Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Bishop Speaks Talk of the Kingdom

The Bishop Speaks Talk of the Kingdom

It was at the point of the Nicene Creed that began “We believe in One God . . .” when the stranger whispered to me saying, “I don’t like this new form of the Creed.” He preferred the one that began with “I believe in One God.” I just smiled at him and nodded my head signifying nothing other than that I had heard him and I think that was all he wanted anyway. I was just a visitor in his church.

It did send me thinking back to when I was serving a congregation that used the I believe form of the Creed. It was a precious thing to a number of the people apparently and so when I began to raise questions about that usage, I encountered resistance.

The response about the Creed was usually offered in anger and went something like: “I don’t know what you believe. I can only speak for myself.” Given this perspective, that form of the Creed made perfect sense. That was the statement of the church for these persons.

So, I began to do a little different kind of teaching. I began to talk about the Creed. The teaching was really quite compelling for a completely unexpected reason. It did not have much to do with the whole notion of Creed. It did not have anything to do with what I believe or what anyone else believed. The thing that was actually compelling was the information that the “We believe” form of the Nicene Creed is the more ancient form. The “I believe” form is a later Latin or Western version.

Once these people understood that I was calling them back to the ancient way, it was all fine. They said, “Well, of course, we would want to do that.” So, they began to use this old form of the Creed with great joy and it was the first step on the journey to an experience of corporate worship.

The thing we need to remember is that doctrine is not delivered by God. We think that God gave us doctrine sometimes and often we behave as if that were the case. Doctrine is not delivered by God (at least not directly). Doctrine is an expression of our experience of God. That is us. That is people. Doctrine is us talking. It is the action of the great councils of the church trying to hammer out the corporate experience of God.

Some of these councils lasted hundreds of years. Some people want to get everything settled, but it is just not going happen that way. This takes a long time because, among other things, people do have different experiences of God. We need not be confused about that. This is why doctrine can change. God does not change, but our experience of God changes all of the time. It is always based on what we bring to the table, what is going on in our lives, and what is going on in the world. This is why doctrine changes.

I believe that leaders in the church need to confront the kind of fear that leads people to worry about the church somehow being preserved. People are worried about the church falling apart. They are afraid that something precious is going to be lost in the shuffle.

This is what I want you to know. Our task is not to save the church. Our task is to be the church. We are the church by being of use to God. That is our purpose and our calling.

The real issue is not be the form of the Creed we use, but rather what we actually believe. It is not as if we hold all of our beliefs in common. It has always been a concern as to how we manage the events of the life of the church. We do this as if it were the ultimate reality. We sometimes forget the nature of our calling.

Jesus did not come to found the Church. Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God is at hand. This is the message we must not lose. The Kingdom of God is at hand, but there are a few problems with it.

One of the nasty things about the Kingdom of God is that it is filled with all kinds of people that you and I might not choose to have there. That is why it is the Kingdom of God and not your kingdom. Your kingdom (and mine I might add) would be much smaller.

So, there you have it. The word of hope. Be of good cheer and know that when you experience the joy of the Christian life that befalls us on the occasions when we actually behave as if we believe, then the Kingdom of God has come near you.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Time to Reconsider Bultmann's Protestant Existentialism


Bultmann died in July 1976, and he was the last of the theological giants of the Kaiser’s Germany. His major teaching position was as professor of New Testament at the University of Marburg from 1921 to 1951. Bultmann, along with Karl Barth, was a major pillar of the neo- orthodox movement in European Protestant in theology after World War 1. Even though Bultmann and Barth had major hermeneutical and theological differences, they agreed on the rejection of the popular classical liberalism of the German theological establishment.

Classical liberal theologians, inspired by Hegelian idealism, had reduced the message of the Christian gospel to a series of moral lessons, with Jesus as the great teacher and exemplar of ethical behavior. As a key figure of the existential neo-orthodox movement Bultmann sought to restore the direct intention of the scriptures themselves and read them as the proclamation of what the real God, acknowledged in all his transcendent sovereignty, had done through Jesus Christ for real and therefore for sinful and undeserving man. The Gospel message is not a series of ethical principles but the announcement of an extraordinary, redeeming event. Man who could not make his way to God on his own is told that God has come to him. The God who is beyond history has acted in history. Through the Christ he has made himself and a saving relationship with him possible for all men. Thus the New Testament is not a set of ethical stories whose morals one might well learn from conscience, though in the Gospels they have an appealing Semitic drama and color. The New Testament is the unexpected good news of God’s work for man. This proclamation, this announcement, this declaration, this promise, this demand is called the kerygma in the New Testament Greek, and it was the neo-orthodoxy concern for the kerygma that became central to New Testament research.


It is in Jesus Christ and Mythology, a small volume of his lectures delivered at Yale Divinity School, 1962, that we get to clearly meet Bultmann, the devout evangelical Lutheran, leading scripture scholar of his day, pastor preacher and significant Protestant existentialist. “We have seen that the task of de-mythologizing received its first impulse from the conflict between the mythological views of the world contained in the Bible and the modern views of the world which are influenced by scientific thinking, and it has become evident that faith itself demands to be freed from any world view produced by man’s thought, whether mythological or scientific. For all human world-views objectivize the world and ignore or eliminate the significance of personal encounters in our personal existence. This conflict shows that in our age faith has not yet become aware of the identity of its ground and object; that it is has not yet genuinely understood the transcendence and hiddenness of God as acting.”

Primarily, I am suggesting a reconsideration of Bultmann’s attack on classic liberalism. James Kay, in his work Christus Praesens, A Reconsideration of Rudolf Bultmann’s Christology, addresses the need to return to the Protestant existential biblical critique of contemporary biblical liberalism. “Bultmann, therefore, regards modern reconstructions of the “historical Jesus” which typically speak of his ‘natural origin,’ his ‘messianic consciousness’ ‘his inner life,’ ‘his heroism’ and his ‘faith’ to be futile exercises in ‘Christ after the flesh.’ In light of Jesus destiny as the turning point of the ages, to portray his personality is to betray his eschatological significance. Such portrayals are now anachronistic for Christian faith…the word proclamation is no mere report about historical incidents or teaching…which could simply be regarded as true


without any transformation of the hearer’s own existence. For the word kerygma, personal address, demand, and promise; it is the very act of divine grace.” (Kay, James F., 1994, P. 44-45)

            The classical old liberalism of Herrmann and Albrecht Ritschl has reappeared in Dorothee Solle’s, Political Christ, Jurgen Moltmann’s Eschatology of Glory, Marcus Borg popular return to  an ethics grounded on the evolution of the Jesus personality doctrine. Bultmann, on the other hand, gives the local community grounded on the kerygma a heft that no other theology in this century provides; it is a profound understanding of the pastoral ministry and the preaching of the word as the primary locus of Christ’s presence in the world. Christ is our contemporary, addressing us with the demand and a promise of grace. Christ presides over our time, and every time, from his place in the pulpit. (Kay, James, F., 1999, P.176)

            Finally, I suggest the reading of James Wellman’s book Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures; it is a well-done piece of research on the failure of the new liberal theology. Also, in the Barna Study of Religious Change since 1991 to 2011, people are looking for churches where they feel a personal relationship with Jesus that is highly applicable to their daily life, i.e. their existential biblical quest.










Saturday, February 9, 2013

10 Things You Should Know About Fasting (Ash Wednesday/Lent 2013)

1.         Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life. These moments maybe found in personal grief, distress, repentance or petition.  These grievous sacred moments also maybe communal and kept through established liturgical days or seasons.             

2.         Fasting means to deny oneself of food and possibly water for a time in response to a sacred moment.  The length of the fast maybe brief such as a sunrise to sunset, or a twenty-four hour period; Moses, Elijah, and Jesus fasted forty days. 

3.         Fasting is not abstinence, which is a choice not to eat or drink specific items even though one is still eating and drinking other items. 

4.         Fasting is not a diet or a health regimen.  Nevertheless, fasting must be done intelligently and in-line with sound medical principles. Many groups of persons should not fast. 

5.         Fasting is found in all the great world religions and philosophies, especially in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  The Bible mentions fasting over 70 times. 

6.         Fasting is not a manipulative tool that guarantees results; it is not a behavior we invoke to get something we want.  ‘God, I fasted; you owe me.’  Fasting is about food!  Be aware that some may attempt to misuse fasting as a form of political protest, such as a carbon fast.  Christians are admonished to fast secretly rather than seeking public notice; therefore fasting as a fund raiser, even for a good cause, is suspect. 

7.         Fasting can liberate us at the deepest level; the tendency is to think that God will love us if we change, but God loves us so that we can change. 

8.         Fasting is an ancient spiritual discipline that calls us to recognize the sacredness of the body. It is not acceptable to believe the body is a monster of desires that needs to be tamed, or a celebrity that needs to be glorified, or a cornucopia which needs to be filled, or a wallflower to be ignored.    

9.         Fasting on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and during the Season of Lent is a voluntary practice of committed Christians; additionally many persons of faith fast on the other Fridays of the year and prior to receiving Communion.    

10.       Fasting does not have to accompany prayer but prayer must always accompany fasting. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Episcopal Patchwork

In a group that has met for years in Kansas City, the varied reasons why the Episcopal Church has become radically different have been discussed over hundreds of occasions. Many of those reasons have been topics of our blog, and perhaps more reasons will be presented. I think each reason has had some validity and usually have had substantive evidence in favor of it. Each reason has also had some tie on to others so that a fabric of explanation seems to weave together. This fabric is what I am most interested in as I see it as a matrix evolving and connecting the whole.

I think a major change in the matrix  began at the ordination of eleven women in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974.  One of the ordaining bishops was Robert DeWitt who had only recently retired from the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Lyman Ogilby was then Bishop of Pennsylvania and who did not participate in the unapproved ordinations at Church of the Advocate in north Philadelphia where Paul Washington, as Rector, allowed them without permission in his church. The justifications for the ordinations had to do with the moral and social  righteousness of the actions by bishops who decided to act individually on their own  opinions of  episcopal authority.  This radical breach of the fabric of tradition and canon law by the bishops was unique insofar as it  had to do with episcopal authority over presbyterate ordination in the Episcopal Church, a central and critical role canonically allowed by a diocesan bishop through the jurisdictional process that  depended on the final and single authority of the bishop to actually ordain someone.

At the time, I lived just a few miles away from the ordination and could have gone as many of my friends did. I did not because of my formal and very personal relationship to Lyman Ogilby as my bishop and very dear friend. While Lyman’s Connecticut Yankee upbringing gave him quite a bit of  lip stiffening, I knew him well enough to know that his friend, Bob Dewitt, and the other participating bishops hurt him deeply as did Paul Washington’s violation by allowing the event in his church. However, Lyman was an old school and loyal graduate of the Episcopal Theological School (EDS) who firmly believed in social justice and therefore sucked up his hurt with little complaint about his violated jurisdiction and authority to manage it.  

Of course, in 1976, the ordinations were regularized.  Soon the new righteousness over female ordination was focused on gaining approval in General Convention to breach noncompliant  jurisdictions. Focus was  on and against dioceses that would not ordain women. By 1997, a committee was formed to go into and check on the status of women in offending dioceses. The three "noncompliant" dioceses were San Joaquin, Quincy, and Fort Worth.  Approved search parties to check on  the status of local women were launched into them to admonish and  gain correction from  the local area native leaders from their aberrant practices.

By the 1980’s with the ordination of women being enculturated and a new Book of Common Prayer becoming familiar everywhere, a new twist in the fabric was occuring. The conservative forces realized liberals had revealed that jurisdictional and traditional lines of all sorts were really no longer solid nor apparently of paramount importance.  As taught to them by the liberals’ actions, dioceses and parishes began to see themselves as more autonomous from bishops with whom they did not agree and General Convention and House of Bishops’ decisions they found offensive. New affiliations were sought across all sorts of lines and the oceans into various dioceses that  are Anglican but certainly not in the Episcopal Church.

By the late 1990’s, an old fabric was fully and finally rendered torn and worn out, one of somber respect for parochial and diocesan jurisdictions and diocesan episcopal authority. A new fabric was designing itself, and an odd matrix of grand variegated associations and authorities became a weaving. The Episcopal Church  was being discarded in its once coherent matrix  for a more elusive pursuit of very particular and atomized ecclesiastical options and autonomy, a patchwork of sorts. More of the story is unfolding. . . .