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Archive for the ‘update’ Category

I’ve been wrestling with this Catholic vs Anglican thing for a while now. I’m happily part of a thriving Anglican parish now and my wife and I are growing deeper in our relationships with Christ and each other.

But in the background I’ve continued to consider the claims of the Catholic church and wrestle with the problems of biblical authority, interpretation and so on. I’ve also paid some attention to the views of the Eastern Orthodox on the matter of the primacy of Rome.

After all of the arguments back and forth, pro and con, I think I’ve come to realize something. I can get on board with a lot of things. I could handle praying to the saints. Properly understood I know that it is simply asking saints in heaven to intercede in prayer for us just like we have people down here on earth pray for us. I see no reason why I couldn’t ask Peter or Mary or Augustine to remember me in prayer before the Lord. I don’t think it’s a requirement, but not a problem for me either. Obviously being in the Anglican church I don’t have a problem with liturgical worship. I can even handle things like transubstantiation. And though it would be a leap of faith I think I’d be able to come around to the Catholic view on contraception and related issues such as IVF.

The stumbling block that I cannot seem to get over is the Catholic position on divorce and remarriage. What makes it even more difficult is how I’ve seen annulments handled with certain prominent Catholics in politics for instance, where the bishop seems to hand out annulments like a PEZ dispenser. Meanwhile folks who don’t have that kind of influence or who don’t have a neat and tidy excuse to have their marriage annulled suffer. I know too many Godly people who love Christ and strive to follow him with all that they have who nonetheless through no fault of their own have been divorced. Either their spouse left them for a younger model, or was physically and emotionally abusive, or was a serial adulterer who’d been forgiven and taken back many times before, or sexually abused their children or the couple simply married when they were young and immature and were unprepared for what marriage requires but now one of them has gotten serious about their walk of faith…the list of reasons goes on and on. Under Catholic doctrine, unless they can show some arcane reason as to why their marriage wasn’t a “true” marriage to begin with…maybe the spouse was gay and never told them for instance…they are stuck. They can’t date and remarry and find love again unless the spouse who was at fault and left comes to their senses.

I simply can’t come to grips with that. I know what the interpretations of the passage from Matthew are according to Catholic doctrine. When Jesus said that except for sexual immorality, divorcing and remarrying is committing adultery, Protestants and Catholics see it differently. Catholics say that the Greek word “porneia” that is translated as sexual immorality doesn’t simply mean “fornication” or “adultery”, it means something more specific such as the aforementioned “secretly gay spouse” or perhaps a partner that entered the marriage already cheating on the other and having no intention of being faithful sexually in the marriage. Or it could be something more perverted. But it’s not simply having an affair.

What gives me reason to doubt the Catholic take on this is that Paul also addresses divorce in 1st Corinthians. Paul says that if an unbelieving spouse abandons a believing spouse, the believer who was abandoned is not “under bondage” in that situation any longer. What “bondage” would there be in that situation except continuing to be tied to a spouse that has left you with no intention of ever returning? Or perhaps even having remarried themselves? It would seem to me that Paul would not mention abandonment as a reason for divorce if Jesus was really restricting it just to very specific instances where a valid marriage never took place to begin with. You can’t choose what Jesus said but disregard Paul’s words because after all, Paul was speaking as the Holy Spirit directed him to speak. The letter to the Corinthians is just as binding as the Gospel of St. Matthew.

Don’t take me the wrong way, I hate divorce. I know God hates it. The best and most ideal outcome in these situations is to work to repair the relationship, bring the offending party to repentance and have a healthy marriage come out the other side. But it takes two to tango as the saying goes. I do not believe it was Christ’s intention to create a doctrinal situation where an adulterer essentially gets to put their spouse in a state of indefinite limbo while they whore around and go remarry one of their lovers.

For this reason, and the many people I’ve met over my life who are divorced for reasons the Catholic church would not deem worthy of an annulment, and who are repentant and hate that their previous marriage failed but have remarried and are committed and fully faithful to that marriage, I cannot be Catholic. I understand that to be Catholic means you sign up for everything they teach. I cannot assent to such a view.

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Confirmed

My wife and I were confirmed in the Anglican church this morning. What an amazing journey this has been. Had you asked the me of my late teens or college years if I thought I’d ever be going to a church like this, I’d have thought you were crazy. I was knee deep in Pentecostalism and looked askance at anything that smacked of “tradition” or “ritual.” If a place wasn’t buzzing with people speaking in tongues or throwing down some funky worship music, it was dead and wasn’t ‘free in the Spirit.’

Amazing how things change. Now I crave the quietness and time to reflect and pray. Not even my favorite worship song (and I do still enjoy some modern worship music) comes anywhere close to the worship I experience when I receive the Body and Blood of Christ each week. My children are learning more about God than ever before and we get to worship together and they get to see Mommy and Daddy worship instead of being shuttled off until the service is over.

I’m happy. And a year or so ago, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to say that anytime soon. Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia!

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Well, I figure it’s time for an update.

I couldn’t have asked for things to go any better. My wife (hereafter referred to as “C.”) confessed the other night that she has really come to love going to the Anglican church, even though she’s still not totally “natural” at the liturgy. She really enjoys the teaching and communion every week and has come to appreciate the more reverent style of worship.

The kicker for her (and me) is the effect it’s having on our kids. They seem to be learning so much more in Sunday School than they were at our previous church. We’d ask them after church what they talked about and they never could tell us. Now they excitedly tell us all kinds of things from Bible stories to things about the church year to asking questions about the Eucharist and how the bread is Jesus’ body and the wine is His blood. It’s really remarkable.

Another effect related to the kids is that while they do leave during the processional hymn to go to children’s church, they come back right after the sermon to be with us for the liturgy of Holy Communion. This is I think the most meaningful thing to me and I’m not sure I really knew how much it would mean to me. While they do spend some of the time drawing on paper, when we say the prayers, sing The Lord’s Prayer (I love singing it. The liturgical music is beautiful), sing the Sanctus and kneel for confession and the Eucharistic prayers, we involve them. My older one is starting to learn the singing parts and listens during the other parts. It blesses me so much to not only worship in front of my kids as an example to but begin worshiping with them. And while they aren’t old enough to receive Communion, they do come up with us and kneel and receive a blessing from the priest while me and C. receive the Sacrament. It’s really a wonderful time for us.

On top of all this, we’ve been attending a Sunday School class and have been invited into a community group that meets in homes every other week. And true to form, everyone has been extremely warm and welcoming. I feel like we’re really starting to fit in and get to know some people. These rich, beautiful people have blown away every preconceived notion me and C. had about such folks. It’s really extraordinary.

C. remarked to me the other night that she just wishes she’d have known 2 years ago what she knows now. She wishes we would have not waited to start attending. So, we are in the process of joining the church officially. Being from more informal churches, the process is a little more structured that what we’re used to (basically a handshake and coming down front after the service)…a 6-week adult catechism class and then being officially received by the Bishop when he visits later this year.

Thank you so much for your prayers and continue to pray for us as we dive in more and more. Also, though I know he doesn’t read this blog, thank you to Mark Galli for writing the book Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. It’s such an easy to read book and has done wonders to help C. understand the significance and symbolism involved in the various aspects of the liturgy and feel more comfortable. I read it a year or so ago and loved it myself but I think it’s been a Godsend for her.

I’m not done blogging, so this isn’t a goodbye post. The journey is really only beginning.

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Michael Spencer, The Internet Monk, has passed away

I’m not sure what to do or say.  I’m sad.  I’m ticked off.  I’m tired of good people and needed voices being taken from us while evil men prosper.  I know the rain falls on the unjust and just alike, but I’ll admit, I hate that it works that way.  I’d rather see people like Michael thrive and live well into old age while those who do nothing but tear us down and make the world worse would get cancer.  I understand that’s not the right attitude to take, but I’m just being honest. Maybe some time and perspective will help me see it in a better light, but right now, I’m just so down and so sad.

Lord, please make Your presence be felt and known by Denise and the kids.   Give them peace and comfort.  Embrace them both through your Holy Spirit and the company of good friends.  We are all really going to miss Michael and wish you’d given us more time with him down here.  Just be sure to introduce us in heaven one day since I only got to talk to him via email.  I want him to know what an impact his writings had on me, if for no other reason than it made me realize I wasn’t crazy to feel the way I was feeling.

NOTE:  As a gesture of support, perhaps we could all go ahead and pre-order Michael’s book that’s due out in September. Here’s the link at Amazon:

Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

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Well, our family attended the local Anglican parish this morning for the first time in over two years.  My wife told me a few weeks ago that she was ready to go and that she just felt like it was time.  I had to be out of town for a week so this Sunday was the first opportunity.

It was a bit stressful as she started expressing serious anxiety over the whole matter on the way there, mostly due to it being so “different” from what we’re used to but another unspoken issue is a perception that it’s an affluent church full of skinny, pretty people.  She’s afraid we won’t relate to the families there who are (mostly) in a higher economic class than we are and that our kids will have a hard time making friends with all the rich private school kids.

Overall, I think it went fine.  There was the normal fumbling with the Book of Common Prayer and not being sure what to do next.  We’d tried to prepare the kids for what to do during the Eucharist but since they didn’t have they’re hands cupped and held out, the rector thought they weren’t receiving this morning and simply gave them a blessing.  On the other hand, a friend of mine from high school is involved with the children’s ministry and came up to meet my family.  She then took us around to show us the Sunday School programs, explain the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and I think all of that helped.  Plus the sermon was really good.  So all in all I think it went fairly well.

I really want us to give this a real, open-minded attempt this time around.   Last time we visited for 4 weeks or so, but never engaged.  We plan on attending Sunday School next week and I want us to really try to immerse ourselves in the life of this church.

So, I covet your prayers.  I ultimately want to be where God wants us to be, but I want to give this place every chance.  So please pray that my wife’s anxiety will subside and that she will truly be open-minded to the liturgy, the quieter, slower pace and the other things this church has to offer versus your typical contemporary evangelical megachurch experience we’re used to.  And help us and the kids to make new friends we can relate to and that relate to us.

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Just haven’t been inspired to write anything in particular lately and things are in sort of a holding pattern with regard to church.

I am reading Christianity’s Dangerous Idea by Alister McGrath on the Protestant Reformation so I will probably be blogging on some of that stuff here soon.

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Back in the age of dial-up, when regular people were just beginning to get on the internet, the first things I discovered were message boards. There were tons of them. And the ones I seemed to gravitate to the most were theology boards and ones devoted to debating Christianity with atheists and agnostics. Generally speaking those debates generated way more heat than light, but every now and then you’d have a conversation that went deeper, perhaps via email off the boards or in private messages. And more than once a more level-headed, non-angry atheist would say something about how they appreciated my approach and kindness (I wish more would have felt prompted to say that about me, but I sometimes struggled to keep my temper and sarcasm in check) and that they looked at me or others on the boards and wished they could believe.

That always seemed to be so odd to me. Someone who looks longingly at Christian faith and sees beauty and peace and something desirable, but can’t bring themselves to say they actually believe it. It seemed so sad. All I could do was pray for them and try to answer whatever questions I could and encourage them to keep an open mind on it. You can’t just make someone see something they don’t see. I can’t imagine not believing in God so sometimes it’s hard for me to really put myself in their shoes and feel what it would be like to really NOT believe…until now.

I’m starting to understand where they are coming from, but it’s not what you may be thinking. I’m still a believer. The world literally makes no sense to me without God in it. I can’t “unbelieve” such a thing any more than I could unbelieve that my wife and children exist. But I do wish that I could believe something. My friend is so certain and so at peace with his decision to become Catholic. He did his homework, read a ton and came to the conclusion that the Catholic church was the church Christ founded and that it’s the church we all should seek to be reunited to. I on the other hand have read far more and for a longer time than he did, but I’m still wandering in the wilderness. I admire so much about Catholicism and find much about it to be so attractive. I have similar admiration for other traditions such as Orthodoxy, traditional Anglicanism and Lutheranism too, but particularly on the latter two (in addition to traditionally minded Reformed churches) I still run into the question of authority. Who has the ultimate authority to decide between widely divergent interpretations on Scripture and Christian doctrine? It just seems that splintering over and over becomes inevitable no matter which tradition you choose, except Catholicism.

But though I look longingly across the Tiber at what seems to be a much more stable and solidly rooted faith, I find myself thinking, “I just wish I could believe…” And the wishes are about many things. Among them, I wish I could believe:

…that the Pope and Magisterium truly were infallible on matters of faith and interpreting Scripture.

…that the bread and wine in the Eucharist truly were the literal body and blood of Christ.

…that the Marian dogmas were true and that asking her and other saints for their intercession was truly effective rather than idolatrous.

…that I could agree with the Catholic Church fully on their stances regarding divorce and contraception.

…that if I chose to cross the Tiber, that I wouldn’t be sitting there 5-10 years from now unhappy again and wanting more out of church and the Christian life but now being completely befuddled as to where to go next.

I could go on and on I suppose but I guess what this really speaks to is that I’m so tired and weary. Nearly exhausted mentally and emotionally. I’m tired of being restless in my spirit and mind. I’m tired of not feeling like I can really jump in with both feet somewhere because of all these unsettled theological questions.  I’ve been through the emotionalism of my Pentecostal days, the intellectual high of Calvinism and Reformed theological study and the seemingly endless quest to be “culturally relevant” (which seems to be closely related to some vague notion of “hipness” sometimes).   Right now I’m just attending church but I don’t feel like I can really engage with my whole heart because I question everything.  I just feel like I’m in this state of suspension with no solid foothold anywhere, not because there aren’t several options purporting to be solid footholds, but because I’m in a crisis as to which one to trust.  I believe the Bible, but on the deep stuff, it’s increasingly unclear as to who is viewing and interpreting it properly. It’s wearing me out. I just want the truth. And I need a place to stand.

I just wish I believed…

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