Postmodern Episcopal Meltdown

Answering questions about the loss of liturgy in modern Protestantism and the loss of just about everything in the modern Episcopal Church.

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9 Responses to Postmodern Episcopal Meltdown

  1. Father Thorpus says:

    At the end, there’s something to be said for the role of the laity in preserving the faith. Pastors come and go – unfortunately, both bishops and priests are hired hands. Lay people have more staying power in a local congregation and – over time – more power to determine the theological identity of the parish. Lay people who are concerned that “this could happen in our little church” need to be sure that they are teaching Sunday School, leading bible studies, singing in the choir, serving on the Vestry, etc. The Church cannot afford to be without the influence of those faithful whom God has strategically placed inside the Church but outside of the clergy. This is true in transition times, such as the choosing of a new local pastor; but it’s even more true over the long term.

    In America, we’re used to transient churchmanship that makes the same mistake about the local congregation that the worshipers in these amazing videos make about worship: that going to church is all about me and what I get out of it. If something’s not right, the usual response is to leave or stop giving or some other form of withdrawl. We end up all being fair-weather churchmen, drifting into whichever church serves our desires. Perhaps this is the trend that gave us megachurches.

    But this is the sin of despair, the sin of giving up on God’s patient, inexorable influence through us on the world around us. The (paraphrased) advice of Mordecai applies to lay people: God may have raised you up for just such a time as this; if you abdicate that responsibility, deliverance will come to God’s people through another quarter, but you and your house will bear the consequences of your own faithlessness. The difficult truth is that theological drift could well happen to your little parish, given the wider environment of TEC. And God has placed you there as a sentry and support, without any caveats that you only have to labor in His field only so long as people like you, or you like them, or no one offends you, or the priest is likable, or even any caveat about the priest’s orthodoxy. There will always be heretics in the Body of Christ; some will always be clergy; one may be near you. The Kingdom of God is a net cast wide, containing all manner of fish, and only at the end of time will the angels sit down and sort good from bad. In the meantime we all bear the responsibility of keeping the Church orthodox; which is to say, keeping the Church the Church.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      It is very true that the Church would never survive without faithful lay people. I think of all the grandmothers in Russia who kept icons hidden beneath the floorboards in their homes during the years of communism. Or the great saints of the early Church, like the great Anglican saint Alban, who gave their lives as faithful lay men and women, doing more through their blood than a thousand stipend-receiving clergy sitting on their collective butts could ever do.

    • Brian says:

      Fr. Thorpus, thank you for this. You DON’T always have to like or agree with someone in order to remain in fellowship (communion). Not to minimize the conflicts in TEC, but I thank God for priests like Fr. Jonathan, yourself and (we are so grateful!) our own parish priests who despite the pressures, stresses, and even attacks, remain faithful to their office, flocks, and Church. I join with MichaelA in his related post — I am in prayer for you, Fr. J., my own Frs. Bill and Jim, and all bishops, priests, and deacons

  2. Rev. Daniel says:

    Excellent article on our need for the common liturgy (and for understanding it); I agree with your basic proposal that we tend to turn the service of God into a self-service, and I will certainly be sharing this with some of my fellow Methodist pastors. I wonder, however, if perhaps you underestimate the power that a personal and intimate experience of the Holy Spirit (as perhaps was being experienced by some of the folks in the videos) can have to dramatically transform a person’s life in deeply counter-cultural ways. Sometimes we don’t see the same transformation of character in persons who attend church and hear the word and receive communion regularly for years and years.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Rev. Daniel,

      You seem to be framing “a personal intimate experience of the Holy Spirit” as something that happens apart from receiving God’s Word and His Sacraments. This is actually my chief objection to Methodism. Of course people can and do have personal and intimate experiences of the Holy Spirit, but those experiences come through God’s chosen means, His Word, water, bread and wine. Apart from these things, we have no objective assurance from God of His presence. With them, we have every assurance of a deep and abiding relationship with Him, regardless of how we feel on any given day or what our subjective sense of that relationship might be. This is where I think that Wesley’s inner warming of the heart falls flat, not because I would deny his experience, but because by generalizing that experience as something all Christians need, he unwittingly made the search for such an experience into an unattainable idol. So often that search leads Christians to despair as they try to feel around for something that seems more like God to them than the Christ who has already come to them through the promise of His Word.

      • Stephen Stephen says:

        An area we can completely agree on, Fr. J.
        I think it is unfortunate that so many Protestant denominations have moved to an area where Faith is all about ‘Feelings’, and a personal relationship with Christ hinges more on what you ‘feel’ than on what you know, share and express through your Faith journey.
        Sacraments, for some of these denominations, has been relegated to an ignorant past’ and waving one’s hands and dancing about is the current norm.
        I have close friends who are Baptist and even saying the word ‘Sacrament’ has such a negatvie affect on them that it becomes hard to explain the joy I experience in receiving Communion to them. To them it’s nothing but an empty Ritual, but to me it provides a humble closeness to my Lord that is unlike any ‘feeling’ I’ve ever had.

  3. MichaelA says:

    Fr. Jonathon, you are a cleric in TEC who speaks out. We are praying for your protection (and that is only half said in jest).

  4. Harold Stassen says:

    White folks pretending to be funky-it’s just sad. So very, very sad.

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