Where do you find that in the Bible?

PhotoSpin Christian Religious Icons Objects © 2001 PhotoSpin www.photospin.comThe title of this blog post is a question that we run into from time to time.  When we hear it we know immediately that the interlocutor has been exposed to a concept called Sola Scriptura.  What is Sola Scriptura? It is a teaching found among a number of sects and cults that the “Bible alone” is sufficient for doctrine, and that the Bible alone is authoritative.

Now, one need think about this idea for only a minute to see the fatal flaw in this notion: it is not found in Scripture. If the Bible alone was sufficient, the Bible would have taught that idea; and it doesn’t. Nowhere in the Bible. Simple logic proves that Sola Scriptura is a false doctrine, and if false then not part of Christianity at all.

So where did this idea come from? It was never part of the teachings of the Apostles, or indeed anywhere for at least eleven centuries!  It first appeared in the high Middle Ages as part of the Albigensian heresy. Later we see it in the Waldensian heresy, and in some of the protestant heresies of the 16th century.

Let’s step back and look a little more closely at the Bible.  We know that the Christian Church was born on the Day of Pentecost, AD 29. Twenty-two years later, in AD 51, Saint Paul wrote the oldest book of the New Testament (First Thessalonians). The Gospels themselves weren’t written until after that. The newest book of the NT wasn’t written until after AD 100! For well over two generations the Church had only oral traditions and the books of the Old Testament. In fact, when the writers of the New Testament wrote about “Scripture” they were referring to the Old Testament, because the New was still being written from oral tradition. This tradition was passed on–the word “tradition” actually means “that which is passed on”–by the Church, that is, the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops, under the protection of the Holy Spirit. The Church wrote and authorized the New Testament, not the other way round. Christian teaching, then and from then on, is contained in a dual source: tradition and Scripture.

Now it’s true that many of the sects and cults use “tradition” almost as a swear word, pointing out that Jesus condemned the traditions of man taught by the Pharisees.  What they fail to appreciate, though, is that in the New Testament, the same word is used in both a negative and a positive way.  For example, in 2 Th 2.14, Saint Paul says to his converts that God has called them through the gospel. In the next verse he explains what he means by gospel:  “the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by an epistle of ours.”

Asking “where do you find that in the bible” is following the paths of sectarians and cultists, for Christians do not do theology like that.

Yes, scripture is “inspired by God and useful for teaching, refutation, correction, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3.16), but if scripture is taken out of context it is useless.  Scripture is only interpreted by the Church, as Saint Peter wrote “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” (2 Pt 1.20).

Yes, Virginia, Anglicans DO Fast.

Reprinted as a reminder.

ashcrossHere it is again–Happy Lent!
Lent helps us enter the deepest and most important mysteries of what it truly means to be human—spirit and flesh fused together. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent and remind us of our mortality. The ashes which are blessed and traced in the form of a cross on our forehead–in exactly the same way the cross is signed on us in our Baptisms–come from the palms of a previous Palm Sunday, also reminding us that the very praises of Hosanna which we sang turn to dust when we deny Our Lord through sin. Another meaning many find is that our praise is worth nothing in and of itself but ashes. Lent is a time of self denial. As Anglicans we need to understand three things about Lent: fasting, abstinence, and discipline.
Fasting is not refraining from all food. Fasting is eating no more than a light breakfast, one full meal (no dessert, of course), and one half meal.
Simply put, abstinence is abstaining from flesh meat. “Flesh meat” here does include chicken, by the way. In other words, Lent may not be the best of times to start the Atkins diet!
When and How?
Well, the Book of Common Prayer requires fasting with abstinence for all forty days of Lent and every Friday of the year outside Christmastide! (Surprised? see page li.) The modern Roman Catholic rule, on the other hand, is to fast and abstain only on Fridays during Lent, a light requirement indeed. A healthy balance between the two would be to fast the forty days and fast with abstinence on Fridays—or one might want to abstain the forty days and fast with abstinence on Fridays. But pick one and stick with it. A rule that changes with our appetites is merely appetite dressed up to look like a rule. Sundays, by the way, are not part of Lent: every Sunday, even purple ones, are feasts and never fasts. (See, there is good news!)
Over-fasting to the point of endangering your heath defeats the purpose of the spiritual exercise. The very young, the very old, and the infirm are customarily not expected to fast. When in doubt one should always consult one’s spiritual director or parish priest. If you don’t have a spiritual director, it’s rather like a coach for your spiritual life. Your parish priest should be able to hook you up with a good SD. Don’t rely on the old wives’ tale that “when you need a spiritual director, one will appear in your life.” That’s just an excuse to avoid getting a trainer when you should always have one.
We often hear about “giving something up” for Lent. Giving up something is not the sole extent of Lenten discipline, however. Our discipline ought to be a fine tuning of our individual Rules of Life, our personal prayer, corporate prayer, devotion, spiritual reading and study, and the corporal acts of mercy. That doesn’t mean that “giving up” is bad; on the contrary, we probably ought to give up much more than we do!
Skeptics and modernists love to talk about “taking something on” instead of giving up something. As I’ve said for years from the pulpit, that is the voice of the devil! He doesn’t want us to give up anything!
In reality, one ought to do both. Give up something and then fill the gap of giving up with prayer, studying, visiting the sick, giving to the poor, shopping for or driving a shut-in. Take something on for Christ this Lent. If you look you’ll find excellent ways to work on building up your spiritual muscles: Stations of the Cross, a small group Bible Study, adding an extra weekday Mass to your schedule, and so on.
The rules we set for ourselves for Lent should help make us better Christians. Lent should bring us closer to God, each other, and His creation. Let us all focus on the real work of the Church. On Ash Wednesday let us all vow to offer prayers, as well as to reach out to our community that we may become Christ to a hurting world. Our baptism made us members of his Body. We are his ears to listen to the dejected and hopeless; we are his voice which speaks words of kindness. It is time to take up our cross and “offer our selves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice.” Let us journey through the cross to the light.

Three Streams?

Below is a comment I left on Virtueonline’s website, but it was not approved by their “moderator” because it was negative about charismatics. I stand by what I wrote and reproduce it here for your reading and commenting.

I’m afraid using the “three streams” approach is both misleading and inaccurate. The historic three “streams” in Anglicanism was loosely labeled “high,” “low,” and “broad” church, terms that actually did not well describe the positions of each school. The old broad churchmen, or latitudinarians, have faded into the mainstream of today’s C of E, P/ECUSA/TEC (or whatever 815 calls itself this week), AC of Canada, etc., the folk for whom what one believes, teaches, or practices is not nearly so important as being seen to be in the mainstream of today’s western civilization’s decline. The graciousness and broad-mindedness of Anglicanism, once one of our hallmarks, morphed into a total abandonment of morality now capped by a viciousness enforcing their new standards. This decline is no secret or surprise to any reader here.

With the third school’s abandonment of the Catholic and Apostolic faith and discipline, and one could argue, a total abandonment of Christianity altogether, there was a gap in terminology that some thought needed filling. The Catholic and Evangelical schools of Anglicanism had found their natural affinity when the non-Christians began tinkering with the liturgy and discarding Apostolic order so that the revisionist agenda could be achieved in Anglicanism. The resultant two-sided coin is the natural state of Christianity, the mutual interdependence of Word and Sacrament that is Anglicanism at its best. I disapprove of using the labels “evangelical” and “catholic” as both apply to the Anglican way, each without diminution of the other. But what about that “third stream?”

When the enthusiast movement began at the turn of the twentieth century, it found a ready home among the protestant fringes, but Anglicanism withstood its attacks for decades, until the erosion of the practice of weighing faith and practice by the Vincentian Canon—that which has been found in the Church everywhere, always, and by all. As some Anglicans fell to the attacks of the enthusiast movement, they believed and taught, falsely, that they were exhibiting the gifts (charismata) of the Holy Spirit in accordance with the phenomena seen at Pentecost, thus they labelled their movement as “charismatic” or “pentecostal,”  even though the hallmark of their movement is glossolalia and ecstatic utterances, practices from paganism sometimes seen in mental illness but that have never been part of historic Christianity.

Anglicanism. The fullness of the Christian faith in Word and Sacrament.


Was Christmas Really a Pagan Holiday?

Christian Religious Icons Objects
© 2001 PhotoSpin

It is almost certain that you’ll run into some well meaning fool who likes to smirk at holiday decorations and with an air of popping the balloons of children announce that “Jesus wasn’t really born on Christmas, you know.”  They will often continue with “Christmas is just another pagan festival that Christianity stole.”  Well, Virginia, it just isn’t so.  Here is a link to a terrific article on the subject, originally published in 2003 in Touchstone magazine by William J. Tighe.

So when your office version of Sheldon Cooper comes around and spouts nonsense like “Jesus was born in the summer,” or “Constantine made it up,” (seriously?) point them our way and share the facts in Professor Tighe’s succinct piece. Enjoyable reading, my friends!


Jolly Old Saint Nicholas!

bakers-dozen-wmasterAt this time of year in the USA, we are inundated with movies, television specials, cartoons, and images about Santa Claus. Some are quite good, entertaining, and fun, most are just, well, not. Christians when facing the secular culture often find some questions difficult to answer. Santa Claus shouldn’t be one of those difficult questions. We can offer a resounding “yes, there is a Santa Claus,” and a cheery “I believe in Santa Claus.” Santa is not the secular culture trying to take Christmas away from Christianity, not if we really look at what we know about Santa Claus. Ironically, two of the most successful recent movies that feature Santa Claus have opposite themes. The theme of Polar Express is “seeing is believing,” while the theme of Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause series of movies is “believing is seeing.” I would suggest that St. Alcuin had it right when he said “I don’t understand in order to believe; I believe in order to understand.” With that wisdom in mind, let’s look at Santa Claus, AKA St. Nicholas.

Nicholas was born to a wealthy family in Patara, Lycia. His parents died, and he inherited a considerable sum of money, but he kept none of it, giving it instead to the poor.

Perhaps the most important story about St. Nicholas tells that he was cast into prison during the persecution of Diocletion, but when Constantine became emperor, Nicholas was released with countless others and returned to his preaching only to find a new threat: Arianism, a heresy that taught that Jesus was a created Spirit and not the second Person of the Holy Trinity. Thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra was spared the Arian heresy. St. Nicholas was present at the Council of Nicea, where he slapped (some sources say he punched) Arius in the face for his heresy!

St. Nicholas was tireless in opposing not only the heresy of Arianism, but  paganism as well, and he took strong measures: among other temples he destroyed was that of Artemis, the principal pagan worship in the district.

His relics are still preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari; up to the present day an oily substance, known as Manna di S. Nicola, which is highly valued for its medicinal powers, is said to flow from them.

St. Nicholas was represented by medieval artists more frequently than any saint but Mary, and nearly 400 churches were dedicated in his honor in England alone during the late Middle Ages. In Holland he was known as Sinterklass, and the  Dutch in New Amsterdam brought the stories to America, where Sinterklass came to be known as Santa Claus. Martin Luther tried to  replace this St. Nicholas as a bearer of gifts with the Christ Child, or, in German, Christkindl. Over the years, that became pronounced as Kriss Kringle, which ironically is now considered another name for Santa Claus!

St. Nicholas’ name occurs in the Orthodox liturgy of St John Chrysostom.

The following places honour him as patron: Greece, Russia, the Kingdom of Naples, Sicily, Lorraine, the Diocese of Liège; many cities in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Belgium; Galway in Scotland; Campen in the Netherlands; Corfu in Greece; Freiburg in Switzerland; and Moscow in Russia. He is patron of mariners, merchants, bakers, travellers, children, etc.

In Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, they have the custom of making him the secret purveyor of gifts to children on 6 December, his feast day; in the United States and some other countries St. Nicholas has become identified with Santa Claus who distributes gifts to children on Christmas eve.

Perhaps the best-known story about St. Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters of marriageable age. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, St. Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, thus enabling the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast.

The governor Eustathius had taken a bribe to condemn to death three innocent men. At the time fixed for their execution Nicholas came to the place, stayed the hands of the executioner, and released the prisoners. Then he turned to Eustathiujs and did not cease to reproach him until he admitted his crime and expressed his penitence.

During his lifetime, St. Nicholas appeared to storm tossed mariners who invoked his aid off the coast of Lycia and brought them safely to port. This is the origin of his patronage of sailors.

When pagans or misguided Christians try to take away Santa Claus, tell them the truth about Santa. He was a generous, caring, wonder-working, defender of Christianity and tough, steadfast opponent of heresy and paganism. As a saint, he is in the nearer Presence of God and responsive to His will and work. Yes, believe in Santa Claus and teach your children to as well!

Saint Nicholas Placemat

Parish Life

The other day I was looking for something–what, I now don’t recall–and I stumbled across the website of a parish we attended in the days B.S.–Before Seminary, that is. As I admired it and remembered with fondness the Episcopal Church that used to be, I happened to recall a conversation I once had with Brother John-Charles, the Franciscan who was also a bishop.

The good friar, may he rest in peace, observed that we Anglicans needed to recreate the old devotional societies that had fallen under the control of the new religion of 815. I allowed that he was correct, and the conversation moved on to other areas, but my wandering on the web reminded me of that conversation and more. Yes, we need versions of the old devotional societies that haven’t bent the knee to baal, but we need something else more urgently.

Before we work on those devotional societies, I contend that we need even more two organizations that are essential to the growth and health of a parish. First and most important is a women’s group analogous to the old ECW, an “ACW,” if you will. An ACW or Mothers’ Union is the backbone of a healthy parish and gives the women of a parish, who do, let’s face it, most of the work, a place to connect. I spoke about this need to a Jewish friend, who said, “you need a Hadassah.”

The second group that helps structure a parish is a men’s group. In one parish I attended as a layman, the men had affiliated with the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, a fine group we could emulate, without the pentecostal streak, of course. Or we could look to St. Joseph Covenant Keepers as a model.

A parish I once knew had an Anglican Catholic version of the Knights of Columbus, another good model to emulate.

Perhaps as we work for unity amongst Anglo-Catholics in the “G-4” we could develop some of these parish stand-bys.

All Saints and All Souls and Prayers, Oh My!

We come in November to the winding down of the Christian year, but before we get there we have two great observances.  Unfortunately, there are some Christians who get them confused, so let’s look briefly at the first two days of November.

November first is the feast of All Saints’, the day when we remember all those saints both known and unknown throughout the centuries.  On All Saints’ day we commemorate them, the Church Triumphant, and ask for their prayers and for the grace to follow their examples.

The collect for All Saints’, from the Anglican Missal, is this:

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that we may in all things be comforted by the intercession of holy Mary, Mother of God, of all thy Holy Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins, and of all thine elect: and that like as we do call to mind their godliness of life; so we may be effectually defended by their help.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

November second, however, is the feast of All Souls’, the day when we remember all the faithful departed.  On All Souls’ day we remember them, the Church Expectant, and we pray for all the holy souls in Purgatory.  It is on this day we remember all our relatives and friends and loved ones who have died and in the intermediate state await their final reward.

The collect for All Souls’, from the Anglican Missal, is this:

O the Creator and Redeemer of all them that believe: grant unto the souls of thy servants and handmaidens the remission of all their sins; and as they have ever desired thy merciful pardon, so by the supplications  of their brethren they may receive the same. Who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

We rejoice that we are made part of such a great Communion of Saints in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  Amen!

Christians and Hallowe’en

(reprinted from 2008)

In recent years we have started to hear some Christian groups encouraging Christians not to observe Hallowe’en, not to let our children trick-or-treat, not to go to costume parties. Many of those groups urge churches to have “harvest parties” as an alternative, or even just ignore the day entirely and pretend it doesn’t exist. Why do they feel this way?

A few years ago I wrote a tract about this topic, and last year I finally dressed it up for printing.  Please have a look before you buy into anyone’s odd ideas.


How Anglicans Worship – Part 8


Interrupting the order here to answer questions I’d received from earlier in the “How Anglicans Worship” series.

Let me begin by observing that there are six general types of processions: Entrance, Gospel, Offertory, Exit, Holy Day, and Special Occasion. Order in processions ought be pretty straightforward. Older manuals used to prescribe slightly different orders for different types of processions, but in practice, as those older rules tended to be easily forgotten, it’s better to stick with one invariable order, and to make that invariable order the one most often seen, the Entrance. The following assumes that there is no Asperges or other rite preceding the Mass.

Entrance Processions

It has become commonplace in those places that have been infected by the liturgical sloppiness of the 1960s and since, to begin every celebration of the Divine Liturgy with a lengthy Entrance procession of choir and ministers and clergy. This is neither necessary nor traditional, and frankly, not even desirable.  To begin with, an entrance procession really should not include a choir. We are not speaking here of “clergy in choir,” but of the choir of singers. The vocalists, like other musicians, whether vested or not, should be encouraged to take their places informally and quietly before the liturgy begins, and if possible before any instrumental prelude, even if the choir are seated in stalls in quire. As each person takes his or her seat, it is appropriate to kneel and pray in silence for a few moments or minutes, using the same pre-service prayers as other laity in the congregation. All should be in place before the end of the prelude, if there is one.

Incense is put on without ceremony by the thurifer, and then acolytes and clergy enter up the center where possible, in the following order:

(candle)  (crucifer)  (candle)
torchbearers (in pairs)
Clergy in choir

If there is a boat bearer, he should be at the thurifer’s left, unless the thurifer is given to elaborate swings, in which case, for safety’s sake, the boat can be borne after the cross. It may be most convenient for the boat simply to be waiting on the credence.

If there is no crucifer, the candlebearers follow the thurifer side by side. If there are no candlebearers, two of the torchbearers may take their place. If there are three readings, a licensed and trained lay lector may vest in cassock and cotta and process after the torches and before the Master of Ceremonies. Any clergy in choir, that is, clergy who are not administering communion but are present, vest in choir habit (one would think that obvious) of cassock, surplice, hood, tippet, (and biretta,) and follow the MC but precede the Sacred Ministers. Any assisting clergy, such as may be assisting with communion would follow the clergy in choir and precede the subdeacon. (They may instead simply enter by a convenient short way at the communion time and withdraw the same way afterwards.)

There are some Anglican bodies that have restored the subdiaconate, and those subdeacons should vest in amice, alb, cincture, maniple, (and tunicle if possible, and biretta.) It has long been customary in Anglican circles to consider parish clerks or licensed lay-readers as “lay subdeacons,” and they may vest in amice, alb, cincture, (and tunicle if possible, and bladeless biretta.) Either subdeacon or lay subdeacon will precede the deacon.

The deacon, vested in amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole, (biretta), and dalmatic if possible, immediately precedes the celebrant. Despite trendy modern practices, it is best not to include a gospel book in the procession, but to have it waiting at the credence or a shelf below it. It is never appropriate to include a lectionary or Bible in an entrance.

The celebrant, vested in amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole, (biretta), and cope or chasuble is at the end of the procession, unless there is a bishop present, in which case the bishop will be at the end, but ceremonies with bishops are beyond the scope of this article, so it is best to consult one of the usual sources. Even a lesser prelate who is not the celebrant will not follow the celebrant in the bishop’s position, but instead enter with the clergy in choir or assisting clergy, as described above.

If there are not sufficient clergy to administer the sacrament, it may be necessary to have one or two laymen licensed as extraordinary eucharistic ministers. If these absolutely must be used, they should vest in amice, alb, and cincture (or better, cassock and cotta,) follow the lector and precede the MC.

Arriving at the steps to the choir (or gate in the altar rail), the cross and candlebearers pivot to their right so they are facing south and the rest of the ministers and altar party enter the sanctuary, lining up facing the altar, leaving room in the center for the sacred ministers. SD and D separate to north and south respectively, and assist the celebrant in entering (which may include grasping cope and drawing him in.) After the sacred ministers arrive, they remove birettas and pass them to the right to the MC as the crucifer and candlebearers pivot back to their left and enter to stand behind the celebrant in the center, then all except crucifer and candlebearers make the appropriate reverence together at the same time: genuflecting if the Blessed Sacrament is present, bowing otherwise. Then all go to their places, except the sacred ministers and MC.

If they have not already been said in the sacristy, the preparation prayers are said, culminating in the Collect for Purity, then the sacred ministers ascend the altar for the censing.

Note:  All the preceding references to thurifer and boat assume that incense is used at every Eucharist. If the custom of the place is to employ incense only occasionally, one should note that there are only two smells in eternity that are mentioned in Scripture: brimstone and incense. It is the invariable practice in the Eastern church that there is no divine liturgy wherein incense is not offered, and this should be our practice as well.

The exit procession (never “recession,” is essentially the reverse of the entrance, logically enough.

A word about pace is appropriate here. When entering, the speed should be stately and solemn, about a second per step, and participants four to six feet apart. When leaving, the speed may be a normal walking pace, but the spacing again the same, four to six feet apart. Consider the speeds of processions at typical weddings: slow in, normal out, which developed in imitation of the normal liturgical entrance and exit processions.

Gospel and offertory processions, and processions for specific holy days will be considered in another article later.