Sunday, February 8, 2009

When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout

'Twas the Cold War when I served in the U.S. Army, but many of our NCO's were combat veterans. The title of this thread is something I picked up from them. They used it to give us some sense of what it is like to be under fire for the first time.

It also describes the Anglican blogosphere right now. Heck, maybe it describes the whole Anglican Communion right now.

The thing that strikes me is that we have North American bloggers questioning the fortitude and leadership abilities of "Global South" Bishops. These Bishops are men who have millions of people in their care, and are planting churches that bring millions more to Christ. These are leaders who inspire people to commit to Christ in the face of poverty, militant Islam, hostile governments, AIDS and other problems that most of us couldn't handle for five minutes. And, let's face it, the impact of most of our little blogs doesn't equal ten seconds of what these Primates do for the cause of Christ every day.

I am as frustrated as the next guy. I have railed against and in some cases exposed the un-Christian antics of Episcopal Church leaders. The clunky, expensive and ineffectual response of the Anglican Communion is obvious. Yes, I would love to see apostates shut down in some way. But one of the captivating things about the Anglican Communion is that it models the non-coercive, vulnerable and painful way of Christ. Christ never forced anyone to follow him. He "rebuked" (probably a mild word for what he said) his disciples for asking if they could call down fire on unfriendly villages - yet kept those same disciples with him as they kept screwing up and misunderstanding him. He called on God to forgive those who killed him - and the church, in the person of St. Stephen and martyrs down to the present day, follows his example. (I can't help but note that The Episcopal Church, in the person of its Presiding Bishop and her inner circle, has adopted a coercive, punitive, un-Christlike leadership style to crown its manifestly un-Christian teaching.)

Things are a mess right now. There is manifest danger to souls and doubt about how to proceed. Isn't that true in every moment of every day, in every age of history? It is most certainly a fact of life where Biblically faithful Anglican Primates are serving and bearing amazing fruit.

But there is a helpful word for us in the daily confession of traditional liturgies:

"...Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen."

This says we must seek to be right (godly and righteous), but to be "right in the right way" (sober).* Despair will undo our godly living. So will cynicism. So will rage (although there is a place for righteous anger, it must not become a pot waiting to explode). Any excessive emotion or mood puts us in just as much spiritual danger as, well, a sermon full of Episcopalian falsehood. As St. Peter warns,

"Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." (I.5:8) If we live by "When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout, " we make enough noise to invite the lion and are so distracted that we become an easy lunch when he arrives.

Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council looks to the example of Daniel. Daniel and his companions were a "sober" bunch, stuck in a manifestly bad situation yet resisting it effectively with steady, composed choices:

"- by drawing a firm line in conformity with God’s word and not eating at the King’s table (Daniel 1:8),
- by learning as much as they could about Babylonian culture (Daniel1:3-4, 17),
- by being more excellent (“ten times better”) than anyone else in the kingdom (Daniel 1:18-20);
- by being consistent throughout many changes of leadership (Daniel1:21);
- by addressing hostile authorities directly, and with wisdom and tact (Daniel 2:14-16);
- by avoiding isolation, taking counsel and praying together (Daniel2:17-18);
- by asking God for discernment (Daniel 2:19);
- by resisting peer pressure, malicious accusations, the temptation to compromise, an unpredictable king, and even a delaying God (Daniel 3:1-18)"


Good counsel from a godly, sober Priest, who seeks his guidance from Holy Scripture instead of his emotions. Good counsel for those of us in the toxic swamp of The Episcopal Church, those who are in the bobbing life boats of ACNA, and for those who have, at least for now, walked away from Anglican church participation but continue to observe it from places of perceived safety.



* Don't separate orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

3 comments:

Floridian said...

Excellent post, Fr. Tim!

I very much needed to hear this.

Dan Crawford said...

You write: "Christ never forced anyone to follow him. He 'rebuked' (probably a mild word for what he said) his disciples for asking if they could call down fire on unfriendly villages - yet kept those same disciples with him as they kept screwing up and misunderstanding him. He called on God to forgive those who killed him - and the church, in the person of St. Stephen and martyrs down to the present day, follows his example."

I appreciate your willingness to see nothing but good in the Alexandria meeting, but would it have been too much to ask for some clear articulation of the Gospel? Jesus never hedged his message - everytime the Primates meet, the Gospel comes out as gibberish. Thank you for your optimism - you have given me something to think about.

TLF+ said...

Dan - where did I imply that I see "nothing but good in the Alexandria meeting?"

I think I'm pretty clear that the "Instruments of Unity" have failed, and I think you've put a very good point on how they've failed. Jesus did not coerce - but he did exactly what you say, clearly stating His truth, including words of "rebuke." The AC meetings just can't do that and so we get endless "process."

I don't have much (if any) optimism in the Instruments of Unity - they seem chock full of cold blooded British political intrigues and TEC money. But I am optimistic about the Global South leaders. The fruit of their faith and their labor is manifest.

What form things will take as we go forward is beyond me. There will be fragmentation - de factor is not de jure. You are right - when you force the "two religions" into one room to issue a statement, you get gibberish. I think that Orombi and Venables said as much in their post conference comments. See also Akinola's "wake up call" which is all over the web now.

Clarity of the Gospel is exactly what we should expect of the church - Article XIX gives preaching of the pure Word of God as a defining quality of the "visible church."