Thursday, October 16, 2014

Why do you do that?! - Why Only Ordained Clergy May Preside at the Eucharist

Among those who come from a “free church” background, the question of why Holy Communion can only be administered by a priest or bishop in Anglican churches comes up frequently.  I will attempt to answer the question from all three “streams” of the Anglican Tradition (the evangelical commitment to Scripture, the charismatic sensitivity to the Spirit and the catholic concern to remain in line with “that which has been believed at all times, everywhere and by all).  I will begin first with the Scriptures.  
In 1 Corinthians St. Paul tackles a whole host of issues in this rather dysfunctional congregation.  In chapter 11 Paul has to say to them, “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.”  He is talking about their gathering together for communion.  They are not maintaining any form of “order.”  Some have nothing to share while others are getting drunk with excess.  This Paul cannot “commend” them for.  Rather, he chastises them and he summarizes his instruction on the topic with this injunction, “So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat [the Body and Blood], wait for one another.” (1 Cor. 11.33).  Later on in the letter, Paul has to confront these same believers about the way their exercise of spiritual gifts is also disordered.  Here again, there is chaos, and here again Paul gives concrete instruction on how to overcome the chaos, leaving off with these words, “But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14.40).  Clearly Paul has in mind an orderly church where proper conduct is valued and where everything (both the exercise of spiritual gifts and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper) is done in an orderly and “right” fashion.  
In his letter to Timothy, Paul will give similar instructions about the preaching, teaching and proclamation of the gospel.  He says, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2.2).  Here there is a clear understanding of a personal passing on of apostolic teaching and apostolic authority.  Again, this reveals the New Testament concern for order within the Church.
The New Testament talks about 3 distinct offices within the Church which are variously tasked with the duties of eldership, oversight and service.  It is no coincidence that within the life of the Church these have become known as “Holy Orders,” the bishops (overseers), presbyters/priests (elders) and deacons (servants) of the New Testament.  The Church has always understood the role of the overseer and presbyter both as being charged with these tasks of safeguarding and passing on the apostolic teaching and preaching AND along with it, safeguarding the orderly celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  So, presbyters (or bishops when they are available) are the only ones in the Church who are authorized to celebrate Communion, because only by their oversight can they ensure that the Supper is celebrated according to proper order and with the right spirit and understanding of the Apostolic teaching surrounding the sacrament.  In the early church, and to this day in Eastern Orthodoxy, every duly ordained priest was/is given an antimins which is embroidered with the signature of the bishop so that the faithful can be assured that the Eucharist that this priest leads is being celebrated reverently, in order and under the authority of the apostolic authority of the bishop.  Similarly, in Western churches this is why traditionally the bishop’s chair can be found in every parish church, located somewhere near the altar.
Likewise, seeking understanding from the “charismatic” stream we know that in the life of the Church, the presbyters and bishops are those servants of Christ who have been anointed by the Spirit with the laying on of hands and prayer for these rather specific tasks.  We uphold firmly the priesthood of all believers.  But we also know that Paul talks at length about the varied nature of the gifts that God gives to the Church.  Not all members of the Body are eyes, or ears or hands (cf. 1 Corinthians 12).  The Body needs every member’s participation and ministry in order to be whole, but not every member carries the same roles, rights or responsibilities.  It is the God ordained (that is why we use that term) and Spirit empowered and anointed task of the clergy to preside over the Table.
Which leads finally to the “catholic” understanding of the matter.  In the Creeds the Church has always affirmed that She is not only one, holy and apostolic (as we have understood it above - safeguarding and adhering to the apostolic teaching) but also that She is “catholic.”  This term comes from a Greek phrase consisting of two words kata - meaning “according to”, and holon - meaning, “the whole”.  So at it’s root, catholicity means “according to the whole.”  In the ancient understanding and practice the church was an ecclesia catholikos - a gathering (that is what the word church/ecclesia literally means) according to the whole.   In the ancient Church, according to the whole, was understood as a tangible expression of the eschatological (meaning, looking toward Christ’s second coming and the final ushering in of His Kingdom) gathering together of all of Gods people, expressed concretely in the present around the Eucharistic Table.  
The Eucharistic prayer of the Didache (c. 100 AD) instructs the Celebrant to pray, “Just as this loaf was scattered all over the mountains, and having been brought together was made one, so let your Church be gathered from the ends of the earth in your Kingdom.” From this Greek Orthodox theologian John Zizioulos concludes, “It was a clear indication that, although the catholicity of the Church is ultimately an eschatological reality, its nature is revealed and realistically apprehended here and now in the Eucharist.” (emphasis mine).  
What this means is that the Lord’s Table is not meant to be something celebrated in a “private” or “intimate” setting in the first place.  This was one of the great advances of the Protestant Reformation - recovering the understanding that a lone priest uttering the words of the Mass by himself in a chapel somewhere overthrew the Lord’s intention for His Supper.  The Supper is for all of God’s people to come together around God’s Table to remember AND to proclaim and even, as much as is possible in the present, embody and enact the coming Kingdom in and through the public celebration of the Eucharist.  In order to embody the greatest possible wholeness of the Body, as many of the Orders of the Church as possible should be involved in the Eucharistic celebration.  In other words, just as the Supper’s intention is overthrown by being celebrated only by a lone priest, so too it would be overthrown by being celebrated by only a group of laity together without the presence of a priest (and preferably a deacon, and of course the bishop if he is available).   

So we see from the concerns of St. Paul in the Scriptures, from an understanding of the diversity and unity of the Spirit's gifts and from the catholic understanding and practice of the church why only those ordained for the task can be allowed to preside over the Eucharist. It is a matter of New Testament order, Spirit given anointing for the specific task and in keeping with the catholic faith and practice held “at all times, everywhere, by all” as an eschatological proclamation of Christ’s coming Kingdom.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why do you do that?!

The Ember Days

Well, as promised in my earlier post on Rogation Days, I owe you an explanation of the Ember Days.  There are four sets of Ember Days, corresponding to the four seasons of the year.  The winter Ember Days are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in the 3rd Week of Advent.  The Spring Ember Days are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in the First (full) Week of Lent, the summer Ember Days, begin tomorrow as the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday (are you seeing  the pattern here) of the first week in Pentecost.  And the Fall Ember Days will be (you guessed it) the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following September 14th (The Feast of the Holy Cross).

The specific origin of the Ember Days is not exactly known.  They were never observed in the Eastern Orthodox churches so they are strictly associated with the Christian West.  Sources are fairly clear that in England the observance of these days originated with Augustine the first Archbishop of Canterbury. So it doesn't get much more Anglican than that!

The Ember Days were set aside as special days of prayer and fasting.  According to Pope Leo (ca. 400) the idea was to carry spiritual discipline and the Law of Abstinence into every season of the year.  The Days have also been deemed particularly appropriate for scheduling ordinations.  As such they have traditionally carried a particular significance for the ordained ministers of the Church and those in the formation process.  It is not unusual for bishops to require their ordination candidates and sometimes even their clergy to write them an Ember Day letter to share their growth, struggles and overall progress in the formation process.

As with all of the observances of the Christian Calendar, the root idea is to remind ourselves, and proclaim to the world, that our God is a God who is sovereign over time.  Our days, weeks, months and years are all under the watchful care of the Eternal One.  And as always, days of prayer and fasting are set to remind us that we are not controlled by our need to produce wealth or feed our stomachs.  "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well."

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why do you do that?!

Rogation what?! 

So, what are the Rogation Days?  These are the three days leading up to the Feast of the Ascension (always Thursday in the 6th Week of Easter).  The name comes from the Latin rogate (long o, short a, short e) which means, "ask ye" or in contemporary English, "y'all ask."  Traditionally these are days of prayer and even fasting making supplication to God for seasonable weather, rain and a bountiful harvest during the Spring season of planting.  

That these days remain a part of our liturgical calendar (despite the fact that a good number of us no longer live our lives tied to the agrarian cycles of planting and harvest) is a reminder that the Church still takes very seriously the mission of all believers as a Kingdom of Priests unto God.  To pray for planting and harvest reminds us that it is our priestly duty to make intercession for all spheres of society.  Often we can get caught up in focusing our prayers narrowly on our own needs and the needs of those immediately around us.  But through myriad ways, the Rogation Days being only one example, the Church calls us to participate with Christ in making intercession for every aspect of our society and our world.

We'll talk about the Ember Days some other time.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

You Believe What?!

In light of my recent sermon from Revelation 5 I thought I would re-post this on an Anglican approach and understanding of the role of the Saints.

Lex Orandi Lex Credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief)
One of Anglicanisms favorite sayings is that as we pray so we believe. If you want to understand the Anglican theology of baptism or Eucharist, start by reading through the baptismal and eucharistic liturgies. This principle is also seen in Anglicanism's approach toward the Saints.

Do you venerate the saints?
There is another good question that I get all the time. Anglicanism recognizes a lot of the "official" saints of the Church and even marks their feast days. We celebrate All Saints Day in November as one of the principle feasts of the Christian year. Yet, you claim to be Protestant?! Explain yourself. And so to answer lets take a look at the following prayer and see what it teaches us about Anglicanism's balanced approach toward the Saints.

"Leader: The righteous live forever more;
Response: Their reward also is with the Lord.
Leader: O God the King of Saints, we praise and magnify thy holy Name for all thy servants  who have finished their course in thy faith and fear, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the  holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles and Martyrs, and for all other thy righteous servants;  and we beseech thee that, encouraged by their example, strengthened by their fellowship,  and aided by their prayers, we may attain unto everlasting life; through the merits of thy  Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." ~ From the Scottish Book of Common Prayer

Note a couple things right off: First, this prayer begins with Scripture, reminding us of the promises of Psalm 37 and the words of Jesus about our reward in Heaven. As always, Anglicanism holds Scripture as THE final authority in questions of belief. Note also that the prayer is not addressed directly to any saint, but rather to God the King of Saints. God is glorified in his people both living and dead and it is ultimately to Him that all our praise is due and to Him all our prayers addressed. He is the source of all good things and so we give Him all thanks for the gift of godly examples.

But then note how the prayer goes on from this foundation, it recognizes the reality of that very first statement, the righteous do live forevermore. They are in fact still living in the very Presence of God before his throne. And as such, we can look to their example of godly living. How many of us benefit from reading the writings and biographies of these great men and women of faith. We can also recognize that the Church is one Church comprised of both those who are here now as well as those who have gone before, one Church in Heaven and Earth. As such we know that when we bow our heads in prayer or when we join together in the words of a hymn or the liturgy, we are praying with all of the "Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven" (ie the Saints) who forever sing their hymns and pray their prayers before the Father. We really do have fellowship with these and that thought should inspire joy and hope in us. And finally we recognize that they are always praying and worshipping around the throne, so why should we not expect that the members of the Church at rest should not be praying for us the members who are still fighting the good fight here? I have often heard it said, if you go ahead and ask your brother or sister at church to pray for you, why wouldn't you want a brother or sister who has been fully sanctified and who stands face to face with the Father praying for you? In the Revelation we see the prayers of the saints going up from under the altar of God just like incense. Who are they praying for? Certainly not themselves. They have no needs. I believe it is more than reasonable to assert that they are in fact praying for the faithful who have not yet departed - you and me. And that is a very encouraging thought indeed. One which we should pray and thank God for.

And finally, we note once again that all this is done through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord. All prayer is offered in Jesus' name because he is our Great High Priest. All the work of salvation that we and the saints in Glory have experienced comes to us because of him. Our prayers, and theirs are only acceptable because of Him. Even the saints themselves are only acceptable because of the work of Christ that has made them so.

So, there you have it. The Anglican approach toward the saints. They are there. They encourage us through example and through prayer. And their lives are lived only to the Glory of God the Father and His only Son Jesus Christ our Lord, through the Power of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

You Believe What?!

Entering Reverently into Holy Mysteries.

In the Anglican Calendar (along with all of Western Christianity) we are now wrapping up the first week of Advent, the season of preparation, making our hearts ready to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas, as well as to prepare to greet him upon his return at the Last Day.  As we enter more deeply into this season I thought it a good idea to publish the Exhortation.  This Exhortation appears in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and it is recommended to be read occasionally in public worship, especially in penitential seasons.  So, as we seek to prepare our hearts this Advent, consider what this Exhortation calls us toward.

"Beloved in the Lord: Our Savior Christ, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as a sign and pledge of his love, for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, and for a spiritual sharing in his risen life. For in these holy Mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members one of another. 

Having in mind, therefore, his great love for us, and in obedience to his command, his Church renders to Almighty God our heavenly Father never-ending thanks for the creation of the world, for his continual providence over us, for his love for all mankind, and for the redemption of the world by our Savior Christ, who took upon himself our flesh, and humbled himself even to death on the cross, that he might make us the children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and exalt us to everlasting life. But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup. For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body. Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord. 

Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food. And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith. 

To Christ our Lord who loves us, and washed us in his own blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory in the Church evermore. Through him let us offer continually the sacrifice of praise, which is our bounden duty and service, and, with faith in him, come boldly before the throne of grace."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The liturgy as Christian response to evil and death...

Check out my post on the Christ Our Hope blog.  In it I explore the way the Christian liturgy (specifically in our case the Anglican liturgy) is an act of dissidence against the evil and death that our community has recently witnessed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

You Believe Whaat?!

So, what does the Anglican Church believe about the Holy Spirit?

This coming Sunday is the celebration of Pentecost, the Jewish Feast on which the Holy Spirit descended in Power upon the 12 Apostles.  In today's Church different sects and denominations hold widely differing views of the Spirit and His role in the life of the Church and the believer.  So where exactly does the Anglican Church stand on this important theological point?

Well, of course we need to first note that the Anglican Church stands in line with Christ's One Holy catholic (meaning universal) and Apostolic Church.  In the universal Creeds of the Church we affirm that we believe in the Holy Spirit and that He is the Lord and Giver of Life.  But what of his activity in today's Church?  Well, we cannot deny our story and what we have experienced.

In 1929 a discouraged English missionary to Rwanda named Joe Church traveled to Kampala, Uganda for a few weeks of respite.  While there Mr. Church searched the Scriptures and came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit that, “There can be nothing to stop a real outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Rwanda now except our own lack of sanctification.”[1] Church returned to his post in Gahini, Rwanda where he began to fervently pray for personal and national revival.  The Lord answered those prayers and within weeks Joe Church led a number of people through the process of conversion to Christ.  Additionally, many of the local Christians became deeply convicted that they were not loving and honoring their neighbors the way Christ would want them to. 

The result was a massive outpouring of repentance.  As the people repented the Lord continued to pour out the gifts of His Holy Spirit.  Not only were relationships healed but sicknesses and infirmities of all kinds were miraculously cured.  The tidal wave of God’s Spirit was unleashed.  This revival quickly spread like wildfire into Uganda and Kenya.  Thousands upon thousands turned to the Lord Jesus as Savior or returned from their wanderings to follow him as Lord.  This was a rebirth and indeed the dawning of a new chapter in the Church in Africa.  Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this revival is its lasting affect.  Even today most East Africans will trace their own conversion and the faith of their family to the Revival.  The Spirit is still surging through Africa, turning hearts toward God, healing and revealing Himself to the believers there.

This reality is a real challenge to the image of Anglican churches as stuffy, dead museums devoted to an antiquated tradition.  Certainly and sadly many churches in the West fit that description.  But across the globe Anglicans of many tongues, tribes and nations continue to experience the vibrant, enlivening, surging power of the Third Person of the Trinity.  We cannot deny our corporate experience nor the witness of saints throughout the ages who knew the transforming power of God.  We believe in the Holy Spirit!

[1] As quoted in the article, New Dawn in East Africa: The East African Revival, Michael Harper, Christian History and Biography, January 1986.