The Gravity of Sin: Some Thoughts on Fleming Rutledge’s The Crucifixion

the crucifixionIn chapter four of The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, Fleming Rutledge sets out a theology of sin that is focused primarily on Sin as a power, rather than sin(s) as misdeeds. This is not to say that sin(s) as misdeeds is irrelevant or unimportant, rather Rutledge argues that there is a specific relationship between the two, in which Sin as a power is the cause and sins as misdeeds are the consequences.[1] In other words, Sin is “an active malevolent agency bent upon…the utter undoing of God’s purposes” and sins are “signs of that agency at work; they are not the thing itself.”[2] Sin has two aspects: it is a “responsible guilt” and an “alien power.”[3] These two aspects require atonement and liberation, respectively. These two aspects of Sin parallel Rutledge’s overall thesis of the book, in which she proposes a two-part approach to understanding the crucifixion: the death of Christ is both “God’s definitive action in making vicarious atonement for sin” and “God’s decisive victory over the alien Powers of Sin and Death.”[4]

According to Rutledge, any discussion of Sin (and sins) can be done only in the light of an awareness of God’s prevenient grace. This grace “precedes our consciousness of sin, so that we perceive the depth of our own participation in Sin’s bondage simultaneously with the recognition of the unconditional love of Christ, which is perfect freedom.”[5] Rutledge demonstrates this by analysing Psalm 51. In this penitential Psalm, she notes that there is a definitive “relationship between understanding sin and knowing God.”[6] In other words, “sin can be understood only from the vantage point provided by God.”[7] The Psalmist’s confession of sin and cry for forgiveness stems from a relationship and knowledge of God and his laws.[8]

Next, Rutledge surveys the New Testament and lays out the biblical texts that speak of the relationship between Christ’s death and Sin. She sees several prominent themes. First, there is an emphasis on the forgiveness of sins and the overcoming of Sin. Second, there is an emphasis on Sin as a Power, particularly in Paul where Sin is both a verb and a dominion.[9] This then has implications for a robust doctrine (and practice) of repentance; so much so, that repentance functions significantly differently in the Christian tradition than in the 2nd Temple Jewish tradition that Paul inhabited.[10] According to Rutledge’s reading of the Pauline texts, repentance is not the first action to secure forgiveness of sins. Instead repentance is the response to God’s first action. In other words, “for Paul, the sequence is not sin-repentance-grace-forgiveness, but grace-sin-deliverance-repentance-grace.”[11]

Rutledge emphasizes that there is nothing inherent in the human condition that can make the reality of Sin disappear; not sentimental approaches to the atonement,[12] and not overly optimistic understandings of human progress.[13] Nothing that humans do can overcome the gravity of Sin[14] because it is more than just misdeeds; it is a Power that rules over all of humanity. It is from this Power that God has liberated humanity, through the atonement by Christ on the cross, and it is in light of this first act of grace that the gravity of Sin is realized, and that “the people of God go to their knees to acknowledge their need for a deliverance from Sin that they have already received.”[15]

There are two practical applications for the life of the church that we can extrapolate from Rutledge’s understanding of the gravity of Sin in light of God’s prevenient grace. First, attempts to tell society that it is sinful, or to preach a ‘sinners in the hands of an angry God’ type of message is not necessarily going to work in a post-Christian society that has either a poor concept or no concept of sin. Rutledge argues that the predominant North American model of convincing people of their sins so that they will come to Jesus is backwards. It is only in light of the message of salvation that “the sense of sin will come as a consequence” and it is only then that “the knowledge that the danger [of Sin] is already past will result in profound and sincere repentance.”[16] This has implications not only for preaching (preachers are one her key audiences in this volume), but also for evangelism and discipleship. So, adapting and translating Rutledge’s examples into a Canadian context, practices like the evangelical tent/church revival meetings of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the “Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Flame” [17] dramatic presentations of the late 20th century, for example, only worked because the culture at the time was culturally Christian at least in worldview or culture, though not necessarily in practice. The preacher, then, is to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, including the forgiveness of sins, and it is from and through that proclamation that the hearer may be convicted, by the Holy Spirit, of both the great mercy of God and then of the grave reality of their sin. In other words, sin is not the starting point; God’s abundant love, mercy and grace is.

Changing the starting point does not mean that the language and theology of sin should be eliminated from Christian discourse, because the second practical application that can be extrapolated from Rutledge’s chapter is the need for a robust practice of confession of sin. This practice is done by Christians who stand in the light of this prevenient grace, and is itself a form not only of discipleship, but also of witness and evangelism. By regularly confessing and acknowledging sin, praying for forgiveness and mercy, and hearing the words of absolution, the Christian community is testifying to the work of Christ, and to the prevenient grace of God’s justice and mercy. As Rutledge notes in her conclusion, confession is the sign, rather than the cause of God’s reconciling work with humanity.[18]

Throughout this book, Rutledge critiques contemporary Episcopalian liturgies which have omitted or glossed over key biblical and theological statements concerning the doctrine of the atonement. In this chapter, Rutledge laments the omission of the classic phrase “there is no health in us” because it was through this form of the General Confession that the Church was able “to teach that sin is not individual transgressions, but a universal malady.”[19] In confessing our corporate sins, Christians are evangelizing and testifying to the world to show how deficient modern North American conceptions of Sin (and sins) can be.[20] This same critique can be applied to the Book of Alternative Services in the Canadian Anglican context. Like the American Book of Common Prayer, the BAS downplays the language of sin. In the service of Morning Prayer, for example, the Penitential Rite is entirely optional, and when it is used, it does not contain the General Confession (including the line “there is no health in us) from the original BCP. Instead, the confession of sin emphasizes sin as misdeeds with no reference to Sin as a universal malady or a Power.[21]

This robust practice of confession of Sin (and sins) can also be strengthened by the observance of Lent. While Lent is an ancient Christian practice, it has only been in the last twenty-five years that low churches (particularly evangelical) have embraced this portion of the church year.[22] The rhythm of forty days set aside prior to Easter, allows the Christian community to not only acknowledge the Power of Sin and Death (starting with Ash Wednesday’s declaration of death’s inevitability), but also to learn more deeply how to pray, how to repent, and to better understand the gravity of Sin. It is in this context, then, as a form of discipleship, that the pastors and leaders of the church can move between proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel and teaching about the pervasive destruction of Sin in such a way that calls the gathered Christians to confess, repent and respond to God’s gracious act of Jesus’ atoning and liberating work on the cross.

This chapter (and the entire book) serves as a good introduction, that pastors, preachers, and teachers can use as a way to frame sermon series, Bible studies, and introductory theology classes on the doctrine of sin and salvation in a way that is both faithful to the biblical and theological witness and accessible and applicable for a church serving and living in a 21st-century post-Christian culture.

Rutledge’s chapter, “The Gravity of Sin” serves as a helpful reminder to the preacher of how and why to preach the Gospel. It serves as a helpful reminder to theologians that any theological and philosophical analysis of the doctrine of sin can only occur in light of the Gospel which illuminates, identifies, and names our sins. Finally, this chapter serves as a reminder to the church that there is no way to escape either the universal human question of justice (the topic of chapter three), nor the centrality of Christ’s death and the myriad of biblical motifs used to explain and describe the atoning and liberating work of the cross (chapters five thru twelve) because Sin rules and defines human existence apart from Jesus Christ.

[1] Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2015), 168.

[2] Ibid., 175.

[3] Ibid., 181.

[4] Ibid., 209.

[5] Ibid., 171.

[6] Ibid., 183. Emphasis in the original.

[7] Ibid.

[8] This emphasis on the necessity of a relationship and revelation of God’s grace prior to understanding sin was a completely new idea for me. But looking back at my conversion experience, it does appear to fit Rutledge’s ordering. It was a full year of encounters with Christians and the Bible before my conversion, and it was only after I had personally encountered Christ in an act of mercy (literally, a miracle), that I could surrender and confess my sins and my utter and complete need for salvation and forgiveness.

[9] Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, 189.

[10] For example, Rutledge discusses the difference between the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the Christian understanding of atonement that takes place in Christ’s crucifixion. Ibid., 171–172.

[11] Ibid., 192.

[12] Ibid., 195–197.

[13] Ibid., 197–200.

[14] Ibid., 202.

[15] Ibid., 204. Emphasis original.

[16] Ibid., 173.

[17] I am not dismissing the “Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Flame” drama productions outright. It was through one of these at a Pentecostal church twenty years ago that I came to faith in Christ.

[18] Rutledge, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, 204.

[19] Ibid., 194.

[20] See for example, Rutledge’s humorous example of the “Sindex.” Ibid., 193.

[21] “We confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

[22] This is due in large part to the work of Robert Webber. See, for example, Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999).

A Liturgy of Holy Moments


Waking up, on my first morning back from a semester away at school, to Chuck and the kids doing Morning Prayer together. ~ Lord, open our lips; and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

N, at 4 years old, trying to help me process the cross at the start of the service. ~ God rules over all the earth: O come, let us worship.

Hearing M, at 2.5 years old, recite his first memory verse. ~ The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

N, at 2 years old, pointing to the stained glass window hanging above our pew, declaring, “That is Jesus dying on the cross for us.” ~ May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our all hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.

B, at 2 years old, reciting the Apostles’ Creed for the first time without any help. ~ I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

B, at 4 years old, excited because she got help baptize a college student. It was shortly after that that B was baptized into the faith. ~ I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church…

Cal dedicating N at 3 months old, and then almost 5 years later, standing up with her at her baptism. ~… the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

B & N, at 6 and 5 years old, sitting in the back of the van singing “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord” while Grumpy Cook and a camp leader drove to get groceries and talk through our struggles, worries, and dreams. ~ Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, hear our prayer.

N, at 2 years old, singing “The Lord’s Prayer” louder than anyone else in the congregation. ~ As our Saviour taught us, let us pray.

B & N receiving their vitamins each morning like they receive communion: palms up, crossed and slightly cupped. ~ The body of Christ broken for you.

B’s face puckering the first time she drank the wine. ~ The blood of Christ shed for you.

All 3 kids attending Christmas eve services in their new flannel pyjamas and fuzzy socks. ~ Let us bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.

B, at 6 years old, “I’m glad you get to write about Jesus, Momma.” ~May the God of peace enable us to do his will in every kind of goodness, working in us what pleases him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever.

Amen.

Worship Music Carries Prayer and Promise

Nearly 20 years ago, I came to a faith in a Pentecostal church’s youth group. For the first few years, I was discipled in three places: in that church’s Friday night youth group; in that church’s Sunday evening “relaxed” service; and in a tiny, tiny congregational church on Sunday mornings. I am grateful for all three spaces and opportunities.

This week has been an especially hard week, and as I lean in to Scripture, prayer and worship, I have been reminded of those “relaxed” Sunday evening services from so very long ago. Unlike the morning service, the evening service was very open to letting the Spirit work as long into the evening as was needed. There was no rushing away from the altar, from the sanctuary, from prayer. The worship leader would stay and play so long as people were still in worship. It was in that space that I learned how to pray through singing. When my words failed, when my prayers were muddled, unclear, or too complicated to express, my heart and soul could be carried on the wings of the music.

I have, in a modified way, fallen back into that pattern this week. While I may not be sitting in a church sanctuary, laying down at the altar or raising my hands in utter surrender, I am worshipping through song as much as possible. If I’m walking, my earphones are in. If I’m home, my iTunes is up and running on the computer. If I’m in the shower, my Spotify app is running.

These are just a few of the songs that are ministering to me this week, as they all point to the promises and faithfulness of God.

 

 

My Heart is Heavy: Some Reflections on My Journey in Anglicanism

Last night, I attended a special meeting at St. Aidan Anglican Church with Bishop Rob Hardwick of the Diocese of Qu’appelle. I was there to listen to his explanation of his vote at Synod, and to discern his vision for the diocese over these next several years.

Bishop Rob, in a move that surprised many lay people, voted in favour of the motion to change the marriage canon to allow same-sex marriage. While he did say that to do so meant that he had removed “himself” from the vote (i.e., he voted against his conscience), to vote for the good of the church, he would not say explicitly that come 2020, our diocese would not authorize SSM. He did emphasize that at a diocesan level he has the right to veto, but he did not say whether he would veto any diocesan level endorsement of SSM.

On the one hand, I do see Bishop Rob making an effort to protect clergy who hold to a traditional understanding of marriage. His support of the “opt in” amendment included an emphasis on allowing a priest who chooses to refuse to perform a SSM to use the Bishop as the excuse: “My Bishop has not authorized me to do this, you may talk to him.”

On the other hand, the subtext of the conversation seemed to clearly point to the likelihood that come 2020 Bishop Rob will authorize someone in the diocese to perform SSM. There are several reasons why I see this. First, Bishop Rob is a moderate and is trying very hard to hold two sides together, in a “Third Way” type of dialogue. (I am not convinced that this will actually work, see the GAFCON statement). Second, when asked about the statement from the seven conservative bishops, Bishop Rob, instead of expressing support and solidarity for that statement upholding the traditional view of marriage, expressed his anger at their statement, likening them to flipside of the bishops who have vowed to go ahead with SSM without waiting for the next vote. Third, the dean of our cathedral in Regina (which is usually a very powerful/influential position in the diocese) is very much in favour of the motion, and if anyone were to be authorized it would probably be him.

Archdeacon Dell Bornowsky noted that part of the problem with the motion at Synod is that the commission behind “This Holy Estate” was tasked with presenting an affirmation/rationale for SSM, but no document was commissioned presenting a rationale against SSM. His hope is to write one. He also expressed interest in partnering with the Dean of the Regina Cathedral to create a dialogue between the two positions, possibly even having himself and Dean Mike Sinclair “flip” positions and argue for each other’s side.

 

If you had asked me three weeks ago, I would have said that ours is a mostly conservative/evangelical diocese, not just related to issues of sexual ethics, but related to scripture and tradition. Given my week at camp, I have to come to see that our diocese is not really as conservative as it seems, and that it only appears so because we are small, mostly rural, and rapidly aging. When the vote came down and then was reversed the next day, I was at our diocesan camp, cooking for the pre-teen camp. Several of our volunteers were ordained clergy. It became apparent quite quickly that the clergy on camp were in favour of the motion to authorize SSM, some excitedly so. As the conversation progressed into the evening, including the boasting about all the clergy in the diocese who are in favour of the motion, it became abundantly clear that the evangelical/traditional position on marriage was, at best, on its way to being irrelevant within a generation or two, or at worst, a supposed detriment to the gospel and example of the church being on the “wrong side of history.”

 

What is the future of the Anglican Church of Canada?

From what I see, the second vote to amend the marriage canon is inevitable. Schism is also inevitable. And schismatics are not necessarily the ones who leave. The Church is fractured. At the very least, the Anglican Church of Canada as a whole, with a general Synod, has become irrelevant, given that several bishops have chosen to thumb their nose at the process and do their own thing anyway. The Anglican Church in Canada cannot hold together nationally, and is headed to a loose federation of dioceses. This actually works, ecclesiologically, as the Bishop is usually the final authority. If we end up having these regional centres of Anglicanism, based on bishop’s authority, then this gives space for the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) to be a viable alternative for evangelical, traditional, conservative Anglicans. There can be loose affiliations/networks of dioceses working together based on theological commitments, social justice projects, proximity, and distinct community needs.

It will be impossible for a diocese to hold a third way and have priests and parishes teaching that both traditional and progressive understandings of marriage are equally valid. It will create theological whiplash, to have one church teach a traditional view of marriage, while another church teaches the opposite. It will create a pastoral care crisis, because a person who comes for care (or who ends up being under discipline) at either church could simply go to the opposite church to hear what they want to hear.

While I appreciate the calls for unity, the reality is that unity is meaningless without discipline. And in several parishes, and even at the national level, unity is being used as a bullying bludgeon, where unity means “you have no choice, you have to let us do what we are doing.” The call to unity is one sided and there is no attempt for the progressives to say, “maybe we shouldn’t do this, for the sake of unity.”

 

So what does all of this mean for the Hackney family?

We love St. Aidan. It has been a wonderful place for our family. Two of our kids were baptized in that congregation. It is because of St. Aidan that we do morning/evening prayer together as a family. The rhythms of liturgy have shaped us, as has the weekly participation in communion.

If this was just about St. Aidan, we would stay. Dean Pinter preached a fantastic message out of Colossians on Sunday morning about being rooted in the Word and faithful to the Gospel. But the reality is, St. A is not Pastor Dean’s church. As was noted at the introduction of Bishop Rob’s talk, St. A is the Bishop’s church. So can we sit under a bishop who will not affirm explicitly the traditional view of marriage as the view for this diocese?

For the past several years I have been trying to find a place to serve. As St. Aidan toyed with the idea of being an abbey (sending) parish, there was talk of me becoming a licensed lay reader (i.e., lay preacher) and the possibility of doing pulpit supply across the diocese. But when it came to be commissioned, Bishop Rob decided it was not the right time. I am not faulting him for this. He wants to commission a group of lay readers simultaneously, which means I have to wait 17-24 months for others to go through the training (which I basically have on account of my 2.5 theological degrees). But this has felt like an inexplicably closed door. At one point, while I was at Wycliffe, I was asked why I am not on the ordination track and my response, jokingly, was “I can’t even get licensed as a lay reader in my diocese!” It was then that I learned that me being licensed as a lay reader should not be as difficult as it has been, and thus I realized that God was keeping the door closed, for some reason.

At one point in the discussion with the Bishop last night, it was mentioned that there is a lot of theological work to do in the diocese concerning this issue, and that not much had been done, theologically, scripturally, etc. I raised my hand to point out that we need to be careful to say not much has been done, and to think that we have to start from scratch, when in fact there are incredible theological resources available. Here I referenced Wycliffe and its faculty who have offered to be a theological resource for dioceses across Canada, the series of essays at the Living Church that examined several faulty exegetical and theological assumptions in This Holy Estate, and even my own availability to serve as a resource.

Part of the decision to attend Wycliffe over McMaster’s Religious Studies program was because I am convinced that theology is done in and for the church. But two completed theological degrees, and now working on a terminal degree at an Anglican seminary does not appear to be sufficient to do anything more than carry a candle once every six weeks. My continued cries of “here I am, use me!” appear to be bouncing off a closed door.

If we didn’t have children, we would probably be able to stay, and be salt and light. But we have our kids to think about. As parents we cannot raise our children in the faith alone. We need the church to come alongside us to help us catechize our kids. But, given what I have seen this week, there are leaders/teachers in our parish who hold to a very different understanding of marriage and sexual ethics, sometimes aggressively so. As a parent, I need to be able to trust my children to the care and teaching of their Sunday school teachers, and I don’t know that I can at St. Aidan at this time.

Our family is in an interesting position. I have been confirmed in the Anglican church, but Chuck and the kids have not. I am studying at an Anglican seminary. I am in love with Anglican liturgy.

So what do we do? Do we stay? Do we go? Where do we go? (There is no ANiC church in Moose Jaw.) Can I be an Anglican in exile, until such time as we are living somewhere that has either an ANiC church, or are living in the diocese of one of the seven orthodox bishops? Or is it time to close the door on our Anglican journey and appreciate the season that it was? What does this mean for when I return to school in September?

It has been an extremely hard week. The Synod vote was not unexpected, but Bishop Rob’s vote was a shock. I needed to hear him say that he voted no. I needed to hear him say that he stands with the seven bishops, that he affirms traditional marriage, and that our diocese will not be authorizing a change to the canon at a diocesan level come 2020. The thought of leaving St. Aidan is gut-wrenching, and I have cried all week. This whole situation is not unlike grieving a death in the family. And at a spiritual level, my soul feels like it wants to throw up. But here’s what I know: Jesus is faithful. The Church is larger than our parish, diocese, or the Anglican Church of Canada. God is at work, and God works not just in blessing, affirmation, and comfort, but also in judgment, discipline, and punishment. Through the Holy Spirit, our Triune God tends the branches, pruning, propping up, fertilizing, and re-planting.

 

Pray for me. Pray for my family. Pray for my pastor. Pray for my bishop. Pray for my church. Pray for the Church.

 

Amanda

Ephesians 6:10

Wycliffe Women’s Breakfast

This morning,  Wycliffe College is having a women’s breakfast to raise funds for bursaries for female students. I have been invited to share briefly about why I’m at Wycliffe. What follows is the manuscript of my talk. (update: the audio file is now available.)

IMG_0049.JPG

When I started seminary in Saskatchewan my daughter Beth was 6 months old. During the four years of seminary work, she was joined by Nora, and Malcolm. It was, to say the least, an extremely busy time.

And yet, through my time at seminary, several wise mentors suggested that I had a gifting for teaching and theology. My husband saw this vocation as well, and after much prayer and reflection, we decided that my educational journey wasn’t done quite yet.

As we considered PhD programs, I was looking for a school that understood that theology is done in and for the church and because of that, it is, at its very core, a discipline of prayer. Wycliffe embodies this both in its deep desire to serve the church, and in its commitment to creating a space for prayerful theological reflection in the classroom and in the weekly practice of community Eucharist.

I was looking for a school that understood that academic rigour and the Christian faith are not inimical. The quality of scholarship offered by the professors at Wycliffe is probably the best of all theological institutions in Canada.

My husband and I were also trying to figure out how we could be good stewards of God’s resources. PhD studies are expensive, and we knew that we would need my husband’s pay cheque to cover the costs of raising 3 kids and paying for PhD tuition. And, my husband loves his job, and has his own callings and giftings. If we all moved to Toronto, not only would the cost of living be significantly higher, but it was highly unlikely that he would be working in his field.

And so, with prayer, and faith, and my husband working two jobs to support us, it was decided that the best way to steward all of God’s gifts was for us to become a bi-provincial family. My husband and the kids (who are now 6, 4 and 2) would stay in Saskatchewan, and I would live on the 3rd floor of Wycliffe during the school year. I skype in for dinnertime every day, and Chuck puts my skype face where I would normally sit at the dining room table. Yesterday, when I skyped in, Nora, who is now 4, was sitting at the dining room table, frantically writing. I said to her, “Nora, what are you doing?” “Shhhh. Momma I’m busy doing my homework. I have a class to teach in 5 minutes and I have a paper to write.”

The women at Wycliffe all have their own challenges (some even more complicated than mine) and yet they all have a deep sense of God’s calling in their lives to study the Word of God.

There’s a collect or prayer in one of the Anglican prayerbooks that is assigned for this Sunday (November 8th) that I think perfectly encapsulates the heart’s cry of the women at Wycliffe as we are here at seminary. Will you pray this for these gifted and called women?

Eternal God, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning,

grant us so to hear them,

read, mark, learn, and inwardly ingest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast

the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

 

 

A Reflection on the Desiring the Kingdom Conference

tyndale chapelWhen I was in seminary, my professor had us read James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom as part of our course on Spiritual Formation. This book, as I have posted previously, would have a profound influence not only on my personal faith journey but also on my hesitant and wobbly first steps into college teaching. But just because I found it incredibly insightful (or may I say “thick”?), many of the students struggled with the book, and asked questions like:

 

 

Why read this?

Is this just an attempt to convert us to Anglicanism?

Why isn’t it more practical?

What is the relevance of endless conversations about liturgy for low-church evangelicals?

What does this have to do with the nuts and bolts of life in the trenches of every day pastoral ministry?

conference programThis week I have been privileged to sit in a three-day conference devoted to exploring the practical outworking, as we considered the question: what does this discussion of thick practices, secular vs. cultural liturgies, and humans being primarily creatures of worship and creatures of desire, mean for Christian formation in our churches?

Together with people from a variety of academic, pastoral and lay backgrounds, we gathered at Tyndale University College for the Desiring the Kingdom conference. James K.A. Smith led us through a variety of plenary sessions where he explained his premise in non-academic, accessible language. And we had a variety of breakout workshops that attempted to look at the practical implications and methods of incorporating these ideas about human flourishing and formation into the various ministries.

We have people working with children’s ministry; youth ministry; catechesis; seniors’ ministry; worship; and intercessory ministries.

We had lifelong Anglicans who are asking what role does the Book of Common Prayer have in the 21st century, especially in reaching disenfranchised cradle Anglicans who have walked away from the church and want nothing to do with what they perceive to be “lifeless, repetitive, empty and rote” liturgy.

We had evangelicals, both on and off the Canterbury trail, who are drawn to the richness of liturgy but who are unsure how to incorporate it and/or prevent it from becoming “lifeless, repetitive, empty and rote.”

We had teachers and pastors who are trying to figure out how to teach the faith to unchurched or dechurched people (and let’s face it, even most of the Christians in our pews are more like dechurched people given how little Scripture and theology they know).

We had people from dioceses where there hasn’t been active, intentional children’s ministry in their churches for years and now they are ill-equipped to teach children the Gospel.

We had people who are raising children and have thought that it was primarily the church’s job to teach their kids about Christianity, and have no resources for beginning to incorporate formation and teaching in their homes.

And I’m participating as both a PhD student, with an eye to how this applies to an educational context, and as a layperson (training to become a licensed lay reader), wanting to serve my church in the areas of catechesis and worship.

The message, the examples, and the strategies that have been offered in this gathering of Christians boil down to this: Christianity has something to offer to a broken and hurting world. It may not be flashy. It may not be “relevant” in the way that culture shallowly defines it. It may not be pretty. It may not be easy. But, the practices of Christian formation, of gospeling, of praying, of gathering as a community to worship, of practicing hospitality, of reading Scripture, of discipleship and teaching, offer a vision of the world and of humanity that the world is desperately seeking.

And, there are people, brothers and sisters in Christ, who are willing to serve, to minister, and to lean into these thick practices so as to participate with the Holy Spirit in pulling back the curtain and allowing the world to glimpse the amazing event of God revealed in Christ.

If you’d like to a peek at some of the discussions, check out #DesKingdomConf.

 

 

 

A Day in the Life of An Introvert

introvert name tag

Manda: I need to figure out which church to attend this weekend.

Introverted Manda: why not just go where we went last week?

Manda: because part of the benefit of being in the big city for school is that I’ll get to experience a bunch of new opportunities.

Introverted Manda: whose dumb idea was that?

Manda: Mine. Now let me figure out the streetcar routes.

Introverted Manda: you know, if we go where we went last week you don’t need to figure all that out because you can just walk.

Manda: shhhh.

Introverted Manda: how many churches are on your list to check out?

Manda: six.

Introverted Manda: six?! That’s too many! Remember, your husband is a psychologist and remember how  he likes to go on and on about the paradox of choice? Listen to him. Let’s just go back to the church from last week.

Manda: no.

Introverted Manda: but the church we went to last week is big. You can hide. You can sit through the service and not be pestered by nosy extroverts.

Manda: shhh.

Introverted Manda: the church you went to last week has contemporary worship. You like contemporary worship.

Manda: I know that.

Introverted Manda: and they share communion every week. That’s very important.

Slothful Manda: hey why don’t we just skip church and go see a movie instead?

Manda and Introverted Manda: NO!

* Sometime Sunday afternoon*

Chuck: So where did you go to church this week?

Manda: the same church as last week. 😳

The Practice of Prayer Beads

Today, for Throwback Thursday (#TBT), and continuing this week’s theme of spiritual practices, I’m posting a reflection I wrote in the summer of 2013 on the gift of a set prayer beads given to me while I was in the hospital.  Enjoy!

 

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The Lost Week.

The yellow sickly-sweet smell of jaundice, iodine and antiseptic.

The flurry of nurses, doctors, and diagnostic tests.

The haze of pain meds, sedatives and general anesthetic.

An ambulance ride from the local hospital to the big city hospital for a specialized procedure, and then back to the local hospital for surgery.

It wasn’t the plan for the week, but one trip to the emergency room changed everything.

The four walls of the hospital room were giant white walls that blocked out the world. Cut off from family. Cut off from life.

The dark shadows of fear and sickness and despair crept from the corners and overwhelmed the room.

God was an abstraction, blocked out by those impenetrable hospital walls.

There was no praying. 

There was no worship.

There was no seeing or feeling anything beyond those four white walls.

I was alone. And my faith was failing me.

And then, that mild Saturday evening, day three of my seven day sentence, the pastor arrived. She was quiet and sweet and kind-hearted, just as she was every Sunday at church. She came and she listened. She chatted. She told stories. The dark shadows began to recede back into the corners, held at bay, even just for a little while.

Can I pray with you? She said. And then she pulled out a present: a string of Anglican prayer beads.

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Prayer beads to give rhythm and structure to my prayer instead of flailing words lost and uncertain.

Prayer beads to help me pray the prayers not of my own creation, but the prayers of generations of faithful Christians. I could be carried on the strength of their prayers instead of trying to rely on the weakness of my own.

My God, my God why have you forsaken me. Christ’s prayer would become my prayer.

Prayer beads that, even if I couldn’t say any words, I could physically cling to the cross at the end of the circle of beads. I could hang on to the cross of Christ that for 18 years had been transforming my life.

And so, starting at the cross at the bottom of the circle of beads, I prayed.

 

O Lord make speed to save me. O Lord make haste to help me. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.

 

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden…

 

Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

 

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…

 

Around and around the circle I went for hours, the rhythm pushing back the shadows until dawn broke and the summer sunshine rose to wash over the white walls.

And then came surgery day. After being wheeled back into my room, in pain and groggy, I reached for those brown beads, and held onto them tightly as the sedatives worked on my weary body, calling me to sleep.

And that little circle of beads allowed my soul to rest in the knowledge that those four white walls did not have the power to hold out the Almighty One. There, in the very midst of pain and sickness and suffering, was the One who Suffered. There, in the midst of the doctors’ training, and the nurses’ gentle hands, was the Healer. There, in quiet and stillness of the white walls, was the assurance of Resurrection and Glory.

And that lost week that wasn’t planned turned out to not be such a loss after all.

Enforcing Rest?

sabbath britishThis Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a dire preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs before-hand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations; but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Westminster Confession of Faith 21.8)

 

 

Should “rest” be mandatory? The Ten Commandments include an exhortation to keep the 7th day holy, not only through an act of worship, but also through the act of ceasing (Exodus 20:8-11). Throughout history there have been repeated examples of laws and rules being created to ensure that the day of rest is observed. For example:

  • Pharisees – They were so focused on keeping God’s Law that they had created layers upon layers of rules of what exactly could and could not be done on the Sabbath, rules that were not originally part of God’s institution of Sabbath in the OT.
  • Synod of Elvira (Spain -306) – specific prohibitions about the day of rest that were grouped in 5 categories: no working the land, no judicial acts or public assembly, travel restrictions, no sales of goods, no hunting.
  • Council of Laodicea (363) – outlined expectations of Christians regarding the observance of the Sabbath. Even though Christians were to observe the Lord’s Day, it was not necessary for them to rest on the Lord’s Day. Instead, the council offered instructions focusing on which day (Saturday or Sunday) should be set aside for worship but rest was “only for those who are able to do so.”
  • Council of Macon (585) – all local businesses (not just Christian businesses) must be closed on the Lord’s Day to observe rest.
  • Ireland (9th century) – no writing, haircuts, bathing, baking or housecleaning on Sundays.
  • Reformation – For a brief time in England, Protestant churches specifically allowed and encouraged their congregations to work, so as to rebel against the edict by the Roman Catholic Church that outlawed work on Sunday.
  • 20th Century– Even Canada had rules in place banning stores from being open on Sunday in observance of the Lord’s Day, whether they were Christian or not. (Ontario abolished the Sunday shopping ban in 1992)

And while some (many?) of the rules noted above seem legalistic and even downright absurd, I wonder if the 21st century church, in its attempt to be relevant to a 24 hour/7 day a week culture, could learn from this. Not in a “let’s tell society that they must rest” kind of way, but in a “how can we as Christians practice rest in such a way that is a witness and light to a culture that is “on” all the time?” kind of way.

Of course, it would be helpful to define “rest” which I will do in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

Canadian Christianity — The Anglican Church of Canada General Synod

The Anglican Church of Canada just completed their General Synod. One of the resolutions presented at this synod was for the 2016 General Synod to consider amending canon XXI on marriage to include same-sex marriage. At the moment there are nearly a dozen dioceses that have authorized same-sex blessings, viagra and while it has been repeatedly emphasized that the blessings are not the same as marriage, critics have pointed out that it’s only a matter of time before the blessing ceremony is replaced with a marriage rite.

Malcolm, who attended the synod, notes that the process for voting on the resolution “went sideways”:

We had earlier dealt with a motion directing the Council of General Synod to initiate a process leading to a draft canon permitting Anglican clergy to solemnize same sex marriages. Several things went or nearly went sideways during the debate. Very conservative bishop Stephen Andrews and very liberal dean Peter Elliott combined to propose an amendment that outlined the consultative and theological work required. A brilliant bit of drafting, it offered some assurance to conservatives that their concerns would be heard. Unfortunately the original mover and seconded did not immediately understand what was being proposed and offered up a subamendment that would have cut the guts out of the very eirenic amendment. The subamendment, fortunately, was defeated.
After a very rational debate, the amendment passed. Then things decided to go sideways again.  A very few people called for question after almost no debate at all on the resolution as amended, the Primate called for the vote and off we went for a break.  When we returned, the Primate acknowledged this error, and also that he’d missed a valid request for a vote by orders….

The Anglican Journal has reflections from both sides, including Gene Packwood’s concern:

…changing the marriage canon to allow the marriage of same-gender couples in church would only hasten the decline in membership and revenues of the church. “I come from Alberta, and when the ELCIC [Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada] made a decision just for the same-sex blessings, 35 congregations left in Alberta alone and their budget declined by 25 per cent.”

Also, two blogs (Anglican Essentials and Anglican Samizdat) associated with Anglicans who are affiliated with the Anglican Network in Canada, have posted comments, including Peter’s observation that:

I do remember how many folk on the other side of the argument about 10 or so years ago were at pains to point out this was about blessings, not marriage – marriage was not going to be touched. We were not fooled by that, even then.

As someone who is new to the Anglican tradition, I find all of this fascinating and perplexing. I’m left with so many questions.

Is it truly inevitable that the definition of marriage will be altered?

Is it possible to have two definitions of marriage on the books? Or does that become a logistical, theological and pastoral minefield?

If the resolution passes in 2016 and 2019, and the definition of marriage is changed, what does this mean for the conservative parishes and dioceses? Will more churches decide to align with either the ANiC or the Catholic Ordinariate?

What does this mean for the relationship of the ACoC with the broader Anglican Communion? Will this hasten the acceptance of the ANiC as a valid Anglican tradition in communion with Canterbury? Or will it further fracture the cracks in the broader Communion?

Is the definition of marriage merely a “non-essential” or does it in some way reflect larger, “essential” theological disagreements?

I’d love to hear thoughts from Anglicans from both sides of this issue.