Monday, June 27, 2005

Sermons By Peter Toon

Dr Toon is currently serving as interim Rector at St. Thomas' Church in Houston, Texas.

His sermons are available on the Church's website at either to read on the web, to download as Word files, to listen to streamed over the web or as a Podcast subscription for listening to on your mP3 player.


Do Not Read If You Do Not Want To Be Shocked!

What the Episcopal Church is offering to the world.

We all have heard about the current crisis in the Anglican family caused primarily by the recent actions of the American Episcopal Church in the promotion of the doctrine that “same-sex relationships” can be blessed of God, and that those in such partnerships are eligible for ministerial office. At the request of the other provinces of the Communion, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church commissioned a team of theologians to explain this new teaching and practice. This appeared as a book on June 23, 2005, with the title, To Set Our Hope on Christ. I predict that it will horrify and enrage most of the membership of the Communion.

Before I saw this book, I expected with other observers that it would say something like what appears below, which is the usual message of the “Gay” lobby:

1. In the 21st century the Churches of the West have a greater understanding of sexuality as an orientation than they did even in the 20th century.
2. It is clear that God made some people heterosexual and others homosexual in orientation, and thus homosexuality, as an attraction towards the same sex/gender, cannot be wrong in itself, for God does not create evil.
3. States, governments, corporations and councils in the West are beginning to give full rights to persons living in permanent, same-sex partnerships and thereby they provide an example and encouragement to the Church.
4. God is Love, and Love is God, and same-sex affection, in a committed and faithful partnership, is just as much an expression of God’s love as the affection in a heterosexual relationship.
5. Not everyone, in fact only very few, are called inwardly or outwardly to be celibate. Thus to require celibacy of either heterosexual or homosexual people is cruel and causes them unnecessary suffering. Further, if celibacy if required then homosexual persons suffer more than heterosexual ones for they cannot legally marry or live with a member of their own sex.
6. Since God is Love, and Love is God, the Church of God must be inclusive and thus offer a full place and participation to homosexual persons, just as they are.
7. Over the centuries the Church has demonstrated prejudice and injustice towards both minorities and women, and the latest such prejudice is against men and women with a homosexual orientation. With time and patience such prejudices are dissolved.
8. The ECUSA has recognized the rights of divorced persons to be married a second and even third time in church and thereby has set a precedent for the right of same-sex couples to receive a blessing on their partnerships.
9. The ECUSA has recognized that the primary purpose of marriage is companionship and not procreation, and this opens the door for the acceptance of the companionship of faithful, long-term same-sex partnerships.
10. A Church which opposes the rights of homosexual persons, who are in committed partnerships, to full participation in its life and ministry, will be shown to be increasingly irrelevant as the 21st century progresses.

On reading the book carefully, I was surprised by its style and content. Most of the themes stated above are to be found there in one way or another; however the whole approach is not combative (homosexual persons fighting for their rights) but educative. The reader is invited to come and see “what the Lord has done and is doing amongst us” in the Episcopal Church.

What does it say? It makes the amazing claim that within the Episcopal Church there has been a major discovery from the Bible and Christian experience, and, further, that this discovery has led to an important development of doctrine, like certain epoch-making developments of the past (e.g., the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church without first submitting to practices from Judaism – see Acts 10-15). The discovery is that two persons of the same sex can live together in Christian holiness and be true examples of Christian faith, hope and love; and the doctrine is that it is right to bless such partnerships and to call persons from them into positions of leadership in the Church. In so doing, the Church has been led by the Holy Spirit to set aside the tradition of Christian teaching from the past, which classed homosexual activity as sinful fornication, offensive to Almighty God.

My judgment is that the whole edifice of the book is built on arguments that have a shaky and sandy foundation. I am writing a full length reply to it which should be published by September lst. We will keep you posted! Meanwhile, Lord have mercy upon us – all of us!

The Rev’d Dr. Peter Toon, Interim Rector, St. Thomas' Church, Houston, Texas.
Written for The Epistle, the newsletter of St. Thomas' Church

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Fleeing from the ECUSA – a moral duty?

Considerations from Peter Toon

Two respected graduates of Nashotah House have recently joined hands (in Fr Kim’s List) to speak of the apostasy & madness of the Episcopal Church and of the moral duty for all members, priests and laity, who desire to be biblically orthodox to leave this Church immediately – for the salvation of their souls and the true welfare of their families. Fr Kimel is joining the R C Church and Fr Edwards has already joined the Anglican Province of Christ the King (a continuing Church dating from 1977). We should most certainly respect and support them in their convictions and new ecclesial relations.

May I first establish my credentials to disagree with parts of what they say. I think I can say that I have, as clearly as anyone, pointed out in several books and many tracts, essays and articles, the apostasy of the ECUSA as an institution, which began seriously in the late 1970s when this Church rejected the historical Formularies of the Anglican Way (the classic BCP, Ordinal and Articles) and put in their place the mixed content of the 1979 Prayer Book. Further, like Fr K & Fr E I have been ready to stand up for what I have asserted and to take the consequences.

Let me state first of all that each of us is called to follow an informed conscience. The informed conscience is the voice of God in the soul and is to be obeyed. Thus Fr K & Fr E (and others like them) had to follow their conscience, and, in this particular case, flee to a “denomination” where they believed they can be embraced in the arms of Mother Church, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of God. Like St Augustine, in his sermons to catechumens, they believe that you cannot have God as your Father in heaven unless you have the Catholic Church as your mother on earth.

So far so good.

But…. And here I offer some considerations which cause me to take a different line to that of these two respected priests. My position is that it is appropriate for some to stay within the ECUSA, but only if they are truly aware of what they are doing and why, the greater glory of God is their motivation, and thus they are ready to face persecution and deprivation. Each must follow not his opinion but rather his informed conscience. I offer these considerations simply to show how one’s conscience may be informed in ways different from others and therefore those prompted by conscience may take differing stances.

1. What these two priests provide as reasons for immediate departure are utterly convincing to them and because of this, they appear to them, as it were, universal principles, that contain a moral imperative for all. So what has convinced them and guided their consciences, they believe also ought to convince and guide others. However, other godly consciences are informed by related but not identical norms and information, and thus they do not speak with the same non-negotiable voice on this matter. And why this is so one can easily, I believe, see from what is written below…. Please Read on, remembering these are considerations not absolute rules to follow.

2. The church situation in the U.S.A. is most complicated. There is what I have often called the massive supermarket of religions and in this market are many small Anglican denominations/jurisdictions. It is one thing to leave ECUSA, it is another to have a common mind where to go. Thus if one in conscience decides to leave but remain an Anglican, then the choice as to where to go next is not easy but complicated. And the more one learns about the struggles, difficulties, tribulations and aspirations of the various Anglican groups (30 or so) across the nation, the more one is aware of the difficulty of this choice.

3. Further, to flee to Rome is not an option for an Anglican who is schooled in the classic Anglican Formularies and accepts the Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Way. Rome teaches and requires certain dogmas and doctrines, rites and ceremonies, which to the Anglican go far beyond what Scripture teaches or allows. Informed Conscience forbids this route, even when the mind sees the “attraction” of the Roman route.

4. Although a consecrated church (the kyriakon of the Lord) is in the last analysis only a building, it is a sacred building & it is the Lord’s building. Of course, worship can be held anywhere for God is a Spirit but what has been consecrated to the Lord should not easily be turned over to a “liturgy” that is contrary to the foundation and
history of the Lord’s temple/house. Further, and this can be most important, when there is attached to the Church say a school or some other important local ministry, to leave it all is a very major decision indeed, for without a building a school cannot exist and without suitable property other ministries cannot function.

5. There is in the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA a very strong tradition of a congregationalism/parochialism in the sense that the Polity of the PECUSA was more from the parish to the diocese rather than from the diocese to the parish. Strong centralization is a modern phenomenon and was unknown in the colonial period and not prominent in the two centuries afterwards. Thus it is possible (as an emergency kind of position) in some circumstances to recover a certain parochialism in order to safeguard the Gospel and keep holy property locally.

6. It is possible for a parish to make it clear --- though not to proclaim it from the housetops --- that it is not in communion with obviously heretical and immoral bishops and that it will not allow them into its holy temple, the kyriakon.

7. It is possible for a parish to decide that certain local compromises are needed in order to preserve the essentials of Anglican Faith and Practice. One will be how money is allocated – e.g., none to NYC headquarters of ECUSA but some to the diocese. In the complex situation of American religion, to be 60 per cent of what one knows one ought to be, to be aware of failure and confess it, and to be striving to be more conformed to God’s plan are probably good reasons for staying put and not fleeing.

8. In the Church the wheat and the tares grow in the same field and they are not separated until the harvest. No church is perfect and good people testify to real problems in all churches. Thus one may stay until it is, locally, truly impossible to stay and remain aspiring orthodox believers.

9. In 2005, there is more concern about the ECUSA, its apostasy and the plight of its would-be orthodox members, in the Anglican Communion of Churches than ever before and this provides a possibility that overseas influence will, in some ways (yet to be made clear) effect positive change in the ECUSA. It is by no means sure that overseas influence will bring real help but it is possibly worth waiting to see what happens, if this is locally possible.

10. It is a possibility – though only a dim one right now – that the so-called “Network” could become, by the general agreement of the Lambeth Conference of 2008, the beginnings of a new orthodox Anglican Province in North America. The Network will itself have to become truly orthodox itself, including the recovery of the classic and historic Anglican Formularies and making the 1979 Prayer Book into a “Book of Alternative Services.” Again this provides a possible reason for waiting and witnessing.

11. There is the biblical doctrine of “the remnant” which by grace remains faithful (or as faithful as possible) when there is general apostasy. Humbly to aspire to be so is probably a good thing, but it must be humbly while being aware that the judgment of God is upon all, including the remnant ( see the OT for many examples).

AND SO ON…. But the above will suffice to make the point that an informed godly conscience can speak a different word than Fr K & Fr Edwards both heard. God sees everyone and everything; but our sight and understanding are so limited and poor. Thus let us in charity pray one for another, and not be quick to judge the motives of others who act differently than we think they should do so.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon June 16, 2005

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Spirituality – not necessarily a good thing!

A sanctification starter! By Peter Toon

“So far is Christianity from an unqualified approval of pure spirituality that it teaches that the spiritual realm, no less than the material realm, has fallen into sin and has rebelled against its Creator. Indeed, in the New Testament evil spirits seem at first sight to be more in evidence than good ones. No doubt this is because the activity of good spirits is so perfectly integrated into the activity of God himself that it does not often need to be distinguished from it. But at least the fact remains that the New Testament has no confidence in spirituality as such. The early Church knew full well, as the Church in many parts of the world knows today, that religion can be very spiritual and very evil; this all depends on whom it worships and how it worships it/her/him. The worship which the angels offer to God is purely spiritual, but so is the worship devils offer to Beelzebub. Amongst humans, devil worship is about as spiritual as a religion could be. And anyone who was tempted to suppose that spirituality as such is good should be well advised to meditate on Dr. C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters.” [Eric Mascall]

Spirituality today (inside and outside churches) may well not be Christian, may well be pantheist or “eastern mysticism”, or may well be secularist. The cultivation of the human spirit in a “religious” direction, whatever that direction may be, is rarely if ever a sure sign of seeking after God the Father through Jesus Christ. However, in some cases it may perhaps be guided and helped to become such a search, for those who truly seek and search shall find, said Jesus.

The teaching of the New Testament is that the whole man, body and soul together, is called to know God, to love and serve him. The soul certainly includes the mind, heart, will and spirit; and the soul and the body together constitute the human being, who is made in the image and after the likeness of God. While the point of contact, as it were, with the Spirit of the Lord in the human person is the spirit, the relation with God the Father does not consist solely in a relation of spirit with Spirit; rather, it is a relation of a person, having body and soul, with the Father through the Son and with the Holy Ghost. Further, this person is united to others in the one Body of Christ and the one Household of God.

Thus to speak today of Christian spirituality may not be wise. An older meaning of “spirituality” used by theologians in the 17th century is “the sphere where the Spirit of the Lord engages with the human spirit” and by this they meant via the means of grace, such as prayer (private and public), sacraments, preaching & teaching, meditation and contemplation and so on. In these spheres there can be communion with God and growth in maturity of faith, hope and love. This old Christian usage is probably and sadly not recoverable by the churches in the present context of a multi-religious & multi-faith secular society, as well as a secularized church. For “spirituality” has been so filled with alien themes that as a word and as an activity for Christians it is best set aside and not pursued.

Today, we need to emphasize that God the Father has actually searched for us and found us and opened the way for us to know him through the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Holy Ghost. When we allow ourselves to be found by him and we submit to him, then he asks for the whole of us, body and soul, and he begins the work of making us holy and pure in body and soul. For his plan is to redeem his children and this means not only the sanctification of the soul but also of the body, through the inner work of the Holy Ghost; and at the End by the resurrection of the dead and the granting of life everlasting, with the beatific vision, and the pleasures of the new Jerusalem.

Traditional Anglicans will of course recognize that the sanctification and then redemption of both body and soul of God's people is clearly taught not only within the New Testament, but also within the Order for Holy Communion and in the Collects of The Book of Common Prayer (1662 & 1928).

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended against all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

June 15, 2005

P.S. In 1989 I published WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY? And is it for me? (Darton, Longman &Todd, England). In that book I made a big effort to make “spirituality” work as a Christian vocation with a Christian meaning. I probably failed. Sixteen years on I think that one is better served by using the historic words of the Christian tradition that are firmly planted in the biblical revelation and the creedal & liturgical tradition of the Church.

Loving God

Reflections from Dr. Peter Toon

All types of Christians appear to believe that there is a duty laid upon us all to love others, especially those in need. Yet in this agreement there is disagreement as to what precisely it meant by “loving one’s neighbor as oneself.”

In contrast, there is no agreement that there is a duty – at least on this earth – for Christians to love God. Some say that all we can achieve in this world is to believe in God and to trust him. Others say that Love is God and that in being loving to anyone on this earth we are loving God.

Perhaps the insights of St Bernard of Clairvaux can help us. In his little book on the love of God [De Diligendo Dei], he offers us a somewhat stylized scheme (to help us remember) of four stages in the growth in loving God; but the truth in it is profound and well worth pondering.

Self for self; God for self; God for God & self for God.

  1. The place where all of us begin is the loving of one’s self. However, in this position a man will come to realize for all kinds of reasons, not least the good of human life together in community, that he must have some love for his neighbor. And, in seeking to fulfill this obligation, he will recognize that without God’s help he cannot really begin to live a meaningful life and care for his fellow man. Though he does not know this the image of God in man is marred by sin and thus functions only imperfectly at this stage; but yet it is the means of inner awakening and desire for God through Christ.

  2. As soon as the man (baptized Christian) begins to understand the need of God for the satisfactory conduct of his life, then he will begin to love God. However, he will be loving God not for God’s sake but for his own, for the help that he needs and receives from God to live a reasonably satisfactory life. And, regrettably, this stage of loving God can be as far as he progresses in the Christian life, even as he prays, attends church and seeks to keep God’s commandments.

  3. In loving God for what he gives and provides, a man may begin (through the influence of the means of grace) to see that God as the LORD is supremely lovable in his Being, Nature, Attributes, Revelation, Reconciliation and Redemption. That is he is supremely lovable not primarily for what he bestows, but for who he really is towards his creatures and for his amazing Beauty and Glory. In progressing to this state, the baptized believer does not cease to love God for his blessings and gifts. Rather, there is joined to this loving a deeper loving which adores God for who he is. It is a loving of the Father through the love of the Son and with the love provided by the Holy Ghost. And, it is never individualistic for it is always personal but within the koinonia, the fellowship, of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

  4. The fourth stage, which cannot be wholly fulfilled in this life, is when a man loves himself only for the sake of God. That is, he participates free of all selfishness, in the love of God towards his creatures and thus specifically towards himself. And this loving can only be fully known and experienced when the Christian is redeemed, that is when he is perfected and glorified in his resurrection body and a member of the heavenly Jerusalem. That is, when he is fully restored in the image and likeness of God, and being such, he is perfectly appreciative of, as well as a channel of, the love of God and so he loves in the name of God, the Holy Trinity, what God loves. And he does so through, in and with Christ who is the perfect Image of God and the One Mediator between God and man.

One advantage, amongst others, of this scheme is that it integrates eros and agape, by seeing the latter as a fulfillment of the former. That is, it begins where each of us is at the beginning – outside the direct influence of the means of grace and traces our path into the ecstasy of being overwhelmed by the Love that unites the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. ( See further C.S.Lewis, The Four Loves. ) And it leads us on to where we are called to be – loving God both for WHO he is, and in union with him by the Spirit, sharing in his perfect loving of his creatures and people.

Too many of us, I regret to state, seem to be permanently in stage 2, loving God only because he is the One whom we need to live fulfilled or satisfactory lives. I suspect (and if I am wrong, God forgive me) that our modern dumbed-down worship services actually seek to place people and keep them in stage 2!

Trinity III, 2005

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Was Jesus an “individual”?

A discussion Starter from Peter Toon

There was a time when the word “individual” was only an adjective and referred to one specific thing –e.g., an individual drop of rain, or an individual flavor/ texture of a fruit, or an individual person, or an individual page of a book, and so on . Now it is increasingly used as a noun for a human being, often to indicate a single human being as one unit of a community or society and distinct from all other “individuals.” Also it may be used to indicate a specific human being as having a uniqueness and thus different from all others – “John is a real individual.”

There have been many objections during the last century or so to the use of the word as a synonym for a single human being, especially where no contrast between one human being and others is implied. For example, take, “Three individuals were placed under arrest,” or “The local Mayor will make time for any individual who wants to talk to her/him.” In these cases, some argue (rightly, I judge) that it is better to use the nouns “people” or “person.”

In fact, it is probably the case that the use of “individual” for “person” increased in the cold war years when the West was standing against the collectivism of communism. It became the fashion to speak of the importance of the individual person (which became quickly “the individual” and thus achieved a kind of sanctity as a word).

For Christians, Jesus is unique, and not merely in one aspect, but in many. He alone is God become man without ceasing to be God. He alone as a man lived a totally perfect life of love for others. He alone is the One Mediator between God the Father and the human race. And so on.

The Church of God in her official dogma and doctrine has spoken of him as “One Person made known in Two Natures, Divine and Human “ (Council of Chalcedon, 451; and the Athanasian Creed from 5th century). Although the word “individual” can be used of him as an adjective (e.g., “ as distinct from the Father and the Holy Ghost, he is an individual Person, even though he has the one identical Nature with the Father and the Holy Ghost”), it is not wise at all to use “individual” as a noun of him. Certainly, as the Messiah and Saviour, he stands apart from all others of the human race, but he is not an “individual” in the modern sense, for he is a corporate man, a representative man, the new Israel, and the second and new Adam. That is, he is totally bound by God’s design and covenant to those whom he came to identify with and save. He is a Person who in his Personhood is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Also in this same Personhood he is one with the human race for he is One Person made known in two natures, divine and human. Through his human nature he is one with mankind and especially so with the elect.

This being so, holy mother church has guided her members to speak of human beings also as persons, that is, persons with one nature, human, and with a unique human personality, rooted in that human nature, which is made in the image and after the likeness of God. (see e.g., in the classic editions of The Book of Common Prayer where candidates for baptism are called “persons”).

So it is not wise for the Church or preachers or Christian teachers to use the word “individual” as a noun to refer to a person made in the image and after the likeness of God. For, properly speaking, though each of us is an individual person, we are not strictly individualities, for we are united in the order of nature by blood and genes with our families/kith and kin and in the order of grace we are united with the members of the Body of Christ, who are our brethren for eternity! And as made in the image of God we reflect in our personhoods the tri-Personal Nature of God. Certainly each of us has to respond to God’s word and grace and this is an individual action, but it is the action of an individual person not an “individual.”

And, further, if we do insist on using it as a noun of a precious human being, then we need to be sure that we use it only in order to make a contrast which is both reasonable and is in accord with the basic Christian view of man/humanity. Perhaps it is best to avoid the word altogether as a noun for we do after all have other words to use. [Try going a week without using the word as a noun for a human being.]

Of course, we live in a society where “individualism” is rife and where the declared rights of “individuals” and the self-worth of “individuals: is taken for granted. The basis of this type of post-Enlightenment thinking is that the basic unit of any society is “the individual” and by the free choice of “individuals” a society or even church is formed. By voluntary association distinct “individuals” choose to create together a unit, or society, or church or whatever.

Christianity has a very different view – at least in its biblical theology, which knows no individualism as such. The primary unit is on the one side the representative Man (Adam and then Christ) in whom is contained the race of man or the elect of God, and on the other the family (be it the so-called extended family, or the tribe, or in Israel, the twelve tribes as One). Any member of these unities is an individual member or person but not an individual as such.

In the Church a person is baptized not only into union with Christ himself but also simultaneously into his Body, and thus each baptized believer is one member united to many members. And each member is an individual person, an individual Christian, not an individual in isolation! By Christian nurture and education, the Church seeks to make each of us aware that while we are individual persons with individual responsibility we are nevertheless not isolated units for we are inter-related. Rather, we are related units and we find our fulfillment and vocation in rightful unions and associations and vocations with others! Our individual talents are by the grace of God used for the common good and to fulfill duties to family, community, nation and local church.

Jesus was not an individual in his earthly ministry and in heaven now as our King, Priest and Prophet, he is not an individual, even though he possesses human nature perfected and glorified. He is a Person, an unique Person but a Person, eternally related to the Father and the Holy Ghost in Love in the Holy Trinity. We who are his brethren, because adopted by his Father as his children, are likewise not individuals but persons, each of us (by grace alone) having a personal relation with the Father, through and in Jesus. Thus we avoid and reject modern individualism for we belong to the fellowship and communion of the saints in glory.

June 14, 2005

A friend responds –

Briefly, the distinction between "individual" and "person" is as follows:
The INDIVIDUAL is characterized and defined/ defines himself in terms of his differences from other individuals. Individualism is inherently and inevitably atomistic (hence profoundly contrary to human nature -- see below). Where it is the dominant functional philosophy, society is always in flux between the extremes of anarchy and collectivism (which is the revenge human nature takes on radical individualism), leaving man with a choice between the life of the solitary wasp or that of the hive.

The human PERSON, though unique, is defined in terms of his relation to other human persons. We come to know ourselves and to be ourselves in relation to others. Which is another way of saying that man is an inherently social being. Apart from a society, he is something less than human.

This inherent social nature is perhaps the most important aspect of the
image of the Triune God in man. One consequence of this is that man can only find personal fulfillment in communion with God. This fulfillment takes place -- and can only take place -- in the society of the Church "which is the blessed company of all faithful people," which is why the Church is in principle prior to any person's relationship with God. Thus the church is not a voluntary society constructed of individual believers, but an organic reality into which we are called by God and in which he brings us to faith.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

The Stimulus of Silence

by Peter Toon

Each of us is stimulated every day by a variety of persons and things. Everything from smells, tastes, sounds and touches to images, pictures, words, written and spoken, can affect us. By any of them we can be aroused in one or a number of ways and the activity of body or mind, or parts thereof, can be heightened or increased. We are “wired” in such a way that external stimuli, or even internal stimuli (from memory or imagination), affect us in many ways, and perhaps when we do not realize this is so.

We are all aware that we live in a society and culture wherein we are open to intense stimulation by both what we can hardly avoid (e.g., advertisements and the media) and what we can choose (e.g., music & images). In most cases, the value of this stimulation to us as human beings is debatable. Certainly it is not necessary, even if it seems unavoidable at times.

Everyone agrees that the stimulation of pictures of pornography and excessive violence and the use of certain drugs is good for no-one; but, there is a division of opinion as to whether such things as (a) the constant listening to loud music and (b) the regular looking at sexually explicit pictures and films, are good or bad.

To turn from the culture to the churches, it seems that many have taken the general position that the stimulus of loud music in a popular mode is a good thing, at least a good thing for young people. Further, it seems that many churches have also decided that the stimulus of images and pictures (using PowerPoint or the like) to guide communal activity (e.g., singing) works much better than the use of individual books and leaflets. Also it appears that communication of messages by means of the spoken word (e.g., “sermon”) is considered most stimulating when it is in a simple mode, with few if any demanding ideas and vocabulary, and appealing more to the affections than to the intelligence.

In this context, due to the intensity of the effects of the various stimuli, some people think that religious experience is only real when it is via “an emotional high” or “an intensification of feeling.” Thus they tend to go in search of places and opportunities where this form of experience is available or can be generated. They may even reply upon specific persons to be the means of achieving this elevated emotional state.

Of course, not everyone is driven by the felt need of intense religious feeling, but, generally speaking, most people in churches give the impression that they need to be either active in doing something (including talking) or, if inactive, listening to or watching something. They do not give the impression that God who is Spirit and invisible may be known in total quiet!

It appears to be the case that very few Christian people know the value of SILENCE in the sanctuary and in their hearts before the Lord OUR God! Yet the Word of God written in the Holy Scriptures urges God’s people to be silent and know that he is truly God. Our Lord Jesus Christ instructs his disciples to enter into the quiet place and there commune with the heavenly Father alone. In fact, the same Jesus Christ sets us a perfect example of being alone and silent before his Father in order to commune with him. It was his habit and pattern to do this daily! In fact he provides us with a perfect example of prayer that is silent, adoring and contemplative, as well as, when necessary, intercessory and petitionary.

If we are forever talking and in motion, if we are forever stimulated by this or that phenomena, then we miss out on the possibility of the STIMULUS OF SILENCE, which is used by the Holy Ghost to tune our hearts to Jesus Christ and through, in and with him to the Father.

We need to learn to be quiet in church before the service of worship begins in order to remember God’s presence with us; we need to be quiet for a while after hearing the word of God and receiving the blessed Sacrament in order to receive the blessings God is giving; and we need to be quiet at the very end of the service in order to appropriate what God has been giving to and telling us. Then, further, we need to be quiet daily in our busy days to hear what the Lord has to share with us! We need to be as ready to engage in contemplative as in petitionary prayer.

The LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him. (Hab.2:20)

Written for the newsletter of St. Thomas' Church, Houston, Texas.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Marriage -- A "Relationship" not an Institution?

A discussion starter from Peter Toon

In choosing whether or not to enter into marriage, we often hear it said today that "modern people want a relationship not an institution."

Throughout human history marriage between a man and a woman (or sometimes, several women) has been regarded as an institution. That is, as an established organization with a social, economic and religious purpose. Marriage has been seen as a means of creating, safeguarding and cementing important social, economic, political and family ties. Thus the choice of a wife or husband for a son or daughter was very much in the control of the parents and their advisors. When married, the couple learned to respect and care for each other, guided by their families and friends.

The ideal of a man and woman getting married primarily because they are "in love" is western and hardly more than 150 years old. And it was only in the latter part of the twentieth century that it became the dominant view of the reason for getting married. Naturally this ideal of self-fulfillment in love was expressed through a word never before used of marriage or betrothal, the word, "relationship."

Is there a mid-point between seeing "marriage" as an institution and as a relationship?

It may be suggested that one such mid-point was seriously attempted in the 1950s, when marriage was extremely popular and most people aspired to be married by the time they were in their early twenties. The ideal was of the man as the breadwinner and of the wife as the homemaker and the one who took care of the (at least) two children. Pundits and preachers worked from this model and encouraged/commanded people to make it work and work well. Preachers even claimed that this was the biblical model!

However, this 1950s experiment soon began to disintegrate as the model of "relationships" came to dominate thinking and practice.

If we look back over the 150 years (1850-2000), in which the ideal of marrying for [romantic] love has been gaining ground and achieving virtual total success in the West, we see five major obstacles that had to be overcome in order to give people the personal autonomy and sexual freedom necessary for this ideal to prevail fully and completely.

The first obstacle was the inherited view that there are major, innate differences between men and women with regard to their sexual desires and drives. Only in the 1920s was it generally conceded that sexual satisfaction for women was as important as for men, and that they deserved equal consideration.

The second obstacle was the power and ability of families, neighbors, employers, churches and governments to regulate personal behavior and even penalize aberrations! This gradually collapsed as major changes in the culture and economic and social life occurred and greater degrees of personal freedom and personal anonymity developed.

The third obstacle to be removed was unreliable means of birth control. Only in the 1960s did means of birth control become reliable enough that fear of pregnancy was removed and women were "liberated" to choose when "to have sex" and with whom.

A fourth obstacle was the harsh penalties for illegitimacy both socially and legally in force. By the 1970s the legal category of illegitimacy was removed and it became widely accepted that it was wrong to penalize a child for the actions of its biological parents.

The final obstacle was the dependence of women on men both economically and legally. This broke down gradually and was pretty much gone by the 1980s. During much the same time-frame, the production of a host of labor-saving goods, from clothing that did not need ironing to automatic this-and-that, undercut men's dependence on women as housekeepers. So each sex became free of the other and able to be self-sufficient to a degree. Also a man and a woman each had the freedom to choose or not to choose marriage and to choose this or that partner for cohabitation or for marriage.

Some of the results of this REVOLUTION in the understanding and practice of marriage and sexual relations we know well. When romantic love and personal autonomy are dominant then there will be many marriages but also many divorces; divorced persons will re-marry; couples will enter a first marriage much later than previous generations did; couples will live together as partners in co-habitation without marriage; children will know step-parents as well as parents; birth certificates will have two different surnames as the parents; homosexual persons will claim the same rights as heterosexual persons, and so on.

There is a real sense of inevitability to the fall out from this REVOLUTION wherein marriage ceases to be an institution and becomes "a relationship." Yet, there are still some happy marriages which last, but these are a minority of "partnerships" in the modern West.

How does the Church pastorally deal with all this?

According to its inherited teaching, the Church has a very high view of marriage as the union of a man and woman as one flesh until the death of one of them. The model set forth is the mystical marriage of Christ, the Bridegroom, and his Church, the Bride.

In practice, the Church has accommodated to reality by finding ways to justify the use of artificial birth control, to bless the marriages of those who have been cohabiting and those who marry for the second or third time, to welcome to the Lord's Table those who (by previous standards) are guilty of fornication, to allow clergy who divorce and remarry to continue without discipline as pastors, and so on.

Of course, resistance to the new REALITY is strong in some places and weak in others, but virtually all types of modern denominations have accommodated by compromises to the REVOLUTION that has occurred. Usually this has been done out of pastoral care, of wanting to meet people where they are and being caring towards them. For example, the R C Church has greatly increased the number of annulments it has given to members who are divorced by law and the Episcopal Church has allowed its clergy to bless many "unions" of "gay" people.

One good thing that perhaps can be said is this. Where there is a good marriage today it is usually a truly good one, for the persons involved have had to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve their mutuality and happiness. In many ways they have had to work against the odds, against the culture and against the trends. Perhaps the Church can put more energy into encouraging good marriages and enabling the wife and husband to exert the necessary discipline and graciousness to achieve this end -- by the grace of God. To do this, her Ministers will need to be both chaste and wise, patient and caring, filled with the Spirit and his gifts!

June 7, 2005 The Revd Dr Peter Toon

Friday, June 03, 2005

Is there a place for patriotism and/or nationalism in Common Prayer?

Citizenship of the heavenly Jerusalem & the Holy Eucharist
A discussion starter!

Let me begin by talking about Britain, which I know well.

In the Church of England, which is an established Church, there is in all the Sunday services the possibility of appropriate prayer [and in the classic BCP it is a requirement] for the Monarch [Queen Elizabeth II) and the royal family. The reason for this inclusion is that the Monarch not only rules the nation as Queen in Parliament but that in England alone she is also the Supreme Governor of the National Church. All Bishops are appointed by her, on the advice of the Prime Minister (who himself is advised by a commission of the General Synod of the Church), and any major changes in the worship, doctrine and discipline of the Church have also to be accepted by her.

In the [Anglican] Church in Wales and the Episcopal Church of Scotland there is also the possibility of prayer for the Queen who rules in and through Parliament. However, this prayer is not for her as Supreme Governor, for she does not have this position in these Churches.

Though there is prayer for the Queen, the government and nation in the intercessions of “The Order for Holy Communion” of the Book of Common Prayer (1662) in the Church of England, it is not usual, for there to be any obvious patriotism or nationalism displayed in this traditional service. For example, the singing of the National Anthem or any patriotic type of hymn is extremely rare within this service. This is how it ought to be, I think.

However, with public services of Morning and Evening Prayer the case can be different. Here patriotism (not nationalism or racism) is displayed from time to time as when the flags and banners of organizations are taken in procession through the church and when the National Anthem is sung at civic services, as when the dead of the World Wars are remembered on November 11.

Why do I suggest that anywhere in the world the celebration of the Eucharist should never include the expression of patriotism? Here is the beginning of an answer.

Wherever one is in God’s world, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, by the means of any orthodox rite/service, is a celebration of the heavenly Jerusalem, beyond space and time, not of an earthly city of kingdom. Those present lift up their hearts and, by the Holy Ghost, they are lifted up into the heavenly place, where they feast at the Messianic Banquet on the Body and Blood of the once crucified and now exalted Lord Jesus. They are in communion with the Father through the Son and with the Holy Ghost. There is absolutely no place for patriotism or nationalism or racism here in this holy and rarified ethos. The family of God is from every tribe and every tongue and the heavenly Lord is lord of all peoples, races and nations. So those celebrating the Eucharist in Australia or in Bolivia or in Estonia or in New York City are all lifted up to the same Place and are present there are citizens of heaven, as fellow members of the Body of Christ and of the Household of God. In terms of their relation to earth and nations there, they are sojourners and pilgrims, for their true home is in the heavenly paradise, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

If we have a right view of what the Order for Holy Communion/ the Mass/ the Eucharist is all about, then we surely know that in its celebration we leave behind all nationalisms, patriotisms, racisms, ethnicities and whatever else. For only in so doing by God’s help and grace can we become that which God actually reckons us to be in Christ – that is, his adopted children, citizens of heaven and dwellers in the heavenly Jerusalem, who have been made clean by the blood of the Lamb. The experience of the Eucharist is for pilgrims & sojourners on earth a foretaste of heaven, the first-fruits of the heavenly life and the anticipation of what shall be for ever!

This being so, I suggest, the place (church building or anywhere else) where the Christian assembly for Eucharist takes place ought not to display obvious signs of patriotism, let alone of nationalism, or racism, and there should not be the singing as solos or as congregational hymns patriotic songs. There is plenty of space and time for healthy patriotism outside the sacred hour of the Eucharist. This hour belongs to the patriotism of heaven, of the heavenly Jerusalem, and of the new heavens and the new earth.

I fear that I may be seen as attacking the practice of “conservative” and “traditional” parishes in the USA where there is obvious patriotism [proudly] displayed at the Eucharist. Let me say that I am all for healthy patriotism (but not for nationalism and racism) but that the Eucharist is the one place where this conviction and expression is not appropriate!

The Revd Dr Peter Toon June 4, 2005

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Kyriakon & Ecclesia; & Ecclesia Anglicana

Most of us are so busy with the life and work of the parish or group to which we belong, that do not take or make time to reflect upon its name and that of the larger unit to which it belongs. And, in the vast supermarket of American religions, we get so used to the peculiarity of our own name and association, even though it may seem odd to outsiders, that just live with it.

When we do reflect, or when someone asks a pointed question, perhaps we notice that we use both the word “church” and “Anglican [and/or Episcopalian]” in different ways and with different meanings. Perhaps we do not realize that this is confusing to outsiders and may also reflect the lack of witness in American “Anglicanism” to the confession in the Creed – one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Let us begin with the word “church.” When we use it of the consecrated building or temple, such as St Mark’s Church, do we realize that the underlying word here is KYRIAKON which literally means “thing belonging to the Lord.” This being so, do we also observe how odd it is to insert into the name of this building further words, such as “St Mark’s Anglican Church” or “St Mark’s Reformed Episcopal Church” or “St Mark’s Anglican Mission in America Church” ? Here is a building consecrated in the name of an evangelist for the worship of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Why complicate and distort this most important and beautiful fact by adding more nouns or adjectives? Why not simply have the correct name on line 1 and then on line 2 add any further information as to its identity (e.g., name of jurisdiction to which those who use the building belong)?

When we use the word “Church” in the Creed – one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church – we refer to the people of God, the household of God, the Body of Christ living through space and time and in heaven. The underlying word is ECCLESIA which literally means in the New Testament and in regular Greek, “assembly of people.” This people is governed by holy Order under the Lord Jesus Christ and it may possess holy buildings and other property, but “Church” here is people who are being saved from sin by divine grace and mercy. The local assembly of this universal people is also “church” and should be a kind of microcosm of the whole. Again the local assembly may have a KYRIAKON.

Regrettably the One Church of God is divided into many parts, several very large and many small. Thus for the purpose of identification of the parts we have to use adjectives to indicate what part (jurisdiction, branch, denomination etc.) is intended. So we speak of the “Orthodox” Churches and of the “Roman Catholic” Church. However, when we come to the use of “Anglican” or “Episcopal” we cannot any longer simply say “the Anglican Church” or “the Episcopal Church.”

Certainly there was once the one Ecclesia Anglicana in England and from this sister churches were founded in the British Empire and Commonwealth. But now, in North America, there is out there a growing list of the bits and pieces Anglicanism, testifying to the powerful centrifugal forces of modern American culture and religion, which caused them to be separate and keeps them so. There are over forty “jurisdictions” bearing the “Anglican brand name” in the American supermarket of religious denominations – everything from e.g., the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. through the Christian Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Missionary Church, the Charismatic Episcopal Church, the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church of America, the Anglican Mission in America, the Anglican Province of Christ the King, to Anglican missions belonging to Anglican Provinces in Africa and South America. And many more! In each one there are “saints of God.”

From within this situation, Anglicans and Episcopalians may care to ask:

What are we doing to try to allow the centripetal powers of unifying grace to heal divisions and bridge chasms and reconcile the divided?

Do we think that this powerful statement of disunity honors the Lord or helps the propagation of the Gospel and the engagement in pure worship?

At least, should not all those who think that ECUSA is apostate at its center and who think that there is such a thing as the orthodox Anglican Way be seeking to find ways of being together in the name of Christ in real cooperation and practice?

Further, should not those who really want to unite their “Anglican” jurisdiction or group with Rome or the Orthodox or the conservative Lutherans or Presbyterians get on with doing this, so that those who really want to be Anglican Christians and who remain can attempt to unite in meaningful ways? [It is possible that those groups who are looking for unions outside of the Anglican Way are hindering the work of uniting the genuinely Anglican groups by raising unnecessary questions and creating unsolvable problems.]
Additional Note. There is a further use of the word “Church” in the ECUSA and this is really neither from KYRIAKON or EKKLESIA! The commonly-used description of the Offices and Administration of the Episcopal Church in NYC as “the National Church” seems to equate “Church” with the office of the Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council of the General Convention.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon June 2, 2005