I wrote this piece nearly two years ago and the Living Church was kind enough to publish it. It provoked a written defense by the dean of the seminary in question in the same journal which generated a series of blog responses. That seminary has now effectively closed down, which I regard as some kind of divine intervention. I was asked about the article recently and so here it is. Sadly my beliefs then concerning church idiocy are more than reinforced today. Ian
I attended a commencement at one of our seminaries this year – I am not naming names so as to keep some anonymity as to places and people. I was struck during the administration of Communion by the fact that the bread used crumbled badly and was dropping to the floor during the administration of the sacrament. Thereupon the line of people trampled upon the rather large pieces. When communion was over I went forward and collected the pieces lest further “trampling” be done to the sacrament. All this seemed to be a metaphor for the state of our Church.
To complete the story I was already disturbed by the printed invitation to communion, which read: “All who seek God and are drawn to Christ are welcome to receive Communion at God’s Table.” No mention of communion being only for the baptized as our canon insists. Is this the “open Communion” of the new Episcopalianism? The neutered acclamation and sursum corda did not help my peace and equanimity. The sermon had been grievously disappointing. The preacher was a clearly uneducated (theologically) bishop. The preacher distorted and twisted the text to fit a predetermined agenda that included the sentence a “new mind of metanoia lets us see God’s wisdom.” What the preacher exactly meant I am not entirely sure. I would certainly understand that repentance leads us to the “fear of the Lord,” which is the beginning of wisdom, however the point of the sermon was to ask us to ask us to be open to a new teaching that in fact contradicts the holy Scriptures as we have both received them and traditionally understood them. In this case the Greek word was left un-translated and I am not sure that the word repentance would have meant what ever the preacher was trying to say.
Let me get back to the metaphor. To trample upon Jesus is so to disregard him that we crucify him again by our callous indifference and manipulation of him to our own ends. This is what I see happening to the Apostolic Gospel in so much of our Church today. Where is the servant ministry of a Cuthbert or an Aidan when our bishops live in penthouses and mansions while so many mere parish priests suffer on tiny incomes in inadequate and sometimes abusive circumstances? Where is the faithful preaching of the Gospel in such a way that people are brought to Christ in conversion and transformation when what we seem to get is a political agenda wrapped up in ersatz spiritual language? Where is the holiness and sacrificial ministry when so often we are asked to bless hedonism, materialism and the pursuit of narcissistic self-absorption? Why are so many faithful clergy and parishioners being persecuted and harassed? They are faithful to the Scriptures, their ordination vows and the Apostolic Faith as we received it from our forbears and as is upheld in the majority of the Anglican Communion. In many cases they are the most successful in building and planting vibrant faith communities. They are being told to knuckle under and be obedient to the new order and teaching or else expect to be punished.
Last year two bishops suggested that there are two churches trying to share one roof. One – a Pakistani from England – actually said two religions are trying to share the same roof. How right they were. The other bishop recently suggested after the March 2007 House of Bishops’ meeting that the Episcopal Church has now become a monoculture that brooks no dissent. In the new totalitarianism those who dissent will be silenced and trampled upon. Actually it is Jesus who is trampled upon – crucified again.
Where then is Jesus? Like the crumbs on the floor, dropped by careless communicants and trampled upon by the next in line, he is disregarded, not really seen. The holy and the Holy one is dishonored, ignored and disfigured. Who would have thought it – in the Church even!
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 1Peter 3:14-16 ESV)