a combination of superior force and

deceit. Often in these stories, such as The X Files, there are traitorous human

beings who are willing to aid the evil aliens and prepare the way for them in the

mistaken notion that they can cut a separate deal. Often there are humans who

have been completely taken over. They look human but have been taken over

from the inside out and are really now enemy agents. There are those terrifying

scenes where the evil alien creature which has consumed the person from the

inside out breaks through the skin of the person and the horrible truth is

revealed. These story lines also have a heroic figure who has learned the horrible

truth of imminent destruction and can’t get well-intentioned but terminally

naive innocents to take him seriously. You sit in the theater saying to yourself,

“For God’s sake, listen to him before it is too late.”

 

Then there is another story line, a more hopeful story. The aliens are superior

beings, morally and spiritually superior as well as technologically. From time to

time they have visited us to help and guide us, to nudge and direct the course of

our history. Now the time is right for them to reveal themselves and save us from

ecological disaster, planetary war and destruction. In some versions of this story

line, the aliens mate with humans to create a new race, a superior race, morally

and spiritually as well as physically. This new race will change the course of history

and give us hope that we might survive.

I believe these stories of visitors from outer space exert a strange power over so

many people because they speak of deep intuitions of the human heart. Human

beings look at life on planet Earth and know with a deep intuition that there is a

power at work in human affairs that is dark and sinister and which is underestimated

by people. Many good people seem naive and complacent, unheeding of

the warning as the greedy, selfish and hateful play with forces they do not understand.

When will they listen? When will they listen?

 

It may be hard to believe in Flying Saucers but it is not hard to believe that

our race, the human race, is a threatened race, and our planet a threatened planet

and that the situation calls for dramatic action. These are the kinds of things people

feel in their bones. This is a deep and true intuition of the human heart. The

form of this story may be fantastic but the content is profound. This story of a

threatened people and a threatened world is a more profound story than the story

that some combination of science, technology and commerce will solve all our

problems.

 

The other story line, the more hopeful one, also reflects a profound intuition

of the human heart, that there is in the universe a benevolent force that is more

powerful than human beings are, a force that is good and which subtly influences

history for the positive, a force which is on our side and working to save us and

our world. It is also a profound intuition that what has been hidden is about to be

revealed and that which has been working behind the scenes is about to step out

onto center stage. Even this seemingly bizarre part about the mating of humans

and aliens represents a profound intuition of the human heart. The human heart

knows about the reality of the first story, the story of evil which threatens to

destroy from the inside out, and human stupidity and cupidity in the face of that

evil. The human heart knows that there needs to be some new element—new

blood, yes, but more importantly a moral and spiritual transfusion leading to a

renewed and redeemed humanity. If only this were true, there would be hope.

We might make it. We could hold out.

 

That is the feeling of these stories. While the form is fantasy and the fantastic,

the content is deep human truth.

 

St. Paul the Apostle spoke to the scientific, rational, skeptical and yet superstitious

world of ancient Athens. He spoke to people who were searching and seeking

because of a deep feeling that they lacked the moral and spiritual resources to

survive. These people had an altar to almost every god imaginable, even to an

unknown god. St. Paul said to them, “Men of Athens, that which you worship

unknowingly, that it is which I proclaim to you.” To a world which expresses its

hopes and fears in stories of alien invasion and alien salvation, I want to repeat

these words of St. Paul, “That which you worship unknowingly, that it is which I

proclaim to you.”

 

I want to say, you are right. There is a sinister and alien force that is stronger

and more clever than unaided, unassisted human will. It must be recognized and

resisted before it is too late. You are also right that there is a superior, benevolent,

beneficent force that guides history, which has been hidden but now wants to be

completely known and to clearly reveal its purposes. This force wants even to

have intercourse with human beings and bring to birth a new race with a renewed

moral and spiritual power, so that disaster may be forestalled and we may be

saved. This is all true and it is all set forth in the Holy Bible.

 

There is a good God who means us well and who guides our history in a subtle

way that does not rob us of our freedom or responsibility. There is a force which

rebels against God and is bigger, stronger and more clever than humankind, and

which threatens to destroy us with the help of our self-defeating connivance. In

this dire moment, the good God who has worked behind the scenes has revealed

himself, come center stage, to give us direct assistance, again in a way that does

not rob us of our freedom or responsibility. The good God, the maker and creator

of all things does this by being born a baby, living and dying as one of us,

conquering death and giving us His life-giving spirit. By joining us to Him in

such a way as to create a new humanity, reformed, redeemed, renewed by a moral

and spiritual infusion.

 

God rest you merry, gentleman, let nothing you dismay;

remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day,

to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;

O tidings of comfort and joy.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;

yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;

the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

There is a threat and there is a Saviour. The Saviour is here for us tonight in

our Christmas Communion so that He can live in us and we in Him, so that He

can re-create us as a new and redeemed race capable of honoring and stewarding

this world and fit for life beyond the stars with Him forever. Amen.

Anglican–Roman Catholic Relations

I am still studying the announcement from the Vatican about a new ordinate for Anglicans including whole dioceses and parishes seeking union with Rome. My first thought is that it represents a major change in strategy with regard to Anglican and Roman Catholic Relations. The Vatican has resisted for at least fifty years pleas of the sort that have given rise to this new provision. The Pastoral provision that preceeded it was very limited, circumscribed and low profile. This is a high profile and international gesture. This move represents a conviction that ecumenical relations between Rome and Canterbury cannot move ahead on a unified front and that Rome feels released to work with those who are ready for greater union now even if that means contributing to the break up of the Communion. It will I think have more traction in England than in this country. From the RC side it represents an extraordinary flexibility in an institution not known for its flexibility. It also has a subtext for the East that their clergy can be accepted in a scheme of organic union for they for the most part have a married priesthood and a celibate episcopate.

Quote of the Day

And when we see–as we do a multiplicity of bodies, each claiming to be a fellowship based upon the common sharing the Holy Spirit, yet denying any binding obligations towards on antoerh, and apparently without any sense of shame about such a situation, and sometimes even proud of it, must we not say bluntly: ‘Brethren, you decieve yourselves. This fissiparation, this proliferation of mutually irresponsible sects, is not a work of the Spirit but of flesh. In your emphasis upon the primacy of the Spirit, and upon the fact that the Church is intended to be a Spirit-filled fellowship in which the Spirit’s gifts are known and enjoyed and used for the edification of the Church and for witness to the world, you are right. But you are wrong in severing the Spirit fro the body, in forgetting that as there is one Spirit so there is one body, and that the first and most excellent fruit of the Spirit is the charity which beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and is glad to suffer for His body’s sake, which is the Church.

Lesslie Newbigin in The Household of God