Sunday, August 24, 2008

On the History of Authority

I must say that today's sermon from Fr. Foss is probably beyond my authority to critique, but that has never stopped me before, so here goes nothing.
As I heard it, the rector started by giving us the history of empire as he understands it:

Authorities and Empires fall (no mention of cause and effect).

Then exercising his right as an authority, he cast America as the authority figure Pharaoh and predicted the fall of (here it comes again) the "American Empire" in the next 100-200 years.

And you thought the Episcopal Church was a non-prophet organization.

Then, we jumped back to the next authority mentioned in today's readings in Matthew 16:13-20, "Petros" (AKA the Catholic Church), the infallible Bishop of Rome and his measly 2000 year dynasty. We then bounced up to the Protestant Reformation, Luther, and the rapid splintering of Protestantism into "37,000" sects in part because of the notion of the "infallible" Bible. (What about the printing press, literacy, and those people translating Bibles?)

The next prophesy we heard was that at some point in the future the "infallible" Bible will be history and a new age will be born. In this future age we will actually live with God as the authority. This time was described as a cozy Church family of congregants doing good because that was all that one need do. Somehow we bypassed how to get from point "A" to point "B" without studying the Bible, and no mention of how Jesus might get us to point "B" (I guess it was assumed that we already knew that).

Charlie did not directly cite today's reading from Romans 12:1-8, but you can rest assured the lines,
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-- what is good and acceptable"

must be the only thing we were to hear as authoritative today. (And don't dare read ahead to Romans 13.)

So why all the BCP mumbo jumbo. Why the Eucharist?

If I was lost before, to whom and or to what am I to turn? Forget the Bible, it's a fallible construct of man. I am lost in the desert and left to my mind's devices. Maybe I should call Sears and order an idol of a golden calf. If I do not refer back to the Biblical history of the Hebrews what will stop me?

I think Charlie wandered way off the orthodox path and my fear is that someone might follow him.
The following perspective from the CoE newspaper may sound more authoritative than my rant,
"A Church under judgement"

Source: Church of England Newspaper, August 22 edition, pg. 23
By Andrew Carey

"At the recent Lambeth Conference I had a couple of conversations with so-called 'conservative' Americans, both amongst the press and the bishops. I was even able to give the Bishop of Springfield (no relation to 'The Simpsons') some pointers on the rules of cricket as we snatched five minutes in the bar to watch England being clinically defeated by South Africa.

Their depressing and urgent situation in The Episcopal Church becomes ever clearer over time, despite all of the efforts of their liberal church leaders to try and persuade the rest of the Anglican Communion that really we're just like you. Close watchers of the US, and readers of this newspaper, will be more aware than most of the state of that Church. Heterodoxy is never punished, whereas orthodox impatience is the subject of lawsuits all over the country. And the amount of heterodoxy uttered in The Episcopal Church is truly astonishing. Even leaving aside the virtual atheism of Bishop Spong's 'Twelve Theses', we've had bishops claim that the church can 're-write the Bible', others make sweeping apologies for Christian mission to those of other faiths, while the Presiding Bishop views Jesus as just one way among many.

Furthermore, they've had scandals the likes of which would destroy the Church of England in the eyes of the world, with our much more effective national press conducting the funeral rites. They've had thrice-divorced bishops, a child-abusing bishop, as well as one who's covered up sex abuse by his brother, a priest. There's been a drug-dealing priest, others who've been exposed in a pornographic magazine for engaging in bizarre sex with Brazilians. This is truly only the tip of the iceberg. Any one or two of these cases would have been a national scandal in Britain, in the US it's only a few column inches.

With whole parishes and dioceses deserting the national Church amid such widespread heterodoxy and scandal, followed by a wave of litigation and squabbling over property, it's impossible to see The Episcopal Church as anything other than a disaster area. If there ever was a Church under the judgment of God, it is this one."

I accept that God is the final authority. I do not accept the notion that you can be a Christian congregation without Biblical and earthly authorities. And I know well the need to question authority and I accept the consequences of raising these questions.
Lack of authority in the Episcopal Church is one reason behind the fall of the Episcopal Empire (which was one empire not mentioned today).

We left the Church singing "O Zion, Haste" Following the instructions in the hymn, I publish it here.
O Zion, haste, thy mission high fulfilling,
to tell to all the world that God is Light;
that he who made all nations is not willing
one soul should fail to know his love and might.
Publish glad tidings: tidings of peace
tidings of Jesus, redemption and release.

Behold how many thousands still are lying
bound in the darksome prison house of sin,
with none to tell them of the Savior's dying,
or of the life he died for them to win. Refrain

'Tis thine to save from peril of perdition
the souls for whom the Lord his life laid down;
beware lest, slothful to fulfill thy mission,
thou lose one jewel that should deck his crown. Refrain

Proclaim to every people, tongue, and nation
that God, in whom they live and move, is Love;
tell how he stooped to save his lost creation,
and died on earth that all might live above. Refrain

Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious;
give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;
pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious
till God shall bring his kingdom's joyful day. Refrain

He comes again! O Zion, ere thou meet him,
make known to every heart his saving grace;
let none whom he hath ransomed fail to greet him,
through thy neglect, unfit to see his face. Refrain

Words: Mary Ann Faulkner Thomson, 1870

But by what authority can I publish glad tidings in this new age without my fallible Bible? The new age religion, by it's rejection of the Bible is not going to have any authority with which to help people find The Way. There will be "none to tell them of the Savior's dying."


  1. TEC has worked itself into an interesting conundrum: Using one's authority to challenge the authority of others, while carefully protecting one's own authority. Angrily lashing out at any mentioned similarities between the authorities and empires they despise and their own empire and authority.

    I'm also thinking that maybe they won't want to use that hymn again with its references to a "darksome prison house of sin" and a "Savior" who died to "ransom" them and the claim that anyone is "unfit to see his face".

    Well, I guess they still like the part about "give of thy wealth".

  2. Where do I begin? Our illustrious leader presented so many points that require refutation in today's sermon that I am a bit awestruck.

    However, let me begin with one of my old favorites: moral relativism. Charlie is of the opinion that there are no absolutes. No good and evil, no black and white, no right and wrong...only shades of gray. In his ethical confusion, he believes that we should tolerate all viewpoints and, presumably, all actions because they are all good in someone's eyes. However, to negate this ascendancy of individual conscience, it is necessary to have a solid grasp of objective (absolute)truth.

    Apparently, some have trouble understanding this and see the human conscience is necessarily subjective. But John Henry Newman taught us that our conscience is to reflect and obey objective truth, so we must willingly submit our conscience to that Truth. A guilty conscience is important is helping us to do the "right" thing. And doing what is "right" implies a choice between good and evil which are absolutes. The tyranny of moral relativism becomes a threat to the conscience because it could be false. Adolph Hitler, whose conscience was supreme, thought he did what was right. But he wasn't right. Great evil came to the world because of his situational ethics. Good is not whatever we think it is. We believe in God (objective Good) as He has revealed Himself to us. And we accept the teaching authority of the Holy Spirit through Scripture and Tradition. These are the ways in which we find the Truth.

    The fact is that all people are born with a conscience, and we all instinctively know when we have wronged someone or when we have been wronged. Even as little children, we knew the difference between fair and unfair, good and evil. It takes spectacularly bad philosophy to try and convince us that our instincts are wrong.

    Moral relativism has steadily been accepted as the primary moral philosophy of modern society, a culture that was previously governed by a "Judeo-Christian" view of morality. While these "Judeo-Christian" standards continue to be the foundation for civil law, some people hold to the concept that right or wrong are not absolutes, but can be determined by each individual. Moral relativism says that anything goes, because life is essentially without meaning. If the relativists are correct, what need have we of a church? For that matter, if anything goes, and it's all good because I believe it's good, then there is no possibility of "sin" because I believe (with Adolph) that I did nothing wrong. And if there is no sin, what need do we have for a Saviour to redeem us?

    Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it?

  3. Anonymous11:24 PM

    So what's new - the Fr is an ultra-liberal. At least he didn't come out and say G D America! Though I think a new nickname is in order for the Fr. How about Chicken Little...

  4. It would seem to me that the Bible is the ultimate authority. Yes, there are human authorities over us, but our submission to them is contingent upon testing them in the crucible of biblical teaching.

    I mean, that's why we're Protestants; so that we can read and study God's Word ourselves as individuals and ask Him to reveal to us His truth.

    Or am I all wet?


  5. Dear r. sherman,
    Last night PBS aired "Battle for the Bible." This was an interesting history of the English Bible, authority, etc, and I would consider good for use in Sunday school class. Indeed, the hard won freedom to read the Bible for oneself was won by the blood of marytrs. When we read, however, what happens when we read it not just for ourselves but for and with others?

  6. Thanks to the UP for reprinting the Church of England newspaper article. For those who may be unaware, the author, Andrew Carey, is an eminent journalist and son of Lord Carey of Clifton, the immediate past Archbishop of Canterbury.

  7. Cato may be interested in reading Albert Mohler’s discussion,
    New God or No God? The Peril of Making God Plausible

    In this he reviews A Plausible God by Mitchell Silver and talks about the New Age God and I quote,

    God is reduced to "deep feelings, fundamental values, basic attitudes, and humane hopes." Many modern people, including both Jews and many who identify as Christians, have, as Rabbi Jonathan Gerard related, "merely lost faith in an older and unacceptable notion of God."
    The new God is a philosophical concept that its proponents use to ground a potential for goodness in the world. When believers in the new God speak of God in personal terms, they do so metaphorically. One key insight in Silver's book is his argument that even secular people need to express gratitude in personal terms. As he explains, "God-talk may be the only language adequate for the expression of certain emotions." Speaking of a personal God in this sense is a "trope" or "just a manner of speaking."
    The new God becomes "whatever there is in nature that makes good things possible." But, lest we over-read this statement, Silver adds: "God has no will, intentions, or desires." In no sense is the new God a personal God. This God is a principle, a concept; not a person.
    The God of the Bible is dismissed as a rational impossibility. Supernaturalism is itself ruled out of bounds within the closed box of the materialist worldview. Many would go further and argue that the God of the Bible is immoral -- ethnocentric, violent, and oppressive. But all this goes away with the new God, who is not a person, does not need to "exist," has no will or intentions, does not intervene in history, and is thus not morally accountable at all. The new God is not an agent who acts, and thus cannot be an immoral agent.
    The old God, the God of the Bible, the God described by Silver as the "God of our fathers," is simply not plausible. Thus, as Silver eloquently suggests, modern secular people turn "from the God of our fathers to the God of our friends."

    h/t T19

  8. Further to moral relativism:

    You have rested your faith on an empty falsehood! Can you possibly imagine that you can steal, murder, fornicate, bear false witness, make sacrifices to Baal, and follow strange gods, and then come before me in this house, which bears my name, and say, “We are safe!”—and all so that you can go right on doing all these abominations?

    Jeremiah 7:8-10

  9. And to where should we look for a moral foundation?

    From Psalm 119 from today's lectionary reading,

    1 Happy are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord.
    2 Happy are those who keep his decrees,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
    3 who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways.
    4 You have commanded your precepts
    to be kept diligently.
    5 O that my ways may be steadfast
    in keeping your statutes!

  10. "To where?" That ain't rite...

  11. "That ain't rite..."

    Are we discussing Rite I or Rite II?

  12. As to the comments regarding moral relativism, including my own, one additional thing occurs to me: while the adult congregation might be capable of appropriate discernment, what about our young people? What about the middle schoolers, high schoolers and young adults who may very well see the rector as a monumental authority figure? Consider that our young people hear the rector telling them that there are no moral absolutes, that there is no right or wrong, that all human action is subject to human interpretation and that they can decide for themselves what is acceptable behaviour. What would be our response to the sixteen year old girl who ends up pregnant and whose justification is that the rector said that if it feels good, do it? What would be our advice to the young lad who was a more than willing participant based upon the same premise? Perhaps we should send the under 25year old crowd out during the sermon the same way that we do the youngsters. They really don't need to hear a sermon telling them that it's OK to make it up as you go along. The road to perdition, perhaps?