Sunday, December 25, 2005

Collects to Pray on Christmas Day

[A brief message to those who have received my e-mail tracts over the last year. MAY YOU HAVE A BLESSED AND JOYFUL TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. Now please read on. Thanks. Peter Toon.]

In the Ecclesia Anglicana before she began to use English (as the Church of England) for the whole of the Liturgy in 1549, there were Three Latin Collects for Christmas Day. The Missal of Sarum (Salisbury) in use up to 1549 made provision for three Masses for this high festival – one at cockcrow, one at the break of dawn, and one in full daylight. (No midnight Mass then!)

At the Mass at cockcrow the Collect prayed (in translation):

O God, who madest this most sacred night to shine with the brightness of the true Light; Grant, we beseech thee, that we, as we have known the revelations of the Light upon earth, so we may also have the fruition of his joys in heaven; who with thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth one God world without end. Amen.

This recalls Jesus as the Light of the world especially as he is so presented in the Prologue and Text of the Gospel according to St. John.

At the Mass at dawn the Collect prayed:

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, to us upon whom the new light of the Word made flesh is shed forth, that the light which shines by faith in our hearts may also shine brightly in our works. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

This also specifically recalls the Prologue of the Gospel according to St. John.

At the Mass in the full light of day the Collect prayed:

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that the new birth of thy only-begotten Son through the flesh may set free those, who are held fast by the old bondage under the yoke of sin. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

Here the Incarnation of the Son of God, born from Mary his virgin mother, is seen as the basis for the salvation offered to us through the same Jesus Christ.

In the provision for the new Book of the Common Prayer (1549), the reformed Church of England provided only one Collect along with the Epistle and Gospel set for the third Mass in the Latin Church. However this Collect was a new creation from the hand of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure Virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit through the same Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
In this Collect we have a most beautiful combination of sound doctrine and of inspired petition.

The Son of God was the Second Person of the Holy Trinity before he took to himself human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary. At the Annunciation and Conception, Mary conceived Jesus miraculously by the presence of the Holy Ghost; at the same time the Son of God who had eternally his divine nature acquired the beginnings of a human nature, so he became One Person made known in two natures, divine and human.

As the Son of God was born according to his human nature from Mary, Blessed Virgin, so each of us is to be born of the Holy Ghost into the kingdom of God and thereby made into the adopted children of God, through the love of the Father and the grace of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

And as the Son of God in his human nature lived as Jesus of Nazareth, fulfilling the vocation of the Messiah and Suffering Servant of God, so we are to fulfill the vocation of the children of God called unto holiness and service in the kingdom and church of God our Father.

Christmas is a time for rejoicing with the heavenly host that the Son of God has become man for us and our salvation. It is also a time to see and accept what is the vocation of the regenerate children of God and by the help of the Holy Ghost fulfill the same.


Peter Toon December 23, 2005

Friday, December 16, 2005

Russian Orthodox Back Vatican Stance On Gays.

RUSSIA’S ORTHODOX Church has backed the Vatican’s position on homosexuals in seminaries, and accused Protestant denominations of “succumbing to secular values” over the issue.

“Homosexuality was called a sin in Holy Scripture – there’s no possibility of any other interpretation,” said Fr Igor Vyzhanov, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Commission for Inter-Christian Dialogue. “There are certain differences in how we handle candidates for priesthood, since celibacy is obligatory for Catholics whereas Orthodox can marry if they don’t aspire to hierarchical posts. But there’s total agreement between both Churches as concerns candidates’ homosexual tendencies.”

The priest was speaking a fortnight after an instruction by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s “profound respect” for homosexuals, but said Catholic seminaries should not admit students for ordination who “practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’”.

He told Russia’s Interfax newsagency Orthodox leaders were “astonished” at attempts by Protestant communities “to revise Biblical teachings”, believing it reflected their “dependence on influence from secular currents devoid of all moral foundations”.

“Homosexuals should be viewed as people suffering from a serious illness,” said Fr Vyzhanov, who handles the Russian Church’s ties with Catholics. “If laypeople are forbidden to engage in homosexual acts, so much more should priesthood candidates and Church people seek not political correctness, but a firm foundation for their faith in life.”

The comments came as another Russian Orthodox leader repeated his call for a “Catholic-Orthodox Alliance” to negotiate with European institutions and other faiths on behalf of “traditional Christianity”.

“The main themes would be social, ethical and bioethical questions and family policy,” Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the Church’s representative to the European Union, told an inter-Church conference in Vienna. “But the group could also work out a code of behaviour for Catholics in predominantly Orthodox countries and for Orthodox in Catholic countries. In this way, it could contribute to overcoming the problem of proselytism.”

Catholic-Orthodox ties have long been tense in Russia and Eastern Europe over Orthodox complaints of Catholic proselytism, as well as over the revival of Greek or Eastern Catholic churches, who combine the eastern liturgy with loyalty to Rome and are known pejoratively as “Uniates” by Orthodox leaders.

An International Commission for Catholic-Orthodox Theological Dialogue met again this week in Rome, five years after breaking down over the issue of “Uniatism” at its last session in Baltimore, in the United States.

Bishop Hilarion said he believed Catholic Bishops’ Conferences should “unite their efforts” with Orthodox Churches to stem Europe’s “rapid de-Christianisation” and prevent the continent from losing its “centuries-old Christian identity”.

Jonathan Luxmoore, Warsaw

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Demise of Evangelicals in PECUSA: A cautionary tale

The evangelical movement could claim half the total bishops and clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1850 but by the First World War representatives of this school were difficult to find in this Church. In contrast, the anglo-catholic movement which was hardly present before 1850 was widespread in 1914.

Why did such a large party, with such distinctive views, collapse and disappear? Professor Gillis J. Harp has made a major beginning in answering this question by his essay entitled, “The Strange Death of Episcopalianism” in Anglican and Episcopal History, Volume LXXIV, No.2., 2005, pp.180ff. He groups his different explanations under three headings – generational (the torch was not passed on by the older generation to the young one), institutional (the seminaries did not maintain and commend a viable evangelical Faith, Churchmanship and lifestyle); and cultural/theological (evangelicals tended to be of step with the romanticism and idealism whereas the new school of anglo-catholicism walked more in step with them). To these he adds two further factors, the departure of some Evangelicals to form the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873 and before this, the American Civil War which (in my judgment he does not emphasize sufficiently) seriously caused the weakening of the evangelical party.

I do urge my readers to study what Dr Harp has written and follow up suggestions in his notes.

My particular interest here is to suggest that the massive demise of Evangelicalism in the PECUSA provides us with a “cautionary tale” (I am rather fond of this expression for in his Preface to my first book, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in England [1967] Dr James I Packer stated that the story I told of the formation of this extreme type of Calvinism was a cautionary tale to all would-be Calvinists!) And this 19th century story of PECUSA Evangelicals is a cautionary tale not only to present-day Evangelicals in the ECUSA and AMiA but also to old-style Anglo-Catholics in the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions and also in the ECUSA.

In the latter part of the 19th century, the general cultural setting was such as to make the ceremonial, ritualism and drama of anglo-catholic liturgy more appealing to Episcopalians than the stolid and formal low-church, evangelical service of the Word. The shape and content of the Eucharist in the candle-lit building was more attractive than the preacher in a Geneva gown speaking from the big pulpit after the singing of canticles. The Evangelicals tended to carry on after the Civil War as before and much like they did at the beginning of the 19th century. They united their changeless Gospel to a seemingly changeless presentation and dress. And that dress was not in fashion after the mid-century. Apparently they did not distinguish the essence from the social and cultural setting and thus they did not do sufficient to adapt in terms of music, drama and the aesthetics of their services and liturgy. They acted as though the reading and exposition of the Word of God alone done in an eighteenth-century style would be sufficient to maintain the cause. And all this was done, to a large degree, because they believed that they were resisting the inroads of [roman] Catholicism into the Protestant ECUSA.

And so while the Evangelicals fumbled, the Anglo-Catholics (the “ritualists”) gained greater support; and even the low and broad churchmen of the day began slowly to make their services more colorful and ornate.

Evangelicalism wearing its early 19th century dress was not acceptable to churchgoers in the last part of the same century and so it did not reproduce itself and it gradually died out. Further, the three evangelical seminaries lost their fervor in mid-century and so they produced more ministers for the broad church school than for the evangelical cause. And once a great movement gets into decline, then the decline tends to accelerate! So Evangelicalism went off the map!

What is the cautionary tale here?

Perhaps it is that a church cannot live on nostalgia and imagine it can either maintain or re-create a past period of bliss or success. The 19th century Evangelicals erred in their seeking to keep the old ways in place when the changing world around them required that they adapt to be seen and heard. Modern traditionalists in the ECUSA and in the Continuing Jurisdictions, whatever their churchmanship, have to face this temptation and danger of thinking that, for example, the 1950s, before the ravages of the 1960s, is the decade to be made present again for then the traditional ways seemed to prosper.

Or perhaps it is that the Evangelical movement to be “successful” has to be securely based on Scripture and the classic Formularies, but at the same time has to be open to a variety of possible ways of worshipping God and serving him – without denying its true character. If it goes overboard on the side of relevance, simplicity and acceptability, then it loses its classic character and its Anglican nature; if it simply glories in its security in Scripture and the Formularies, then it soon ceases to be an active church. The 19th century Evangelicals had the Faith but they put it in sealed boxes, as it were, and so their worship and witness began to lose authenticity and appeal.

Modern ECUSA Evangelicals seem not to be in danger of losing the desire to minister to their generation in appropriate ways, but they are perhaps dangerously near to losing hold on their roots, of forgetting the historic and classic Formularies of the Anglican Way. So they are possibly near to being merely Evangelicals who happen to use a simplified liturgy, and, as such, they may be a long way from the wholeness of the Anglican Way.

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

Evangelicalism in the [Protestant] Episcopal Church of the USA: The mid-19th and early 21st centuries contrasted

Students of the history of the PECUSA to World War I face many fascinating facts. One such is that in 1850 conservative Evangelicals made up as much as fifty per cent of the house of bishops, clergy and parishes of the Church, and, by the arrival of World War I, they had virtually completely disappeared. There was no evangelical party as such in the PECUSA from then until the 1970s when it was re-introduced (howbeit in a changed form) from Britain and Australia (with the setting up of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in PA and other organizations).

Looking back, the evangelical school of the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the mid-nineteenth century may be characterized in six ways, by its commitment to:
  • Conversionism – expecting repenting, believing sinners to have an experience of conversion;
  • Activism – showing evangelistic energy and busy pastoral work;
  • Biblicism – committed to the final authority of the holy Scriptures for faith and conduct;
  • Crucicentrism -- preaching the message of Christ crucified and teaching the centrality of the Atonement at Calvary;
  • Churchmenism – loyal members of the national Church and committed to its Formularies as evangelical Churchmen; and
  • Anti-Ritualism – opposed to the emerging agenda in liturgy and doctrine of the anglo-catholic movement.

In the 19th century USA Evangelicals founded three seminaries (in Alexandria VA, in Gambier, OH, and in Philadelphia, PA), published newspapers (Episcopal Record and The Episcopalian) and ran evangelistic and educational societies (e.g. the Evangelical Knowledge Society). They were in mid-century a force to be reckoned with!

Yet, by 1914 this school or party was gone and the reasons for it cannot simply be attributed to schism which led to the formation of The Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873, for this schism only took a small proportion of the evangelical clergy and laity out of the PECUSA.

For too long insufficient academic effort has been devoted to seeking to establish the reasons for the total demise of the evangelical party in PECUSA. However, with the publication of the essay “The Strange Death of Evangelical Episcopalianism” by Professor Gillis J. Harp in Anglican and Episcopal History, Vol LXXIV, No 2, 2005, pp/180 ff. a wrong has been righted and we are well on the way to discovering what happened to the Evangelical School and its institutions, parishes and organizations.

I urge the serious-minded to read this essay, if for no other reason that it is a “cautionary tale” from which modern Evangelicals can possibly learn. (I will return to its thesis in a further e-mail essay.)

The introduction of Evangelicalism into the (now) ECUSA in the 1970s is easy to explain for it was basically an implant, although there were those within ECUSA (a) of the more hearty Low Church School and (b) who had been influenced by the Charismatic Movement (via Dennis Bennet, Terry Fulham et al) who were most welcoming of the new religion. This new Evangelicalism shared the characteristics of conversionism, activism, Biblicism and crucicentrism. Yet it did so in what we may call a generic evangelical way (being much influenced by the strong, general evangelical movement of the period). Regrettably, it was not specifically committed to the historic formularies of the Church (for in the ECUSA these were removed in the 1970s) and it was more than content to use the new forms of liturgy and new paraphrases of the Bible then being pressed on parishes by their bishops, for these new creations were seen as being relevant, accessible and simple because in contemporary language. Further, it was happy to work within a basic ritualism (which liberal Catholicism had introduced with the new forms of liturgy) and to call its clergy “Father” – because it was not conscious of or perhaps interested in the doctrinal questions involved (see Peter Toon, Evangelical Theology 1833-1856, A Response to Tractarianism, 1979, UK & USA).

If we look at the Evangelical movement now in the ECUSA as found for example in The Network we can see that it is the true continuation of that which was begun in the 1970s. It does not seriously question anything that was in place in the ECUSA when it was started and it only protests against innovations that it has seen emerge during its own lifetime – e.g., forms of extreme inclusive language; the requirement that all office holders agree to the ordination of women, and most obviously the blessing of same-sex couples and the ordaining of persons in such partnerships.

Thus its members find somewhat irrelevant the calls from some quarters (e.g. the Prayer Book Society of the USA) for the restoration of the historic and classic Formularies as the standard of Faith for the Church, and the making of the 1979 Book to be what it actually is in its content, a Book of Alternative Services. They are, however, more sensitive to the calls for a restoration of marriage discipline for in their sober, reflective moments they know that the present situation of the right of any divorcee to remarriage in church and the high percentage of divorced and remarried clergy are scandalous – as is also the culture that allows abortion as a means of birth control.

My own hope is that the present Evangelical (and also Charismatic) school that dominates The Network’s membership will make time to look seriously at the Evangelical Movement in history and will be prepared to add to its zeal for evangelization and church growth a zeal for true and proper foundations in Scripture and the historic Formularies for the Anglican Way. I hope it will discover a genuine hearty and zealous form of Reformed Catholicism as the true religion of the Anglican Way, which on this sure foundation, is a truly comprehensive Way, allowing for a variety of churchmanship and theological emphases! December 15, 2005

Monday, December 12, 2005

When Christmas triumphs over the Lord’s Day

In 2005 Christmas Day, December 25, falls on the first day of the week, Sunday, known as the Lord’s Day by Christians.

While Christmas as a Festival kept annually by the Church only goes back to the fourth century, the Lord’s Day, the first Day of the week, as the weekly Celebration of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead goes back to the apostolic age (see Revelation 1: 10).

The English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians – and their New England descendants – did not celebrate Christmas because it was not clearly a biblical festival, there being no command with reference to it in the New Testament. They treated it as a normal day. However, they did have a very high doctrine of the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath and the keeping of this was a basic moral duty (see the Ten Commandments!).

Against this background, it is at first sight perhaps NOT surprising to see an advert such as this which appeared in Oklahoma recently:

Life Church
Christmas Eve Worship Experiences

Join us on December 24 at the Oklahoma City Campus for our Christmas Eve celebration! Experiences will be held at 2:30 PM, 4 PM, 5:30 PM, and 7 PM.

Because Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, all Christmas worship experiences will take place on Saturday December 24, Christmas Eve only. There will be not be worship experiences on Sunday, December 25.

It is our most sincere hope that you will be able to use this opportunity to spend some time with your family and enjoy the holiday together.

However it is surprising for here we find an amazing thing -- that the leadership of a supposed Christian congregation, a very large one, is saying that there is NO duty to worship God the Father in the Name of the Lord Jesus on the weekly celebration of the resurrection in late December. What may be called the secular understanding of Christmas – family get together for a holiday celebration – has triumphed and the assembly of Christians is closed down on that day which is this year, nothing less than the Lord’s Day. (And the same is happening in many similar churches of the Willow Creek type across the USA.)

The practice of being user-friendly, relevant and “with it” has here clearly triumphed over the clear teaching of the New Testament and the requirement of the law of God.

In defense of the leadership of the “Life Church” one may note that they are asking people to attend services on the Saturday, the 24th. However, why they could not have also opened their building for one service, just one, for those who have a sense of “Sunday duty” is puzzling. Also why they could not, like the Catholic Church, have a Midnight Celebration, on the 24th, is also puzzling. For they are not like the Puritans of the 17th and 18th centuries who abolished Christmas but most seriously kept the Lord’s Day. In fact they are so committed to Christmas as a public holiday and general family get-to-together that they are ready to close down their church on the festival day, even if that day is the day of days, the festival of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

What is clear is that churches such as this one in Oklahoma will (at least in the short term) grow in numbers and popularity. It may be observed that at least part of their attraction is that they tailor Christianity to fit into American life so that there is a minimum break with American culture and society for church members.

In contrast, the fullness of Catholic & Evangelical doctrine and practice stands in in contrast to, even in conflict with, much American culture and practice.

Maybe this Christmas we all need to hear these solemn words:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few.” (Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount) December 12, 2005

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Anglican Formularies – Are Evangelicals really missing out?

Let me begin by an exaggeration in order to make a point.

When an evangelical and/or charismatic Episcopalian congregation is told: “the Formularies are necessary, and, while you can be ECUSA members without them, you cannot be genuine Anglicans without them,” it responds by making it clear that such talk is irrelevant, untrue and unhelpful.

However, for the few who pay a little attention to this message, questions arise like: What are the Formularies? Which of our leaders has said anything about them? We have the Scriptures which are our authority for faith and conduct; we are submitted to the Lordship of Christ, and we are obeying the great commission to evangelize, what more is there?

And thus even the few, who are busy with good works, deem the pursuit of this matter not urgent and thus suitable perhaps for another day.

But a few of the few go past this point and are ready to learn that the Formularies are those forms of doctrine which stand under the authority of Scripture to indicate the nature and character of the Anglican Way as a jurisdiction in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. And so the questions that this minority raise are: Are not the old Book of Common Prayer, Ordination Services, and Thirty-Nine Articles from the sixteenth century and do they not speak to their own place and time? Why do we need Formularies when we have good translations of the Bible, the Creeds, and commentaries on the Bible to unlock its meaning to us?

And so most in this minority stop here. There are many things to do and to pursue and this matter is not first on the agenda but may could be looked at later – maybe in a Lenten course.

Finally, the very tiny minority who get past these questions, and who accept the necessity of Formularies to be the means of providing both the standards of, and the direction for, a national Church (e.g., C of E) and then for each of the member churches of a Communion of Churches (Anglican), ask such questions as: How can we convince our brethren that the Anglican Way is actually by nature and in character Reformed Catholicism and that as such it has its basic, foundational Formularies, without which it is as a boat without a rudder on the ocean, i.e., that it is merely a liturgical form of modern generic evangelicalism sailing in circles on the same ocean? How can we arrange our own worship, life and witness so that they are true to the Scriptures and to the form of Christianity, Reformed Catholicism, which we have embraced?

And this very tiny minority, though feeling satisfied in their own souls that they are where they ought to be, are very conscious that the majority around them claims the name of “Anglican” for what seem to be only experiential, practical and administrative reasons – not for genuine, historic and classical doctrinal ones.

Perhaps here is the right place to reflect for a moment on the word “Formulary”, which is not a word in common usage, but an important word, nevertheless, as it has been used in serious Anglican discourse consistently since the sixteenth century. The Latin word, formularius (liber) [=a book of formulae], on which it is based, pointed to a collection of set forms or instructions for the performance or direction of a ceremony or an official duty. Thus a “formulary’ within a national Church is a book which contains the set forms and rules of what the Church believes, teaches and confesses, the liturgy it uses, and the way it creates the ordained Ministry. In reforming itself in the sixteenth century, the Ecclesia Anglicana reformed its Formularies (those which had been in force in the medieval period) to create three new ones – The Book of Common Prayer, The Book of Ordination Services [Ordinal] and The Thirty-Nine Articles, along with a new edition of Canon Law. Under the authority of Scripture, these summed up and presented the standards, norms and means by which the reformed Church of England sought to be the national jurisdiction of the Catholic Church of God. These Formularies not only provided the way to worship and serve God daily but they also distinguished the Church of England from other jurisdictions in Scotland and Europe. Take away the Formularies and leave only the Bible and what you have is a Church without shape, form and substance for there are no common standards or guidelines to govern all the many parts and keep them together as one.

Until the 1960s Anglicans were usually well aware of the Formularies, for they used the Book of Common Prayer for worship daily, the Ordinal for all services of ordination to the diaconate, priesthood and episcopate, and the Thirty-Nine Articles for learning the doctrine of the Anglican Way (clergy used excellent, learned commentaries on the Articles as their text-books in doctrine – see the CD of twelve such texts from the Prayer Book Society, ). Then with the advent of new translations of the Bible, new liturgies, the addressing God as “You” not “Thou” and the near obsession with relevance, credibility, and simplicity, Episcopalians and Anglicans in the West began to lose touch with their roots.

The Episcopal Church put much energy, money and propaganda into creating new services and then published them under the old name of that which was being rejected! The book of varied, modern services was called The Book of Common Prayer (1979) and this became (with its own services for ordination and its own new Catechism) the one and only Formulary of the Episcopal Church. The Formularies which had been in place until then were set aside and known as historical documents.

This being so evangelical Episcopalians (as also progressive liberal Episcopalians and anglo-catholic Episcopalians) in the ECUSA are committed by their ordination vows (unless they repudiate it) to the Formulary which is the 1979 Prayer Book, and there by are committed to the revised form, greatly changed form, of the Anglican Way that it represents. (In Canada, the new Book of Services was deliberately called, The Book of Alternative Services (1985) to distinguish it from the classic BCP which remains the Formulary of that Church.)

The presence of this new Formulary it must be said has been a major factor in allowing the General Convention to continue its revision of received doctrine, morality and discipline, for most of its innovations are in harmony with the form of doctrine in the 1979 Prayer Book.

Happily the Anglican Mission in America has restored the classic Formularies of the Anglican Way to its foundation, and is now involved in asking what this means for its present forms of worship, witness and mission. (Regrettably, in my view this is occurring too slowly but it is occurring!)

Unhappily, the Anglican Communion Network has not yet gone very far on the way to the adoption of the historic Formularies (as received by the Protestant Episcopal Church from 1789-1979), partly because the ECUSA affiliation of virtually all its membership makes this seemingly impossible, and partly that it is not yet convinced of the need for it in order to be truly Anglican (even though the Anglican Church of Nigeria has made a very clear statement of commitment to the classic BCP, Ordinal & Articles).

The fact remains that the Anglican Way is Reformed Catholicism and that as such it has its Formularies, and that without these as foundation and guide, it ceases to be a viable Jurisdiction of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Precisely how this works out in the twenty-first century is a task which requires great knowledge, wisdom, discernment and sensitivity and, regrettably, it is a task from which Episcopalians and Anglicans have been diverted for too long! December 11, 2005

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Chicken or the Egg? Which came first, enlightenment from the Bible or from the culture?

When the Church is fulfilling its vocation to worship the Lord and to evangelize the people it is always adapting and changing. Not adapting and changing its doctrines, basic forms of worship, moral teaching and discipline, and Ministry, for to do so would be to engage in the path of apostasy. Rather, adapting as occasion requires, its methods of communication, its style of presentation, its ways of having fellowship, its use of music, its relation to the local community and culture, the relation of clergy and laity in shared ministry, and so on.

Certainly the local church/congregation cannot avoid being in the world, situated in specific place at a given time, and this means it is within a given society and culture which in outreach it has seriously to take into account. Yet the church is not to be conformed to the world even as it seeks to be for the world – that is, for its conversion to God, for its spiritual and moral renovation and for its physical welfare.

When the surrounding society and culture is part of “Christendom” and is generally governed by Christian views of personal and family life, then the pressure on the Church to follow the world and be conformed to it is not usually towards the changing of the internal doctrine of the Church. Rather it is more towards a dull orthodoxy and nominal Christianity.

However, when the surrounding society and culture is rejecting Christendom and adopting secular principles and values, then the pressure on the Church to modify or change its doctrine, worship, moral teaching and discipline becomes intense. The members of the Church live in a society where new and exciting ideas are being propagated and where calls are being made for changes that seem to be just and reasonable. Such a situation was faced by the Churches in Europe and the USA from the time when the Enlightenment made its impact in the late 19th century and the intensity of this pressure reached its zenith in the period after World War II to the present time.

If we now look only at one denomination in the USA it will be the easier to face the question concerning the chicken and the egg. We know that the Episcopal Church made great changes or introduced major innovations from 1950 to 2005. Did these arise because this Church, as inspired or pressed by changes in society and culture, began to see truths in the Bible that she had previously missed? Or did these arise because she consciously or unconsciously followed or imitated society and then looked to the Bible for justification? Or did these arise partly through the reading of Scripture and partly through the imitation of secular trends?

The major innovations of this period adopted by the Church seem to be the following: the acceptance of artificial means of birth control, including abortion, in some cases, as morally acceptable; widespread marriage of divorcees in church as morally acceptable; full membership and rights for all ethnic and racial minorities; the ordination of women to the Three Orders of Ministry contrary to the long tradition of a male-only Ministry; the creation and adoption of a new Prayer Book (a Book of Varied Services) which was falsely called “the Book of Common Prayer” as if it were another edition of the classic Book of Common Prayer; the commitment to new language for God and human beings which recognizes that women are half the population; the acceptance that there is a minority in society who are “homosexual” in “orientation” and that as such they should be given full membership of the Church and full rights therein; and the emergence of the office of bishop as the Chief Executive Office and Chief Liturgical Officer of the diocese.

When we examine these innovations it is reasonably clear (and sociological studies are conforming this) that in most cases it was clearly a case of the Church following trends and changes in society and culture.

In the case of remarriage, there was a tremendous increase in divorce after World War II and the Church, it may be claimed, acted pastorally by first counseling and then blessing the marriages of many divorcees. What began as a pastoral emergency became the way things were and still are – with nearly half of the adult membership divorced and remarried. Re- marriage in church is now an established right. (In this general context, the purpose of marriage was redefined in terms of personal fulfillment and in this procreation became an option!)

In the case of the ordination of women, again it is clear that the powerful forces of secular feminism were felt within the Church and it was these which caused a majority to vote for the entry of women into the Ministry even as they were entering other “professions.” Again, in the case of active “homosexuals” being admitted to full membership including ordination, it is a clear case of the Church following what was occurring in society and culture.

Now in these three cases, the experiential context is that once you feel convinced that what is being done is right then you will look for ways to justify it or at least show it is not wrong from your sacred tradition, especially your holy Books. This led to new ways both of translating the Bible and of interpreting the Bible. Texts which previously said “No” now said “Yes”. These new ways are now thought of by many as the normal ways. But the use of the Bible was secondary to the influence of secular teachings.

If we think about the granting of full membership rights to ethnic minorities then we are perhaps in a different context. While the pressure came from society, it was pressure led in the main by persons who were acting out of Christian faith and morality (e.g. Dr Martin Luther King). So in this instance the Episcopal Church did what was right and what had been there for all to see in the Bible since the apostolic age – to make clear that in Baptism and church membership there is equality of races and the sexes.

The changing role of bishops to become CEOs is obviously imitative of the way business is supposedly run efficiently; and the training of clergy to be skilled in counseling and management (so as to manage well a congregation) reflects both the influence of theories from secular management and secular psychology. The latter have been tremendously influence on a whole range of doctrines and practices creating sometimes a therapeutical religion.

Finally, the readiness of the General Convention publicly to endorse a falsehood in the title of its new prayer book, points to the arrogance and self-confidence of a Church that believed that it is autonomous and that majority decisions made by it are the will of God!

The spirit of the 1960s had gone, as it were, to its head and it believed that the majority vote was the action of the Divine Spirit. The Episcopal Church still glories in its autonomy and that it abides by its rules meticulously in its innovating!

What is abundantly clear is that the Episcopal Church has in terms of its worship, doctrine, discipline, language used to address God, and polity changed dramatically – even as it has diminished in membership and influence – since World War II, and especially from the late 1960s. It is also very clear that it has been secular forces which have supplied the major energy and ideology to cause this dramatic change, and to set in motion an avalanche that is apparently impossible to stop.

The amazing thing is that in a few dioceses, and in parishes in other dioceses, there has been a remnant which has not been taken in by the whole of the innovations, but which has managed to keep at bay some of them, and thus by God’s favor maintain a semblance if not an example of godly worship, order and piety! Whether the remnant can and will hold out remains an open question! December 10, 2005

Friday, December 09, 2005

Are we nostalgic for a gold age past? Do we advocate a return to former days of glory?

I suspect that those of us who advocate a return to the historic Anglican Way and its Formularies are “heard” by some as being nostalgic advocating a return to a past glory period of the life of the Church – be it in the history of the Church of England or the Episcopal Church. Yet this is not so, at least for the leadership of the Prayer Book Society of the USA. We are not nostalgic and we do not advocate a return to a former period of church life.

Each period of history, and each period of the life of the Church in space and time, is unique. It can never be repeated or re-lived.

The period of the Early Church as recorded in the New Testament is also unique but in more than one sense. The extra sense is that during this period the revelatory work of God the Father continued through the ministry and teaching of the Apostles and Evangelists, and what God said through them is now deposited in the books of the New Testament. Thus the New Testament is the Word of God written for our instruction and salvation.

So returning to the New Testament, or returning to the Early Church, or returning to the Reformed Church of England in the sixteenth century, does not mean attempting to reproduce in our time what occurred then. Rather, it points to learning humbly as taught by the Holy Spirit first from the Scriptures, then from the Documents of the Church at any one period of time (e.g. patristic age), receiving the foundational, fundamental or important doctrines, principles and practices present and in operation then.

The New Testament is the Authority for our Faith and Conduct; we read and interpret its content and then apply it carefully to our present situation. The period after the apostles, the patristic age, provides us with all kinds of important information of what the Church believed, taught and confessed and how it worshipped. Again we study this and apply it to our situation. The sixteenth century provides us with the documents [the Formularies] that were produced and accepted as the basis and standard for worship, doctrine, discipline, polity and morality.

The Canon Law of the Church of England states the matter succinctly: “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.” (The last Three are the Formularies.)

We do not advocate seeking to recover the worship and witness of the Church in the first or second or sixteenth or any other century. What we advocate is a reasonable application of the doctrines of the Word of God to the contemporary church, in the light of the experience and example of the Church of the Fathers, and according to the basic principles of the Formularies of the Anglican Way.

Thus, if new forms of service are produced in contemporary language then we state that their doctrine has to be in conformity with that of the Formularies; if innovations are proposed in the Ministry of the Church, in the Sacraments, in Marriage, or any other area, then we say that these are to be in conformity with the principles of the Formularies. We are all in favor of moving on but always within the principles on which we are founded.

So a return to the Scriptures, a return to the Fathers and a return to the Formularies are possible within a Church in the twenty-first century that is wholly engaged in the modern world – that is, in character, not of the world as such, but in the world and for the world in Christ’s name in holy mission. Such a church could use an organ or an orchestra or a band for its music. Such a church could use both the texts within the classic Book of Common Prayer in some services and modern equivalents in others (as long as they are doctrinally in harmony with the BCP). And these could be projected on to a screen to avoid use of books if necessary. Such a church could be “low” or “high” in ceremonial and could call its Ministers by the name of “Father” or “Mr.” or “Pastor”. And such a church would be the church of Jesus Christ for its neighborhood, for the local community and for the sake of the Gospel. It would not be bound to doing things as they were done in the 1950s or the 1970s or any other recent decade, though it may learn from what was done then. However, there would be an underlying continuity through space and time of the varied expressions of the Anglican Way.

Such a church would not seek to be relevant but to be faithful; it would not try to be acceptable to local culture and norms but be submitted to God’s revelation and law; and it would not dumb-down its message and worship so as to make instant converts, but it would proclaim the whole Gospel allowing the Holy Spirit to open men’s hearts to it.

So Reformed Catholicism in 2005 is not the transplant of the religion of the sixteenth century, reformed Church of England to another place and time. Rather it is that religion of the Anglican Way in another place and time that embodies the same roots, norms, principles and basic content as that of the sixteenth century Church of England. It is not infallible and so mistakes have been made and will be made.

The danger is always present for any local parish or national Church that has a sense of its history to idealize or romanticize a period or decade and seek to re-invent it in the present. To do so, however, is never successful and it is wholly contrary to the principles of Reformed Catholicism.

Let us concede that today there is a problem of perception concerning attempts to call the churches of the Anglican Way back to the foundational documents, the Formularies. We must seek ways of doing this which we hope do not portray nostalgia, for we do not intend to do so. In fact we do believe that the foundational principles and doctrines which were so powerfully applied to his time by Richard Hooker and to their time by the Caroline divines of the seventeenth century, can and should be applied to our time. And we have made and continue to make attempts in various ways to do this, usually to find that we are heard only by the few because the many are not tuned into the possibilities of what we write or talk about.

However, we do not give up hope and we do not allow ourselves to get depressed. We believe that genuine Reformed Catholicism is a way of being the Catholic Church of God on earth at this time and we shall continue by God’s help to seek to commend and to live it – despite the fact that many of our friends within the Anglican fold choose to go for either a generic form of Evangelicalism set to post-1960s liturgy or a generic form of liberal Catholicism set to post 1960s liturgy, or even a generic form of Pentecostalism set to post-1960s liturgy.

December 9, 2005

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

In Jesus’ Name. Amen. What is the right way to end a Christian Prayer?

In my essay, “Through and Through. Thank God for Prepositions” (December 7) I noted and explained why in Liturgy the primary way of ending a Collect or Prayer is “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (or similar words). This phrase is normally part of the prayer in that it is within the sentence that ends before the word “Amen” is said in response by the assembly.

However, in Evangelical churches/colleges/seminaries which use Liturgy the way that most people end an “ex tempore” prayer (composed by the speaker) is most often, “in Jesus’ Name. Amen.” In fact, it is not usually an ending properly speaking; it is a statement that is added to the Prayer, after the prayer is finished. Grammatically it stands alone as does the word “Amen” in formal Liturgy.

Where does this ending, “In Jesus’ Name. Amen.” come from? The first part is obviously derived from the teaching of Jesus who in his last Discourse before his arrest (John 14-17) spoke several times of the importance of asking the Father in his (Jesus’) name. For example, he said to the disciples: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatsoever you wish and it will be given you” (15:7 –NIV). Here we note that the promise is not an open one for any occasion and need. For only as the disciples are in intimate communion with Jesus, and obedient to his word, does this “law of prayer” actually work.

“Amen” is the traditional ending of a prayer (“So be it, Lord”); but it is the word of the assembly not of the person who prays. It is the agreement of the congregation to that which has been prayed. So there is a certain oddity about the person who composes a prayer within the assembly adding his own “Amen” to it!

Both the use of “through Jesus Christ” and “in Jesus’ Name” point clearly to the unique mediatorship of the Lord Jesus. That he brings God to man and then lifts man to God. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and no-one comes to the Father except with, by, in and through Him!

So what concerns me about the popular use of “in Jesus’ Name. Amen.” in the average prayer meeting is this. It seems to be added to a prayer (often in a staccato voice) as a kind of triumphal statement and after-thought that God will most certainly hear – forgetting that the promise of Jesus requires that very profound conditions be met for this “law of prayer” to be effective. And that those conditions will most surely lead the person who prays to do so with a truly humble and reverent attitude and voice. (In saying this I realize that “through Jesus Christ…” can also descend into formality where true piety is absent!)

Another concern that I have is that public prayer is a sphere where we not only address God the Father but also that we teach others who are listening. Who is Jesus? He is the Lord, the Christ, the Son of God, the Mediator, the King, the High Priest and so on. Prayer-endings have traditionally been means of celebrating the identity of the Lord Jesus and thus imprinting on the hearts of hearers His full identity and vocation. Thus only to use Jesus can sound over-familiar and lacking in full respect for the Lord Jesus Christ.


I am also deeply worried about the addressing the Deity as “Father-God.” This expression may seem on first sight to be fine because (a) Jesus addressed God as “my Father”, and (b) Jesus taught his disciples to address his Father as “our Father.” In the Epistles St Paul & St John teach us that “God” is “the Father” of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not “a Father” and not “Fatherly” but “the one and only Father, the Father of glory”. He is the “Father of the only-begotten Son” and by adoption and grace “the Father of all who believe on the Name of the Son.”

Thus the Church in her Liturgies has never prayed “Father-God” but rather, “O God, our Father,…” and, “O God, the Father of all mercies…” and “O God the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ…” and so on.

“Father-God” suggests that there is one God and this one God is characterized by “fatherliness.” In contrast, the Christian Religion is based on the belief and the doctrine that there is One God who is a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity and who as such is The Father, together with His Only-Begotten Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus we believe, teach and confess that there is one God in Three Persons, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We baptize and bless in this Triune Name!

Certainly, it is proper to use the simile of fatherhood to describe God as God – as does the OT (like as a father pities his children so the LORD…) – but with the fullness of Revelation given in our Lord Jesus Christ, we now know that the Name of “the Father” is the Proper Name (not a metaphor or simile) of the First Person of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Let us say, AMEN!

(See Peter Toon, OUR TRIUNE GOD, Regent College, Vancouver, Publishing Dept, and take time to read The Athanasian Creed, printed at the back of the ECUSA 1979 prayer Book, and after Morning Prayer in the BCP 1662) December 9, 2005

From the NY Times: When Christmas Falls on Sunday, Megachurches Take the Day Off

December 9, 2005

Some of the nation's most prominent megachurches have decided not to hold worship services on the Sunday that coincides with Christmas Day, a move that is generating controversy among evangelical Christians at a time when many conservative groups are battling to "put the Christ back in Christmas."

Megachurch leaders say that the decision is in keeping with their innovative and "family friendly" approach and that they are compensating in other ways. Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., always a pacesetter among megachurches, is handing out a DVD it produced for the occasion that features a heartwarming contemporary Christmas tale.
"What we're encouraging people to do is take that DVD and in the comfort of their living room, with friends and family, pop it into the player and hopefully hear a different and more personal and maybe more intimate Christmas message, that God is with us wherever we are," said Cally Parkinson, communications director at Willow Creek, which draws 20,000 people on a typical Sunday.

Megachurches have long been criticized for offering "theology lite," but some critics say that this time the churches have gone too far in the quest to make Christianity accessible to spiritual seekers.

"I see this in many ways as a capitulation to narcissism, the self-centered, me-first, I'm going to put me and my immediate family first agenda of the larger culture," said Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. "If Christianity is an evangelistic religion, then what kind of message is this sending to the larger culture - that worship is an optional extra?"

John D. Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin College, asked: "What about the people in society without strong family connections? The elderly, single people a long distance from family, or people who are simply lonely and for whom church and prayers would be a significant part of their day?"

The uproar is not only over closing the churches on Christmas Day, because some evangelical churches large and small have done that in recent years and made Christmas Eve the big draw, without attracting much criticism.

What some consider the deeper affront is in canceling services on a Sunday, which most Christian churches consider the Lord's Day, when communal worship is an obligation. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was in 1994. Some of these same megachurches remained open them, they say, but found attendance sparse.

Since then, the perennial culture wars over the secularization of Christmas have intensified, and this year the scuffles are especially lively. Conservative Christian groups are boycotting stores that fail to mention "Christmas" in their holiday greetings or advertising campaigns. Schools are being pressured to refer to the December vacation as "Christmas break." Even the White House came under attack this week for sending out cards with best wishes for the "holiday season."
When the office of Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia sent out a press release last Friday announcing plans for a "holiday tree" lighting, a half-hour later it sent out another saying, "It is in fact a Christmas tree."

For years, it has been an open secret that many mainline Protestant churches are half empty - or worse - on Christmas Day. The churches' emphasis has been instead on the days leading up to Christmas, with Christmas Eve attracting the most worshipers. Some of the megachurches closing on Christmas this year have increased the number of services in the days before.
But for the vast majority of the other churches, closing down on Christmas Sunday would be unthinkable.

"I can't even imagine not observing Christmas in an Episcopal church," said Robert Williams, a spokesman for the Episcopal Church USA. "The only thing I could think of would be a summer chapel that might be shut down anyway."

In many Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, known for their rich liturgical traditions, Christmas Day attracts far more worshippers than an average Sunday. Grown children return with their parents to the parishes they belonged to when they were young.
"From the Catholic perspective, the whole purpose of the holiday is to celebrate it as a religious holiday in the company of the community, and for Catholics that means at Mass," said Robert J. Miller, director of research and planning in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Canceling worship on Christmas Day appears to be predominantly a megachurch phenomenon, sociologists of religion say.

"This attachment to a particular day on the calendar is just not something that megachurches have been known for," Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University, said. "They're known for being flexible and creative, and not for taking these traditions, seasons, dates and symbols really seriously."

At least eight megachurches have canceled their Christmas services. They are only a fraction of the 1,200 or so in the country, but they are influential, Scott Thumma, a sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary, said. The trend has been reported in The Lexington Herald-Leader and in other newspapers.

Besides Willow Creek, the churches include Southland Christian Church in Nicholasville, Ky.; Crossroads Christian Church in Lexington, Ky.; Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Tex.; Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville, S.C.; North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga.; First Baptist in Atlanta; and Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Mich.
Many other megachurches that are staying open on Christmas Day are holding fewer services than they would on a typical Sunday. New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, in Lithonia, Ga., with about 25,000 members, will hold only one of its usual two services this Christmas Day.
Bishop Eddie L. Long, the senior pastor, said that his church was "always promoting family," and that many members of his congregation were transplants to the Atlanta area who traveled far away to be with their families on Christmas.

"We're encouraging our members to do a family worship," Bishop Long said. "They could wake up and read Scripture and pray and sometimes sing a song, and go over the true meaning of what Christmas is, before opening up their gifts. It keeps them together and not running off to get dressed up to go off to church."

His church offers streaming video of the Sunday service, and Bishop Long said he expected a spike in viewers this Christmas. "They have an option if they want to join their family around the computer and worship with us," he said.

Staff members at Willow Creek said they had had few complaints from members about the church closing on Christmas. Said the Rev. Mark Ashton, whose title is pastor of spiritual discovery: "We've always been a church that's been on the edge of innovation. We've been willing to try and experiment, so this is another one of those innovations."

The real question is not why churches are skipping Christmas, but why individual Christians are skipping church on the second holiest day on the Christian calendar next to Easter, said Mr. Thumma.

"I think these critics who decry the megachurches should really be aiming their barbs at individual Christians who are willing to stay at home around the Christmas tree instead of coming and giving at least part of that day to the meaning of the holiday," he said. "They should be facing up to the reality of that."

From the New York Times

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Nothing less than Victory – in Iraq and in Ohio! ...But what is Victory?

A discussion starter… by Peter Toon

President Bush is confident that he will see “victory” in Iraq. Others think that “victory” is not possible there. So much depends on what “victory” actually is. And here there is at best only general agreement over what it will be - e.g., that Iraq will have democratic forms of government in place, there will be a viable economy, that there will be little terrorism and that people will enjoy some basic rights and freedoms.

Let us move now from American foreign policy to internal American religion, and to the Episcopal Church in particular. It may be asserted that some members – I do not know how many or what proportion of the whole -- of The Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council predict “victory” at the next General Convention of the Episcopal Church at Columbus in Ohio in June 06. At the recent Rally of The Network at Pittsburgh in mid-November, not a few people visiting the exhibit of the Prayer Book Society or in the halls around told me that they were confident that “victory” was in sight for 2006. Their confidence was not bravado, but a belief that right was on their side, many Primates were behind them, much intercessory prayer was being offered, that they had good leadership, and that people were giving money generously to fight the cause.

But what is the “victory”? Well, as the war was started over the consecration of a “gay” man to be a bishop in the ECUSA, the “victory” must necessarily be related to this incident and the context in which it occurred and the pain it caused. And as the controversy caused the setting up of a commission which produced “The Windsor Report” then the “victory” must also relate to what that Report recommends.

So, it may be suggested, that, as a minimum, “victory” will include an apology by the General Convention, or the House of Bishops on its behalf, for going ahead with a major innovation in doctrine and discipline without seriously first taking the advice of the majority of the member Churches of the Anglican Family. It will also include a moratorium on any further ordinations or consecrations of active “gay” men or women. Further, it will make full provision for alternative pastoral care for parishes which are not able to see their bishop as their true pastor under the Shepherd of the flock, the Lord Jesus. And Gene Robinson may be asked voluntarily to stand down and retire as bishop.

If this “victory” were to be won by a majority of votes on the floor, then, as I understand it, The Network will see no reason at all to consider secession from the Episcopal Church and will be in favor of the ECUSA as a province being accepted again as a full member of the Anglican Communion. The Network will continue as a “church within a church” or as “a school or party within a denomination;” but, it will be legally and practically, as heretofore, within the ECUSA. It will look to the rest of the Communion to help it maintain its rights and liberties within the ECUSA and it will maintain “fellowship” with certain other Anglican bodies in the USA (e.g., the REC).


I want to suggest that unless the majority of persons in the General Convention actually engage in more than political apologies and sorrow then the “victory” through majority-voting will be hollow and meaningless in the long term. What is needed is godly repentance and godly sorrow, a real sense of having done wrong, of being guilty before God, of seeking God’s forgiveness and of putting wrongs right. Without this moral and spiritual conversion, a political apology and turning will be without genuine content. It will be hypocrisy.

Also I want to suggest that unless the Evangelicals who are pressing for this “victory” at Convention realize that the recent innovations in sexual doctrine are intimately connected to certain major streams of thought and experience that run deep in ECUSA, they will deceive themselves. Sexual innovations did not come out of nowhere for they were part of the continuing adoption of “rights” by this Church. Having incorporated the rights of the divorced for remarriage and the rights of women for ordination into canon law, the next step (following on from what civil society is doing in the West) is the incorporation of the rights of those who are deemed to be a special group in society, “the homosexuals.” Further, having taken unto itself the right to call a “Book of Varied Services” by the ancient title of “The Book of Common Prayer” in 1979, the Church had shown that it has new definitions of “truth” and “order” and “honesty.” All in all the Church has shown that it receives “Revelation from God” more from the enlightened views of the West than from the ancient written “Revelation from God” written in Holy Scripture. And where these differ the ECUSA goes with the former over the latter!

So for there to be any real “victory” for “the orthodox”, the “revisionists” who are “the progressive liberals” have to do a mighty big U-turn (which may take two Conventions to make!). At the same time, the “orthodox” who are the Evangelicals have also to become more acquainted with the errors of the ECUSA, to repent of them and to establish new and firmer foundations for their movement of reform and renewal.

A last thought: bearing in mind the history of the ECUSA in the twentieth century and the fact that liberal denominations have as yet in the USA made no U-turns back to “orthodoxy’, perhaps to talk of “victory” in any sense is unrealistic! In fact “victory” is normally achieved in the USA by “secession” from the “apostate” mother Church, as many examples illustrate! December 8, 2005

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

THROUGH, and through! Thank God for Prepositions.

A meditation from Peter Toon on the theme of ACCESS

We drive through the rain and fog, through a town, through a tunnel, through heavy traffic and through the day and night. We fly through the air; we swim through the water; and we walk through the fields. Our food passes through our bodies, the air we breathe through our lungs, even as our blood passes through our arteries and veins.

The word “through” indicates that someone or something is moving into something and then eventually out of it. What is passed through can be solid like a tunnel, geographically widespread like a state, or liquid like water.

We also from time to time use the word “through” in a non-physical sense. “I had to go through the secretary to see the boss;” and “I had to go through the nurse-practitioner before I could see the doctor.” Here we mean “through the appointed person as the means of access” to the desired goal. As it were, there is a fixed route to the boss or doctor and we must go on and through that route in order to reach the person in question.

Those who hear or use traditional forms of worship in the Orthodox Churches, the Roman Church or the Church of England, become familiar with the repeated use of “through” in a specifically theological or doctrine sense. In fact, its use is critical to the maintenance of doctrinal orthodoxy for it is used in a critically important position within the declaration and description of the gracious, covenantal relation of God to man and of man to God! And in this it is sometimes joined by such other words as “by” and “in” and “with”!

If we turn to The Book of Common Prayer (edition of 1662, for example) we find that in every Collect that is addressed to the Father, the ending is “through [the Lord] Jesus Christ” or a similar form of words. This is also so in the Latin originals in the old Sacramentaries. – per Dominum Christum

Of course, there is a solid biblical basis for this form of ending and it is the presentation in the New Testament of Jesus as the Christ, as the Incarnate Son of God, as the Saviour of the world, as the One Mediator between God and Man, as the Advocate for men before God the Father, and as the High Priest in heaven. The eternal Son of God became man because without his unique work on our behalf we are unable because of our sinfulness to achieve a right relation or friendship or communion with God the Father. It is because of the work and merits of Jesus on our behalf that the Father accepts us, forgives us, adopts us as his children and accounts us righteous in his right.

Therefore, in any movement from God the Father towards us, and in any movement on our part towards God the Father, one route only can be taken – through Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the One Mediator between God and man. He, as One Person with two natures (one divine and one human), brings together sinful, guilty man and the righteous, holy Father. So we are justified by faith because of and through Jesus Christ, and the Father accounts us righteous in his heavenly court only through the merits of Jesus Christ.

Contrary to a lot of popular religion today, there is no direct hotline to heaven from an individual being like you or me. From the weakest to the strongest of us we have only one means of access, one route, and this is through and together with a unique Person, even the Lord Jesus Christ, who lived for us, died for us, rose and again and was exalted for us, and will come again for us at the end of the age. By and through his human nature, which he took from the Blessed Virgin Mary and which he shares with us, we have access into him through that which we share with him; and thus we come to the Father through him and him alone.

Therefore, let us rejoice and be glad that we have been invited and enabled to approach the Father of glory through his incarnate Son, even Jesus the Christ. And let us remember this each time we hear the ending of the Collect.

Now it is appropriate to move on to the related word, ‘in.” We live in houses, in towns, in countries; and we drive in cars, ride in trains and fly in aircraft. We are in communities, societies, clubs, organizations and professions. Sometimes we are in debt and other times our bank account is in credit. And some of us say we are in love with a person or in fellowship with people of a similar mind.

Readers of St Paul are familiar with his often-used expression, en Christo, “in Christ.” To be “in Christ” is to be so profoundly united to him by the invisible but real presence and work of the Holy Spirit, that we are said to be “his body” of which he is the Head. Living and walking “in Christ” means participating through his Body in who he is and what he has available for us, who are sinners being saved by grace. Thus we are privileged to address his Father as “our Father”, and, being justified by faith through divine grace, we are clothed in his dazzlingly pure righteousness. Further, since we live in him, we are transported to the Father’s presence and glory with him in the fullness of the Eucharist Feast so that where he is there we are with him (in the Spirit).

Anglicans are familiar with the words in the Eucharistic Prayer, “that he may dwell in us and we in him.” Jesus Christ dwells by his Spirit in the hearts of those who are united to him in faith; and those who are truly his disciples dwell in him by the same Spirit. So the true fellowship of Christian believers is both the temple of the Holy Spirit and also the Body of Christ.

The Christian hope is that together with the whole of God’s elect, we shall truly know and have communion with God the Father through Jesus Christ, whose Body we are and shall be. So by grace alone we shall be with him (because through and in him) unto ages of ages for our complete redemption and deification and for his glory.

Thank God for those prepositions – through, in, with and by! December 7, 2005

On the word “Father” and the Evangelical School in the ECUSA & AMiA

An exploratory reflection not a final word!

In the present crisis of American Anglicanism it may seem to be merely a superfluous matter to reflect upon how ordained persons describe themselves.

Yet it is possible that the choice of a title or name reflects a whole mindset or attitude and does therefore open a way into appreciating that mindset.

There seems to be little doubt but that the introduction of the word “Father” as a self-description by anglo-catholic clergy before and after World War II in the PECUSA was the cause of deep emotion and parish divisions all over the country. People in their 60s and older have told me stories of such and the memory is still vivid for them of those often bitter and long-lasting emotions and divisions.

Let us be honest and recognize that those clergy who introduced “Father” passionately believed that this title spoke of their relation under God to the local flock of Christ’s flock, the assembly of God’s adopted children. Under God and in the stead of the bishop they were “fathers” to these parishioners. They were there to protect, provide for, teach and lead the people as does a father in a traditional family. As the Bishop is the father in God to the clergy and diocese, so the local priest is the father in God to the local children of God. To use the word “Mr” as was the norm around them was to undervalue the role and vocation of the priest! Let him be called what he is by vocation!

Those who opposed “Father” believed that it had strong Roman Catholic overtones and implications and they preferred the more traditional Anglican form of “the Rev’d Mr/Dr/Canon” or the functional title of “Vicar” or “Rector.” For them it was the “Protestant Episcopal Church” – and don’t forget “Protestant.” The clergyman was the Minister (with upper case M).

But by 1980, or in some areas much earlier, the emotion had virtually disappeared and the divisions had ceased over the use of the title “Father.” What seems to have happened is that there was a general agreement that “if you can’t beat them join them.” The National Church in its publications and answering of the phones began to call individual priests by the name of “Father”; local dioceses followed on. Bishops addressed their clergy as “Father this or that” in letters and at meetings. Notice Boards and Newsletters described the rector and assistants as “Fr this and that”. In a period of twenty years or so all clergy had become “Fr” except where they had earned doctorates and were not anglo-catholic, and were called “Dr”!

What caused this process? The context of Liberal Catholicism is important. This certainly invaded the Episcopal Church in the 1960s and 1970s through the experimental liturgies and then the 1979 Prayer Book. This pseudo-catholicism gave impetus to the general use of “Father” (but, importantly, in a diluted sense from the original anglo-catholic high view). And further, the desire of the Episcopal leadership to differentiate the Episcopal Church from the growing number of Protestant denominations and sects led negatively to the dropping of the word “Protestant” in the Name of the Church, and positively to the desire to call clergy by a distinctive name – thus “Father” (and when women came along they became “Mother”). Episcopalians had usually been proud of their status and they wished to remain distinctive as the types of American religion increased by leaps and bounds after the 1950s. So they were in “the Episcopal Church” with clergy known as “Father” but not quite the same as the R C “Father.”

But how could Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church have accepted all this without apparently much protest if any?

This is an important question – if one is seeking, for example, to understand The Network in the ECUSA in 2005 – because in the Church of England and in Australia no evangelical churchman and priest would ever call himself “Father” because it was and remains for him the word adopted by anglo-catholics to describe their particular view of the pastoral ministry. The Evangelical prefers to be described as “The Minister” (as in the BCP) and to be called “Mr” or “Dr” or by his first name. “Minister” in terms of word and sacrament and pastoral care is the preferred description of the role and vocation of the presbyter/priest by the traditional evangelical school.

The answer to the question would seem to be that there were very few Evangelicals of the traditional kind around to protest at all! They were a minority without voice and influence.

Most of those who are called Evangelicals in the ECUSA today have little or no roots within the ECUSA in terms of either their historical existence or specifically conservative evangelical existence. From 1900 to 1960 there were very few Evangelical clergy; however there were many low church and broad church clergy; but these are not to be equated with Evangelical.

Evangelical clergy began to appear after the 1960s in the ECUSA through (a) personal journeys on “the Canterbury trail” from generic Evangelicalism (as Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Bible Christians etc.) into the ordered liturgy of the Episcopal Church, (b) the influence of the charismatic movement on existing Episcopalians making them evangelical, and (c) the work of the new seminary in Ambridge, PA., which is Evangelical.

The new Evangelical school of the ECUSA from the 1970s emphasized personal conversion, the authority of the Bible, evangelization, relevant worship in modern language and so on. In other matters they fitted into the ECUSA as it was in terms of using its nomenclature and its new Prayer Book. Most of the members of this new school had no memory of and no acquaintance with the historic kind of Evangelical churchmanship known in the ECUSA in the mid-19th century and into the 20th or that which was known in Britain, parts of Canada, Australia and in many parts of Africa. They were Evangelical in the sense of the generic Evangelicalism of the USA (see Christianity Today!) and they set this in the context of the Episcopal Church as it was and is. Thus for them the title of “Father” for clergy and the use of vestments were part of the things that they accepted in the ECUSA, their adopted home.

If there is a measure of truth in what is written above, then this means that the Evangelical school of the ECUSA (which is found virtually in total in The Network) is unlikely to be transformed into a more historically meaningful form of Evangelical churchmanship and witness! Its present acceptance of (a) the title “Fr” and mass vestments, (b) the ECUSA Formulary of the 1979 Prayer Book and (c) most of the innovations of ECUSA [e.g. women’s ordination] since the 1970s apparently indicates that it does not as yet take seriously the Reformed Catholicism, which is the form of Christian religion that is expressed in the historic Formularies of the Anglican Way (rejected by the ECUSA) and to which the classic, historical Evangelical School was committed.

It is of course possible, indeed probable, that the modern form of Episcopalian Evangelicalism is the best that is possible in the ECUSA as things are therein. If so, we have to accept that its distinctiveness lies not in its expression of genuine, historic Evangelical Anglicanism, but as a fascinating manifestation of generic American evangelicalism within a liturgical and “high church” context. And we may add that it looks for support and fuller identity to evangelical Anglicans oversees and thus may have a longer life than the revisionist/liberal schools it is at war with in the ECUSA.

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

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Praying to Christ in the Eucharist– is this OK?

A meditation from Peter Toon for Advent III

The Eucharistic Prayer, or the Consecration Prayer, in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Churches, the Mass of the Roman Church and the Order for Holy Communion of the Anglican Churches is addressed to the Father and to the Father alone – in the Name of Christ Jesus, the Son, and with the Holy Spirit.

In fact there are canons passed by Synods in North Africa (Hippo and Carthage) from the late fourth century which require that “at the altar prayer shall always be addressed to the Father.”

This makes good sense when one recalls the belief of the ancient church as to the nature of the Eucharist. It was seen as a sacrificial presentation of Christ, once for all sacrificed at Calvary, to the Father in heaven. Logic and piety required that the Prayer be addressed to the Father almighty, the Father of the only-begotten Son, who received his crucified and resurrected Son into heaven to reign with him in glory.

But what about other prayer within the Service? Is it legitimate to address Jesus Christ directly anywhere other than in the Eucharistic Prayer? Or is he to be only seen in his role as the One Mediator?

The answer of the Church through space and time seems to be “Yes, but only rarely!”

In the Sarum Missal, used widely in the medieval Church of England, three Collects were addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ, and all in Advent, the season which focuses upon the Coming of Christ in both humility and glory. The First, Third and Fourth of these Latin Prayers are brief and each one addressed to the Incarnate Son of God. In The Book of Common Prayer (1662) there are also only three, this time St. Stephen’s Day, the Third Sunday in Advent, and the First Sunday in Lent.

Now it is obvious that if a national Church specifically addressed Jesus Christ in Prayer in the Collect before the Epistle and Gospel then that Church is clearly declaring the full Deity of the Lord Jesus, for prayer is addressed to God. And, we may recall that are other places in the Service where he is also addressed as God – e.g., in the “Christ have mercy” in the Kyrie.

All revelation and salvation to mankind is from the Father through the Son and by the Holy Ghost; all praise and prayer from the elect of God rises to the Father through the Son and with the Holy Spirit. This action of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost in coming to us in order to raise us to Himself underlies and gives saving power to the whole redemptive drama of the Eucharist. And it underlines that normally all prayer from thanksgiving to confession of sins is to be addressed to the Father through the One Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. This said, both the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost are Persons within the Holy Trinity and eacn One possesses wholly the same, identical deity as does the Father (see the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed). And thus each One may be addressed in prayer as God on occasion and where the context suggests or requires -- e.g., in the invocation of the Holy Ghost to descend upon candidates for ordination.

In the week of December 11th the Collect at the Order for Holy Communion in The Book of Common Prayer is addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ and fits naturally into the themes of Advent.

O Lord Jesu Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at they second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Let us pray for the Clergy that they will at this Season truly be “ministers and stewards” of the mysteries of the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

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

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Prayer Book Society: News: Words matter, or do they, in describing sexual relations?

The Prayer Book Society: News: Words matter, or do they, in describing sexual relations?

Reformed Catholicism- what is it?

Recently in a short essay I sought to make clear distinctions between modern popular Evangelical Episcopalianism/Anglicanism and traditional Anglican Reformed Catholicism. In this time of “Anglican crisis” it is important, I think, that we discover our roots and ponder them!

This caused several people to ask me to give more details of Reformed Catholicism for they are not very familiar with the expression (which was more used by our grandparents then it is today).

Here we go! In brief….

The Church in the Roman Empire in the early centuries called itself “Catholikos”, the adopted family of God found in heaven and through space and time on earth, the cosmic and universal elect children of God the Father.

Thus Catholicism is the Christian Religion as practiced and taught in and by the Catholikos. It teaches the doctrine believed “everywhere, always and by all”; it is thus orthodox in contrast to heretical and schismatic.

With the separation of the Church into East and West by the eleventh century, the adjective “catholic” was retained by each side. Thus the Churches in communion with the patriarch of Constantinople refer to themselves as the “holy, orthodox, catholic, apostolic Eastern Church.”

In the West the bishop of Rome was not only seen as the Patriarch of the West but also the Vicar of Christ on earth. And the Catholicism of the West “developed” in terms of worship, doctrine and discipline, and did so in ways which were away from both scriptural and patristic norms. Thus medieval Catholicism was not identical with the Catholicism of say the fifth century. It may even be described as a corrupted Catholicism. Much of what had been added was judged by some at the time, and has been since by many, as unnecessary and unhelpful, even harmful, growth.

At the time of the Reformation of the sixteenth century, the main-line reformers had no desire to create a new religion; rather their aim was to restore Catholicism as it had been in the period of the first five or so centuries. That is, they sought to strip away from medieval Catholicism what they saw as false accretions and to wash its dirty face, as it were. They appealed first to the Scriptures and then to the Catholicism of the early Church. While there was much consensus amongst the reformers, there was also a variety of judgment as to what needed to be reformed. So we get Lutheranism, Reformed [Presbyterianism] and Anglicanism as the three major forms of “Protestantism” (= protesting on behalf of the Gospel found in Scripture and taught by the Early Church of the Fathers).

In the Ecclesia Anglicana (Latin name for the national Church of England) the expression “Reformed Catholicism” came to be used of the form of the Christian religion adopted and taught by the reformed national Church, which was the most conservative of the three “Protestant” forms. It was “reformed” in that it was a renewed and simplified form of medieval Catholicism; and it was Catholicism in that it was the continuing Church of God from the patristic era to the present. It was not a new church or sect or religion but it was the renewed Catholic Church in and of England teaching doctrine that is received “everywhere, always and by all.”

One way of expressing the “Anglican” approach was through the use of the 1,2,3,4 & 5. That is, Catholicism which is based solidly on the ONE Canon of Scripture with its Two Testaments; that summarizes its Faith in the Three Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian); that is committed to the dogma of the Person of Christ and the Holy Trinity set forth by the FOUR Ecumenical Councils (Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 425, Chalcedon 451); and that is guided by the developments in liturgy, canon law, polity and devotion of the first FIVE centuries. This “mindset” did not exclude learning from and receiving from later centuries of Church life, but it served as a firm foundation for the establishment and definition of “Reformed Catholicism” especially in the seventeenth century. Reformers have to start somewhere in order to be coherent!

Reformed Catholicism as the worship, doctrine, discipline, mission and polity of the national Church of England is expressed through Formularies – forms which act as doctrinal standards. Of these the supreme is the Holy Scriptures, and this is followed as secondary forms/standards by the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and The Ordinal. Without such Formularies, Anglican Catholicism has no clear form.

Reformed Catholicism may be called the Anglican Way & Jurisdiction of Christianity.

Reformed Catholicism may be called “Protestant”, but only in the sense of the original meaning of this word from the late 1520s –“protesting on behalf of the Gospel found in Scripture and proclaimed and explained by the Church of the early centuries.”

Reformed Catholicism can have within it “schools of thought and churchmanship” such as Evangelical (who emphasize personal conversion and evangelization) and High Church (who hold “high” views of the ordained Ministry, the efficacy of the Sacraments and of the Church as visible).

Reformed Catholicism remains distinct from Roman Catholicism primarily over the doctrines the Papacy and the Mass and their problematic relation to sacred Scripture and patristic teaching. December 5, 2005

Sunday, December 04, 2005

From the Washington Post: The Elizabethan Prayer Book, A Review

The Elizabethan Prayer Book
Edited by John E. Booty
Virginia/Folger. 427 pp. $29.95

W.H. Auden used to warn against those who read the Bible for its prose. Ignore this advice. The hoopla of the next few weeks should be interrupted from time to time with quiet moments when we reflect on our lives and the years past and to come, and one of the best ways to do this is by meditating on grave and noble sentences. So, whether believer or not, turn to the Gospel of Luke:

"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. . . . And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David), to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."

As a boy, I would hear these words spoken aloud toward the end of December, year after year, and they never failed to deliver a shivery thrill of pleasure. I used to wonder why. The sentences were utterly plain, both in diction and syntax. Neither did they possess any narrative excitement, since I knew the story already, indeed knew it far better than any other in all the world. But the language -- like that of so many other passages from the Bible -- enchanted me with what I now think of as its deeply felt seriousness.

The solemn harmonies of such prose are largely ignored in these days of text-messaging and political newspeak. Even among our stylists, we prefer breeziness and irony, sometimes laced with snarky wit and street vulgarity. This "in your face" writing somehow feels personal and honest, more sincere or authentic than an elevated and poetical diction. No one wants epithets like "pontifical," "sermonizing" or "artificial" attached to his writing. Nonetheless, there are times when only the full organ roll of liturgical prose can match the glory or sacredness of the occasion. These are, of course, those times when we make our way to church or synagogue for weddings, funerals and religious holy days.

In English there are five main sources for this kind of religious eloquence: The King James version of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, the hymns of writers like Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley and others, and the classical traditions of oratory and homily. What links them all is a Shaker plainness and cleanness of diction, just barely covering profound spiritual conviction and emotion. This is, in short, the speech of men and women doing the Lord's work, honoring him and praising him with due reverence, ceremony and fervor.

For instance, what soul doesn't feel, as well as hear, the sorrowful music in the Prayer Book's "Order for the Burial of the Dead"?

"Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower; he flieth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we be in death." I quote the 1559 Elizabethan version of these words, the version known to Shakespeare and the Renaissance (and now again available in a handsome volume, edited by John E. Booty, from the University of Virginia/Folger Shakespeare Library). These magnificently somber phrases eventually build to one of the great climaxes in English literature:

"Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, and that in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye by the last trump. For the trump shall blow, and the dead shall rise incorruptible, and we shall be changed. . . . Death where is thy sting? Hell where is thy victory?"

To some readers, those last two emotion-filled questions may be better known from the final pages of The Pilgrim's Progress , when Mr. Valiant-for-Truth enters the river of death and pronounces the same words (though he substitutes "Grave" for "Hell"). As wonderful as they are, these phrases merely cap a farewell speech that would be right at home in Middle Earth: "I am going to my fathers," announces this battle-worn soldier of Christ, "and though with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword, I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill, to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his battles who now will be my rewarder." Bunyan then concludes with positively Handelian grandeur: "So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."

Theologically, the graceful moderation of the established Church of England was anathema to the ardently Puritan Bunyan. But, apart from the Old and New Testaments, no religious texts have more influenced the English-speaking imagination than the Book of Common Prayer and The Pilgrim's Progress . The simple beauty of the Prayer Book's prose, especially in its collects (generally thought to have been composed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer), displays perfect pitch for sound and rhythmical balance:

"Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways, like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us."

Bunyan, in his turn, wrote what Bernard Shaw thought was the most perfect English, at once clear and forceful. Certainly his phrases and dramatis personae have passed into common parlance: "Fly from the wrath to come." "I have laid my hand to the plough." "The Slough of Despond." "The Giant Despair." "The Delectable Mountains." "Vanity-Fair." But besides the allegorical figures (Christian, Mr. Worldly-Wiseman), Bunyan also uses such surprisingly modern phrases as "spending money" and "Were you doers, or talkers only?"

And he ends Part One with a chilling sentence. Ignorance has arrived at the Celestial City and knocks on the door. So very close to his heavenly goal, he nonetheless lacks the proper "certificate" and is suddenly, unexpectedly damned, bound hand and foot, and thrust by angels through a door in the side of a hill. Writes Bunyan: "Then I saw that there was a way to Hell, even from the Gates of Heaven, as well as from the City of Destruction." On which harrowing note he brings his original vision to a close: "So I awoke, and behold, it was a Dream."

Such declamatory moments remind us that Bunyan passed much of his life, when not in prison, preaching in the open air. In our era of so much bland speech-making, we sometimes forget about this sheer power of oratory. Great preachers even now preserve its tradition, one in which human elocution alone, backed by passionate conviction and a desire to save souls, can bring people to tears, to their knees or to their feet. Think, for a supreme example, of Martin Luther King Jr.

The almost legendary 18th-century preacher George Whitefield was so magnificent a speaker that the atheist philosopher David Hume declared that he would travel 20 miles on foot to hear him. Once, every high-school student read, with growing terror, the rolling periods of Jonathan Edwards's sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." After describing the horrors of the pit, he reminds us of the sharp precariousness of life:

"The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood."

Our preachers grow most eloquent when describing hell-fire. But our hymns and carols sing of God's mercy and loving-kindness. Here the words tend to be simple and profoundly moving, a truly populist poetry. We cannot read them without the memory of many voices sounding forth on Sunday morning:

O God, our Help in ages past,
Our Hope for years to come,
Our Shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal Home
-- Isaac Watts

From H.F. Lyte's "Abide with me" and Blake's "Jerusalem" to "We Shall Overcome," these are the songs that see us through the hardest times. Like the Bible, Prayer Book and Bunyan, like the resounding voices of great preachers, they ask us to think about our lives and how we conduct them. It is good that we should do this. They feed what Philip Larkin called the hunger to be more serious that lies within each of us, even the agnostic. But at Christmas we should, above all, lift our hearts -- and voices -- in joy and hopefulness. In the words of Charles Wesley and George Whitefield:

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born King!
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled."

Above all, let us hope again this year, as every year, for peace on earth.

Michael Dirda is a critic for Book World. His e-mail address is, and his online discussion of books takes place each Wednesday at 2 p.m. on
© 2005 The Washington Post Company

Dec 4