Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Affirmation of St. Louis

The late Bishop Albert Chambers, shown at left, consecrated bishops for the Continuing Anglicans who adopted the Affirmation of St. Louis in 1977. We are asking Anglicans to recommit themselves to the Affirmation by leaving their names at the url underneath the Bishop's photo.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

"Dr. Fundamentalis": H. L. Mencken's Obituary of Machen

The Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D.D., who died out in North Dakota on New Year's Day [editor's note: 1937], got, on the whole, a bad press while he lived, and even his obituaries did much less than justice to him. To newspaper reporters, as to other antinomians, a combat between Christians over a matter of dogma is essentially a comic affair, and in consequence Dr. Machen's heroic struggles to save Calvinism in the Republic were usually depicted in ribald, or, at all events, in somewhat skeptical terms. The generality of readers, I suppose, gathered thereby the notion that he was simply another Fundamentalist on the order of William Jennings Bryan and the simian faithful of Appalachia. But he was actually a man of great learning, and, what is more, of sharp intelligence.

What caused him to quit the Princeton Theological Seminary and found a seminary of his own was his complete inability, as a theologian, to square the disingenuous evasions of Modernism with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the Modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.

Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works. Most of the other Protestant churches have gone the same way, but Dr. Machen's attention, as a Presbyterian, was naturally concentrated upon his own connection. His one and only purpose was to hold it [the Church] resolutely to what he conceived to be the true faith. When that enterprise met with opposition he fought vigorously, and though he lost in the end and was forced out of Princeton it must be manifest that he marched off to Philadelphia with all the honors of war.

My interest in Dr. Machen while he lived, though it was large, was not personal, for I never had the honor of meeting him. Moreover, the doctrine that he preached seemed to me, and still seems to me, to be excessively dubious. I stand much more chance of being converted to spiritualism, to Christian Science or even to the New Deal than to Calvinism, which occupies a place, in my cabinet of private horrors, but little removed from that of cannibalism. But Dr. Machen had the same clear right to believe in it that I have to disbelieve in it, and though I could not yield to his reasoning I could at least admire, and did greatly admire, his remarkable clarity and cogency as an apologist, allowing him his primary assumptions.

These assumptions were also made, at least in theory, by his opponents, and thereby he had them by the ear. Claiming to be Christian, as he was, and of the Calvinist persuasion, they endeavored fatuously to get rid of all the inescapable implications of their position. On the one hand they sought to retain membership in the fellowship of the faithful, but on the other hand they presumed to repeal and reenact with amendments the body of doctrine on which that fellowship rested. In particular, they essayed to overhaul the scriptural authority which lay at the bottom of the whole matter, retaining what coincided with their private notions and rejecting whatever upset them.

Upon this contumacy Dr. Machen fell with loud shouts of alarm. He denied absolutely that anyone had a right to revise and sophisticate Holy Writ. Either it was the Word of God or it was not the Word of God, and if it was, then it was equally authoritative in all its details, and had to be accepted or rejected as a whole. Anyone was free to reject it, but no one was free to mutilate it or to read things into it that were not there. Thus the issue with the Modernists was clearly joined, and Dr. Machen argued them quite out of court, and sent them scurrying back to their literary and sociological Kaffeeklatsche. His operations, to be sure, did not prove that Holy Writ was infallible either as history or as theology, but they at least disposed of those who proposed to read it as they might read a newspaper, believing what they chose and rejecting what they chose.

In his own position there was never the least shadow of inconsistency. When the Prohibition imbecility fell upon the country, and a multitude of theological quacks, including not a few eminent Presbyterians, sought to read support for it into the New Testament, he attacked them with great vigor, and routed them easily. He not only proved that there was nothing in the teachings of Jesus to support so monstrous a folly; he proved abundantly that the known teachings of Jesus were unalterably against it. And having set forth that proof, he refused, as a convinced and honest Christian, to have anything to do with the dry jehad.

This rebellion against a craze that now seems so incredible and so far away was not the chief cause of his break with his ecclesiastical superiors, but it was probably responsible for a large part of their extraordinary dudgeon against him. The Presbyterian Church, like the other evangelical churches, was taken for a dizzy ride by Prohibition. Led into the heresy by fanatics of low mental visibility, it presently found itself cheek by jowl with all sorts of criminals, and fast losing the respect of sensible people. Its bigwigs thus became extremely jumpy on the subject, and resented bitterly every exposure of their lamentable folly.

The fantastic William Jennings Bryan, in his day the country's most distinguished Presbyterian layman, was against Dr. Machen on the issue of Prohibition but with him on the issue of Modernism. But Bryan's support, of course, was of little value or consolation to so intelligent a man. Bryan was a Fundamentalist of the Tennessee or barnyard school. His theological ideas were those of a somewhat backward child of 8, and his defense of Holy Writ at Dayton during the Scopes trial was so ignorant and stupid that it must have given Dr. Machen a great deal of pain. Dr. Machen himself was to Bryan as the Matterhorn is to a wart. His Biblical studies had been wide and deep, and he was familiar with the almost interminable literature of the subject. Moreover, he was an adept theologian, and had a wealth of professional knowledge to support his ideas. Bryan could only bawl.

It is my belief, as a friendly neutral in all such high and ghostly matters, that the body of doctrine known as Modernism is completely incompatible, not only with anything rationally describable as Christianity, but also with anything deserving to pass as religion in general. Religion, if it is to retain any genuine significance, can never be reduced to a series of sweet attitudes, possible to anyone not actually in jail for felony. It is, on the contrary, a corpus of powerful and profound convictions, many of them not open to logical analysis. Its inherent improbabilities are not sources of weakness to it, but of strength. It is potent in a man in proportion as he is willing to reject all overt evidences, and accept its fundamental postulates, however unprovable they may be by secular means, as massive and incontrovertible facts.

These postulates, at least in the Western world, have been challenged in recent years on many grounds, and in consequence there has been a considerable decline in religious belief. There was a time, two or three centuries ago, when the overwhelming majority of educated men were believers, but that is apparently true no longer. Indeed, it is my impression that at least two-thirds of them are now frank skeptics. But it is one thing to reject religion altogether, and quite another thing to try to save it by pumping out of it all its essential substance, leaving it in the equivocal position of a sort of pseudo-science, comparable to graphology, "education," or osteopathy.

That, it seems to me, is what the Modernists have done, no doubt with the best intentions in the world. They have tried to get rid of all the logical difficulties of religion, and yet preserve a generally pious cast of mind. It is a vain enterprise. What they have left, once they have achieved their imprudent scavenging, is hardly more than a row of hollow platitudes, as empty as [of] psychological force and effect as so many nursery rhymes. They may be good people and they may even be contented and happy, but they are no more religious than Dr. Einstein. Religion is something else again--in Henrik Ibsen's phrase, something far more deep-down-diving and mudupbringing, Dr. Machen tried to impress that obvious fact upon his fellow adherents of the Geneva Mohammed. He failed--but he was undoubtedly right.
From the Baltimore Evening Sun (January 18, 1937), 2nd Section, p. 15.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Letter from Archbishop Haverland to Bishop Duncan

20 May 2009. Vigil of the Ascension

Dear Bishop Duncan,

I thank you for your invitation to attend as an observer the inaugural Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America, which is to gather in Bedford, Texas, from June 22nd to 25th. I congratulate those who will assemble on their movement out of the Episcopal Church. Whatever else we agree or disagree about, we believe that that movement is correct.

Those of us who left the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion a generation ago believe that the ordination of women was then the central problem in the Canterbury Communion. The notion that women can receive the sacrament of Holy Orders in any of its three parts constitutes, in our view, a revolutionary and false claim: a claim false in itself; a claim destructive of the common ministry that once united Anglicans; and, finally, a claim productive of an even broader and worse consequence. That worse consequence is the claim that Anglicans have authority to alter important matters of faith and order against a clear consensus in the central tradition of Catholic and Orthodox Christendom. Once such a claim is made it may be pressed into service to alter any matter of faith or morals. The revolution devours its children. Many of the clergy represented at GAFCON and now joining the ACNA seem to us to accept the flawed premise and its revolutionary claim in one matter while seeking to resist the application of the premise in the matter of homosexuality. This position seems to us to be internally inconsistent and impossible to sustain successfully over time.

In brief, then, we would suggest that the only sound basis for Continuing Anglican life is something akin to that already established in the Affirmation of Saint Louis with its clarity concerning the subordination of all Anglican authorities to the central tradition of Christendom.

We make this suggestion with a strong recognition of our own personal and ecclesial failures. But the failure of the Continuing Churches to unite and grow sufficiently does not at all alter the cogency of our observations about your own fundamental principles. Our own history teaches us that anything other than clear agreement on all significant doctrinal issues at the outset will lead eventually to division and decline.

To put matters another way, already now at the beginning of your enterprise, your dioceses and bishops are only in a state of impaired communion with each other. Some of your bishops do not recognize the validity of the priestly ministry of a significant body of clergy in other dioceses. Such divisions and problems at the beginning will not resolve themselves in time, but rather will grow. Ambiguity, or local option, or silence cannot undo the damage of essential disagreement concerning Holy Orders and authority in the Church.

In summary, then, we see in the ACNA the fundamental alterations in traditional Anglican faith, worship, order, and practice that led to the formation of our own Continuing Church in 1978. We would be glad to establish conversations with your ecclesial body in hopes that you may, having freed yourselves of the Episcopal Church, continue further on the same path by decisively breaking from a corrupt Anglican Communion and by returning to the central tradition of Christendom in all matters, including the male character of Holy Orders, the evil of abortion, and the indissolubility of sacramental marriage. We recommend to your prayerful attention the Affirmation of Saint Louis, which we firmly believe provides a sound basis for a renewed and fulfilled Anglicanism on our continent.

We suspect that any Anglican body that permits the ordination of women, or otherwise fails to return to the central tradition of Christendom, will soon move from what we might call neo-Anglicanism, which is already removed in ministry and worship from classical Anglicanism, and will eventually merge into the general stream of evangelical Protestantism. While faithful Protestantism of that sort is far preferable to what the Episcopal Church has become, it is not the Catholic Faith which we hold, it is not the Anglicanism that formed us, and it does not seem to us to have a bright future.

We have already communicated with persons in the ACNA about the Anglican Catholic Church's prior use of the name you have adopted (ACNA). We are certain that this matter can be successfully resolved to our mutual satisfaction, but pending such resolution we do note our prior use.

I fear that this letter in response to your kind invitation may seem somewhat abrupt. I do not mean it to be such. I wish instead to indicate clearly that our first principles seem to be very different. A fruitful dialogue would need to begin with those principles, and the plans outlined in your letter for the Bedford meeting do not seem to encompass such fundamental questions. I would be happy, however, to assist in the establishment of such dialogue in the future if the ACNA is not wedded to its position on the ordination of women and the authority of Anglican bodies to alter matters of faith and order.

With all good wishes, I am,

Faithfully yours in Christ,

(The Most Reverend) Mark Haverland, Ph.D.

Acting Primate, Anglican Catholic Church

Monday, May 04, 2009

St. Hilda's In the Snow

An early March snow storm blankets Atlanta, Georgia in 2009 turning St. Hilda's Church into a Christmas greeting card.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Iraqi archbishop decries Christian slayings

Archbishop Sako shown above

By YAHYA BARZANJI, Associated Press Writer Yahya Barzanji, Associated Press Writer – Mon Apr 27, 2:58 pm ET

KIRKUK, Iraq – At two Christian homes, the gunmen used the same methods: point-blank fire that claimed three lives in a 30-minute span. The attacks left another outpost of Iraq's dwindling Christian community frightened Monday that it could become caught in the struggles over disputed Kirkuk.

"Innocent people who have no relation with politics and never harmed anyone were killed by terrorists in their homes just because they were Christians," Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako told more than 600 mourners in this ethnically mixed city 180 miles north of the capital.

The motives behind the late Sunday attacks remained unclear, with suspicions mostly falling on Sunni insurgents linked to al-Qaida in Iraq.

But fear of reprisals and worries about vulnerability have become common themes for members of one of the world's oldest Christian homelands.

Iraq's Christians, who numbered about 1 million in the early 1980s, are now estimated at about half that as families flee warfare and extremist attacks that target their churches and homes.

The future of Kirkuk — an ethnic patchwork led by Kurds and Arabs — has become one of the most politically sensitive issues for Iraqi leaders and for U.S. military commanders preparing to withdraw their troops by the end of 2011.

The city is the hub of Iraq's northern oil fields and a key prize for both Kurds and the central government in Baghdad. The showdown is so volatile that Kirkuk was excluded from regional elections in January and the United Nations has offered a proposal for compromise plans.

Caught in between are the smaller communities of ethnic Turks and Christians, including the ancient branches of Chaldean and Assyrian churches and smaller communities such as Roman Catholics and Orthodox.

Speaking to mourners at Kirkuk's main Chaldean church, Sako blamed political leaders for failing to reach compromises on the many ethnic and political disputes.

"It seems that violence is coming back and they lost that chance," he said.

Two of the victims were Chaldean Christians; the other was Assyrian. Family members said all would be buried in their home areas around Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Kirkuk police Lt. Col. Anwar Qadir said the slayings appeared to be an attempt by al-Qaida to spark sectarian clashes or scare away the more than 10,000 Christians remaining around Kirkuk.

In the past, insurgents have described Iraq's Christians as "crusaders" whose true loyalty lies with U.S. troops and the West.

On Monday, round-the-clock security patrols and checkpoints were increased around Christian areas.

Christians in the Mosul area have faced the brunt of attacks, including a string of bombings and execution-style slaying in late 2008 blamed on Sunni insurgents. An estimated 3,000 Christians fled the area in a single week.

In March 2008, the body of Mosul's Chaldean Archbishop, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was found in a shallow grave — a month after he was kidnapped at gunpoint as he left a Mass.

Kirkuk, however, has not been spared. In January 2006, two churches here were bombed as part of a series of coordinated attacks that also targeted the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Baghdad.

"If we can't feel protected, then more Christians will leave Iraq," said the Rev. Giorgos Alywa, an Assyrian Orthodox cleric at the burials in the Mosul area.

The first assault killed a woman and her daughter-in-law. About a half-hour later, gunmen killed a 27-year-old man in another part of the city, said Qadir.

Eman Latif, the sister of the younger woman killed, said the attacker stabbed the victims after they were gunned down.

"What have they done to be treated like this?" she said.

Last week, U.N. representatives gave Iraqi leaders a report outlining suggestions to ease sectarian tensions in Kirkuk, including a proposal to grant the area "special status" that would allow joint oversight by both the Kurdish region and the central government in Baghdad.

Kirkuk "should be solved through political, diplomatic channels and dialogue. There is a chance to solve it," the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, said Monday in an interview with Iraq's Al-Sharqiya television.

But a Christian university student in Kirkuk, Rudi Shammo, said there is a different reality on the streets: "We Christians in Kirkuk have no weapons or militias to protect us."

Still, he plans to take a stand.

"Some groups may have plans to push us out of our own country, but I say we will not leave Iraq," he said. "This will not happen."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Marriage as a Sacrament

Over at my two most visited blogs Stand Firm in the Faith and the Anglican Continuum debates are going on over marriage in all its forms (natural, civil, sacramental)and the question of annulments and how to determine if a marriage is valid, that is to say truly sacramental, or not. Printed below as a sort of companion piece is a sermon I recently wrote for a wedding. It was an unusual wedding in my opinion, and one that pointed up the theological confusion of our times. I warned the prospective couple that by including me in their ceremony they risked making their marriage a sacramental one. They understood well the meaning of sacramental marriage much to my surprise. So I preached at their wedding the following sermon which I imagine was somewhat troubling to the congregation, but heartily endorsed by the couple.

Marriage is a simple thing, and the simple things are very hard.

My sermon today is a charge to the two of you, and no different than a bishop giving a charge to men newly ordained to the priesthood. You are on a mission from God now. You are responsible both as a couple and as individuals for everything you do, or fail to do in this marriage. You are taking on a great responsibility to firstly God, and secondly to each other. It is an indissoluble union between the two of you, made for solemn service to God, one another, the Church, and humanity.

“It is not good that the man should be alone,” we read in the book of Genesis. So we know that marriage is for mutual support and comfort, and if God wills it, for the procreation of children, but we also must understand that Christian marriage is a thing that demands service, sacrifice and loyalty.

It is a great instruction to us that God has continually taught us through Holy writ, that the Kingdom of God is like unto a marriage. The many parables that Jesus told, using marriage as a simile for the Kingdom of God, lift marriage out of the realm of the secular and into the realm of the divine. Most of us are familiar with those parables, and we remember that Jesus did his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee, and also his reply to the scribes and Pharisees about the nature of marriage and divorce. Jesus told them, when they recounted that Moses had given them permission to divorce in the event of adultery, that single exception was given because of the hardness of their hearts. So the inference is that someone who puts away a spouse for such a cause has a hard heart, and also such a divorce is not pleasing to God.

The Old Testament also speaks to us of marriage. It speaks in a brutal and frank way with a demand for absolute fidelity, even when the other partner has grievously sinned. I am speaking of the Book of Hosea now. Hosea’s wife, Gomer, was anything but a faithful wife, but God made it clear that he was to not only forgive her, but to seek after her even to the point of buying her out of slavery when she ultimately put herself in that position, and also to raising the bastard children that she tried to pass off as Hosea’s. That is an incredibly high standard for this world, one that the vast majority of us would never even think of trying to live up to.

So what is God’s point? Well, He wants each one of his children to be just like Jesus, that is to say perfect, like the Father Himself, And God is always faithful, and God always keeps His promises, even when we don’t keep ours. When God enters into covenant with us we make certain promises to Him and Him to us. When we fail to keep our part of the covenant God does not divorce us, He continues to be faithful. If both parties to a marriage can keep troth in this fashion, then a strong Christian marriage has been established. One that serves the husband and wife, that serves God, serves the Church and also the entire community of humanity. But even if only one manages to keep troth, than a great spiritual work has been accomplished in the name of God, one that brings great spiritual benefit.

My charge to you is to remain loyal and true to each other and to let nothing stand in the way of, or affect your faithfulness to one another. God requires this of you. If you can accomplish this then you will have obtained an object with great spiritual rewards, a blessing for yourselves, the Church, and the larger community, an ensample of Holy living and a great witness to the power of God, who remains faithful and true come whatever.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.